"I Set Before You Death and Life": The Rhetoric of Death in First Isaiah Open Access

Hays, Christopher Baird (2008)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/gx41mj14n?locale=en


The theme of death and life is a hermeneutical key to First Isaiah, although it has not generally been recognized as such. Despite the repeated references to death and life in Isaiah 1-39, no study exists that synthetically discusses the relevant passages in that corpus. This study takes up that project.

The dissertation focuses on the text's meaning for its producers and its initial audiences. Prophetic oracles were first composed and uttered to persuade someone of something (or at least to pronounce a message) at a given place and time; this has been called the "rhetorical-historical situation."

Chs. 1-4 set the historical and religious backgrounds to First Isaiah, surveying the beliefs and practices surrounding death in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Syria-Palestine, and Judah/Israel. These chapters focus on the Iron Age II, although the Syria-Palestine chapter necessarily draws on a wider chronological swath, given the relative skimpiness of Iron II data for Syria-Palestine apart from Israel and Judah. As part of its survey of Judah and Israel, Ch. 4 also studies forms of biblical rhetoric that employ imagery of death.

Ch. 5 takes up more than a dozen pericopae in Isa 5-38 and studies how they employ the imagery of death that was part of their cultural milieux, and also identifies ways in which they break new creative ground. In addition to its synthetic conclusions about Isaiah's contribution to the development of such rhetoric, the dissertation achieves particular critical advances in its analyses of Isa 19:1-15, 22:15-19, and 28:1-22.

Table of Contents

0. Introduction 0.1 Topic 1 0.2 Method 2 0.3 Death in the Ancient Near East (chs. 1-4) 3 0.4 The Rhetoric of Death in Isaiah 1-39 8 1. Death and the Dead in Mesopotamia during the Iron Age II 1.1 Introduction 11 1.2 Historical sketch 11 1.3 Mechanisms of Mesopotamian influence 23 1.4 Death in Mesopotamia 35 1.4.1 Burial and mourning in Mesopotamia 37 1.4.2 The Mesopotamian dead 45 1.4.3 The Mesopotamian underworld and its deities 51 1.5 Conclusions 59 2. Death and the Dead in Egypt during the Iron Age II 2.1 Introduction 61 2.2 Historical Sketch 62 2.3 Mechanisms of Egyptian influence 66 2.4 Death in Egypt 72 2.4.1 Burial and mourning in Egypt 73 2.4.2 The Egyptian dead 82 2.4.3 The Egyptian underworld and its deities 89 2.5 Conclusions 95 3. Death and the Dead in Syria-Palestine outside Israel and Judah 3.1 Introduction 99 3.2 Death cults in inland Syria and Hatti in the second millennium 101 3.3 Ugarit 105 3.3.1 Ugarit and the Bible 105 3.3.2 The archaeology of death in Ugarit 107 3.3.3 Death in the Ugaritic texts 112 Burial and mourning 112 The Ugaritic dead 113 The Ugaritic cult of the dead up to the "Spronk synthesis" 113 The rpum (et al.) 115 The Ugaritic marziu 126 A "minimalist" backlash 129 The Ugaritic underworld and its deities 135 3.4 Between Ugarit and Israel 142 3.5 Conclusions 144 4. Death and the Dead in Iron II Israel and Judah and in the Old Testament 4.1 Introduction 147 4.2 A brief history of modern scholarship 149 4.2.1 Early modern scholarship 150 4.2.2 The mid-century assertion of distinctiveness 150 4.2.3 A new flourishing of underworld and afterlife 153 4.2.4 "Minimalist" backlash, redux 159 4.3 The archaeology of death in ancient Judah 165 4.4 Death in the Hebrew Bible 171 4.4.1 Burial and mourning 171 Burial in the texts 171 Mourning 179 The marzea 181 The corpse 183 4.4.2 The Israelite dead 184 The powers and cult of the dead 184 The Rephaim 186 Necromancy 188 Summary 196 4.4.3 The underworld and its deities 198 Terms for and images of the underworld 198 Underworld gods 203 Molek and child sacrifice 204 Demons 207 4.4.4 Yahweh and the dead 209 4.5 Historical conclusions 216 4.6 The rhetoric of death in the Hebrew Bible 220 4.6.1 Rhetoric and the Bible 221 4.6.2 Uses of the rhetoric of death in the Hebrew Bible 225 5. The Rhetoric of Death in Isaiah 1-39 5.1 Introduction 232 5.2 Texts 232 5.2.1 Threats of unhappy afterlife 232 Isaiah 14:4-23: The tyrant in Sheol 232 Isaiah 30:27-33: A pyre for the king 253 Isaiah 22:15-19: Shebna's tomb 265 Isaiah 36:12: A hellish meal 286 5.2.2 Comparisons of the living to the dead 291 Isaiah 5:11-17: The nobility's parade to hell 291 The hy-oracles 297 Isaiah 29:1-8: A "near-death experience" for Jerusalem 301 Isaiah 8:16-9:6: Those who consult the dead are like them 310 5.2.3 Other condemnations of cults of the dead 322 Isa 7:10-13: YHWH's sign from Sheol? 322 Isaiah 19:1-15: Egypt will consult its ghosts in vain 325 Isaiah 28:1-22: The covenant with Mwt 332 5.2.4 Life's triumph over death 358 Isaiah 25:6-8: "He will swallow up Death forever" 362 Isaiah 26:11-21: "Your dead shall rise" 369 Isaiah 38:9-20: The Psalm of Hezekiah 384 6. Conclusions 6.1 Death in the Ancient Near East during the Iron Age II 396 6.2 The rhetoric of death in the Hebrew Bible 400 6.3 Isaiah's rhetorical employment of death imagery 401 6.4 Implications 405 6.4.1 "Foreign" influences 406 6.4.2 The formation of the book of Isaiah 409 6.4.3 Isaiah's role in the history of Judean religion 411 Isaiah's condemnation of religious practices 411 Isaiah and resurrection 413 Bibliography 415

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