Tag Archives: deutero-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.

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.

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.


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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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


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.


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.‎‎


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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Morton Smith, “II Isaiah and the Persians”

I recently read Morton Smith’s article “II Isaiah and the Persians,” which is quite enlightening for the study of Deutero-Isaiah. Smith argues that Deutero-Isaiah (specifically, Isaiah 40-48) is strongly influenced by Persian thought and, especially, Cyrus’ propaganda against Babylon.

Go check it out. You can find it in Journal of the American Oriental Society 83 (1963), 415-421, and Shaye J. D. Cohen, ed., The Cult of Yahweh, vol. 1 (Leiden: Brill, 1996), 73-83.

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