Full Text for The Burden of Babylon: A Study of Isaiah 13:2-14:23 (Text)

THE SPRINGFIELDER January 1974 Volume 38, Number 1 The Burden of Babylon. A Study Of Isaiah 13:2-14:23. SETH EKLANDSSON Uppsala, Stvcden NAUTHENTIC MEANS IT COMES FROM ANOTHER TIME 1 and another author than the text itself indicates, (Is. 13:2- 13 : 23 .) 'The clear words, "This is what Isaiah, the son of Amoz, saw concerning Babyon" ( 13 : 1) are said not to reflect thc actual situa- tion. ['Isaiah 13 : 2-1 4: 23 is considered a late insert into the book and thus inauthentic.] E~len the rubric in 13: 1 is not reliable, but is 311 even later insertion. Many other pericopcs in the book of Isaiah have suffered sinlilar fates. The origin and the composition of the prophetic books are still questions of Biblical scholarship. There are many difficulties. Part of the problem is establishing a clear cl~ronoloqical and logical outline, which should be evident in any- thing wrltten with a l~urpose. Another problenl is reconciling the contents with the situation of the prophet, allcgecl to be the author. Various theories have been put forth to explain the form of the prophetic books. The rnost common theories have taken as their point of departure two different fu~ldamental assumptions: 1.) The book, fro111 thc beginning, mias appreciably less extensive, though thc con- tent was clearly organized. Later, through many additions and repeated revisions, it accjuired its present form. 2.) The hook has come into existence by the successive expansion and combination of smaller collections of oracles originally independent of each other. The rcsult is the product of a long evolution. Thus it is assurned that the present form and content of the prophetic books is the result of a long process of developnlent which culminated in an editorial re-iri.sion at a n~uch later time, and tlley are not worlts for which thc l~rciphets themselves arc responsible. FIowever, scholars have not been able to agree about how, for exam- ple, the developnlental history of the book of Isaiah should be pre- sented. A/lany different reconstructions have been suggested. ISAIAH 1-39 For a long time Isaiah 1-39, the so-called 'First Isaiah,' was considered as a gcnuinc product of Isaiah. Now Biblical scholars have con~plicated the picture by holding that Isaiah 1-39 contains a whole list of late interpolations and revisions. Thus today the aencrally accepted authentic scctions are fewer than those considered e ~nauthentic, at least according to sonlc scholars. For this reason Is 1-39 is no longer dated in Isaiah's time, about 700 I3.C. Thc date for the final rcdaction of the text is about the 5th century B.C., significantly after the time that is customarily given for Is 40-55 and 56-66 (about 550 and 500 B.C., respcctively), Because of this change, 'tiow can one explain the fact that Is 40-5 5 and 5 6-66 existed as independent sections for a hundred years before Is 1-39 assumcd its final form and then was joincd to just this book? Before going into the questions of the composition and autlien- ticity of the book of Isaiah, I have found it appropriate in my clisserta- tion, The 13urden of Babylon, to analyze just this one passage. It serves as a point of departure for the dissection of thc book of Isaiah. Any attempts showing that many sections o.f Isaiah. were added to this book long aftcr the prophet Isaiah's oit711 time have grcat consequences for understanding the origin of the prophetic literature. Doubts about the reliability of the Biblical texts are increased. If the prophecy against Babylon has no basis for its claim that it comes from the, prophet Isaiah (13: l), then we have demonstrated that there was no hesitation to ascribe to a great prophet a text which had been con~posed by some later theologian or prophet. Rut if, on the other hand, one can demonstrate that Is 13 : 2- 14 : 2 3 does not come from an author latcr than Isaiah, and in fact such a hypothesis is without basis in fact and untrue, this in turn has consequences for a large number of other alleged late datings. The point of departure for more exactly dcterniining the origin and autllenticity of the text is certainly an analysis of the Hcbretv tcxt. Are there various manuscripts or early translations of the tcxt which sho~~ that we cannot determine the true wording of the text? In my second chapter, I have closely compared the Hebrew text with the Qumran texts, the Greek, Latin and Syriac translations. This exam- ination has shown that thcrc is no reason for calling into question the Hebrew text which the Massoretes havc preserved. \Yhen the Septuagint dcparts from the meaning of the Hebrew text, this departure does not have its basis in a different original, as had pre- viously often been believed. It is clear that we are dealing with an attenipt to present in a better way, at the expense of the significance of the inclividual worcls, the ideas which the translators belicvcd were to be found in the text. In certain cases thc early translators were forced to guess at the meaning of the Hebrew words from thc context, and in doing so they often illisunderstood the incaning of the text. Differences can be explained by an attempt to reproduce the supposed meaning at the expense of an exact reproduction of the words them- selves. In analyzing the contents of a certain text, it is a basic rule to first study in great detail the wider context of which this text forms a part. On the other hand, assuming that the section has been intro- duced into its present place at a later time, we must try to determine with which part the section was previously connected and then study this original context. But do we really find here any scholarly evidence indicating a more original context than the one which we now have? My third chapter is devoted to this question. This examination has shown that the various researchers of the texts in Is. 1-39 have come up with very different results. There is no unanimous opinions about the division of the individual parts of the section or about the Thc Burden Of Babylon 3 dating oE thcse parts. A review of the exegetical opinions shows no agreed-upon results. Rather we are faced with a number of con- tradictory assertions even before we begin an analysis of the "Babylon prophecv." Because of the large number of conflicting opinions about the first part of the book of Isaiah (1-39) we arc faced with thc question about the nature of such criteria leading to so many different points of view. Under the heading, "Plethods and Criteria," I have therefore shed some light on thc methods of research used by the exegetes and the criteria which serve as a basis of the positions taken. Their approaches fall easily in to tllrec categories : 1. The ideological-historid criterion is the most common. This method assumes that ;he developnlent of the ideological history of Israel determines the epoch from which a text derives. It is remarkable that this criterion has been so prominent, as the opinions about the cievelopment of Israel's ideological history are subjective and differ. As long as an idea cannot with certainty be assigned to a clefinite time, this criterion will he fragile and it easily leads to an argument in a circle. \;Vhen onc insists that a certain section is not genuine because it does not contain typical Isaianic ideas, one has already made a jud'gnlent of what is really Isaianic. To do this, one has already accepted and rejected certain texts in determining what the real. ideas of Isaiah were. 2. The historical criterion can often be of great help. But here the problem is that the researcher too often easily finds a definite llistorical situation reflected in the text.. This situation he reads into the text, even if the text itself contains no clear allusion to the situation in cluestion. So, for example, J. Lindblom believes that Is. 23 reflects events in northern Palestine in the year 332 B.C. and as a consequence he dates thc text in that time. Duhm dates Is. 19 : 16- 25 about 160 B.C. since he believes that the text presupposes events which transpired in h4accabean times. That Is 1 3 : 2- 14 : 2 3 is dated in the 5 50's B .C., just as Is: 2 1 : 1- 10, is also the result of the opinion that the text presupposes the neo-Babylonian era. The varying dates offered by researchers to different .sections often seem to. have their basis in the different historical events in the text. To avoid a sub- jective use of historical criterion, it is first necessary to leave in abeyance different hypotheses about the historical background of the text and be limited to what is clear from the text. Relations to possible historical situations should come only after the text has been examined in detail. When different apriori theories conceri~ing the text's historical background hecoine Inore important, then the text is changed in order to agree with the theory (see exanlples in my dissertation). With ihis type of research we are studying a text that exists ~nly in the researcher's own head. 3. The Einguisiic criterion ought to be able to lead to marc definite results, but researchers likewise come to completely contra- dictory results even when they use this criterion. By isolating certain words, the date of a text can be adjusted. Concentrating on those words which the text has in comnlon with a fatcr text shows that the text is late. Or by isolating older words, the text becomcs early. Such subjective selection can partly explain the dir~ersity of opinions about dating. Moreover, it is by no means certain that a lin~uistic similarity indicates the same author or the same time. The lmslbility of inlitation of style cannot be excluded. Besides, variations in style can depend on reasons other than diversity of authorship. Thc libcral scholar G. IV. Anderson has correctly said that "the critics might expect in the prophet an artificial standard of consistency, not allow- ing for the possibility that he might have had different things to say in different conditions, or changed his emphasis according to the neecl of the day." (A Critical Ilztroduction to the OT, 1959, 1,. 99). Besides, it is difficult to establish with certainty that a rvord is "late," even when the word is not found in earlier texts to ~thicl~ IVC have access. And even if tbc word seems to be "late," this does not mean necessarily that the ~vholc chapter is late or even that the whole sentence is late. It can illean that only the word itself is a late adapta- tion or that it is accidental that the word does not occur in earlier texts that we happen to be acquainted with. After I showed in my dissertation a number of exanlples of how the researchers in part use the same critcria in different ways and in part do not keep clearly in inind the fragile quality of their criteria, I point out the necessity of a reconstructxon where scholarly research into the l~rophets is concerned. \47e are at present surror~ndcd by swarms of theories and hypotheses concerning the origin of the prophetic texts. When ~ve already havc a list of, let us say, 110 theories, it is ineaninqless to present a 11 lth, which is cven illore complicated, even if lt were ~ossible. In a situation where there is no consensus among researchers about the historical origin of a text, one can not hope to arrive at firmer conclusions by adopting a special theory as a point of departure in a more or less arbitrary way. By doing this the results of thc investigation will be dcterrnined even before the investigation begins. The theory becomes n-tore inlportant than the analysis of the text. Is this scholarly? It \vould be much better to g~ back to the "given" i,e., the section of the text that lies before us and the context in which it now stands. The disputed section, 13 : 2-14: 23 forms the chief part of "the testinlony against Babylon," which embraces 13: 1-l4:27. It intro- duces a number of "testimonies" in respect to. foreign nations. It is therefore of some importance to go through all the testin~onies in Isaiah 13 through 23 without allowing any particular theory regard- ing the history of the origin of these chapters to determine the direc- tion of the analysis. This examination (the fourth chapter of the dissertation) produces, among other things,'this result: The various testimonies in this context do not form a random collection. They are a consciously composed entity with unifying themes. The testi- monies against the various nations are linked by these themes. Re- The Hurtlc;~ Of Babylorz .- --A ---- - 5 -- n~arl