Tag Archives: isaiah

Goat Demons and She-Devils in Edom (Isaiah 34:14)

Isaiah 34, talking about the desolation of Edom, contains this fascinating strophe:

And thorns will grow up over her citadels,
A thistle and a brier in her fortresses.
And she will be a dwelling for jackals,
A haunt for the daughters of desolation.
And the desert criers will meet with the howlers,
And the goat demon will cry out to his companion.
Indeed, Lilith is at repose there
And finds rest for herself.
There the arrow snake nests
And lays [her eggs] and hatches [her young] and gathers them in her shadow.
Indeed, there the vultures gather,
Each one with her companion.

(Isa 34:13-15)

Things that are noteworthy:

  • “Daughters of desolation” (line 4) are ostriches, whose cries sound like wailing among the ruins. Together with “jackals” (line 3), “desert criers” (line 5), “howlers” (line 5), and “the goat demon [crying] out to his companion” (line 6), the image is that of a region, completely desolate, filled with ceaseless, mournful howling.
  • “Desert criers” (line 5) are some sort of wild animal, but it is not certain what animal they are exactly. The typical translation of “wild animals” (ESV, NET), “desert creatures” (NIV), etc., just doesn’t really capture the image of vicious animals wailing in the wilderness. It’s the same with “the howlers”: they could be hyenas, they could be owls (no one seems to know for sure), but the point is not their actual identity so much as the sound they make.
  • Edom, having been completely laid to waste, is filled not only with wild animals, but also with demons. These demons howl to each other, as in the case of the “goat demon” (line 6), or they lie down in quiet, waiting for a chance to attack, like with “Lilith … at repose there” (line 7). The constant, mournful howling from the desert creatures thus takes on a sinister edge, which intensifies the image of desolation.
  • When Isaiah mentions demons, it makes a pretty clear point: for the ancient Israelites, demons were quite real and quite powerful. Some even had cultic practices devoted to them, both acceptable (like sacrificing goats to Azazel in Lev 16:8-10) and unacceptable (like the cult of the goat demons in Lev 17:7 and 2 Chron 11:15).

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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

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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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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Isaiah 40:3-8: MT, LXX, Gospels

Continuing in my text criticism/analysis of Deutero-Isaiah, here’s Isaiah 40:3-8. Like before, I’m using the Septuagint and the Masoretic Text as the bases for my criticism and analysis. English translations are my own.

LXX:
3 A voice shouting in the wilderness:
“Ready the Lord’s road,
Make straight our God’s paths.
4 Every valley will be filled,
And every mountain and hill will be brought low,
And everything crooked will be made straight,
And the rugged will be made into a plain.
5 And the Lord’s glory will be seen,
And all flesh will see God’s salvation,
Because the Lord has spoken.”

6 The voice of one speaking: “Shout!”
And I said, “What should I shout?”
“All flesh is grass,
And all a man’s glory is like a flower of grass.
7 The grass is dried up, and the flower falls,
8 But our God’s word remains forever.

MT:
3 A voice calling out in the wilderness:
“Clear out YHWH’s road,
Smooth out highways in the desert for our God.
4 Every valley will be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill will be brought low,
And the crooked will be made into a level place,
And the rugged places will be made into a plain.
5 And YHWH’s glory will be uncovered,
And all flesh will see together
That YHWH’s mouth has spoken.

6 A voice saying, “Call out!”
And he says, “What should I call out?
All flesh is grass,
And all his faithfulness is like a flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades,
Because YHWH’s breath blows on it;
Surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God will stand forever.”

Verse-by-Verse Analysis

Verse 3:
In the desert Because the LXX has the shorter reading of this verse, it is to be preferred over the MT’s reading. The MT’s “in the desert” is probably an addition to the text, to make it clear where YHWH’s highways are.

Verse 4:
Overall, this verse is promising that, when YHWH returns Judah to their land, he will make it suitable for agriculture. In filling in the valleys, leveling the hills, and removing the stones from the rugged places, he will remove the impediments to farming that plague the Judean countryside.

Will be brought low The LXX’s “will be brought low” (tapeinothesetai) means, literally, “will be humiliated.” It is strange to use the word in the sense of “level off” (which is the meaning it carries here, in parallel with “will be filled”); however, it corresponds exactly with the MT’s yishpalu, which carries the same force – it denotes being “brought low,” but it connotes being “humiliated.”

Will be made straight “Will be made,” in lines 3-4 of this verse, is a gloss. The LXX reads, literally:

And everything that is crooked will be into straightness,
And the rugged (fem. sg.) into a plain.

Likewise, the MT reads, literally:

And the crooked will be into a level place,
And the rugged places into a plain.

Verse 5:
See God’s salvation/See together 
The LXX’s reading is a harmonization with the content of 40:9-11, which describes how God will lead Judah back to their country, as a sort of second Exodus, which means that the MT’s text is more original.

Nevertheless, the LXX’s alteration, along with the scribal error in verses 7-8 (see below), changes the tone of the passage distinctly, making it more hopeful than the MT. In both the LXX and MT, YHWH’s glory is associated with radical changes to the landscape and with the fleeting nature of humanity; however, the MT goes further and describes YHWH’s breath as devastating, while the LXX goes in a completely different direction and relates how God’s glory will being salvation to the whole world. (It is, of course, not difficult to see why Luke — uniquely among the Gospel writers — includes the LXX version of this verse in his description of John the Baptist, whom he saw as Jesus’ forerunner.)

Because the Lord has spoken (LXX) It is possible to read the LXX’s “because the Lord has spoken” as “the Lord has said,” with verses 3b-5b as a quotation from YHWH (who would then be identified with the Wilderness Voice). This latter reading makes good sense in context, as v. 6a shows the “voice of one speaking” as issuing Isaiah’s call to prophesy. However, from a purely grammatical point of view, this reading is unnatural, so I have not followed it.

(N.B. Though I do not make an explicit connection in my translation that YHWH = the Wilderness Voice, I think a strong case for this identity may be made exegetically, based on verse 6a. Generally speaking, I think it is poor translational practice to make explicit what the text before you leaves implicit, so I have done exactly that.)

It is worth noting that, if the voice of 3a and 6a are the same person – namely, YHWH – then the Gospel writers have misinterpreted this passage. Each of them (Mk 1:2; Mt 3:3; Lk 3:4; Jn 1:23) have the Wilderness Voice as John the Baptist (John’s Gospel actually has the Baptist explicitly identifying himself with the Wilderness Voice). What seems likely to me is that, because John the Baptist was a prophetic figure who stationed himself in the wilderness, and because he was, in the Christians’ estimation, Jesus’ precursor/predecessor, the Gospel writers used this passage as a proof text to validate John’s authority and, thus, to equate Jesus with YHWH.

Verse 6:
And I/he
said The LXX has “And I said” while the MT has “And he said.” In the case of the LXX, verse 6 is a dialogue, which may be expressed as follows:

Voice: Shout!
Narrator: What should I shout?
Voice: All flesh is grass,
And all a man’s glory is like a flower of grass. . . .

The MT, however, presents verse 6 in the mouth of only one speaker, as here:

Voice: Call out!
What should I call out?
All flesh is grass,
And all his faithfulness is like a flower of the field. . . .

Line 2 in the MT is thus a rhetorical question in the Wilderness Voice’s proclamation, while the LXX presents it as a second speaker in a dialogue. The MT’s reading is so awkward that I can’t help but think it is corrupt, and I thus prefer the reading of the LXX, as do the NLT, ESV, NRSV, and NIV. The KJV follows the Hebrew text woodenly.

The NET translates this verse as follows, taking some explanatory liberties in the translation:

A voice says, “Cry out!”
Another asks, “What should I cry out?”
The first voice responds: “All people are like grass,
And all their promises are like the flowers in the field. . . .”

The NET’s notes remark that “[a]pparently a second ‘voice’ responds to the command of the first ‘voice.’ While this interpretation, i’ll admit, does more justice to the MT as it stands, it makes the most sense to follow the LXX’s wording.

All a man’s glory/All his faithfulness The MT’s “faithfulness” is more difficult than the LXX’s “glory,” so the MT is to be considered more original here. However, both readings do make sense in context, so neither should be deprecated; instead, we should see them as two separate traditions of the text.

The LXX contrasts human fame, which is fleeting and impermanent, with God’s declarations, which are fixed and eternal; the LXX’s version is thus a meditation on humanity’s ultimate insignificance. The MT, on the other hand, contrasts human fickleness and flakiness with God’s ultimate reliability.

Verses 7-8:
Compare the reading of the LXX here:

7 The grass is dried up, and the flower falls,
8 But our God’s word remains forever.

with that of the MT:

7 The grass withers, the flower fades,
Because YHWH’s breath blows on it;
Surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades,
But our God’s word will stand forever.

The most likely explanation for the difference between these two texts is scribal error. That is, at some point in the production and/or transmission of the LXX – whether in the transmission of the LXX’s Hebrew source, in the act of translation itself, or in the transmission of the Greek text of the LXX – a scribe/the translator unintentionally skipped from the first line of v. 7 to the last line of v. 8. (The proper term for this error is homeoteleuton.)

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Isaiah 40:1-2 — LXX, Masoretic Text, Links to the Synoptics

I read part of Isaiah 40 in a wedding today, and while I was at the rehearsal, I got bored and started comparing the versions of the text contained in the Septuagint (LXX) and the Masoretic Text (MT). And, unlike my last text criticism/commentary on Ezekiel, I did a little research before I wrote this. My main sources are:

Hans Debel, “Greek ‘Variant Literary Editions’ to the Hebrew Bible?”, Journal for the Study of Judaism 41 (2010): 161-190.

Wilfred G. E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry: A Guide to Its Techniques, 177-185.

I only really had time to look at Isaiah 40:1-2, but verse 2 provides plenty of fodder for consideration. Here are the two texts, followed by my own English translations.

1 Παρακαλεῖτε παρακαλεῖτε τὸν λαόν μου, λέγει ὁ θεός.
2 ἱερεῖς, λαλήσατε εἰς τὴν καρδίαν Ιερουσαλημ, παρακαλέσατε αὐτήν·
ὅτι ἐπλήσθη ἡ ταπείνωσις αὐτῆς, λέλυται αὐτῆς ἡ ἁμαρτία·
ὅτι ἐδέξατο ἐκ χειρὸς κυρίου διπλᾶ τὰ ἁμαρτήματα αὐτῆς.

1 “Comfort, comfort my people,” says God.
2 “Priests, speak to the heart of Jerusalem, comfort her,
Because her humiliation has been completed, her sin has been removed,
Because she has received from the Lord’s hand double her sins.”

נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ עַמִּי יֹאמַר אֱלֹהֵיכֶם1
2 דַּבְּרוּ עַל-לֵב יְרוּשָׁלִַם וְקִרְאוּ אֵלֶיהָ
כִּי מָלְאָה צְבָאָהּ
כִּי נִרְצָה עֲוֹנָהּ
כִּי לָקְחָה מִיַּד יְהוָה כִּפְלַיִם בְּכָל-חַטֹּאתֶיהָ

1 “Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God.
2 “Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her
That her servitude has been completed,
That her guilt has been satisfied,
That she has received from YHWH’s hand double for all her sins.”

Verse-by-Verse Comparison

Verse 1 only merits brief mention, because the difference between the two texts is so slight — the LXX simply has “God,” while the MT has “your God.” These different readings do not change the meaning of the text in the slightest.

Verse 2, however, is where the fun begins. Here’s my analysis.

Analysis of Vocabulary

The imperatives of vv. 1-2 are plural in both texts — they are second plural in the LXX and masculine plural in the MT; that is, they are functionally equivalent. The original reading seems to have been simple imperatives with no explicit subject, with the LXX’s addition of “priests” serving to make the subject explicit. References to priests in Isaiah are infrequent enough; ἱερεύς appears only in LXX 24:2; 28:7; 37:2; 40:2; 61:6; 66:22, and כהן only appears in MT 8:2; 24:2; 28:7; 37:2; 61:6; 66:22, which means that “priest” is likely only original in 24:2; 28:7; 37:2; 61:6; 66:22 — three times in 1 Isaiah and twice in 3 Isaiah, but none in 2 Isaiah, where ch. 40 is located. Thus, it’s likely that the original version of this text contains only the plural imperatives, with “priests” being an interpretive addition.

The “proclaim” of the MT (קִרְאוּ) is more original, with the LXX making the shift from καλέσατε (“call,” “proclaim”) to παρακαλέσατε (“exhort,” “comfort”) based on the presence of παρακαλέω twice in verse 1 and the similarity of παρακαλέω to καλέω. Likewise, the MT’s “servitude” is more original than the LXX’s “humiliation.” It is easy to see how the specific “servitude” shifted to the more abstract “humiliation,” while the move from abstract to specific is not as likely. Finally, the LXX’s “double her sins” is more original than the MT’s “double for all her sins.” The LXX’s reading is far more difficult to interpret than that of the MT, which makes it more likely to be original than the MT’s reading.

Analysis of Structure

Let’s look at the structure of the comforting message in the two different texts.

LXX:
“Priests, speak to the heart of Jerusalem, comfort her,
Because her humiliation has been completed, her sin has been removed,
Because she has received from the Lord’s hand double her sins.”

MT:
“Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her
That her servitude has been completed,
That her guilt has been satisfied,
That she has received from YHWH’s hand double for all her sins.”

The LXX structures the priests’ consolation as a set of nested parallelisms in a bicolon — that is, the two ὅτι clauses are parallel, and the contents of the first ὅτι clause are also parallel — while the MT arranges the proclamation in a tricolon. I cannot tell at this point which version is more original; even though parallelism is a classic feature of biblical Hebrew poetry, tricola are by no means unknown (cf. Watson, 177-185).

I can say for sure, though, that the LXX has revised the Hebrew text it reflects. Since the MT’s וְקִרְאוּ (“and proclaim”) is more original, we can say with certainty that the LXX has dropped the conjunction in favor of juxtaposing the two clauses in the parallelism; that is, it reads “speak to the heart of Jerusalem, comfort her” instead of “speak to the heart of Jerusalemand comfort her.” We may thus assume by analogy that “Because her humiliation has been completed, her sin has been removed” reflects an older “Because her humiliation has been completed and her sin has been removed.” (This reading, of course, is different than that of the MT, which has כִּי (“that”) where the LXX’s source has וְ (“and”).) With the vocabulary of the MT as a guide, we may reconstruct the LXX’s source as follows:

דַּבְּרוּ עַל-לֵב יְרוּשָׁלִַם וְקִרְאוּ אֵלֶיהָ
כִּי מָלְאָה צְבָאָהּ וְנִרְצָה עֲוֹנָהּ
כִּי לָקְחָה מִיַּד יְהוָה כִּפְלַיִם הַחַטֹּאתֶיהָ

“Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her
That her servitude has been completed and her guilt has been satisfied,
That she has received from YHWH’s hand double her sins.”

As I said, though, I’m not certain whether the LXX’s bicolon or the MT’s tricolon is more original, though the two structures definitely reflect two different text-types.

Analysis of Meaning

As they stand, the texts of the LXX and MT here provide two pretty different meanings. The MT has unnamed heralds — the most obvious group is the prophets — making a threefold proclamation directly to Jerusalem, that she no longer will suffer servitude, that her guilt is absolved, and that God has repayed her sin in full. In other words, these heralds must proclaim to Jerusalem that God, of his own accord, has forgiven her sins. The LXX, on the other hand, has the priests comforting Jerusalem because her guilt had been absolved; that is, it implies that Jerusalem’s absolution has come by means of the Temple sacrifices.

If we assume that the text recorded in the MT is more original — an assumption that most of the linguistic features support — the MT thus reflects a prophecy made during the time of the Babylonian exile (i.e. the time 2 Isaiah was written), that God had forgiven Jerusalem because he had exhausted his wrath against her, and he would soon return the Jerusalemites home. The LXX, it seems, reflects a later, post-exilic tradition, which took root at a time when the Temple sacrifices occurred regularly. In this tradition, God has still forgiven Jerusalem for her sins, but because she has offered acceptable sacrifices at the Temple.

Interaction with the New Testament

The tradition of the LXX’s text is not very friendly to the traditional understanding of the prophets (e.g. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” Hosea 6:6) or of the NT (e.g. the Temple sacrifices being insufficient for salvation, which is something only Jesus’ death can bring about).

Interestingly, it is quite probable that at least three of the NT authors knew of this second tradition. Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:2-3, and Luke 3:4-6 all quote this passage (specifically, Isa 40:3, the verse immediately after the one we are currently considering) with wording identical to that of our LXX. Thus, it is highly likely that their version of Isa 40:2 refers to priests, not prophets, as does our LXX. While we cannot say for certain how exactly these authors would have treated the pro-sacrifice tradition in Isa 40:2 in the LXX, it is certainly a question worth considering.

Conclusion

In sum, we may reconstruct two different text-types of Isaiah 40:2 — one reflected by the LXX (LXX-source) and one reflected by the MT (MT-source):

LXX-source:
דַּבְּרוּ עַל-לֵב יְרוּשָׁלִַם וְקִרְאוּ אֵלֶיהָ
כִּי מָלְאָה צְבָאָהּ וְנִרְצָה עֲוֹנָהּ
כִּי לָקְחָה מִיַּד יְהוָה כִּפְלַיִם הַחַטֹּאתֶיהָ

“Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her
That her servitude has been completed and her guilt has been satisfied,
That she has received from YHWH’s hand double her sins.”

MT-source:
דַּבְּרוּ עַל-לֵב יְרוּשָׁלִַם וְקִרְאוּ אֵלֶיהָ
כִּי מָלְאָה צְבָאָהּ
כִּי נִרְצָה עֲוֹנָהּ
כִּי לָקְחָה מִיַּד יְהוָה כִּפְלַיִם הַחַטֹּאתֶיהָ

“Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her
That her servitude has been completed,
That her guilt has been satisfied,
That she has received from YHWH’s hand double her sins.”

The MT reflects a more original tradition, one in which the Judean population, held captive in Babylon and longing to escape their servitude and return to their homeland, receives a prophecy that God has forgiven them — not from anything they themselves had done, but simply because had exhausted his wrath against them.

The LXX is a later tradition, one that roots itself in the efficacy of the Temple sacrifices; in this tradition, God still has forgiven Jerusalem her sins, but because the priests have offered acceptable sacrifices to atone for their sin. Matthew, Mark, and Luke likely knew this tradition, since their quotations of the next verse (Isa 40:3) are identical to the text of our LXX, and it is worth considering what effect, if any, this tradition had on their thought.

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Cyrus vs. Babylon in Herodotus, Isaiah, and Jeremiah

Cyrus’ sack of Babylon in 539 BCE was a truly impressive feat. Here’s how Wikipedia describes it:

In 539 BC, the Neo-Babylonian Empire fell to Cyrus the Great, king of Persia, with an unprecedented military engagement known as the Battle of Opis. The famed walls of Babylon were indeed impenetrable, with the only way into the city through one of its many gates or through the Euphrates, which ebbed beneath its thick walls. Metal gates at the river’s in-flow and out-flow prevented underwater intruders, if one could hold one’s breath to reach them. Cyrus (or his generals) devised a plan to use the Euphrates as the mode of entry to the city, ordering large camps of troops at each point and instructed them to wait for the signal. Awaiting an evening of a national feast among Babylonians (generally thought to refer to the feast of Belshazzar mentioned in Daniel V), Cyrus’ troops diverted the Euphrates river upstream, causing the Euphrates to drop to about ‘mid thigh level on a man’ or to dry up altogether. The soldiers marched under the walls through the lowered water. The Persian Army conquered the outlying areas of the city’s interior while a majority of Babylonians at the city center were oblivious to the breach. The account was elaborated upon by Herodotus [1.191], and is also mentioned by passages in the Hebrew Bible [Isa 44:9-45:4; Jer 50-51].

For your reading pleasure, here are links to the three ancient works the Wikipedia article cites, with excerpts to whet your appetite.

Herodotus:

. . . and when he came to the lake, Cyrus dealt with it and with the river just as had the Babylonian queen: drawing off the river by a canal into the lake, which was a marsh, he made the stream sink until its former channel could be forded. . . . because of the great size of the city (those who dwell there say) those in the outer parts of it were overcome, but the inhabitants of the middle part knew nothing of it; all this time they were dancing and celebrating a holiday which happened to fall then, until they learned the truth only too well.

Isaiah:

I am the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who by myself spread out the earth; who frustrates the omens of liars, and makes fools of diviners; . . . who says to the deep, “Be dry— I will dry up your rivers”; who says of Cyrus, “He is my shepherd, and he shall carry out all my purpose.”

Jeremiah:

Declare among the nations and proclaim,
set up a banner and proclaim,
do not conceal it, say:
Babylon is taken,
Bel is put to shame,
Merodach is dismayed.
Her images are put to shame,
her idols are dismayed.

For out of the north a nation has come up against her; it shall make her land a desolation, and no one shall live in it; both human beings and animals shall flee away.

I especially enjoy the reference in Isaiah, because it comes at the end of a very funny satire on idolatry, when compared with Yahweh worship. I also think it’s very cool that an event recorded in a Greek historian was of such significance for Israel that it made its way into two of the prophets.

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