Cyrus’s Cylinder

The chapters from 49-53 in Isaiah have been said to be some of the most controversial versus in the bible, and upon reading them it is quite apparent the reasons why.  Numerous questions have come up, and then from them only more obscure uncertainty arises.  For me, who has little experience with poetry (specifically of the biblical kind), it would normally be difficult to get excited about the endless amount of indecipherable versus.  This portion of II Isaiah, however, is nothing short of epic.  Within such a short span of text, incredible interpretations can be taken.

To piggyback off of what Bethany was talking about, I want to speak some about the identity of the servant.  This is the most overwhelming task of the span of chapters from Deutero-Isaiah.  The possibilities that she discussed all have their individual connection to the text.  One other possibility was that the servant was Cyrus, the Persian King who saved the Israelites from exile in Babylon.  That in itself introduces more questions.  Brettler mentions a document called the Cyrus Cylinder which speaks of the accomplishments of Cyrus in conquering Babylon.  It also explains the god Marduk and his commands onto Cyrus to march onto Babylon and save them from Nabonidus (the last King of Babylon) and the moon god, Sin, which was praised higher than Marduk.  Many similarities exist between the commands given to Cyrus by the Jewish God and by Marduk (although one is read in Isaiah and the other from an artifact written in ancient Babylonian language).

Personally, I find Isaiah 53 both exciting and perplexing.  The significance that these verses play on the validity of the New Testament is incontrovertible.  Harold Bloom discusses the interpretation of the servant as Jesus the messiah being quite misguided.  To call the interpretation a “misreading” seems very harsh.  With the numerous possibilities of identity of the servant, how can one opinion be considered a misreading?

There is one occurrence that is specific to II Isaiah.  In Isaiah 52:6 hineni is used once again.  As you recall this is a phrase originally used by Abraham meaning “I am here”.  In Isaiah the tables have turned.  God is saying the line to the servant, “I…am now at hand.”  This was the first verse that struck me as being incredibly epic.  If this portion of Isaiah is to be connected to the New Testament, this would be where I seem to feel that connection taking place.  Taking what Bloom was saying about Deutero-Isaiah being a love song from the Christian perspective it is crucial to take this phrase into account.  The use of hineni by God happens nowhere else in the Bible.  This small, however incredible occurrence automatically seems to cause a metamorphosis in the relationship between God and his people.  This development seems to me to be what Christians are able to point to when they are interpreting Isaiah 49-53.  Not only does the servant seem exceptionally similar to Jesus the messiah, but the relationship between God and his people experiences an indubitable change.


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One Response to Cyrus’s Cylinder

  1. I think you and Harold Bloom do a great job of highlighting the similarities between the Jesus of the New Testament and these Servant Songs. We’ll talk more about his conception of misreading in class today. Great post!

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