Reviews of

Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer, “The Geographical and Theological Location of Isaiah 40-55”

In David J. Larsen, HB/OT, Lena-Sofia TIEMEYER, Scripture, SEMINAR REPORTS, St Andrews on March 24, 2011 at 12:55 pm

This is a report on a seminar paper presented by Dr Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer, Lecturer in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible School of Divinity, History and Philosophy, King’s College, University of Aberdeen, in the Biblical Studies Seminar at the School of Divinity, St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews, on 14 Oct 2010. This paper represents themes/material taken from Dr Tiemeyer’s recent major publication on Deutero-Isaiah entitled For the Comfort of Zion: The Geographical and Theological Location of Isaiah 40-55 (Vetus Testamentum Supplement 139, Leiden, Brill, 2011).

Dr Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer, in this seminar paper, challenged the academic status quo regarding the understanding of the location for the writing of the section of the Book of Isaiah known as 2nd or Deutero-Isaiah (Isa 40-55).  She argues against traditional concepts, including the idea that one person wrote Deutero-Isaiah (DI) during the Exile in Babylon. She provides evidence to support her argument that it was written not in Babylon, but in Judah.  Do the traditional claims in reality support a Babylonian setting? She argues that they only presuppose it. For Tiemeyer, there is nothing in the text that necessitates a Babylonian-based author. For this report, I include much detail as Dr Tiemeyer’s approach to this matter is an uncommon one.

In outlining her methodology, Tiemeyer indicates that she follows Shemaryahu Talmon’s principles for comparative studies and also Barr’s guidelines, to the effect that she would be giving preference to examples in biblical texts over Mesopotamian ones and that when cross-cultural comparisons are deemed useful, she would choose:

1) sources nearer to the Hebrew Bible in time
2) geographic closeness
3) Semitic sources

She notes that because of their conquests of the region, we should expect to find a great degree of Mesopotamian influence over Judah during the time of Exile. Mesopotamian rulers lived in Judah — so it would be natural that we should see their influence there. Judahite scribes and possibly even regular people had a good idea of Mesopotamian religious ideas and practice since 6th-7th Century BCE. So there is not a good argument for the Assyrian/Babylonian elements in the Bible to have actually come from those places — such usage would have been known in Judah.

She admits that we do detect Akkadian (Assyro-Babylonian language) influence in DI — however, we would need to see if there are more Akkadian loan-words than are found in other texts. She cites Kittel as comparing DI to cuneiform literature (Akkadian) and finding parallels between Babylonian texts and DI. While there are certainly similarities in vocabulary between these texts, she argues that these could be cognates. Tiemeyer suggests that we should look for inner-biblical parallels first.

She notes that we can also find many similarities between Isa. 60-62 (3rd Isaiah) and Babylonian texts although scholars wouldn’t claim authorship of these chapters in Babylon. She quips, “You didn’t need to be living in Babylon to know the name of Cyrus.”

Regarding some of the thematic elements in DI, she suggests that it is more likely that authors were influenced by the Book of Exodus rather than Babylonian texts.

She then asserts that most texts in the Hebrew Bible have Akkadian influence (not just DI) — Amos has a large number of Akkadian loan words, but no one argues that Amos was in Babylon. We must remember that Akkadian was the politically dominant language of the time — it had significant influence on the local language. It is natural that we find Akkadian elements throughout the Bible.

Tiemeyer argues that language cannot be used to argue for a Babylonian setting — there are no more loan words in 2nd Isaiah than in the rest of the Hebrew Bible. Ezekiel claims to have been written in Babylon, but, she argues, has less loan words than Isaiah or Jeremiah. She notes that there are also Ugaritic cognates in DI — Dahood even argued that parts of DI were written in Phoenicia!

Another important point she raises is that Akkadian was not even the major language during the Neo-Babylonian period — Aramaic was more used.  There would have been no need for the authors of DI to know Akkadian if they were not part of the Babylonian royal court or cult.

She concludes that the presence of Akkadian cognates in the Hebrew Bible is not evidence of the author’s presence in Babylon, but that loan words were known in Judah – these are simply evidence of Assyrian influence over its conquered city-states,

For the ‘Self-Predication Formula’ (‘I am YHWH — the First and the Last’, etc.) that many scholars consider to have come from Babylonian influence — they argue that this is reminiscent of Sumerian hymns learned in Babylon — she asserts that we should give precedence to biblical parallels. The authors likely drew from their own already existing self-presentation formula in their scriptures — the influence is likely pre-exilic Palestine. Tiemeyer continues to explain that Isaiah 40-55 follows the pattern of earlier Isaiah chapters — we cannot conclude, therefore, that the authors must have been residents of Babylon.

Another argument she mentions is that the passages in DI that refer to religious practices (instructions for making of idols, etc.) are claimed to be related to Babylonian practices — there are direct references to Babylonian deities. However, she explains, the tendency to worship idols is not novel to the Babylonian period — you don’t have to be living in Babylon to know about their gods and practices. A prophet in Judah would have been able to envision all of this.

After this evaluation of the principle arguments for the positioning of DI in Babylon, she concludes by saying that that there is nothing in this material to warrant the conclusion that author of Second Isaiah was in Babylon. We should understand that Jews would have known the customs of their conquerors.

The implications of this study are important. If DI was written in Palestine, this changes a lot about how we understand these chapters and their relationship to other biblical literature written in the same period. If all chapters of Isaiah were written in Palestine, this has implications for our understanding of the unity of the Book of Isaiah as a whole.

David J. Larsen
University of St Andrews

  1. […]  I am honored to be able to contribute to this very helpful site.  You can see my first post here. I give a report of Dr Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer’s seminar paper on “The Geographical and […]

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