Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Reading "House of Jacob" in Isaiah 48:1–11 in Light of Benjamin

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Reading "House of Jacob" in Isaiah 48:1–11 in Light of Benjamin

Article excerpt

Isaiah 48:1-11 comprises a series of harsh statements against the house of Jacob that have caused some difficulty for interpreters. Some scholars see no issue with the content of these verses and note pejorative statements directed at JacobIsrael elsewhere in chapters 40-48. Others, however, attempt to harmonize the section with other material in chapters 40-55 by attributing particular phrases to later redactors. These efforts suggest that some uncertainty about the provenance of these verses persists.1 The origin of Isa 40-55 as a whole has been widely debated, but in recent years strong arguments have been made in favor of a Judahite origin for the core material of the text.2 I accept these proposals and combine them with textual and archaeological evidence from Judah in the sixth century, in order to approach Isa 48:1-11 in light of issues that may have arisen in a Judahite context at this time.3

In section I, I look briefly at the arguments regarding a Judahite origin for Isa 40-55.4 In section II, I consider the archaeological evidence for settlement continuity and growth in the Benjaminite region in the sixth century, before commenting specifically on the situation of Bethel.5 In section III, I examine Jacob's association with Bethel in light of recent studies regarding the development and use of the Jacob and Abraham traditions in the exilic period. Finally, in section IV, I return to Isa 48:1-11 and analyze it on the basis of the preceding sections, proposing to read the "house of Jacob" in light of a sixth-century community in the Benjaminite region of Judah, most likely in the vicinity of Bethel. In this interpretation, Isa 48:1-11 may be shown to be in keeping with the prophet's rhetoric elsewhere in chapters 40-55 and in accord with theological and rhetorical developments in other exilic texts. By focusing on Bethel and raising the probability of other Yahwistic shrines and communities within Judah, I demonstrate the likelihood of intracommunal strife within the Yahwistic community in the sixth century. With regard to the book of Isaiah, this intracommunal strife does not begin with the returnees from Babylon in Isa 56-66 but, in all likelihood, was present at any time when the interpretation of the true Israel was up for discussion.

I.An Anonymous Prophet in Exilic Judah

The difficulty of identifying the location of Isa 40-55 has provoked interest from scholars since the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.6 Hans Barstad's Babylonian Captivity demonstrates well the weaknesses in arguments claiming, or assuming, a Babylonian origin for the text.7 More recently, Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer's monograph For the Comfort of Zion, has furthered considerably the case for a Judahite origin of Isa 40-55.8 She systematically works through the text, demonstrating both where the text appears to betray a Judahite provenance and, equally importantly, where the theology or content of the verses might be closer to a Judahite perspective than a Babylonian one despite the absence of explicit information.9 In a separate study, Tiemeyer laid out six reasons in favor of a Judahite author, including observations regarding the flora and fauna referred to in Isa 40-55, the pervading focus on Jerusalem and corresponding lack of focus on Babylon (except Isa 47), and the seeming geographical orientation behind statements such as "go forth from Babylon, flee from Chaldea" (Isa 48:20).10 On the basis of the trees listed in Isa 44, Simon J. Sherwin has also argued for a western origin of the text, and the comments of Robert Koops and Michael Zohary on the trees mentioned elsewhere in Isa 40-55 (41:18; 44:4, 14; 55:13) are also instructive on this point.11 A Judahite location has also been suggested by recent studies on the patriarchal traditions in the exilic period. C. A. Strine has highlighted Ezekiel's polemic against those who remained in the land of Judah and claimed it for themselves, which they expressed via recourse to the promise of the land to Abraham (Ezek 33:23; cf. …

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