Monthly Archives: August 2012

“The world is too grand to reshape with babble.”

I was listening to The Writer’s Almanac in the car yesterday morning, and I heard this poem, which resonated with me deeply.

“Sunlight,” by Jim Harrison

After days of darkness I didn’t understand
a second of yellow sunlight
here and gone through a hole in clouds
as quickly as a flashbulb, an immense
memory of a moment of grace withdrawn.
It is said that we are here but seconds in cosmic
time, twelve and a half billion years,
but who is saying this and why?
In the Salt Lake City airport eight out of ten
were fiddling relentlessly with cell phones.
The world is too grand to reshape with babble.
Outside the hot sun beat down on clumsy metal
birds and an actual ten-million-year-old
crow flew by squawking in bemusement.
We’re doubtless as old as our mothers, thousands
of generations waiting for the sunlight.

(Listen)

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Even More Pro-Cyrus Propaganda in Deutero-Isaiah

[Translation is from the JPS Tanakh.]

Thus said the LORD to Cyrus, His anointed one–
Whose right hand He has grasped,
Treading down nations before him
And letting no gate stay shut:
I will march before you
And level the hills that loom up;
I will shatter doors of bronze
And cut down iron bars.
I will give you treasures concealed in the dark
And secret hoards–
So that you may know that it is I the LORF,
The God of Israel, who call you by name.
For the sake of My servant Jacob,
Israel MY chosen one,
I call you by name,
I hail you by title, though you have not known Me.
I am the LORD and there is none else;
Beside Me, there is no god.
I engird you, though you have not known Me,
So that they may know, from east to west,
That there is none but Me.
I am the LORD and there is none else,
I form light and create darkness,
I make weal and create woe–
I the LORD do all these things.
Pour down, O skies, from above!
Let the heavens rain down victory!
Let the earth open up and triumph sprout,
Yes, let vindication spring up:
I the LORD have created it.

Shame on him who argues with his Maker,
Though naught but a potsherd of earth!
Shall the clay say to the potter, “What are you doing?
Your work has no handles”?
Shame on him who asks his father, “What are you begetting?”
OR a woman, “What are you bearing?”

Thus said the LORD,
Israel’s Holy One and Maker:
Will you question Me on the destiny of My children,
Will you instruct Me about the work of My hands?
It was I who made the earth
And created man upon it;
My own hands stretched out the heavens,
And I marshaled all their host.
It is I who roused him for victory
And who level all roads for him.
He shall rebuild My city
And let My exiled people god
Without price and without payment
–said the LORD of Hosts.

(Isaiah 45:1-13)

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More Pro-Cyrus Propaganda in Deutero-Isaiah

[Translations are from the JPS Tanakh.]

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Have you not been told
From the very first?
Have you not discerned
How the earth was founded?
It is He who is enthroned above the vault of the earth,
So that its inhabitants seem as grasshoppers;
Who spreads out the skies like gauze,
Stretched them out like a tent to dwell in.
He brings potentates to naught,
Makes rulers of the earth as nothing.
Hardly are they planted,
Hardly are they sown,
Hardly has their stem
Taken root in the earth,
When he blows upon them and they dry up,
And the storm bears them off like straw.

(Isaiah 40:21-24)

Stand silent before Me, coastlands,
And let nations renew their strength.
Let them approach to state their case;
Let us come forward together for argument.
Who has roused a victor from the East,
Summoned him to His service?
Has delivered up nations to him,
And trodden sovereigns down?
Has rendered their swords like dust,
Their bows like wind-blown straw?
He pursues them, he goes on unscathed;
No shackle is placed on his feet.

Who has wrought and achieved this?
He who announced the generations from the start–
I, the LORD, who was first
And will be with the last as well.
(Isaiah 41:1-4)

I have roused him from the north, and he has come,
From the sunrise, one who invokes my name;
And he has trampled rulers like mud,
Like a potter treading clay.

Who foretold this from the start, that we may note it;
From aforetime, that we might say, “He is right”?
Not one foretold, not one announced;
No one has heard your utterance!
The things once predicted to Zion–
Behold, here they are!
And again I send a herald to Jerusalem,
But I look and there is not a man;
Not one of them can predict
Or can respond when I question him.
See, they are all nothingness,
Their works are nullity,
Their statues are naught and nil.
(Isaiah 41:25-29)

Thus said the LORD,
Your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
For your sake I send to Babylon;
I will bring down all [her] bars,
And the Chaldeans shall raise their voice in lamentation.

I am your Holy One, the LORD,
Your King, the Creator of Israel.
(Isaiah 43:14-15)

Thus said the LORD, your Redeemer,
Who formed you in the womb:
It is I, the LORD, who made everything,
Who alone stretched out the heavens
And unaided spread out the earth;
Who annul the omens of diviners,
And make fools of the augurs;
Who turn sages back
And make nonsense of their knowledge;
But confirm the word of My servant
And fulfill the predictions of My messengers.
It is I who say of Jerusalem, “It shall be inhabited,”
And of the towns of Judah, “They shall be rebuilt;
And I will restore their ruined places.”
[I,] who say to the deep, “Be dry;
I will dry up your floods,”
Am the same who says of Cyrus, “He is My shepherd;
HE shall fulfill all My purposes!
He shall say of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be rebuilt,’
And to the Temple: ‘You shall be founded again.'”
(Isaiah 44:24-28)

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Isaiah 40:1-11: A Dialogue?

I’ve been working more on Isaiah 40:1-11 (surprise, surprise!). I’ve been doing a poetic and semantic analysis of the text, which I hope turns out well enough to turn into a paper. And if it doesn’t, I suppose I’ve got some good blog fodder.

Anyhow, I’ve been thinking about who exactly is speaking in this poem, the first eleven verses of 2 Isaiah. Frank Moore Cross wrote an article back in 1953 claiming that Isaiah 40:1-8 is a divine council scene, and his view has been scholarly consensus more or less since then. The speakers in this passage, then, are YHWH and three other members of YHWH’s council.

I’ve started to think, though, — pace Dr. Cross et al. — that Isaiah 40:1-11 isn’t a divine council scene so much as a dialogue between YHWH and a prophet, with echoes back to the call narrative of Isaiah 6. However, the poet isn’t the one receiving the call — he can’t be, since everything in the poem is in the third person; instead, the poet is narrating the divine call of some other prophet and the ensuing dialogue between YHWH and the third party.

Here’s the kicker: I think this third-party prophet is none other than Cyrus himself. Isaiah 40:12 ff. is clearly dependent on the Gathas, and Isaiah 44-45 are clearly in support of Cyrus as ruler. Moreover, Cyrus was manipulative. He had no problem casting himself as a worshipper of Marduk to win over the Babylonians (Cyrus, as a Persian, would most likely have been a Zoroastrian), so it is no stretch to say that he’d cast himself as a worshipper of YHWH, come to free the Judean captives, in order to win over the exiles.

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