Incidental Loaning and the Babylonian Context of Second Isaiah

The Case for an Akkadian Borrowing in Isaiah 47:2

In: Vetus Testamentum
Samuel L. Boyd Department of Religious Studies and Program in Jewish Studies, University of Colorado Boulder Boulder, CO USA

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Jeffrey Stackert The Divinity School, University of Chicago Chicago, IL USA

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The social location of Second Isaiah has been an issue of renewed scholarly debate in the past decade. In this debate, H. G. M. Williamson has called attention to the role of terminology in identifying the probable geographical provenance of this portion of Isaiah. In this article, we examine an instance of language contact in Isa 47:2 and argue that the hapax legomenon שׁבל is a loan from the Akkadian root špl, perhaps the specific lexeme šaplû or šapiltu, referring to the “lower part (of the body).” In doing so, we propose that this term is an incidental loan, namely, a borrowing that evinces general contact with the author’s Babylonian surroundings but exhibits no polemic against the empire. That this borrowing was not ideologically motivated is significant, we suggest, for it increases the likelihood that the loan occurred in a Babylonian locale. The argument for Babylonian provenance is buttressed further by parallels observed in Ezek 16, another prophetic text that apparently originated in Babylon and that contains phrasing, literary conventions, and evidence of language contact similar to that in Isa 47. These features, we suggest, are part of an evolving rhetoric within an identifiable segment of exilic and post-exilic biblical prophecy.

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