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Vadim Cherny, Nikolay Bondarchuk
This inquiry originated
when one of its authors wondered why the earliest Christians used Isaiah 53 for
apologetic purposes. They would have understood easily the inapplicability of
Isaiah’s image to Jesus, at least as it is understood today. So perhaps they
understood the chapter or, not yet bound by dogma, the life of Jesus (or both)
very differently from the common modern interpretation.
Careful reading of
Isaiah 53 on our part at first produced various interpretations, but all of them
left certain words unexplained. Our final rendering, however, which we share
here, we believe is logically coherent, historically plausible, and impeccable
in conveying the Hebrew grammar.
The chapter’s author,
a mainstream Jew, relates the life story of a certain person who quickly rose to
prominence on rumors that he was the Messiah. Instead of uniting the nation,
however, he soon fell into the common sin of starting a sect of one’s own
outside normative Judaism and disseminating this teaching. God—who, in the
Isaiah author’s view, favored Judean unity and thus desired orthodoxy and
opposed sects and sectarianism—suppressed him. The people also rejected that
person’s odd teaching, and he was executed for violating the law, a
consequence of the fact that his interpretation of the law and theirs were
different. Disapproving of him overall, but also respecting some aspects of his
personality and career, the author of Isaiah 53 suggests that had the man
repented of his delusions, he would have become and remained an important figure
in Jewish society.
The process by which
this chapter, which describes current events, was taken by later generations as
prophecy, is reminiscent of another famous piece of Isaiah, his prophecy of the
savior Emmanu El to be born to King Ahaz, which prediction did not come true,
and so was taken by posterity as referring to events to come in a distant future.
Ancient authors spoke
to their contemporaries about current events, hardly expecting an audience
distanced by millennia. Many details are omitted, therefore, simply because the
intended audience knew them well. Those details are often impossible for us to
This article separates
the translation and the interpretation—things, which are often lumped together
as “translation.” The translation presented here is word-for-word, with the
aim of precisely transmitting the original meaning, even at the expense of good
The reviewers of this
translation often criticized us for disregarding the earlier translations and
the opinions of authorities. But what modern science or scholarship values all
ancient opinions—especially above the facts? The Hebrew text is there for
everyone to read. There are almost no variant readings in the manuscripts—and,
in fact, a known Qumranic variant in במת׀ (his altars)
only demonstrates that the scribes attempted to resolve the puzzle even back
Our approach is
actually in conformity with the earlier rabbinical views, who generally believed
that the opinion of a later teacher should prevail over that of an earlier one.
The developed religions, Judaism and Christianity alike, closed the
interpretational window, choosing to accept unquestionably opinions of the old
authorities instead of meeting the challenges of modern interpretations.
Moreover, we have
little idea of how all the ancients interpreted the Bible. Talmud preserves only
Pharisaic views. Sadducees were likely close to our interpretation, taking
Isaiah 53 for historical narration of events in the author’s lifetime, not a
prophecy. But once the concept of the chapter as prophecy was fixed, even
freethinking commentators until very recently had little leeway, if they wanted
to stay in their religious community.
interpretation is a house of cards. Let any piece of contrary evidence sink in,
and the interpretation is destroyed. If “the arm of God” has negative
connotation when applied to the man, then the author did not approve of some of
his activity. If he did not forgive the sins, but shared them, especially the
sectarianism, he is hardly a messenger of God. If we refuse to twist
במת׀ beyond recognition, then the man left
altars to the rich, not was buried
with them. And so on with almost every word for which we have offered a
Unless a word remained
in the modern usage, its sense is often unknown and has to be reconstructed from
the Tanakhic and Talmudic entries. When only a handful of such entries exist for
rare words, the meaning often cannot be readily established from the context.
There is no need, however, to resort to conjectures, and the translators should
exercise no license in interpreting particularly the verbs. With the known root
meaning and the sense of each verb form, the verbs are always comprehensible.
But is not it true that
Hebrew verbs sometimes deviate from the grammatically correct meaning? Although
this may be so, this is an exception which has to be justified by the
established usage of the word—something lacking in the case of rare words, in
the first place. Even though the ancient author might have an unusual meaning in
mind, we have no way to know or prove it. A priori, grammatically standard meanings have to be used in
translation, at least if they fit the context, whether we like it or not.
We had to make
assumptions as to impossible and implausible. Every interpretation advanced
previously is possible in a sense. It is often possible to suppose an unusual
meaning, or a grammatical error, or just to stretch semantics a bit or more than
a bit. In a language so economical as Hebrew, small variations in interpreting
the pronoun suffixes, tenses and prepositions can lead to major changes of the
meaning. Therefore, almost every meaning desired by any party can be
substantiated by adjusting the translation.
how do we know that our translation is better? Because it does not require any
grammatical twisting, but explains every word, form, or affix in its standard
meaning, without resorting to plenty of highly nonstandard interpretations of
the grammatically perfect text as the other translations do. In any field of
humanistic sciences, scholars prefer that explanation which requires fewer
assumptions. Ours requires none. Or, put another way, our translation relies on
statistically more probable meanings of the words and grammatical forms, those
encountered more often in Tanakh. This translation is better in the sense of
being more probable. There is only one benchmark other than probability:
compliance with preconceived views, disguised as historical or contextual
On the context.
reviewers voiced an opinion that our interpretation does not fit into the
texture of those books of Isaiah that basically deal with the return from exile.
Apparently, their view is incompatible with the common view of Isaiah 53 as a
prophecy of the future messiah, and would lead to seeing Cyrus in every servant
or savior reference, which is not the case with references to the servant in
Isaiah 42:2–3, 49:3–4.
we conclude that several references to the enigmatic man were interpolated into
Isaiah’s text so that, while superficially preserving textual continuity, they
are actually out of the context and speak of a different subject. They appear in
random order both before and after chapter 53. Significantly, those before
chapter 53 tend to refer to the man in the future tense, describing his glorious
prospects, while the later ones bitterly complain of his rejection. These
references were embedded into Isaiah in such a way as to be visible only to
readers who know what they are
looking for. In this sense, our interpretation fits the context—not that of
the main chapters, but of the numerous small interpolations.
interpolations are stylistically different from the surrounding hymns and
lamentations, and often employ a much later grammar, unusually careful, with the
correct tenses, standard meanings of prepositions, and the like,—with a
peculiar tint of rare and archaic but still grammatically impeccable—words,
often modeled upon Job. In fact, no other chapter in Tanakh has such density of
ambiguous and rare words—still another reason to read them in the
grammatically correct manner, based on the root meaning; any other reading is
pure speculation. Since the language of Job is very ancient, the writer could
have meant to affect archaic language. The inserts employ the words whose
superficial meaning is well related to the context, but if we look more closely,
only a different meaning fits the context, such as “shalom” with the sense
of dead silence, or מנחה, a resting place—not a
military tent, but a tomb, or the grammatical form is actually different,
משחת—not marred, but anointment.
its extremely careful wording, the author of Isaiah 53 creates parallels between
words used in different contexts. He extensively employs synonyms; curiously, he
also favors words of related meaning with common two-letter root cells, such as
and נגש (to bend),
חלה (illness) and מחלל (to shock),
גזז (shearer) and גזר
(to cut). He is fond of the causative
form, describing action upon the man. Another feature specific to these
inserts is many pronouns of 1p and non-divine 3ms; unusually for Hebrew,
pronouns and pronoun forms of other words are employed without specifying the
subject. The reader, who was expected to know the subject, should have been a
peculiarly informed reader, since the text contains no inferences. Possibly,
authors of the minor inserts were different from the writer of Isaiah 53, since
his cautious endorsement of the man contrasts with their all-out adherence, and
his pity for the people who rejected the man contrasts with the other authors’
hatred. His singular my slave gave way
to the community of my slaves in
chapter 65. The 53 author identified himself with the sinful nation, while the
later interpolators, sectarians, referred to them.
puzzling question is who could have introduced these inserts. These people must
have had exclusive access to the scrolls in order to introduce the changes in
every manuscript copied and to make sure no alternative versions are left by
denouncing them as heretical. Considering their overall piety towards the texts,
into which they introduced only small pieces, they were not some fringe
sectarians. Overall, they seemingly controlled the temple or, at any rate, the
major script shop, if there was one. This is not easily reconciled with the fact
that their revered figure was executed, and they were seemingly reviled. We do
not know much about the ancient Jewish sects, but from the little we know, the
Teacher of Righteousness of the Essenes seems a good candidate, if we allow that
some time passed between his execution or exile, and the expulsion of the
Essenes from the Temple, where they seemingly had held a major role
previously. While this is supposed to be an anachronism, it is not
impossible, given the absence of pre-second-century BCE
scrolls of Isaiah. This is a pure conjecture, since there are other
figures more or less fitting this pattern, starting from Akhenaton onward, and
including Isaiah himself.
us have a look at the several most probable inserts, and conjecture possible
meanings for them.
Isaiah 52:13–15, describing the servant after the previous verses dealt coherently with the return from exile, contains specific parallels to chapter 53:
Isaiah 52:13: Lo, my
servant will contemplate, and will rise, and be exalted a lot.
53:2, He rose up like a shoot. 53:11, filled by knowledge
superficial reader would see, yes,
mutilated is his appearance among men, and his vividness among sons of men,
recalling 53:2, but we longed for him; not vividness in him, no appearance, and
53:3, despised by men
Isaiah 52:15: So he
great nations, on him their rulers will shut their mouths, because what [whom]
was not told them they saw, and what [whom] they did not hear they contemplated[lxviii].
Isaiah 53:11, and their
deviations he will withstand. 53:12, I will
allot him part among nobles; he will allot booty to strong . . . .
The verses of chapter
52 combine past and future tenses, indicating narration of current events: some
have already passed, and the author expected others soon. Avoiding this
explanation, commentators often resort to an artificial device which they call
the “prophetic perfect”: supposedly a prophet employs past tense along with
the future to transmit to readers the succession of future events.
The writer of Isaiah 53
attempted to imitate the style of the last verses of Isaiah 52 in order to
create a sense of textual continuity for the interpolation. The same person
might write both pieces, but certainly with a large time gap. He assimilated
many words and concepts from chapter 52, notably vividness and appearance, was
told and heard, among men and knowledge.
relate messianic prophecy about that man. It did not come true. Therefore,
Isaiah 53 was written to explain the apparent fallacy of the prophet; 53:1–9
thus constitutes a discourse about the man, and 53:10 starts the return from the
deviation of 53:1–9 to the details of 52:13–15. The style is abruptly
changed at 53:10 as the content changes to transmitting God’s promise, proving
that the unfulfillment of the man’s mission was his fault, and, had he behaved
differently, the prophecy would have been realized.
may be speculated that Isaiah 52 describes a certain person of uncharacteristic
ugliness who was expected at the time to lead Jews from exile to victory. After
he was unsuccessful, Isaiah 53 was written in the attempt to explain the reason
for his failure. What that reason was is unclear, but it seemingly had to do
with people not believing the man who had offered a peculiar doctrine. An ugly
hero was plausible even in beauty-minded Greek culture, cf. Socrates.
Isaiah 11:10: And it
will happen on that day, that a root
of Jesse… unto him will the nations seek, and his resting place shall be
traditionally expected the messiah to smite and rob foreigners; the one whom the
foreigners willingly seek is not a military leader but a teacher or wise king.
In the time of Isaiah, Davidic descent was not a metaphor, but still embodied in
a king. Supposing it as a reference to the slave of Isaiah 53, who was
transgressing, mutilated, and despised, there is no royal candidate besides
Zedekiah. The confinement (perhaps, siege) and trial are thus Persian. The hopes
associated with the slave related to Zedekiah’s rebellion against Babylon.
Persians being wicked and rich, the altars could be high burials of Zedekiah and
his family. His חברה, which brings relief in 53:5, may
be the orthodoxy he professed before deviating into pagan worship.
This explanation is so
obviously forced that we should free the data by reading the Davidic descent as
unrelated to actual kingship. This, however, would date the text well after the
exile, when no certain royal heirs to David survived.
While the resting place
may refer to the royal tent in a military camp, such reading is at odds with the
rest of the chapter, where the hero smites virtually every known nation, and
therefore there are no foreigners left to seek him. Rather, the verse seems to
be introduced in the empty space of the scroll[lxix],
carefully worded to suit both the tranquil verses before it and the aggressive
ones—after it. The resting place in
this context may well be a tomb of the executed man; cf. peace and rest in
Isaiah 57:1–2. Given that his Davidic lineage is not mentioned in chapter
53—at least, not explicitly— verse 11:10 was written sufficiently late for
the messianic-descent legend to take hold.
Isaiah 41:26–29: Who declared from the beginning that we might know? and beforetime, that we may say that he is right (that we may call him the righteous)? Yea, there is none that declares, yea, there is none that announces, yea, there is none that hears your utterances, . The first to Zion: Here, here are they; and to Jerusalem a good messenger will I give. And I will look, and no man; or [is there] no counselor among them? And I will ask them, and they will put an answer. All of them, empty and naught, are their works, wind and chaos, their molten images.
first is probably God according to the established usage of the
word, hardly a foreigner, for example, Cyrus. No counselor–since the man of
Isaiah 53 was executed, there is no one left to talk to his generation. The
answer of the people is that they do not have a counselor after they had
condemned the man. The altars, which
he left posterity in chapter 53, are not so bizarre when we read about the
widespread idolatry here.
verses are out of context in a hymn on the return from exile. Their cryptic
language does not fit a common style of comprehensible Jewish prophecy.
26 stylistically is in startling contrast with the previous verses. It also
employs a peculiar turn, also encountered in 53:1, who
Isaiah 42:1–4: This
is my slave, in whom I stay . . . he will judge the nations. He will not cry [in
tears], nor lift up, nor declare outside with his voice . . . . and the isles
wait for his teaching.
cannot be readily applied to Cyrus ; נשא (lift)
compares to 53: he would neither suffer, nor share the sins, nor preach, but be
very firm of purpose. Then, chapter 53 explains that he made exactly these
mistakes, and therefore did not succeed.
42:3: Bruised reed he will not break, and the dimly burning wick he will not
quench; he shall make the right to go forth according to the truth.
18:21 calls Egypt a broken reed.
Perhaps the savior will not repeat the error of relying on Egypt against the
Assyrians. The messiah
will not become immersed in the iniquities of either commoners or nobles, not
break the bruised reed, but will proceed to cut the booty (captives) of the
strong, the Assyrians, and lead Jews from exile.
the Lord have called you in righteousness, and have taken hold of your hand . .
. . To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon.
Taken hold of your hand parallels 53:10: and the will of God would succeed through his hand.
Dungeon may be related to the confinement of 53:8, opening a possibility that the man was not jailed before the trail, but was taken from confinement of the uncomprehending nation and from the justice which he was supposed to disperse.
The fact that in 42:5 God is called האל, a comparatively lowly title, casts doubts on the authenticity of these verses. Perhaps the man almost overshadowed God in the author’s imagination.
Isaiah 42:19–25 employs the who construction, prominent in Isaiah 53:1. Whether 19–25 appeared at the same time as 6–7, is a question, considering that blind is used disparagingly of the unknowing nation in 7, and of the servant in 19—unless the servant is the nation; but even then the term is negative in the first instance, and positive—in the second.
Although I have called you of 42:6 is the same phrase as refers to Cyrus in 45:4, similarity need not be overestimated, since it is generic, cf. 48:12, Israel my called.
Isaiah 43:10: You are my witnesses, says the Lord, And [this is] my slave, whom I have chosen that you may know . . . .
Interpreting the slave as nation is not plausible: I have chosen you so that you know me and witness your chosenness; likely, witnessing refers to an external object, a certain person, the slave. The slave is not Cyrus or another ruler, since the nearby 43:15 proclaims God the only king.
Isaiah 44:25–26: God
turns the wise backward, and will make their knowledge foolish
. . . will perform the advice of his messengers
The author is used to
someone on a par with God, giving him advice.
The concept of the
foolishness of human wisdom, prominent in the gospels, is otherwise alien to the
Isaiah 49:2–3: And he
has made my mouth like a sharp sword . . . . And he said to me, You are my slave;
Israel which is in you, I will glorify.
Isaiah 49:7: Thus said
the Lord . . . to the one despised, abhorred by nation [nations?], to slave of those like him (or, slave speaking
parables): “kings shall see and arise . . . .”
Isaiah 49:24: The prey will be taken from the mighty; but would the captured righteous escape?
The verse parallels 53:12, I will allot him part among nobles; he will allot booty to strong . . . .
Isaiah 50:6: I gave my
back to smiters, and my cheeks—to hair-pluckers; I hid not my face from shame
This verse recalls the
man of 53 who possibly, as it were, hid his face and endured sufferings and
Isaiah 50:9: Lo, the
Lord God will help me; who is he that will condemn me?
verse recalls the man’s attitude at the trial, when he refused to repent.
Isaiah 51:7: Listen to
me, you that know righteousness . . . do not fear the taunt of men, nor be
dismayed by their revilings.
verse likely is about sectarians, reviled by mainstream Jews. The
opposite is unlikely, since many orthodox Jews were hardly concerned by reviling
of the suppressed sectarians.
51:19–20: These two things have befallen you; who shall bemoan you? Desolation
and destruction, and the famine and the sword . . . . Your sons . . . lie at the
head of all the streets . . . the rebuke of your God.
This is certainly not
about the return from exile, a major theme of the surrounding chapters. That no
one is there to bemoan points to wholesale killing, not exile, as well. The
scene is possibly from the fall of Jerusalem under Zedekiah.
Isaiah 52:7: How
beautiful upon the mountains (Jerusalem) are the feet of the good messenger who
proclaims well-being, messenger of the good who proclaims salvation.
Verse 12 indicates that
the person in question is hardly Cyrus, since, ”the Lord will go before you,
and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.” Thus, the return would require
military effort, something the Jews did not need with Cyrus.
Everyone—beast of the field, come (pl.) to devour, everyone—beast of the
forest; Watchmen, they are all blind, without knowledge, all dumb
dogs . . . . And the dogs are greedy, [who] did not know satiation,
and these shepherds did not know
understanding, they all turn their own
way . . . .
This piece, not related
in any way to its context, is best understood as a frustrated accusation of
those who executed the man of Isaiah 53. Shepherds
parallels sheep and goats of 53:6, all
turn their own way—the same phrase in that verse. Dumb
dogs recalls the frustrated dumb as a
lamb of chapter 53. The
concepts of satiation through knowledge and turning the faces to different
directions are also familiar from that chapter.
Isaiah 57:1–2: The
righteous is lost, and no man takes [it] to heart, and good men are taken away
through lack of understanding; for because of the
evil was taken the righteous one.
Silence will arrive, they will rest in their beds; he walks upright.
Although not a common
meaning, shalom here contextually
relates to the silence of death. The man’s repose there is contrasted to the
earthly rest of his opponents. Walking
upright reminds us that he refused to repent at his trial.
Isaiah 57:15: I live in
a high and holy place with the one of
a contrite and humble spirit to revive the spirit of the humble . . . .
It is hard to
understand this verse other than as a reference to the executed man of chapter
53. One also has to stretch the imagination to make sense of living with only
one humble person in Jerusalem, unless we resort to the far-fetched
interpretation of that humble man as being the high priest, who alone could
enter the sanctuary, the abode of God. “One humble man” as hyperbole is
unlikely, since the text is clear: God and the man will encourage some other
דכא, is exactly the word base translated as dejection
in Isaiah 53:10 and dejected in 53:5.
Perhaps it is of significance that while many people were humble because of the
political situation (or those were the sectarians), the man was also contrite.
In several other
chapters, those dejected or of contrite spirit are highly praised; thus the
author’s group possibly transformed the man’s problem into beneficence. The
opposite explanation, that his problem was earlier explained in already familiar
terms, is less plausible, since it is hard to envisage how suffering could have
naturally evolved into a positive trait, and also because references to the
humble are foreign to the context of these chapters.
Isaiah 57:18: I have
seen his ways and will heal him, parallels 53:5–6 with its sense, although we
turned each one his way, in the man’s community we will be healed.
Consider also, “and
comforted him and his mourners.” All third-person pronouns in 57:18 refer to
the nation. Who can the nation’s mourners be? Certainly not the other peoples.
The mourners are the man’s followers, who realize that the nation is ill and
mourn it. The promise is to comfort the nation, but also specifically the
Isaiah 57:19–21: The
one creating the sayings (parables): peace, peace to the one who is far off and
to the one who is near; said the Lord: And I will heal him. But the
wicked are like a sea whose waters were restlessly pushing out mire and dirt. No
peace, said the Lord to the wicked.
the wicked to whom the man left his tomb (the very ones who executed him) are
denied rest in the future because now they revile (pushing dirt on) the man’s
Isaiah 59:20–21: And
[the] avenger came to Zion, and to those turning (bringing) crime unto Jacob.
And as for me, this is my covenant to them,
said the Lord, my spirit, which is upon you,
and [the] words, which I put into your mouth, shall not cease from your mouth,
nor out of the mouth of your seed
. . . from now and forever.
Here we see a community
of the man’s followers who became the keepers of true knowledge. The seed
of the man is referred to in 53:10.
Isaiah 61:1 and 5–6
may be taken as a reference to a known savior, like Cyrus, The spirit of the
Lord God is upon me; because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the
humble. However, the continuation implies a Jewish leader, Aliens will be your [the
nation’s] plowmen… you will eat the wealth of the nations . . . .
Humble return under
Cyrus does not qualify for the described triumph over the other peoples.
lift up an ensign over the peoples . . . . your salvation comes, his reward is
with him . . . . Who is that coming from Edom in crimsoned garments . . . . of
the people there was no man with me . . . . I trampled them in my fury, and
their lifeblood is dashed against my garments . . . . For the day of vengeance
that was in my heart, and my year of redemption came. And I looked, and there
was no one to help . . . my
own arm saved me . . . .
Although God mostly acts in the world through people, he needs no help. Cyrus was not acting alone. But recall that the will of God in Isaiah 53 should have succeeded by the man’s arm.
Isaiah 65:9: And
I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of my
mountains (Jerusalem) ; and my elect shall inherit it, and my slaves shall dwell
distinguish “my elect” from the rest of the Jews, presumably non-observant
(65:4) while considering themselves holier than the elect (65:5)
Isaiah 66:2: And I will
look at this one, at the poor and [the
one] of contrite spirit . . . .
53:10: And God, desiring his dejection, made him ill. The author attempts to
rationalize the man’s illness: God made him unusually contrite in order to
look specifically at him, at this one.
Isaiah 66:5: Hear the
word of the Lord, those trembling at
his word: Your brothers who hate you, and cast
you out for my name, have said: “Let the Lord be glorified, and we will see
your joy”; but they will be ashamed.
Here is a possible trace of a sectarian struggle: the man’s followers are mocked; since they preach humility, other zealots indeed humiliate them and suggest that they enjoy the humiliation.
Isaiah 66:7: before she
was in labor, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a
Perhaps this verse
tells of a savior being born in Zion before a major destruction. Birth pains in
modern interpretation are a standard metaphor of the period preceding the
Isaiah 66:9: Shall I
that cause to bring forth shut the womb? says your God.
The imagery of shut
(עצר) womb suggests Isaiah 53:8, where the man was taken from confinement
Isaiah 66:11: That you
may suck and be satisfied with the breast of her consolations . . . .
may parallel suckling (י׀נק)
of Isaiah 53:2
66:14 hand of the Lord
will be with his slaves . . . .
That the hand
will not be with all Jews, 66:17, points to his
slaves (with whom the hand will be) being sectarian followers of the man of
Isaiah 53, who was called my slave,
and that time the hand was on him or
on the people.
 In the context of Is 52:7–15, this seemingly refers to the prophecy that a certain messenger would lead Israel from exile. Apparently, not enough people did believe.
That the man is not named may denote the sect’s leader, since
sectarians often refrained from naming their leaders; mainstream Jews, whose
views are reflected in Tanakh, have no problem with naming names.
in this phrase has the same antecedent, people, as who
in the previous one, the preposition mi
being used twice. However, while the answer to the first question is none,
to the second, it is all. People
suffered divine retribution for not following the man whom the prophet
presented as the messenger. Grammatically, the verse may equally well relate
to the man.
 That is, before God. Rose
quickly and powerfully. The rise was probably social, related to the man’s
is a keyword negating the common association with weakness.
The shoot or suckling rises because it is strong. No one would say he rose up because he was weak: while such examples of the contrarian behavior do exist, they are not
embedded in the psychological association.
has connotation of moving, playful,
He was strong and hard. While the desert seems a desolate place to a modern
reader, the ancient Hebrews made their home there. Being born there (“as a
plant”) was not regrettable, certainly not humiliating. In modern Israel,
native Jews are called Sabra, after the Hebrew word for “prickly pear,”
a thorny desert plant. Only a powerful root can thrive in the desert.
Plant and root
commonly refer to the root of Jesse,
a messiah. Dry land is usually a
metaphor of the nation without understanding (cf. Isaiah 41:18, 20).
 Ascetic type, strong without external beauty. There is no derogatory
connotation. Plants grow in parched land. Far from weak, they are stronger
than domestic plants, as anyone who deals with weeds knows. Yet despite
inner strength, desert plants are not usually beautiful.
 when we later realize his importance.
We does not include the author and perhaps means only a few; but the author,
also a Jew, identifies with them. Some, at least, acknowledged the man as a
 1Sam 10:27 similarly describes King Saul. Also, he "was as [the]
one silent," reminiscent of Isaiah 53:7. The DSS scribes thought that
mention so significant that they interpolated a whole new story into their
copy, 4Qsam, to change the meaning of that pericope.
 The recent attempts to relate the suffering man to either the confessing
monarch or the human scapegoat of the Babylonian New Year festival fail to
account for such items in the chapter’ context as illness or arm of God.
 He had either visible illness or sinful behavior, or both, deviating from orthodox following of the law. In antiquity, absent effective medical treatment, serious illnesses were generally short. This illness was lengthy and visible, possibly a physical defect or leprosy.
 People with visible illnesses covered their faces. The writer plays on
the second meaning of illness: sinfulness
(violation or odd interpretation of the law), cf. vs. 4. The man covered his
face because of sickness, but it was interpreted as though he did it because
of shame. Still another meaning, modeled upon the application of this idiom
to God, which was certainly on the writer’s mind, is that the man turned
his face from the people, abandoning them because of their sins.
Meaning that he partook of the
sins, as in Lev 24:15. The man indulged in common (our)
sin, related to religious transgressions. Illnesses
refers to involuntary guiltless sins of honest delusion. The consecutive
text also mentions crimes, but those could hardly be likened to innocent
illnesses. That Jews generally not considered illnesses a divine punishment
may be inferred from their acceptance of healing, say, of leprosy, which act
would have otherwise constituted an opposition to God. The writer’s
lenient attitude to the man may be modeled upon Isaiah 33:24, which asserts
that iniquities committed during sickness are automatically forgiven.
Likening iniquities to illnesses thus serves to prove that the man should not have been
punished for his transgressions.
 The idea is of one who carries something heavy. Because the man is
presented both as very concerned about sins and sinful himself, or concerned
with observance yet nonobservant, he might be a sectarian professing a
peculiar doctrine, thus viewing others as transgressors and seen by them as
a transgressor himself.
A possible reference to sectarian factions among the Israelites.
Was not a
determined nation, serving one God one way.
While sheep roam about, people choose their own way
and follow it—which agrees with our interpretation: Abandoning orthodoxy,
people embraced (staggered, losing firm ground) various sectarian heresies (ways).
The common sin entered the man, and he began to go astray like everyone else.
Sin is literally deviation,
transgression, detour, or delusion
[from truth], not necessarily
idolatry; sectarianism also qualifies. The man became a sectarian but could
have fought the sin and gotten rid of it, as is confirmed later in the
suggestion that he should have repented.
Most Jews did not
attach themselves to any particular sect, except the Essenes and in a sense
the Samaritans. Only priests and teachers worried about minute
interpretation. Initially a mainstream Jew, the subject of Isaiah 53 at some
point turned sectarian. The historical analogy is Judah the Galilean, who
started as a military leader of mainstream religious views and seemingly
only later created a sect.
God, a focus of
righteousness, cannot make a person sinful. This was not a sin, but rather a
sectarian delusion. The metaphor of sheep
confirms the reading; leaving the common path is not sin, since the law
does not bind animals. Sheep and goats are not a good metaphor for
transgression. Possibly the writer thought there were too many sects, since
each person turns his own way.
Later the evangelist John wrote, “And from that time the devil entered
Judas.” Now perhaps we would say that fate brought him to an encounter
with sin which he accepted. The ancient Jews, rejecting fate or the devil as
an active antidivine power, attributed everything, to God. The Jewish
tradition holds that God acquiesced even in the temptation of Eve.
Of us all
should not be taken literally; it implies commonness only. The author does
not include himself among the straying sectarians. The same identification we,
us is encountered in Isaiah
59:9–10, where the author obviously does not include himself among the
the singular sin may refer to a multitude of sins, the literal meaning makes
 In the sense of someone stricken continuously from every side who cannot
fight back especially with a multitude of blows pressing him.
 In this context, both meanings are much the same: the man’s actions
brought about a crushing rejoinder; he was not accepted.
 Ancient people had hardly any compassion for a sheared lamb or a kid
killed for food. Proverbs 7:22 ridicules a man who “goes like an ox to the
slaughter.” Accordingly, we
may assume that the writer had limited compassion for his subject. Although
Isaiah 66:3 is compassionate to ox, lamb, and dog, the writer is probably
concerned with unreasonable harshness, like breaking the dog’s neck, which
is illegal under the laws of Torah. Isaiah 56:10 mentions dumb dogs clearly
in a negative sense. Possibly, the writer is not approving of the man’s
Will not preach anymore. Will not open
his mouth occurs twice, perhaps a reference to double shock, both
physical like a kid slaughtered and psychological like a sheep sheared.
not freed, so for execution.
 Curiously, the author specifically mentions the present generation,
therefore current events or the recent past.
 The man’s departure leaves no one with authority to argue with this
generation about its sins. Probably his sect was an attempt to rectify their
sins, but he went too far or went off on a wrong path of his own.
 That is, executed, not died from vague oppression or illness, or exiled
similarly to scapegoat.
 The author evidently means the current generation, not future people.
Possibly, the Jews’ heresies or their idolatry mean they cannot be God’s
people. The crime does not seem to
be the subject’s execution, because the author later suggests he should
have repented and therefore the author considered the execution legal.
 Not the two particular robbers but my
nation, the people who committed the crime mentioned in v. 6
The man did not just abstain from violence, but he was also doing something
else—without violence, presumably teaching. The writer means that although
the man was charged with [religious] deceit and violence, he committed none.
 to make him repent, since later in the same verse the will
of God points to repentance, attainable through dejection. Nothing implies that God wanted to create a suffering
servant, inflicting suffering for its own sake.
Here the author starts relating the words of God, evidenced by the later
address “my slave.” Since these words were pronounced before the demise,
in justification of the inflicted chastisement, the prophecy is related to
the past: had the man behaved differently and repented, he would have
achieved major results and fulfilled his role, as previously predicted by
the prophet. These words have no bearing on future events; they ceased to be
relevant with the death of the man. The author sought to substantiate his
earlier message of the man’s status (such as in 52:13–15) with divine
The phrase may be also treated as in conjunctive mood. Future tense is
employed instead of the standard (for conjunctive mood) past to denote that
repentance would have changed events in the writer’s time (future for the
past message to the hero that
he was being offered a choice of repentance or death).
is a conscious misdeed, persisting in the straying from the true observance;
it requires an expiatory offering. When the man deluded himself only, his
sin was passive; when he started teaching heresy, he knew guilt.
Secular law also recognizes unintentional crimes.
 The guilt offering of the soul is repentance,
which is further evidenced by the hard
mental work, mentioned in v. 11. The man was given a chance to repent of
what was said to be his delusion.
God’s will was that he repent through dejection, probably returning to
 The man’s hand
 The word means hard mental work.
Considering the recently mentioned guilt
offering of the soul, the work of
the soul is repentance.
A reference to spiritual vision. The Qumran manuscripts of this chapter
specifically refer to the vision of light.
Recanting his sinful delusion, he could have learned the truth.
As one stands patiently and firmly under a burden [of evil] without being
broken (without going along with that evil). Perhaps, disregard.
 Meaning, gambled his life.
Even though the man was already on trial, he could have saved himself and
received every promised gain by his repentance.
The man was called criminal, since courts presumably condemn only such
people. Even in our times, when publicizing wrongful sentences is
fashionable, public opinion is generally negative to convicts.
 The transition from the past tense in the previous phrase to the future
is of significance: because of his past actions, future generations would
think of him as a criminal since he was condemned.
Tanakh universally uses hand (יד) of God with an object with one meaning, the crushing power of God.
Nowhere does it benefit the object of application. The arm is not
retributive, which would have been denoted by the Hebrew preposition ב
(the arm entering a person), but causes bitterness, as denoted by the
preposition על (the arm being laid on a person). This may mean
suffering of the nation without its destruction. The meaning of the word
is wider, additionally denoting other kinds of overwhelming divine power.
However, it does not seem to have an established figurative meaning,
especially with the preposition on
(על), referring to unusual abilities acquired by the people as a
result of its application. Isaiah tends to use arm
זר׀ע instead of the more common hand
(יד) synonym when speaking of God; in this chapter, too, he
reserves hand (יד) as a
metaphor for the means of human action. Thus, Isaiah likely employed arm
זר׀ע in this verse in the established sense of heavy
arm of God, his crushing power.
The positive references
to יד אלהי in
Neh 2:8 and 18 are probably a mistranslation. Both verses praise the
king. Therefore, אלהי
probably also refers to him, not to God. In any case, Nehemiah is
careful to specify in both entries the
good hand (טּוֹבָה
יד), distinguishing it from the "normal" hand.
Nehemiah also lacks Isaiah’s revealed נִגְלָתָה, which makes the reference even stronger; השמ נִגְלָתָה
is now a standard
metaphor for punishment.
Similarly, in 2
Chronicles 30:12 action of the hand of God is related to humbled
in the previous verse. Ecclesiastes 2:24 relates the hand of God to pitiful
circumstances of the previous verses. Usage of definite article with the
word God makes these examples grammatically suspect.
Deuteronomy 33:3 should
read, "Yea, he loves [the] people, all his holy ones; in your hand,
they sat at your feet, listened of your words." Your hand
relates to the fiery law in the previous verse.
In Job 12:9, hand of
Lord created unbearable situation, and Job describes the crushing power
in the following verses.
The common translation of to whom
instead of on whom is implausible,
since the preposition על in this context of hand or arm means on.
The word base suck (ינק) is often encountered as either robbing
Gentiles of their wealth (cf. Isaiah 60:16), or partaking in the glory of
the nation (cf. Isaiah 66:11), or denoting a child or childish behavior; the
first two meanings are relevant to our translation.
[iii] Qumranic scroll has it as our,
so before us or in our presence,
making it still more clear that the narration is of past events.
[iv] The construction encountered throughout the chapter is curious. Unlike
the common poetic parallelism, here the first phrase creates an ambiguity—suckling
or shoot, kid or lamb—and
the second clarifies it. Perhaps, seemingly parallel words actually have
different meanings: the one sharing the glory of the nation, and messiah who
creates this glory, killed as he-goat and humbled as lamb, etc.
[v] The preposition translated with adverb not is לא. If the writer wanted to say there was nothing
at all, he would probably have used אינ. Accordingly,
לא implies there is not vividness
but something else, possibly the desert plant’s inner strength.
The future tense here is a common literary device. The narration is of past
events. We would look at him—as we
would later recall him, and see nothing worthwhile.
[vii] This term, translating מרא, refers to how the object
looks as distinguished from not
vividness, which is taken as something not good enough to talk about.
[viii] This passage and others demonstrate that the common position that the
text refers to the Hebrew nation is questionable.
or most men did not accept him. Rejected
by men is commonly understood as an idiom, meaning paltry.
used here instead of the typical people
or human being, perhaps alluding to a male-only group, such as the
priesthood. The word translated rejected
has connotations of squeezed to the
last drop, the one who ceases,
The translation of men
as others is totally unwarranted.
Literally, by being sick; the writer is stressing the general, overall
condition, not any particular illness.
[xii] This usage recalls Job 11:15, raise
his face to demonstrate one’s innocence, and Isaiah 50:6 and Genesis
38:14 implying that face could be covered out of shame for transgression. In
that phrase, Job, like the author of Isaiah in the next verse, also employs
תשא in the sense of raised.
By analogy, to cover one’s face is to recognize oneself as guilty, or at
least as condemned.
[xiii] The turn פנימ מסתר is
normally employed when speaking of God to demonstrate his abandoning the
people, certainly here with qualification from
us. The man was so important that his behavior is described in the terms
usually applied to God. There is multilayered wordplay, with other meanings:
as if God hides his face from him, and, he hides his face from us as God
does (his covering his face is symbolic of God’s turning away from the
Contra The common
translation causing us to cover faces
from him is implausible. In the usually cited example of Isaiah 59:2,מִכֶּם
וְחַטֹּאותֵיכֶם this verb refers to they: your sins, they covered
his face from you, not caused me
to cover my face, since there is no me
in the phrase.
If, however, we are to accept the causative, the
meaning is, As if deliberately making people disregard him.
Probably the writer continues the wordplay on the double meaning of illness
with the second sense: sinning grossly
(interpreting the law so oddly) as if
to violate the law deliberately. Possibly people customarily turned
their faces from a sick person.
[xiv] The term נשא ע׀נ is also employed as
a technical term to describe bearing of responsibility for transgression.
Thus, the high priest brings offerings on behalf of all people, since he is
shares responsibility for their sins. However, because the modern ethical
concept of responsibility without actually sinning did not exist yet, the
priest precisely shared in the people’s iniquities, perhaps because he did not
prevent the congregation from sinning. Similarly, sins and iniquities of the
congregation were laid on scapegoat without it actually sinning. Possibly,
the writer considered the man equal to the high priest and implied the same
kind of sharing, not the man actually transgressing, but this suggestion is
not supported by the text; on the contrary, his execution implies some kind
of transgression; the author does not question the court sentence.
[xv] This meaning of נשא is established in Isaiah 42:2
possibly about the same man
Although the meaning forgave [the
sin] is grammatically possible, cf. Gen 50:17, forgiveness is the
prerogative of God, and so the reading is highly unlikely. In Genesis,
Joseph is urged to forgive his brothers the evil they did to him
specifically, not their sins in general. Isaiah could not imagine a human
being forgiving sins. Such a concept was simply nonexistent in his time.
Besides, unlike crime פשע, guiltless iniquity
ע׀נ just did not require forgiveness or expiation.
The common interpretation as took
away or took from us and laid on himself, thus relieving the people of sins,
is completely unwarranted by the Tanakhic use of the word elsewhere.
The commonly assigned sense of סבל
as endured is an interpretation,
not translation. Even if an interpretation is required, the meaning from
Exodus 1:11, to wear out is a
[xviii] The root meaning of נגע
is strike; in relation to God it is torture, plague, or execution.
This meaning parallels הפגיע, here
“violently touch” or “attach,” and נגש, here
is semantically close to נענה. We chose pressed
upon vs. shuttered because the
first verb is used more commonly to denote the ceremonial fasting and so the
translation must avoid the connotation of finality.
The derivation of מחלל from the rootח׀ל
(to spin) fits all entries. Thus, Job 26:13: His hand makes
running (wriggling) serpent tremble;
Job 26:5: Rephaim will tremble [in
Sheol]; Ps 29:9: The voice of God makes
does (female deer) tremble and
strips forests bare; Prov 26:10: Like a master who makes
all tremble is the one who hires a
fool or a passerby; Is 51:9: Are you not the one who . . . made the crocodile (pharaoh) tremble?
Is 44:25: make the diviners tremble.
The common translations
wounded, cut through, or killed are
incorrect. Killed would have also
been illogical, since the next verb in Isaiah’s phrase refers to a live
Isaiah’s use is modeled upon Job 26:13, “His hand
ח׀ללה the serpent.” Serpent here is
נחש, copper-colored snake, the tempter, with no
implication of the mythical monsters Tiamat or Leviathan. Isaiah 27:1 tells
the same story in the same words, distinguishing נחש from
the sea serpent. After successfully tempting Eve, the serpent was cursed,
deprived of the covenant God gave to living beings. The serpent’s life was
made miserable, and he was emptied.
Isaiah 51:9 “Are not you [the arm of God] the one cutting
the monster [Egypt], מחללת the crocodile [pharaoh]?”
The next verse clarifies the meaning by mentioning the passing through the
Reed Sea. The Torah is explicit that Pharaoh did not die pursuing the
Israelites. He was what could be described as emptied,
losing his chariots: the cream of his army.
also incorrect, since the word has a positive, creative connotation, like
hewing stone, but not destruction. The correct meaning is made the one
who cut the stone [made the pyramids], showing that God can give power
to the pharaoh and empty him of it.
In Proverbs 26:10, the
rendering of מחלל as killed
is wrong. The proverb compares someone who hires a criminal or a passerby
with רַב מְחוֹלֵל-כל.
The correct sense of the latter phrase is not archer
who kills everyone (which does not have immediate relation to the hire
of a passerby), but possibly master
who empties all, presumably by foolish management. The correct
translation, therefore, is, Like a
master who empties everything is he who hires a criminal or passerby,
meaning that such an employer would soon be emptied
of his wealth.
In Ezekiel 32:26, the
word in question is מחֻלל , not
מחוֹלל, as in Isaiah 53. The difference
is of importance, since מחֻלל
is constructed from the whole root חלל, while
מחוֹלל is made up of the עע
(empty) or ח׀ל (to
The suggestion of
Isaiah’s מחוֹלל being a
פוֹעל form of the same root employed by
Ezekiel in פוּעל relies on the existence of
the פוֹעל form, which is hypothetical in the
first place and likely just represents a subcategory (גזרה)
of פוּעל for עע or ע”׀
(weak) roots. So far, no independent semantics was established for the
פוֹעל form, and the same roots do not exist in
both פוּעל and
פוֹעל forms, thus negating the equation of
מחֻלל, which should have different roots.
Even supposing that
Ezekiel’s מחֻלל means the same as Isaiah’s
in Ezekiel is not exactly killed,
because killed is denoted everywhere in Ez 32 with חלל . Emptied
מחֻלל by the sword regarding Meshech and Tubal parallels killed,
fallen by the sword regarding Asshur and Elam. Thus, at any rate
wider meaning than חלל, incorporating also the sense of fallen.
The difference is also
evidenced in that מחלל is employed only toward
Meshech and Tubal, the only two tribes in the list not described as dead
anywhere in Tanakh; Isaiah 66:19 mentions Tubal as alive. Ezekiel is clear
about them in v. 27: “and they would
not lie with the heroes, fallen out from [outstanding among] the
uncircumcised,” these nations are not like the other Gentiles. This view
is further supported by the fact that the prophecy about Meshech and Tubal
follows the prediction of the fate of Egypt; both refer to the future.
Possibly of significance is that Job 26:13 also employs
חללה about the future action toward the serpent.
The attempts to relate
מחוֹלל to חלל derive
from the preconception that חלל may be rendered as pierced,
thus providing a basis for the gospel’s narration. The common
justifications are the חלל entries with heart
or sword. However, pierced heart is a modern metaphor with no evidence of an ancient
origin; kill (empty, open wide) the
heart [with pain] is perfectly plausible. The same is true for the other
example: kill (open wide) with a sword is
a meaningful concept. Given the root meaning of חלל as empty or open, there is no
grammatical reason to choose the pierced
translation over the killed.
The very rare word מחלל may be related to
חלה, illness of vs. 4, which is not far from emptiness, a
lack of proper relation to the covenantal well being, a spiritual or
material illness, perhaps also trembling. Whatever is the relation of these roots etymologically,
they were written and probably pronounced the same at the time of
composition, and the writer had every reason to think of them as related.
established meaning of ע׀נ is guiltless transgression—a
delusion (deviation from truth). In this sense, ע׀נ is
contrasted to פשע—a guilt sin, for which an expiatory
offering is due. The difference was very important in that time of
sacrifices. Guiltless iniquity (ע׀נ) could lead to sin (פשע)
as in Lev 19:8, where lax observance of the food-purity laws leads to
profaning the offering with severe consequences for the offender. Because of
this causative relationship, the words become almost synonymic, as in Lev
20:17 where the sexual iniquity brings punishment for the sinful shame.
However, the author of Isaiah 53 seems to distinguish carefully between the
[xxiii] Ps 41:10
The word for community may be vocalized and translated as wife, חברה. In Mal 2:14, it is equated not
just with wife, but specifically
with wife of youth, a metaphor for
true Judaism untainted by syncretism. The subject did not embrace
sectarianism from the beginning. Thus, the phrase makes sense as in the wife of his youth [orthodoxy]
is our relief.
(bruise), to which the
translations usually relate Isaiah’s חברה, is
normally employed in conjunction with wound
(פצע), distinguishing between kinds of bruises.
פצע does not appear in chapter 53.
vocalization of hataf-patah under
ח in Isaiah’s חברה (this is why there is vet,
not bet) evidences shortening from
kamatz, which is encountered in
חבר, friend—thus, girlfriend. In חבּרה
(bruise), patah under ח has to
be a model vowel, not elongation of hataf,
in order to elicit strong dagesh
in vet, making it into bet. In the telling example of Isaiah 1:23, havrei, although elongated from hataf
to patah, still did not produce dagesh
in vet. In other words, strong dagesh in חבּרה and its absence in
חברה testify to their being different words,
although stemming from the same root חבר (join). The common translation of חבּרה
(bruise) in the plural is questionable; it is grammatically singular. But
the author would hardly have suggested that a single livid spot,
something of little significance, healed the entire nation.
The tradition calls sectarians “shepherds (watchers, herdsmen) of
sheep and goats” (Avodah Zarah 26).
[xxvi] The root relates to faces.
The common rendering, laid on him,
is implausible. Many forms of this root allude to various modes of clash
(from hit to modern demonstration
by a mob). The same word חפגיע in Isaiah
59:16, where it lacks political sensitivity, is usually more or less
correctly translated to intercede. The
proper meaning is to clash with
an unacceptable situation. Jeremiah 36:25: “Even when [they] urged the
king not to burn the scroll” may be translated, “Even when [they]
clashed with the king [on the issue of] not burning the scroll.” The same
is true in Jeremiah 15:11.
The preposition ב
refers to entering, while English on
is commonly denoted by the Hebrew preposition על. Therefore, the
sin entered the man (and became a natural part of him), not was laid on him
(as an unwelcome burden).
The like meaning of
is encountered in Judges 8:21, Joshua 2:16: to kill (enter a sword into a person). Commentators are often deluded
by an already incorrect translation of these two books, employing euphemisms
for killing, like “fall upon you,” and erroneously adduce them as proof
that preposition ב in this verse does not imply entering the person.
same translators do not refuse the commonsense translation of ב in
neutral cases, as in Isaiah 45:14 where this word denotes, God is in you.
[xxviii] Reading of the preposition ב as governing the instrumental case
would render the phrase, And God pushed (stirred up) by him the deviation of
[xxix] The common translation of נגש
as oppressed has quite a
different connotation. The man’s life was not made miserable purposely,
like that of the Israelites oppressed
by the pharaoh. He was hard pressed
by impersonal circumstances. Thus, Ex 3:7: נגש, taskmaster, the one who hits. So is נגש as
[xxx] Possibly, sheep here and in v.6 may mean the man was one
is preferable, since the writer commonly employs the poetic repetition (e.g.,
vs.2,3) where the first use of a word with ambiguous meaning is explained by
the second use in the next clause, which may be the case here. But we may
also consider the metaphor of goats and sheep, evil and good parts of the
whole nation. Kid may also be
plausible, since ancient people usually ate young he-goats, which are
useless, but not young rams, sheep. The mention of sheep in the following
verse may also indicate another animal here. There could be also a parallel
with scapegoat here.
Both allegories are odd, since kids and sheep bleat when they are mistreated.
Possibly, the reference is to the absence of meaningful speech: as a kid or
a lamb cannot convince the butcher, so was the man unable to change
people’s religious convictions. He either stopped teaching, or silence
refers to the futility of his teaching. He received a rejoinder and could
say nothing more—which explains why the following sentence asks, who would talk with his generation?
The translation, By oppression and by
judgment he was taken away, relies on extremely irregular use of the
preposition min as governing an
instrumental case. There are hardly any such certain Tanakhic uses of Hebrew
preposition, and even their translation as instrumentals mostly reflects the
English convention, not their Hebrew meaning. The same Aramaic preposition
governs the instrumental case a few times in Tanakh; but here the
preposition is Hebrew.
He was taken from jail and court—is
clearly for execution, Taken by
oppression and by judgment is unclear; it presupposes the same subject oppressed
and took the man. If the subject
is the people, then oppression is not an instrument of execution. If the
subject is God, then we would have to presume he deliberately oppressed the
man, not a welcome thought for many, and then took him from this world in
the manner of Enoch or Elijah, which presumption is too high-flown for the
very constrained praise of the man by the writer. Further, this reading is
not congruent with his soul was
exposed to death.
The word is rare, only thrice encountered in Tanakh, and all three times
with unclear meaning. The root relates to closeness, limitation. Thus, one
other entry relates to pressure and yjr yjord—to closeness. Other words
from this root have connotations of stateship and public meeting.
The translation as oppression
is unwarranted. The word is also usually translated thus in Psalm 107:39,
which is wrong in relation to the princes mentioned there. Rulers can be pressed
(surrounded and wander in wastes) but not oppressed;
tortures applied to the deposed rulers of antiquity are no oppression, either. Even supposing that the word relates to the
commoners mentioned before, still evil and sorrow are more in line with the
pressure (of circumstances) than of oppression, of which there is no
indication in the context whatsoever. In the only other instance, Proverbs
30:16, the same word refers to barren
[womb] or the one closed and
causing birth pangs, thus a closed place, confinement.
The translation as perversion
or protection is unwarranted.
root may be related by the two-letter cell to the strong
of v. 12. In the meaning of hard
circumstances, it is semantically related to his
work of v. 11, which also has that connotation.
[xxxv] The subject was tried after a considerable imprisonment, long enough to
mention, since ancient trial was short. Perhaps this unusual, worth mention,
length of the man’s confinement indicates that he was not condemned for a
normal crime but for some act whose criminality was ambiguous, like improper
teaching. In such a case, he would have been kept not in a jail but rather
in a fortress or some similar place. There is a specific word for jail in
Hebrew; the English confinement
suggests a surrounded place.
certainly relates to the people, not to the man. In Tanakh, the word
למ׀, to it,
refers to the collective image (singular form of multitude, such as nation). The appropriate noun is always nearby, usually one word
from למ׀, as is the nation
here. Syntactically, למ׀ cannot be emphatic preposition,
since no object follows it.
[xxxvii] The Qumranic manuscript has it, they
gave, which has about the same meaning, considering that the man was
executed by the people whom the writer calls criminals; Qumranites switched
responsibility from the man to the people.
The verb is in the past, since prefix ׀
signals the tense reversal. While there are examples in Tanakh to the
contrary, their ratio among all verbs prefixed with ׀
does not exceed the statistics for erroneous usage of other verb forms,
and therefore where ׀ makes
semantic sense as a tense-reversal device, it should be considered to be
The attempts to adduce
the hypothetical “prophetic perfect” (supposedly the prophets
occasionally employed a past tense either to present the prophecy as surely
done, or to demonstrate the continuity of the prophesied events) tense
implicitly require a major assumption—namely, that the text in question
was written as a prophecy. This not only turns translation into doctrinally
charged exegesis, but represents a case of circular logic, since the future
tense is then used to “prove” that the text is actually a prophecy, and
thus could be applied to a certain later figure.
The verb is in the
third person singular masculine While this form is sometimes employed as an
impersonal verb “someone gave,” such reading is unusual, and Isaiah is
not fond of it—even to the extent of excessive clarification, as in the
verse 3: [despised] by men. In our rendering, he
gave and his tomb have the
same antecedent, while an impersonal verb reading requires two different
antecedents in one phrase—and both unnamed, which is highly unlikely. And
even then, “someone gave” is not easily stretched to the common “they
gave;” in Ezek32:25, they gave [her a grave] is correctly expressed with
Still another problem
with the “they gave” translation is the suffix ׀, meaning his [tomb];
[gave] him would have been
denoted with the preposition ל׀ instead.
Possibly, here is wordplay on the double meaning of נתנ,
to give and to let. The man gave (left) his tomb, i.e., died, and he let (could
not stop) the rich from using high burials. The urgency of the issue of
these burials is evident from Isaiah 22:16 where the writer harshly
criticizes a royal servant Shebna for this transgression.
interpretation suggests that the man let the rich use high places (perhaps
excarnation, leaving the body exposed for birds and other scavengers to pick
the flash off the bones) for burial, a practice Samuel accepted but which
the purist Ezekiel condemned later. That and other dilutions of the
tradition may have led to God’s desire to have him suppressed, and he was
executed. That interpretation, however, raises a grammatical issue: while
the rich (collective) got [permission for] high burial grounds (plural), commoners got only a single tomb.
Such a correlation of singular and plural is improbable.
[xxxix] There is no need for the dative case preposition ל in this and the
next phrase because of the dative shift, where the noun in the dative
directly follows the verb. Isaiah 50:4 and Prov 13:21 contain exactly the
[xl] Parallelism in this verse is only superficial, since rich are not
synonymous with wicked in ancient literature. The Tanakhic writers
criticize the unrighteous gain, or unethical behavior of some of the rich
and powerful, but never the wealth per
se. When rarely all rich are called evil, so are all other people, as in
Mic 6:12, disproving the specific association of rich with wicked.
Accordingly, במה is
likely different from קבר
, not synonymous in parallel verses, and therefore a different (but
related) meaning of altars and tomb is
plausible. The assumption of strict parallelism in this pericope would lead
us to believe that the man did not leave anything to the commoners, but only
to the wicked rich, which is rather unlikely. (While wicked and rich may be equaled if they are certain foreigners, e.g., Assyrians,
there is no clear evidence in the chapter that the man was executed by the
conquerors. It is possible to envisage a connection between
עשר for rich, רשע
for wicked and אשר for Assyrians.)
[xli] The author employs a wordplay: the word base for malefactors is
reish-shin-ayn, and for the rich—ayn-shin-reish. This is why rich
is in the singular: the plural ending -im
would destroy a near-perfect transposition RShAim—AShR,
making it into RShAim—AShRim.
The usual translation of high burials
as tomb or death
is impossible, since the word is in the plural, which cannot point here to
intensity. The only example usually advanced on application of the word deaths
to a single person is Ezek 28:10, “You will die [the] deaths of [the]
uncircumcised.” However, while singular you
nominally applies to the ruler of Tyre, it actually refers to the whole
nation. The verse continues, “by hand of aliens.” Clearly, aliens in
plural are needed to kill not a single person, but multitude of the city
dwellers. Ezek 27 addresses Tyre as a nation. Likewise, Ezek 28 does to the
people of Sidon, addressing them as collective plural, akin to you in the commandments.
Certainly, the plural
of deaths cannot be meaningfully
compared, as some do, with life or
water. These words are almost
exclusively employed in the plural (because a moment of life or a piece of
water cannot be singled out), while death
is employed in the singular as often as any other word.
Moreover, evidently in
order to comply with the gospel narration, מ׀ת was usually
translated not death, but tomb. Although there
exists at least one labored reference to an intensive plural of deaths in Ezekiel, there is not a single instance of
מ׀ת with the meaning of tomb
used as an intensive plural. Therefore, it could be only tombs.
Still more, in order to read high burials or altars as death or tomb,
the translations usually disregard ב.
If not part of the word base במת (altars),
it could be only a prefix, meaning in,
which does not fit in the phrase without a considerable semantic stretching.
Besides, the term נתנ ב (he
gave in smth or, even more so, someone
gave in smth) is highly unusual in Hebrew.
Also consider the
poetic parallelism with transposition; the standard wording would be,
עשראת קבר׀, ל
leaving no room for ב as a preposition in את – ל,
את- ל structure.
Even accepting for a moment the prophetic perfect and the intensive plural,
we still need to twist the meaning to make any sense of the phrase. Let’s
look at several translations.
New International Version: He was
assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death. But
the term “assigned in his death”
is nonexistent in Hebrew. Absence of the metaphorical meaning makes the
New King James Version: And they
made his grave with the wicked, but with the rich at his death. Besides
previous objections, the Hebrew phrase mentions two different objects, not
Holman Christian Standard Bible: He
was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man's grave. But
even Ezekiel’s intensive plural, usually cited as an example, refers to death,
not to grave. Also, grave is his,
not the rich man's. And rich is
obviously a collective plural, parallel to the wicked, not one man. The translation of preposition את
as like is extremely irregular.
The translation is also meaningless, since criminals were not buried in rich
men’s graves; even if we refuse to apply the later Mishnaic law to those
times, such defiling burial likely would be objected to by the owners of
New Revised Standard Version: They
made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich. Here the
preposition ב (in) is simply
American Standard Version: His
grave was assigned with wicked men, yet he was with a rich man in his
death. The Hebrew text does not contain he
New Living Translation: He was
buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man's grave. Here was
put is invented, and the translation of ׀יתנ (he
gave) as was buried is
indefensible. The grave is his,
not the rich man’s.
the phrase is clear and readable, not significantly different from how an
Israeli newspaper would have written today: he
gave… his altars. Choosing the common reading, they will make his tomb, requires seven significant changes or
nonstandard assumptions in two Hebrew words.
[xliv] His death gave everyone a place to worship him: the rich
at the places of sacrifice, the commoners (wicked),
for whom offering is too expensive, his burial place; every stratum of
society was guilty of idolatry directed at him. Perhaps only the nobles who
sentenced the man where the exception.
A less plausible possibility is that the court (the rich) condemned the
man because of popular pressure from wicked commoners, who got him dead, but
the rich people (supposedly more knowledgeable) worshipped him at altars.
The writer could not be sympathetic to such worship.
Altars in plural may also relate to introducing new
deities or, rather, new values—the crime Socrates was charged with in
The usual translation of תשימ as you
made [his life an offering for sin] is grammatically implausible since the
verb we translated as brought or laid
is feminine third person or masculine second person singular future tense.
The soul (f.) brings
something. To have something done to
the soul, other translations presuppose a masculine personage, a man or the
nation. In standard Hebrew, however, verbs with pronoun features relate to a
nearby noun, not to a presupposed object. Indeed, there is a number of
occurrences in Isaiah, as in 57:15–19, when the pronoun’s subject is
undefined, but we believe that these occurrences were purposely made cryptic,
just like chapter 53. Besides, the reading, If
you (masculine singular) would
give a ransom for his life, presupposes two undefined and different
antecedents in a phrase, which is highly unlikely. As we translated it, the
phrase is grammatically perfect, with the verb תשימ
(she would give) referring to the soul,
and the next verb, יראה (he
would see)—to the male pronoun suffix ׀
in נפש׀ (his soul).
argument is based on poetic transposition. The literal text is, If
would bring a guilt offering his soul; therefore, the correct order is, If
his soul would bring an offering, which makes clear that it is the soul
which should do something, not that something is to be done for her benefit.
A suggestion of an external action, like ransoming, is also refuted by
the hard mental work required of
the man in the following verse.
[xlvi] Translations commonly drop in
result of, completely changing the meaning. Better attempts read out
of his anguish, which is a farfetched interpretation and not the proper
translation of the words.
[xlvii] Possibly, in the writer’s view, the man had only to pretend repenting.
That dishonesty was not outright condemned is evident from the Christian
parable of the unfaithful steward, and Greeks often praised it, especially
when it was directed against barbarians. Similarly, the man could have lied
to the others, i.e., not his followers.
Here is wordplay: righteous is
also someone acquitted in court. Having
repented, the man would have been acquitted
by court and thus justified
himself before a multitude of Jews, proving himself righteous.
Righteous may denote a king, as in Isaiah 49:24, or perhaps the leader or founder
of a sect, as with the Essenes. In both cases, צדיק
is a title, probably referring to the man.
[xlix] Not necessarily the same subject as the righteous, possibly a common
metaphor of Israel. This title was not of major importance: Isaiah called
thus the nation, himself, Cyrus, and even a royal official Eliakim ben
[l] The translation Justify the Jews (righteous) before many (nations) is less plausible, since the next phrase refers to their (multitude) deviations, a term, which the author could hardly have applied to Gentiles who are not bound by Judaic law.
The translation the righteous shall
make many righteous is impossible, since it ignores the preposition
ל: to, for, or before many.
[li] The usage of רבמ, many,
as a noun is nonstandard in Hebrew
[lii] Here is wordplay: the same verb סבל has the sense of to
share in v. 4
opposes cut from the land of the
living. His life would have been preserved.
writer might have envisaged a relationship between the root
חלק here, ח׀ל for shocked,
illness, and חלא for ill, alluding to the sense of the
חל cell, division—drawing
the attention to the sectarian division of the nation.
[liv] The man will be recognized as leader.
[lv] To the ancient mind, one who has many
(subjects, riches, soldiers, etc.)
[lvi] There is dative shift; preposition את refers to the booty, not to the strong.
[lvii] Ex 15:9, Gen 49:7 are better translated take away then allot or
divide, which words presume the object of division being partially left with
its previous owner, but allot is
the only choice of translation in the previous phrase. Supposing a different
meaning of the same verb חלק
in the two verses, we may translate, he
will take away the captives of the strong—lead Jews from exile, cf.
[lviii] Although the modern meaning of
עצ׀מימ is strong, in antiquity strength was generally a matter of being many.
The connotation differs considerably: the man would have been on equal
footing either with all Jews or specifically with the leaders, the strong.
The author chose a word other than רבימ (multitude)
since that word occurs already three times in the previous two verses.
is the result of his work, as in
Prov 31:11, of his repentance. The
man would have become an important member of society, and Jews at large
would have benefited from his repentance,
perhaps as he taught and turned them to righteousness.
[lx] There are other common meanings of the term תחת
אשר, translated as even though: instead of what
[he risked his life and was considered a criminal] or because [he exposed himself to death, he is reckoned among criminals].
[lxi] A person condemned to stoning was stripped (uncovered), presumably in order to aim correctly. Perhaps the author
alludes to his execution for blasphemy.
[lxii] A punishable misdeed, usually inadvertent or not recognized by the
perpetrator as sinful. The writer possibly contrasts the sinful delusion of us all
with offense of many. This can be
resolved by suggesting that the man shared the offense of founding a sect.
The translation of הפגיע as attached
is justified grammatically. The Hebrew הפעיל
form denotes action done to elicit action by another person (causation). The
root meaning of פגע is to
touch painfully. יפגיע means caused
the touching, namely that he would
cause [criminals] to touch [him],
or he would be attached to criminals . Joshua 19:11, and 22 bear this
meaning out, where the word appears in the simple active form,
פעל. The Even-Shoshannah dictionary equates
with פעל in this case, although the development is
noted only in post-Tanakhic times. This development is only natural, since
to touch is a reflective verb and to touch someone is the same as to cause
him to touch you. Besides the parallel to vs. 6, the writer has another good
reason to employ the causative: to relate that the attachment to criminals
was a byproduct, caused by the man’s actions.
Considering that the
root letter פ is
nonessential here, we may also consider הגיע, to
arrive. The meaning of הפגיע is to
cause someone to arrive somewhere and be attached to something, so that
the something would touch him.
Another argument is
that the word is in the future tense, while the previous verb is in the past.
Although the Tanakhic use of tenses is loose, such a switch from past to
future is probably meaningful: would
be attached [to criminals] by [future] popular opinion.
The preposition ל
used here also appears in Joshua 19:11 in the form אל to
describe attachment (of territory to a river) without actually entering (the
river). In the same chapter, when one territory borders another, the
preposition is ב. Similarly,
the man is attached to criminals,
but he is as different from them
as land from river, not similar as one land to another.
translation superficially has a problem of the absent object or subject of
the causative will attach, יפגיע. Both are present
in the similar structure in vs. 6. The subject here is God. He suggested to
the man a path of repentance. Because the man did not follow it, but chose
to continue in the common sin, חֵטְא-רַבִּים,
God will attach יפגיע him to criminals in the
same manner God earlier pushed הפגיע the
delusion into the man.
Although him would be
usually rendered in Hebrew as את׀, in this phrase the
first pronoun he
just as acceptable.
If, however, we are to
seek the object explicitly stated nearby, the only plausible reading is, And
the offense of many he has lifted and will attach it [the
offense] to criminals. This
phrase does not immediately make sense. Many
may be those (people in general) before whom the righteous
(the man) should have been justified
in vs. 11, and therefore the offense
referred to is their rejection or conviction of him. Lifted may be interpreted as upheld,
supported with his behavior. Criminals
(פשעימ) may be those because of whose crimes
(מפשענ׀) the man was shocked
in vs. 5. And the overall meaning is, By
his refusal to repent, he supported the claims of many accusers, and
attached the blame of their rejection to the members of his group.
However, this interpretation runs into the problem of he
was reckoned among criminals (פשעימ): if
we take פשעימ as a self-humiliating term for
the sectarians, the man was attached to this group only because of the
execution. It is possible to read the phrase as, He
caused the sin of many (who convicted him) to be attached to the whole
nation (פשעימ), but this reading plainly retrojects the views of the evangelists
onto the text of Isaiah. The concept of collective responsibility is alien
to Judaism where only the guilty ones bear their sins, and even the family
members are generally not responsible for sins of other members. This
absence of the collective responsibility should not be confused with
acceptance of the collateral damage, such as intended drowning of Jonah’s
The preposition does
not support a possible translation, was
smiting or in order to smite. To
smite (in פעל) is always used with the preposition ב,
and never with ל, as
in the present case.
The preposition denies
the common translation, to intercede.
Everywhere in Tanakh, when the meaning is intercession,
the preposition ב
occurs, meaning intercession before
someone, and there is a clear definition of the goal of the intercession,
such as not to burn the scroll of
the Torah. Intercession is never
Is 53:12 there is no phrase relating to whom the purported intercession is
addressed. Hebrew does not routinely employ structures without
antecedents. Therefore, probably the meaning is not interceded,
but another word, which does not require another preposition besides ל.
And this meaning is "to be attached," which also makes sense
as the poetic repetition of the earlier “reckoned among criminals.”
אינ מפגיע without
prepositions is usually rendered as no
intercessor, but the context refers to military affairs or, at any rate,
use of force, and so, There was no man, no one to stand against. There is hardly any inference to intercession in
the sense of pleading. Another possibility is that a reference to intercessor
was deliberately planted in Isaiah 59 to create continuity for the theme of
Isaiah 47:3, וְלֹא
(without ב or ל),
usually translated, And I will let no
man intercede, is actually, And I
will not strike a man [who does this to you]; let intercede is two verbs, not one as אפגע.
In Job 36:32, מפגיע,
[gives lightning a charge that] it strike the mark has the same meaning of
attached, touch the mark, not actually punch it, and certainly not intercede.
general meaning of touch, attached is borne by the semantic relation. Vs. 6: God הִפגיע(pushed) sin into him, and as a result, vs. 12, he יפגע
(will be attached) to criminals.
[lxiv] The word מרא cannot plausibly be a noun, since this
would make six nouns in a row, highly atypically of Hebrew. The construction
כנ – כ, translated here as just
as—so, is causation by analogy (e.g., just as you will give—so you
will receive), and therefore requires a verb in each part of the causative
structure. The only word which can be a verb is מרא.
[lxv] Here is the dative shift, with dative case preposition ל
missing before the first noun
[lxvi] The common translation of משחת
as marred is grammatically
impossible because of the vocalization; the word is a noun. The attempts to
render distortion are not
supported by other uses of this word. Besides, the notion of ugliness is
foreign to the context.
[lxvii] The attempts to render נזה startle
are pure conjecture, based neither on the root meaning, nor on the
established usage of the word.
[lxviii] While this rendering of the last two verses is not certain, the common
one is grammatically impossible. These verses certainly have to do with
anointment, and most probably—by sprinkling, i.e., with water. The prophet
whom God addresses, and who performs this rite, is described in 20:2 as
naked and barefoot, a familiar image. Just see how the writer attempted to
embed the words anointment and sprinkle
under innocent words, superficially read as marred
and startled. While baptism is
called immersion in Hebrew,
unction is as good a description, especially when joined with sprinkle.
It is not an error that the Qumran scroll has the anointment in plural: many people were baptized. The turn, anointment
from man is the same used in Matthew 21:23–26, which is hardly a
coincidence. The Jews expect baptism from Elijah when he would return from
heaven, and certainly were astonished by baptism from a common man. (The
relations between the person whom God addresses as you,
and the man, mentioned here in the third person, are too much like those
depicted between John the Baptist and Jesus.)
and פ marks