Isaiah 40:9-11: Septuagint, Masoretic Text, New Testament

Continuing on in my on-again-off-again series of text criticism/analysis of 2 Isaiah, here’s Isaiah 40:9-11, in the Septuagint and the Masoretic Text. Translations are my own.

The Texts

LXX:

9 ἐπ᾿ ὄρος ὑψηλὸν ἀνάβηθι, ὁ εὐαγγελιζόμενος Σιων·
ὕψωσον τῇ ἰσχύι τὴν φωνήν σου, ὁ εὐαγγελιζόμενος Ιερουσαλημ·
ὑψώσατε, μὴ φοβεῖσθε·
εἰπὸν ταῖς πόλεσιν Ιουδα
Ἰδοὺ ὁ θεὸς ὑμῶν.
10 ἰδοὺ κύριος μετὰ ἰσχύος ἔρχεται καὶ ὁ βραχίων μετὰ κυριείας,
ἰδοὺ ὁ μισθὸς αὐτοῦ μετ᾿ αὐτοῦ καὶ τὸ ἔργον ἐναντίον αὐτοῦ.
11 ὡς ποιμὴν ποιμανεῖ τὸ ποίμνιον αὐτοῦ
καὶ τῷ βραχίονι αὐτοῦ συνάξει ἄρνας
καὶ ἐν γαστρὶ ἐχούσας παρακαλέσει

9 Go up upon a high mountain,
 O Zion, who brings good news;
Lift up your voice with strength, 
O Jerusalem, who brings good news;
Lift it up; do not fear.
Say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold, your god.”
10 Behold, the Lord comes with strength and his arm with authority;
Behold, his reward is with him and his work is before him.
11 Like a shepherd he will herd his flock
And with his arm he will gather the lambs.
He will comfort those who have children in their womb.

MT:‎‎

עַ֣ל הַר־גָּבֹ֤הַ עֲלִי־לָךְ֙ מְבַשֶּׂ֣רֶת צִיּ֔וֹן
הָרִ֤ימִי בַכֹּ֨חַ֙ קוֹלֵ֔ךְ מְבַשֶּׂ֖רֶת יְרוּשָׁלִָ֑ם
הָרִ֙ימִי֙ אַל־תִּירָ֔אִי
אִמְרִי֙ לְעָרֵ֣י יְהוּדָ֔ה
הִנֵּ֖ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃
‎‫הִנֵּ֨ה אֲדֹנָ֤י יְהוִה֙ בְּחָזָ֣ק יָב֔וֹא וּזְרֹע֖וֹ מֹ֣שְׁלָה ל֑וֹ
הִנֵּ֤ה שְׂכָרוֹ֙ אִתּ֔וֹ וּפְעֻלָּת֖וֹ לְפָנָֽיו׃
כְּרֹעֶה֙ עֶדְר֣וֹ יִרְעֶ֔ה
בִּזְרֹעוֹ֙ יְקַבֵּ֣ץ טְלָאִ֔ים
וּבְחֵיק֖וֹ יִשָּׂ֑א עָל֖וֹת יְנַהֵֽל׃

9 Go up upon a high mountain, O Zion, who brings news;
Lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, who brings news.
Lift it up; do not fear.
Say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold, your god.”
10 Behold, the Lord YHWH comes with strength and his arm rules for him;
Behold, his wages are with him and his work is before him.
11 Like a shepherd he will herd his flock
And with his arm he will gather the lambs.
He will carry them at his bosom and will guide those who are giving suck.‎‎

Analysis

O Zion . . . O Jerusalem (LXX) Technically, these two terms are in the nominative, but they are pretty clearly nominative-for-vocatives, which is common enough in biblical Greek and colloquial Attic Greek. See Conybeare, Grammar of Septuagint Greek, §51 and Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, pp. 56-59. Cf. Smyth, Greek Grammar for Colleges, §202.

Who brings good news . . . who brings good news (LXX) Greek εὐαγγελιζόμενος in both cases. This participle differs from that of the MT (מְבַשֶּׂ֣רֶת) by making it explicit that the news that has been delivered is good. In context, however, it is unmistakeable that the news is good: YHWH is returning the Judean exiles back to their homeland.

Isaiah 40:1-11, I think, is a pretty effective piece of pro-Cyrus propaganda. Morton Smith (Studies in the Cult of Yahweh, I.76-79) makes it abundantly clear that 2 Isaiah is writing about Cyrus’ eventual sack of Babylon before the sack actually happened, and postulates that 2 Isaiah is actually Persian propaganda — that is, subversive, Yahwistic, pro-Cyrus propaganda that was “inspired” by Persian agents looking to drum up support for Cyrus among the Judean exiles. (You can see the same basic style in the first half of the Cyrus inscription [ANET 315b-316], where Cyrus’ success in Babylon is attributed to “Marduk, the great lord,” the patron god of Babylon, who legitimated Cyrus’ success in that city. Cyrus, being a Persian, of course, would not have been a devotee of either Marduk or YHWH, but probably of Ahura Mazda.) So, you have 2 Isaiah promising not only that YHWH would soon “come with power” and return the exiles home from Babylon, but also that life in Judah would be better than it ever had been — the land would be smoothed out and made suitable for real agriculture.

On a side note, I can’t help but wonder if this verse is a source of the NT authors’ referring to their messages about Jesus as “good news” (εὐαγγέλιον) and the spread of it as “delivering good news” (εὐαγγελίζω), given that Isaiah 40:3-6 is such an important text for the Gospel authors. And, if this verse is a source for calling the Jesus-message a εὐαγγέλιον, it would be interesting to compare how 2 Isaiah and the NT authors use the term, especially considering that 2 Isaiah considers Cyrus to be the messiah, and the NT considers Jesus to be the messiah.

Go up . . . Lift up . . . Lift it up; do not fear In the LXX, the first two imperatives of v. 9 are singular (ἀνάβηθι . . . ὕψωσον) while the third and fourth are plural (ὑψώσατε, μὴ φοβεῖσθε), while in the MT, all four imperatives are feminine singular (עֲלִי . . . הָרִ֤ימִי . . .הָרִ֙ימִי֙ אַל־תִּירָ֔אִי). That is, the MT relates all four imperatives to the city of Jerusalem; the LXX, on the other hand, relates its first two imperatives to the city, while its third and fourth imperatives relate to the inhabitants of the city. The difference is subtle, but still worth a remark.

The Lord/The Lord YHWH Based on the meter (I’ll expand on this in a future post), it would seem that the MT’s “Lord” (אֲדֹנָ֤י) is a later addition to the text. The LXX offers no clue as to whether the original reading was “Lord YHWH” or simply “YHWH,” as it consistently translates 2 Isaiah’s “Lord YHWH” as “Lord.” (Elsewhere in Isaiah, the LXX renders “Lord YHWH” variously as δεσπότης κύριος and simple κύριος.) Given that in the pro-Cyrus section of 2 Isaiah (ch. 40-48) the title אֲדֹנָ֤י יְהוִה֙ appears only here and in 48:16 (where it is in the mouth of Cyrus), I’m willing to bet that it’s either a later addition or a corruption that was incorporated into the text of the MT.

And his arm with authority/And his arm rules for him The LXX (“And his arm with authority”) smoothes out the idea in the MT (“And his arm rules for him”), making a nice, tight parallelism. Given that the two texts are almost perfectly identical in this passage — even, in most places, down to word order — it makes most sense to see the two texts as standing in the same tradition, with the LXX translator smoothing out the wording ever so slightly, to make it have a little bit better poetic structure.

Like a shepherd he will herd his flock Woodenly, “Like a shepherd he will shepherd his sheep-herd.” I actually like this rendering better than the one I have included in my translation above, because it preserves the similarity of the terms in both the Greek (ὡς ποιμὴν ποιμανεῖ τὸ ποίμνιον αὐτοῦ) and the Hebrew (כְּרֹעֶה֙ עֶדְר֣וֹ יִרְעֶ֔ה), but, unfortunately, it is pretty terrible English, so I ultimately abandoned it.

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One response to “Isaiah 40:9-11: Septuagint, Masoretic Text, New Testament

  1. κυριείας… somehow, this page queued up in a google search for that word… though I knew this link would not take me where I was trying to go, you were referencing the LXX & MT, my passion, so, in curiosity I opened the link. Within moments I realized you have a great wealth of tools and language skills like the scaffolding of a window washer in New York, you can scale the edifice of these texts with ease, which is most impressive. I felt compelled to comment on the locus of your operations and suggest that your work is incomplete until you realize the integration of the whole is a work of God … for though you observe great detail and are obviously well-equipped to provide a detailed and accurate of accounting of what was recorded, unless you realize the answer to every question why? starts with God saying… “I meant to do that” … you miss the bigger, more impressive message over all.

    There seems to be an electric fence around the modern bible scholar that wasn’t there for men like Grinfield whose lectureship endures (barely) at Oxford despite the fact that he believed God had divine hand in the biblical texts. This modern limit to the range of consideration, be it recently enclosed or perhaps simply trained avoidance, has so bound the textual critic that it is clear when of 3 choices 2 absurdities and one glorifying God, absurdity prevails or one is demoted to theologian. Yet, few can recognize this restriction is set upon the student of only 1 set of texts, and it is not imposed upon students of Greek Mythology where full consideration of all variables, even consistency of motive for the gods of the pantheon can be considered… but strict is the prohibition of consideration of all matters pertaining to the motive, will, interest of the biblical God… it is perversion to have to excise all consideration of main character of the text from the text when considering what the text actually meant to say,

    And sadly… the consequence is that the signature of God, as signed upon the events of history through His word, is lost on man (Isaiah 42:9). We convince ourselves of the absurdities of our own vain imaginations…as if the text does not convey the message about a stiff-necked people who loved the ways of the heathen and would be expected to assimilate to Greek as easily as they did to Aramaic… but rather, a chosen people that would successfully remain loyal to the dialects of Aramaic picked up in only 70y of captivity and remain so committed to their post-captivity identity that they endured with a vowel-less system of communication against all influences of 1400y of Hellenism… despite the evidence that endured to demonstrate Jewish authors wrote to a Jewish audience in Greek, not Hebrew…

    It is in arrogant love for the unreasonable conclusions, though demonstrably wrong, the opacity of scholarship refuses to yield unto God the glory due for fulfilling every word He said to Abraham (Gen 12:3) and God meant what He told Daniel (7:6) and Sophanias (3:9)…
    language was given to the Greek empire and because of it, scriptures were readable by all men and the God of Israel was finally able to be worship with one consent…. Koine was more than just a awfully convenient course for 12 fishermen to have paved 300y before they set out to tell the diaspora Jews and nations of the earth that the Jewish messiah was Jesus… it was no simple detail that Paul’s testimony relied on parchments he could easily leave behind because by God’s foreordained and revealed will, there would be copies of the Jewish scriptures waiting for any of the apostles in every synagogue across the entire empire because the scattered (for disobedience) Jews had been speaking the common tongue of all the nations (Roman 3:9)…
    and so it goes…and we do not see, the mighty hand of the God who wrote our DNA codes is the same one who wrote the variants in the texts and by them there is meaning and our God who is true, reveals what is false to those who use Him as the standard by which all things are judged….

    see, from my perspective which holds that God is exactly who and what He claims, I find humor in the confirmation of His word in all things, even the variants.. like Luke 10:1… how long have men been debating whether it is 70 or 72 scholars that translated the Septuagint??? I chuckled at this variant:
    { καὶ and ἑτέρους other (acc) ἑβδομήκοντα seventy ♦ ἑτέρους other (acc) ἑβδομήκοντα seventy [ δύο two (nom, acc, gen) ]
    Faith is the lens through which the bigger picture comes into view, through faith even the incongruent parts we observe can all be understood because though the pieces seem to contradict one another, we use those lenses to look for them actually coming together… and they do, in the full hand of God who does exactly what He says and means every word for purposes that all ultimately confirm what He is telling us: it is really Him behind the texts.

    So, for example, I might look at the passages you mention above and consider 1 Kings 3:7 ἐγώ εἰμι παιδάριον μικρὸν καὶ οὐκ οἶδα τὴν ἔξοδόν μου καὶ τὴν εἴσοδόν μου
    One of the few examples in both the OT and NT where a mere mortal utters ἐγώ εἰμι, though that mere mortal just happens to be the son of David- no surprise there, since we find another son of David using the phrase in several instances in the NT…
    but I pick this passage for the compliment of ἔξοδόν/ εἴσοδόν
    and the consistent theme that there is course or path of wisdom that connecting the two. The exit of the exodus from captivity connected to a path, revealed by God to Moses and the entry into the fulfillment of the promise of God. It is, as Solomon indicates, by wisdom that one judges and in his faith, he knew to ask, and ultimately it is by mercy and grace that God gives abundantly…along that journey between the ἔξοδόν/ εἴσοδόν.

    That the MT has restricted the imperatives to singular, is not at all surprising for the authors of the Masoretic Text do not consider the blessing upon Abraham as having been opened up to all nations yet, in their perspective, it remains only to Israel, and yet, the nations of the earth do know the God of Israel now and that they do come to His Mountain to seek Him and be taught of Him (Isaiah 2:3) is not in doubt. Though the authors of the MT would refute the manner by which these nations convene to worship, they have not continued in the course of wisdom of God’s commands to Moses either…,they have departed from what Moses delivered unto them and invented for themselves a tradition of wisdom that would have left the Jews in the desert forever, because they killed Jesus, rather than follow Him into the εἴσοδόν. History reveals the vanity of men who would change the word of God rather than admit they were wrong… so since nothing outlined by Moses is upheld anywhere in Judaism today, it can’t be… perhaps God was pointing to something significant the first time He directed His faithful to enter the promised land by the lead of a man they called Ἰησοῦς.

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