R. F. de Sousa, Eschatology and Messianism in LXX Isaiah 1–12

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 13 (2013) - Review

De Sousa, Rodrigo F., Eschatology and Messianism in LXX Isaiah 1–12 (LHBOTS, 516; HBIV, 4; New York: T & T Clark, 2010). Pp. xiii + 189. Hardcover. US$110.00. ISBN 978-0-56725-819-9.

De Sousa's monograph, Eschatology and Messianism in LXX Isaiah 1–12, is a revised form of his Cambridge dissertation under Robert P. Gordon that “highlight[s] the difficulty in attempting any coherent description of an eschatology or messianism of the lxx, or, more generally, of a ‘theology of the lxx’” (p. 162) through a close consideration of several pericopae in the first twelve chapters of Isaiah. The work is comprised of seven chapters, a bibliography, and two indices covering scripture and related ancient literature, and modern authors, respectively. Comparisons of the Hebrew and Greek text are very well laid out side-by-side and followed by English translation, allowing not only those fully proficient in both languages but also those weak in one to easily track the differences under discussion.[1]

Noting the pendulum swing toward what might be called a theological interpretation of lxx, de Sousa seeks “to understand further the eschatological and messianic elements of lxx Isaiah” (p. 2). He defines “messianism” broadly as “the expectation of an individual who inaugurates an era of salvation” and “messianic texts” as “those which either refer to such a figure or came to be interpreted as doing so” (p. 3), which in the eyes of many readers may cause him to immediately run aground on the text-as-produced vs. text-as-received reef lurking in Septuagintal waters (but see the methodological cautions and discussion of translation technique on pp. 8–10). Eschatological elements receive no such handy definition, though de Sousa notes “eschatological traditions often appear connected with messianic expectations” (p. 3). Discussing both maximalist and minimalist views on messianic expectation in lxx Isaiah, de Sousa charts a via media that purports to pay substantially more attention to contextual issues than the systematizing of Schaper[2] but does not side with a position such as Lust's,[3] which tends to preclude messianic elements a priori, chalking them up to Christian misinterpretation (pp. 5–6).

The heart of the work focuses on five specific passages (Isa 2:2–4, 4:2–6, 7:14–16, 9:5–6 [6–7], and 11:1–5), but given the nature of the project de Sousa takes up the first body chapter discussing in detail the translator of a text as a reader. Following van der Kooij,[4] de Sousa seeks to understand potential “actualizing renderings” within the larger context in lxx Isaiah (“reading”) as well as in light of the exegetical tradition of which the scribe/translator was a part (“interpretation,” pp. 13–14). Pericope delimitations play an important role in investigating the translator's contextual awareness, as de Sousa demonstrates from Isa 1:21–27 and 2:5 (among other passages), both of which differ considerably in the divisions preferred by commentators vs. the divisions present in ancient manuscripts. (In the case of the former, continuing the pericope to v. 27 “changes the reading of the oracle from a prophecy of doom to a prophecy of conditional healing and restoration” [p. 20]!) De Sousa argues that such breaks in the text are taken into account by the translator and “could also have functioned as frames, triggering certain expectations regarding the content of the passage” (p. 23).

The rubber meets the road in attempting to understand renderings which differ markedly from mt. These are the places where de Sousa believes the translator's ideological imprint is most visible, e.g., in Isa 1:25 where “the translator bypasses the metaphor of metallurgy,” instead providing a transparent and straightforward description of what the imagery portrayed (p. 27). The translator is not giving his imagination free rein, nor is he rewriting the pericope to produce something new in Greek, but on the basis of his knowledge of the Hebrew, informed by his knowledge of the larger context of the book, and hindered or helped by his own presupposition that Isaiah was speaking meaningfully into his own time period, he “attempts to produce a faithful rendering of his Vorlage but…, consciously or not, left such ideological marks on his text as to give it a markedly different outlook for subsequent readers” (p. 31).

Chapter 3 discusses eschatological traditions in Isa 1–12, with special attention to 2:2–4 (the mountain of the Lord and the way of the Lord) and 4:2–6 (the rendering of צמח, the βουλή of God, the manifestation of the Lord's βουλή “with glory upon the earth,” the limited duration of God's wrath, the exaltation and glorification of the remnant, and exaltation and security in the Lord's mountain). De Sousa begins by examining how variations on the phrases באחרית הימים/ἐν ταῖς ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις and ביום ההוא/ἐν ἡμερᾳ ἐκείνῃ function to delimit prophetic announcements of the future and thus work hand-in-hand with the translator's presuppositions to trigger eschatological readings (pp. 41–42). Despite the triggering effect of these phrases in the examined passages there is no systematic eschatological view imposed in translation. “The repetition of themes is best understood as the repeated interjection of ideological presuppositions of the translator, as he struggled with the meaning of the Hebrew text” (p. 68).

Regarding Isa 7:14–16, de Sousa contends that much more significant than the use of παρθένος for עלמה is the heightened righteous character of Immanuel and the likelihood that the house of David is responsible for naming the child (thus heightening his royal character vis-à-vis the Hebrew parent text); however, the “radical disjoining” of v. 16 from what follows by ἀλλά makes it unlikely that the translator viewed Immanuel as one who inaugurates an eschatological era (p. 93).

In Isa 9:5–6 [6–7], de Sousa finds many more cases of actualizing interpretive elements, including geographic and social references, possible elements of a Davidic messianic hope, and a significantly different rendering of the titles given to the child, which may give him an angelic identification while at the same time protecting monotheism by placing emphasis on the actions of the Lord. Even so, there remains a “lack of any systematizing effort” in the pericope (p. 136).

In the last of the messianic oracles examined, Isa 11:1–5, de Sousa begins by noting that “in comparison with texts such as Pss. Sol. 17:21–25 and the Pesharim, the lxx has much less to say about messianism” (p. 138), and relates this to the translator's faithfulness to a Hebrew Vorlage and a lack of deliberate intent to inject messianic ideas. It is quite likely that we are to understand the “sceptre” as a messianic figure; however, de Sousa believes the translator's careful work with his Vorlage “prevents us from progressing much further in our understanding of the translator's eschatological and messianic hope” (p. 156).

In conclusion, de Sousa affirms that the translator's messianic and eschatological expectations have influenced his renderings at many points, but these intrusions are in most cases neither deliberate on the part of the translator nor evince “a coherent or systematic messianic expectation” (p. 162).

Many difficult questions persist in the kind of endeavor de Sousa has undertaken. How is the text, as a translation, a window into the translator's theology? How do we know which changes are theological? How do we see the theology of the translator apart from the text itself, and how do we therefore avoid circularity? De Sousa's careful linguistic work and modest conclusions allow him not only to emerge relatively unscathed but to contribute to our understanding and provide a model for further investigation.

Anthony R. Pyles, McMaster Divinity College

[1] This despite typesetting on the part of T & T Clark that results in a circumflex accent on a nu (twice on p. 104) and the placement of a holem from a holem-waw on the preceding letter (unfortunately, this typo recurs in the entire work). reference

[2] Joachim Schaper, “Messianism in the Septuagint of Isaiah and Messianic Intertextuality in the Greek Bible,” M. A. Knibb (ed.), The Septuagint and Messianism (BETL, 195; Leuven: Peeters, 2004), 371–80. reference

[3] Johan Lust, “A Septuagint Christ Preceding Jesus Christ? Messianism in the Septuagint Exemplified in Isa 7,10– 17,” in K. Hauspie (ed.), Messianism and the Septuagint: Collected Essays (BETL, 178; Leuven: Peeters, 2004), 211–26. reference

[4] Arie van der Kooij, “Isaiah in the Septuagint,” in C. C. Broyles and C. A. Evans (eds.), Writing and Reading the Scroll of Isaiah: Studies of an Interpretive Tradition (2 vols.; VTSup, 70; Leiden: Brill, 1997), 513–29 (515–16); idem, The Oracle of Tyre: The Septuagint of Isaiah XXIII as Version and Vision (VTSup, 71; Leiden: Brill, 1998), 8–19, 113, 116–17. reference