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?