But Israel Will Not Be Gathered: Text and Context in Isaiah 49:5

In the final decade of the 19th Century, Bernhard Duhm proposed that the four “Servant Songs” of Isaiah (42:1–4; 49:1–6; 50:4–9; 52:13–53:12) were secondary insertions haphazardly added to Isaiah from an originally independent collection of oracles and should, therefore, not be interpreted in light of their surrounding contexts. More recently, there has been a marked shift in some circles from an atomistic approach to a new appreciation for the unity and coherence of Isaiah as it stands in its final form. This renewed focus on the final form of Isaiah has yielded exciting results in many areas but has been particularly impressive with regard to the interpretation of the four Servant Songs of Isaiah. It is in this context that this paper is presented. The second Servant Song of Isaiah (49:1–6) contains a text-critical issue that has often been overlooked in modern biblical scholarship but for writers such as Jerome, Calvin, and J.A. Alexander, was considered crucial for understanding the development of Isaiah’s portrait of the Servant of YHWH. The qere in Isaiah 49:5b, supported by 1QIsaa, Aquila, the Peshitta, and Targum Jonathan, reads לו while the ketiv, supported by 4QIsad, Symmachus, and Theodotian, reads לא. If the qere is correct, the Servant is given the task of gathering Israel to him (i.e. YHWH). According to Jerome, Calvin, and Alexander, if the ketiv is correct, Isaiah 49:5b speaks of Israel’s failure to be gathered in response to the Servant’s message. This paper argues that both the text-critical and contextual evidence for Isaiah 49:5 argue in favor of adopting the ketiv. Moreover, this understanding of Isaiah 49:5b helps the reader make better sense of Isaiah 49:5c, which many scholars consider to be out of place in this context. I will begin by surveying and evaluating the text-critical evidence for Isaiah 49:5b. I will then examine Isaiah 49:5b in its immediate context, paying particular attention to how the verb יאסף should be translated. Finally, I will situate Isaiah 49:5b within its wider context, showing how this passage anticipates the rejection of the Servant in Isaiah 50:4–9 and 52:13–52:12.

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