Tradition supports Innovation
in Deutero Isaiah
Chapters 40 through 55 of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah invoke “traditional” forms, authorities, themes, and cultural symbols in a hymnic appeal to an exiled people for a restoration of Zion. Traditional motifs and heritage touch-stones are borrowed and combined in unique ways. The author uses them as validation techniques to point to divine activity directed to the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. Isa. 40:1-2; 44:24-28. The Prophet’s vision speaks to the disenfranchised, of the need to change, so as to re-empower their lives as a “light to the nations”. Isa. 42:5-9
This unit is known as “Deutero Isaiah”. The chapters provide an appealing message, in appealing forms familiar to readers, which draw out earlier prophesies of restoration made in the previous chapters of the book. The Prophet launches a progressive series of arguments responding to doubts and fears about the restoration effort. Abrahamic traditions, Mosaic symbols, and sacred scriptures of the tribe of Jacob, are invoked in support of these arguments.
Finally, the Prophet predicts the defeat of Babylon (which had already happened at the hand of Cyrus), and calls for the political restoration of Mother Zion and her daughter cities. In the last portions, the Prophet presents a vision of Jerusalem as a happy singing hostess at an akitu feast open to all who “leave aside folly”. The people who attend bear witness and participate in the “new old covenant” where YHWH’s word bears fruit with the happy consummation of Mother Zion as the Bride of JHVH Husband.
The Forms are Familiar
The forms of the material are familiar to those who would remember the traditions and language of the Temple: A combination of versified narratives, oracles and hymns presented by a Prophetic Priest of the post-Davidic court during dispersion in the latter half of the eighth century BCE.  On the other hand, it may not be clear exactly who the audience or reception is for the text. While much can be inferred from the existence of the text, in numerous copies throughout the region, with Aramaic gradually replacing Hebrew, the text does not refer to any actual “school” or rabbinic community.
The work, and the call, is clearly addressed to more than a pious priesthood, and possibly to all willing to worship where “God is in thee”. Many of the exiles had escaped or evaded captivity, were born into it, or made eunuchs, harem-ed in, or were otherwise acculturated. Some may interpret the language of the Call as inclusive and extended to the known world -- to all willing to worship. 45:14: “Thus saith the LORD: the labour of Egypt, and the merchandise of Ethiopia, and of the Sabeans, men of stature, shall come over unto thee, and they shall be thine; they shall go after thee, in chains they shall come over; and they shall fall down unto thee, they shall make supplication unto thee: Surely God is in thee, and there is none else, there is no other God.”
On the other hand, the new Zion is where “the uncircumcised and the unclean shall enter you no more”, suggesting a vague purgation or concern over purity. Isa. 52:1-2. The “circumcision” reference recalls Moses and Zipporah, where she circumcised their son when God threatened to kill Moses. Exodus 4:24–ff. Here, perhaps the same as the old Zion.
While Isaiah employs some uniquely beautiful and original phrases and imagery, the forms were widely-used in the Babylonian and Persian hymnic and wisdom literature. This correspondance is relevant to the concept of “scripture” as the Word of God, where there is a competition between “traditions”.
The use of patterns of traditional or charged language forms functions even under some duress in a displaced setting. Study of the forms of the creation, in turn explored by exegetical methods, can enable interpreters to understand the functions and effects of the communication.
The unit also employs rhetorical Questions and a dramatic “trial” trope. Isa.40:12, 41:1-13. These devices are familiar and effective because the audience would know the answers to the Questions “from tradition”. The argument is then strengthened by what the people know – the audience knows the narratives of Noah, the covenant with Abraham, the generations of the Exodus, the meaning of the wilderness, and can immediately connect to the everlasting power of a creator of the earth who does not “grow weary”. The Questions address the doubts and fears of the people and illustrate that YHWH is powerful. JHWH himself addresses the people in a “court speech” – a form which elevates the listeners familiar with legal tradition which seats them in the role of being adjudicants, with a duty to attend in order to render a verdict.
The Call Home – the Covenant and the Highway
From the first, the invocation is intended to comfort the exiles, in place, during the diaspora: “40:1 Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith your God.” The Prophet then announces that Jerusalem’s punishment is completed; this is also comforting, although it never so much as hints what the punishment is for. Isa. 40:2: “Bid Jerusalem take heart, and proclaim unto her, that her time of service is accomplished, that her guilt is paid off; that she hath received of the LORD'S hand double for all her sins.” The redemption lifts up and points to Jerusalem, in everyone’s memory. This calling theme is repeated throughout the unit, for example at 44:22.
The comforting assurance is reinforced by the reminder that the calling is from the Lord of the Covenant, and the traditions of King David: “55:3 Incline your ear, and come unto Me; hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.” This language expressly invokes the traditional narratives that Isaiah’s audience will recall.
The Prophet then calls the people to journey home. He announces that JHVH is preparing, and calling the people to, a new path: “40:3 Hark! one calleth: 'Clear ye in the wilderness the way of the LORD, make plain in the desert a highway for our God.” The summons by deity sanctifies the highway, and couples this invitation with the “protected in the wilderness” theme of Exodus.
In addition, the journey will be simplified, because not only will JHVH provide for the journey, but He will “straighten the curves” and “level the mountains”. Isa. 40:3, 43:14. JHVH will enable the journeyers to pass through fires and “the flame will not consume you”. Isa. 43:1-4. While these themes step beyond the traditional Exodus story, they frame an invocation of the Creation elements.
The divine highway will “lead the people home to Jerusalem”, as Professor Sweeney writes, and Jerusalem will be rebuilt. Isa.40:3, and “40:9 O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain; O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah: 'Behold your God!' The highway heads home.
Calls for innovation by recalling earlier Prophesies and Miracles
The unit is tied in with the earlier prophecies made concerning the Assyrian period. For example, “38:6 And I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city.” And he was not shy in reminding them that his prophesy came true, and the miracle of the sun dial showing the power of the deity: “38:7 And this shall be the sign unto thee from the LORD, that the LORD will do this thing that He hath spoken: 38:8 behold, I will cause the shadow of the dial, which is gone down on the sun-dial of Ahaz, to return backward ten degrees.' So the sun returned ten degrees, by which degrees it was gone down.”
The importance of the treatment of “tradition” is raised by the fact that Deutero introduces unique and possibly unprecedented theological shifts. For example, the text appears to raise unique sensibilities – gentler, not noisy, caring for the bruised reed. Isa. 42:3. The announcement of a Covenant which includes “gentiles”(Isa. 42:6), and the people and the earth directly. Isa. 49:8. The calling is to “many nations”. Isa. 52:15; 55.1.
Two completely unprecedented innovations are (1) the return to Zion to rebuild the Temple (44:24 ff), (2) under the newly-anointed King Cyrus. Isa. 41-48. This is innovative because neither Judah nor Israel ever had a gentile king, and it would not be a theocracy.
Deutero Isaiah introduces these innovations by using “traditions” – not only familiar forms and themes, but also by invoking Both Moses and Jeremiah as models for the “servant” of JHWH. Ch. 49. The Davidic line is lost – neither JHWH nor the Prophet thought to draft a tribal leader for the return migration. Without pausing on that lacuna, the Prophet places King Cyrus into the position.
The Introduction of a King and a Servant
Isaiah 41 presents King Cyrus as YHWH’s anointed King, and not incidentally retribution upon Babylon. The Prophet asserts that Israel, or perhaps even Cyrus, is the “servant” of YHWH. These contentions are supported by the traditions of a covenant people, with YHWH expressly appealing to their past traditions. In the trial and court speeches, YHWH also exposes the foreign gods as weak, unable to protect Babylon or predict Cyrus’ successes, or control history. Isa.41:21-42:4. The stone gods remain silent while the priests chatter.
And after declaring his own Prophetic commission, the Prophet reintroduces the same theme—the restoration of Zion—as the duty of Israel as YHWY’s servant. The traditions of YHWH in the covenants with Abraham (Is. 41:8), and as provider of water in the wilderness (41:17-20), support the court contentions. The servant Israel will serve as a covenant people, carrying the light to the nations, and opening the eyes of all to the power of YHWH so clearly shown in the restoration of Jacob. Isa. 42.5-9.
The Master/Servant theme is shared with dialectic work composed since the early first millennium BCE among Mesopotamian scribes. This tradition appears in the Hebrew traditions from Ecclesiastes and throughout the Prophets. Following the commission of the servant in Isaiah 42:1-9, the Prophet invokes praises to the Lord in Isaiah 42:10, using almost identical language found in Davidic Psalms 96 and 98 – traditional hymns of praise.
All Israel is called to be the Servant whose unwillingness and disbelief is overcome in a dialogue with YHWH. Isa. 49:3-5; repeating same point from 41:1-20, 41:21 ff; 48:1 ff. The nations will be astonished to see a people thought to have been annihilated, restored, and with a holy city and a Temple. 49:1-13.
Interpreters disagree over the identity of the “suffering servant” portrayed in 52:13-15. Was it the Prophet, or Cyrus, or Israel? The Servant dies in painful public humiliation, but saves the exiles. Neither scripture nor history are clear about the manner of death of Isaiah or Cyrus. The portrayal draws on the image of sacrifice and expiation of sin. Professor Sweeney refers to the dangers of such a theology “when it is used to justify the killing of Jews (or other groups)” as an act of divine will.” Textual opportunities to “miss the point” abound in such a vivid and wide-ranging text, but the Prophet’s real message is correctly stated in Isaiah 55 which asks the reader to “come, listen and seek” YHWH who is making an eternal covenant. While requiring adherence to Torah, the message is the opposite of a retributive execration.
Isaiah 55 employs addresses and rhetorical questions which function as an invitation to accept YHWH’s covenant. Again, Deutero invokes the Davidic tradition of Zion. The language echoes passages from 2 Samuel 7, and Psalms 89, 110, 132.
Yet no Davidic monarch is anticipated. Deutero simply illustrates how YHWH is acting in the world, and among his new deeds is the choice of Cyrus as a divinely chosen leader. Isa.. 48:12-16. This action is embedded in the familiar recitals drawn from tradition concerning the creation of heaven and earth and all within it. 48:12-16.
The Dialogue with Joshua and the Older Prophets
Isaiah 42:14-43:7 contends that YHWH has redeemed Israel from the punishment brought on by its failure to observe Torah. The court speeches draw upon the traditions of the Exodus and wilderness to assert that YHWH will lead a restored Israel from Babylon through the sea and the wilderness.
In referring to traditions, Deutero Isaiah has to confront the negative history – the cycles of Sin, where Israel goes deaf and blind, and readily adopts competing gods and impieties. The Prophet confronts these frailties -- 42:18 “Hear, ye deaf, and look, ye blind, that ye may see.” Perhaps the Prophet offers a new and expanded invitation to overcome the hemerolopic and back-sliding “tradition” which hag-rides the human tribe.
For example, Deutero condemns liars, grouped with those who worship false gods and materialistic fools who think they have knowledge. Isa. 44:25. This execration echoes the older Prophets, for example, “a sword is upon the liar” Jeremiah 50:36, liars are hated by JHVH Proverbs 6:19, and idolatry as an abomination in Josiah’s rule, 2 Kings 23:5.
The call to return to Zion communicated by Deutero Isaiah is an express dialectic with the Deuteronomistic and conditional theological language in the Joshua material: If Torah is not observed, then the People are expelled from the Promised Land. That expulsion was fulfilled in the Babylonian captivity. But Deuteronomy contains “saving clauses”. Deuteronomy 28 and 30, start out with conditions but then clearly state a redemption opportunity: When the People repent, God “will restore you to the land.” Disobedience of deities is a traditional explanation for punishment and failure—an echo of Exodus 34:12, and Deuteronomy 7:2. Redemption is a necessary step in restoration and happiness. Deutero announces the forgiveness, and trumpets the restoration.
This dynamic of Covenant-violation-redemption-restoration becomes one of the major issues for Jewish thinking throughout history, and as drawn from the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. Deutero Isaiah’s summons to return to Zion is a restorative loop. Tradition is a whip of night and day, curse and hope, bounty and desolation – ranges which the Prophet uses as a guide. Compare the verbal echoes of the faithful lamenter in Lamentations 3:30, or the cheek given to the smiter in Isaiah 50:5-6. The Prophet speaks as one shown the divine plan of punishment-restoration so that he can teach the exhausted aporetic people to worship and follow a comforting deity into a new period of light to be found in Zion. Isa. 51:1-8.
Berquist, Jon L. Judaism in Persia’s Shadow: A Social and Historical Approach. Eugene, Or.: Wipf and Stock Pub., 2003.
Clifford, Richard J., ed. Wisdom Literature in Mesopotamia and Israel. Society of Biblical Literature Symposium Series 36. Atlanta: Soc. of Biblical Literature, 2007.
Cobb, John. Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1976.
McKenzie, Steven L., and Stephen R. Haynes, eds. To Each Its Own Meaning; an Introduction to Biblical Criticisms and Their Application. Louisville,KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999.
Perdue, Leo G. The Sword and the Stylus: An Introduction to Wisdom in the Age of Empires. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 2008.
Pritchard, James B., and Daniel E. Fleming, eds. The Ancient Near East; an Anthology of Texts and Pictures. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 2011.
Sweeney, Marvin A. Tanak: A Theological and Critical Introduction to the Jewish Bible, 2011. http://www.librarything.com/work/12075940/edit/133767278.
 Sweeney, Tanak, 284: Referring to Chapters 40-55, “It is designed to convince its readers that YHWH is acting to restore Zion.”
 Ibid., 270.
 Pritchard and Fleming, The Ancient Near East, 275–283. For example, two stelae found in Harran, express prophetic gratitude and temple–building themes expressed by one who “heeded the words” which the king of all gods “had spoken to me and I saw (them come true)” at 276, “The Mother of Nabonidus”; at 278, “Nabonidus and his God,” the deity come to him in a dream to rebuild the Temple; at 282, “Cyrus” inscription, with textual and referential correpondences to Isaiah: e.g. 276 rewarded for rebuilding Temple, 283 Marduk searching for a righteous ruler found Cyrus, and note reference to Bel and Nebo, Isaiah 46:1.
 Perdue, The Sword and the Stylus, 145: The location in Babylonia provided the exiles with knowledge of Babylonian literature, “particularly significant in the prophetic literature” of Habakkuk, Ezekiel, and esp. Second Isaiah.
 McKenzie and Haynes, To Each Its Own Meaning, 58.
 Sweeney, Tanak, 285.
 40:28 “Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? His discernment is past searching out.”
 Sweeney, Tanak, 269.
 Ibid., 284.
 Ibid., 285.
 Ibid., 286.
 Clifford, Wisdom Literature in Mesopotamia and Israel, 55, citing copies of a wisdom text circulated in two recensions, one Babylonian, one Assyrian, and compared to the Hebrew composition of Qohelet.
 Berquist, Judaism in Persia’s Shadow, 41.
 Sweeney, Tanak, 287.
 Ibid., 288.
 Perdue, The Sword and the Stylus, 146.
 Professor Sweeney, classroom lecture, 11/08/2016
 Pritchard and Fleming, The Ancient Near East, 275, the “Mother of Nabonidus,” helped build the Temple of Sin in Harran, and was rewarded with long life and wealth. There is no evidence, however, that the King of Babylon took his mother’s advice.
 Classroom Handout, Timeline “Mesopotamia 3500 BCE – 636 CE, showing Assyrian, Babylonian and Achaemenid Empires.
 Perdue, The Sword and the Stylus, 145.
 Berquist, Judaism in Persia’s Shadow, 26. Also, Professor Sweeney lecture, 11/08/2016.
 Pritchard and Fleming, The Ancient Near East, 275–281, especially at 277.
 Berquist, Judaism in Persia’s Shadow, 24.The Edict of Cyrus accords with decrees encouraging return of religious objects and people to their homelands.
 Ibid., 140–141. Cyrus’ successor Darius actually funded the building and maintenance of the Temple in Jerusalem, which attracted people and more stratified wealth.
 Unitarian Universalist symbols and flaming chalices have been found in Cave Painting sites, for example in Chauvet, and in the world's oldest hewn stone settlement structures in Gobekli Tepe. Of course.
 Sweeney, Tanak, 286.
 Pritchard and Fleming, The Ancient Near East, Plate 189.
 Cobb, Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition.
 Berquist, Judaism in Persia’s Shadow, 31. “Cyrus seems to have accepted almost any religion at all within his empire,” and pointing out that "Isaiah 40-55 remains exclusivistically Yahwist." Some commentators take Deutero himself as a “Prophet of Universalism,” citing Blenkinsopp.FN 22 cites.
 Ibid., 30–31. Citing Dandamaev in Note 20, page 43.
 Ibid., 182.