James Dowden's Biblioblog

An Anglican layman and total Biblical Studies amateur posts on stuff he finds interesting in the Bible

Bible Myths: Before Abraham was, a Burning Bush

1. A thought experiment in modern languages

This is actually a post about how the English language works. Let’s take an example that has nothing to do with the Bible. If I wanted to say in Welsh that I am working:

Dw i’n gweithio.

Simple: “dw i” means “I am” and “yn gweithio” means working. Let’s extend the sentence a bit to say, “I am working as a nurse”:

Dw i’n gweithio fel nyrs.

Yep, the extra words are pretty obvious. “Fel” means “as”, there is no indefinite article (just like in Greek), and “nyrs” is one of those brilliant Welsh words that have been calqued from English. Isn’t this easy? Let’s extend the sentence again:

Dw i’n gweithio fel nyrs ers pum mlynedd.

Hurrah! I am working as a nurse since five years! Wait, what do you mean I can’t say that in English?

Every native speaker of English would correct (whether out loud or politely in their own heads) a speaker of a modern foreign language who said “I am working as a nurse since five years”. In English, one must use the retrospective and say “I’ve been working as a nurse for five years”. The speaker of the other language would probably then protest that they were still working as a nurse, but to no avail.

It is an oddity of the English present tense that one does not use it with “since” clauses. So let’s continue with our old Welsh nurse’s outlandish claims:

Dw i’n gweithio fel nyrs ers cyn i ti gael dy eni!

We’ve lost “pum mlynedd” – five years – and replaced it with “cyn i ti gael dy eni”. Hyperliteralistically, this translates as “before to you getting your birth”; what it actually means is “before you were born”.

Unsurprisingly given what we’ve just learnt about English tenses, once more we do not translate this “I am working as a nurse since before you were born”, but rather “I’ve been working as a nurse since before you were born”.

So let’s swap out another couple of elements. Let’s forget working as a nurse and just have existing, and let’s up the outlandish claim from your birth to Abraham’s:

Dw i’n bodoli ers cyn i Abraham gael ei eni!

And once again, we remember how English tenses work, and say “I have existed” – not “I exist” – “since before Abraham was born”.

The alert among you will notice that I have just quoted word-for-word Beibl.net’s Welsh translation of John 8.58. Aside from swapping the clauses around to make less stilted Welsh (and the slight liberty that people don’t come to pass in languages other than Greek; they are born), this is a totally straightforward translation of the Greek.

2. Some English translations of John 8.58

So, given what we’ve learnt about English tenses, we should expect Jesus’ words in John 8.58 to be “I have existed since before Abraham was born”; or at the very least, Yodaishly keeping the clauses in the Greek order, “since before Abraham was born, I have existed”.

Tyndale: yer Abraham was I am
Geneva: before Abraham was, I am
KJV: Before Abraham was, I am
Douay: before Abraham was made, I am
RV: Before Abraham was, I am
Weymouth: before Abraham came into existence, I am
ASV: Before Abraham was born, I am
Knox: before ever Abraham came to be, I am
NAB: before Abraham came to be, I AM
NEB: before Abraham was born, I am
RSV: before Abraham was, I am
NASB: before Abraham was born, I am
NIV: before Abraham was born, I am
GNB: Before Abraham was born, ‘I Am’
NRSV: before Abraham was, I am
ESV: before Abraham was, I am
HCSB: Before Abraham was, I am
ISV: before there was an Abraham, I AM
NLT: before Abraham was even born, I Am
NWT: before Abraham came into existence, I have been

Okay, so what’s going on here? One obvious point is that, as is all too typical with English Bible translations, everyone’s plagiarizing Tyndale, consciously or unconsciously. But it is strange that everyone is using English tenses like a non-native speaker. (Well, everyone, that is, except those weirdos who deny their children blood transfusions and knock on the front door when you’re in the shower. They at least manage Yoda’s version.)

But, as I’m sure everyone is already aware, there’s something else going on here. Just look at all those versions with weird capitalizations and scare quotes. Everyone’s sacrificing English grammar on the altar of making some clever reference.

3. That Burning Bush

Yes, that clever reference – as pointed out in every English-language sermon on John 8.58 – is to what God answers Moses with at the Burning Bush at Exodus 3.14. God tells Moses his name is “I AM”. And as we learnt in Greek 101, εγω ειμι is how one says “I am” in Greek.

The snag is, of course, that God does not call himself εγω ειμι at Exodus 3.14 in the LXX. Rather, the name is rendered ο ων – “the existent one”, or as English translations of the Book of Revelation tend to translate it, “WHO IS”.

If John had written something like πριν Αβρααμ γενεσθαι εγω ειμι ο ων, then the connection would be there in Greek, but of course it doesn’t say that; it just says πριν Αβρααμ γενεσθαι εγω ειμι.

4. Absurdity

In case anyone was in any doubt about εγω ειμι not meaning I AM at John 8.58, let’s offer some equally silly translations:

I AM is the bread of life (Jn 6.35,48)

I AM is the light of the world; he who follows me… [shurely “him”?] (Jn 8.12)

I AM is the door: he who enters through me [him?] will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. (Jn 10.9)

I AM is the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. [shades of patripassionism] (Jn 10.11)

I AM is the way, the truth, and the life; nobody comes to the Father but through me. [now this is just confused] (Jn 14.6)

I AM is the true vine, and my Father is the farmer. [God the Grandfather?] (Jn 15.1)

Perhaps it is tempting to have the people who came to arrest Jesus in John 18 fall over (v.4-8) at “I AM”, but when they ask for “Jesus the Nazarene”, εγω ειμι clearly just means “that’s me”. It also happens to be the way Peter says “it’s me” at Acts 10.21, Judas says “it isn’t me” in Matthew 26.22,25, and the many false messiahs say “it’s me” in Mark 13.6 and parallels.

5. To conclude

I’m sure this myth is so deep-seated that I don’t stand any chance of shifting it. I’m also far from the first to point this out (Jason BeDuhn devotes an entire chapter to it in Truth in Translation). But at least you’ve now all learned how to say what your job is in Welsh.

An interesting variant at Luke 23.13

A late evening’s idle Googling around brought up this gem in Hikmat Kashouh’s The Arabic Versions of the Gospels: the Manuscripts and their Families:


The conflation ἄρχοντας τοῦ λαοῦ καὶ τὸν λαὸν is clearly just that: a conflation. Now the support for ἄρχοντας τοῦ λαοῦ is probably just too weak: it’s part of the Western branch (with the obvious exception of D/d!) – some Old Latin and Syriac witnesses – plus a handful of Greek minuscules whose text type is a mixture of Byzantine and something else (although 16 and 1216 cohere quite nicely). But the Western text seems to be unusually good in Luke 22-24, at least if one is a fan of those Western Non-Interpolations.

The text reading, ἄρχοντας καὶ τὸν λαὸν, also raises a curious problem of sense. Here at verse 13, we have Pilate summoning the chief priests and the rulers and the people so that they can all shout out at verse 18, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas!” Then at verse 27, the great multitude of the people are mourning and lamenting Jesus. At verse 35, they can only stand by and watch as the rulers scoffed at Jesus on the cross, a striking redaction of Mark 15.29-30 (And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying,“Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” (ESV)). Then at 24.20, Cleopas on the road to Emmaus informs Jesus that “our chief priests and rulers delivered him up”, and the people once more are innocent.

The Western reading, ἄρχοντας τοῦ λαοῦ, removes this problem. Pilate summons the chief priests and the rulers of the people. The story works in its own terms. There’s also a plausible motive for scribal alteration to this reading: conformation to Mark and Matthew. One could picture a scribe reaching the point where Luke has the chief priests and the rulers of the people saying “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas!” and thinking that it just wasn’t right and uncorrecting τοῦ λαοῦ to καὶ τὸν λαὸν, thereby adding the people in.

Next time: maybe back to those Synoptic Problem visualizations, or maybe I’ll make a belated LXX Day post.


Attempting to Visualize the Synoptic Problem, Part Two

Seeing as this seems to be almost driving my traffic into double figures, and as Joel Watts has kindly linked to me (I am sure these things are not unconnected!), I’ll post another visualization of one gospel author’s redaction of what went before. In case anyone hadn’t guessed, here is Luke’s treatment of the same six chapters of Mark that I posted Matthew’s treatment of earlier:

ImageImmediately the picture is of a lot more blue: generally, Luke follows Mark, as I hinted at earlier. There are a few instances of Luke moving sections earlier (green) or later (purple) after an apparently piecemeal and variably successful fashion, but there is no wholesale disruption of long sections of Mark as we saw with Matthew (look for the red in the middle for Matthew’s disruption to Mark’s order). In a lighter blue, we also see some Marcan passages that Matthew had omitted retained.

Two other features are notable. Firstly, we can see two blocks of Luke working primarily with Matthew. The first, coloured mainly in dark blue, because the Aland SQE numbers aren’t fine-grained enough to pick it up (and I can’t be bothered to try to redo that work!), is the Baptism and Peirasmos account, where Luke evidently preferred Matthew’s more expansive storyline. The second is of course the Sermon on the Plain/Mount, including a local agreement in order with Matthew against Mark.

Secondly, at the bottom of the visualization, we see Luke’s aversion to doublets creeping in. Neither doublet introduced by Matthew has made it into Luke, and with the grey starting at the bottom, we see the beginning of the condensing of the Feedings of the 5000 and 4000 into a single account. For sake of consistency, and for sake of not having loads of purple arrows flying off the bottom of the diagram, I have stopped at the end of Mark 6.

Now, maybe, just maybe, I’ll get around to the left over bits of Matthew…

Attempting to Visualize the Synoptic Problem

Over at the Jesus Blog, there’s been a lively discussion (and now a poll!) on whether Farrer theorists are still in a minority. I thoroughly expect that we are, and so I’ll preëmptively start harping on about why we’re right again.

Part of the problem is perception: Luke’s order’s being different from Matthew’s order gets mentioned frequently in discussions of the Synoptic Problem. What is less often mentioned is that Matthew is not simply Mark with a few discourses interpolated, but radically reörders the early part of Mark.

This reördering is incredibly difficult to visualize, but I’ve had a go at it below. One of the most difficult decisions was not to expand the discourses (although there are plenty of interesting things going on within them) and focus only on the surrounding narrative. It should hopefully be pretty self-explantory, but here’s a brief key in case it isn’t:

  • BLUE – Matthew copying Mark in order
  • GREY – Marcan material omitted by Matthew
  • BLACK – Matthew’s non-Marcan material
  • GOLD – Material Matthew has redeployed in discourse settings
  • YELLOW-GREEN – The Call of the Disciples, merged by Matthew into their Commission
  • RED – A massive block of material that Matthew has brought forward to various locations
  • TURQUOISE – A minor consequential flip
  • PURPLES – Doubletty stuff

ImageSo, on the basis of the Farrer Theory, Luke had three choices for which order to base his own on:

  1. Mark’s order;
  2. Matthew’s order; or:
  3. invent a completely new order.

As it happens, he generally went for option 1: Mark’s order. It’s easy enough to see why this is an appealing choice: that first Sabbath day at Capernaum is an incredibly powerful story, whereas Matthew’s fronted Sermon to an unexplained crowd doesn’t work particularly well. But this leaves an obvious problem: what on earth was Luke to do with anything he found appealing in all that material in black?

To be continued, maybe, if I can ever create a visualization of how the next step in gospel composition worked that isn’t too intimidatingly large…

tl;dr: Q theorists are happy for Matthew to know and reörder Mark, but not for Luke to know and reörder Matthew. Hypocrites! They will be cast out to outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!

Mark’s Christology

There has been a bit of back and forth in the blogosphere about whether Mark thought Jesus was God: Michael Kruger says yea; James McGrath says nay; and Dale Tuggy gives an overview of the data. On one level, it seems to be that old proto-orthodox/adoptionist ding-dong all over again; and there may be some insights into the nature of the canon there.

But I would like to look at a few of the passages that Dale Tuggy highlighted.

1. Mark 1.12-13: the so-called Temptation

Tempted. (12) But, you can’t tempt God.

I fear that what we have here is Biblish not meaning the same as the usual modern English meanings of words. For “tempt”, a popular online dictionary gives the following:

verb (used with object)
1. to entice or allure to do something often regarded as unwise, wrong, or immoral.
2. to attract, appeal strongly to, or invite: The offer tempts me.
3. to render strongly disposed to do something: The book tempted me to read more on the subject.
4. to put (someone) to the test in a venturesome way; provoke: to tempt one’s fate.
5. Obsolete . to try or test.

It’s only natural – especially when Matthew and Luke’s synoptic parallels are subconsciously in mind, despite knowing deep down that Mark did not know these – to read sense (1) into the passage. But the verb that is traditionally translated “tempt” here – πειράζω – has its core meaning close to sense (5), and Mark’s usage of it conforms to this elsewhere (all quotes ESV):

  • 8.11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him.
  • 10.2 And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
  • 12.15 But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.”

With this meaning in mind, the analysis “you can’t tempt God” doesn’t work. Indeed, the parallels between Mark 1.12-13 and the second half of Psalm 95 (aka the Venite) are somewhat marked:

12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

And sticking with the ESV, even though it’s changed its Biblish into modern English here:

Today, if you hear his voice,
8     do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
    as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
9 when your fathers put me to the test
    and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
10 For forty years I loathed that generation [etc etc]

Whatever point Mark was trying to make with this allusion to the Israelites’ testing (“temptation”) of God, it clearly wasn’t “you can’t tempt God”.

(On a bit of an aside, it needn’t be mediated through Psalm 95. Mark could of course have been thinking of the incidents in Exodus 17 and Numbers 14, which are parts of the same story – including describing God as being tempted/tested on both occasions – after a more narrative fashion.)

But we have a nice little Bible translation issue here: why does (seemingly) every translation anomalously and misleadingly go for “tempted” at Mark 1.13, when “tested” would convey the meaning of the Greek better in modern English? (There’s a similar issue with the noun πειρασμός at Mt 6.13 // Lk 11.4 and Mk 14.38 and parallels, although versions such as the ESV, NASB, NIV, and HCSB offer different renderings elsewhere (e.g. James 1.12).)

2. Mark 1.14-15: the Gospel of God

Proclaims the good news from God. (14-15)

Here we encounter that tedious argument about Greek genitives that is bound to send everyone to sleep. So I shall be perhaps uncharacteristically brief. Is the Good News of God the Good News from God or the Good News regarding God. There is a case to be argued that this is the latter from the content of this proclamation – translating on the fly, “The time has come, and God’s reign has drawn near! Repent, and believe the Good News!”

This leaves quite a big question of what it means to be God’s Anointed, his Christ, when the proclamation seems to be that God himself is king. Is the messenger/sender distinction even helpful? (And do we have a relationship to a closely neighbouring Psalm here – see Ps 93.1; 96.10; 97.1; 99.1?)

3. Mark 1.25-26: the Holy One of God

Demon tries to blow his cover (25-6) – he’s “the Holy One of God.” 

And here we have a title that’s unhelpfully used in two different ways in the Old Testament. Firstly there are human holy ones (e.g. Dt 33.3), but these are nearly always plural and a way of referring to God’s people. There’s even an entire ἐκκλησία of them on one occasion (Ps 89.7). Very rarely is this usage singular – the two examples I’ve noticed are Daniel 8.13-14, where one holy one has a slightly strange conversation with another about Temple sacrifices, and Psalm 106.16, where Aaron is described precisely as “the Holy One of God”. (There’s a near miss at 2Ki 4.9 about Elisha.) So shall we say that Mark means that Jesus is God’s priest, blatantly reading Hebrews into Mark as an excuse to say Melchizedek?

Then there’s the other use, where God himself is the Holy One. These days it would probably be frowned upon to read Leviticus’ constant refrain as “be holy, just as I, the LORD, your God am the Holy One”, but it’s probably just this sort of reading that originally got קָדוֹשׁ used as a name of God. Yes, usually this is qualified “the Holy One of Israel” (or similar) – a particular favourite of Isaiah’s – but this is not consistently so (for counter-examples, see Job 6.10; Is 40.25; Hos 11.9; Hab 1.12; 3.3). So instead, shall we read into Mark that ancient Isaiah-modelled prayer from both Judaism and Christianity: “O Holy One, O Holy One, O Holy One, LORD God of Hosts”?

Once more, I would argue that we have Mark being subtle and ambiguous. This post has probably gone on quite long enough, and I’m not even at the end of Mark 1. But if any point be taken away from it, it should be that we shouldn’t allow trying to understand Mark’s Christology to impair our view of his subtlety. Maybe it’s okay that that Gospel raises more questions than it answers; in that lies both its broad appeal and frustration at its inadequacy that have resonated down every clichéed century.

Bad conjectures

Sometimes the text in front of one is so manifestly non-original that the temptation is to determine that an unattested variant is original. This is the realm of conjecture. Unfortunately, people just aren’t very good at making conjectures, and tend to reveal rather more about their own outlo0k on things than that of the author they are trying to recover the text of. And with the passage of time, what was once seen as reasonable may well stand out as embarrassingly dated.

So imagine my amusement when I stumbled across a conjecture that manages to be all of this in just two words.

First, a little background for the uninitiated. The Gospel of Mark ends καὶ οὐδενὶ οὐδὲν εἶπαν, ἐφοβοῦντο γάρ (“And they said nothing to no-one; for they were afraid”). Right back into antiquity, this was felt to be a very strange ending for any book – it ends with a conjunction – less still for a book describing itself as “good news”. What sort of good news is it if no-one is told about it? Various spurious endings were composed early on, and there has been much speculation about a lost ending.

So here’s what J. Rendel Harris says in one of the lectures collected into Side-Lights on New Testament Research (1908, p88):

I am not going to speculate on these matters, further than to tell you the first two words that will be found on the missing leaf, if it should ever be recovered. The narrative went on like this:
[For they were afraid] of the Jews.
ἐφοβοῦντο γάρ τοὺς Ἰουδαίους.

I think we can categorically state that any missing leaf did not start with τοὺς Ἰουδαίους. It just isn’t how Mark uses the word Ἰουδαῖος. It only occurs six times in the entire Gospel, five times as part of the accusation “the King of the Jews”, and once in that bizarrely wrong generalization about what the Pharisees and all the Jews did (7.3). Nowhere does Mark have a group of anti-heroes called “the Jews” – that is the preserve of John and Acts. And these days that is rightly considered a problematic literary trope in those two books in itself. But more of that another time. For now let’s just laugh at the oopsiness of this conjecture.

Visualizing Isaiah 1-39

I was going through stuff on my hard drive, and found some visualizations of the first half of the book of Isaiah I’d forgotten I’d done. So I thought I’d post them here.

1. Isaiah 1-12

isaiah1Here, the structure is quite simple. There are three oracular sections, the first two introduced by simple headers, and the third by a narrative section that starts in the 1st person and ends in the 3rd. There are a number of woes, but these are not used as a structural device.

2. Isaiah 13-27

isaiah2There are four large units here: a set of oracles against nations, a narrative section about a prophetic sign, a second set of oracles against nations, and an apocalyptic section. The two sets of oracles against nations are structured into five parts each with headers, the second in each case being relatively short. Once more, a couple of woes appear incidentally. The sign narrative is introduced by a pseudo-header, which works as a clause of the first sentence. The apocalyptic section is notable for its lack of any of the overt structural elements that filled the chapters before.

3. Isaiah 28-39

isaiah3The first thing to notice here is that the section borrowed from 2 Kings, with the insertion of Hezekiah’s maschil, is a larger-scale structural device softening the transition to chapters 40ff. Chapters 28-35 function as a somewhat apocalyptic unit: there is a pattern of crisis, bad and good solutions, and bad and good results of those solutions. The lone header does not seem to function to structure the work, but the woes function to break it into sub-units.

And that’s all for now!



Dr Goodacre: or how I learned to stop worrying and love the Farrer theory

Mark Goodacre has been at it with his three fictional Qs gibe again. I doubt there’s any outdoing him on humor or choice of graphics, but I thought this would be as good a time as any to write one of those personal posts as to why I stopped believing in Q. I’m not pretending that these are knock-down arguments, but they are the three points that made me abandon Q.

1. The Lucan Order Axiom

One of the stranger points about the IQP reconstruction of Q is that it follows Luke’s order. In a way it makes sense: the argument is that Matthew reördered Q to fit Mark’s order, and therefore Luke’s order must be Q’s original. I came to doubt this conclusion for a number of reasons:

  • Sheer bloody-mindedness. What would a reconstruction of Q look like in Matthew’s order?
  • That Matthew’s structure is characterized by large blocks of Marcan and non-Marcan material. He generally preserves his source’s order within the Marcan blocks: why should we presume otherwise for the non-Marcan blocks?
  • “Nazara” at Q 4.16 comes in a pericope whose location looks secondary to the original creation of the gospel of Luke (the third evangelist has one of his expansive moments about Capernaum, which has not yet been reached in its present position).
  • Q 15 takes two thirds of a Lucan triplet: the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin, omitting the Lost Son. There’s something perverse about accepting Luke’s order in such a way as to ignore the structure of his order. In unkinder moments, I may have phrased this: “is the IQP just a bunch of wonks with no appreciation of literary artistry?”

So my nagging suspicion was very much one that any axiom should be in favor of Matthaean order.

2. The very first pericope of Q

The other thing that swayed me away from Q was actually looking at the IQP text. The first pericope, the Baptism of Jesus (intuitively numbered Q 3), is set out as if it were a conflation of two accounts. Now, there is nothing wrong with the idea of conflations: the Flood account in Genesis 6-9 and the Korah, Dathan, and Abiram pericope in Numbers 16 (pp193-5 of Richard Eliott Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible? sets this one out nicely) are widely held to be just this sort of thing. The problem is that the IQP text doesn’t look remotely like a separate account that has been conflated with Mark, but rather like a set of amplifications upon Mark.

At v16, the amplifications fall into verbatim agreement. The seriousness of this should not be underestimated: this necessitates a literary relationship between Q and Mark, namely: (1) Q used Mark; (2) Mark used Q; or (3) both used a common source. The Mark-used-Q position is the easiest to dismiss; it is unsatisfactory for all the same reasons that the idea that Mark was not the first gospel, involving abbreviation through miscellaneous wordiness, inserting vulgarisms, and making uncorrections. The common source position also seems unsatisfactory because of how the Marcan baptism account is so raw, and it multiplies hypothetical sources.

The Q used Mark position is resisted by Q proponents for obvious reasons. If Q knew Mark in one pericope, presumably he knew Mark everywhere. Q might well have had a Passion Narrative, for instance. In fact, if one accepts that Q had Matthaean order in its non-Marcan blocks and knew Mark, we have identified Q: it is called the Gospel according to St Matthew.

3. Pointing out the startlingly obvious

The final element was reading Samuel Sandmel’s Prolegomena to a Commentary on Mark (wonderful title!). In this, he makes a very simple and should-be-obvious point: the gospel writers wrote their own gospels because they did not like the gospels that had gone before them. Perhaps it takes someone from outside the culture that reveres the three Synoptics as scripture to say something that is just so startlingly right. But it shows quite how deep-seated our cultural liking for the Gospel according to St Matthew is: we find it incredible that Luke would have so radically reworked this material precisely because of our own value judgments. These obviously didn’t apply yet when Luke was writing.

So let’s end with the lame joke that I’ve been resisting throughout this post. Goodacre is wrong. Q isn’t fictional. It’s just that we’ve been drawing the arrows the wrong way round: instead of Mt ← Q → Lk, it should be Mt → Q ← Lk. Its authors are every harmonist from Tatian to the IQP.

Lamentations 3.35a

I recently ran into this slightly unusual rendering from Beibl.net:

“a hawliau dynol yn cael eu diystyru”
(“and human rights being disregarded”)

My immediate thought was along the lines of, “This is political correctness gone mad! I shall write to the Daily Telegraph!” After all *the* Bible (meaning the ESV these days) says:

“to deny a man justice”

And being a typical Christian whose Greek is better than their Hebrew, I then looked at the LXX:

τοῦ ἐκκλῖναι κρίσιν ἀνδρὸς

So there we have it. It means “perverting justice from a man”. Ablatival genitive. Slam dunk. Silly PC Beibl.net.

Not so quick… Let’s have a look at the Hebrew:

לְהַטּוֹת, מִשְׁפַּט-גָּבֶר

Yep, the “to turn aside” bit is there, but what have we next? מִשְׁפַּט is the construct state of מִשְׁפָּט (yes, those nearly invisibly-different a-vowels do matter), and there’s no מִן (or at least מִ־) before גָּבֶר. The meaning isn’t ablative at all: it hyperliteralistically says “the justice of a man”.

So do I agree with Beibl.net’s interpretation now? Not quite. גָּבֶר is a markedly masculine word: it is more “man-at-arms” than “human being”. Readers will no doubt be familiar with the ἄνθρωπος (man (as opposed to beast), human being) vs ἀνήρ (man (as opposed to woman), man-at-arms, husband) distinction in Greek, and there’s a similar distinction in Welsh too between “dyn” and “gwr”. Those terrible liberals have only gone and gender-neutralized a passage that was gender-marked in the original.

So is “the justice of a man-at-arms” the same as human rights? Does anyone want to tell me I suck at Hebrew, and that the construct state can somehow be ablatival?

In any event, I would like to thank the folks at Beibl.net for spurring me to blog again.

Pet Hates: Deutero-Isaiah

I hate Deutero-Isaiah! There, I said it!

How, one may well wonder, could someone hate the beautiful Book of Comfort? Well, it’s not so much the content of the book, but the name by which it is known.

In the blogosphere, it is far too often that one comes across a post making the stunning observation that the name “Isaiah” disappears after chapter 39, and that it’s only chapters 1-39 that contain the oracles of the 8th-century Isaiah of Jerusalem. Often, it ends up being phrased much less precisely than that, and Isaianic authorship of chapters 1-39 in their entirety gets affirmed, either through carelessness, or through a strange sort of view that the inerrancy of the Bible is somehow upheld by making maximalist claims.

Occasionally, one will get the concession that chapters 36-39 are an historical narrative placed to ease the transition from Isaiah 1-35 across the sharp stylistic change to 40-66 — they lead up to Isaiah’s prophecy in 39.7 that the descendants of Hezekiah will be eunuchs in Babylon, transitioning from the Assyrian crisis to the Babylonian one. This actually generates a few new problems, but first let’s look at what sort of historical narrative Isaiah 36-39 is.

1. Isaiah 36-39


Isaiah 36-39 is essentially an excerpt from 2 Kings 18.13-20.19, with two major differences: first, Hezekiah’s tribute to Sennacherib (2 Kings 18.14-16) is omitted; and second, a mikhtam attributed to Hezekiah is inserted (Isaiah 38.9-20). The nature of these differences are usually treated as an argument for directionality: it is easier to envisage a redactor wanting to remove an embarrassing story about Hezekiah and to insert a psalm than it is to envisage one removing the psalm and inserting the tribute story. The other argument for directionality is a contention that 2 Kings 18.13-19.36 is a composite (first advanced by Bernhard Stade back in 1882 in his article on 2 Kings 15-20 in the 4th volume of ZAW, and taken up by Brevard Childs in his Isaiah commentary, and therefore often called the Stade-Childs Hypothesis), and therefore had no existence before the creation of the Deuteronomic History.

Various attempts have been made to avoid the obvious conclusion that the redactor who added chapters 36-39 to Isaiah knew 2 Kings, the implication of which is that this redaction was no earlier than the Exile, and therefore that the prophecy ascribed to Isaiah in 39.7 is an example of vaticinium ex eventu. These tend to fall into two categories: first, a claim that the tribute story is an interpolation; secondly, retrojecting the creation of 2 Kings 18.13-20.19 as a unit from the Deuteronomic Historian to the Deuteronomic Historian’s source.

Even if those attempts did not have a certain strained nature to them, they do not detract from the most basic of observations that can be made about Isaiah 36-39. Firstly, they are distinguished in genre from what goes before and afterwards in terms of genre (history vs oracles) and narration (3rd person vs 1st person). The very best case that apologists can claim is that at some point after the time of Isaiah and Hezekiah, a narrative account was written about their interaction and was appended to the oracles that end at Isaiah 35.

2. The Name of Isaiah’s Disappearance

Now that we have established Isaiah 36-39 as a secondary unit, we can return to the claim that the name of Isaiah disappears after chapter 39. We have seen that Isaiah is a character in the account presented in those chapters — indeed, ten of the sixteen instances of his name are in that four-chapter section — but that is not the point that people are attempting to advance; rather, it is that the oracles in chapters 40 onwards are internally anonymous.

So where does the name of Isaiah occur in chapters 1-35? These are the six instances:

  • 1.1 The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
  • 2.1 This is what Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
  • 7.3 Then YHWH said to Isaiah, “Go out now to meet Ahaz, you, and Shearjashub your son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, on the highway of the fuller’s field.”
  • 13.1 The burden of Babylon, which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw:
  • 20.2 at that time YHWH spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, “Go, and loosen the sackcloth from off your waist, and take your shoes from off your feet.” He did so, walking naked and barefoot.
  • 20.3 YHWH said, “As my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot three years for a sign and a wonder concerning Egypt and concerning Ethiopia,

These fall into two categories: headings of oracles (1.1; 2.1; 13.1) and mentions in third-person narration (7.3; 20.2; 20.3). Now, the story of the prophetic sign narrated in Isaiah 20 is a rather curious one, tied in to an historical event that is not mentioned elsewhere in the Bible (indeed, this is the only occasion on which the Assyrian king Sargon II, whom the Deuteronomic Historian conflates with his son and successor Sennacherib, gets a mention in the Bible), but suffice it to say that once again we have a seam in genre either side of this chapter. The implication should be clear: Isaiah 21-35 consists of anonymous oracles.

3. A Cursory Glance at the Parts of Isaiah 21-35 (and 13-19!)

Before we all get excited and say, “Aha! So Isaiah 21-35 should be called Deutero-, 40-55 Trito, and 56-66 Tetarto-Isaiah,” let’s have a look at whether or not this section is a unit.

The most distinctive part is chapters 24-27, an apocalypse. Its genre alone is usually taken as being highly suggestive of a late date. This splits off chapters 21-23, a set of oracles against foreign nations, with rather cryptic titles. These seem to have been patterned after the oracles against the nations in chapters 13-19, each set grouped under five headings describing the oracles as burdens, and in both cases the second burden being by far the shortest of the five:


  • 13.1 The burden of Babylon, which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw:
  • 14.27 This burden was in the year that king Ahaz died. [against Philistia]
  • 15.1 The burden of Moab:
  • 17.1 The burden of Damascus:
  • 19.1 The burden of Egypt:


  • 21.1 The burden of the wilderness of the sea.
  • 21.11 The burden of Dumah.
  • 21.13 The burden on Arabia.
  • 22.1 The burden of the valley of vision.
  • 23.1 The burden of Tyre.

Now, whilst the mention of Babylon alone doesn’t necessitate a post-Isaianic date, the historical situation assumed (e.g. at 13.17; 14.1) is much more consistent with a late point in the Exile. So generally the first set of oracles against the nations are regarded as pseudepigraphic.

The second set follows the first:

  1. The “wilderness of the sea” is a reference to Exodus 13.18 (“but God led the people around by the way of the wilderness by the Red Sea; and the children of Israel went up armed out of the land of Egypt”), drawing the parallel between the Exodus and the return from the Babylonian captivity.
  2. Dumah can be read as “silence” and has implications of death (cf Psalms 94.17; 115.17). This and the word for “burden” (Massa) also recall the names of the sons of Ishmael at Genesis 25.17.
  3. Arabia and Moab both refer to lands east (and south) of Israel. It has been suggested on the basis of Nehemiah 4.7 that Moabites became regarded as Arabians around the time of the Exile.
  4. This is particularly obscure, but it should be noted that Kir (22.6) was the destination of the Damascene exiles in 2 Kings 16.9.
  5. The Egypt-Tyre parallel is explicitly drawn at 23.5.

I am not even going to attempt to provide any analysis of the structure of chapters 28-35 at the present time. I have seen several proposals, all of which seem to lack something by way of coherence.

4. Rounding it all off

So to bring everything together, it looks very much like the “original” book of Isaiah consisted of just the first twelve chapters. This isn’t to say that these are a single coherent work, but rather that that section looks old and resists easy splits.

But let’s return to my dislike of the term Deutero-Isaiah.

At the end of the day, this is a problem of nomenclature. It’s much easier to observe that chapters 56-66 are distinct from 40-55 and call them Trito-Isaiah than to observe equally strong divisions in chapters 1-39 and try to get people to call what they’re calling Deutero- as Tetarto-, Pempto-, Ecto- or something (or worse still, try to coin Quasqui- and Sesqui-Isaiahs).

So, please world, can we retire the term “Deutero-Isaiah”?


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