Meetings 2000


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Winter Meeting 2000 (abstracts)

Professor Joseph Blenkinsopp (Notre Dame)‘The Prophetic Biography of Isaiah’ (Presidential Address)

Mr Mark Vincent (Durham): ‘The Call of Isaiah and the Vision of the Seraphim’

Professor John Watts (Louisville, Kentucky): ‘The Structure of the Book of Isaiah as it is seen at the end of the Twentieth Century’

Mrs Margaret Barker (Borrowash): ‘Hezekiah’s Boil’

Dr John Jarick (Roehampton): ‘The Fall of the House (of Cards) of Ussher’

Dr Peter Addinall (Carperby): ‘Prophecy in the Book of Isaiah and Twentieth-Century History’

Professor Ronald Clements (Cambridge): ‘Isaiah — A Book without an Ending?’

Professor Hugh Williamson (Oxford): ‘Isaiah and the Holy One of Israel’

Summer Meeting 2000 (abstracts)

Professor Mary Douglas (London): ‘The Go-away Goat, or Is There Such a Thing as a Scapegoat Ritual?’

Professor Hans Barstad (Oslo): ‘The Old Testament: A Hellenistic Book?’

Dr Laura Yoffe (Edinburgh): ‘The Nursing God: Female Images of Yahweh’

Professor James VanderKam (Notre Dame): ‘Have the Qumran Scrolls Made a Difference?’

Professor Friedemann Golka (Oldenburg): ‘Joseph, Tammuz and Thomas Mann’

Dr Isaac Kalimi (Jerusalem): ‘Jerusalem in the Chronistic History’

Dr John Day (Oxford): ‘The Old Testament’s Transformation of Some Canaanite Underworld Gods’

Abstracts

Winter Meeting 2000

Professor Joseph Blenkinsopp (Notre Dame)‘The Prophetic Biography of Isaiah’ (Presidential Address)

Jewish traditions about Isaiah concentrate almost exclusively on biographical facts, many of them, needless to say, legendary. The Lives of the Prophetstestifies to the existence of a tomb tradition in Jerusalem in the first century of the era, and The Martyrdom of Isaiah, extant in Ethiopic but composed in Hebrew or Aramaic, speaks of his persecution and death at the hands of the infamous Manasseh. Rabbinic attestations embellish various aspects of his career, not always in a positive sense, and are silent on his pronouncements of judgment on his contemporaries. This one-sided emphasis on biography can be traced back through Ben Sira and the author of Chronicles to the Deuteronomists whose History features a ‘holy man’ named Isaiah but one quite different from the Isaiah of the pronouncements. The deuteronomistic character of much of the narrative in the book of Isaiah (7:1; cf. 2 Kings 16:5; 20:1-6; 36-­39) can be demonstrated, and it amounts to a prophetic portrait irreconcilable with the Isaiah who condemned the ruling elite in Judah in the most absolute terms (especially in Isaiah 28-­33). A re-examination of the Prophetenschweigen problem in the Deuteronomistic History reveals that the solution to this problem in the book of Isaiah is to be sought in the deuteronomistic ideology and specifically in its redefinition of prophecy.

Mr Mark Vincent (Durham): ‘The Call of Isaiah and the Vision of the Seraphim’

This paper considered three central aspects of Isaiah 6. It began by exploring biblical parallels to Isaiah’s vision, suggesting that it is particularly fruitful to read the passage in the light of the call of Moses (Exodus 3­4), and then turned to the identity of the seraphim and asked why this particular term should have been chosen. Possible ancient Near Eastern connections were discussed and each biblical passage in which the term occurs was briefly examined. Ways were suggested in which serpent symbolism and the biblical connotations of the term seraphim may be relevant both to the scene being played out in Isaiah 6 and to the prophecy as a whole. The paper then turned to the function of Isaiah 6 within the final form of Isaiah 1-­66, reviewing motifs identified by other scholars and adding further possibilities. Finally, the location of the call narrative at chapter 6 was considered by asking: How does Isaiah 6 fit into the surroundings of Isaiah 1-­12, and why was it not placed earlier in the final form of the prophecy?

Professor John Watts (Louisville, Kentucky): ‘The Structure of the Book of Isaiah as it is seen at the end of the Twentieth Century’

Frames have been recognized for the book of Isaiah, namely an outer frame (1-4 // 63-66) and inner frames for two parts (5-6 // 34-35 and 40:1-11 // 60-62). The first book (5-­35) develops the theme of the decree for the destruction of the land; the second book (40-­62) relates the summons to rebuild Jerusalem and the roles of groups and individuals in that task. The outer frame declares new meaning for Israel, Jerusalem, and the temple, and the way the reader participates in the new age through them.

Mrs Margaret Barker (Borrowash): ‘Hezekiah’s Boil’

Hezekiah was fatally ill (Isaiah 38:1) but Isaiah treated his boil with a fig poultice and he recovered. This suggests that he had bubonic plague, a sign of divine wrath for his ‘reform’ of the cult. Isaiah then told the king he would live and that the city would be saved, suggesting that Hezekiah was not being punished for his own sin but was functioning as the high priest and protecting his people from divine wrath (Numbers 17:13). This corresponds to the two phases in Isaiah 53: the Servant was first deemed to be bearing his own sin, and then the sin of others. The diagnosis of plague accords with ancient views that the Assyrian army was smitten with plague at that time and the infection could have been carried by the messengers who brought the letter to the king. Plague is mentioned in letter 16 from Lachish.

Dr John Jarick (Roehampton): ‘The Fall of the House (of Cards) of Ussher’

While participants at the Winter Meeting 2000 were good-naturedly debating among themselves whether the third millennium had begun on 1st January 2000 or would only begin on 1st January 2001, this paper explored the work of James Ussher, the 17th-century Irish archbishop who calculated among other things that the world as we know it began in 4004 BC and the birth of the Messiah took place in 4 BC (the year 4000 in Ussher’s scheme of the Age of the World), with the implication that a seventh millennium of world history — the Millennium — would begin in AD 1997 (the year 6000 in his scheme). Ussher’s calculations concerning biblical chronology were widely accepted as accurate, and his dates appeared in the margins of editions of the Authorized Version of the Bible for many generations. However, advances both in the sciences and in biblical interpretation in the last two centuries have discredited many of his findings, and now our generation has lived past the decisive date towards which his scheme pointed. The paper investigated Ussher’s desire to impose a millenarian order on an otherwise chaotic chronology, and showed how this desire was shared by many others of his time, as well as many in antiquity (including various illustrious Rabbis and Church Fathers).

Dr Peter Addinall (Carperby): ‘Prophecy in the Book of Isaiah and Twentieth-Century History’

The focus of this paper was Isaiah 1-­39, and the main assertion was that the substance of these chapters, although originating in the eighth century BC, is directly relevant to life in the twentieth century AD. This entails acceptance of the prophetic view that doing right brings worldly prosperity to the righteous while doing wrong produces suffering in this world for the wrongdoer, a view which has frequently been challenged and with good reason. In favour of an affirmative interpretation it was argued that we must first recognise the strong figurative, anthropomorphic character of the prophetic language, while at the same time acknowledging that this is not merely prophetic choice, but essential and unavoidable in all theistic religious language. The detailed argument of Ludwig Feuerbach in his Das Wesen des Christentums was appealed to in support of this contention. Second, this means that figurative references to God or Yahweh in prophetic passages are given a basis in reality by the moral. Moral judgment is a marked feature of the prophetic literature, and must be taken to refer to an objectively real and dynamic element in human experience, not to be explained, or explained away, in terms of other phenomena. Support is found in Kant’s view of the moral in his critical philosophy, and also in Thomas Chalmers’ Natural Theology. Third, a proper appreciation of the nature of the moral leads to religious belief, since moral value must have its origin and authentication in transcendent deity. Moral judgment taken seriously has far-reaching implications for the nature of the universe of which we are a part and demands that we should see the Power that produced and sustains the world in personal terms. Fourth, the prophetic stress on morality as the will of God is therefore justified, but an essential condition for the validity of both morality and religious belief is human autonomy, and in a world where both religious and moral commitment must be the outcome of choice a simple observable causal link between rightdoing and prosperity, and wrongdoing and suffering, is out of the question. This point is central to the meaning of the book of Job, and the prophetic literature must be understood in the light of it. Fifth, this means that prophetic judgement is concerned with tendencies inherent in morally significant conduct rather than immediately observable results, which accounts for the strong predictive element in prophecy. It also means that the prophet is primarily concerned with communities rather than individuals. Finally, while parallels between moral issues in the ancient world and the modern are important and noteworthy, Isaiah of Jerusalem is above all important for us as a man with an exceptional vision of the reality which gives substance to the moral and which demands acknowledgment by all human beings at all times and in all places.

Professor Ronald Clements (Cambridge): ‘Isaiah — A Book without an Ending?’

The ending of the book of Isaiah in 66:24 reads depressingly and cannot represent a skilfully planned ending for a book of prophecy which has fittingly been described as ‘The Fifth Gospel’. This inappropriate actual ending contrasts with the presence of well-planned and thematically consistent endings which have been noted in 4:2-6; 12:1-6; 35:1-10; 55:1-13; 60:1-22 and yet other sections of the present book. These apparent endings highlight the fact that signs of literary structure and thematic coherence have frequently been neglected in the anxiety to establish the historical background of each part of the book. (1) Isaiah as a book: A primary question exists as to what constitutes a book, since single authorship cannot be the sole criterion. So we must look for signs of planned literary structure and the use of techniques for establishing beginnings and endings. We find in Isaiah that there are many signs of such structure, which are now embedded in the text and which are not always self-evidently explicable. Among these we may note that 1:1-31 forms a general introduction and that 2:2–4:6 is a separate self-contained ‘booklet’ which forms a prologue. A balancing epilogue occurs in 63:1-­66:24. So the main book begins at 5:1 and ends at 62:12. Within this grand structure of the book the major hinge-point occurs `with the joining together of 1–39 with 40–66. This is a feature which has long been recognised and which has been accommodated by the familiar theory of a ‘First’ and ‘Second’ Isaiah. (2) The legacy of Bernhard Duhm and its aftermath: Since 1892 this basic, two-part structure has been further illuminated by Duhm’s division into three parts, through the separating of 56-­66 from the earlier chapters to form a ‘Third’ Isaiah. Yet this only partly serves to explain the book’s extant structure. It most notably leaves unexplained the presence in 1-­39 of so much material which must post-date all but the latest parts of 56-­66. It is the past twenty-five years of research which have focused most intensely on this late material in 5-­35, noting that it displays an apocalyptic character. Moreover it becomes evident upon close examination that the tone of this apocalyptic material now colours the entire book. So there exists a mysterious ‘Fourth Isaiah’ which Duhm failed adequately to account for. (3) The apocalyptic Isaiah book: The present unit made up of chapters 5-­35 of the book displays throughout a distinctive character and bears all the marks of having a coherent plot, recognisable techniques of establishing structure and purpose, as well as signs of the re-use and reinterpretation of far older eighth-century material from Isaiah of Jerusalem. So Duhm’s ‘First Isaiah’ has now been incorporated into a very different kind of book, which shows the most clearly designed structure of any part of the entire Isaiah scroll. Chapter 35 provides the ending of this distinctive apocalyptic ‘Vision of Isaiah’ and shows how it looks ahead to promises recorded in the prophecies of 40-­55. So this important chapter offers a vital clue towards understanding how and why the present book took shape.

Professor Hugh Williamson (Oxford): ‘Isaiah and the Holy One of Israel’

The divine title ‘The Holy One of Israel’ has long been recognized as peculiarly characteristic of the book of Isaiah. It has often been cited by conservative scholars as an argument for unity of authorship of the book, and in more recent study it has featured prominently as an argument for some sort of association between all the major sections of the book. An analysis of the pattern of distribution of the title reveals some interesting and previously unnoticed features, however. First, the title comes only twice in the last eleven chapters of the book (Trito-Isaiah, and there only in what are virtual citations from elsewhere in the book), and not at all in such later passages as Isaiah 24-27 and 34-35; it clearly does not, therefore, characterize the book in its latest phases. Secondly, of the fourteen occurrences in 1-­39, it is probable that only five go back to the eighth-century prophet, and of these four, if not all five, date to the latest stage of his ministry. Interestingly, there is no use of the title in chapter 6, which is often said to have inspired Isaiah to coin the phrase. Of the many later uses in the first part of the book, some seem to relate to pre-exilic redactional activity, and others to be close in thought to the work of Deutero-Isaiah. Thirdly, the title occurs thirteen times in 40-­55, and it seems to be more securely at home there than in any other single part of the book. It may be suggested, in the light of evidence from the Psalms, that the title was in use in a minor way in the Jerusalem cult from where Isaiah himself borrowed it, perhaps particularly in consequence of the fall of the northern kingdom. Although it was not of great significance to him personally, it assumed greater importance among those who passed on his writings, precisely because of its apparently obvious connections with chapter 6, influence from which is pervasive at the literary level in later parts of the book, and this process reached its climax in the work of Deutero-Isaiah. Once again, therefore, the role of this unnamed prophet of the exile stands out as central to the forging of a sense of identifiable unity in the book.

Summer Meeting 2000

Professor Mary Douglas (London): ‘The Go-away Goat, or Is There Such a Thing as a Scapegoat Ritual?’

According to the standard interpretation of the scapegoat rite described in Leviticus 16, its object is to purge the community of Israel of their sins on the lines of the Greek rituals which are generally assimilated to it. The hellenicist association has influenced the reading of the levitical text and covered weak philological arguments which support the idea that the goat is treated like the Greek pharmakos, and sent out to a desert demon called Azazel. On this traditional reading the scapegoat is a despised victim, a model for any victims of persecution. The difficulties are stark incongruity with levitical attitudes to demons and glaring dissimilarity between the Greek ceremonies and the levitical rite. Instead of foreign rites, close parallels in Leviticus itself need to be studied. The focus upon a pair of animals, one chosen for sacrifice and one set free in the wilderness, corresponds closely to the pairs of birds for purification from leprosy. The doctrine of lifting the sins of another person has to be clarified: Aaron’s laying both hands on the goat suggests a commissioning. The comparisons suggest that the goat that escapes being sacrificed corresponds to the brother that was not chosen in Genesis narratives (Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau). In this light the goat would be commissioned to go far away from the habitations of Israel as an honourable envoy to the peoples who were not chosen.

Professor Hans Barstad (Oslo): ‘The Old Testament: A Hellenistic Book?’

Biblical scholarship has experienced heated discussions recently concerning the dating and reliability of the historiographical traditions of the Hebrew Bible. One particular trait of the discussion has been the claim that everything, or most, of what we find in the Hebrew Bible originated in the Hellenistic period. Of some influence in the debate has been the article by the Danish Old Testament scholar Niels Peter Lemche, ‘The Old Testament: A Hellenistic Book?’, published in 1993. Lemche directs attention to four different circumstances that, according to him, favour a Hellenistic date for the Hebrew Bible. The present paper discussed these four points in some detail. After having studied Lemche’s arguments closely, it becomes apparent that they do not at all support a Hellenistic background for the Hebrew Bible.

Dr Laura Yoffe (Edinburgh): ‘The Nursing God: Female Images of Yahweh’

This paper drew attention to passages where Yahweh is pictured as nursing his (her?) people: Numbers 11:11-12 (implied only); Deuteronomy 32:13-14; Isaiah 66:10-13; and Hosea 11:3-4. This is the most consistent of a number of female images: labouring woman (Isaiah 42:14), midwife (Psalm 22:9), mistress (Psalm 123:4); together they put an interesting spin on one interpretation of Genesis 1:27. The image of a nursing God is important in the debate on whether the Israelites had a goddess (Kuntillet Ajrud and Khirbet el Qom inscriptions; Genesis 49:25; Jeremiah 44) and raises the questions, ‘Where did the image come from?’ and ‘Why has it been overlooked by modern scholars?’

Professor James VanderKam (Notre Dame): ‘Have the Qumran Scrolls Made a Difference?’

The paper offered a survey of contributions that the Dead Sea Scrolls have made to scholarship on the Old Testament. After briefly touching on publication of the scrolls, reference works available for studying them, and the ostraca found at Qumran in 1996, the main part of the paper focused specifically on Qumran and the Old Testament. In the first section (‘Scrolls and editions’), the point was made that the so-called biblical scrolls allow us to see the ways in which texts were set forth, the changes and corrections made by scribes, and the growth of texts which are available in multiple copies (e.g. Serek ha-Yahad). The second section dealt with the ‘biblical’ scrolls, the categories into which scholars have placed the different witnesses, and the types of variants found in the scrolls. The third and final section was devoted to the larger issues of which works were considered authoritative by the Qumran community and whether they had a canon of scripture. It is clear that a number of works which would later become parts of the Hebrew Bible were considered authoritative at Qumran, but for the status of some of the later canonical books the testimony of the scrolls is not clear and in the case of books such as Jubilees it is evident that high authority was attributed to a book that was not canonized in Judaism at a later time. Revelation was believed to be ongoing, with the result that the categories of authoritative books seem not to have been regarded as closed and fixed.

Professor Friedemann Golka (Oldenburg): ‘Joseph, Tammuz and Thomas Mann’

For over a century it has been known to biblical exegetes (the Pan-Babylonist Alfred Jeremias and others) that the dying and rising god Tammuz is the prototype of Joseph in Genesis 37-­50. Tammuz is a vegetation and spring deity (later to be identified with Osiris and Adonis), the archetypal saviour. He is the beloved of the moon goddess Ishtar (compare Isis and Aphrodite). Tammuz is the beautiful youth who is nevertheless given over to death, be it through the attack of a wild boar or through Ishtar’s love. Ishtar follows him into the underworld while the fertility of all vegetation, animals and humans comes to an end. Through her negotiations with the goddess of the underworld Ishtar achieves the release of Tammuz at least for part of the year. Knowledge of this myth came to the Israelites via the Canaanites (Isaiah 17:10; Ezekiel 8:14). Joseph is the beautiful youth. He has to go down to the pit twice in order to rise again to even higher glory. Thomas Mann in his novel Joseph and His Brethren achieves a christological interpretation of the Joseph figure by extending the perspective from Tammuz via Joseph to Jesus. While in volumes 2 and 3 Mann re-mythologizes Joseph, he de-mythologizes him in volume 4 (‘Joseph the Provider’), where Joseph works salvation in the social and economic field.

Dr Isaac Kalimi (Jerusalem): ‘Jerusalem in the Chronistic History’

The Chronicler does not clarify his position concerning the contradictory stories about the capture of Jerusalem in Joshua-­Judges. He wished, probably, to say that only in David’s era could the conquest of the city be accomplished. The significance of Jerusalem in the Chronistic History is revealed above all by the description of the city’s conquest, the immediate and first royal action of David, even prior to the celebration of his own coronation. The capture is presented as the most remarkable and meaningful national goal in which all the Israelites participated and to which they contributed willingly, as a result of deep conviction. In order to stress this viewpoint, the Chronicler avoided describing the conquest of the city as a fulfillment of God’s command. The details concerning the capture in Chronicles are, however, an outcome of the Chronicler’s efforts to clarify his difficult Vorlage. He omitted the date as well as the unclear passages. He understood the rest of the text in 2 Samuel 5:8, ‘and David said at that time, “Whoever smites the Jebusites…”’, as a conditional sentence which did not clarify what would be done to a man who smote the Jebusites and caused the capture of Jerusalem. He concluded the incomplete sentence from similar biblical accounts and close syntactical constructions which could be found in the Former Prophets. The main purpose of 1 Chronicles 11:6 is to emphasize the difficulties which were faced in the capture of Jerusalem in order to create suspense and anticipation for a very significant forthcoming event in the Israelites’ national life. The historical trustworthiness of this source is extremely doubtful.

Dr John Day (Oxford): ‘The Old Testament’s Transformation of Some Canaanite Underworld Gods’

The paper discussed the transformation of the gods Mot, Resheph and the Rephaim (Ugaritic rp’um). (Molech was excluded, having been dealt with in an earlier book.) First, the god Mot was discussed. The Old Testament’s references to Sheol swallowing people up (e.g. Isaiah 5:14; Habakkuk 2:5) use metaphorically language earlier used of the god Mot in the Ugaritic texts. Death itself being swallowed up in Isaiah 25:8 is probably a metaphor for the end of exile, not literal death, comparable to Isaiah 26:19 (cf. 27:8). Death coming through the windows in Jeremiah 9:20 (ET 21) perhaps alludes to a demon derivative from Mot. Several other alleged allusions to Mot in the Old Testament are unconvincing. Resheph, a plague god, was noted for his pestilential arrows. In the Old Testament he is sometimes transformed into a plague demon(s), on occasion in Yahweh’s entourage (Habakkuk 3:5; Psalm 78:48 [‘Reshephs’]; Job 5:7 [‘sons of Resheph’]); in Song of Songs 8:6 ‘Reshephs’ is demythologized, referring to love’s arrows (cf. Cupid), though the original underworld background is still in evidence (‘love is strong as death’), whilst in Psalm 76:4 (ET 3) ‘Reshephs’ is totally demythologized, simply referring to ordinary human arrows. Psalm 91:5-6 refers to Resheph as a plague demon, even though not explicitly mentioned by name. In the Old Testament the term Rephaim is used not only for the dead but also for certain giants, part of the pre-Israelite Canaanite population of Canaan. The underworld meaning is primary, since rp’um is already used of divinized dead human beings (especially kings) at Ugarit and the concept of the giant Rephaim is derivative from them. That there is a connection between them is supported by the fact that the giant Rephaim are especially associated with Ashtaroth in Transjordan (Genesis 14:5; Joshua 12:4; 13:12), just as is the case with the underworld figure rp’u (singular of rp’um) in the Ugaritic text KTU 1.108.1-2. That giants may be related to gods is paralleled, for example, in the case of the Nephilim.

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