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Judah’s Covenant with Assyria in Isaiah 28

In: Vetus Testamentum
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This paper argues that the “covenant with death” in Isa 28:15, 18 refers to Judah’s covenant with Assyria. While scholars usually take this to refer to Egypt at the end of the 8th c., a reference to Assyria makes better sense of the resonances of the metaphor of personified “death.” This oracle is contemporary with vv. 1-4 and functions together with those verses as a single prophetic discourse that predates the fall of the northern kingdom and prophesies destruction for both kingdoms at the hands of the Assyrians.

Abstract

This paper argues that the “covenant with death” in Isa 28:15, 18 refers to Judah’s covenant with Assyria. While scholars usually take this to refer to Egypt at the end of the 8th c., a reference to Assyria makes better sense of the resonances of the metaphor of personified “death.” This oracle is contemporary with vv. 1-4 and functions together with those verses as a single prophetic discourse that predates the fall of the northern kingdom and prophesies destruction for both kingdoms at the hands of the Assyrians.

In Isa 28:15, the prophet condemns the leaders of Judah for finding security in a ברית את מות, “covenant with death,” and a חזה, “pact,”1 with שאול, “Sheol.” This covenant is a כזב, “lie,” and a שקר, “deception” (vv. 15, 17), and the disaster the rulers of Jerusalem sought to avoid will in fact come on them repeatedly (vv. 18-19). The disaster referred to is fairly easily identified. The prophet describes it as a שוט שוטף, “an overflowing flood” (vv. 15, 18),2 that brings with it ברד, “hail,” and מים ישטפו, “overflowing water.” Most scholars recognize that this flood and storm imagery denotes an Assyrian invasion, as indeed it does in the oracle against Israel in v. 2 as well as in Isa 8:7-8 and 17:12-13.3 As Peter Machinist has shown, this imagery represents one of several reuses of the Neo-Assyrian royal propaganda in First Isaiah.4 Representative examples of this imagery appear in the inscriptions of Shalmaneser III and Sennacherib. Shalmaneser III describes his military power with reference to the storm god and to the flood: kīma Adad elīšunu riḫilta ušaznin, “Like Adad, I made destruction rain down upon them;” ispuna abūbāniš, “he swept [his enemies] away like the flood.”5 Sennacherib’s destructive presence is similarly described both as flood, allabib abūbiš, “I raged like the flood,” and storm, kīma tīb meḫê azīqma, “I blew in like the onslaught of a storm.”6 The covenant with death in Isa 28, therefore, appears to be intended to protect Judah and Jerusalem from the scourge of the Assyrians. The principle question, therefore, is what type of protection this metaphor entails. This paper will argue for the view that this covenant refers to Judah’s treaty with Assyria, a view proposed by William Robertson Smith but subsequently underrepresented in scholarship.7 The metaphoric resonance of “a covenant with death,” as well as the rhetoric of vv. 1-4, 7-22 as a whole, show that Assyria is both the entity with which Judah had entered a covenant and the entity whose destructive onslaught they sought to avoid. W. R. Smith’s proposal appeared in a publication geared towards a popular audience and was not defended or explained in detail. The current study will provide this interpretation with exegetical support.

Scholarly Perspectives

In an effort to explain the metaphor of a “covenant with death,” scholars have generated a number of proposals. Some opt for what Joseph Blenkinsopp calls a “minimalist view,” holding that the metaphor refers generally to any kind of protective measure other than taking refuge in Yahweh.8 This appears to be an under-reading. The judgment against Jerusalem in vv. 14-22 is predicated on this “covenant with death,” and one expects that the Judean rulers are here judged for a specific action done to protect themselves from the coming judgment. Others have seen in the covenant with death a representation of cultic devotion to a deity, either Canaanite Môt or Molech, or necromancy.9 These suggestions are subject to the criticism that they posit cultic practices that are unattested. While there is evidence for the consultation of the dead as a form of divination (see Isa 8:19; Deut 18:11; 1 Sam 28), nowhere in the Hebrew Bible do the dead serve as a source of protection. This would appear to rule out necromancy.10 Similarly, the lack of any evidence for a cult for the Canaanite Môt undermines the claim that the covenant with death represents an appeal for protection to the this deity.11 This absence is striking given the Ugaritic evidence, where Môtu appears as a deity in poetic epic, but is entirely absent from the ritual texts, where no less than 221 deities, including even Yammu and Rašap, appear as receivers of offerings.12 Hays points out further that there is no evidence that connects this deity and covenants.13 Against seeing Molech as the referent, nothing in the passage suggests the child sacrifice that biblical texts associate with that deity or illuminates why this deity would here be referred to as “death”.14 To be added to these observations is the fact that First Isaiah appears elsewhere deeply concerned with Judah’s foreign policy (cf. especially chs. 7-8 and, of course, 30-31) and less concerned with issues of non-Yahwistic worship per se.

Most scholars date the majority of chs. 28-33 to the end of the 8th century bce prior to Sennacherib’s third campaign of 701 bce and see the covenant with death as a metaphorical reference to Judah’s anti-Assyrian alliance with Egypt.15 The alliance with Egypt is explicitly condemned in Isa 30:1-5 and 31:1-3, and it is indeed these passages that form the basis for dating much of chs. 28-33 to this period.16 Both John Day and Christopher Hays have pointed out, however, that scholars have been unable to account for why Egypt would be referred to as “death” and how this reference would be recognizable.17

Although refraining from offering an absolute date for these chapters, Reinhard G. Kratz points out a number of connections in chs. 28-31 to oracles in chs. 5-10 and suggests that chs. 28-31 represent a later rewriting and adaptation of these earlier oracles.18 Some of the connections in ch. 28 are quite convincing, particularly the parallels between 28:13 and 8:15, 28:16 and 8:14, and 28:22 and 10:23.19 As Kratz himself points out, however, the identification of such connections does not establish an absolute date for the reuse.20 One can add that it does not necessarily even imply that it was written by a different author.21 Kratz does claim, however, that chs. 28-31 betray a later date through particular modifications of ideas present in their source texts. In ch. 28, he registers a shift in emphasis from Ephraim to Judah, and to the people of Jerusalem more narrowly, that he claims reflects a later setting, perhaps post 701, than the earlier prophecies reused there.22 Against this, however, one notes that individual oracles in chs. 5-10 do, in fact focus on Judah and Jerusalem (cf. for example 8:5-10), and thus a focus on Judah does not appear to be an index of a later date. What is more, his claim that העם הזה refers to the inhabitants of Jerusalem in 28:11, 14, whereas its referent is always Judah as a whole in chs. 5-10, is not supported contextually. Kratz claims that העם הזה in v. 14 is restricted to the dwellers of Jerusalem, אשר בירושלם, but does not consider the possibility that this relative clause modifies the construct noun משלי, “rulers”, rather than the genitive העם הזה. This reading makes good sense of the passage, particularly if the conduct condemned in vv. 14-22 is a foreign treaty. It is the political elite, localized in Jerusalem, who are condemned for their foreign policy. The destruction, however, is not localized to the city, but will rather come on the whole country (v. 22). העם הזה, therefore, appears to retain the meaning that it carries in chs. 5-10. The relative dating established by these connections requires only that 28:1-4, 7-22 were written later than the parallel passages in chs. 5-10. The question of how much later, however, is not settled by noting these parallels, but rather must be addressed with respect to the content of the oracle itself.

In an attempt to do just that, Hays has recently offered a fresh explanation for how the ברית את מות, “covenant with death” could represent a treaty with Egypt at the end of the 8th century.23 He suggests that a reference to Egypt is accomplished through a punning play on the similarity between the name of the Egyptian deity “Mut” and the Hebrew word מות, “death.” “Mut” stands metonymically for the country where she is worshipped, and is perhaps evoked as a guarantor of the alliance. Thus the political treaty with Egypt is metaphorically condemned as a “covenant with death/Mut.” The wordplay explains why the covenant with Egypt could be called a covenant with death, a feature of the Egyptian explanation that had hitherto lacked sufficient explanation. Although Hays has marshaled some evidence for the knowledge and perhaps devotion to Mut in Iron II Judah,24 several considerations reduce the plausibility of this proposal. First, as Hays himself points out, there is no other context in the Hebrew Bible in which a covenant with another deity is contemplated.25 A reference to a covenant with a foreign nation, however, would be well paralleled. Second, though there may have been some awareness of Mut in Iron II Judah, we do not know what role she played in Judean society or how she was viewed. Furthermore, Isa 28 would be the only reference to this deity in the Hebrew Bible. Hays’s proposal thus involves two features unparalleled in the Hebrew Bible: a covenant with a non-Yahwistic deity, and a reference to the Egyptian deity Mut.

According to the view defended in this paper, the historical setting for this oracle is not at the end of the 8th century when Judah was looking to Egypt for protection from Assyria, but earlier in the century, when Judah was a loyal vassal to Assyria.26 While followed by only a minority,27 this earlier dating is to be preferred for several reasons. First, it avoids the deficiencies of previous proposals by not having to posit unattested cultic practices or otherwise unparalleled deities. Second, it removes the necessity of treating vv. 1-4 and 7-22 as referring to two different historical periods and allows for a unified reading of the pericope. Third, it provides a more satisfying interpretation for the resonance of the metaphor of a covenant with death than other proposals.

Strata in vv. 1-4, 7-22?

While my argument takes vv. 1-4, 7-22 as belonging to a single rhetorical unit, most scholars see vv. 1-4 and 7-22 as belonging to different compositional layers.28 Notwithstanding their disagreements about the tenor of the “treaty with death,” scholars are almost unanimous in dating vv. 14-22 to the end of the 8th century after the fall of Samaria and just prior to the invasion of Judah by Sennacherib in 701 bce.29 What is more, most scholars also understand the oracle in vv. 1-4 as anticipating the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel, and thus date that oracle to a time prior to its fall in 722.30 According to this understanding, therefore, vv. 1-4 must predate vv. 14-22 and some sort of stratified composition must be posited for vv. 1-4, 7-22.

Both Blenkinsopp and Hays, however, argue that it is possible to see in vv. 1-4 a reference to the Ephraimites remaining after the fall of Samaria. According to these scholars, vv. 1-4 and 7-22 are contemporary, each section dating to the end the 8th c. Both scholars point out that although vv. 1-4 sound like a reference to Ephraim prior to its fall, the punishment foreseen could actually be against rebellions of the Assyrian province of Samarina either against Sargon II (ca. 720) or later against Sennacherib.31

Against these proposals, however, the specific imagery of garlands, crowns, and drunkenness invokes luxuriant feasting and points to a time of prosperity and confidence on the part of the Ephraimite elites. The imagery is similar to that of Amos 6:1-8, where destruction is prophesied against those who falsely think themselves safe from harm and indulge in excessive feasting. The rhetoric in Amos 6 as well as this passage assumes a kind of ironic reversal of fortunes: those who think themselves safe and happy are actually on the brink of destruction. This argument is ill-suited to the period following 722, when the elites of Ephraim were taken into exile, many cities abandoned or replaced by smaller villages, and the provinces of Megiddo and Samaria placed under direct Assyrian rule.32 In addition to the historical implausibility of a woe oracle after the violent destruction of the northern kingdom against “the crown of pride of the drunkards of Ephraim,” the unlikelihood of these verses referring to post-722 Ephraimites is compounded by the fact that Isaiah nowhere else addresses or refers to this group of people. He has, on the other hand, a great deal to say about Ephraim prior to its fall.

Hays suggests also that rather than prophesying the future fall of the northern kingdom, Isaiah could refer to that fall as a past event and warning to Judah. He bases this claim on an argument that the perfective הניח in v. 2 should be read as a past and the imperfective תרמסנה in v. 3 as either an old-preterite or a use of the non-perfective prefix conjugation without reference to a future time. He ignores the imperfective והיתה of v. 4, though he could presumably argue that this form is preceded by a simple rather than “consecutive” waw.33 This avoidance of the future time reference of the imperfectives in vv. 3-4, however, is contradicted by the formal features of woe oracles seen elsewhere in First Isaiah and other prophetic books. All other examples of woe oracles announce a future judgment on a present entity.34 In no case is a woe oracle proclaimed with reference to a past calamity. An analysis of the verbal sequence in vv. 2-4 that preserves the future time reference of the imperfectives in vv. 3-4 would be preferable. There are at least two possibilities. The shift from perfective to imperfective in vv. 2-3 could represent a temporal shift. In this case, the perfective הניח in v. 2 would refer to Yahweh’s having already place the destructive entity, namely Assyria, into the world. Verses 3-4 would represent a shift to the future judgment for Ephraim. This destructive entity will come to the falsely secure Ephraimites. It is also possible that the perfective הניח denotes the immediacy of a future event.35 Given the formal expectations attached to woe oracles, either of these possibilities is preferable to an analysis that strips the oracle of its future time reference. The majority of scholars who see in vv. 1-4 an oracle predating and anticipating the fall of Ephraim in 722 bce are thus on firm ground.

Those scholars who date vv. 1-4 early but see the oracle against Jerusalem later in the chapter as addressing the events leading up to 701 bce argue that vv. 7-22 present an expansion and reapplication of the earlier oracle to Ephraim in vv. 1-4.36 The primary reasons for this are the two shifts in perspective, first to priests and prophets in v. 7, then to the rulers of Jerusalem in v. 14, as well as a supposed difference in historical context betrayed by these shifts. Dekker represents this position well: “The prophecy of 28:1–4 must have been uttered prior to the fall of Samaria in 722/720, at a time when the Assyrians were threatening the northern kingdom of Ephraim, while 28:7–22 presupposes a time when the Assyrian threat had also become a reality for Judah and Jerusalem. Shifts of this type within 28:1–22 are too significant to be able to speak of a single pericope.”37

Plausible as this observation appears, several considerations mitigate against it. First, the threat of Assyria begins with the territorial expansions of Tiglath Pileser III, and so it is not correct to imply that Assyria was a threat to Judah only post 722 bce. Indeed, one might well speculate that Ahaz’s decision to align himself with Assyria rather than Damascus and Israel was due to the correct calculation that Assyria was the greater threat. In other words, in the context of the mid-8th century, Assyria need not be marching specifically against Judah for the prophet to depict it as a threat.

Second, in the context of the Syro-Ephraimite crisis, Isaiah had advocated a policy of non-intervention, arguing that the Syro-Ephraimite alliance would fail, and by implication that Ahaz need not submit either to them or to Assyria (7:1-17).38 It is not at all implausible that the prophet who advocated non-intervention would condemn Ahaz’s submission to Assyria. Isaiah 7:18-20, although potentially dating to later in the 8th century, and 8:5-8 corroborate this view. In these passages, the punishment for trusting in Assyria is being conquered by Assyria.39 Given these parallels, there is nothing historically implausible about a prophecy concerning judgment for Judah at the hands of the Assyrians predating 722.

Further, there is nothing inherently evocative of strata about a shift in topic from Ephraim to Judah.40 The Judeans are the audience of the entire message, including the judgment against Ephraim in vv. 1-4. This is similar, for example, to Isa 7:1-17, where the prophecy against Ephraim and Syria forms part of the content of a prophecy to Judah. The movement from judgment against another nation to judgment against the audience is also rhetorically similar to the function of the oracles against the nations in the biblical prophetic books. Amos 1-2 provides a well known example from the 8th century that features a similar sequence to that attested in Isa 28:1-4, 7-22. In Amos 1-2, the oracles against the other nations precede the climactic oracle against Israel. This positioning of Israel at the end comes as a surprise and rhetorically traps the audience into seeing Israel as equivalent to, and worse than, the nations previously condemned.41 These passages demonstrate that a topic or participant reference shift can serve the rhetorical purpose of a unified discourse. As will be shown below, Isa 28:1-4, 7-22 is likewise amenable to being read as a unified, rhetorically structured discourse similar to that of Amos 1-2.

Some scholars have also argued that the phrase וגם אלה, “and these also,” in v. 7 betrays a redactional weaving together of disparate sources, linking the drunks of Ephraim to the prophets and priests of vv. 7-13.42 The phrase, however, could just as easily mark a shift in topic in a single discourse as a device for incorporating foreign material. Verses 1-4 proclaim judgement against the economic elites of Ephraim. Verse 7 simply shifts to a different group, the religious intermediaries of either Ephraim or Jerusalem. Neither possibility requires vv. 7-13 to be part of a separate discourse from vv. 1-4.

The barriers to a unified reading of vv. 1-4, 7-22, therefore, do not appear to be insurmountable. Before proceeding to arguments that this unified reading provides the best account of the pericope, it is worth briefly mentioning some literary and structural evidence that already suggests its unity. As Jared Judd Jackson points out, there is a high degree of lexical repetition, as well as the structural feature of inclusion, in vv. 1-4, 7-22.43 The lexical connections include יין, “wine,” in vv. 1, 7, the root שׁכר in vv. 1, 3, and 7 (three times), the root בלע, in vv. 4, 7, the root ניח in vv. 2, 12 (twice), ברד in vv. 2 and 17, the root שׁוט in vv. 2, 15, 17, and 18, and finally the root חזק marking an inclusion in vv. 2, 22. To be added to Jackson’s list is the repetition of the root רמס, “to trample,” in a verbal formulation in v. 3 and a nominal one in v. 18, as well as the repetition of מים in vv. 2 and 17, both times governing a form of שׁטף.

In addition to these lexical parallels, Exum points out a similar structural pattern that appears in vv. 1-13 and 14-22. Each section opens with an address to the leaders of one of the nations (vv. 1, 14), followed by metaphorical imagery describing the reason for Yahweh’s wrath (vv. 1, 15), followed by Yahweh’s response, which is introduced with the presentative particle הנה and uses a new set of images (vv. 2, 16-17a), and finally returns to the original set of images (v. 3 returning to the image of v. 1, and vv. 17b-18 returning to that of v. 15).44

These literary features, to be sure, are not decisive. A later author or expander could certainly take up lexemes and structural elements of the source text while forming an expansion. All other things being equal, however, this kind of evidence at least suggests a unified reading in the absence of convincing arguments for stratification.

The Covenant with Death

The metaphorical resonances of personified “Death/Sheol” in vv. 15, 18 support seeing a treaty with Assyria as the reference of the enigmatic “covenant with death.” When personified as a sentient being, “Death” and “Sheol” evoke images of strength and insatiable appetite. We see this in First Isaiah, elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, and in Northwest Semitic literature more generally. In the Isaiah corpus, this appears in 5:14:

לכן הרחיבה שׁאול נפשׁה ופערה פיה לבלי־חק וירד הדרה והמונה ושׁאונה ועלז בה

Therefore, Sheol has widened its throat, and opened its mouth without measure, and [into it] will descend her majesty and multitude and noise and the one who exults in her.45

Here we see Sheol depicted as a ravenous beast who swallows everything in its path. While Sheol is not here a representation of Assyria itself, the immediately preceding reference to exile suggests that the Assyrian policy of death and exile is in the background. The destruction anticipated by the Assyrian juggernaut is here likened to voracious Sheol itself. Further biblical attestations of personified “Death” and “Sheol” as powerful entities show that Isa 5 makes use of a common topos. Hosea 13:14 (“from the hand of Sheol will I ransom them? From Death will I redeem them?”) depicts Sheol as having a “hand,” emblematic of power, as well as being an entity from which ransom and redemption might be contemplated. Proverbs 1:12 (“Like Sheol, let us swallow them alive”) once again makes use of the image of Sheol swallowing the living, and Prov 27:20 (“Sheol and Destruction are never satiated”) capitalizes on the idea of insatiable appetite. While strongly personifying elements such as throat/appetite or the concept of ransom are absent, Ps 89:49 (“Who is the man who can live and not see Death? Who can deliver his life from the hand of Sheol?”) and Song 8:6 (“strong as death is love, hard as Sheol is jealousy”) both also draw on the strength topos. Habakkuk 2:5 provides a particularly significant use of this topos:

‏אשׁר הרחיב כשׁאול נפשׁו והוא כמות ולא ישׂבע ויאסף אליו כל־הגוים ויקבץ אליו כל־העמים

. . . who has widened his throat like Sheol. Like Death, he is never satiated. He has gathered to himself all nations, and collected to himself all peoples.

This passage draws on the metaphorical resonance of Sheol and Death as having a voracious appetite in order to describe the Neo-Babylonian threat.46 This use of a common metaphorical resonance surrounding personified Death and Sheol to describe the imperial enemy is precisely what is here suggested also for Isaiah 28.

In Ugaritic poetic literature, the deity Môtu shows the same characteristics as personified death in the Hebrew Bible, suggesting the mythic origins of this imagery. The Ugaritic references refer to Môtu in terms of his strength, appetite, npš, “throat,” and even going down (root yrd) into his throat as a reference to death as in several biblical passages (see, for example cta 4:VIII:32, cta 5:I:6-7, 14, 18, and cta 6:VI:16-22). The similar imagery, and in some cases even lexemes, shows that personified Death as a threatening figure of great strength and appetite is a recognizable feature of Northwest Semitic literary culture. This common set of images associated with personified Death brings with it the expectation that the entity referred to in the metaphorical application of the same will be one of exceptional strength, danger, and appetite. As already shown, this is precisely what Hab 2:5 does in using personified Death as a image of the Neo-Babylonians.

The literary expectations that personified Death brings with it present a problem to the consensus position that the covenant with death refers to Judah’s alliance with Egypt at the end of the 8th century. The explicit references to this political situation in Isaiah clearly depict Egypt as a weak partner. Isaiah 30:1-7 reads as follows:

הוי בנים סוררים נאם־יהוה לעשׂות עצה ולא מני . . . ההלכים לרדת מצרים ופי לא שׁאלו לעוז במעוז פרעה ולחסות בצל מצרים: והיה לכם מעוז פרעה לבשׁת והחסות בצל־מצרים לכלמה: . . . כל הבישׁ47 על־עם לא־יועילו למו לא לעזר ולא להועיל כי לבשׁת וגם־לחרפה: . . . ומצרים הבל וריק יעזרו לכן קראתי לזאת רהב הם שׁבת

Woe to the rebellious sons, declares Yahweh, for taking counsel, but not with me . . ., who go down to Egypt, but do not consult me, to seek refuge in the stronghold of Pharaoh, and to shelter in the shadow of Egypt. The stronghold of Pharaoh shall turn to shame for you, and the shelter in the shadow of Egypt to disgrace. . . . All are humiliated through a people who cannot profit them. [They bring] neither assistance nor profit, but rather shame and reproach. . . . Egypt is a worthless thing, and their assistance is empty. Therefore I have named it, “Rahab who brings to cessation.”48

In this passage, the author heaps ridicule on Egypt for its weakness and on Judah for trusting in it. Isaiah 31:1-3 makes the same point: “Egypt is human and not God, and their horses are flesh and not spirit. Yahweh will stretch out his hand and the helper will stumble, and the helped will fall. Both of them together will come to an end” (v. 3). Likewise, Sargon II, referring to events that occurred most likely in 711 bce, ridicules the people of Ashdod for seeking the aid of Pharaoh, malku lā mušēzibišunu, “a king who cannot save them.”49 Though obviously propagandistic, the words of Sargon II’s inscription likely reflect the actual weakness of Egypt at the end of the 8th century. Dynastic rule had only recently been reasserted over the entire land and central administration had yet to be restored.50 The perception of Egypt’s weakness in the passages from Isa 30 and 31 could simply represent the prophet’s own political evaluation. The use of Neo-Assyrian royal propaganda elsewhere, however,51 raises the possibility that the author here once again reemploys Assyrian propaganda for his own purposes.

Given First Isaiah’s perspective on the inviability of Egypt at the end of the 8th century, the depiction of Egypt as personified Death and Sheol is unexpected. Rather than a partner too weak to help, the resonances of personified Death in Northwest Semitic literature suggest a covenant partner who is too strong and dangerous, and whose appetite is too gluttonous, to trust. Hays’s proposal that that “Death” represents a play on “Mut” does not avoid this problem. In this case, Mut/Death still represents Egypt at the end of the 8th century. What is more, the author still sees fit to refer to this entity further as “Sheol,” which activates the set of metaphorical resonances surveyed above.

In contrast to Egypt, Assyria is consistently presented as dangerous and strong. In addition to a flood, it is spoken of as indefatigable in its onslaught (5:26-28). Furthermore, Isa 10 depicts Assyria’s voracious appetite for conquest, where the intention of the Assyrian king is to “cut off nations, not few” (v. 7b). The king then boasts that “my hand has found like a nest the wealth of the peoples, and like the gathering of forsaken eggs, all the earth have I myself gathered” (v. 14).52 Whereas the strength and insatiability of personified Death were a problem for the Egypt interpretation, these resonances fit perfectly with the imagery associated with Assyria elsewhere in First Isaiah. A reference to a covenant with Assyria does not fit the end of the 8th century, when Judah rebelled against Assyria and sought Egyptian support, but rather a period earlier in the century, when Judah was a loyal vassal to Assyria.53 The period between 734 and 722, therefore, appears as an attractive context for situating Isa 28’s reference to the “covenant with death.” This dating would suggest that the oracle concerning a “covenant with death” is contemporary with the pre-722 oracle against Ephraim found in vv. 1-4.

A Covenant with Assyria in Isa 28:14-22

Adopting the proposal that the covenant with Death dates prior to 722 and refers to Judah’s treaty with Assyria suggests the following reading of the oracle against Judah in Isa 28:14-22.54 Verse 14 addresses the rulers of the people in Jerusalem and identifies them as “scoffers.” The reason for the judgment announced in vv. 16-22 is the false confidence the Judean rulers have put in their treaty with death (v. 15):

כי אמרתם כרתנו ברית את־מות ועם־שׁאול עשׂינו חזה שׁוט שׁוטף כי־יעבר55 לא יבואנו כי שׂמנו כזב מחסנו ובשׁקר נסתרנו

For you have said, “We made a treaty with Death, and with Sheol we have made a pact. The overflowing flood,56 when it comes, will not come to us for we have made a lie our refuge and have hidden ourselves in a falsehood.

The imagery of the coming “overflowing flood” (שוט שוטף) appears to be a reference back to the preceding oracle against Ephraim (v. 2): “Behold, the Lord has a strong and mighty one, like a storm of hail, like a destructive tempest, like a storm of powerful, overflowing waters (מים כבירים שטפים).” The Judean leaders in v. 15 are presented as referring back to the coming invasion of Assyria prophesied in v. 2, and declaring their immunity from the same onslaught.57 The future time frame for this onslaught (when it comes, it will not come to us) shows that the destruction of Ephraim at the hands of the Assyrians has not yet happened. The reference back to the flood imagery of v. 2 creates a double metaphor in v. 15. Assyria is both the overflowing flood and the destructive “Death/Sheol.” Stripped of its metaphorical imagery, the scoffers of v. 15 claim that they will not suffer destruction when the Assyrians invade since they have a covenant with Assyria. It is not that “Death” is going to protect them from the coming Assyrians, but that “Death” is Assyria. They will avoid the flood coming on Ephraim because they are on the flood’s side. Isaiah personifies Assyria as Death and Sheol to capitalize on the imagery of strength and appetite. To trust in a treaty with an entity with the strength and appetite of Death/Sheol is, according to the prophet, to trust in a lie and a falsehood.

According to Isaiah, this covenant represents disloyalty with God (v. 16), and therefore he predicts that when the flood comes, it will come on Judah too (v. 18):

וכפר בריתכם את־מות וחזותכם את־שׁאול לא תקום שׁוט שׁוטף כי יעבר והייתם לו למרמס

Erased shall be your covenant with Death, and your pact with Sheol will not stand. As for the overflowing flood, when it comes, you shall be its trampling ground.

The “lie” that Isaiah saw in the covenant with death is here revealed. When it comes time for Assyria to destroy Ephraim, it will not honor its treaty with Judah, but, inflamed with a Death-like appetite for destruction, will continue on to Judah as well. It should be noted that, given the reference back to v. 2, the implication of v. 18 is that the destruction of Ephraim and Judah will be simultaneous. This is an element of the prophecy that, of course, did not come about.

Further, the final line of the pericope unites the judgments prophesied against both Ephraim (vv. 1-4) and Judah (vv. 14-22):

ועתה אל־תתלוצצו פן־יחזקו מוסריכם כי־כלה ונחרצה שׁמעתי מאת אדני יהוה צבאות על־כל־הארץ

And now, do not scoff lest your bonds be strong, for an annihilation and a determined end I have heard from the lord Yahweh of hosts against the whole land.

ועתה marks a shift in the discourse from an announcement of judgment to a final warning to the Jerusalemite audience. The reference to כל הארץ, “the whole land,” is significant. Since the preceding oracles (vv. 1-22) refer to judgment for both Israel and Judah, the reference is not to a universal catastrophe. Instead, this phrase emphasizes that judgment is coming to both Israel and Judah rather than just Israel alone. Against the scoffers (vv. 14, 22) who think that the judgment is only for Israel, Isaiah asserts that it has been decreed against both nations. Beuken, who likewise argues for this interpretation, points to Isa 7:24 and 10:23 as other places where כל הארץ refers to both kingdoms together.58 Despite attempts to eliminate the entire verse or at least על כל הארץ as a later addition due to a supposed awkwardness or lack of fit in the passage,59 v. 22 appears thus to be a fitting conclusion to a pericope that announces judgment for both Israel and Judah.

Conclusion

William Robertson Smith’s unargued proposal that the covenant with Death in Isa 28 represents Judah’s covenant with Assyria appears to have much to commend it. Other proposals have resorted either to proposing cultic practices for which there is no evidence or, in the case of Hays, an unparalleled reference to the Egyptian deity Mut. The rhetorical unity of Isa 28:1-4, 7-22 as an oracle addressed to Judah that foretells destruction for both north and south, combined with the pre-722 date of vv. 1-4 mitigate against the commonly held view that Judah’s treaty with Egypt is in view. What is more, the metaphor of a covenant with Death strongly suggests a referent associated with strength and insatiability, which conflicts with First Isaiah’s view of Egypt as too weak to be of help. A covenant with Assyria not only avoids the problems associated with other proposals, but also fits both the poetic profile of the metaphor as well as the historical period to which the pericope likely dates. Isaiah 28 depicts the Judean rulers as foolishly cutting a deal with “Death,” a creature too dangerous to be trusted.

1 The root חזה appearing here and in v. 18 bears the basic meaning “to see,” and in its nominal forms the meaning of “vision, sight.” Here, based on the parallelism with ברית, it appears to be another word for a treaty or pact. Rather than seeking a separate verbal root, Ernst Kutsch, “Sehen und Bestimmen: Die Etymologie von ברית,” in Archäologie und Altes Testament: Festschrift für Kurt Galling (ed. A. Kuschke and E. Kutsch; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1970), 177-78, argues that the senses of “Bestimmung” and “Verplichtung” have developed in Hebrew from the basic meaning of “to see/show” on the basis of a similar development in Aramaic (Dan 3:19 and in the Targums) and especially in the Palmyrene dialect, for which the verb has come to mean “bestimmt werden.” The word has shifted from meaning “to see” to meaning “to decide, designate.” Kutsch argues that this meaning obtains here in Isa 28:15, 18, as well as in the verbal form in Ex 18:21.

2 The Qere, 1QIsaa, as well as the parallel in v. 18, suggest reading שוט in v. 15. Hartmut Gese, “Die Strömende Geissel des Hadad und Jesaja 28, 15 und 18,” in Archäologie und Altes Testament: Festschrift für Kurt Galling (ed. A. Kuschke and E. Kutsch; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1970): 133-34, sees imagery of Hadad here and argues that it should be understood as its basic meaning “whip,” one of the weapons of the Mesopotamian storm-god. Given the context of storm and water imagery (cf. v. 17b), it is probably better to see here a word preserved also in Ge’ez and Arabic meaning “flood” (cf. Wolf Leslau, Comparative Dictionary of Ge’ez [Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1987], 521, who cites Arabic sawṭ, “a place where water collects,” and epigraphic south-Arabian ’s1yṭ, “rainwater cistern.” Ge’ez attests both swṭ, “to pour spill” and swṭ, “whip”). This is supported by the semantics of שׁטף, “to overflow,” which require a liquid entity as subject.

3 See, for example, Gese, “Die Strömende Geissel,” 130-32; Joseph Blenkinsopp, “Judah’s Covenant with Death (Isaiah XXVIII 14-22),” vt 50 (2000): 474; Christopher Hays, “The Covenant with Mut: A New Interpretation of Isaiah 28:1-22,” vt (2010): 217, 232; idem, Death in the Iron Age II and in First Isaiah (fat 79; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011), 288.

4 Peter Machinist, “Assyria and its Image in First Isaiah,” jaos 103 (1983): 726–28.

5 A. Kirk Grayson, Assyrian Rulers of the Early First Millennium BC II (858-745 BC) (rima 3; Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996), 16, l. i. 46; 34 l. i. 27.

6 Daniel David Luckenbill, The Annals of Sennacherib (oip 2; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1924), 51, l. 25; 83, l. 44.

7 William Robertson Smith, The Prophets of Israel and Their Place in History to the Close of the Eighth Century B.C. (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1882), 284. Without defense or elaboration, Brian B. Schmidt, Israel’s Beneficent Dead (fat 11; Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1994), 160-61, n. 119, also registers a preference for seeing Assyria here. John Day, Molech: A God of Human Sacrifice in the Old Testament (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 60 n. 106, mentions this possibility, citing W. R. Smith, only to point out that “no scholar today follows this view.”

8 Blenkinsopp, “Judah’s Covenant with Death,” 474, n. 8. Scholars holding a version of this position not noted by Blenkinsopp include Johannes Lindblom, “Der Eckstein in Jes. 28,16,” in Interpretationes ad Vetus Testamentum pertinentes S. Mowinckel (ed. N. Alstrup and A. S. Kapelrud; Forlaget Land og Kirke, 1955), 129; Gese, “Die Strömende Geissel,” 133; Willem A. M. Beuken, Isaiah II (Historical Commentary on the Old Testament. Leuven: Peeters, 2000), 45-46; and Hans Wildberger, Isaiah 28-39 (Continental Commentary. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), 38-40.

9 B. Duhm, Das Buch Jesaia (Zweite verbesserte Auflage; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1902), 170; Jared Judd Jackson, “Style in Isaiah 28 and a Drinking Bout of the Gods (rs 24.258),” in Rhetorical Criticism: Essays in Honor of James Muilenburg (ed. J. J. Jackson and M. Kessler; Pittsburgh: Pickwick Press, 1974), 97-98; Karel Van der Toorn, “Echoes of Judaean Necromancy in Isaiah 28,7-22,” zaw 100 (1998): 199-217.202-3, 215-17; Alistair C. Stewart, “The Covenant with Death in Isaiah 28,” ExpTim 100 (1989): 375-76; Day, Molech, 61-62; Francis Landy, “Tracing the Voice of the Other: Isaiah 28 and the Covenant with Death,” in The New Literary Criticism and the Hebrew Bible (ed. J. C. Exum and D. J. A. Clines; Sheffield: jsot Press, 1993), 144; Blenkinsopp, “Judah’s Covenant with Death,” 474, 477-78. Gese, “Die Strömende Geissel,” 131-33, argues that the storm imagery in this passage refers metaphorically to the Assyrian army by means of the iconography of Hadad but denies that an actual agreement with a deity is envisioned in the “covenant with death.”

10 Hays, “The Covenant with Mut,” 228-9; So also Jaap Dekker, Zion’s Rock-Solid Foundations: An Exegetical Study of the Zion Text in Isaiah 28:16 (OtSt 54; Leiden: Brill, 2007), 345-46. Cf. also the doubts registered by Schmidt, Israel’s Beneficent Dead, 160-61, regarding the presence of references to necromancy or the cult of the dead in Isa 28:7-22.

11 Defended most recently by Blenkinsopp, “Judah’s Covenant with Death”, 477-78.

12 Cf. “Appendice 1 B: Les Dieux” in Dennis Pardee, Les Textes Rituels (rso 12; Paris: Éditions Recherche sur les Civilisations, 2000), 962-97, in which are enumerated every deity referred to in a ritual text or deity list.

13 Hays, “The Covenant with Mut,” 229.

14 Blenkinsopp, “Judah’s Covenant with Death,” 477; Hays, “The Covenant with Mut,” 228.

15 Duhm, Das Buch Jesaia, xv; Edwin M. Good, Irony in the Old Testament (London: S.P.C.K., 1965), 147-48; J. Cheryl Exum, “‘Whom Will He Teach Knowledge?’ A Literary Approach to Isaiah 28,” in Art and Meaning: Rhetoric in Biblical Literature (ed. D. J. A. Clines, D. M. Gunn, and A. J. Hauser; Sheffield: jsot Press, 1982), 125; Gary Stansell, “Isaiah 28-33: Blest Be the Tie that Binds (Isaiah Together),” in New Visions of Isaiah (jsotss 214; eds. Melugin and M. A. Sweeney; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), 77-78; Jörg Barthel, Prophetenwort und Geschichte: Die Jesajaüberlieferung in Jes 6-8 und 28-31 (fat 19; Mohr Siebeck: Tübingen, 1997), 318-20; Dekker, Zion’s Rock-Solid Foundations, 120-121; Matthijs De Jong, Isaiah among the Ancient Near Eastern Prophets: A Comparative Study of the Earliest Stages of the Isaiah Tradition and the Neo-Assyrian Prophecies (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 109, 111. Marvin A. Sweeney, Isaiah 1-39 with an Introduction to Prophetic Literature (fotl 16; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 367, argues that while a treaty with Egypt may not be specifically referenced here, it does refer to the “futility of entering into political alliances against the Assyrians,” and thus includes the Egyptians as well as possibly the Babylonians. Franz Delitzsch, Biblischer Commentar über den Prophet Jesaia (Leipzig: Dürffling und Franke, 1866), 296-97, 301-2, dates the pericope to the period prior to the fall of Samaria, but sees nevertheless a reference to a treaty with Egypt. There is no evidence, however, for any kind of alliance between Judah and Egypt before 713 bce (Cf. J. Maxwell Miller and John H. Hayes, A History of Ancient Israel and Judah [2nd ed. Louisville: Westminster, 2006], 406).

16 Cf. 2 Kgs 18:21/Isa 36:6, where a treaty with Egypt in this period is also alluded to.

17 Day, Molech, 85; Hays, Death in the Iron Age II, 288; idem, “The Covenant with Mut,” 217.

18 Reinhard G. Kratz, “Rewriting Isaiah: The Case of Isaiah 28-31,” in Prophecy and Prophets in Ancient Israel: Proceedings of the Oxford Old Testament Seminar, ed. John Day (New York: T & T Clark, 2010), 245–66, slightly updated in idem, Prophetenstudien (fat 74; Tübingen: Mohr Siebek, 2011), 177-97.

19 Idem, “Rewriting Isaiah,” 255-56, 258-59; idem, Prophetenstudien, 188-89, 191-92.

20 Idem, “Rewriting Isaiah,” 263-64; idem, Prophetenstudien, 196-97.

21 Themes, motifs, and distinct lexical combinations, for example, appear redeployed within chs. 5-10 (cf. for example Isa 5:6 / 7:23-25, 9:3 / 10:27, 7:14, 9:6).

22 Kratz, “Rewriting Isaiah,” 260; idem, Prophetenstudien, 193-94.

23 Hays, “The Covenant with Mut,” 217.

24 Christopher B. Hays, “The Egyptian Goddess Mut in Iron Age Palestine: Further Data From Amulets and Onomastics,” jnes 71 (2012): 299–314.

25 Hays, “The Covenant with Mut,” 235; idem, Death in the Iron Age II, 311.

26 Tiglath Pileser III lists Ahaz as among the kings who delivered tribute (K3751; cf. “Summary Inscription 7,” translated by K. Lawson Younger, Jr. [cos 2.117d:289]). 2 Kings 16:7, of course, claims that Ahaz in fact sent a bribe to Assyria to win help against the Syro-Ephraimite coalition. While this could represent an authentic record, it is also possible that it represents a reworking of earlier material. Stuart A. Irvine, Isaiah, Ahaz, and the Syro-Ephraimitic Crisis (sblds 123; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990), 86-89, suggests specifically that the notion of an appeal to help to Assyria is an invention of a later editor. Whether Ahaz appealed to Assyria for help or not, however, that Ahaz’s submission to Tiglath Pileser III can be termed a “covenant” finds corroboration in Ezek 17, where the same term is used of Judah’s later submission to the Neo-Babylonian empire.

27 Scholars holding this view include Smith, The Prophets of Israel, 282; Lindblom, “Der Eckstein in Jes. 28,16,” 128-9; Day, Molech, 64. Day’s argument, however, is based entirely on his theory that the covenant with death refers to Molech worship and the reference to human sacrifice by Ahaz in 1 Kgs 16:3 (see my rejection of this proposal above and Hays, “The Covenant with Mut,” 228 n. 72). John H. Hayes and Stuart A. Irvine, Isaiah the Eighth Century Prophet: His Times & Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1987), 321, 324-26, argue that all of chs. 28-33 refer to the last years of the Ephraim state and are addressed against Ephraim, not Judah. On this interpretation, the references to Egypt in chs. 30, 31 reference Hoshea’s plea for help from Egypt (2 Kgs 17:4). It is far more convincing, however, to take Judah as the audience of these oracles and the references to Egypt in chs. 30, 31 as to Judah’s attempt to form an alliance with Egypt at the end of the 8th century.

28 Verses 5-6 are often considered a late supplement. Whether secondary or original, these verses do not impinge on the argument here.

29 See note 15.

30 Delitzsch, Biblischer Commentar über den Prophet Jesaia, 269; Duhm, Das Buch Jesaia, xv; Lindblom, “Der Eckstein in Jes. 28,16,” 128; Wildberger, Isaiah 28-39, 7-8; Sweeney, Isaiah 1-39, 369; Barthel, Prophetenwort, 285-86; Beuken, Isaiah II, 21; J. J. M. Roberts, “Isaiah’s Egyptian and Nubian Prophecies,” in Israel’s Prophets and Israel’s Past: Essays on the Relationship of Prophetic Texts and Israelite History in Honor of John H. Hayes (ed. B. E. Kelle and M. B. Moore; New York: T & T Clark, 2006), 206-7; Dekker, Zion’s Rock-Solid Foundations, 75; de Jong, Isaiah among the Ancient Near Eastern Prophets, 98. Whether the setting is the Syro-Ephraimite crisis (734-732), or closer to 722, as de Jong, Isaiah among the Ancient Near Eastern Prophets, 216, argues on the basis of a lack of reference to Syria, cannot be ultimately decided.

31 Joseph Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1-39: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (ab 19; New York: Doubleday, 2000), 380, 387; Hays, “The Covenant with Mut,” 230-31.

32 See Ephraim Stern, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible. Vol II: the Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian Periods, 732-332 BCE (New York: Doubleday, 2001), 12, 45, 48.

33 Hays, “The Covenant with Mut,” 230-31 n. 86.

34 Sweeney, Isaiah 28-39, 28; Claus Westermann, Grundformen prophetischer Rede (München: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1960), 137-42.

35 This is sometimes referred to as the “prophetic perfect,” but this is a dubious grammatical category (cf. for example, Max Rogland, Alleged Non-Past Uses of Qatal in Classical Hebrew [Assen: Van Gorcum, 2003], 53-114, who concludes that what is sometimes called the “prophetic perfect” is actually a variety of uses of the qatal). More promising is John A. Cook’s typological argument for the perfective expressing in some cases the imminent future (The Biblical Hebrew Verbal System: A Grammaticalization Approach [Ph. D. diss., University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2002], 219-20, 22-23). The verb in v. 2, in this case, could be translated as “he is about to set (the strong one/flood) on the land with strength.” Cook cites Isa 5:13 as another example where the perfective qatal refers to the immediate future.

36 Duhm, Das Buch Jesaia, xv; William L. Holladay, Isaiah: Scroll of a Prophetic Heritage (Grand Rapids: Michigan, 1978), 58-59; Wildberger, Isaiah 28-39, 8; Sweeney, Isaiah 1-39, 369; Barthel, Prophetenwort, 311, 316; Beuken, Isaiah II, 21; Roberts, “Isaiah’s Egyptian and Nubian Prophecies,” 206-7; Dekker, Zion’s Rock-Solid Foundations, 74-78; de Jong, Isaiah among the Ancient Near Eastern Prophets, 109, 111. Hays, “The Covenant with Mut,” 230, and Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1-39, 380, also both mention this as a possibility alongside of their own proposals for dating vv. 1-4 to the period between 722 and 701.

37 Dekker, Zion’s Rock-Solid Foundations, 75. The same basic reason, although less clearly articulated, is represented by the proposals of Duhm, Das Buch Jesaia, xv; Holladay, Isaiah: Scroll of a Prophetic Heritage, 58-59; Wildberger, Isaiah 28-39, 8; Sweeney, Isaiah 1-39, 369; Barthel, Prophetenwort, 316-17; Roberts, “Isaiah’s Egyptian and Nubian Prophecies,” 206-7; de Jong, Isaiah among the Ancient Near Eastern Prophets, 448.

38 Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1-39, 232.

39 Ibid., 235-36.

40 Hays, Death in the Iron Age II, 305, idem, “The Covenant with Mut,” 225, likewise points out that it is simply not necessary to see the topic shift as indicative of two redactional layers.

41 So both Shalom M. Paul, A Commentary on the Book of Amos (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991), 76, and Hans Walter Wolff, A Commentary on the Books of the Prophets Joel and Amos, (Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), 141, 144, 148-49. This remains the case even if the oracles against Tyre, Edom, and Judah are late additions as Wolff maintains (ibid., 139-40).

42 Wildberger, Isaiah 28-39, 18-19. Beuken, Isaiah II, 17; Dekker, Zion’s Rock-Solid Foundations, 75-76, 178.

43 Jackson, “Style in Isaiah 28,” 88-89.

44 Exum, “A Literary Approach to Isaiah 28,” 110.

45 The translation here and elsewhere is the author’s. The series of feminine suffixes with no obvious antecedent and the apparent awkwardness of the verbal adjective phrase עלז בה, “the one who exults in her,” following three abstract nouns has puzzled interpreters of this verse. See H. G. M. Williamson, Isaiah 1-5 (icc; London: T, 2006), 360-62, for a discussion of the difficulties and proposed solutions. The feminine suffixes have traditionally been understood to refer to Jerusalem, and Williamson’s observation that עלז is used often with reference to cities adds support to this interpretation (ibid., 362, 366).

46 H. M. Barstad, “Sheol,” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons (Second, Extensively Revised ed.; ed. K. van der Toorn et. al.; Brill: Leiden, 1999), 769 (768-70); William Hayes Ward, “A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Habakkuk,” in A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Micah, Zephaniah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Obadiah and Joel (T. & T. Clark: Edinbourgh, 1911), 14; Francis I. Andersen, Habakkuk (ab 25; Doubleday: New York, 2001) 217, 220.

47 Reading with the Qere.

48 The name for Egypt has no satisfying analysis. Cf. Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1-39, 413, for a number of proposed emendations. The rendering here maintains the consonants, but combines the final two words to produce a Hifil participle: המשבת.

49 K.1668+ IV’:31, Andreas Fuchs, Die Annalen des Jahres 711 v. Chr.: Nach Prismenfragmenten aus Ninive und Assur (saas 8; The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project: Helsinki, 1998), 46; Mordechai Cogan, The Raging Torrent: Historical Inscriptions from Assyria and Babylonia Relating to Ancient Israel (Jerusalem: Carter, 2008), 103-05.

50 See John Taylor, “The Third Intermediate Period,” in The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt (ed. Ian Shaw; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 345-46, 352-53.

51 Machinist, “Assyria and its Image in First Isaiah;” cf., more recently, Shawn Zelig Aster, The Unbeatable Light: Melammu and its Biblical Parallels (aoat 384; Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2012), 204-220, 225-236.

52 Cf. also Machinist, “Assyria and its Image in First Isaiah,” 726-27, and Aster, The Unbeatable Light, 227-36 for the descriptions of the terrible כבוד, “glory,” of the Assyrian king in Isa 8:7, 10:16-19 as a reference to the Akkadian melammu.

53 Cf. above, note 26.

54 Most scholars take vv. 7-13 to refer to Judean religious intermediaries (Lindblom, “Der Eckstein in Jes. 28,16,” 129; Joseph Scharbert, Die Propheten Israels bis 700 v. Chr. [Köln: J. P. Bachem, 1965], 249; Holladay, Isaiah: Scroll of a Prophetic Heritage, 58-59; Wildberger, Isaiah 28-39, 5, 17; Van der Toorn, “Necromancy,” 199-200; Beuken, Isaiah II, 16-19; Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1-39, 387; Roberts, “Isaiah’s Egyptian and Nubian Prophecies,” 207; Dekker, Zion’s Rock-Solid Foundations, 75-76; Hays, “The Covenant with Mut,” 230). Sweeney, Isaiah 1-39, 365, however, sees here a continued reference to Ephraim. Given the fact that explicit reference to Judah does not appear until v. 14, others note a possibly deliberate ambiguity as to the referent for these verses (Exum, “A Literary Approach to Isa 28,” 109; Barthel, Prophetenwort, 293). Whether they refer to Ephraim, Judah, or are deliberately ambiguous, these verses single out the religious intermediaries who claim to impart knowledge to the people.

55 The Qere and the parallel in v. 18 suggest reading the imperfect יעבר, a likely original reading that was subjected to haplography with the yod in the preceding word. 1QIsaa reads here יבור, surely a mistake for יעבור, which appears in v. 18, and thus attests a prefix-conjugation form despite the scribal error.

56 On this interpretation of שוט שוטף, see footnote 2 above.

57 So also Beuken, Isaiah II, 46.

58 Beuken, Isaiah II, 60.

59 Wildberger, Isaiah 28-39, 36, 45; Hays, “The Covenant with Mut,” 230 n. 85.

  • 3

    See, for example, Gese, “Die Strömende Geissel,” 130-32; Joseph Blenkinsopp, “Judah’s Covenant with Death (Isaiah XXVIII 14-22),” vt 50 (2000): 474; Christopher Hays, “The Covenant with Mut: A New Interpretation of Isaiah 28:1-22,” vt (2010): 217, 232; idem, Death in the Iron Age II and in First Isaiah (fat 79; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011), 288.

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  • 7

    William Robertson Smith, The Prophets of Israel and Their Place in History to the Close of the Eighth Century B.C. (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1882), 284. Without defense or elaboration, Brian B. Schmidt, Israel’s Beneficent Dead (fat 11; Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1994), 160-61, n. 119, also registers a preference for seeing Assyria here. John Day, Molech: A God of Human Sacrifice in the Old Testament (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 60 n. 106, mentions this possibility, citing W. R. Smith, only to point out that “no scholar today follows this view.”

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  • 8

    Blenkinsopp, “Judah’s Covenant with Death,” 474, n. 8. Scholars holding a version of this position not noted by Blenkinsopp include Johannes Lindblom, “Der Eckstein in Jes. 28,16,” in Interpretationes ad Vetus Testamentum pertinentes S. Mowinckel (ed. N. Alstrup and A. S. Kapelrud; Forlaget Land og Kirke, 1955), 129; Gese, “Die Strömende Geissel,” 133; Willem A. M. Beuken, Isaiah II(Historical Commentary on the Old Testament. Leuven: Peeters, 2000), 45-46; and Hans Wildberger, Isaiah 28-39 (Continental Commentary. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), 38-40.

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  • 9

    B. Duhm, Das Buch Jesaia (Zweite verbesserte Auflage; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1902), 170; Jared Judd Jackson, “Style in Isaiah 28 and a Drinking Bout of the Gods (rs 24.258),” in Rhetorical Criticism: Essays in Honor of James Muilenburg (ed. J. J. Jackson and M. Kessler; Pittsburgh: Pickwick Press, 1974), 97-98; Karel Van der Toorn, “Echoes of Judaean Necromancy in Isaiah 28,7-22,” zaw 100 (1998): 199-217.202-3, 215-17; Alistair C. Stewart, “The Covenant with Death in Isaiah 28,” ExpTim 100 (1989): 375-76; Day, Molech, 61-62; Francis Landy, “Tracing the Voice of the Other: Isaiah 28 and the Covenant with Death,” in The New Literary Criticism and the Hebrew Bible (ed. J. C. Exum and D. J. A. Clines; Sheffield: jsot Press, 1993), 144; Blenkinsopp, “Judah’s Covenant with Death,” 474, 477-78. Gese, “Die Strömende Geissel,” 131-33, argues that the storm imagery in this passage refers metaphorically to the Assyrian army by means of the iconography of Hadad but denies that an actual agreement with a deity is envisioned in the “covenant with death.”

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  • 10

    Hays, “The Covenant with Mut,” 228-9; So also Jaap Dekker, Zion’s Rock-Solid Foundations: An Exegetical Study of the Zion Text in Isaiah 28:16 (OtSt 54; Leiden: Brill, 2007), 345-46. Cf. also the doubts registered by Schmidt, Israel’s Beneficent Dead, 160-61, regarding the presence of references to necromancy or the cult of the dead in Isa 28:7-22.

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  • 11

    Defended most recently by Blenkinsopp, “Judah’s Covenant with Death”, 477-78.

  • 13

    Hays, “The Covenant with Mut,” 229.

  • 14

    Blenkinsopp, “Judah’s Covenant with Death,” 477; Hays, “The Covenant with Mut,” 228.

  • 15

    Duhm, Das Buch Jesaia, xv; Edwin M. Good, Irony in the Old Testament (London: S.P.C.K., 1965), 147-48; J. Cheryl Exum, “‘Whom Will He Teach Knowledge?’ A Literary Approach to Isaiah 28,” in Art and Meaning: Rhetoric in Biblical Literature (ed. D. J. A. Clines, D. M. Gunn, and A. J. Hauser; Sheffield: jsot Press, 1982), 125; Gary Stansell, “Isaiah 28-33: Blest Be the Tie that Binds (Isaiah Together),” in New Visions of Isaiah (jsotss 214; eds. Melugin and M. A. Sweeney; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), 77-78; Jörg Barthel, Prophetenwort und Geschichte: Die Jesajaüberlieferung in Jes 6-8 und 28-31 (fat 19; Mohr Siebeck: Tübingen, 1997), 318-20; Dekker, Zion’s Rock-Solid Foundations, 120-121; Matthijs De Jong, Isaiah among the Ancient Near Eastern Prophets: A Comparative Study of the Earliest Stages of the Isaiah Tradition and the Neo-Assyrian Prophecies (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 109, 111. Marvin A. Sweeney, Isaiah 1-39 with an Introduction to Prophetic Literature (fotl 16; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 367, argues that while a treaty with Egypt may not be specifically referenced here, it does refer to the “futility of entering into political alliances against the Assyrians,” and thus includes the Egyptians as well as possibly the Babylonians. Franz Delitzsch, Biblischer Commentar über den Prophet Jesaia (Leipzig: Dürffling und Franke, 1866), 296-97, 301-2, dates the pericope to the period prior to the fall of Samaria, but sees nevertheless a reference to a treaty with Egypt. There is no evidence, however, for any kind of alliance between Judah and Egypt before 713 bce (Cf. J. Maxwell Miller and John H. Hayes, A History of Ancient Israel and Judah [2nd ed. Louisville: Westminster, 2006], 406).

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  • 17

    Day, Molech, 85; Hays, Death in the Iron Age II, 288; idem, “The Covenant with Mut,” 217.

  • 18

    Reinhard G. Kratz, “Rewriting Isaiah: The Case of Isaiah 28-31,” in Prophecy and Prophets in Ancient Israel: Proceedings of the Oxford Old Testament Seminar, ed. John Day (New York: T & T Clark, 2010), 245–66, slightly updated in idem, Prophetenstudien (fat 74; Tübingen: Mohr Siebek, 2011), 177-97.

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  • 19

    Idem, “Rewriting Isaiah,” 255-56, 258-59; idem, Prophetenstudien, 188-89, 191-92.

  • 20

    Idem, “Rewriting Isaiah,” 263-64; idem, Prophetenstudien, 196-97.

  • 22

    Kratz, “Rewriting Isaiah,” 260; idem, Prophetenstudien, 193-94.

  • 23

    Hays, “The Covenant with Mut,” 217.

  • 25

    Hays, “The Covenant with Mut,” 235; idem, Death in the Iron Age II, 311.

  • 27

    Scholars holding this view include Smith, The Prophets of Israel, 282; Lindblom, “Der Eckstein in Jes. 28,16,” 128-9; Day, Molech, 64. Day’s argument, however, is based entirely on his theory that the covenant with death refers to Molech worship and the reference to human sacrifice by Ahaz in 1 Kgs 16:3 (see my rejection of this proposal above and Hays, “The Covenant with Mut,” 228 n. 72). John H. Hayes and Stuart A. Irvine, Isaiah the Eighth Century Prophet: His Times & Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1987), 321, 324-26, argue that all of chs. 28-33 refer to the last years of the Ephraim state and are addressed against Ephraim, not Judah. On this interpretation, the references to Egypt in chs. 30, 31 reference Hoshea’s plea for help from Egypt (2 Kgs 17:4). It is far more convincing, however, to take Judah as the audience of these oracles and the references to Egypt in chs. 30, 31 as to Judah’s attempt to form an alliance with Egypt at the end of the 8th century.

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  • 30

    Delitzsch, Biblischer Commentar über den Prophet Jesaia, 269; Duhm, Das Buch Jesaia, xv; Lindblom, “Der Eckstein in Jes. 28,16,” 128; Wildberger, Isaiah 28-39, 7-8; Sweeney, Isaiah 1-39, 369; Barthel, Prophetenwort, 285-86; Beuken, Isaiah II, 21; J. J. M. Roberts, “Isaiah’s Egyptian and Nubian Prophecies,” in Israel’s Prophets and Israel’s Past: Essays on the Relationship of Prophetic Texts and Israelite History in Honor of John H. Hayes (ed. B. E. Kelle and M. B. Moore; New York: T & T Clark, 2006), 206-7; Dekker, Zion’s Rock-Solid Foundations, 75; de Jong, Isaiah among the Ancient Near Eastern Prophets, 98. Whether the setting is the Syro-Ephraimite crisis (734-732), or closer to 722, as de Jong, Isaiah among the Ancient Near Eastern Prophets, 216, argues on the basis of a lack of reference to Syria, cannot be ultimately decided.

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  • 32

    See Ephraim Stern, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible. Vol II: the Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian Periods, 732-332 BCE (New York: Doubleday, 2001), 12, 45, 48.

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  • 34

    Sweeney, Isaiah 28-39, 28; Claus Westermann, Grundformen prophetischer Rede (München: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1960), 137-42.

  • 36

    Duhm, Das Buch Jesaia, xv; William L. Holladay, Isaiah: Scroll of a Prophetic Heritage (Grand Rapids: Michigan, 1978), 58-59; Wildberger, Isaiah 28-39, 8; Sweeney, Isaiah 1-39, 369; Barthel, Prophetenwort, 311, 316; Beuken, Isaiah II, 21; Roberts, “Isaiah’s Egyptian and Nubian Prophecies,” 206-7; Dekker, Zion’s Rock-Solid Foundations, 74-78; de Jong, Isaiah among the Ancient Near Eastern Prophets, 109, 111. Hays, “The Covenant with Mut,” 230, and Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1-39, 380, also both mention this as a possibility alongside of their own proposals for dating vv. 1-4 to the period between 722 and 701.

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  • 37

    Dekker, Zion’s Rock-Solid Foundations, 75. The same basic reason, although less clearly articulated, is represented by the proposals of Duhm, Das Buch Jesaia, xv; Holladay, Isaiah: Scroll of a Prophetic Heritage, 58-59; Wildberger, Isaiah 28-39, 8; Sweeney, Isaiah 1-39, 369; Barthel, Prophetenwort, 316-17; Roberts, “Isaiah’s Egyptian and Nubian Prophecies,” 206-7; de Jong, Isaiah among the Ancient Near Eastern Prophets, 448.

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  • 38

    Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1-39, 232.

  • 39

    Ibid., 235-36.

  • 41

    So both Shalom M. Paul, A Commentary on the Book of Amos (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991), 76, and Hans Walter Wolff, A Commentary on the Books of the Prophets Joel and Amos, (Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), 141, 144, 148-49. This remains the case even if the oracles against Tyre, Edom, and Judah are late additions as Wolff maintains (ibid., 139-40).

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  • 42

    Wildberger, Isaiah 28-39, 18-19. Beuken, Isaiah II, 17; Dekker, Zion’s Rock-Solid Foundations, 75-76, 178.

  • 43

    Jackson, “Style in Isaiah 28,” 88-89.

  • 44

    Exum, “A Literary Approach to Isaiah 28,” 110.

  • 46

    H. M. Barstad, “Sheol,” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons (Second, Extensively Revised ed.; ed. K. van der Toorn et. al.; Brill: Leiden, 1999), 769 (768-70); William Hayes Ward, “A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Habakkuk,” in A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Micah, Zephaniah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Obadiah and Joel (T. & T. Clark: Edinbourgh, 1911), 14; Francis I. Andersen, Habakkuk (ab 25; Doubleday: New York, 2001) 217, 220.

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  • 50

    See John Taylor, “The Third Intermediate Period,” in The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt (ed. Ian Shaw; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 345-46, 352-53.

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  • 57

    So also Beuken, Isaiah II, 46.

  • 58

    Beuken, Isaiah II, 60.

  • 59

    Wildberger, Isaiah 28-39, 36, 45; Hays, “The Covenant with Mut,” 230 n. 85.

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