« PreviousContinue »
by a new difficulty: Which were the motives that prompted the men who were responsible for the collection and arrangement of the prophetic writings, in other words, the compilers or editors of Isaiah and Micah, to insert our prophecy in a context which is entirely foreign to it? As far as the passage in Isaiah is concerned, Kuenen4 is inclined to assume that the present arrangement was due to a desire to show the immense contrast between the ideal future depicted in our prophecy and the sordid facts of reality described in the surrounding verses. This view is, in substance, identical with the traditional explanation, repudiated by Kuenen himself, except that the former regards as genuine logical sequence of prophetic thought what Kuenen prefers to consider the result of subsequent editorial arrangement. For the traditional exegesis interprets, in an almost identical manner, our prophecy in Isaiah 2. 1-5 as an intentional contrast to verse 6 ff. Now the arguments advanced by Kuenen against this conventional explanation, viz. the extremely loose and artificial connexion with the context, apply with equal force to his own conjecture. For the discrepancy between our prophecy and the surrounding verses which makes it impossible to assume an original connexion between them should also have prevented the editor from placing them side by side. Gray, indeed, in his elaborate commentary on Isaiah,5 is frank enough to confess that ' the reasons for the particular place given elude us'.
In the following I venture to offer a conjecture which seems to me to explain the difficulty in a more natural and satisfactory manner, and may be found to apply in other cases where, in a similar way, the sudden change of tone
« loc. cit., p. 38. • loc. at.
in a prophetic discourse appears to suggest other than logical principles of textual arrangement.
It has long been observed that many, if not most, of the prophetic writings (comp. Hosea, Joel, Amos, Micah, Habakkuk, &c.) are marked by a 'happy ending' which frequently stands in obvious contrast to the preceding verses. This observation has led a number of modern critics to deny the authenticity of these concluding passages. But it seems far more natural to assume that the men who collected, or rather selected, the prophetic discourses, and drew on a much larger material than the one preserved in our Bible, abstracted these comforting utterances from a different context, belonging to the same prophet and no more transmitted to us, and placed them deliberately at the end of their prophetic compilations in order to leave the reader in a happy frame of mind. It is exactly the same consideration which is responsible for the Talmudic rule that in those Biblical books in which the concluding verse is of a threatening or derogatory character—in Isaiah, Malachi, Lamentations, and Ecclesiastes—one of the preceding verses of a consoling nature be repeated.
Now it seems to me that the same psychological motive which called for a ' happy ending' also demanded a ' happy beginning' for the prophetic collections. Most prophetic discourses—this is entirely in accord with the character of the true prophet who is always more readily inclined to prophesy evil than good °—were violent arraignments of the sinfulness of the generation, and predictions of dire punishment for such sinfulness. They were read, in the final shape which they received in the time of the postexilic community, by a people which had exchanged their heart of stone for a heart of flesh, and having received, at the Lord's hand, double for all its sins, lent a willing ear to the word of God. The prophetic denunciations, originally hurled against their rebellious forefathers, were entirely unjustified in their own case, and could only have the effect of discouraging those who both needed and deserved the encouragement of prophecy. Hence the compilers of that later generation found it necessary to place the comforting utterances of the prophets—and such utterances could be selected in abundance from the writings of every prophet now lost to us—at the beginning of the prophetic collections in order, as it were, to take off the edge of the denunciations that were to follow.
6 Comp. i Kings 22. 8.
A striking example of this editorial tendency is found in the book of Hosea. Chapter i is in the nature of a biographical introduction, undoubtedly from the pen of the editor. Chapter 2 marks the beginning of the prophetic discourses. It was long ago suggested" that the prophecy contained in this chapter, which represents a fierce arraignment of faithless Israel, actually begins with verse 4, and that the preceding three verses which paint in glowing colours the future happiness of that very same Israel, originally belonged to the end of the discourse, a sequence which is still reflected in a quotation of the New Testament.8 The reason for this intentional misplacement seems obvious. It was to counteract the painful impression which the violent denunciation of the prophet was bound to produce on the mind of the hearer, or rather reader, of the prophetic discourse.
A similar motive seems to have actuated the editor or compiler of the initial chapters of Jeremiah. Chapter i is again of an introductory character. The prophetic discourses begin with chapter 2. Here, too, it is evident that verse 4 inaugurates the prophecy which is a violent attack upon Judah. The keynote is struck by the question in verse 5: 'What iniquity have your fathers found in me that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and have become vain?' The first three verses of the chapter, whose sublime tenderness strangely contrasts with the intense bitterness of what immediately follows, have been deliberately placed at the head of the collection for the purpose of soothing the reader and reconciling him to the prophetic denunciation which might otherwise have a disheartening effect on him.
1 Sec Kuenen, Einlciluiig, II, 19. * Romans 9. 35-6.
To return to the subject of our discussion, it is generally recognized ° that the second chapter of Isaiah, which is separated from the preceding chapter by a superscription of its own, marks the beginning of an older collection of the prophet's discourses. The natural beginning of the violent attack upon Judah's life and morals which runs through chapters 2 and 3 is 2. 6. As the initial word of the latter verse indicates (o ' because'; the translation 'but' is a makeshift), the opening of this denunciatory prophecy is fragmentary, and was, in all likelihood, removed from its original context. The preceding verses (2. 1-5), which are of a diametrically opposite character, had originally no connexion whatsoever with the prophecy introduced in verse 6. But they were assigned this place, at the beginning of the collection, in order to put the reader in a hopeful frame of mind, and to fortify him against the prophetic attack in the following verses.
9 Comp. Kucnen, Eiiileilimg, II, 147. Duhm, Commentary on Isaiah, p. viii, suggests that chapters 2-4 formed originally a separate collection.
Of course, the explanation just set forth, even assuming its correctness in the three instances quoted, need not apply in all cases. It is possible, and even highly probable, that other tendencies and principles, besides the one suggested above, were operative in the arrangement of the prophetic writings. For once it does not seem to apply in the case of Micah 4.1—5, where our prophecy is duplicated. Indeed, it has been conjectured 10 that in the latter passage the position of our prophecy may be due to a 'catch-word arrangement', the phrase ' Mountain of the House' in 3. ia having suggested the sequence of our own prophecy, in which the 'Mountain of the House of the Lord' (4. i) occupies a central place. The conjecture is plausible, although, when taken by itself, it presupposes a principle of arrangement which is too mechanical. But it gains considerable strength when taken in conjunction with another more internal motive. As a matter of fact, it is highly probable that in the Micah text, too, the position of our prophecy is, to quote Wellhausen's phrase,11 due to a desire 'of putting a plaster on the wound inflicted by 3. ia'. On the other hand, it may be possible that also in Isaiah the arrangement has been prompted, in addition to the motive set forth above, by the same catch-word, since the'House of Jacob' is referred to both in verse 5 (°n which see anon) and in verse 6. In any event, the tendency of editorial arrangement advocated above ought to be borne in mind whenever a prophetic text reveals a sudden change of tone which cannot, unless sophistical arguments be resorted to, be explained on logical grounds.
10 Gray, Isaiah, I, 48.
11 Wellhausen, Die kleinen Proplitten, 3rd edition, p. 143.