Stereotyping Isaiah

I’m back to blogging, after a two-day hiatus! Yesterday and the day before, my mom and her husband were helping me clean my moldy basement apartment, as well as teaching me how to keep it clean. My mom’s husband was also installing for me a faster computer that has significantly more space. It also has a wider screen, so I no longer need to click on “New Post” (on my blogger blog) anytime I want to log out!

For my comps reading, I started on The Hebrew Bible Today: An Introduction to Critical Issues. I began John Van Seter’s chapter on the Pentateuch, but I did not get very far. What stood out to me was a statement he made on page 17:

It is clear that Deuteronomy contains a body of traditional material about Moses, the exodus, the wilderness journey, the conquest of the land, and a body of laws, all of which were not invented in the seventh century. Furthermore, it is doubtful that these traditions could have originated in Judah and Jerusalem. The prophecy of Isaiah of Jerusalem about a century before Josiah makes no mention of the exodus and covenant traditions. Also, in all his criticism of temple worship and sacrifices and his catalogue of social sins Isaiah says nothing about disobedience to God’s laws.

According to Van Seters, the northern Israelite book of Hosea actually does refer to themes that later appear in Deuteronomy: the exodus and wilderness traditions, God’s laws, etc. Consequently, many scholars hold that “traditions behind Deuteronomy have a northern origin,” not a southern one. And that accords with what Moshe Weinfeld says in his work on Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic School: the school originated in northern Israel and came to the South (Judah) after northern Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 B.C.E.

I did a search of such terms as “covenant,” “laws,” “law,” “wilderness,” and “Egypt” on my Bibleworks, using the New Revised Standard Version. I was testing Van Seter’s statement that these ideas don’t occur in the writings of Isaiah of Jerusalem (which exclude Isaiah 40-66). For “covenant” and “laws,” the only verse I could find was Isaiah 24:5:

“The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants, for they have transgressed laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant.”

Here, “laws,” “statutes,” and “covenant” don’t seem to mean the covenant of the Torah that Israel received at Sinai, for they refer to something universal: the inhabitants of the earth will be destroyed because they have disobeyed God’s commands for humanity. Plus, many scholars don’t deem Isaiah 24-27 to be from Isaiah of Jerusalem anyway, for they call it the “Little Apocalypse,” which many date to post-exilic times. So Van Seters may have a point here.

The Exodus, however, appears a few times in First Isaiah (Isaiah 1-39). Isaiah 10:24-26 says that God will deal with the Assyrians as he dealt with the Egyptians, Israel’s previous oppressors. V 26 even affirms that God’s staff will be over the sea, which God will lift up as he did in Egypt. This calls to mind the splitting of the Red Sea, or Sea of Reeds.

And Isaiah 11:11-16 also refers to the Exodus: God will return the exiled Israelites from their lands, splitting the sea as he did during the Exodus. V 16 explicitly mentions Israel (in her past) coming from the land of Egypt.

I don’t know how Van Seters would interact with such passages. Maybe he thinks that they’re not authentic to Isaiah of Jerusalem. But my question is “Why not?” They speak to a time of Assyrian power, which was the political situation during the time of Isaiah of Jerusalem. Why couldn’t they be from him?

Personally, I don’t like it when scholars stereotype biblical writings. I once heard a professor say that Isaiah (in contrast to Amos) wasn’t concerned about social justice, for he was a prophet employed in the service of the king. But even Van Seters acknowledges that Isaiah of Jerusalem criticized “social sins”!

At the same time, I think it’s good to have an eye for nuance. From my point of view, the Bible is interesting because its authors have different perspectives on certain issues. Isaiah has his interests, and other prophets have theirs. For me, the Bible would be boring if all of it carried the exact same message!

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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