[b-hebrew] Isaiah 53: out of the context

UUC unikom at paco.net
Thu May 27 11:31:05 EDT 2004

Dear Liz and everyone,

I assembled a quick apologia for the avdi below. Not everything there is
defendable, and probably some is incorrect. But still it makes a point.

Best regards,


Several reviewers voiced opinion that our interpretation does not fit into
the texture of Isaiah's books that basically deal with the return from
exile. Apparently, this view is incompatible with the common view of Isaiah
53 as the prophecy of the future messiah, and would lead to seeing Cyrus in
every servant or savior reference, which is evidently untrue, cf. Isaiah
42:2-3, 49:3-4.

Rather, we conclude that several references to the enigmatic man were
interpolated in Isaiah's text so that while superficially preserving textual
continuity, they are actually out of the context and speak of a different
subject. They appear in random order both before and after the chapter 53.
In a sense, these references were "encoded" in Isaiah to be seen only by a
reader who knows what he is looking for. In this sense, our interpretation
fits the context - but not that of the main chapters, but of the numerous
small interpolations.

The puzzling question is who could have introduced them. These people must
have had exclusive access to the scrolls in order to introduce the changes
in every manuscript copied and to make sure no alternative versions are
left. Considering their piety towards the texts, into which they introduced
only small pieces, they were not some fringe sectarians. Overall, they
evidently controlled the temple or, at any rate, the major script shop. This
is not easily reconciled with the fact that their revered figure was
executed, and they were seemingly reviled. We do not know much about the
ancient Jewish sects, but from the little we know, the Teacher of
Righteousness of Essenes seems to be a good candidate, if we allow that some
time passed between his execution or exile, and expulsion of Essenes from
the temple, where they seemingly held major role before.

The interpolations are stylistically different from the surrounding hymns
and lamentations. The largest such interpolation is Isaiah 53, which also
employs unusually regular grammar and many pronouns of 1p and non-divine
3ms. Likewise, the interpolations typically - and very unusually for
Hebrew - employ pronouns and pronoun forms of verbs and nouns without
specifying the subject. The reader, who was expected to know the subject,
should have been a peculiarly informed reader, since the text contains no
inferences. Possibly, authors of the minor inserts were different from the
writer of Isaiah 53, since his cautious endorsement of the man contrasts
their all-out adherence, and his pity for the people who rejected the man
contrasts the authors' hatred. 53' author identified himself with sinful
nation, while the latter interpolators, sectarians, referred to them.

Let us have a look at the several most evident inserts.

Isaiah 52:13-15, describing the servant after the previous verses dealt
coherently with the return from exile, contains specific parallels to the
chapter 53:

52:13 Lo, my servant will increase in knowledge, lifted up, highly exalted
[but he had risen much]

53:2 He rose up like a shoot. 53:11 filled by knowledge,

52:14 Just as many were astonished at you; [:] yes, mutilated is his
appearance among men, and his vividness among sons of men.

53:2 but we longed for him; not vividness in him, no appearance; 53:3
Despised by men

52:15 Yes, he would sprinkle many nations; their rulers will shut their
mouths on him, because what [whom] was not told them they saw, and what
[whom] they did not heard they contemplated.

53:11 and their digressions he would have withstood. 53:12 I would have
allotted him part among multitude; [he] would have divided gain with many

The verses of the chapter 52 combine past and future tenses, indicating
narration of the current events: some already passed, and other were
expected by the author. Avoiding this explanation, commentators often resort
to an artificial device of "prophetic perfect": supposedly a prophet employs
past tense along with the future to transmit to reader the succession of
future events. There is hardly any doubt that the writer of Is53 attempted
to imitate the style of the last verses of Is52, probably in order to create
a sense of textual continuity for the interpolation. Quite possibly, both
pieces were written by the same person, but certainly with a large time gap.
He assimilated many words and concepts from Is52, notably vividness and
appearance, was told and heard, among men and knowledge. It is a question
whether 52:13-15 were originally present or were written simultaneously with
chapter 53. These last verses of chapter 52 relate messianic prophecy about
that man. It did not come true. Therefore, Is53 was written to explain the
apparent fallacy of the prophet. Is53:1-9 thus constitutes a discourse about
the man, and Is53:10 starts the return from digression of Is53:1-9 to the
details of Is52:13-15. The style is abruptly changed at 53:10 to
transmitting the words of God, significantly in conjunctive mood to prove
that it was the man's fault that his mission was not fulfilled, and had he
behaved differently, the prophecy would have been realized.

It may be speculated that Is52 describes a certain person of characteristic
ugliness who was expected at the time to lead Jews from exile to victory.
After he was unsuccessful, Is53 was written in the attempt to explain the
reason for his failure. What was that reason is unclear, but it seemingly
had to do with people not believing the man who offered a peculiar doctrine.

Isaiah 52:7: How beautiful upon the mountains [Jerusalem] are the feet of
the good messenger who proclaims well-being, messenger of the good who
proclaims salvation.

Verse 12 indicates that the person in question is hardly Cyrus, since, The
Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rearward. Thus,
the return would require military effort.

11:10: And it will happen on that day, that a root of Jesse. unto him will
the nations seek, and his resting place shall be glorious

What is the resting place in this context; is it of live person

41:26-29: Who declared from the beginning that we might know? and
beforetime, that we may say that he is right (that we may call him the
righteous)? Yea, there is none that declares, yea, there is none that
announces, yea, there is none that hears your utterances (actually, no one
predicted the man). A harbinger to Zion: Here, here are they; and to
Jerusalem a good messenger will I give. And I will look, and no man; or [is
there] no counselor among them? And I will ask them, and they will put an
answer. All of them, empty and naught are their works, wind and chaos their
molten images.
Possibly waw's should be vowelized as consecutive, and the discourse is in
the past tense. No counselor - since the man was executed, there is no one
left to talk to his generation. The answer of people is that they do not
have a counselor after they had condemned the man. The altars, which he left
posterity in the chapter 53, are not so bizarre when we read about the
widespread idolatry here. The verses are out of the context of a hymn on
return from exile.

Verse 26 stylistically is at startling contrast with the previous ones. It
also employs a peculiar address of 53:1, who declared? Its cryptic language
does not fit a common style of comprehensible Jewish prophecy.

The harbinger is most probably a Jew, if not God. An author would hardly
call a foreigner thus.

42:1-2: This is my slave, in whom I stay. will judge the nations. He will
not cry (in tears), nor lift up, nor declare outside with his voice . and
the isles wait for his teaching.

The last word refutes references to Cyrus, and nasa possibly compares
directly to 53: he would neither suffer, nor share the sins, or preach, but
be very firm of purpose. Then, chapter 53 explains that he did exactly these
mistakes, and therefore did not succeed.

41:3: Bruised reed he will not break, and the dimly burning wick he will not
quench; he shall make the right to go forth according to the truth.

2Kings18:21 calls Egypt a broken reed. Perhaps the savior will not repeat
the error of Hezekiah who relied on Egypt against the Assyrians.

42:6-7: I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and have taken hold of
thy hand. To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the

Taken hold of your hand parallels Is53:10: and the will of God would have
succeeded through his hand.

Dungeon may be related to the confinement of 53:8, opening possibility that
the man was not jailed before the trail, but was taken from confinement of
uncomprehending nation and from the justice, which he was supposed to

The fact that God is called el, a comparatively low title, in 42:5, casts
great doubts on the authenticity of these verses. Perhaps the man almost
overshadowed God in the author's imagination.

Likewise, 42:19-25 also employs the who construction, prominent in Isaiah
53:1. Whether 19-25 appeared at the same time as 6-7, is a question,
considering that blind is used disparagingly of the unknowing nation in 7,
and of the servant in 19 - unless the servant is the nation.

However, I have called you of 42:6 is the same phrase as refers to Cyrus in
45:4. Whether it is a coincidence, is unknown. But considering verses like
48:12, Israel my called, such similar phrases need not be overestimated.

43:10: You are my witnesses, says the Lord, And [for you is] my servant,
whom I have chosen that you may know

43:26: declare you (the people) in order to justify

53:11: he would have justified the righteous before multitude

44:2 yeshurun

44:25: God turns the wise backward, and makes their knowledge foolish
(Christian-like, sectarian). performs the advice of his messengers

The author is used to someone on par with God, giving him advice.

49:2-3: And he has made my mouth like a sharp sword. And he said to me, You
are my slave; Israel which is in you, I will glorify

49:7: Thus said the Lord. to the one despised, abhorred by nation, to slave
of those alike him (slave speaking parables): kings shall see and arise

49:24: The prey will be taken from the mighty; but would the captured
righteous escape?

50:6: I gave my back to smiters, and my cheeks - to hair-pluckers; I hid not
my face from shame and spitting

This verse recalls the man of 53 who "as if" hid his face and endured

51:7: Listen to me, you that know righteousness. do not fear the taunt of
men, nor be dismayed by their revilings

This verse likely is about sectarians, reviled by mainstream Jews.

51:12: who are you (fem sing, Zion?) that is afraid of a mortal man

51:16: And I have put my words in your (masc sing) mouth. that I may say to
Zion, You are my people

51:19-20: These two things are befallen you; who shall bemoan you?
Desolation and destruction, and the famine and the sword. Your sons. lie at
the head of all the streets. the rebuke of your God

This is certainly not about the return from exile, which is a major theme of
the surrounding chapters. That no one is there to bemoan points to wholesale
killing, not exile, as well. The scene is probably from the fall of
Jerusalem under Zedekiah.

Isaiah 55:4-5: Lo, I gave him as protector (witness) to [the] peoples, a
ruler and commander to [the] peoples, Lo, you will call a nation you would
not know, and [the] nation, which will not know you will run to you

This may look like a reference to Cyrus, if not for enigmatic continuation,
Because the Lord. glorified you (fem or pausal). Thus, you is both masc and
fem, a nation, and therefore the leader was a Jew.

Isaiah 56:9-11: Everyone - beast of the field, come (pl.) to devour,
everyone - beast of the forest; Watchmen, they are all blind, without
knowledge, all dumb dogs.; And the dogs are cruel in their souls, not
knowing satiation, and these are shepherds not knowing the understanding,
they all turn their own way

This piece, not correlated in any way with the context, is best understood
as a frustrated accusation of those who executed a man of Isaiah 53.
Shepherds parallels small cattle of 53:6, all turn their own way - the same
phrase in the same verse. The definite article is not popular in Tanakh, and
its usage in the interpolations demonstrates that their subject was very
familiar to the audience.

Isaiah 57:1-2: The righteous is lost, and no man takes [it] to heart, and
good men are taken away through lack of understanding; for because of the
evil was taken the one righteous. He will enter the peace, they will rest in
their beds; he walks upright.

Although not a common meaning, shalom, tentatively translated here as peace,
probably relates to Sheol. The man's repose there is contrasted to the
earthly rest of his opponents.

Isaiah 57:15: [I live in a high and holy place] with the one of a contrite
and humble spirit [to revive the spirit of the humble]

It is hard to understand this verse as anything else but a reference to the
executed man of the chapter 53. Else, supposing the high and holy place as a
reference to Jerusalem, we are obliged to date the text by the period when
the temple stood, since only then God was thought of as being present in the
city. One also has to stretch imagination to make sense of living with one
humble person in order to revive the other humble, unless we accept the
far-fetched interpretation of that humble man being the high priest, who
alone could enter the sanctuary.

Contrite, daka, is exactly the word base translated as dejection in Isaiah
53:10 and dejected in Isaiah 53:5.

Isaiah 57:17-18, while seemingly speaking of the people of Israel, possibly
corresponds to the man of the chapter 53: "I have seen his ways" refers to
the man's avon, and "will heal him"[1] may be related to the illnesses he
took. Consider also, "and comforted him and his mourners." Who can be the
nation' mourners? Certainly not the other peoples. "His mourners" possibly
presupposes people external to that mourned, which is thus a man, not a
nation (why shva in bizo); in other cases, the author is clear, Them that
mourn in Zion, 61:3.

57:19-21: The one creating the sayings [parables]: peace, peace to the one
who is far off and to the one who is near; said the Lord: And I will heal
him. But the wicked are like a sea whose waters were restlessly pushing out
mire and dirt. No peace, said the Lord to the wicked.

Possibly, the wicked whom the man left his tomb (who executed him) are
denied rest in the future because now they revile (pushing dirt) the man's

Isaiah 59:20-21: And [the] avenger came to Zion, and to those turning
(bringing) crime unto Jacob. And as for me, this is my covenant to them,
said the Lord, my spirit, which is upon you, and [the] words, which I put
into your mouth, shall not depart (leave: you shouldn't stop telling) from
your mouth, nor out of the mouth of your seed. from now and forever.

61:1 may be taken as a reference to a known savior, like Cyrus, The spirit
of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord has anointed me to bring good
new to the humble. However, the continuation implies a Jewish leader, Aliens
will be your plowmen. you will eat the wealth of the nations

or does 6 refer to plural subject

62:10-63-6: lift up an ensign over the peoples. your salvation comes, his
reward is with him. Who is that coming from Edom in crimsoned garments. of
the people there was no man with me. I trampled them in my fury, and their
lifeblood is dashed against my garments. For the day on vengeance that was
in my heart, and my year of redemption came. And I look, and there was no
one to help. my own arm saved me

65:9: And I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an
inheritor of my mountains; and my elect shall inherit it, and my slaves
shall dwell there.

14-15 distinguish "my elect" from the rest of the Jews, presumably
non-observant (65:4) while considering themselves holier than the elect

Isaiah 66:2: And I will look at this one, at the poor and of contrite spirit

Cf. 53:10. And God, desiring his dejection, made him ill. The author
attempts to rationalize the man's illness.

66:5: Hear the word of the Lord, those trembling at his word: Your brothers
hate you, cast you out for my name have said: Let the Lord be glorified, and
we will see your joy; but they will be ashamed.

Here is a possible trace of a sectarian struggle: the man's followers are
mocked; since they preach humility, other zealots indeed humiliate them and
suggest that they enjoy the humiliation.

66:7: before she travailed, she brought force; before her pain came, she was
delivered of a man-child

Perhaps this verse tells of a savior being born in Zion before a major
destruction. Birth pains in modern interpretation are a standard metaphor of
the period just before the messiah.

66:9: Shall I that cause to bring force shut the womb? says your God

The imagery of shut (azar) womb brings forward Is53:8, where the man was
taken from confinement, ozer.

66:11: That you may suck and be satisfied with the breast of her

Suck (tinek) may parallel suckling (ionek) of Is53:2

66:14 hand of the Lord will be with his slaves

That the hand will not be with all Jews, 66:17, may point to his slaves
being sectarian followers of the man of Isaiah 53, who was called my slave,
and that time the hand was on him.


[1] The past tense is more suitable to the executed person; perhaps the
vowelization of waw is incorrect. Later in the phrase, there is past tense.
If our suggestion is true, then "led him" is better related to the man than
to Israel, which is described as the one who lost ways in the present.

> As far as Isaiah 63 goes I haven't looked at the
> texts after 56, except for 61, assuming that it was
> by a different author.
> So, I have no idea. Most commentators assign 60-62 to
> CYrus.
> So, I don't know.
> Thanks for asking tho.
> What's your opinion?
> LIz
> > Dear Liz,
> >
> > Is Cyrus also coming from Edom in 63:1?
> > I'm not teasing you; your interpretation is really curious to me.
> >
> >
> > Best regards,
> >
> > Vadim
> > _______________________________________________
> > b-hebrew mailing list
> > b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
> > http://lists.ibiblio.org/mailman/listinfo/b-hebrew
> _______________________________________________
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