Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Disabled Body Politic in Isaiah 3:1,8

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Disabled Body Politic in Isaiah 3:1,8

Article excerpt

References to disability in the book of Isaiah have received much study of late. Because the language of blindness and deafness in particular recurs throughout Isaiah, it has attracted attention as a potential source of thematic unity for the book.1 More recently, interpreters with interests in disability studies have noted that these texts offer valuable clues to the construction of disability in ancient Israel and within the Hebrew Bible, even if they do not refer to actual disabled persons but instead use disability as a literary topos.2 Despite the proliferation of such studies, an intriguing reference to lameness in Isaiah has received little attention because it is not typically recognized as such, perhaps because its components are separated by seven verses and because it does not employ standard Biblical Hebrew terms for lameness (e.g., pissëah, "limping").3 Situated within a prophetic critique of ineffective religious and political leadership, Isa 3:1 and 8 nonetheless depict the nation of Judah as a person who needs, but ultimately loses, assistance to walk: "For the Lord Yhwh of hosts will soon remove from Jerusalem and Judah staff and stay.... [Then] Jerusalem will stumble, and Judah will fall."4 In this article, I will show that these verses represent Judah as a disabled person and its leaders as the crutch upon which it depends for mobility.5 This metaphor has affinities with other portrayals of disability in the book of Isaiah, but strikingly it does not present the disabled body as abnormal or in need of correction, as do many other Isaian texts. Rather, the support technology-the crutch-is judged defective and removed after its malfunctioning leads to the nations literal and figurative collapse. In other words, in keeping with what disability theorists call a social or cultural model of disability, my reading suggests that the metaphor locates the problem of limited mobility not in the disabled body itself but in the failure of its structural accommodations, just as Isaiah blames not the people but their failed leaders for Judah's national crisis in Isaiah 3.

Because the image cannot be fully understood apart from the larger poem in which it occurs, I begin with a reading of Isa 3:1-15, emphasizing the contrast between its depictions of Judah's elite leaders and the general populace, who suffer from their oppression. This reading is followed by a closer explication of the metaphor in w. 1,8. In the final section, I situate this metaphor in the contexts of Isaian and other prophetic portrayals of disability, informed by some recent studies of disability in the Hebrew Bible. I contrast the metaphor with the uniquely Isaian representation of the future healing of disabilities, while also comparing it to two other prophetic texts that entertain the possibility of environmental accommodation or support for disabled bodies, Jer 31:8-9 and Isa 56:3-5. Reading Isa 3:1, 8 with greater sensitivity to its disability imagery makes possible a more sophisticated understanding of its place in Isaiah's repeated reflections on ineffective leadership.

I. THE INDICTMENT OF JUDAHITE LEADERSHIP IN ISAIAH 3:1-15

Isaiah 3:1-15 unfolds a series of criticisms of, and threats against, the religious, military, and political leaders of the nation of Judah. The boundaries of the text are marked by an inclusio, with the phrase "the/my Lord Yhwh of hosts" {hä'ädön/ :ädönäyyhwh sëbà^ôt) repeated in w. 1 and 15.6 Despite its thematic coherence and clearly defined limits, most interpreters do not regard this text as a single unit.7 For the purposes of this article, however, I take these verses as a single poem, in large part if not entirely the work of a prophet from the eighth century b.c.e. Instead of proceeding in a temporally Unear fashion, the poem consists of variations on the themes of failed leadership and social disorder, proceeding associatively from one section to the next and frequently circhng back to develop earlier motifs. …

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