Isaiah 40:7-8 in the Ancient Versions

I’m trying to work out the/an original text for Isaiah 40:7-8, which is proving to be quite a puzzle. Here are the ancient versions in roughly chronological order (in English, for those who can’t read the various languages).

The Versions

1QIsa [The Great Isaiah Scroll]
ca. 150-100 BCE

Grass withers, a flower fades,
(Because the breath of YHWH blows on it.
Truly the people are grass.
Grass withers, a flower fades,)
But the word of our God stands forever.

Notes: The text in parentheses is written in a second hand in the margins of the scroll. It was either a haplography that was corrected by a second scribe, or the second scribe added it to make 1QIsa match the text of a different exemplar. At any rate, the uncorrected text matches LXX, while the corrected text matches MT, Vulgate, Peshitta, and Targ. Isa.

Septuagint (LXX)
ca. 140 BCE

The grass dries up and the flower falls,
But the word of our God remains forever.

Notes: The text of the LXX matches that of the uncorrected 1QIsa, except for “the flower falls” versus 1QIsa’s “a flower fades.” It is worth noting that LXX and 1QIsa are more or less contemporaneous, though they come from quite different places.

Targum Isaiah (Targ. Isa.)
2nd cent. BCE-1st cent. CE

The grass withers, its flower fades, because the wind from before YHWH has blown upon it. Therefore, the wicked among the people are counted as grass. The wicked dies, his thoughts perish, but the word of our God abides forever.

Notes: Targ. Isa., being an Aramaic explanation of a Hebrew poem, is necessarily in prose, and I have reflected that here. (Translation is modernized from Stenning’s.) And, though the translator has taken some liberties, it’s clear enough that the Hebrew text behind Targ. Isa. corresponds with MT, Vulgate, Peshitta, and corrected 1QIsa.

Peshitta
1st-2nd cent. CE

The grass withers, the flower fades,
Because the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
Surely this people is like the grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God shall stand for ever.

Notes: Translation is Lamsa’s. The text matches that of the corrected 1QIsa, Targ. Isa., Vulgate, and MT.

Vulgate
390-405 CE

Hay dries up and a flower falls,
Because the breath of God blows on it.
Truly the people are hay.
Hay dries up and a flower falls,
But the word of our God stands forever.

Notes: Hay, of course, is dried-up grass, so the variant reading isn’t all that important. Vulgate has “flower falls,” like the LXX, over against 1QIsa, Peshitta, and MT.

Masoretic Text (MT)
Fixed 10th cent. CE

Grass withers, a flower fades,
Because the breath of YHWH blows on it.
Truly the people are grass.
Grass withers, a flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever.

Notes: The text of MT matches that of the corrected 1QIsa, Targ. Isa., Peshitta, and Vulgate.

Analysis

I find it interesting that the two oldest texts in the tradition — LXX and uncorrected 1QIsa — both contain the short reading. Moreover, the two are from different provenances: 1QIsa from Palestine and LXX from Alexandria. In my opinion, the age and geographic separation of the two texts argues against simple haplography, instead presenting evidence of a consistent textual tradition. I’ll call this tradition the “shorter tradition”

However, the tradition in corrected 1QIsa, Targ. Isa, Peshitta, Vulgate, and MT dates to roughly the same time as LXX and uncorrected 1QIsa. I’ll call this tradition the “longer tradition.”

Dating of manuscripts will not help us decide which of the traditions is original, since they are both reflected on the same manuscript (1QIsa). The style of the two traditions argues in favor of the longer, as it is the more difficult reading (a brief survey of the commentaries is more than enough to bear this notion out). However, the length of the two traditions argues in favor of the shorter, because shorter readings are to be preferred over longer ones.

In the end, I prefer the shorter tradition because of its geographical diversity. The longer tradition is confined to Palestine, while the shorter tradition was in both Palestine and Alexandria at the same time. In addition, though the phrase “Truly the people are grass” could be read as a refrain or as part of a call-and-response, its main purpose is to make explicit the metaphor of humans as grass; in other words, it looks very much like an explanatory gloss, which should therefore be rejected.

Thus, I find that the shorter tradition of Isaiah 40:7-8 is more original.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s