Thoughts on Isaiah, Poetry, and Bloom

The similarities in the selected readings of Isaiah to Christ in the New Testament are undeniable.  Particularly in Isaiah 53, is says:

     But he was wounded because of our sins,
     Crushed because of our iniquities.
     He bore the chastisement that made us whole,
     And by his bruises we were healed.

Brettler’s editorial margin notes interpret the servant to represent the nation of Israel; or a “pious minority or some individual within the Israelite community.”

Harold Bloom explains in the brief reading for class that “the Servant is not a Messianic figure.”  It is actually the Persian King Cyrus that  Isaiah is celebrating in these chapters.  Bloom reminds us that the Christian interpretation that this is a prophecy of Christ’s crucifixion is anathema to Jewish theology.  Bloom has diverse repertoire himself as he crafted the analysis for a comprehensive William Blake anthology.  He was quoted not long ago in an interview conducted by Krista Tippett of radio show Being, of novelist Mary Doria Russell  when she reminded listeners that  “this is something that Jews talk about every Saturday morning at Torah study, because there are some really — Harold Bloom calls it the uncanniness of God. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. His ways are not our ways. And as you read through the Torah, you are confronted with absolutely inexplicable and very disturbing things.”

This is not to say that the selected chapters from Isaiah are disturbing, but what needs to be remembered is that this is not a black and white issue.  Perhaps there is no correct answer.  Although it does seem too farfetched to ask if the crucifixion account in the New Testament was contrived from these allusions in Isaiah for a messiah, but it is reasonable to consider that at least some of the Israelites were looking for a messiah.

It’s a political nightmare for one faith to rely on another’s text to justify some portion of their theology or religious history.  Judaism and Christianity are interwoven because they share a common text and a common historical figure, it’s impossible for one theology to be right without the other to be wrong.  This makes it difficult to interpret these passages while maintaining political correctness.

That said, it is possible for me anyway, to see a message that is more universal than these chapters telling of a future messiah or of a redeeming nation.  One purpose of art and poetry is to offer inspiration and hope during a time of strife.  These passages do just that.  They can be read to inspire the individual or the community to be a servant or messenger of a greater good.

Isaiah 50 inspires the individual offering solace in that God is close by.  God is asking the reader why no one responds to his call, and threatens to turn rivers into desert.  This is a plea for participation, joining in a greater good – that is poetry, that is what art does.  Participating in it brings us out of ourselves into a greater good, a higher and more noble realm.

ENG 270 is reading the Old Testament in a historial context.  It has been my experience in reading poetry as literature, it is, at least in part, judged as a stand alone piece, regardless of its place in history.  Is the Bible so historically and theologically charged that it is impossible to do this?  My experience with all the arts can be enhanced by understanding the context in which the work was created, but it can also be disintegrated by analyzing the art to death.  Over analysis can remove the art, mystery, and most importantly, the personal inspiration derived from the experience.

The one question that has yet to be asked on this blog that is entitled “The Old Testament as Literature,” is – Is it beautiful?  Can we remove the historical significance and consider what these readings mean to us on an instinctive level?  Or is our personal interaction with the Old Testament as Literature, ie as art, irrelevant?

Harold Bloom has piqued my curiousity because of his omnipresence in my research and now with a class reading.  Anyone so well versed in the swath of topics as Bloom deserves the title Renaissance Man.  It’s interesting to me that he considers himself Jewish, but has real issue with the Jewish theological concept of God.  Bloom says being Jewish is a cultural thing.  People like this that write (and are published) on institutional matters, but live and think on the periphery inspire me.  Actually, he doesn’t just live on periphery, but he combines his experience with religion, literature, art and politics, creating new perspectives.  Interestingly, it all began for him as a kid when he discovered William Blake’s poetry.  No wonder I like this guy.


About Pam

I'm a senior at UK, majoring in Philosophy.
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One Response to Thoughts on Isaiah, Poetry, and Bloom

  1. Great post, Pam! I think you ask a very important question here: is it possible to read the Old Testament “as Literature,” that is, detached, or somewhat independent from its place as a political, historical, and theological text? Obviously, you might be able to tell from the way I teach and approach this course that I am inclined to say, “no,” or at least that no literature can be detached from its historical and political context. This is a discussion worth having and worth considering throughout the remainder of the course, and I think that your specific example here, the suffering servant songs in Isaiah, is a great concrete example.

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