In September, as the Isaiah lessons were approaching in Gospel Doctrine, I decided to read three translations of Isaiah, the Jewish Publication Society translation (which I found discarded somewhere on campus 30+ years ago), Avraham Gileadi’s The Apocalyptic Book of Isaiah, and David Rosenberg’s selections in A Poet’s Bible. I started with JPS because I wanted to see why scholars argue Isaiah was written by more than one writer (an argument used occasionally against the Book of Mormon, since some of the Isaiah chapters it quotes are said to have been written after 600 BC–after Lehi would have had access to them). I soon found I was getting through about 1 column of the introduction during my daily commute, since I was reading all the scripture citations. At that rate I wouldn’t even get to the text before the lessons began, so I switched to Gileadi.
Gileadi’s accompanying “Apocalyptic Key” is an explicit statement that this text doesn’t behave the way textual critics think it does. The day we started studying Isaiah in Old Testament Part II Rabbi Dr. Gileadi started the lesson by saying Isaiah works as a single unified text with an elaborate structure of parallels and echoes. It is not the work of more than one author. He begins “An Apocalyptic Key” by noting what ought to be obvious, that assigning Isaiah to more than one author fragments the text. That’s so obvious that we don’t think, until an Avraham Gileadi or a Robert Alter (see The World of Biblical Literature and The Five Books of Moses) points it out, that concentrating on the fragments means missing the overall literary structure–and not simply missing it but being unable to see it, since fragmenting a text precludes looking at it as a literary unity.
Gileadi acknowledges reasons to see the text as fragmented, Isaiah’s “three distinct historical settings, and its divided content of prophetic oracles and written discourses” (171), but doesn’t spend more time than that, preferring to spend time demonstrating the unity of the text. Along the way he presents a way to determine when to interpret historical passages as literal, figurative or apocalyptic. If a section about a historical figure doesn’t match the historical record we should interpret that section as apocalyptic. That is, part of the book’s structure is to see historical characters as types of characters who will appear on the scene in the last days, Cyrus, for example. Some of what we read about Cyrus doesn’t match the historical record, so we should read those parts as type-scenes of the latter days (see 194, 202).
Cyrus? How did his name get in there? Wasn’t Isaiah writing 150 years before Cyrus? Continue reading