Yesterday I had the privilege of hearing from Dr Lena Sophia Tiemeyer, Lecturer in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible at the University of Aberdeen, as she presented a paper at our weekly Biblical Studies seminar. Her study was entitled “What Did the Authors of Isaiah 40-55 Really Know About Babylon?” The timing of this presentation, for the purposes of this blog, is impeccable — if you happened to read it, I just briefly discussed, in my last post, some of the scholarly debates regarding the authorship of these chapters of the Book of Isaiah. One of the major assumptions of this theory of “Deutero-Isaiah” is that the author(s) of this section were in Babylon. The references to Cyrus, Babylonian gods and religious practices, Akkadian loan words, etc., that are found in these chapters have lead scholars to conclude that this section must have been written during the Babylonian Exile by the Jewish community that was in Babylon. Dr. Tiemeyer’s purpose with this presentation was to show that the “evidence” for this assumption is not strong — leading her to conclude that these chapters of Isaiah were more likely written in Palestine, and not Babylon. The implications of this study are important and suggest, as Tiemeyer herself noted, a possibility that there is more unity to the Book of Isaiah than scholars have assumed.
I present here my notes from her lecture. As always, please realize that these are my own notes and do not fully represent the material that Dr Tiemeyer presented. She is publishing a much larger work on this topic (unfortunately I didn’t catch the title). Please bear with the incomplete nature of these notes.
Dr Lena Sophia Tiemeyer on Isaiah 40-55
Challenging the concept that one person wrote Isa. 40-55 during the Exile in Babylon
–She is arguing that it was written in Judah during Exile
Do the scholarly claims support a Babylonian setting? She argues that they only presuppose it — nothing necessitates a Babylonian-based author
Methods: Shemaryahu Talmon’s four principles for comparative studies:
1) priority of biblical parallels over extra-biblical
2) proximity in time and space: contemporary societies should be used for comparisons
3) correspondence of social function: examples in Judah over outside
4) holistic approach vs. atomistic
Examples in biblical texts should be sought before Mesopotamian examples
Barr offers these guidelines for comparisons:
1) sources nearer to the Hebrew Bible in time
2) geographic closeness
3) Semitic sources
Because of their conquests of the region, we should expect to find a great degree of Mesopotamian influence over Judah during the time of Exile. Mesopotamian rulers lived in Judah — so it would be natural that we should see their influence there. Judahite scribes and possibly even regular people had a good idea of Mesopotamian religious ideas and practice since 6th-7th Century BCE.
–So there is not a good argument for the Assyrian/Babylonian elements in the Bible to have actually come from those places –such usage would have been known in Judah.
It is possible to detect Akkadian (Assyro-Babylonian language) influence in Deutero-Isaiah — however, we would need to see if there are more Akkadian loan-words than are found in other texts.
–Kittel compares 2Isaiah to cuneiform literature (Akkadian) — lists parallels betwn Babylonian texts and 2Isa.
–there are similarities in vocabulary between these texts – but these could be cognates — we should look for inner-biblical parallels first
–we can also find many similarities between Isa. 60-62 and Babylonian texts although scholars wouldn’t claim authorship of these chapters in Babylon
–You didn’t need to be living in Babylon to know name of Cyrus
–Regarding some of the thematic elements in 2Isa: It is more likely that authors were influenced by Book of Exodus rather than Babylonian texts
Most texts in Hebrew Bible have Akkadian influence (not just 2Isa) — Amos has a large number of Akkadian loan words, but no one argues that Amos was in Babylon
–Akkadian was the politically dominant language of the time — it had significant influence on the local languages — it is natural that we find Akkadian elements throughout the Bible. Language cannot be used to argue for a Babylonian setting — there are no more loan words in 2Isa than in the rest of the Hebrew Bible
–Ezekiel claims to have been written in Babylon, but has less loan words than Isa. or Jeremiah!
–we should note that there are also Ugaritic cognates in 2Isa — Dahood even argued that parts of 2Isa were written in Phoenicia!
–Akkadian was not even the major language during the Neo-Babylonian period — Aramaic was more used
–There would have been no need for the authors of 2Isa to know Akkadian if they were not part of the Babylonian royal court or cult
The presence of Akkadian cognates in the Heb. Bible is not evidence of the author’s presence in Babylon, but that loan words were known in Judah – evidence of Assyrian influence over conquered city-states
–”Self-Predication Formula” (“I am YHWH — the First and the Last”, etc.) — scholars argue that this comes from Babylonian influence — they argue that this is reminiscent of Sumerian hymns learned in Babylon
–again we should give precedence to biblical parallels — the authors likely drew from their own already existing self-presentation formula in their scriptures — maybe it ultimately stems from Sumeria, but can be found in Hebrew prophetic texts — the influence is likely pre-exilic Palestine
– There is no evidence of Assyrian prophetic texts having an influence in Babylon — there must have been earlier interaction between the people of Marduk and people of YHWH
–Isa 40-55 follows the pattern of earlier Isa chapters — We cannot conclude (from the above linguistic arguments cited) that authors must have been residents of Babylon
Another argument is that the passages in 2Isa that refer to religious practices (instructions for making of idols, etc.) are claimed to be related to Babylonian practices. –There are direct references to Babylonian deities
–tendency to worship idols is not novel to the Babylonian period — you don’t have to be living in Babylon to know about their gods and practices
–all the terms used are attested to elsewhere in the Heb. Bible — there are no details that would lead us to conclude that authors knew anything beyond what was commonly known
–no local features or local individuals are mentioned — a prophet in Judah would have been able to envision all of this
–Isa 46:1–2 — the picture of Babylonian gods depicted here does not fit the picture of what was going on in Babylon — King Nabonidus was replacing Marduk with moon-god Sin — this is not mentioned in 2Isa
–There is nothing in this material to warrant the conclusion that author of 2Isa was in Babylon — Jews would have known the customs of their conquerors.
The following tidbits come from the Q&A period after her presentation. I did not take note of the questions asked.
— There are many differences between the theology of 2Isa and the theology of Ezekiel — how could they come from contemporaries in the same group in Babylon?
– Evidence for the conflict between those who remained and exilees comes mainly from later texts, not contemporary
–***She says: We should first go to Psalter before we start considering Mesopotamian sources for these things*** (She said this subsequent to my asking if she had considered parallels between 2Isa and the biblical Psalms)
–Flora and fauna mentioned (plus coming of rain) — (e.g. Isa. 41:18–19) — seem to fit Israel/Judah better than Mesopotamia (In response to a question from Prof N.T. Wright)
—Isa 48:11–12; 52 — talk about return from Babylon — but the majority of such passages in 2Isa talk about return from worldwide diaspora — so not necessarily written from perspective of those in Babylon
– The implications of this study are important. If 2Isa was written in Palestine, this changes a lot about how we understand these chapters and their relationship to other biblical literature written in the same period. If all chapters of Isaiah were written in Palestine, this has implications for our understanding of the unity of the Book of Isaiah as a whole (in response to a question by Allen Jones regarding what this research ultimately means for our understanding of 2Isa)