Tag Archives: 2 isaiah

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.

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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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