Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Grammar of Resurrection in Isaiah 26:19a-C

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Grammar of Resurrection in Isaiah 26:19a-C

Article excerpt

JBL 122/1 (2003) 145-55

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For more than a century, Isa 24-27 has been recognized as a distinct unit within the larger context of Isa 1-39. The features that distinguish these four chapters from their surroundings are readily noted: the absence of a plausible connection with the Neo-Assyrian period; distinctive vocabulary and syntax; themes and imagery generally associated with later periods in the history of Israel. Identifying the unifying characteristics of these chapters is more difficult. Similar to oracles against the nations, but with an eschatological perspective, these passages are nonetheless distinct from developed examples of biblical and Jewish apocalyptic. Commentators describe the internal structure of Isa 24-27 with little consistency or agreement and date these chapters with considerable variation.1

Isaiah 26:19 is a critical passage in the so-called Isaiah Apocalypse, because it describes a future reanimation of the dead. Over millennia, commentators have sought to discern the message of Isa 26:19, but consensus about its grammatical structure and its precise meaning has never formed.2

Close attention to the morphological and syntactic features of Isa 26:19 leads to resolution of its longstanding problematic character. I contend that there is a relatively simple and grammatically satisfying interpretation of the verse that accounts for the morphology of its words, the syntax of its sentences, and the structure of its poetic lines. Once the meaning of Isa 26:19 is clear, the logical sequence of its argument emerges.

Isaiah 26 is verse. The lineation of v. 19a-c is set out below.3

The MT of Isa 26:19b has a difficult reading in the word ... in v. 19b.4 The most ancient Greek translation does not help to explain the Hebrew, because the reading of the LXX, ..., appears to be a Christian interpolation from John 5:28.5 The divergent syntax of the Greek in this verse further obscures the Hebrew Vorlage. The Vulgate interfecti mei partly follows the consonantal MT, but interprets the noun as a collective and the suffix as first person singular.6 The Syriac version and the Targums read as if the suffix were third person plural.7

Most recent translations accept the MT as the lectio difficilior but translate according to either the Vulgate or the Syriac and Targum. The influence of the Vulgate is evident in, e.g., the AV: "Thy dead [men] shall live, [together with] my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust." The translation "my dead body" interprets the suffix of ... as first person singular.

Conjectural emendation of the suffix to third person plural, following the Syriac and Targums, is reflected in the RSV: "Thy dead shall live, their bodies shall rise. O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy!" and in the NIV: "But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy."8

The morphology of ... is difficult to assess.9 The suffix ... - is widely understood as a first person pronominal suffix.10 Another analysis was proposed by Japheth ben ...Ali ha-Levi, a tenth-century Karaite scholar from Jerusalem: the suffix is a connecting vowel (hireq compaginis) without semantic value.11 The paragogic vowel is most often found affixed to the first substantive of a construct chain, but this is not the syntactic environment in Isa 26:19a.12 Hence a paragogic interpretation of the suffix faces syntactic difficulties.

According to the MT vocalization, the substantive ... is feminine singular and in the absolute state. There is a lack of gender and number concord with the verb .... These features indicate that ... is not the subject of the verb .... To explain the verse line, we must abandon the common interpretation of the suffix as a personal pronoun and the less common interpretation of the suffix as a paragogic element. …

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