Textual Growth in Isaiah 40:7-8? (Part 1)

This series of posts may be too ambitious for a blog, but I hope to present some of the key issues and the scholars involved with this textual problem and the other significant textual problems in Isaiah generally. I will present the texts in this post and the two theories used to explain the textual situation. In a second post, I will present the interpretation of Eugene Ulrich, “The Developmental Composition of the Book of Isaiah: Light from 1QIsaa on Additions in the MT,” Dead Sea Discoveries 8,3 (2001): 288-305. In a third post, I want to convey some of the main ideas in a recent article by Drew Longacre, “Developmental Stage, Scribal Lapse, or Physical Defect? 1QIsaa’s Damaged Exemplar for Isaiah Chapters 34-66,” Dead Sea Discoveries 20 (2013): 17-50. In a fourth post, I will offer my own conclusion to this textual problem. These texts are the most relevant to this problem but I will comment on all of the evidence in post four.

MT:  יָבֵ֤שׁ חָצִיר֙ נָ֣בֵֽל צִ֔יץ כִּ֛י ר֥וּחַ יְהוָ֖ה נָ֣שְׁבָה בֹּ֑ו אָכֵ֥ן חָצִ֖יר הָעָֽם ׃יָבֵ֥שׁ חָצִ֖יר נָ֣בֵֽל צִ֑יץ וּדְבַר־אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יָק֥וּם לְעֹולָֽם׃ ס. The text in red is what is under consideration.

NRSV: The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.

LXX: ἐξηράνθη ὁ χόρτος, καὶ τὸ ἄνθος ἐξέπεσεν, [...] τὸ δὲ ῥῆμα τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν μένει εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα.

NETS: The grass has withered, and the flower has fallen, [...] but the word of our God remains forever.

1QIsaa: יבשׁ חציר נבל ציצ כי רוח ֑֑֑֑ נשׁבה בוא הכן חציר העם יבשׁ חציל נבל ציצ ודבר אלהינו יקום לעולם. The text in red represents a later addition to this text, perhaps written in a different handwriting by a later scribe. I provide the image from the manuscript (see here for the whole digital scroll).


As one can see, the Masoretic text is longer than the text of the LXX. Furthermore, 1QIsaa has an interesting and perhaps a mixed text. The image above shows that originally 1QIsaa had a shorter text similar to the LXX and that another hand added the longer reading of MT above the line and then continued the longer text down the left margin.

In order to describe this text and the factors involved one needs a theory which can explain these kinds of problems. Currently, the two theories on this problem and others like them are (1) 1QIsaa represents the shorter original and MT represents a growing and expanding text of Isaiah and (2) 1QIsaa and LXX represent a text that became shorter by a scribal error during the transmission of the longer text. In addition to a theory, one also needs an understanding of the character of these textual witnesses in order to describe the factors involved. For example, (1) would need to show that 1QIsaa usually has a shorter text than MT and the reason for MT’s longer text is due to intentional scribal additions. (2) would need to show that an unintentional scribal error is probable in 1QIsaa and would have to supply an equally probable solution for the rest of the shorter texts in that manuscript. In other words, a global knowledge of the textual character of 1QIsaa combined with a theory of its transmission is prerequisite to deciding between the two theories.

As we unpack this problem, I want to keep an eye on the theory which most simply explains the difference between these texts. Both theories are plausible from the outset, but which one will offer the simpler solution in the final analysis?

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15 thoughts on “Textual Growth in Isaiah 40:7-8? (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: John Meade on Isaiah 40:7-8 at LXXI

  2. Will you be considering the allusion to this passage in 4Q185 Frags. 1–2 i:10-11? The wind/breath/spirit (which only appears in the addition/omission in question) appears there.
    כח[צ]יר יצמח מאר̇צו
    ופרח̇ כציץ חסדו
    נשב֯[ה בו ]רוחו
    ויבש ע̇גֹזֹוֹ
    וציצו תשא רוֹח
    He sprouts from his land like grass,
    And his loyalty blooms like a flower,
    His breath blows on him,
    And his root shrivels,
    And the wind scatters his leaves..

    • Ken, nice “to see” you here. I will comment on it now :). Actually, I was not planning on commenting on it in the series, but this text looks really interesting and it has connections to the “longer text.” If you have a good write up or an opinion already formulated, I can post it for you as a guest blogger… Let me know what you think.

      • No write-up. It simply looks like evidence that the longer text was known at Qumran.

  3. It certainly does. Of course the fact that the longer text is inserted later (how much later?) also shows that the longer reading was known to the community. Thanks for the comments, Ken. Exactly the kind of discussion I was hoping for.

  4. Speaking of “global knowledge of the textual character,” for pluses and minuses in Greek Isaiah the major work is of course by Mirjam van der Vorm-Croughs. Her discussion of this passage is on page 382, but I would also point out note 13 in chapter 12, at https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/bitstream/handle/1887/16135/12.%20DIFFERENT%20VORLAGE.pdf which reads,
    Larger minuses can further relatively often be found in places where the Hebrew offers two parallel or nearly identical clauses which the translator seems to have reduced to one in order to condense his text (see e.g. 25:9; 26:9; 34:3–4; 37:8–9,33–34; 42:15; 44:13,14; 59:18; 60:13; 61:7; 62:4; and cf. section 3.2.1c), and in places where parablepsis, haplography or a related translation mistake might have occurred (see 6:13; 14:24; 22:14–15; 25:9; 36:10–11; 38:15; 40:7–8; 41:13–14; 42:19; 44:8–9,13; 51:9–10; 59:18,21; 62:4,7; 65:18; and 66:3; and cf. chapter 11). Sometimes a minus can be explained by both of these two possibilities. It is remarkable that quite some large minuses are found in the chapters on Hezekiah (Isa 36–39): see 36:7; 37:8–9,14,33–34; and 38:15,17.
    On the relative scarcity of large minuses in LXX Isaiah, see also Ziegler, Untersuchungen, 47; Johan Lust, “Exegesis and Theology in the Septuagint of Ezekiel. The Longer ‘Pluses’ and Ezek 43:1–9,” in VI Congress of the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies. Jerusalem 1986 (ed. Claude E. Cox; SCS 23; Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1987), 203–204; and Baer, When We All Go Home, 15 n.18. Lust offers a scheme, based upon the aligned Hebrew-Greek computer-readable text of Tov and Kraft, in which the pluses and
    minuses in the LXX of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel are compared. This scheme distinguishes between “long” pluses or minuses—stretching out over at least four Hebrew words—and “short” ones, numbering less than four words. This model attributes to LXX Isaiah 994 short minuses, as compared to 50 long ones, and 1011 long pluses, as compared to only 19 long ones.

  5. You should rephrase your first option by saying that 1QIsaa might represent “a shorter, more original form.” There is no initial reason why one should assume the extant text forms preserve an alleged original text form. MT, LXX, and 1QIsaa could all prove to be variations of a more original text form (which still need not be the original text-form).

  6. Thanks for your comment, Joseph. I already had Ulrich’s article in mind when I wrote what I did, and I do not remember him using the language of “more original.” In my review of his article, I will look more closely at this point. But while I have you here, how would one determine or know that all of the extant witnesses “could prove to be variations of a more original text form, which still need not be the original text-form”? Since we are on the level of assertion or better presupposition, could one not presuppose the opposite, that one of these text forms does preserve the original text form? It seems more probable to me that the original text is contained in the documents themselves. Examples of conjectural emendation would be the only places where scholarship has decided that the original text is not contained within the documents.

    • “How would one determine or know that all of the extant witnesses could prove to be variations of a more original text form, which still need not be the original text-form?”

      New data. Text criticism pre-existed the discovery of the DSS. These witnesses have confirmed some previous text-critical judgments (insofar as relative priority is concerned) while challenging other judgments. Perhaps there are other ways (conjectural emendation). But simply recognizing that new data has proved this once before is enough to suggest it could do so yet again.

      If you argue that, of Text A and Text B, Text A is the “more original” text form, it may also be true that Text A is THE original text form. I did not mean to suggest that one must embrace one view to the exclusion of the other. However, these judgments are of two different kinds and the latter conclusion does not necessarily follow the former. An example from my own area of expertise, I have argued that, of Joel 2:13-14 and Jonah 3:9 and 4:2, Jonah is the more original text form. If those were the only extant witnesses to the Yhwh Creed that I had, according to your assumptions I would conclude Jonah is THE original text form. But then, lo and behold, let us say that Exodus 34:6-7 appears. Of the three texts, I now conclude that Exodus is the more original text form. Based on my assumptions, the earlier textual judgment remains unchanged. Jonah 3:9 and 4:2 is more original than Joel 2:13-14. Based on your assumptions, the textual judgment must be amended. Jonah is no longer THE original. Thus, my assumptions are preferable. They treat textual judgments discreetly in a way that is less likely to require these judgments be amended when new data appear. One need not necessarily preclude either a commitment to a single original textual model or to the judgment that an original form has been preserved when speaking of “more original” text forms.

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