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The inspiration for the inspiration
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints attributes the restoration of the gospel to God. But we also know inspiration doesn't just happen in a vacuum. For example, we may thank the Lord for our crops, but we would not be so foolish as to suppose our fields would just produce with no effort from us. Even if the credit ultimately belongs to God, heavenly inspiration is preceeded by some corresponding Earthly effort. So can we identify the Earthly inspirations that led to the heavenly inspirations of the Restoration? Unfortunately, that information was not well-documented, so we might have to do a little digging.
You don't know me; You never knew my heart. No man knows my history. I cannot tell it; I shall never undertake it. I don't blame anyone for not believing my history. If I had not experienced what I have, I could not have believed it myself. Joseph Smith, April 7, 1844
The First Vision
The First Vision may have been inspired by a sermon by Reverend George Lane at the 1819 Gennessee Conference.
In Spring 1820, Joseph Smith prayed to know which church was true. His account in Joseph Smith History 1:11-13 states, "I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom... Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. At length I came to the conclusion that I must ...do as James directs, that is, ask of God."
But before this event, Reverend George Lane gave a talk at the July 1819 Gennessee Conference on James 1:5. The Gennessee Conference brought 110 Methodist ministers and their bishop within 15 miles of the Smith home. Years later, Joseph’s brother William remembered Joseph attending a meeting where George Lane addressed the question “What church shall I join?” Using James 1:5 as a text, Reverend Lane urged his listeners “to ask God.”
The First Vision likely did not involve seeing God with physical eyes, as is often asserted.
Joseph Smith History 1:20 states "When I came to myself again, I found myself lying on my back, looking up into heaven." It is often asserted in Sunday School that the First Vision was a physical experience that occurred entirely in the Sacred Grove. Baseless extrapolations are dangerous because they lead to disenchantment when people learn that the assumed details are not likely valid. Even if Joseph passed out from exhaustion after a physical experience, that would also lead to suspicion about the omission of the detail and reliability of the account. Whether the experience was literal and physical or exclusively spiritual is not nearly as important as whether it was actually inspired by God.
There is abundant evidence that Joseph considered spiritual things to be as real as physical things. For example, D&C 131:7 states, "There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes;" Supposing the First Vision occurred "in the Spirit" offers a potential resolution with Exodus 33:20, "Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live." (Note that there is a JST adjustment to that verse too.) D&C 76:116-118 suggests that such visions are necessarily spiritual: "Neither is man capable to make them known, for they are only to be seen and understood by the power of the Holy Spirit, which God bestows on those who love him, and purify themselves before him; To whom he grants this privilege of seeing and knowing for themselves; That through the power and manifestation of the Spirit, while in the flesh, they may be able to bear his presence in the world of glory." The wording in this scripture is also highly reminiscient of the wording used in Ether 4, describing the theophany of the Brother of Jared (and this indirectly connects it with the complementary theophanies of Nephi, John, Lehi, Moses, Isaiah, and Ezekiel. Several of them explicitly state that they were carried away in the Spirit. (Note: Each of those words was a different scriptural link.)
The Book of Mormon
Joseph's knowledge of Native American details predated the translation of the Book of Mormon.
Joseph Smith received the Golden plates in September 1827, the same year he married Emma Hale.
But Luck Mack Smith (Joseph Smith's mother) recalled how Joseph telling stories of the Native Americans
while he was still living at his parent's home:
Our sitting up late that evening to converse upon these things together with over exertion of mind, greatly fatigued Joseph;
and when Alvin observed it he said: “now brother, let us go to bed, and rise early in the morning,
in order to finish our days work at an hour before sunset; then, if mother will get our suppers early,
we will have a fine long evening, and we will all sit down, and listen to you,
while you tell us the great things which God has revealed to you.”
Accordingly, by sunset we were all seated, and Joseph commenced telling us the great and glorious things which God had manifested to him...
Joseph's brother Alvin died in November, 1823. Joseph's interest in the Native Americans likely came from his role in "peeping" for buried Native American treasures, which involved telling detailed stories about what he had seen in his stone in the hat.
In his account, Joseph Smith admits that in 1825 he hired with an old gentleman by the name of Josiah Stoal, and was accused of being a "money-digger". However, a money-digger is not a person who works with a pick-axe or shovel to perform manual labor. It is a person who uses diviniation to locate buried treasure. What this account neglects to disclose is that Stoal was working with Oliver Harper and William Hale. They had suspended their efforts to seek a more help peeping for the location of the treasure. According to Artemisia Beaman Snow, "The last time he [Luman Walters, the peeper that had previously been working with Stoal's company] came he pointed out Joseph Smith, who was sitting quietly among a group of men in the tavern, and said There was the young man that could find it." Luman Walters, had his own seer stone and was known for using mystic arts to peep for buried treasure. According to D. Michael Quinn, Joseph Smith looked to Walters as an occult mentor, and according to a certain newspaper article published in Palmyra in 1831, he was he that first suggested to Smith the idea of finding a book.They found Joseph Smith jr. who had a reputation for divining the locations of buried Native American treasures. "Their digging in several places was in compliance with peeper Smith's revelations, who would attend with his peep-stone in his hat, and his hat drawn over his face, and would tell them how deep they would have to go; but when they would find no trace of the chest of money, he would peep again and ...tell them the enchantment had removed it on account of some sin or thougtless word;" (Here's a source that's somewhat easier to read.)
The following year, Smith was arrested and tried for a misdemeanor count of being a "disorderly person and an imposter" for defrauding the others of that company as a "Glass Looker". Stoal (also "Stowell"), however, still believed and testified that Smith's powers were real. In a later 1830 trial, Stowell being sworn, testified that he positively knew that said Smith never had lied to, or deceived him". Stowell later said he saw a corner of the Bible (Book of Mormon plates), unknown to Smith, and that they resembled a stone of a greenish caste. Newel Knights sworn testimony said the "prisoner could see in a stone as stated by Stowel; that formerly he looked for money, &c., but latterly he had become holy, was a true preacher of the Gospel of Christ, possessed the power of casting out devils; he knew it to be a fact, that he, (Smith, the prisoner,) had cast a devil from him, (witness,)..."
A book, The Wonders of Nature and Providence Displayed, was in the local Manchester Library (five miles from Joseph Smith's home) and extant records show that it was reportedly checked out during the years 1826 to 1828. This book ...attempts to establish a Hebrew origin for Native Americans.
Around Cumorah were several Indian mounds, which were a source of speculation and great interest to Joseph Smith in particular.
It was a common legend that western New York and Ohio had once been the site of a terrible slaughter and that the mounds
were the cemeteries of an entire race. In 1821, a Palmyra newspaper stated that diggers on the Erie Canal had
unearthed "several brass plates" along with skeletons and fragments of pottery...
Lehi's theophany may have been inspired by theophanies in the Bible.
A comparison of the parallels between Nephi's account of Lehi's theophany shows more similarities than might occur by random coincidence. One candidate explanation is that God follows a consistent procedure when calling someone to prophesy against a hard-hearted nation prior to its destruction. Another is that Joseph may have encountered a comparison of theophanies in the Bible, perhaps at the Gennessee conference, and planned to make the Book of Mormon seem credible by following the same template. It is a shame Book of Lehi was lost, since it would likely shed more light on the matter.
Many other parallels could be noted, especially with John's vision in Revelations, and even moreso if symbols are interpreted in a manner familiar to Joseph Smith. Because of the prominent placement of Lehi's theophany (at the very beginning of the Book of Mormon), and because Lehi's theophany is explicitly connected with Nephi's, The Brother of Jared's, and Moses' very similar theophanies, it seems likely that a central motivation behind the Book of Mormon was to deliver a unification theory that tied several different Biblical visions together.
Another Biblical unification effort can be found in the "Doctrine of Christ" as described in 2 Nephi 31, 3 Nephi 11:31-39, and 3 Nephi 27:13-21. The patterns in these sections can be tied to more Bible verses than I have any intention of attempting to document at this time. So it is not clear whether citing the Bible as the source of these ideas is sufficient. It is often noted that Joseph Smith is unlikely to have been the original source of such compelling teachings. Perhaps Joseph Smith might have picked it up some ideas at the 1819 Gennessee Conference, which he attended. Perhaps there was an unknown silent co-author. Or perhaps God just wanted to repeat Bible content. But somehow, it definitely came from the Bible.
Lehi's and the Brother of Jared's journeys may have been patterned after Exodus.
Alma the Younger's story has many parallels with Paul's story in Acts
Paul's epistle on charity obviously influenced Moroni's discourse on charity
In general, I think most Latter-day Saints are aware that the Book of Mormon makes extensive use of wording from the King James Version of the Bible. Typical defenses of Joseph Smith suggest he may have used the King James Version of the Bible to assist in his translation efforts when ancient prophets quoted from the Brass Plates. Notably, this contradicts Emma's testimony that he conducted the work of translation without reference materials. Her testimony is probably unreliable.
Quotations like these from the King James Version of the New Testament are even more troubling since the New Testament would not have been contained on the Brass Plates. One possible explanation may be that the King James Version of the New Testament was given to Moroni by divine revelation, perhaps because that is the version early Latter-day Saints would relate to. However, this explanation leaves unexplained why many quotations contain alterations, as if to suggest that the quotations had derived from some other interpretation. Suspiciously, earlier Biblical quotations in the Book of Mormon seem to be somewhat more vigilant to consider what scriptures should have been available at the time. For example, Nephi speaks of faith, hope, and charity in 2 Nephi 31, which would certainly invoke a connection to 1 Corinthians 13 for Christians, but he was not so brazen as to directly quote from the New Testament as Moroni did.
Much of the wording in the Book of Mormon appears to have come directly from the King James Version of the Bible.The following table was created by Chad Lyndon Dills, who gave permission for anyone to reproduce it in entirety.
Here's another comparison showing the extent to which ideas in the Bible were incorporated in the Book of Mormon.
A book called "The Pilgrim's Progress" may have influenced the story of Abinadi.
The Pilgrim's Progress from This World, to That Which Is To Come is a 1676 Christian allegory written by John Bunyan. Similarities between this book and the Book of Mormon were first observed by Eber Howe as early as 1831 in his anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unvailed. As examples, he noted the use of the names "Desolation" and "Bountiful" in Lehi's story, as well as several thematic elements.
However, Howe apparently did not feel inclined to continue comparing the two works in a systematic manner because Abinidi's story, which occurs later in the Book of Mormon, exhibits even more distinctively similar narrative elements. In Pilgrim's Progress,
In total, Bunyan wrote upwards of 60 books, tracts, and pamphlets [with] narrative parallels to the Book of Mormon.
A book called "The Late War" may have influenced Book of Mormon war stories.
In 1816, a book titled The Late War Between the United States and Great Britain by Gilbert J. Hunt was published. It offered a scriptural style account of the War of 1812. Between 1817 and 1819 it was marketed "for the use of schools throughout the United States" under the title The Historical Reader. This book contains an uncanny number of parallels with stories in the Book of Mormon. This site offers a side-by-side comparison of such similarities.
Linguistic analysis shows a surprising co-occurrence of rare 4-grams between this book and the Book of Mormon, surpassed only by the King James Version of the Bible. Also, this book contains significant and clear chiastic structure, suggesting a potential source for the chiasmus in Alma 36, and refuting the false claim that chiasmus was unknown in Joseph Smith's time.
A sample of some wording overlaps is given in the table below. For a much more thorough comparison of overlapping themes, plots, details, and word choices, please follow that link.
The 1811-1812 New Madrid Earthquakes may have inspired the Great Destruction.
On December 16, 1811, the largest earthquake to hit the contiguous United States east of the Rocky Mountains in recorded history occurred. An aftershock with a moment magnitude of 7.4 occurred later the same day, and two more earthquakes of similar magnitude occurred in the following two months. Joseph Smith would have only been six years old at the time, but the tales and interpretations that followed likely would have influenced him. Among the religious revivalism at the time and the looming threat of war with Britain, the tremors led many to ponder the deeper divine messages encoded in the shaking. Among Baptist and Methodist congregations closest to the tremors, conversions spiked in early 1812, and observers attributed the revivalism to the earthquakes. People soon derided those "Earthquake Christians" who abandoned commitments to church attendance and other proper Christian behavior when the shaking stopped in the spring of 1812. ...The American Methodist Church’s 10% rate of growth in 1812 nearly doubled that of the previous year.
Scientists in the domain of paleoseismology study geologic sediment and rocks for signs of ancient earthquakes. Several list of historical earthquakes are easily available, but conspicuously absent is any evidence for a major seismic event in the Americas around 33 CE. This seems significant given the intense description found in the Book of Mormon: "But behold, there was a more great and terrible destruction in the land northward; for behold, the whole face of the land was changed, because of the ...exceedingly great quaking of the whole earth;" (3 Nephi 3:12)
It may be significant that darkness (except due to disruptions of electrical power grids) is not typically associated with earthquakes. However, darkness is explicitly mentioned in three of the gospels around the time of the crucifixion. The Book of Mormon account also strongly emphasizes darkness.
Section 27 derives from Paul's epistle on the armor of God, but so do many verses in the Book of Mormon.
In D&C 27, the Lord references scriptures in Ephesians 6 (without actually noting the reference). But somewhat more peculiar is how numerous passages in the Book of Mormon also make reference to the "Armor of God".
The Pearl of Great Price
The Book of Abraham likely came from some source other than the Egyptian papyrii.
The Church's study manual states that the Book of Abraham originated with Egyptian papyri that Joseph Smith translated beginning in 1835. The Book of Abraham papyri were thought to have been lost in the 1871 Great Chicago Fire. However, in 1966 several fragments of the papyri were found in the archives of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and in the LDS Church archives. Upon examination by professional Egyptologists (both Mormon and otherwise), these fragments were identified as Egyptian funerary texts, including the "Breathing Permit of Hôr"[nb 1] and the "Book of the Dead", among others.
Two common theories explaining this discrepancy are the "missing scroll theory" and "catylist theory", described here. Further, the Book of Moses certainly demonstrates that having a relevant manuscript to translate was not any kind of necessity for the Urim and Thummim. D&C 7 is another example of Joseph Smith translating a manuscript that was not actually in his possession.
A large number of LDS views were likely inspired by Milton's Paradise Lost
John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost was published in 1667. The Church accounts for the numerous doctrinal overlaps between Milton's work and the restored gospel by claiming Milton was an inspired man. That same article lists many doctrinal overlaps with many teachings typically considered unique to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
It is very likely that Joseph Smith read Remarks on the character and writings of John Milton, a pamphlet by William Channing published in 1826, and likely would have sought out the full poem by Milton.
Another piece of evidence suggesting Joseph was familiar with Paradise Lost is the chiasmus that occurs in Alma 36. Milton's Paradise Lost (1663) exhibits significant chaistic structure. Unfortunately, it is often falsely taught in LDS circles that chiasmus was first discovered in the Book of Mormon in 1967, then was later found to also occur in the Bible. This has been so widely published by the Church that it dominates many simple Google searches on the topic. However, Paradise Lost proves authors were already incorporating chiasmus in their writings as early as the 1600's. In 1742, J. A. Bengal calls attention to the presence of chiasmus in a few passages of the New Testament. The Late War by Gilbert Hunt, published in 1816, contains significant chiastic structure, and is believed to have significantly influenced the Book of Mormon. And in 1820, John Jebb wrote a book called Sacred Literature in which he continues the work of Bishop Lowth in the study of chiasmus. These topics likely would have been curiosities of interest at the Gennessee Conference, which Smith is known to have attended. Thus, claims that Smith would have had no exposure to scholarly gospel topics are more likely the product of faith-promoting exaggerations than accurate analysis.
I think Augustine brilliantly described the dangers of carelessly repeating unreliable faith-promoting information:
Often, a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other parts of the world,
about the motions and orbits of the stars and even their sizes and distances,
...and this knowledge he holds with certainty from reason and experience.
It is thus offensive and disgraceful for an unbeliever to hear a Christian talk nonsense about such things,
claiming that what he is saying is based in Scripture. We should do all we can to avoid such an embarrassing situation,
which people see as ignorance in the Christian and laugh to scorn.
The tradition that John the apostle never died likely inspired the story of the Three Nephites who never died.
The origin of this tradition is a verse in the Book of John:
Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee? Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me. John 21:20-22
Amusingly, the very next verse cautions against interpretting these words to imply John would never die.
Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? John 21:3
Yet, that very caution itself seems so tantalizingly random, as if the author of the Book of John was saying "no comment" when confronted with an accusation, that verse 23 is probably the primary impetus behind the story continuing to maintain its traction. Historically, there was even a legend that the ground in Ephesus where St. John was buried would rise and fall as though someone were breathing, or even snoring.
In April, 1829 (immediately before translation of the Book of Mormon began), Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were intrigued by this tradition. In a vision, Joseph Smith saw a piece of parchment written and hidden up by the hand of John clarifying the matter, and Joseph translated it through the Urim and Thummim. (See also the Section heading for D&C 7.) It was originally Section 6, and was significantly edited between the 1833 and 1835 versions. Here's the 1833 version. (And tangentally, here's a page for comparing versions of various sections.)
When the Book of Mormon was subsequently translated, it became apparent in 3 Nephi 28 that it was not going to be left out of this juicy tradition. In a sense, it one-upped the story by making three of them insted of just one! Apparently, the Three Nephites were very busy making appearances throughout Utah and Idaho until about the 1920's, when the number of accounts seemed to start decreasing considerably.
The universalism movement may have influenced the doctrine that all receive a kingdom of glory.
Universalism was a complex issue for Joseph Smith, since his father was a Universalist and his mother was a Calvanist. Interestingly, D&C 76 presents somewhat of a compromise that simultaneously embraces aspects of both sides of the issue. Wikipedia has a whole article about the complex relationship between universalism and LDS doctrines.
The practice of plural marriage may have been inspired by Jacob Cochran's spiritual wifery.
FairLatterDaySaints.org takes the position "There is no contemporaneous or late evidence that the Cochranites influenced LDS ideas about plural marriage." That's rather like standing in the light of the noon-day sun and taking the position that no double-blind studies have been formally conducted to confirm that it is presently day time. Sometimes there are ways of saying things that are technically true while still blatantly lying. In this case, the evidence may not be contemporaneous, but the amount of circumstantial coincidence is too compelling to honestly dismiss. The following brief time-line shows how polygamy evolved within the Church:
Campbellism may have influenced LDS views on baptism.
In the sacrament ordinance, Latter-day Saints consider water to be just as acceptable as wine, even though it lacks the symbolic appearance of blood. Yet, with the ordinance of baptism, the symbol of being completely immersed in water is considered imperative. One might ask, why does this inconsistency exist?
A simple answer may be that Sidney Rigdon's group of Campbellite Baptists had some influence on LDS doctrines. Baptists believe baptism by immersion is essential.
Some views highlighted in Lectures on Faith may have come indirectly from Gnosticism.
Gnosis is the Greek noun for knowledge. In the first century AD, several Christian and Jewish sects (called "Gnostics") taught that salvation was obtained by gaining personal knowledge about God. In Lecture 3 Smith and/or Ridgon teach that a correct knowledge of God's character and attributes is necessary for the exercise of faith leading to life and salvation. In Lecture 6 it is taught that the knowledge that one's life is in accordance with God's will is necessary for obtaining eternal life. And in Lecture 7 it is taught that by faith, one obtains knowledge of God, through which knowledge one can receive all things pertaining to life and godliness.
Unfortunately, little is known about the Gnostics because the early Church viewed their teachings about personal revelation as a threat to their authority, and systematically destroyed most of their texts. But Joseph Smith certainly believed in personal revelation. He also held the gnostic belief that spirit was quite literally as real as matter,
All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; D&C 131:7
and spiritual experiences result in knowledge as real and reliable as any knowledge based on phyiscal evidence.
And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, ...for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand. O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; Alma 32:34-35
There is some evidence Joseph Smith may have been influenced by Kabbalah
FairLatterDaySaints of course takes the useless position that thers is no proof. They are not wrong. A clear connection has not been established (as far as I know). But there are several overlapping themes include Zionism, the gathering of Israel, and the doctrine that men can become gods. A lack of proof is not a sufficient reason to dismiss these similarities unless one is already committed to another interpretation. There are some works that have found many parallels. I haven't really investigated this, yet, so todo: investigate further.
Certain LDS temple ordinances and symbols may have derived from Freemasonry
Joseph Smith joined the fraternity of Freemasons in March, 1842. Soon after, he introduced the temple endowment, which contained a number of symbolic elements that were very similar to those in Freemasonry. It is no secret that there is a relationship between the ordinances. Heber Kimball reported that Joseph Smith justified using Masonic symbols by claiming Freemasonry "was taken from the priesthood but has become degen[e]rated. but many things are perfect."
Deriving from Masonic symbols and ordinances is a big deal to both Masons and Latter-day Saints as these ordinances are (or were) delivered along with solemn covenants accompanied by threats of violence or death and symbolic motions that mime such death to those who reveal them. In recent decades, some of the similar components were removed from the LDS temple endowment, but it is no longer difficult to find details about how the ordinances were historically performed or how they evolved.
The phrase, "O Lord my God, is there no help for the widow's son," is significant to Freemasons. It is used as a distress call between Masons. Before Joseph was shot in Liberty Jail, he cried, "Oh Lord, my God..." It is speculated that Joseph likely recognized Masons among those who had come to kill him, and was attempting to complete this call when he shot five times.
The locations of significant historical events may have been inspired by Joseph Smith's places of residence.
In the Bible, most events of significance seem to have happened in the viscinity of Egypt and Israel. Yet peculiarly, the battle of Cumorah occurred where Joseph Smith lived, Joseph's seer stone was buried where he happened to be digging a well, The Garden of Eden was in Missouri where the Saints later intended to make their home, and The City of Enoch turned out to be the Gulf of Mexico (which geologists tell us was not scooped up, but rather was depressed by the weight of water from the Missippi River). It is also very surprising that geologists have not found evidence of the Great Destruction that allegedly changed the whole shape of the land.
The Ten Commandments may have been influenced by the negative confessions of Ma'at
Since Moses was educated in the Pharoah's court, he certainly would have been familiar with Ma'at, the Egyptian concept of truth, balance, order, harmony, law, morality, and justice. So when he was establishing his own law to rule the Hebrews, he may have borrowed some ideas from the Egyptians. About half of the 10 commandments appear to derive from the 42 negative confessions found in the Papyrus of Ani, that the Egyptians taught deceased persons must make to their pantheon of deities.
(Frankly, I think it's a great shame that more of the negative confessions did not make it into the Hebrew Commandments.)
The Creation, Garden of Eden, and Flood stories in Genesis likely came from Sumerian mythology
Mesopotamian influences can be seen in the visual arts of Egypt, in architecture, in technology, weaponry, in imported products, and also in the possible transfer of writing from Mesopotamia to Egypt and generated "deep-seated" parallels in the early stages of both cultures. It follows that Moses, who was educated in Egypt, would likely have been familiar with Sumerian traditions. Therefore, it is likely more than coincidence that Sumerian accounts of similar events which predate Genesis are notably similar to the stories Moses was presumably shown in vision when he encountered the burning bush. There are also Egyptian variations of Creation, Garden of Eden and the Flood, but they are not quite as similar to the accounts in Genesis as the Sumerian versions.
The tradition that Jesus was born of a virgin may have been inspired by a mistranslation
Matthew 1:22-23 claims that Jesus was born to a virgin in fulfillment of a prophesy in Isaiah 7:14. However, that scripture had been mis-translated. The word used by Isaiah was "almah", meaning "young woman", but was incorrectly translated to "parthenos", meaning "virgin", in the translation available to the author of Matthew.
It can be argued that "young woman" does not necessarily exclude the possibility of being a "virgin", but it is awkward to even debate something that was taken so entirely out of context anyway. Isaiah 7 very clearly describes the Lord telling Ahaz not to be concerned that Ephraim and Syria have conspired against him because their plan is doomed to fail. As a sign to confirm this prophesy, he invokes the young woman bearing a son and says, "For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings." The only connection to the Messiah comes from the poor interpretation by the author of Matthew. But Nephi's vision in 1 Nephi 11:18 anachronistically echoes Matthew's misinterpretation 592 years earlier.
(Permission is granted for anyone to use or derive from this document for any purpose, without royalty or attribution.)