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Messianic Prophecies

Note of the Day – December 22

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In the previous day’s note, I discussed verses 68-75 of the Song of Zechariah (the Benedictus), looking at the overall structure as well as the various possible Old Testament quotations and allusions in the poem. Verses 76-79 represent the second part of the Benedictus, and are often considered by critical scholars to be a secondary addition to vv. 68-75; at the very least, vv. 76-77 are typically thought to be a Lukan ‘insertion’, with 78-79 perhaps picking up again the original hymn. With regard to this critical theory, it should be noted that, if one were to remove v. 48b from the Magnificat and vv. 76-77 from the Benedictus, there would be very little indeed to connect the hymns with their context in the Gospel of Luke. This is perhaps the strongest argument in favor of the common critical view; on the other hand, there is really no way to cut apart the text in this fashion, without doing considerable damage to the literary integrity of the narrative. I prefer to look at verses 76-79 as a unit, without prejudice as to whether they were definitely part of the ‘original’ hymn; in any event, they are part of it as the Gospel has come down to us, presented as an oracle by Zechariah.

It is interesting, however, that although Zechariah is said to be ‘prophecying’ in v. 67, only vv. 76ff represent a clear prediction (“foretelling”) of future events. There is some dispute among commentators as to the sense and force of the aorist verb forms in the Benedictus (and Magnificat). If one views the hymns as actually uttered by the putative speakers (Zechariah and Mary, the traditional-conservative view), or even as adaptations of intertestamental Jewish hymns (one critical view), then the aorists probably should be understood as akin to Semitic prophetic perfect forms (declaring what will certainly happen), or perhaps as gnomic aorists (declaring what God [always] does for his people). On the other hand, if these canticles are indeed adaptations of Jewish-Christian hymns (the most common critical view), then the aorists could be taken in their normal sense—as declaring what God has (already) done for his people (through Christ). As I indicated in the previous note, I am here making no judgment as to the origin and composition of the Lukan canticles; but it is important at least for readers to be aware of the questions involved.

Verses 76-79 can be divided into two sets of poetic verses (or stichs):

Vv. 76-77:

Kai\ su\ de/ paidi/on profh/th$ u(yi/stou klhqh/sh|
proporeu/sh| ga\r e)nw/pion kuri/ou e(toima/sai o(dou\$ au)tou=
76And you, child, will be called foreteller [i.e. prophet] of the Highest,
for you will travel before [i.e. ahead] in the eye/face of [i.e. before] (the) Lord to make ready his ways

tou= dou=nai gnw=sin swthri/a$ tw=| law=| au)tou=
e)n a)fe/sei a(martiw=n au)tw=n
77to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in release of/from their sins

On verse 76: There are three points to note:
(1) John was indeed understood in the early Gospel tradition to be a prophet [lit. “foreteller”] (Matt 11:9/Luke 7:26; Mark 11:32 par.), and even as Elijah (by Jesus’ own words, Mark 9:12-13 par.; but note John 1:21, 25).
(2) The phrase “Prophet of the Highest” would seem to have special significance, more than simply indicating one of God’s “holy prophets”. The wording here is a precise parallel to the angelic announcement to Mary regarding Jesus: “he will be called son of the Highest” (Luke 1:32). The phrase also occurs in Testament of Levi 8:15 in a ‘Messianic’ context. There was current in Jewish belief at the time the idea of an eschatological Prophet, often (but not always), identified with Elijah (largely on the basis of Malachi 4:5-6 [3:23-24]). References in the Gospels to “the Prophet” and “Elijah (to come)” seem to assume a similar common figure. In the earliest strands of Christian tradition, Jesus was almost certainly understood as the (Anointed) end-time Prophet (but see his own rather cryptic comments regarding John in Mark 9:12-13 par. and Luke 7:26 par.). The fragmentary text 4Q521 from Qumran describes a coming Elijah-type figure (called Messiah), using language drawn from Psalm 146 and Isa 61, but also containing an allusion to Mal 4:6 [3:24]. Interestingly, in Jn 1:21 John denies that he is either Elijah or “the Prophet”.
(3) The second portion of the verse quotes Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1, the same passages used to introduce John in Gospel tradition (cf. Mark 1:2-3). Mal 4:5-6 [3:23-24] was already applied to John in the angelic announcement to Zechariah (Luke 1:16-17).

On verse 77: This is a prophecy of John’s ministry—cf. Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3; also Matthew 3:8, 11, 14f. The word rendered by “release” is usually translated “forgiveness”, and some Christians may be a bit uncomfortable attributing this too directly with the dipping/dunking [i.e. baptizing] performed by John. There is no problem, however, unless one automatically identifies “release/forgiveness” with the idea of salvation in a more developed theological sense. In any event, the thought was very much in the air that the (final) judgment of God was imminent (see Lk 3:7 “the wrath about to come”), according to which repentance beforehand truly would mean salvation. The wording in Luke 3:3, that John went about “proclaiming a dipping/dunking of repentance [lit. change-of-mind] into/unto (the) release of sins” reappears in Jesus’ commission to his followers in 24:47: “repentance into/unto (the) release of sins shall be proclaimed… into/unto all the nations”.

Vv. 78-79:

dia\ spla/gxna e)le/ou$ qeou= h(mw=n
e)n oi!$ e)piske/yetai h(ma=$ a)natolh\ e)c u%you$
78through (the inner) organs of (the) mercy of our God
in which has looked closely upon us a rising (from) out of (the) height

e)pifa=nai toi=$ e)n sko/tei kai\ skia=| qana/tou kaqhme/noi$
tou= kateuqu=nai tou\$ po/da$ h(mw=n ei)$ o(do\n ei)rh/nh$
79to shine upon the (ones) in darkness and (the ones) sitting in (the) shadow of death
to set straight our feet (right down) into (the) way of peace

On verse 78:
(1) splagxna, sometimes translated “bowels, intestines”, more properly refers to the internal organs such as the heart, lungs, kidneys, etc., imagined as the focal point of human emotion (“heart” in modern English is a rough equivalent); it came to be used to symbolize compassion, especially, and so it appears most often in the New Testament. It only occurs rarely in the LXX, but is used more frequently in later Jewish literature. Cf. Test. Levi 4:4, Test. Zebulun 8:2 for wording (and Messianic/eschatological sense) similar to that in v. 78.
(2) The verb e)piske/ptomai already appeared in verse 68. It primarily means “look closely, examine, inspect”, but can also have the sense of “visit, attend” (for purpose of examination), and occasionally the connotation “look after, care for”. Both the verb and the noun e)piskoph/ came to be used as terms for the “visitation” of God in the (eschatological) day of judgment. Some manuscripts read an aorist (e)peske/yato, as in v. 68), rather than the future (e)piske/yetai); if there is meant to be a specific parallel with vv. 68-71, where aorist forms are used (note the aorist infinitives in v. 79, parallel to those in vv. 72-75), then perhaps the aorist is to be preferred here.
(3) There is some dispute as to the exact meaning of a)natolh/ (a rising, “going up”). Commonly it is used for the rising (dawning) of the sun (or a star): “east” is the place of rising (a)natolh/, see esp. Matt 2:2), and so is the most likely sense here—”rising” as the dawn of a great light. However, a)natolh/ can also refer to something “sprouting” up (such as a root, plant, or horn). Both meanings can be applied in a ‘Messianic’ sense: for a)natolh/ (or a form of the verb a)nate/llw) used for the Davidic branch/shoot (ƒemaµ), see the LXX of Psalm 132:17 [131:17]; Jer 23:5; Zech 3:8; 6:12; also Ezek 29:21; the 15th Benediction (of the Shemoneh Esreh), and further related usage in Test. Naphtali 8:2; Test. Gad 8:1. The most likely background for v. 78, however, would be Isaiah 60:1, along with Mal 4:2 [3:20]. Noteworthy also, is Numbers 24:17 (“a star will rise [a)natelei=] out of Jacob”), part of the Balaam oracles, and a popular Messianic passage in Jewish texts of the period (CD 7:20 A; 1QSb 5:27; 1QM 11:5-7; Test. Levi 18:3; Test. Judah 24:1).
The context may lead one to conclude that John, as “prophet of the Most High”, represents the rising/sprouting from on high. This belief, of John as Elijah or the (Anointed) Prophet, may have been current in some circles; but early Gospel tradition was careful to correct the thought (see especially John 1:7-8, 15, 21, 30ff, etc), and it is certainly not what the Gospel writer here has in mind. The confusion is removed if, according to one critical view, vv. 76-77 are a Lukan insertion, and vv. 78-79 more properly pick up the hymn from vv. 68-75. In any event, the narrative context, which has John’s birth running parallel with that of Jesus, allows us to see clearly what is intended: John’s birth and life signifies the coming of the light (in the person of Jesus).

On verse 79: This line is a clear allusion to Isaiah 9:1 [EV 9:2], part of an oracle traditionally understood as Messianic (cf. vv. 5-6 [6-7] which were discussed at length in a prior note), and elsewhere applied to Jesus (Matthew 4:14-16). Note also the language of Isa 42:6-7 and Psalm 107:10 [LXX 106:10]. The concluding phrase may be an echo of Isa 59:8.

 

Note of the Day – Advent Season (Isaiah 9:5-6, part 2)

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Assuming the historical setting of Isa 6:1-9:6 to be the years leading up to 732 B.C. (and prior to 722), a Messianic interpretation of the child in vv. 5-6 [EV 6-7] would seem to be out of the question (in terms of the primary meaning of the passage [see previous days’ notes]). Can we then identify the child with a particular historical figure? The grandeur of the titles in v. 5, and reference to the “throne of David” in v. 6, would require, at the very least, a king of Judah (that is, from the Davidic line). The only person from Isaiah’s own time (c. 735-700) who seems to fit is Hezekiah, son of Ahaz. The birth and/or accession of a new king could be a time of great hope and promise, but also of tremendous danger, as princes and vassals may see the moment as an opportune time for revolt (cf. Psalm 2). Following the reign of his father, Ahaz (who “did not do what was right in the eyes of YHWH”), Hezekiah is a positive figure, even under the withering judgment of the book of Kings (2 Kings 8:3ff: he finally removed the “high places”, which his ancestors failed to do). He will also become a central figure in the book of Isaiah, and focal point of the key historical moment: the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem under Sennacherib in 701 B.C.

Some scholars would identify Hezekiah also as ±Immanû-°¢l (“God-with-us”) of the prophecy in 7:10-17 (cf. also 8:5-10). Arguments in favor would be: (a) parallel with 9:5-6, as both prophecy the birth of portentous children containing a promise of salvation; (b) the name is suggestive of the words of 2 Kings 8:7 (“and YHWH was with him…”); (c) the subsequent use of the name/phrase in 8:8,10. Arguments against: (a) there is nothing in the two passages which specifically identifies the two children; (b) the other symbolic names in chs. 7-8 still seem to be real names applied to specific children, so Immanuel, if a real name, most likely belongs to a different child than Hezekiah; (c) Immanuel as a child of Isaiah (or even as a purely symbolic/collective name) remains a possibility. I am by no means convinced that Immanuel, even if a child of Ahaz, is the same as the (royal) child of 9:5-6. In some ways there is even a closer parallel between the child of 7:14-17 and Isaiah’s child in 8:1-4, but few (if any) commentators would equate the two.

As far as arguments against identifying Hezekiah with the child of 9:5-6, three are especially significant:

  1. The message of deliverance and restoration in vv. 1-4 was not fulfilled in Hezekiah’s reign, particularly not for the Northern kingdom (the territories mentioned in the setting of 8:23). And, while Hezekiah was a good and faithful ruler (according to the testimony of 2 Kings 8:3-7ff), achieved some military success (2 Kings 8:8), and stood against Assyria (2 Kings 8:7, 13–chap. 19 and par.), an appraisal of his reign would not seem to match the glowing language of Isa 9:6. Indeed, in 2 Kings 20:16-19 [par. Isa 39:5-8], Isaiah himself prophecies the future Babylonian captivity—there will be only limited “peace and security” (20:19, contrasted with Isa 9:6). However, these points are weakened somewhat if one considers the character of the oracle in 9:1-6, which does not seem to carry the same predictive force found earlier in chapters 7-8: there are almost no specific historical details, no time indicator, indeed no clear sign of an immediate fulfillment. The perfect verbal forms, typically understood as prophetic perfects (indicating the certainty of what God will do), could also have a gnomic sense (indicating what God always does).
  2. It has been said that the weighty titles listed in Isa 9:5 are too lofty to be applied to a human king. However, similarly lofty, theologically significant names and titles were regularly applied to rulers in the ancient Near East. The most extensive evidence comes from Egypt, and the names applied to the Pharaoh during enthronement rituals (some of which are roughly parallel to those in Isa 9:5). No similar ritual is recorded as such for kings of Israel/Judah in the Old Testament, but there are a few hints in the Psalms and elsewhere; Psalm 2 is perhaps the most striking example, a setting similar to that in the Egyptian ritual, where the Deity addresses the new ruler as His “son” (Ps 2:7). For more on this Psalm, see below.
  3. The very lack of specific historical details (see point 1 above) could be taken as a strong argument against identifying the child with Hezekiah. Certainly, it could apply at least as well to later rulers (such as Josiah) or a future Messiah. If one accepts the basic interpretation of 9:5-6 as reflecting the enthronement/accession of a new king (that is, the language and symbolism of it), it has a timeless quality which could apply to any anointed king (the same is true of Psalm 2, etc). Only the historical context of the passage (c. 730-700 B.C.) would make it apply specifically to Hezekiah.

What of the titles or names in Isaiah 9:5? There are four: the first two have nouns in juxtaposition, the second two are effectively construct forms:

  • Ju@oy al#P# (pele° yô±¢ƒ), typically translated “Wonderful Counsellor”
  • roBG] la@ (°¢l gibbôr), typically “Mighty God”

However, the English rendering is a bit misleading, as if the first words were adjectives modifying the second. The nouns juxtaposed are not related syntactically in quite this way. The noun al#P# refers to something extraordinary, i.e. a wonder, marvel, miracle, etc. The relation between the nouns is perhaps better expressed by a comma, or hyphen: “Wonder, Counsellor” or “Wonder–Counsellor”. The noun roBG] refers to a strong (man) or warrior. la@, usually translated “God” (El), has an original meaning something like “mighty” (“Mighty [one]” = “God”); the plural form <yh!l)a$ (Elohim) is probably an intensive plural, roughly “Mightiest”. “God Warrior” is a fairly accurate rendering of the second name, or, translating even more literally “Mighty One, Warrior”.

  • du^yb!a& (°¦»î±ad), familiar translation “Everlasting Father”
  • <olv*Árc^ (´ar-sh¹lôm), “Prince of Peace”

In the third name, the two words have been joined (without a maqqeph [‘hyphen’]), the second of which is difficult to translate. du^ indicates, more or less literally, the passing or advancing of time, either in the sense of (a) into the distant past, (b) into the [distant] future, or (c) in perpetuity [i.e. continually]. As such, it is roughly synonymous with the word <lou (see v. 6). “Everlasting” is not especially accurate, but it is hard to find an English word that is much better. In the context of a royal title, something along the lines of “long life” is probably implied (similar to Egyptian titles, i.e. “living forever”, “good in years”, etc). This would create a parallel with the two names: “Father of ‘Long-life'”, “Prince of Peace”—two aspects of the promised time of renewal. However, there is a sense of du^ which also indicates “ancient” or “eternal” (Hab 3:6, etc) as long as one is careful not to infuse the latter rendering with an exaggerated theological meaning.

These four titles are included under the formula: “and he/they will call [or has called] his name…” Let us also consider the prior three elements of verse 5:

  • Wnl*ÁdL^y% dl#y# yK! (“For a child has been born to/for us”)—the etymological connection of dly is lost in translation: “a (thing) born has been born”, “a (thing) brought-forth has been brought-forth”. The particle yK! clearly connects vv. 5-6 with 1-4, but in what way precisely? Is the birth of the child (or accession of the king) the means by which God will bring about the things detailed in vv. 1-4? Are 8:23-9:4 the reason for the birth? Or are the events of vv. 1-4 juxtaposed with the birth as parallel aspects of God’s action?
  • Wnl*Á/T^n] /B@ (“a son has been given to/for us”)—a point of poetic parallelism with the previous phrase.
  • omk=v!Álu^ hr*c=M!h^ yh!T=w~ (“and the rule has come to be upon his shoulder”)—the exact meaning of hr*c=m! is uncertain, it may be related to rc^ (translated “prince”, see in the fourth title at end of the verse). This phrase is parallel to the fourth: “and he has called his name [or he/they will call his name]…”—the name and the ‘rule’ (probably in the sense of symbolic emblem[s] of rule) being two ritualized aspects of sovereignty.

Even though Isa 9:5-6 is not cited in the New Testament, 8:23-9:1 [EV 9:1-2] are quoted in Matthew 4:15-16, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee; and, though not specified, an identification of Jesus with the child in 9:5-6 would seem to be implied. This is certainly how early Christians would come to understand the passage (Justin is perhaps the earliest surviving witness [c. 140-160], cf. First Apology §33 and Dialogue §76). More broadly, it would come to carry a Messianic interpretation, though there is little surviving pre-Christian Jewish evidence of this. A comparison of Isa 9:1-6 [esp. vv. 5-6] with Psalm 2 (discussed above) is noteworthy:

  • Both passages are understood (in their original context) as relating to the enthronement/accession of a new (Davidic) king. The positive side of the event (light, joy, deliverance from [current] oppression) is stressed in Isa 9:1-6, the negative side (danger from rebellious princes/vassals/allies) in Ps 2.
  • Both speak of a birth (Isa 9:5; Ps 2:7). This may mean that the ‘birth’ in Isa 9:5 is symbolic of the king’s accession/enthronement, rather than a literal physical birth.
  • Both speak of (the king) as a son. The king as God’s son (i.e., “son of God” though the phrase is not used) is explicit in Psalm 2 (cf. also 2 Sam 7:14), while only implied, perhaps, in Isa 9:5-6.
  • Following the ‘announcement’ of birth/sonship, both passages have God’s declaration of royal inheritance and sovereignty (Isa 9:6; Ps 2:8-12)
  • Both passages came to be understood as Messianic prophecies, and were applied to Jesus by early Christians—Ps 2 (along with Ps 110) already, on several occasions, in the New Testament itself.

An examination of these parallels is also instructive for understanding how the language and imagery of the Old Testament developed over time, from the original historical context and meaning, to a broader symbolism related to the idea of the Davidic kingship and covenant; then follows the hope/promise of a restoration of Davidic rule (in the post-exilic period) under a new Anointed figure (Messiah), traditions of which are preserved and transmitted in Jewish thought and belief, until the time of Jesus Christ (Yeshua the Anointed [Messiah]).  In the light of this new (incarnate) revelation, new meanings and applications of the Scriptures were opened up to believers—it is hardly surprising that at least a few of these would appear to relate so beautifully to the marvelous birth of our Savior.

Even though no commentary on Isa 8:23-9:6 [EV 9:1-7] survives from Qumran, there is an allusion to v. 5 in the “Thanksgiving Hymns” (Hodayot) 1QH. In Hymn 9 [XI, formerly III], the author compares his distress to that of a woman giving birth (verse 7ff): “9and the woman expectant with a boy is racked by her pangs, for through the breakers of death she gives birth to a male, and through the pangs of Sheol there emerges, 10from the «crucible» of the pregnant woman a wonderful counsellor with his strength, and the boy is freed from the breakers”. He goes on to contrast the (righteous) birth of a boy with the (wicked) birth of a serpent (verse 12ff), a reflection of the strong ethical dualism found in many of the Qumran texts.

Note of the Day – Advent Season (Isaiah 9:5-6)

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Having dealt at length with Isaiah 7:14 in four previous Advent Season notes, I will treat the next passage in somewhat briefer fashion, a passage perhaps even more famous: the prophecy of Isaiah 8:23-9:6 [English versing 9:1-7]. Forever immortalized (for English speakers at least) thanks to Handel’s oratorio The Messiah, verses 5-6 [EV 6-7] are among the best-known verses of the Old Testament, appearing in any number of situations during the Christmas season. However, as with Isaiah 7:14, these verses, in being applied to the birth of Jesus, are generally taken out of their original context, as a careful study of 8:23-9:6 (and the wider section 6:1-9:6) will indicate. It may be useful to outline and summarize the overall context:

  • Isa 6:1-13: The “call” and commission of Isaiah, accompanied by a vision of God in the Temple, said to have occurred the year of king Uzziah’s death (c. 740/39 B.C.). The words of commission (vv. 9-10 cited famously by Jesus [Mark 4:10-12 par.]) are harsh and foreboding: Isaiah’s preaching will only harden the people, leading to judgment, destruction and exile, but with a final promise—that which is left standing in them is “the seed of holiness” (v. 13).
  • Isa 7:1-9: The alliance of Aram-Damascus and the Northern kingdom of Israel (Ephraim), along with their attack on Jerusalem, is summarized (vv. 1-3). What follows is set in the face of the (impending) siege: Isaiah is called to meet the young king Ahaz (grandson of Uzziah), bringing along his own son (named “a remant will return”), with a message for the king not to be afraid but to trust in God, for YHWH will not allow their attack to succeed. A time indicator for the destruction of Ephraim appears in v. 8-9, but the text here may be corrupt or a later gloss. The setting of this scene would be c. 735-4 B.C.
  • Isa 7:10-17: A second scene between Isaiah and Ahaz, which may have occurred at a different time (though the same basic setting c. 735-4 B.C. is implied). This section, and especially v. 14, has been discussed extensively in the prior notes. It is a similar message: that Ahaz should trust God in the face of attack, for within 2-3 years YHWH will bring judgment on Aram and Ephraim through the king of Assyria. This prediction essentially came to pass by 732 B.C.
  • Isa 7:18-25: A separate oracle of judgment: God will ‘whistle’ for the king of Assyria to come and ‘shave’ the land in humiliating fashion. Assuming the position of the oracle in its overall context, the target is most likely the Northern Kingdom, which would suffer greatly under the advances of Tiglath-pileser III (734-2 B.C.) before being conquered and destroyed finally in 722.
  • Isa 8:1-4: A sign-oracle with some remarkable parallels to that of 7:10-17 (esp. vv. 3-4 with 7:14-17), involving: (1) conception and birth of a child [from “the prophetess” instead of “the maiden/virgin”], (2) a temporal indicator based on the early growth of the infant [i.e. within a year or two], and (3) a prophecy of judgment against Aram-Damascus involving the king of Assyria. A setting again of roughly 734 B.C. is implied.
  • Isa 8:5-10: A compact oracle with several different interlocking levels: (a) judgment against the Northern kingdom in its alliance with Aram-Damascus [v. 6], (b) warning against the leaders and people of Judah who would save themselves by submitting to Aram-Damascus [v. 6-8], (c) the destructive advance of the king of Assyria [v. 7-8], and (d) a message of hope and promise for Judah/Jerusalem [with a warning to the nations], set around the name la@ WnM*u! “God-with-us”:
    • “God-with-us” [end of v. 8]
      • O nations—”come together”, “gird yourselves” and “be shattered” [v. 9]
      • (Your) counsel will break apart, your word [i.e. plan] will not stand [v. 10]
    • For “God-with-us” [end of v. 10]
  • Isa 8:11-15: A message to Isaiah himself to trust YHWH and not to follow the fearful way of the people.
  • Isa 8:16-22: A symbolic scene, involving: (1) testimony and instruction from Isaiah which has bound/sealed for safekeeping, (2) his sons [presumably the two mentioned in 7:3; 8:1,3; but does this include “Immanuel”?], (3) a warning to trust in the message and signs given by God to Isaiah rather than various kinds of divination commonly practiced in the ancient world [vv. 18-22]. Some commentators would divide vv. 16-18 and 19-22 into separate scenes.
  • Isa 8:23-9:6: Best understood as a prosodic introduction (v. 23), followed by a poem (9:1-6), though it is also possible to treat 8:23b-9:6 as a single poetic oracle (applying 8:23a to the previous section). There are a myriad of textual and interpretative questions involving this passage: I will address, briefly, several of them before discussing vv. 5-6 in more detail.

Isaiah 8:23a[Wum* can be derived from [ou (“fly, flutter”) or [ou (“be dark”); the former would indicate a negative situation (“there will be no flying/fluttering” [that is, release/escape, or perhaps poetically as “daybreak”]), the latter a positive one (“there will be no darkness”). The referent for the feminine suffix Hl* is unclear: it could refer to any of the feminine nouns in verse 22 (Jr#a# [“land”], hk*v@j& [“darkness”], or parallel hr*x*/hq*ox [“distress, oppression”]), or it could look forward to the “land” of 8:23b/9:1. The preposition could have the sense of “for her” or “from/by her”.

Isaiah 8:23b—Does /ovar!h* (“the head” [i.e. the first, former]) modify the prior common/feminine noun tu@ (i.e. “as at the first/former time, [when] he…”), or does refer to an implied (masculine) subject (i.e. “as at the time [when] the first/former one…”); this affects the parallelism with /orj&a^h* (“the following” [i.e. the later]): is it a former/later time or former/later person? The verbs llq and dbk (in the Hiphil) mean “make light” and “make heavy” respectively; the former can either have the sense of “treat with contempt/dishonor” or “lighten, make easier”, the latter “treat with honor” or “make heavier [i.e. more difficult]”. Then, is the parallelism synonymous or antithetical? In the historical context, how do these verbs relate to the territories of Zebulon, Naphtali, the Transjordan and Galilee?

These questions are important for establishing the basic context for the poetic oracle that follows. Compare the very different renderings of two modern critical commentaries (by J. J. M Roberts [Hermeneia, 2015, p. 144] and Joseph Blenkinsopp [Anchor Bible, 2000, p. 245-6]:

Roberts/Hermeneia

…Surely it will be without daybreak to the one distressed by it.

As at the former time he treated with contempt
<The Sharon and the land of Gilead,>
The land of Zebulon and the land of Naphtali,
So at the latter time he has honored the way of the sea,
Trans-jordan, Galilee of the nations.
The people who were walking in darkness
Have seen a great light…

Blenkinsopp/AB:

There is no gloom for her who is oppressed. At that time the earlier ruler treated with contempt the territory of Zebulon and Naphthali, and the later one oppressed the way of the sea, the land across the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people that walk in the dark
Have seen a great light…

There are fewer problems of interpretation in the poem proper, the stanzas of which can be outlined as follows:

  • V. 1: Light shines for those in darkness
  • V. 2: Joy will be increased, with two-fold motif: (a) harvest, (b) army dividing spoils
  • V. 3: Three connected symbols of oppression—yoke, cross-bar, and rod/whip—will be smashed
  • V. 4: The signs and remains of warfare and conquest (shoes, blood-caked garments) will be burned
  • V. 5: Announcement of the birth of a child (son), along with symbol(s) of government and (royal) titles
  • V. 6: A promise to establish/maintain the greatness and (eternal) rule of the Davidic kingdom

With regard to this poem, critical scholars have given various dates to it, ranging from Isaiah’s own time (c. 730-700 B.C.) down to the post-exilic period. An exilic or post-exilic date would make a Messianic orientation much more plausible, but I find little evidence in these verses for such a setting. The closer one comes to Isaiah’s own time, the much less likely a future (Messianic) interpretation would be as the primary sense of the passage. This is particularly true if we take seriously the overall context of Isa 6:1-9:6, which is set rather securely in the period c. 740-732 B.C. Assuming this context still applies to 8:23, the regions mentioned (Zebulon, Naphtali, Transjordan [Gilead], Galilee and the northern coastal plain [“way of the sea”]) represent areas which suffered under Assyrian attack 734-732 B.C., and were effectively annexed to become Assyrian provinces. The message of 9:1-6 is directed, in part, to the Northern kingdom (“the people who walk in darkness”)—there is no indication that Samaria has fallen completely yet. Of course, Assyria still threatened the Southern kingdom of Judah, and would launch a devastating attack some years later (this will become the central event of the remainder of the first half of the book [up to ch. 39]). Here God promises (expressed in the prophetic perfect: “he has increased joy”, “he has smashed”, etc.) to deliver Israel/Judah from her enemies, bringing a renewed period of peace and prosperity.

It is within this context that one must address the nature and identity of the child announced in vv. 5-6;  this I will do in a second note.

Note of the Day – Advent Season (Isaiah 7:14, part 4)

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It is hard to know just when early Christians began to view Isaiah 7:14 as a prophecy of Jesus’ birth, as we see in Matthew 1:22-23; it is possible, though quite uncertain, that the Gospel writer was the first to make the connection. Here I place side-by-side, the Hebrew (MT), the Greek (LXX) and Matthew, in a rather literal translation, with the Hebrew/Greek given below:

As explained in prior notes, “virgin” is not particularly appropriate for translating hm*l=u^; nor exactly is “young girl/woman”. As no English word or phrase entirely fits, I have somewhat reluctantly opted for “maiden” as the least unsatisfactory solution.

 

For my Lord Him(self) will give for you a sign: See—the maiden (is [becoming]) pregnant and (is) bearing a son, and (she) will call his name “God-with-us”

toa <k#l* aWh yn`d)a& /T@y] /k@l*
/B@ td#l#y)w+ hr*h* hm*l=u^h* hN@h!
la@ WnM*u! ov= tar*q*w+

Through this (the) Lord Him(self) will give you a sign: See—the virgin will have in womb and will bring forth a son, and she will call his name ±Immanû¢l

dia\ tou=to dw/sei ku/rio$ au)to\$ u(mi=n shmei=on i)dou\ h( parqe/no$ e)n gastri\ e&cei kai\ te/cetai ui(o/n kai\ kale/sei$ to\ o&noma au)tou= Emmanouhl

{first part of the verse is not cited} See—the virgin will have in womb and will bring forth a son, and they will call his name ±Immanû¢l, which is being explained across [i.e. translated] (as) “God with us”

i)dou\ h( parqe/no$ e)n gastri\ e&cei kai\ te/cetai ui(o/n kai\ kale/sousin to\ o&noma au)tou= Emmanouhl, o% e)stin meqermhneuo/menon meq’ h(mw=n o( qeo/$

The LXX is an accurate rendering of the Hebrew (MT), the difficulties surrounding the use of parqe/no$ notwithstanding, and apart from the very different idiom used for conception and childbirth. The citation in Matthew is identical to the LXX, but for one difference (indicated in italics above): “they will call” instead of “you will call”. The MT has regularly been understood as a 2nd person form, but most scholars today read it as a 3rd person feminine. Manuscript 1QIsaa reads arqw (“and he will call”), apparently in an indefinite sense, which may be reflected in the Syriac )rQtNw (wntqr°, “and he will be called”), and possibly is the basis for the rendering in Matthew (“they will call”). The Gospel writer also provides an explanation of the Hebrew term.

This citation in the Gospel is one of a number which occur especially in the Infancy narrative (1:18-2:23):

  • Matt 1:22-23—Isaiah 7:14
  • Matt 2:5-6—Micah 5:2 (included within the narrative itself)
  • Matt 2:15—Hosea 11:1
  • Matt 2:17-18—Jeremiah 31:15
  • Matt 2:23—{reference uncertain: Isaiah 4:3, Judges 16:17?}

With the possible exception of 2:5-6 (Micah 5:2), these Scripture passages were taken and applied in a sense altogether different from the original context. This was discussed already for Isaiah 7:14; I will treat the remaining verses in upcoming Advent Season notes.

It is interesting to see how (and where) the Gospel writer introduces the prophecy: it follows directly after the heavenly Messenger’s announcement to Joseph. Note the similarity in language in v. 21: “she will bring forth a son and you will call his name Yeshua± [Jesus]”, which is nearly identical to that of Isa 7:14 (cf. the similar pronouncements in Gen 16:11 and Judg 13:5). Many critical scholars would hold that Matthew has shaped the angelic announcement to fit Isa 7:14; however, it is certainly possible that, seeing the similarity in language, the writer was led to include the Isaiah prophecy at this point. Indeed, this sort of “catchphrase bonding” abounds in the New Testament, and was a prime technique used by early Christians to join Scriptures and traditions together. The writer is also careful to distinguish the two passages: while “call his name Jesus” and “call his name Immanuel” are parallel, they are not identical—this is probably why the third person plural “they shall call” is used in the citation; it is a small adaptation, but it has an interesting effect. Joseph (the “you” of v. 21) calls him “Jesus” (v. 25), but “they” (people of Israel, believers, those who encounter Jesus) will call him “Immanuel”.  This is indeed what has happened: for believers, who ‘find’ Jesus in the Scriptures, apply those texts to him—whether or not the original context truly warrants it!

Even in the early years of the Church there were questions (by both Jews and Greco-Roman ‘skeptics’) about such use of the Old Testament, and even about the Isaian passage in particular. Isa 7:14 is not cited in the New Testament outside of Matt 1:22-23, but then the birth of Jesus in general is scarcely mentioned apart from the Infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke. Nor is it used by the so-called Apostolic Fathers of the late-first and early/mid-second century (but note the ‘long’ form of Ignatius’ letter to the Ephesians §18). By the late-second and into the third-century it appears more frequently, corresponding both with an increased interest in traditions regarding Jesus’ birth, as well as more ‘systematic’ attempts to defend (proto-)orthodox Christian beliefs in the face of Jewish and pagan objections. Justin Martyr gives perhaps the earliest [c. 140-160], and most noteworthy, surviving treatments of Isa 7:14: in his First Apology §33, and especially in the Dialogue (with Trypho) §§43, 66-67. The Jewish interlocutor “Trypho” in §67 (at first) offers an interpretation of Isa 7:14 similar to that of modern scholars (that is, according to the original historical sense); Justin has no interest in responding to this view, but rather reacts to the notion that beliefs such as the Virgin Birth are derived in imitation of pagan myths, provoking a lengthy discussion. While earlier generations of critical scholars occasionally posited similar explanations for the “origin” of the Virgin Birth, they have been almost entirely abandoned by serious commentators today.

In conclusion, let me return to the interpretive crux—believers, including the earliest Christians (and the inspired Gospel writer), have applied Isaiah 7:14 to the (virgin) birth of Jesus, even though the original context of the passage relates to the Syrian-Ephraimite crisis facing Ahaz and the kingdom of Judah in c. 735-4 B.C. I regard this as one of the great wonders and beauties of the sacred Writings: that prophet and people, author and hearer (or reader) alike respond to the word[s] of God and the work of the Holy Spirit as part of a profound creative process. The eternal Word, stretching from the 8th-century crisis facing the people of Israel, touching those who experience the miracle and mystery of Jesus’ birth, reaching all the way down to us today—all who are united in the Spirit of God and Christ—speaks that remakable, nearly unexplainable phrase, that one name: la@ WnM*u! “God-with-us”.

Note of the Day – Advent Season (Isaiah 7:14, part 3)

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Having discussed the translation of the Hebrew word hm*l=u^ in Isaiah 7:14 (see previous day’s note), it remains to explore the equally difficult interpretive question as to the identity of woman (and child) in the prophecy. To begin with, it is vital that one look for clues first in the immediate context of chap. 7 (and the section 6:1-9:6) before seeking them elsewhere. However, it worth noting the three main interpretive approaches (see also a supplemental note regarding the interpretation of prophecy in general):

  1. Futuristic—that is, in retrospect, the child refers to a figure (usually understood as Messianic) who would only appear many years after the time of Isaiah. This has been the traditional Christian view, but, as indicated in the previous days’ notes, it more or less ignores the original context of the prophecy. Still, there are (or have been) a number of ways to retain it as a secondary or supplemental interpretation. The wider application of the “sign” to the ‘house of David’, makes some sort of Messianic interpretation at least possible on textual grounds.
  2. Historic—in that it relates to the present circumstances involving Ahaz and the kingdom of Judah. This is the view favored by most critical or otherwise serious scholars today, with two differing positions being commonly held:
    a) It is the wife (or bride) and child of Isaiah. The close parallel of 8:1-4 is a strong argument in favor of this view, as is the fact that the prophet gave symbolic names to two other children (7:3; 8:3) relevant to the circumstances and fate of Israel/Judah. However, these other children create a problem, as does the fact that hm*l=u^, it seems, would not normally be used of a married woman (though it might be of a young bride). The “prophetess” of 8:3 appears to be different woman from that of 7:14, which is another complication; though we really don’t know enough about Isaiah’s personal life to be sure of the details.
    b) It is the wife (or concubine, etc) and child of Ahaz. In the context of the passage, the prophecy is addressed to the king (as head of the ‘house of David’), so an application to Ahaz, rather than Isaiah himself, seems to make more sense. In Song 1:3; 6:8, hm*l=u^ seems to be a technical term for girls in the royal court (or harem), and this may also be the sense here. The promise of the name “God-with-us” is, perhaps, more appropriate for a royal figure; and the parallel of 9:5-6, if applicable, would also be an argument in favor of this view.
  3. Symbolic/collective—referring to the people or kingdom of Israel/Judah as a whole. The strongest argument here is the subsequent use of the name/phrase “God-with-us” (la@ WnM*u!) in Isa 8:8, 10; however, this is perhaps better viewed as an application of the symbolic name given in 7:14. Even if the child represents the king (‘head’), the woman could be symbolic of the people (recall the use of hm*l=u^ in Gen 24:43 for Rebekah, the mother of Israel/Jacob).

In terms of the original meaning of the prophecy, I would say that 2b is the best solution, though certainly not without its own difficulties. However, it seems to fit the context overall: a specific girl (hm*l=u^h*), belonging in some respect to the royal court (circumstances unknown to us), is (or is soon to become) pregnant and will give birth to a son; by the time the child has been weaned, and is old enough to choose between good and evil, Aram-Damascus and Ephraim (the Northern Kingdom) will suffer at the hands of the king of Assyria and no longer threaten Judah (a prediction which more or less came to pass by 732 B.C.). Whether such a son of Ahaz should be identified with the (positive) figure of Hezekiah is a separate question; though accepted by some scholars, I am by no means certain that such an identification is correct.

Is a virginal birth as such indicated? I do not see anything in the original Hebrew text, nor in the context of the passage, which necessarily implies a miraculous birth. However, three textual points need to be considered:

  1. Whether the use of hm*l=u^ here does indicate specifically a chaste young woman, as the LXX translation would suggest. Unless the word here is otherwise a technical term related to the royal court, such an implication is possible, even likely, but not certain (as discussed in the previous day’s note).
  2. The force of the verbal adjective hr*h*: does this mean she is already pregnant, or that she will soon become so? Judging from similar instances (Gen 16:11; 38:24-25; Ex 21:22; Judg 13:5, 7; 1 Sam 4:19; 2 Sam 11:5; Isa 26:17; Jer 31:8), the present tense is perhaps more likely. The closest parallels to the prophetic formula of Isa 7:14 are Gen 16:11 and Judg 13:5—the present tense seems more appropriate in the former, the future tense in the latter.
  3. The significance of toa (“sign”): the word can occasionally refer to a wondrous portent or omen. As indicated previously, the LXX translator may have understood this as a miraculous event (use of parqe/no$ to indicate a virginal birth, so understood in Matt 1:18ff). However, the use of toa elsewhere in Isa 6:1-9:6 (7:11; 8:18) and in the book as a whole (19:20; 20:3; 37:30; 38:7, 22; 44:25; 55:13; 66:19) would speak against this (only in Isa 38:7 is does a special miracle seem to be indicated).

As a short answer to each question, I would state: (1) I do not think that virginity as such is emphasized in the use of hm*l=u^ [nor is it in any way contradicted]; (2) hr*h* probably indicates that the woman is currently pregnant; (3) the ‘sign’ (toa) is the child itself [rather than the nature of the birth], cf. 8:18—the sign carries two primary points of signification: (a) the name “God-with-us” [cf. esp. 8:8,10], and (b) the temporal indicator based on the development of the infant [7:15ff].

What of this name “God-with-us” (la@ WnM*u! ±immanû-°¢l)? Some believers may feel that such a momentous name could only apply to a Messianic (or even Divine) figure, rather than an ‘ordinary’ human (king). However, theologically significant names were common in Hebrew, often using “God” (°El) or Yahweh (shortened or hypocoristic form “Yah[u]”). This is more or less obscured in English translations, where names are typically given an anglicized transliteration rather than translated. For example, Isaiah (Why`u=v^y+, Y§sha±y¹hu) ought to be rendered “Yah-will-save” or “May-Yah-save!”; similarly, Ahaz is probably a shortened form of Jehoahaz (zj*a*ohy+, Y§hô°¹µ¹z) and would mean something like “Yah-has-seized” or “Yah-has-grasped [hold]!”. So, a name such as “God-with-us” (la@ WnM*u!) could certainly be applied to a significant person or ruler (though at this time, Yah-names are much more common than El-names). Isaiah himself gave elaborate symbolic names for his two (other) sons: bWvy` ra*v= (Sh§°¹r-y¹shû», “[a] Remnant will return”, Isa 7:3), and zB^ vj* ll*v* rh@m^ (Mah¢r-sh¹l¹l-µ¹sh-baz, “Hurry [to] seize booty! hasten [to] take spoil!”, or something similar)—both names relating to the impending/future judgment on Israel.

In the historical context, the name “God-with-us” has a very specific meaning: Ahaz and the southern Kingdom faced an imminent attack by Aram-Damascus and the Northern Kingdom, along with the looming specter of an Assyrian invasion. From a practical political-diplomatic view, the young king had two options: submit to the Syria-Ephraim alliance, or seek aid from Assyria to fend of the attack (effectively becoming an Assyrian vassal or tributary). Judging from the account in 2 Kings 16:7ff (and the rather different parallel in 2 Chron 28:16ff), as well as the Assyrian annals (cf. ANET, 282-4), Ahaz appears to have chosen the latter. Isaiah’s counsel in chapter 7 was to trust in God, for God is with Jerusalem and his people in Judah, and within just a year or two the threat from Aram-Ephraim will be eliminated. The use of the name “God-with-us” in Isa 8:5-10 is even more dramatic and telling, for the warning (and promise) of ±Immanû °El (vv. 8, 10) extends to all the surrounding nations (even to the Assyrian Empire): “take counsel (for) counsel and it will break apart, give word (to) a word and it will not stand! For God (is) with us!”. In this final exclamation, we have moved clearly from the sign (the child) to what it signifies—that God Himself is with us. Little wonder that early Christians would have applied this name (and this passage) to the person of Jesus Christ: “and the Word [logo$] came-to-be flesh and set-up-tent [i.e. dwelt] among us…” (John 1:14a).

It is to this Christian interpretation that I shall turn in the last note on Isa 7:14 tomorrow.

Note of the Day – Advent Season (Isaiah 7:14, part 2)

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In an earlier Advent season note I discussed briefly the original context of Isaiah 7:14. Now I must address the most notorious points of translation and interpretation in the verse: (1) translating hm*l=u^ (±almâ), and (2) identifying the woman and son of the prophecy.

To begin with the translation, I should first point out that dozens of studies on this verse (and the translation of it) have been made, in recent decades alone; I am breaking no new ground here. The feminine noun hm*l=u^ occurs 6 times in the Old Testament, apart from Isa 7:14:

Three references in the plural (all from poetry):

  • Psalm 68:26 (English v. 25)—describing a ritual procession in the Sanctuary, women (toml*u&) are among those playing instruments following the singers.
  • Song of Songs 1:3—the bride/beloved sings: “your name is oil [i.e. perfumed ointment] poured out, upon this [i.e. therefore] toml*u& love you”.
  • Song of Songs 6:8—the man/lover/bridgegroom sings of the beloved: “sixty queens they (are), and eighty <yv!g=l^yP!, and (of) toml*u& there is no counting, [v. 9] (but) one she (is), my dove…”. The second plural noun in the series is usually translated “concubines”, but the exact derivation is uncertain.

One reference in the single, without the article:

  • Proverbs 30:19—One of a list of three/four things ‘too wonderful to understand’ is the way of a rb#G# with an hm*l=u^. rb#G# here refers to a “strong” (in the sense of vibrant, virile) young man, and hm*l=u^ may have something of the same basic meaning (see below).

Two other references in the single, with the article (as in Isa 7:14):

  • Genesis 24:43—the servant of Abraham, looking for a bride for Isaac, prays to God for a sign, “…it shall be [i.e. let it be] the hm*l=u^ coming out to draw water, and I say to her…”
  • Exodus 2:8—the reference apparently is to Moses’ sister Miryam, who upon her request of Pharaoh’s daughter is told to “go” and fetch the child’s [that is Moses’] mother; the narrative simply states “and the hm*l=u^ went and called…”.

Several points can be determined from the data:

First, that the instances in the plural all appear to represent at least semi-technical terms (ritual musicians, women in the royal court or harem); the term[s] may correspond to “virgins”, but not necessarily specifically so (except perhaps in Song 6:8). Instances in the singular, on the other hand, appear to be used in the more general sense of a girl or young woman, especially in the case of Exodus 2:8.
Second, with the exception perhaps of Exodus 2:8 (and Ps 68:26?), the references have a clear sexual implication. At the very least, the idea of sexual maturity (and attractiveness) seems to be implied. Proverbs 30:19 may draw upon an original sense of “strength”—that is, the sexual strength or virility of a young woman, parallel to the word rb#G#. There is a corresponding male term <l#u# (±elem) for a ‘strong’ young man (1 Sam 17:56; 20:22, etc), and abstract noun <ym!Wlu& (±¦lûmîm) with the sense of “youthful strength/vigor” (Job 20:11; 33:25; Psalm 89:46; Isa 54:4).
Third, all references using the singular form can be understood in terms of female youths who have reached, or are just coming into, adolescence—that is, of physical/sexual maturity. In Genesis 24:43, and presumably Prov 30:19, an age suitable for marriage is indicated. Whether these conditions apply equally to the technical usage in Psalms and the Song of Songs is not as readily apparent.
Fourth, while a marriageable age may be implied, in no instance (singular or plural) is hm*l=u^ clearly and specifically used of a married woman.
In conclusion, I would say that hm*l=u^ (in the singular and/or general sense) most accurately refers to a young teenage girl, sexually mature, who, according to the cultural norms of the period, is at the age suitable for marriage.

From this, it should be clear that “virgin” in modern English is not a suitable term overall for translating hm*l=u^; the word hl*WtB= is the correct term for a virgin per se (as countless Jewish, Christian, and secular scholars have pointed  out). However “virgins” may, perhaps, fit the technical sense of the plural, at least in Song 1:3; 6:8, but even this is by no means certain. On the other hand “young woman” or “(young) girl”, while correct in the most generic sense, is more appropriate for translating hr*u&n~ (as Jerome [Against Jovinian 1:32] and others had already pointed out many centuries ago). “Maid(en)” is perhaps better as a compromise translation, but it is still not entirely accurate. The fact is, no term in English properly captures the meaning of hm*l=u&, which leaves the translator in something of a quandary.

Let us consider how the word was rendered in the Greek:

In the Septuagint (LXX) version, in 5 of the 7 instances hm*l=u^ is translated by nea=ni$ (pl. nea/nide$), which in turn would be translated “young girl/woman”, “female youth”, etc. Prov 30:19 uses the cognate word (fem. of neo/th$). parqe/no$ more commonly translates hl*WtB=, to indicate a (chaste) unmarried woman or “virgin” per se. Interestingly, parqe/no$ originally seems to have much the same basic sense as hm*l=u^, that is, for a young sexually mature girl of a marrying age. The LXX does translate hm*l=u^h* with h( parqe/no$ in Gen 24:43, presumably to indicate a chaste girl (a “virgin” as such).

Famously, the LXX also translates hm*l=u^h* with h( parqe/no$ in Isa 7:14. Subsequent Greek versions (Symmachus, Aquila, Theodotion), attempting to keep closer and more consistently to the Hebrew, use h( nea=ni$ instead. It is difficult to know the intention of the translator here, particularly since the LXX books were almost certainly translated by different people (in different places?) over a considerable number of years. It is possible that in Gen 24:43 the ‘original’ sense of parqe/no$ is meant (see above), and perhaps also in Isaiah 7:14. Since the Isa 7:14 prophecy speaks of a “sign” (shmei=on, for Hebrew toa), which can, occasionally refer to a wondrous event or omen, the translator may have a miracle in mind (certainly this is how Matt. 1:22-23 and the early Church understood it). Scholars have occasionally suggested that parqe/no$ is a gloss by later Christian scribes. More likely, I think, is that it is an “interpretive gloss” by the original (Jewish) translator, in order to clarify the chaste condition of the “young woman” in question. The same may be true in Gen 24:43—the purity of the mother of Israel, just as that of mother of the prophesied child, is being safeguarded, to avoid any possible misunderstanding. It is would be as if to say “the young girl, who is chaste”. Indeed, if Matthew had used nea=ni$, early Christian scribes almost certainly would have modified it to parqe/no$ themselves, in order to avoid having readers misconstrue the meaning. In the any event, the Gospel writer (Matt 1:22-23) uses h( parqe/no$, as in the LXX, clearly indicating a miraculous (virginal) birth (cf. vv. 19, 25 and also the wording [and variants] in v. 16).

In conclusion, I would make two fundamental points:

  1. “Virgin” does not seem particularly appropriate to translate hm*l=u^ in Isaiah 7:14 (nor exactly does “young woman”)
  2. This fact, in and of itself, does not affect the traditional Christian understanding of the verse (in spite of frequent protestations to the contrary).

To demonstrate this more clearly, it is necessary to delve deeper into the identity of the woman and child in the prophecy, as well subsequent Messianic (including Christian) interpretations of the verse, which I will do in the next day’s note.

English Translations which departed from the traditional rendering of “virgin” in Isa 7:14 have endured sharp criticism and protest at times from religiously and theologically conservative circles, including publicized incidents where copies of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) were burned. According to a certain level of religious logic, using another word or phrase (instead of “virgin”) to translate hm*l=u^ is tantamount to denying the virgin birth of Jesus. However, this need not (and certainly ought not) to be the case.

Note of the Day – Advent Season (Isaiah 7:14)

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Isaiah 7:14 is one of the most familiar verses of the Old Testament, mainly due to its association with the birth of Jesus, an application which goes back to at least the time of the composition of the Gospels (c. 70-80), if not several decades prior, for the Gospel of Matthew cites it explicitly (1:22-23). Yet, an examination of the verse in its original context shows clearly enough that it had little to do with a miraculous ‘messianic’ figure of the distant future. What is one to make of this?

The original setting of Isaiah 7:14—indeed, I would say, of the larger section 6:1-9:6—is the so-called Syro-Ephraimite crisis of 735-4 B.C.:

Threatened by Assyrian advances (under Tiglath-Pileser III), Aram-Damascus (led by king Rezin) and the Northern Kingdom of Israel (“Ephraim”, led by the usuper Pekah [“son of Remalyah”]) formed an alliance (along with the city of Tyre) in hopes of repulsing Assyria, similar to the coalition which resisted Shalmaneser III at the battle of Qarqar a century earlier. It was most likely for the purpose of forcing the Southern Kingdom of Judah (led by Aµaz) into joining the alliance, that Rezin and Pekah marched and laid siege to Jerusalem (Isaiah 7:6 indicates that they planned to set up a new king, “son of Tab±al“). Isa 7:1 states that they were “not able to do battle against” Jerusalem, perhaps in the sense of being unable to prevail/conquer in battle (so the parallel account in 2 Kings 16:5, but 2 Chronicles 28:5ff tells rather a different story).

Isaiah 7:3-9 and 10-17ff should be understood as taking place prior to the main event summarized in verse 1. Verses 10-17, in fact, need to be read in tandem with vv. 3-9, and in context with the larger section 6:19:6. Here is a fairly literal translation of vv. 10-17:

10And YHWH continued to speak to Aµaz, saying 11“Ask for you(rself) a sign from YHWH your God—made deep (as) Sheol or made high (as) from above [i.e. the sky]”. 12And Aµaz said, “I will not ask and will not test YHWH.” 13And he [i.e. Isaiah] said, “Hear ye, house of David: (is it) a small (thing) from you to make men weary, that you would also make weary my God? 14Thus (the) Lord himself will give for you a sign—See! the ±almâ (becoming) pregnant will bear a son and (she) will call his name ‘God-with-us‘. 15Curds and honey he will eat to (the time of) his knowing to refuse by the evil and to choose by the good; 16for by (the time) before the youth knows to refuse by the evil and choose by the good, the land, which you dread from the faces of her two kings, shall be forsaken! 17YHWH will bring upon you—and upon your people and upon the house of your father—days which have not come from [i.e. since] the day (of) Ephraim’s turning (away) from alongside Judah—the king of Assyria!”

Note that I have translated the name la@ WnM*u! (±immanû °¢l), and have temporarily left untranslated the word hm*l=u^ (±almâ). This latter word has been variously translated “virgin” or “young girl”, etc.—a point of longstanding dispute and controversy, which I shall discuss (along with the identity of the ±almâ) in a subsequent note.

Apart from the overall historical context, a number of details in the passage speak clearly against the child as a (messianic) figure coming only in the (distant) future:

  • It is meant to be a sign for the “house of David” (that is, the kings of Judah) which they, and presumably Ahaz in particular, would be able to recognize (in their lifetime)—v. 11, 13-14.
  • The use of the definite article (hm*l=u^h*, the ±almâ), would seem to indicate a woman already known to Isaiah and/or Ahaz—v. 14
  • The interjection hN@h! (“see/behold!”), as well as the construction td#l#)yw+ hr*h* (verbal adjective + Qal participle) seem to imply an immediacy (i.e. “see! the ±almâ, being pregnant, is about to bear…”)
  • The key temporal detail of the prophecy vv. 15-16, would seem to specify that within 2-3 years of the child’s birth, the main event will take place.
  • The event so indicated has a two-fold reference:
    a) The land of the ‘two kings’, which (currently) causes you dread, will be forsaken (“the land” primarily in reference to Aram-Damascus)—v. 16
    b) YHWH will bring the king of Assyria (with special reference to judgment on the Northern Kingdom [“Ephraim”])—v. 17
    This prediction was fulfilled, to large degree, in 732 B.C. (that is, within 2-3 years), with the fall of Damascus and the effective loss of much of the Northern kingdom (conquest of territory, deportations, installment of a puppet king, etc.)

In light of this, one must turn to the traditional Messianic and/or Christian interpretation of the verse 14, especially as it relates to the citation in Matthew 1:22-23: for the Gospel writer applies the verse to the (virgin) birth of Jesus, apparently without any regard for the original historical context. If the (inspired) New Testament author treats the passage thus, why should we be so concerned to understand and appreciate the ‘original context’? Looking at it from the opposite side, if there is no clear reference to Christ (or a future Messiah) in the Isaiah passage, should we continue to accept the traditional Christian/Messianic interpretation without exception?

In response to the first question, I would suggest that believers in each place and each generation must study and contemplate the Scriptures anew. There is available to us today a wealth of information—linguistic, historical, archeological, and so forth—which earlier generations did not possess. We approach and use texts in many respects very differently than did early Christians in the ancient Near East. Protestant readers and commentators, in particular, tend to emphasize an “historical-grammatical” approach as the primary (and fundamental) mode of interpretation; on the whole, I agree with this. I would add that the first goal of interpretation then is to analyze and consider what the (ancient) text would have meant to the (ancient) author(s) and audience; without at least a basic sense of this, any secondary interpretation or application runs the risk of distorting the fundamental meaning. We ignore or disregard these factors very much at our own peril.

With regard to the second, opposite question, I find there to be at least as great a danger in ignoring the ways in which Christians have (traditionally) made use of the Scriptures. We see today, for example, a tendency to disregard completely earlier mystical-spiritual or allegorical-typological modes of interpretation, so prominent and vital to the thought and spiritual life of the early Church. Even with regard to the New Testament, we often fail to appreciate just how creatively the authors (and/or their sources) made use of the Old Testament Scriptures. Scores of examples could be cited where the wording (and even the basic sense) of the original passage were altered by the (inspired) author. If this be admitted, we must always be careful to examine how, and for what purpose, the Scriptures were adapted. Surely inspiration, as the work of the Spirit, far exceeds the limitations of any one view.

With this in mind, let us explore Isaiah 7:14 in relation to the birth of Jesus in a little more detail…

There is a rough extrabiblical parallel to the “God-with-us” prophecy of Isaiah 7:10ff, from earlier in the 8th century (c. 785): the Zakkur (or Zakir) stele. Another ruler (of Hamath in Syria [“Aram”]) is besieged by an enemy force, and the seers deliver a message from the deity to the king which reads, in part: “Do not fear, for I have made you king, and I shall stand by you and deliver you” (transl. from ANET, 501-2).

“He opened to us the Scriptures”

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In a previous post, I discussed two striking scenes in the Lukan Resurrection Narratives which speak of Jesus’ “opening the Scriptures” to his disciples (24:27, 32) or “opening their mind” to understand the Scriptures (24:45ff). It is clearly indicated in these passages that Jesus expounded or explained the Sacred Writings, in relation to their foretelling (or prefiguring) his suffering, death, and resurrection (cf. esp. v. 26 and 46). However, it is never specified exactly which Old Testament passages he used, or what manner of exposition he applied. This silence is tantalizing, and perhaps worth exploring a bit further, which I shall do directly below.

First, a follow-up note on verse 44, where Jesus reiterates earlier teaching to the disciples that “it is necessary to be fulfilled all the (things) having been written in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets and Psalms about me”. This theme of the fulfillment (literally “to be made full, to be filled [up]”) of Scripture is a key theme throughout the Gospels (and the rest of the New Testament as well).  A concrete sense of the metaphor would depict the Writings (Scriptures) as a space or container which is filled up—that is, up to the brim, leveled off. Implied in this image, is that the Life and Person of Christ is what “fills up” the space. A more abstract sense of “filling up” is to “complete” or “accomplish” some goal or task; “filling” can also have an intensive connotation (i.e., “abundance”, “fullness”). I should wish to consider this “filling up” of Scripture from two vantage points:

  1. Details in the Gospels (esp. related to his death/resurrection) which Jesus himself speaks of as, in some sense, fulfilling Scripture
  2. Use of specific Old Testament passages by the Gospel writers (or their underlying sources)

1. Details in the Gospels which “fulfill Scripture”, according to Jesus’ recorded words:

  • Luke 4:17-21 — Isaiah 61:1-2 is “this day fulfilled in your ears” (cf. also Matthew 11:4-6/Luke 7:22)
  • Mark 8:31 (par. Matt. 16:21; Luke 9:22) — Jesus first ‘Passion prediction’: “it is necessary” (dei=) for the Son of Man “to suffer” (paqei=n), etc. The particle dei= certainly indicates a Scripture reference (cf. Luke 24:44).
  • Mark 9:12-13 (par. Matt. 10:11-12) — a secondary reference to the suffering of the Son of Man (“it has been written”)
  • Mark 9:31 (par. Matt. 17:22-23; Luke 9:44) — the second ‘Passion prediction’; parallels the first and third predictions, but no specific mention of Scripture here.
  • Mark 10:33-34 (par. Matt. 20:18-29; Luke 18:31-33) — the third ‘Passion prediction’; in the Lukan form Jesus refers to “all the (things) having been written through the Prophets”, that these will be completed (telesqh/setai) in (or to) the Son of Man.
  • Mark 12:10-11 & par. — Jesus identifies himself with Psalm 118:22-23 (“the stone which the builders rejected…”)
  • Mark 14:21 & par. — The Son of Man goes “as it has been written”, in the context of Judas’ betrayal [“giving over”] of Jesus
  • John 13:18 — The betrayal [“giving over”] by Judas is a fulfillment of Psalm 41:9 (cf. also John 17:12)
  • John 15:25 — The world’s hatred of Christ (context of both the Passion and persecution of believers) a fulfillment of Psalm 35:19/69:4
  • Mark 14:27 & par. — Passion scene the fulfillment of Zech 13:7
  • Mark 14:49 (par. Matt. 26:54; cf. also Luke 22:37) — Events of the Passion, including the arrest, etc. are specifically described as fulfilling Scripture
  • Mark 15:34 (par. Matt. 27:46) — fulfillment of Ps 22:1 on the cross

To which, one might also add:

  • Matthew 5:17f — Jesus specifically states he has come to fulfill the Law and Prophets
  • John 5:39 — Jesus says of the Scriptures that they “bear witness about me”
  • Matthew 11:10; par. Luke 7:27 — John the Baptist as “My Messenger” (Mal. 3:1, cf. Mark 1:2-3)
  • Matthew 12:8 & par. — Jesus (the Son of Man) is “Lord of the Sabbath” (a ‘fulfillment’ of the Sabbath?)
  • Luke 9:31 — during the Transfiguration Jesus is described as conversing with Moses and Elijah about his way out [“going out”, e&codo$] which was about to “be fulfilled” in Jerusalem (the language is Luke’s, not necessarily Jesus’ own)
  • Mark 10:18-21 & par. — following Jesus can be seen as a kind of ‘fulfillment’ of the commandments (law of love/sacrifice)
  • Mark 11:2-3 & par. — Jesus’ instructions may be intended to fulfill Zech 9:9ff
  • Mark 11:17 & par. — Jesus ties his ‘cleansing’ of the Temple with Isa 56:7 (his actions could also relate to Zech 14:20-21); the parallel account in John has a slightly different Scripture import
  • Mark 12:35-37 & par. — Jesus’ short, cryptic, discussion of Psalm 110:1 (see a similar discussion involving Psalm 82:6 in John 10:34ff)
  • Mark 14:24f & par. — Jesus identifies his blood as the “blood of the [new] covenant”
  • Mark 14:62 & par. — reference to the future appearance of the Son of Man (cf. Daniel 7:13 ff)

Perhaps also:

  • Mark 1:15 — “the time/season is fulfilled” and the Kingdom of God has come near (in the Person of Christ)
  • John 7:38 — belief in Christ related to “rivers of living water” (but the exact Scripture reference is unclear)
  • John 18:9, 32 — the reference is to Jesus’ word being fulfilled; whether this refers also to a Scripture passage is unclear

Others could perhaps be added to the list. For Scriptural references in the Discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John, see below.

2. Use of Old Testament passages by the Gospel writers (and/or their sources):

MATTHEW: This Gospel makes by far the most extensive use of a citation-formula to indicate the fulfillment of specific Old Testament passages. A number of these citations state directly that what has occurred fulfills Scripture (1:22; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 21:4). A fair number are also unique to Matthew among the (canonical) Gospels (1:22-23; 2:5-6, 15, 17-18; 4:14-16; 12:17-21; 21:4-5; 27:9-10). However, there can be no doubt that the basic citation-formula was part of the common Gospel tradition. Even John has a distinctive use of it: in addition to a cluster of citations in the Crucifixion scene (19:24, 28, 36-37), there are several verses (2:22; 12:16; 20:9) stating that the disciples did not at first understand that what they hear or witnessed was a fulfillment of Scripture (even upon witnessing the empty tomb [20:9]!).

JOHN: A different approach is utilized throughout the fourth Gospel, particularly in the great Discourses—at every turn Jesus identifies himself with key themes and images (we might call them “types”) from Scripture. This occurs at two levels:

(1) The Feasts, which are the setting for most of the Discourses and a number of narratives:

  • Three different Passover settings: (a) Cleansing of the Temple (2:13-22), (b) Feeding of the Multitude & Bread of Life Discourse (chapter 6), (c) Passion Week (chaps. 12-13, [14-17], 18-20). John also makes clear allusions to Passover in the Crucifixion scene (19:14, 29, 31-36).
  • Sukkoth (Feast of Booths/Tabernacles): This is the setting of chapter 7, and, presumably 8:12-59; the motifs of “living water” and light definitely seem to echo ritual imagery associated with Tabernacles (cf. esp. Zech 14:8).
  • Dedication/Hanukkah (e)gkai/nia, “renewal”) is the setting of 10:22-39
  • An unspecified Feast (Pentecost?) is the setting of chapter 5; more important is detail that it was a Sabbath, emphasizing the work of the Son and the Father, especially in regard to the life-giving power (5:19-29) they both share.

(2) Archetypal Old Testament motifs and symbols (others could probably be included):

  • The ‘Lamb of God’ (1:29, 36), rel. also to the Passover sacrifice (19:14-36)
  • “Jacob’s ladder” (this seems to be the primary reference, 1:51)
  • The Temple identified with Jesus’ own person/body (2:19, 21)
  • The bronze serpent “lifted up” to bring healing/salvation (esp. 3:14)
  • Water (‘Living water’, esp. 4:10-14; 7:37-39)
  • Resurrection, as the exclusive work of God (5:[19-24], 25-29; 6:40, 54; esp. 11:25-26, 38-44)
  • ‘Bread of Life’/’Bread from Heaven’ (Manna, chapter 6 throughout)
  • Light (‘Light of the world’, esp. 8:12; 9:5; 11:9-10; 12:35-26, 46; also the prologue v. 4-9)
  • Shepherd (‘Good Shepherd’, 10:1-18, 25-30)
  • Vine (15:1-11)

One should also note the following:

(3) In a number of passages, Jesus seems to be identified with Scripture itself (see especially 5:39). The Light/Darkness motif would appear to echo traditional OT/Jewish language for the Torah, which is often identified with Divine/personified Wisdom (the Word of God). This association is clearest in the Gospel’s prologue-hymn (1:1-18).

(4) Finally, of course, we have the famous “I Am” (e)gw\ ei)mi/) sayings of Jesus, which certainly could have been included in the lists above. It is not always clear how often this usage is meant to be taken absolutely (as an identification with the Name of God, cf. Exodus 3:14), but in passages such as 8:58 it is unmistakable.

LUKE: This Gospel adopts what I would call a literary-creative approach, whereby the core narrative traditions (inherited from Mark and/or other sources) have been given an interpretive layer shaped largely by Old Testament language and images. This is perhaps seen most clearly in the Infancy Narratives (Luke 1:5-2:52): the canticles are replete with Scriptural references (the Magnificat echoes Hannah’s song [1 Sam 2:1-10]), the angelic appearances (as in Matthew) follow Old Testament patterns, and overall the narratives seem to have been influenced and shaped especially by the stories of Samuel’s birth/youth (1 Sam 1-3). One could point to many other passages; for example, details unique to Luke’s presentation of the Transfiguration (cf. 9:29, 31, 34). In the Passion and Resurrection narratives, perhaps the following details might be noted:

  • The context of the Last Supper (22:14-23) may more closely reflect the Passover ritual (especially if vv. 19b-20 are original)
  • The angelic appearance to Jesus in the garden (if verses 43-44 are original)
  • Emphasis of the role of Herod during Jesus’ trial is possibly influenced by OT passages such as Psalm 2:1-2 (cf. Acts 4:25-26)
  • The placement of the rending of the Temple curtain—right after mention of the darkness (and before Jesus’ death)—is probably meant to enhance the apocalyptic imagery of the scene and to emphasize the theme of judgment (rel. to the destruction of the Temple—cf. Ezek. 10, etc. and later Pseudepigraphic passages such as 2 Baruch 6, 8).
  • Instead of the cry of dereliction from the cross (quoting Psalm 22:1), Luke records (23:46) quite a different utterance of Jesus (quoting Psalm 31:6). This shows clearly how selection/application of various Scriptural allusions or details can create a very different (though not necessarily contradictory) portrait.

What Scripture passages did Jesus “open” for his disciples in Luke 24:26-27, 32, 45ff?

We have no way of knowing for certain; however, based on other New Testament passages and ancient Jewish traditions, here are some likely candidates (esp. those related to Jesus’ Suffering, Death and Resurrection):

  • Genesis 22:1-14: The Binding/Sacrifice of Isaac (Aqedah). It is not entirely clear if the NT writers themselves made the association here between Isaac and Jesus, but by the middle of the 2nd century Christians clearly had done so (cf. Barnabas 7:2, Melito of Sardis [On the Pascha]).
  • Exodus 12: The Passover ritual and sacrifice (in the context of the “Exodus”, cf. Luke 9:31). There can be no doubt that the Synoptic tradition and the Gospel of John both saw the connection (cf. especially John 19:14, 29, 31-36).
  • Numbers 21:4-9: The bronze serpent (cf. John 3:14-15).
  • Deuteronomy 18:15-22 (esp. vv. 15, 18-19 [Exod 20:21 SP]): The “Prophet like Moses” whom God will raise up. By Jesus’ time, this passage had been understood to refer to an eschatological Prophet, in a quasi-Messianic context (see esp. the Qumran testimonia 4Q175; also 1QS 9; CD 6; and John 1:21, 25; 6:14; 7:40). It was definitely understood as a prophecy of Christ (Acts 3:22; 7:37-38). The refusal to listen to the Prophet (Deut 18:19) is tied in both to the Passion of Christ (Acts 7:39ff, 51-53) and the coming eschatological judgment (Acts 3:23).
  • 2 Samuel 15:13-37: The narrative structure and sequence of the Passion (on the Mount of Olives) seems (at the level of the common tradition) to have been influenced by the story of David’s departure from Jerusalem. Matthew’s account of Judas’ death (27:3-5), in this context, may have been influenced by 2 Sam 17:23 (death of Ahithophel).
  • Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (Servant Song): The chapters of so-called Deutero-Isaiah (40-66) were a rich trove for early Christian interpretation. Already John the Baptist had made use of Isa 40:3-5; Jesus applied Isa 61:1-2 to himself as he spoke in the Nazareth Synagogue (Luke 4:16-21ff); Matthew (12:18-20) cites Isa 42:1-4 (another “Servant Song”). As far as 52:13-53:12 is concerned, there can be no doubt that: (a) early believers recognized details related to the Passion, and also (b) that these details helped to shape the Passion narratives. A parallel can be found in nearly every verse (esp. vv. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 12). In Acts 8:26-39, Philip interprets Isa 52:13-53:12 to the Ethiopian Eunuch in much the same manner, perhaps, as Jesus instructed the Disciples.
  • Psalm 2:1-2 (see Acts 4:25-27): Very likely these verses also influenced Luke to emphasize the role of Herod in Jesus’ trial (a detail not found in the other Gospels). Luke 23:13 especially may echo verse 2 of the Psalm.
  • Psalm 16:8-11: Cited in Acts 2:25-28ff (and again in Acts 13:35) as a prophecy of the death and Resurrection of Christ.
  • Psalm 22: There can be no question that this Psalm had a profound influence on early Christians’ understanding of the Passion and Death of Jesus. In addition to Jesus’ own cry of dereliction (quoting Psalm 22:1-2) as recorded in Matthew-Mark, verses 7, 16, 18 offer explicit parallels to specific details.
  • Psalm 31: In Luke 23:46, instead of the cry of abandonment, Jesus addresses the Father by quoting Psalm 31:5 [Heb./LXX v. 6]. Other verses in the Psalm (e.g., 7-8, 11, 13, 17-18, 22) also may have been related to the Passion.
  • Psalm 41:9 [Heb./LXX v. 10]: Already cited (on Jesus’ lips) in John 13:18 as a prophecy/prefiguring of Judas’ betrayal
  • Psalm 42:5, 11 [Heb./LXX v. 6, 12]: These verses seem be a source both for Jesus’ own words (Mark 14:34 par.) and the overall atmosphere of the Passion scene in Gethsemane.
  • Psalm 69 (esp. verse 21 [Heb./LXX v. 22])
  • Psalm 110:1: Jesus’ himself cites this verse (Mark 12:35-37 par.); but certainly early Christians saw in it a reference to the Resurrection and Exaltation of Christ (Acts 4:34-35, etc).
  • Psalm 118:22: “The stone which the builders rejected”, applied by Jesus to himself (Mark 12:10-11 and par.); also verse 26 is used by the crowds (a festal/pilgrimage setting) at the Triumphal Entry, and by Jesus himself in a word of lament and judgment toward Jerusalem (Matthew 23:39).
  • Ezekiel 37:1-14: The ‘Valley of Dry Bones’ prophecy likely was viewed early on as prefiguring the Resurrection (see Matthew 27:52-53 and the language in John 5:25-29)
  • Daniel 7:13: Jesus draws upon the Son of Man imagery in the session before the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:62 par.) and in the Eschatological Discourse (set during Passion week, Mark 13:24-27 par.)
  • Daniel 9:24-27 [esp. v. 26]: “the Anointed (One) shall be cut off…”
  • Zechariah 9-14: As with Psalm 22 and Isa 52:13-53:12, these chapters had a tremendous influence on the interpretation of the Passion, and in shaping the narratives.
    (a) Zech 9:9: Seen as a prophecy/prefiguring of Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem (cited directly in Matthew 21:5; John 12:15). Jesus’ own detailed instructions (as recorded by the Synoptics, Mark 14:13-16 par.) may indicate that he himself had this passage in mind.
    (b) Zech 9:11: a reference to the “blood of [your] covenant” (cf. Mark 14:24 par.)
    (c) Zech 9:16 and chapters 10-11: true/false Shepherd imagery (see John 10:1-18, 25-30, with reference to Christ’s death/resurrection in vv. 11, 15, 17-18); see also on Zech 13:7.
    (d) Zech 11:12-13: the “thirty pieces of silver” thrown into the “house of the Lord, to the potter” (Matthew 26:15; 27:5-10).
    (e) Zech 12:10: “they shall look on me whom they have pierced…” (John 19:34-37)
    (f) Zech 13:7: cited by Jesus as a Passion prediction (Mark 14:17 par.); see also Zech 11:17.
    (g) Zech 13:1; 14:8: a fountain and “living water” in Jerusalem (see the discourse of Jesus in John 7-8 [esp. 7:37-39]). The Sukkot/Tabernacles setting pervades these chapters (14:16-19; cf. also the request for rain in 10:1).
    (h) Zech 14:20-21: These verses would seem to provide the background for Jesus’ cleansing of the temple (esp. Mark 12:15-18); did Jesus himself have them in mind?

Jesus must have expounded at least some (if not all) of the above passages. Often the interpretation described by Jesus in Luke 24:26-27, 32, 45ff has been overlooked by scholars. Critical commentators will look long and hard for explanations as to how early Christians came to associate certain Old Testament passages with the death and resurrection of Christ. Perhaps they have missed another possible explanation: that the disciples could have been introduced to them by Jesus himself.