Select Page

Interpreting Interpreter
The Seed of Joseph Once Again

This post is a summary of the article ““That They May Once Again Be a Delightsome People”: The Concept of Again Becoming the Seed of Joseph (Words of Mormon 1:8 and Mormon 7:4–5)” by Matthew L. Bowen in Volume 61 of Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship. All of the Interpreting Interpreter articles may be seen at An introduction to the Interpreting Interpreter series is available at


The Takeaway

Bowen argues that the phrase “that they may once again” in the Book of Mormon could represent wordplay on the name Joseph, and that its application to the Lamanites (e.g., “that they may once again become a delightsome people”) implies the overcoming of fraternal hatred and their eventual covenantal restoration as the seed of Joseph.


The Summary

In this article, Matthew L. Bowen presents another proposal for how the Book of Mormon may employ wordplay on the name Joseph (yôsēp; meaning “may he [God] add”, with the underlying Hebrew root often used for concepts linked to addition or subtraction), this time through the phrase “that they may once again” (plausibly reflecting the Hebrew wayyôsipû), as recorded in Words of Mormon 1:8. Bowen sees this phrase as alluding to the fraternal rivalries of Genesis (i.e., Jacob and Esau in Genesis 27:41 and the patriarch Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 37:5,8), rivalries that are reflected in the ongoing hatred between Nephites and Lamanites. Nephi himself appears to refer to the latter passage when describing his brothers’ anger, an anger that he knew would end with the Lamanites “dwindling] in unbelief.”

Bowen suggests that Enos does something similar in his descriptions of the Lamanites, recalling language used earlier by Nephi when “crying] unto the Lord” and noting how they “continually” sought to destroy the Nephites. Mormon’s prayer in Words of Mormon appears to invert these motifs, presaging their eventual redemption through covenantal knowledge of God and Christ. He uses the phrase “that they may once again” twice, in a way comparable to the double-use of wayyôsipû in Genesis 37. Bowen sees further meaning in how these “stacked or linked purpose clauses” compare to a similar repeated reference to Joseph-related words (i.e., the words “no more”, “not again” and “again”) in Mormon’s final exhortation. This exhortation may itself be linked to the covenants of the Anti-Lehi-Nephites in Alma 24 (e.g., the words “taken away”, “no more”), and to language from Zenos’ Allegory in Jacob 5, with the verb yôsîp potentially functioning as a “lead word” or Leitwort for that chapter (e.g., “that the trees of my vineyard may bring forth again fruit, that I may have joy again”, “nourished once again”), an allegory that ends with God “setting] his hand again” to successfully recover Israel.

For Bowen, these passages seem to form a chain of allusion that allows all of them to reference God’s covenant promises, using words that connect them to Joseph and his seed. As he concludes:

For Mormon’s prayer regarding his Lamanite and formerly Nephite “brethren”…Zenos the prophet and Enos the son of Jacob had answers. Zenos’s allegory forecasted that “the trees had become again [cf. yôsîpû] the natural fruit” and Enos, who had himself prayed “that [the Lord] would preserve the [Nephite prophetic] records,” knew “it would be according to the covenant which [the Lord] had made” with him (Enos 1:16–17). Mormon had such assurances that his prayers would be answered and that the Lamanites would regaining their lost identity as “Joseph.”… As Mormon himself testified, “Surely shall he [the Lord] again [yôsîp] bring a remnant of the seed of Joseph [yôsēp] to the knowledge of the Lord their God” (3 Nephi 5:23).


The Reflection

As someone with brothers, it’s easy to understand the idea of fraternal tensions. Though I doubt my brothers’ attempts to give me a swirlee will end up having profound spiritual consequences that last generations, it nevertheless shows how current nation-scale feuds can have their seed in minor family drama. That God can account for and provide ways to mitigate these consequences seems to be part of Bowen’s broader point, as is the power of prophecy to foresee them. As both Nephites and Lamanites were the seed of Joseph, all of us will ultimately be part of the family of God. Knowledge of Christ can heal all wounds, whether it be those that separate brothers, or ones that separate their descendants from the true and living God.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This