Scholarly commentary on the setting for Isaiah 40-55.

Nov 12, 2010
Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer

Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer, For the Comfort of Zion (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2010) 1-2

Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer

It has long been the consensus-in itself a remarkable feat given that biblical scholarship is not know for its consensuses-that Isa 40-55 was composed by the Jewish Exilic community in Babylon between roughly 586-539 BC. Eight arguments are usually advanced for the traditional position that Isa 40-55 was written by the Jewish exilic community in Babylon:

1. Specific mention of YHWH having delivered Israel (Isa 42:24; 43:27-28; 47:6).

2. The description of Zion as destroyed and abandoned (Isa 49:14, 17, 19; 51:19).

3. Frequent references to Babylon or Chaldea (Isa 43:14; 47:1, 5; 48:14) and the more specific exhortation for the people to depart from Babylon (Isa 48:20; 55:12a).

4. The general and pervasive exodus imagery (e.g. Isa 43:16; 51:10), including references to a highway through the desert (Isa 40:3-5; 42:16; 43:19; 49:11).

5. God's ingathering of the people from afar (Isa 49:22; 51:11).

6. The mention of Cyrus by name (Isa 44:28; 45:1).

7. The detailed descriptions of Babylonian cultic practice (e.g. Isa 44:9-20; 46:1-4).

8. The contrast between the "new things" of the present and the "former things" of the past.

While is has been acknowledged that, taken separately, these arguments are not particularly compelling, scholars generally maintain that, when combined, they yield a definite picture of the historical context of Isa 40-55: that of the exilic community in Babylon. In this monograph, I shall challenge the wide-spread contemporary view of a Babylonian provenance of Isa 40-55. Through a careful study of the textual evidence, I shall endeavour to show that these eight arguments cannot stand up to close scrutiny, whether treated alone or taken altogether. Is follows that the accepted view of a Babylonian provenance of Isa 40-55 rests upon a shaky foundation and thus cannot be sustained. Moreover, I shall bring attention to several hitherto neglected aspects of the text that suggest a Judahite provenance of Isa 40-55.

My reasons for challenging the near consensus of a Babylonian provenance of Isa 40-55 are twofold. First, I am inherently suspicious of any kind of consensus and believe that it is academically healthy to reopen settled debates and to review regularly old interpretations in view of the latest scholarship. In the case of Isa 40-55, I am doubly suspicious since I consider the consensus view regarding its Babylonian origin to be no more than loosely anchored in the actual biblical text. Secondly, I am uneasy about what appears to be the pro-exilic sentiments in many interpretations of Isa 40-55. In other words, I believe that many exegetes are influenced, consciously or unconsciously, by the notion of the superiority of the exilic community in Babylon over against the one in Juda, as expressed, for example, in Jer 24:1-10; Ezek 11:15; 33:24-29. As a result, these interpreters are pre-programmed to regard Isa 40-55 as a product of the former, rather than being open to listening to the claims of the texts of Is 40-55 themselves.

BHR Staff Commentary

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