Isaiah 53        

Vadim Cherny, Nikolay Bondarchuk

 

This inquiry originated when one of its authors wondered why the earliest Christians used Isaiah 53 for apologetic purposes. They would have understood easily the inapplicability of Isaiah’s image to Jesus, at least as it is understood today. So perhaps they understood the Isaiah 53 or, not yet bound by dogma, the life of Jesus (or both) very differently from the common modern interpretation.

Careful reading of Isaiah 53 on our part at first produced various interpretations, but all of them left certain words unexplained. Our final rendering, however, which we share here, we believe is logically coherent, historically plausible, and impeccable in conveying the Hebrew grammar.

The Isaiah 53’s author, a mainstream Jew, relates the life story of a certain person who quickly rose to prominence on rumors that he was the Messiah. Instead of uniting the nation, however, he soon fell into the common sin of starting a sect of one’s own outside normative Judaism and disseminating this teaching. God—who, in the Isaiah author’s view, favored Judean unity and thus desired orthodoxy and opposed sects and sectarianism—suppressed him. The people also rejected that person’s odd teaching, and he was executed for violating the law, a consequence of the fact that his interpretation of the law and theirs were different. Disapproving of him overall, but also respecting some aspects of his personality and career, the author of Isaiah 53 suggests that had the man repented of his delusions, he would have become and remained an important figure in Jewish society.

The process by which the Isaiah 53, which describes current events, was taken by later generations as prophecy, is reminiscent of another famous piece of Isaiah, his prophecy of the savior Emmanu El to be born to King Ahaz, which prediction did not come true, and so was taken by posterity as referring to events to come in a distant future.

Ancient authors spoke to their contemporaries about current events, hardly expecting an audience distanced by millennia. Many details are omitted, therefore, simply because the intended audience knew them well. Those details are often impossible for us to reconstruct.

This article separates the translation and the interpretation—things, which are often lumped together as “translation.” The translation presented here is word-for-word, with the aim of precisely transmitting the original meaning, even at the expense of good English style.

 

 

53

1a

Who believed what was heard among us?[1]

 

:1b

            And the arm of God—on[i] whom was [it] revealed?[2]

 

:2a

And he rose up[3]

 

2b

            like a shoot[ii]* before his[iii] face,

*suckling, youth

2c

                  and like a root from the land burned by sun[4][iv];

 

2d

            not a vividness in him,

 

2e

                  and not splendor[5][v];

 

2f

and we would see him[vi]

 

2g

            and not a sight[vii]

 

2h

yet we[6][viii] would long for him.

 

:3a

Despised[7]

 

3b

            and rejected by men[ix]*[x],

*everyone; cut from men

3c

a man of suffering[8],

 

3d

            known by illness[9][xi],

 

3f

and as if turning his face[xii]* from us[10]*,

*lit., faces[xiii]; **turning faces from him

3g

            despised

 

3h

                        and disregarded.

 

:4a

However*, our illnesses he has borne,[11][xiv] **

*actually; **lifted, shared, declared[xv], forgave[xvi]

4b

            and our sufferings, he has carried[12][xvii] them,

 

4c

but we regarded him

 

4d

            tormented*[xviii]

*experiencing divine retribution

4e

                        stricken by the Lord

 

4f

                                   and pressed upon[xix]*

*one who is shuttered, or received a rejoinder

:5a

But he is made trembling[xx]* because of our crimes,

*emptied out[xxi]

5b

            dejected because of our sinful deviations[xxii]*;

*iniquities

5c

Conscience* of our world** on him,

*blame; **our circle[xxiii], being, well-being

5d

            And in his community[xxiv] is our relief.

 

:6a

We all like sheep*[xxv] wandered**[13]

*lit., sheep and goats; **staggered

6b

            every man on his [own] way turning [aside][xxvi][14],

 

6c

and God attached[xxvii] to[xxviii]* him sinful deviation** of us all[15].

*lit., caused to touch into; **iniquity

:7a

He was suppressed[16][xxix]*,

*pressed hard

7b

            and he is shuttered*,

*pressed upon, received a rejoinder[17]

7c

                 and will not open mouth;*

*,

7d

like a lamb[xxx]*, which will be led to slaughter[18]

*kid[xxxi]

7e

            and as a sheep is dumb[xxxii] before its shearers,

 

7f

                 and will not open his mouth[19].

 

:8a

From[xxxiii] pressure*[xxxiv] and from trial he was taken[20];

*confinement[xxxv]

8b

            and with his[21] generation* who would argue[22]

*clan

8c

                 since he was sheared[23] from land of [the] living?

 

8d

            Because of the crime of my nation,

 

8e

                  torment to it[xxxvi][24].

 

:9a

And he[xxxvii] gave[xxxviii] [the][xxxix] wicked[25]* his tomb,

* (plural)

9b

            and[xl] [the] rich[xli]*his** high burials[xlii]***,[xliii]

*sing. or plural; **rich man’s or his own; ***altars[xliv]

9c

although not a violence[26] he did,

 

9d

            and not a deceit was in his mouth.

 

:10a

And God, willing his dejection[27], made him ill:

 

10b

[28]If his soul will bring[xlv] a guilt[29] offering[30]*,

*put aside his guilt

10c

            he will see descendants,

 

10d

            prolong days,

 

10e

            and the will[31] of God will succeed by his[32] hand.

 

:11a

In the result[xlvi] of the work[33]* of his soul,

*slyness[xlvii]

11b

            he will see[34], be satiated,

 

11c

by his knowledge, the righteous one[xlviii] will justify my slave[xlix] before [the] nobles*[l],

*multitude[li], great

11d

and their sinful deviations* he will withstand[35]**.

*iniquities; **lit., carry[lii]

:12a

Because of this, I will allot[liii] him [place*] among nobles;**

*part; **multitude[liv], great[lv];

12b

            to[lvi] [the] strong* he will allot[lvii] booty**; ***

*numerous[lviii]; **gain[lix];  ***captives will destroy the strong

12c

although[lx] he had exposed[lxi] to death[36] his soul

 

12d

            and among criminals[37] had been reckoned.”

 

12e

But punishment from* [the] nobles** he has borne***

*offense[lxii] of; **multitude, great***; lifted, shared, declared, forgave; 

12f

            and to[lxiii] criminals will[38] be attached.

 

 

 

The reviewers of this translation often criticized us for disregarding the earlier translations and the opinions of authorities. But what modern science or scholarship values all ancient opinions—especially above the facts? The Hebrew text is there for everyone to read. There are almost no variant readings in the manuscripts—and, in fact, a known Qumranic variant in במת׀ (his altars) only demonstrates that the scribes attempted to resolve the puzzle even back then.

Our approach is actually in conformity with the earlier rabbinical views, who generally believed that the opinion of a later teacher should prevail over that of an earlier one. The developed religions, Judaism and Christianity alike, closed the interpretational window, choosing to accept unquestionably opinions of the old authorities instead of meeting the challenges of modern interpretations.

Moreover, we have little idea of how all the ancients interpreted the Bible. Talmud preserves only Pharisaic views. Sadducees were likely close to our interpretation, taking Isaiah 53 for historical narration of events in the author’s lifetime, not a prophecy. But once the concept of the Isaiah 53 as prophecy was fixed, even freethinking commentators until very recently had little leeway, if they wanted to stay in their religious community.

The common interpretation is a house of cards. Let any piece of contrary evidence sink in, and the interpretation is destroyed. If “the arm of God” has negative connotation when applied to the man, then the author did not approve of some of his activity. If he did not forgive the sins, but shared them, especially the sectarianism, he is hardly a messenger of God. If we refuse to twist במת׀ beyond recognition, then the man left altars to the rich, not was buried with them. And so on with almost every word for which we have offered a different translation.

 

Unless a word remained in the modern usage, its sense is often unknown and has to be reconstructed from the Tanakhic and Talmudic entries. When only a handful of such entries exist for rare words, the meaning often cannot be readily established from the context. There is no need, however, to resort to conjectures, and the translators should exercise no license in interpreting particularly the verbs. With the known root meaning and the sense of each verb form, the verbs are always comprehensible.

But is not it true that Hebrew verbs sometimes deviate from the grammatically correct meaning? Although this may be so, this is an exception which has to be justified by the established usage of the word—something lacking in the case of rare words, in the first place. Even though the ancient author might have an unusual meaning in mind, we have no way to know or prove it. A priori, grammatically standard meanings have to be used in translation, at least if they fit the context, whether we like it or not.

 

We had to make assumptions as to impossible and implausible. Every interpretation advanced previously is possible in a sense. It is often possible to suppose an unusual meaning, or a grammatical error, or just to stretch semantics a bit or more than a bit. In a language so economical as Hebrew, small variations in interpreting the pronoun suffixes, tenses and prepositions can lead to major changes of the meaning. Therefore, almost every meaning desired by any party can be substantiated by adjusting the translation.

Then how do we know that our translation is better? Because it does not require any grammatical twisting, but explains every word, form, or affix in its standard meaning, without resorting to plenty of highly nonstandard interpretations of the grammatically perfect text as the other translations do. In any field of humanistic sciences, scholars prefer that explanation which requires fewer assumptions. Ours requires none. Or, put another way, our translation relies on statistically more probable meanings of the words and grammatical forms, those encountered more often in Tanakh. This translation is better in the sense of being more probable. There is only one benchmark other than probability: compliance with preconceived views, disguised as historical or contextual analysis.

 

Appendix.

On the context.

Several reviewers voiced an opinion that our interpretation does not fit into the texture of those books of Isaiah that basically deal with the return from exile. Apparently, their view is incompatible with the common view of Isaiah 53 as a prophecy of the future messiah, and would lead to seeing Cyrus in every servant or savior reference, which is not the case with references to the servant in Isaiah 42:2–3, 49:3–4.

Rather, we conclude that several references to the enigmatic man were interpolated into Isaiah’s text so that, while superficially preserving textual continuity, they are actually out of the context and speak of a different subject. They appear in random order both before and after Isaiah 53. Significantly, those before Isaiah 53 tend to refer to the man in the future tense, describing his glorious prospects, while the later ones bitterly complain of his rejection. These references were embedded into Isaiah in such a way as to be visible only to readers who  know what they are looking for. In this sense, our interpretation fits the context—not that of the main chapters, but of the numerous small interpolations.

The interpolations are stylistically different from the surrounding hymns and lamentations, and often employ a much later grammar, unusually careful, with the correct tenses, standard meanings of prepositions, and the like,—with a peculiar tint of rare and archaic but still grammatically impeccable—words, often modeled upon Job. In fact, no other chapter in Tanakh has such density of ambiguous and rare words—still another reason to read them in the grammatically correct manner, based on the root meaning; any other reading is pure speculation. Since the language of Job is very ancient, the Isaiah could have meant to affect archaic language. The inserts employ the words whose superficial meaning is well related to the context, but if we look more closely, only a different meaning fits the context, such as “shalom” with the sense of dead silence, or מנחה, a resting place—not a military tent, but a tomb, or the grammatical form is actually different, משחת—not marred, but anointment.

In its extremely careful wording, the author of Isaiah 53 creates parallels between words used in different contexts. He extensively employs synonyms; curiously, he also favors words of related meaning with common two-letter root cells, such as נגע  (disaster) and נגש  (to bend), חלה  (illness) and מחלל (to shock), גזז (shearer) and גזר  (to cut). He is fond of the causative form, describing action upon the man. Another feature specific to these inserts is many pronouns of 1p and non-divine 3ms; unusually for Hebrew, pronouns and pronoun forms of other words are employed without specifying the subject. The reader, who was expected to know the subject, should have been a peculiarly informed reader, since the text contains no inferences. Possibly, authors of the minor inserts were different from the Isaiah of Isaiah 53, since his cautious endorsement of the man contrasts with their all-out adherence, and his pity for the people who rejected the man contrasts with the other authors’ hatred. His singular my slave gave way to the community of my slaves in chapter 65. The 53 author identified himself with the sinful nation, while the later interpolators, sectarians, referred to them.

The puzzling question is who could have introduced these inserts. These people must have had exclusive access to the scrolls in order to introduce the changes in every manuscript copied and to make sure no alternative versions are left by denouncing them as heretical. Considering their overall piety towards the texts, into which they introduced only small pieces, they were not some fringe sectarians. Overall, they seemingly controlled the temple or, at any rate, the major script shop, if there was one. This is not easily reconciled with the fact that their revered figure was executed, and they were seemingly reviled. We do not know much about the ancient Jewish sects, but from the little we know, the Teacher of Righteousness of the Essenes seems a good candidate, if we allow that some time passed between his execution or exile, and the expulsion of the Essenes from the Temple, where they seemingly had held a major role  previously. While this is supposed to be an anachronism, it is not impossible, given the absence of pre-second-century BCE scrolls of Isaiah. This is a pure conjecture, since there are other figures more or less fitting this pattern, starting from Akhenaton onward, and including Isaiah himself.

Let us have a look at the several most probable inserts, and conjecture possible meanings for them.

 

Isaiah 52:13–15, describing the servant after the previous verses dealt coherently with the return from exile, contains specific parallels to Isaiah 53:

Isaiah 52:13: Lo, my servant will contemplate, and will rise, and be exalted a lot.

Cf. 53:2, He rose up like a shoot. 53:11, filled by knowledge

Isaiah 52:14: Just as nobles (many) were astonished at you, so you are showing[lxiv] <and astonishing> him[lxv] the anointment[lxvi] from man; yet his vividness is of the sons of man

A superficial reader would see, yes, mutilated is his appearance among men, and his vividness among sons of men, recalling 53:2, but we longed for him; not vividness in him, no appearance, and 53:3, despised by men

Isaiah 52:15: So he will sprinkle[lxvii] great nations, on him their rulers will shut their mouths, because what [whom] was not told them they saw, and what [whom] they did not hear they contemplated[lxviii].

Isaiah 53:11, and their deviations he will withstand. 53:12, I will allot him part among nobles; he will allot booty to strong . . . .

The verses of chapter 52 combine past and future tenses, indicating narration of current events: some have already passed, and the author expected others soon. Avoiding this explanation, commentators often resort to an artificial device which they call the “prophetic perfect”: supposedly a prophet employs past tense along with the future to transmit to readers the succession of future events.

The Isaiah of Isaiah 53 attempted to imitate the style of the last verses of Isaiah 52 in order to create a sense of textual continuity for the interpolation. The same person might write both pieces, but certainly with a large time gap. He assimilated many words and concepts from chapter 52, notably vividness and appearance, was told and heard, among men and knowledge.

Isaiah 52:13–15 relate messianic prophecy about that man. It did not come true. Therefore, Isaiah 53 was written to explain the apparent fallacy of the prophet; 53:1–9 thus constitutes a discourse about the man, and 53:10 starts the return from the deviation of 53:1–9 to the details of 52:13–15. The style is abruptly changed at 53:10 as the content changes to transmitting God’s promise, proving that the unfulfillment of the man’s mission was his fault, and, had he behaved differently, the prophecy would have been realized.

It may be speculated that Isaiah 52 describes a certain person of uncharacteristic ugliness who was expected at the time to lead Jews from exile to victory. After he was unsuccessful, Isaiah 53 was written in the attempt to explain the reason for his failure. What that reason was is unclear, but it seemingly had to do with people not believing the man who had offered a peculiar doctrine. An ugly hero was plausible even in beauty-minded Greek culture, cf. Socrates.

 

Isaiah 11:10: And it will happen on that day, that a root of Jesse… unto him will the nations seek, and his resting place shall be glorious

The prophets traditionally expected the messiah to smite and rob foreigners; the one whom the foreigners willingly seek is not a military leader but a teacher or wise king. In the time of Isaiah, Davidic descent was not a metaphor, but still embodied in a king. Supposing it as a reference to the slave of Isaiah 53, who was transgressing, mutilated, and despised, there is no royal candidate besides Zedekiah. The confinement (perhaps, siege) and trial are thus Persian. The hopes associated with the slave related to Zedekiah’s rebellion against Babylon. Persians being wicked and rich, the altars could be high burials of Zedekiah and his family. His חברה, which brings relief in 53:5, may be the orthodoxy he professed before deviating into pagan worship.

This explanation is so obviously forced that we should free the data by reading the Davidic descent as unrelated to actual kingship. This, however, would date the text well after the exile, when no certain royal heirs to David survived.

While the resting place may refer to the royal tent in a military camp, such reading is at odds with the rest of the chapter, where the hero smites virtually every known nation, and therefore there are no foreigners left to seek him. Rather, the verse seems to be introduced in the empty space of the scroll[lxix], carefully worded to suit both the tranquil verses before it and the aggressive ones—after it. The resting place in this context may well be a tomb of the executed man; cf. peace and rest in Isaiah 57:1–2. Given that his Davidic lineage is not mentioned in Isaiah 53—at least, not explicitly— verse 11:10 was written sufficiently late for the messianic-descent legend to take hold.

 

Isaiah 41:26–29: Who declared from the beginning that we might know? and beforetime, that we may say that he is right (that we may call him the righteous)? Yea, there is none that declares, yea, there is none that announces, yea, there is none that hears your utterances, . The first to Zion: Here, here are they; and to Jerusalem a good messenger will I give. And I will look, and no man; or [is there] no counselor among them? And I will ask them, and they will put an answer. All of them, empty and naught, are their works, wind and chaos, their molten images.

The first is probably God according to the established usage of the word, hardly a foreigner, for example, Cyrus. No counselor–since the man of Isaiah 53 was executed, there is no one left to talk to his generation. The answer of the people is that they do not have a counselor after they had condemned the man. The altars, which he left posterity in Isaiah 53, are not so bizarre when we read about the widespread idolatry here.

The verses are out of context in a hymn on the return from exile. Their cryptic language does not fit a common style of comprehensible Jewish prophecy.

Verse 26 stylistically is in startling contrast with the previous verses. It also employs a peculiar turn, also encountered in 53:1, who declared?

 

Isaiah 42:1–4: This is my slave, in whom I stay . . . he will judge the nations. He will not cry [in tears], nor lift up, nor declare outside with his voice . . . . and the isles wait for his teaching.

not cry cannot be readily applied to Cyrus ; נשא (lift) compares to 53: he would neither suffer, nor share the sins, nor preach, but be very firm of purpose. Then, Isaiah 53 explains that he made exactly these mistakes, and therefore did not succeed.

Isaiah 42:3: Bruised reed he will not break, and the dimly burning wick he will not quench; he shall make the right to go forth according to the truth.

2 Kings 18:21 calls Egypt a broken reed. Perhaps the savior will not repeat the error of relying on Egypt against the Assyrians. The messiah will not become immersed in the iniquities of either commoners or nobles, not break the bruised reed, but will proceed to cut the booty (captives) of the strong, the Assyrians, and lead Jews from exile.

42:6–7: I the Lord have called you in righteousness, and have taken hold of your hand . . . . To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon.

Taken hold of your hand parallels 53:10: and the will of God would succeed through his hand.

Dungeon may be related to the confinement of 53:8, opening a possibility that the man was not jailed before the trail, but was taken from confinement of the uncomprehending nation and from the justice which he was supposed to disperse.

The fact that in 42:5 God is called האל, a comparatively lowly title, casts doubts on the authenticity of these verses. Perhaps the man almost overshadowed God in the author’s imagination.

Isaiah 42:19–25 employs the who construction, prominent in Isaiah 53:1. Whether 19–25 appeared at the same time as 6–7, is a question, considering that blind is used disparagingly of the unknowing nation in 7, and of the servant in 19—unless the servant is the nation; but even then the term is negative in the first instance, and positive—in the second.

Although I have called you of 42:6 is the same phrase as refers to Cyrus in 45:4, similarity need not be overestimated, since it is generic, cf. 48:12, Israel my called.

 

Isaiah 43:10: You are my witnesses, says the Lord, And [this is] my slave, whom I have chosen that you may know . . . .

Interpreting the slave as nation is not plausible: I have chosen you so that you know me and witness your chosenness; likely, witnessing refers to an external object, a certain person, the slave. The slave is not Cyrus or another ruler, since the nearby 43:15 proclaims God the only king.

 

Isaiah 44:25–26: God turns the wise backward, and will make their knowledge foolish  . . . will perform the advice of his messengers

The author is used to someone on a par with God, giving him advice.

The concept of the foolishness of human wisdom, prominent in the gospels, is otherwise alien to the Tanakh.

 

Isaiah 49:2–3: And he has made my mouth like a sharp sword . . . . And he said to me, You are my slave; Israel which is in you, I will glorify.

Isaiah 49:7: Thus said the Lord . . . to the one despised, abhorred by nation [nations?], to slave of those like him (or, slave speaking parables): “kings shall see and arise . . . .”

Isaiah 49:24: The prey will be taken from the mighty; but would the captured righteous escape?

The verse parallels 53:12, I will allot him part among nobles; he will allot booty to strong . . . .

 

Isaiah 50:6: I gave my back to smiters, and my cheeks—to hair-pluckers; I hid not my face from shame and spitting.

This verse recalls the man of 53 who possibly, as it were, hid his face and endured sufferings and humiliation.

Isaiah 50:9: Lo, the Lord God will help me; who is he that will condemn me?

This verse recalls the man’s attitude at the trial, when he refused to repent.

 

Isaiah 51:7: Listen to me, you that know righteousness . . . do not fear the taunt of men, nor be dismayed by their revilings.

This verse likely is about sectarians, reviled by mainstream Jews. The opposite is unlikely, since many orthodox Jews were hardly concerned by reviling of the suppressed sectarians.

Also consider 51:19–20: These two things have befallen you; who shall bemoan you? Desolation and destruction, and the famine and the sword . . . . Your sons . . . lie at the head of all the streets . . . the rebuke of your God.

This is certainly not about the return from exile, a major theme of the surrounding chapters. That no one is there to bemoan points to wholesale killing, not exile, as well. The scene is possibly from the fall of Jerusalem under Zedekiah.

 

Isaiah 52:7: How beautiful upon the mountains (Jerusalem) are the feet of the good messenger who proclaims well-being, messenger of the good who proclaims salvation.

Verse 12 indicates that the person in question is hardly Cyrus, since, ”the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.” Thus, the return would require military effort, something the Jews did not need with Cyrus.

 

Isaiah 56:9–11: Everyone—beast of the field, come (pl.) to devour, everyone—beast of the forest; Watchmen, they are all blind, without knowledge, all dumb dogs . . . . And the dogs are greedy, [who] did not know satiation, and these shepherds did not know understanding, they all turn their own way . . . .

This piece, not related in any way to its context, is best understood as a frustrated accusation of those who executed the man of Isaiah 53. Shepherds parallels sheep and goats of 53:6, all turn their own way—the same phrase in that verse. Dumb dogs recalls the frustrated dumb as a lamb of Isaiah 53.  The concepts of satiation through knowledge and turning the faces to different directions are also familiar from the Isaiah 53.

 

Isaiah 57:1–2: The righteous is lost, and no man takes [it] to heart, and good men are taken away through lack of understanding; for because of the evil was taken the righteous one. Silence will arrive, they will rest in their beds; he walks upright.

Although not a common meaning, shalom here contextually relates to the silence of death. The man’s repose there is contrasted to the earthly rest of his opponents. Walking upright reminds us that he refused to repent at his trial.

Isaiah 57:15: I live in a high and holy place with the one of a contrite and humble spirit to revive the spirit of the humble . . . .

It is hard to understand this verse other than as a reference to the executed man of Isaiah 53. One also has to stretch the imagination to make sense of living with only one humble person in Jerusalem, unless we resort to the far-fetched interpretation of that humble man as being the high priest, who alone could enter the sanctuary, the abode of God. “One humble man” as hyperbole is unlikely, since the text is clear: God and the man will encourage some other humble people.

Contrite, דכא, is exactly the word base translated as dejection in Isaiah 53:10 and dejected in 53:5. Perhaps it is of significance that while many people were humble because of the political situation (or those were the sectarians), the man was also contrite.

In several other chapters, those dejected or of contrite spirit are highly praised; thus the author’s group possibly transformed the man’s problem into beneficence. The opposite explanation, that his problem was earlier explained in already familiar terms, is less plausible, since it is hard to envisage how suffering could have naturally evolved into a positive trait, and also because references to the humble are foreign to the context of these chapters.

Isaiah 57:18: I have seen his ways and will heal him, parallels 53:5–6 with its sense, although we turned each one his way, in the man’s community we will be healed.

Consider also, “and comforted him and his mourners.” All third-person pronouns in 57:18 refer to the nation. Who can the nation’s mourners be? Certainly not the other peoples. The mourners are the man’s followers, who realize that the nation is ill and mourn it. The promise is to comfort the nation, but also specifically the sectarians.

Isaiah 57:19–21: The one creating the sayings (parables): peace, peace to the one who is far off and to the one who is near; said the Lord: And I will heal him. But the wicked are like a sea whose waters were restlessly pushing out mire and dirt. No peace, said the Lord to the wicked.

Possibly, the wicked to whom the man left his tomb (the very ones who executed him) are denied rest in the future because now they revile (pushing dirt on) the man’s followers.

 

Isaiah 59:20–21: And [the] avenger came to Zion, and to those turning (bringing) crime unto Jacob. And as for me, this is my covenant to them, said the Lord, my spirit, which is upon you, and [the] words, which I put into your mouth, shall not cease from your mouth, nor out of the mouth of your seed . . . from now and forever.

Here we see a community of the man’s followers who became the keepers of true knowledge. The seed of the man is referred to in 53:10.

 

Isaiah 61:1 and 5–6 may be taken as a reference to a known savior, like Cyrus, The spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the humble. However, the continuation implies a Jewish leader, Aliens will be your [the nation’s] plowmen… you will eat the wealth of the nations . . . .

Humble return under Cyrus does not qualify for the described triumph over the other peoples.

 

Isaiah 62:10–63:6: lift up an ensign over the peoples . . . . your salvation comes, his reward is with him . . . . Who is that coming from Edom in crimsoned garments . . . . of the people there was no man with me . . . . I trampled them in my fury, and their lifeblood is dashed against my garments . . . . For the day of vengeance that was in my heart, and my year of redemption came. And I looked, and there was no one to help . . . my own arm saved me . . . .

 Although God mostly acts in the world through people, he needs no help. Cyrus was not acting alone. But recall that the will of God in Isaiah 53 should have succeeded by the man’s arm.

 

Isaiah 65:9: And I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of my mountains (Jerusalem) ; and my elect shall inherit it, and my slaves shall dwell there.

14–15 distinguish “my elect” from the rest of the Jews, presumably non-observant (65:4) while considering themselves holier than the elect (65:5)

 

Isaiah 66:2: And I will look at this one, at the poor and [the one] of contrite spirit . . . .

Cf. 53:10: And God, desiring his dejection, made him ill. The author attempts to rationalize the man’s illness: God made him unusually contrite in order to look specifically at him, at this one.

Isaiah 66:5: Hear the word of the Lord, those trembling at his word: Your brothers who hate you, and cast you out for my name, have said: “Let the Lord be glorified, and we will see your joy; but they will be ashamed.

Here is a possible trace of a sectarian struggle: the man’s followers are mocked; since they preach humility, other zealots indeed humiliate them and suggest that they enjoy the humiliation.

Isaiah 66:7: before she was in labor, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man-child

Perhaps this verse tells of a savior being born in Zion before a major destruction. Birth pains in modern interpretation are a standard metaphor of the period preceding the messiah.

Isaiah 66:9: Shall I that cause to bring forth shut the womb? says your God.

The imagery of shut (עצר) womb suggests Isaiah 53:8, where the man was taken from confinement (עצר).

Isaiah 66:11: That you may suck and be satisfied with the breast of her consolations . . . .

Suck (תינק) may parallel suckling (י׀נק)  of Isaiah 53:2

Isaiah 66:14 hand of the Lord will be with his slaves . . . .

That the hand will not be with all Jews, 66:17, points to his slaves (with whom the hand will be) being sectarian followers of the man of Isaiah 53, who was called my slave, and that time the hand was on him or on the people.

 



[1] In the context of Is 52:7–15, this seemingly refers to the prophecy that a certain messenger would lead Israel from exile. Apparently, not enough people did believe.

That the man is not named may denote the sect’s leader, since sectarians often refrained from naming their leaders; mainstream Jews, whose views are reflected in Tanakh, have no problem with naming names.

[2] Whom in this phrase has the same antecedent, people, as who in the previous one, the preposition mi being used twice. However, while the answer to the first question is none, to the second, it is all. People suffered divine retribution for not following the man whom the prophet presented as the messenger. Grammatically, the verse may equally well relate to the man.

[3] That is, before God. Rose quickly and powerfully. The rise was probably social, related to the man’s messianic aspirations.

             Rose is a keyword negating the common association with weakness. The shoot or suckling rises because it is strong. No one would say he rose up because he was weak: while such examples of the contrarian behavior do exist, they are not embedded in the psychological association.

Suckling has connotation of moving, playful, active.

[4] He was strong and hard. While the desert seems a desolate place to a modern reader, the ancient Hebrews made their home there. Being born there (“as a plant”) was not regrettable, certainly not humiliating. In modern Israel, native Jews are called Sabra, after the Hebrew word for “prickly pear,” a thorny desert plant. Only a powerful root can thrive in the desert.

Plant and root commonly refer to the root of Jesse, a messiah. Dry land is usually a metaphor of the nation without understanding (cf. Isaiah 41:18, 20).

[5] Ascetic type, strong without external beauty. There is no derogatory connotation. Plants grow in parched land. Far from weak, they are stronger than domestic plants, as anyone who deals with weeds knows. Yet despite inner strength, desert plants are not usually beautiful.

[6] when we later realize his importance.

We does not include the author and perhaps means only a few; but the author, also a Jew, identifies with them. Some, at least, acknowledged the man as a leader.

[7] 1Sam 10:27 similarly describes King Saul. Also, he "was as [the] one silent," reminiscent of Isaiah 53:7. The DSS scribes thought that mention so significant that they interpolated a whole new story into their copy, 4Qsam, to change the meaning of that pericope.

[8] The recent attempts to relate the suffering man to either the confessing monarch or the human scapegoat of the Babylonian New Year festival fail to account for such items in the Isaiah 53’ context as illness or arm of God.

[9] He had either visible illness or sinful behavior, or both, deviating from orthodox following of the law. In antiquity, absent effective medical treatment, serious illnesses were generally short. This illness was lengthy and visible, possibly a physical defect or leprosy.

[10] People with visible illnesses covered their faces. The Isaiah plays on the second meaning of illness: sinfulness (violation or odd interpretation of the law), cf. vs. 4. The man covered his face because of sickness, but it was interpreted as though he did it because of shame. Still another meaning, modeled upon the application of this idiom to God, which was certainly on the Isaiah’s mind, is that the man turned his face from the people, abandoning them because of their sins.

[11] Meaning that he partook of the sins, as in Lev 24:15. The man indulged in common (our) sin, related to religious transgressions. Illnesses refers to involuntary guiltless sins of honest delusion. The consecutive text also mentions crimes, but those could hardly be likened to innocent illnesses. That Jews generally not considered illnesses a divine punishment may be inferred from their acceptance of healing, say, of leprosy, which act would have otherwise constituted an opposition to God. The Isaiah’s lenient attitude to the man may be modeled upon Isaiah 33:24, which asserts that iniquities committed during sickness are automatically forgiven. Likening iniquities to illnesses thus serves to prove that the man should not have been punished for his transgressions.

[12] The idea is of one who carries something heavy. Because the man is presented both as very concerned about sins and sinful himself, or concerned with observance yet nonobservant, he might be a sectarian professing a peculiar doctrine, thus viewing others as transgressors and seen by them as a transgressor himself.

[13] A possible reference to sectarian factions among the Israelites.

[14] Was not a determined nation, serving one God one way. While sheep roam about, people choose their own way and follow it—which agrees with our interpretation: Abandoning orthodoxy, people embraced (staggered, losing firm ground) various sectarian heresies (ways).

[15] The common sin entered the man, and he began to go astray like everyone else. Sin is literally deviation, transgression, detour, or delusion [from truth], not necessarily idolatry; sectarianism also qualifies. The man became a sectarian but could have fought the sin and gotten rid of it, as is confirmed later in the suggestion that he should have repented.

Most Jews did not attach themselves to any particular sect, except the Essenes and in a sense the Samaritans. Only priests and teachers worried about minute interpretation. Initially a mainstream Jew, the subject of Isaiah 53 at some point turned sectarian. The historical analogy is Judah the Galilean, who started as a military leader of mainstream religious views and seemingly only later created a sect.

God, a focus of righteousness, cannot make a person sinful. This was not a sin, but rather a sectarian delusion. The metaphor of sheep confirms the reading; leaving the common path is not sin, since the law does not bind animals. Sheep and goats are not a good metaphor for transgression. Possibly the Isaiah thought there were too many sects, since each person turns his own way.

Later the evangelist John wrote, “And from that time the devil entered Judas.” Now perhaps we would say that fate brought him to an encounter with sin which he accepted. The ancient Jews, rejecting fate or the devil as an active antidivine power, attributed everything, to God. The Jewish tradition holds that God acquiesced even in the temptation of Eve.

Of us all should not be taken literally; it implies commonness only. The author does not include himself among the straying sectarians. The same identification we, us is encountered in Isaiah 59:9–10, where the author obviously does not include himself among the spiritually blind.

 Although the singular sin may refer to a multitude of sins, the literal meaning makes sufficient sense.

[16] In the sense of someone stricken continuously from every side who cannot fight back especially with a multitude of blows pressing him.

[17] In this context, both meanings are much the same: the man’s actions brought about a crushing rejoinder; he was not accepted.

[18] Ancient people had hardly any compassion for a sheared lamb or a kid killed for food. Proverbs 7:22 ridicules a man who “goes like an ox to the slaughter.”  Accordingly, we may assume that the Isaiah had limited compassion for his subject. Although Isaiah 66:3 is compassionate to ox, lamb, and dog, the Isaiah is probably concerned with unreasonable harshness, like breaking the dog’s neck, which is illegal under the laws of Torah. Isaiah 56:10 mentions dumb dogs clearly in a negative sense. Possibly, the Isaiah is not approving of the man’s silence.

[19] Will not preach anymore. Will not open his mouth occurs twice, perhaps a reference to double shock, both physical like a kid slaughtered and psychological like a sheep sheared.

[20] Was taken, not freed, so for execution.

[21] Curiously, the author specifically mentions the present generation, therefore current events or the recent past.

[22] The man’s departure leaves no one with authority to argue with this generation about its sins. Probably his sect was an attempt to rectify their sins, but he went too far or went off on a wrong path of his own.

[23] That is, executed, not died from vague oppression or illness, or exiled similarly to scapegoat.

[24] The author evidently means the current generation, not future people. Possibly, the Jews’ heresies or their idolatry mean they cannot be God’s people. The crime does not seem to be the subject’s execution, because the author later suggests he should have repented and therefore the author considered the execution legal.

[25] Not the two particular robbers but my nation, the people who committed the crime mentioned in v. 6

[26] The man did not just abstain from violence, but he was also doing something else—without violence, presumably teaching. The Isaiah means that although the man was charged with [religious] deceit and violence, he committed none.

[27] to make him repent, since later in the same verse the will of God  points to repentance, attainable through dejection. Nothing implies that God wanted to create a suffering servant, inflicting suffering for its own sake.

[28] Here the author starts relating the words of God, evidenced by the later address “my slave.” Since these words were pronounced before the demise, in justification of the inflicted chastisement, the prophecy is related to the past: had the man behaved differently and repented, he would have achieved major results and fulfilled his role, as previously predicted by the prophet. These words have no bearing on future events; they ceased to be relevant with the death of the man. The author sought to substantiate his earlier message of the man’s status (such as in 52:13–15) with divine authority.

The phrase may be also treated as in conjunctive mood. Future tense is employed instead of the standard (for conjunctive mood) past to denote that repentance would have changed events in the Isaiah’s time (future for the past  message to the hero that he was being offered a choice of repentance or death).

[29] Guilt is a conscious misdeed, persisting in the straying from the true observance; it requires an expiatory offering. When the man deluded himself only, his sin was passive; when he started teaching heresy, he knew guilt. Secular law also recognizes unintentional crimes.

[30] The guilt offering of the soul is repentance, which is further evidenced by the hard mental work, mentioned in v. 11. The man was given a chance to repent of what was said to be his delusion.

[31] God’s will was that he repent through dejection, probably returning to orthodoxy.

[32] The mans hand

[33] The word means hard mental work. Considering the recently mentioned guilt offering of the soul, the work of the soul is repentance.

[34] A reference to spiritual vision. The Qumran manuscripts of this Isaiah 53 specifically refer to the vision of light. Recanting his sinful delusion, he could have learned the truth.

[35] As one stands patiently and firmly under a burden [of evil] without being broken (without going along with that evil). Perhaps, disregard.

[36] Meaning, gambled his life. Even though the man was already on trial, he could have saved himself and received every promised gain by his repentance.

[37] The man was called criminal, since courts presumably condemn only such people. Even in our times, when publicizing wrongful sentences is fashionable, public opinion is generally negative to convicts.

[38] The transition from the past tense in the previous phrase to the future is of significance: because of his past actions, future generations would think of him as a criminal since he was condemned.



[i] Tanakh universally uses hand (יד) of God with one meaning, the crushing power of God. Nowhere does it benefit the object of application.  The arm is not retributive, which would have been denoted by the Hebrew preposition ב  (the arm entering a person), but causes bitterness, as denoted by the preposition על (the arm being laid on a person). This may mean suffering of the nation without its destruction. The meaning of the word זר׀ע arm is wider, additionally denoting other kinds of overwhelming divine power. However, it does not seem to have an established figurative meaning, especially with the preposition on (על), referring to unusual abilities acquired by the people as a result of its application. Isaiah tends to use arm זר׀ע instead of the more common hand (יד) synonym when speaking of God; in this Isaiah 53, too, he reserves hand (יד) as a metaphor for the means of human action. Thus, i Isaiah likely employed arm זר׀ע in this verse in the established sense of heavy arm of God, his crushing power.

The positive references to יד אלהי  in Neh 2:8 and 18 are probably a mistranslation. Both verses praise the king. Therefore, אלהי  probably also refers to him, not to God. In any case, Nehemiah is careful to specify in both entries the good hand (טּוֹבָה יד), distinguishing it from the "normal" hand. Nehemiah also lacks Isaiah’s revealed נִגְלָתָה, which makes the reference even stronger; השמ  נִגְלָתָה is now a standard metaphor for punishment.

The common translation of to whom instead of on whom is implausible, since the preposition על in this context of hand or arm means on.

[ii] The word base suck (ינק) is often encountered as either robbing Gentiles of their wealth (cf. Isaiah 60:16), or partaking in the glory of the nation (cf. Isaiah 66:11), or denoting a child or childish behavior; the first two meanings are relevant to our translation.

[iii] Qumranic scroll has it as our, so before us or in our presence, making it still more clear that the narration is of past events.

[iv] The construction encountered throughout the Isaiah 53 is curious. Unlike the common poetic parallelism, here the first phrase creates an ambiguity—suckling or shoot, kid or lamb—and the second clarifies it. Perhaps, seemingly parallel words actually have different meanings: the one sharing the glory of the nation, and messiah who creates this glory, killed as he-goat and humbled as lamb, etc.

[v] The preposition translated with adverb not is לא. If the Isaiah wanted to say there was nothing at all, he would probably have used אינ. Accordingly, לא implies there is not vividness but something else, possibly the desert plant’s inner strength.

[vi] The future tense here is a common literary device. The narration is of past events. We would look at him—as we would later recall him, and see nothing worthwhile.

[vii] This term, translating מרא, refers to how the object looks as distinguished from not vividness, which is taken as something not good enough to talk about.

[viii] This passage and others demonstrate that the common position that the text refers to the Hebrew nation is questionable.

[ix] Some or most men did not accept him. Rejected by men is commonly understood as an idiom, meaning paltry.

[x] Men is used here instead of the typical people or human being, perhaps alluding to a male-only group, such as the priesthood. The word translated rejected has connotations of squeezed to the last drop, the one who ceases, abandoned.

The translation of men as others is totally unwarranted.

[xi] Literally, by being sick; the Isaiah is stressing the general, overall condition, not any particular illness.

[xii] This usage recalls Job 11:15, raise his face to demonstrate one’s innocence, and Isaiah 50:6 and Genesis 38:14 implying that face could be covered out of shame for transgression. In that phrase, Job, like the author of Isaiah in the next verse, also employs תשא in the sense of raised. By analogy, to cover one’s face is to recognize oneself as guilty, or at least as condemned.

[xiii] The turn פנימ מסתר is normally employed when speaking of God to demonstrate his abandoning the people, certainly here with qualification from us. The man was so important that his behavior is described in the terms usually applied to God. There is multilayered wordplay, with other meanings: as if God hides his face from him, and, he hides his face from us as God does (his covering his face is symbolic of God’s turning away from the people).

Contra The common translation causing us to cover faces from him is implausible. In the usually cited example of Isaiah 59:2,מִכֶּם ּ פָנִים הִסְתִּירו וְחַטֹּאותֵיכֶם this verb refers to they: your sins, they covered his face from you, not caused me to cover my face, since there is no me in the phrase.

If, however, we are to accept the causative, the meaning is, As if deliberately making people disregard him. Probably the Isaiah continues the wordplay on the double meaning of illness with the second sense: sinning grossly (interpreting the law so oddly) as if to violate the law deliberately. Possibly people customarily turned their faces from a sick person.

[xiv] The term נשא ע׀נ is also employed as a technical term to describe bearing of responsibility for transgression. Thus, the high priest brings offerings on behalf of all people, since he is shares responsibility for their sins. However, because the modern ethical concept of responsibility without actually sinning did not exist yet, the priest precisely shared in the people’s iniquities, perhaps because he did not prevent the congregation from sinning. Similarly, sins and iniquities of the congregation were laid on scapegoat without it actually sinning. Possibly, the Isaiah considered the man equal to the high priest and implied the same kind of sharing, not the man actually transgressing, but this suggestion is not supported by the text; on the contrary, his execution implies some kind of transgression; the author does not question the court sentence.

[xv] This meaning of נשא is established in Isaiah 42:2 possibly about the same man

[xvi] Although the meaning forgave [the sin] is grammatically possible, cf. Gen 50:17, forgiveness is the prerogative of God, and so the reading is highly unlikely. In Genesis, Joseph is urged to forgive his brothers the evil they did to him specifically, not their sins in general. Isaiah could not imagine a human being forgiving sins. Such a concept was simply nonexistent in his time. Besides, unlike crime פשע, guiltless iniquity ע׀נ just did not require forgiveness or expiation.

The common interpretation as took away or took from us and laid on himself, thus relieving the people of sins, is completely unwarranted by the Tanakhic use of the word elsewhere.

[xvii] The commonly assigned sense of  סבל as endured is an interpretation, not translation. Even if an interpretation is required, the meaning from Exodus 1:11, to wear out is a better match.

[xviii] The root meaning of נגע  is strike; in relation to God it is torture, plague, or execution. This meaning parallels הפגיע, here “violently touch” or “attach,” and נגש, here “suppressed.

[xix] מענה is semantically close to נענה. We chose pressed upon vs. shuttered because the first verb is used more commonly to denote the ceremonial fasting and so the translation must avoid the connotation of finality.

[xx] The derivation of מחלל from the rootח׀ל  (to spin) fits all entries. Thus, Job 26:13: His hand makes running (wriggling) serpent tremble; Job 26:5: Rephaim will tremble [in Sheol]; Ps 29:9: The voice of God makes does (female deer) tremble and strips forests bare; Prov 26:10: Like a master who makes all tremble is the one who hires a fool or a passerby; Is 51:9: Are you not the one who . . . made the crocodile (pharaoh) tremble? Is 44:25: make the diviners tremble.

The common translations wounded, cut through, or killed are incorrect. Killed would have also been illogical, since the next verb in Isaiah’s phrase refers to a live person.

[xxi] Isaiah’s use is modeled upon Job 26:13, “His hand ח׀ללה the serpent.” Serpent here is נחש, copper-colored snake, the tempter, with no implication of the mythical monsters Tiamat or Leviathan. Isaiah 27:1 tells the same story in the same words, distinguishing נחש from the sea serpent. After successfully tempting Eve, the serpent was cursed, deprived of the covenant God gave to living beings. The serpent’s life was made miserable, and he was emptied. Isaiah 51:9 “Are not you [the arm of God] the one cutting the monster [Egypt], מחללת the crocodile [pharaoh]?” The next verse clarifies the meaning by mentioning the passing through the Reed Sea. The Torah is explicit that Pharaoh did not die pursuing the Israelites. He was what could be described as emptied, losing his chariots: the cream of his army.

Cutting is also incorrect, since the word has a positive, creative connotation, like hewing stone, but not destruction. The correct meaning is made the one who cut the stone [made the pyramids], showing that God can give power to the pharaoh and empty him of it.

In Proverbs 26:10, the rendering of מחלל as killed is wrong. The proverb compares someone who hires a criminal or a passerby with רַב מְחוֹלֵל-כל. The correct sense of the latter phrase is not archer who kills everyone (which does not have immediate relation to the hire of a passerby), but possibly master who empties all, presumably by foolish management. The correct translation, therefore, is, Like a master who empties everything is he who hires a criminal or passerby, meaning that such an employer would soon be emptied of his wealth.

In Ezekiel 32:26, the word in question is מחֻלל , not מחוֹלל, as in Isaiah 53. The difference is of importance, since מחֻלל  is constructed from the whole root חלל, while מחוֹלל is made up of the עע (empty) or ח׀ל (to spin) root.

The suggestion of Isaiah’s מחוֹלל being a פוֹעל form of the same root employed by Ezekiel in פוּעל relies on the existence of the פוֹעל form, which is hypothetical in the first place and likely just represents a subcategory (גזרה) of פוּעל for עע or ע”׀ (weak) roots. So far, no independent semantics was established for the פוֹעל form, and the same roots do not exist in both פוּעל and פוֹעל forms, thus negating the equation of מחוֹלל and מחֻלל, which should have different roots.

Even supposing that Ezekiel’s מחֻלל means the same as Isaiah’s מחוֹלל, מחלל  in Ezekiel is not exactly killed, because killed is denoted everywhere in Ez 32 with חלל . Emptied מחֻלל by the sword regarding Meshech and Tubal parallels killed, fallen by the sword regarding Asshur and Elam. Thus, at any rate מחֻלל has wider meaning than חלל, incorporating also the sense of fallen.

The difference is also evidenced in that מחלל is employed only toward Meshech and Tubal, the only two tribes in the list not described as dead anywhere in Tanakh; Isaiah 66:19 mentions Tubal as alive. Ezekiel is clear about them in v. 27: “and they would not lie with the heroes, fallen out from [outstanding among] the uncircumcised,” these nations are not like the other Gentiles. This view is further supported by the fact that the prophecy about Meshech and Tubal follows the prediction of the fate of Egypt; both refer to the future. Possibly of significance is that Job 26:13 also employs חללה about the future action toward the serpent.

The attempts to relate מחוֹלל to חלל derive from the preconception that חלל may be rendered as pierced, thus providing a basis for the gospel’s narration. The common justifications are the חלל entries with heart or sword. However, pierced heart is a modern metaphor with no evidence of an ancient origin; kill (empty, open wide) the heart [with pain] is perfectly plausible. The same is true for the other example: kill (open wide) with a sword is a meaningful concept. Given the root meaning of חלל as empty or open, there is no grammatical reason to choose the pierced translation over the killed.

The very rare word מחלל may be related to חלה, illness of vs. 4, which is not far from emptiness, a lack of proper relation to the covenantal well being, a spiritual or material illness, perhaps also trembling. Whatever is the relation of these roots etymologically, they were written and probably pronounced the same at the time of composition, and the Isaiah had every reason to think of them as related.

[xxii]An established meaning of ע׀נ is guiltless transgression—a delusion (deviation from truth). In this sense, ע׀נ is contrasted to פשע—a guilt sin, for which an expiatory offering is due. The difference was very important in that time of sacrifices. Guiltless iniquity (ע׀נ) could lead to sin (פשע) as in Lev 19:8, where lax observance of the food-purity laws leads to profaning the offering with severe consequences for the offender. Because of this causative relationship, the words become almost synonymic, as in Lev 20:17 where the sexual iniquity brings punishment for the sinful shame. However, the author of Isaiah 53 seems to distinguish carefully between the two.

[xxiii] Ps 41:10

[xxiv] The word for community may be vocalized and translated as wife, חברה. In Mal 2:14, it is equated not just with wife, but specifically with wife of youth, a metaphor for true Judaism untainted by syncretism. The subject did not embrace sectarianism from the beginning. Thus, the phrase makes sense as in the wife of his youth [orthodoxy] is our relief.

חבּרה (bruise), to which the translations usually relate Isaiah’s חברה, is normally employed in conjunction with wound (פצע), distinguishing between kinds of bruises. פצע does not appear in Isaiah 53 53.

The vocalization of hataf-patah under ח in Isaiah’s חברה (this is why there is vet, not bet) evidences shortening from kamatz, which is encountered in חבר, friend—thus, girlfriend. In חבּרה (bruise), patah under ח has to be a model vowel, not elongation of hataf, in order to elicit strong dagesh in vet, making it into bet. In the telling example of Isaiah 1:23, havrei, although elongated from hataf to patah, still did not produce dagesh in vet. In other words, strong dagesh in חבּרה and its absence in חברה testify to their being different words, although stemming from the same root חבר (join). The common translation of חבּרה (bruise) in the plural is questionable; it is grammatically singular. But the author would hardly have suggested that a single livid spot, something of little significance, healed the entire nation.

[xxv] The tradition calls sectarians “shepherds (watchers, herdsmen) of sheep and goats” (Avodah Zarah 26).

[xxvi] The root relates to faces.

[xxvii] The common rendering, laid on him, is implausible. Many forms of this root allude to various modes of clash (from hit to modern demonstration by a mob). The same word חפגיע in Isaiah 59:16, where it lacks political sensitivity, is usually more or less correctly translated to intercede. The proper meaning is to clash with an unacceptable situation. Jeremiah 36:25: “Even when [they] urged the king not to burn the scroll” may be translated, “Even when [they] clashed with the king [on the issue of] not burning the scroll.” The same is true in Jeremiah 15:11.

The preposition ב refers to entering, while English on is commonly denoted by the Hebrew preposition על. Therefore, the sin entered the man (and became a natural part of him), not was laid on him (as an unwelcome burden).

The like meaning of ב חפגיע  is encountered in Judges 8:21, Joshua 2:16: to kill (enter a sword into a person). Commentators are often deluded by an already incorrect translation of these two books, employing euphemisms for killing, like “fall upon you,” and erroneously adduce them as proof that preposition ב in this verse does not imply entering the person.

The same translators do not refuse the commonsense translation of ב in neutral cases, as in Isaiah 45:14 where this word denotes, God is in you.

[xxviii] Reading of the preposition ב as governing the instrumental case would render the phrase, And God pushed (stirred up) by him the deviation of us all.

[xxix] The common translation of נגש  as oppressed has quite a different connotation. The man’s life was not made miserable purposely, like that of the Israelites oppressed by the pharaoh. He was hard pressed by impersonal circumstances. Thus, Ex 3:7: נגש, taskmaster, the one who hits. So is נגש as animal-driver.

[xxx] Possibly, sheep here and in v.6 may mean the man was one of us.

[xxxi] Lamb is preferable, since the Isaiah commonly employs the poetic repetition (e.g., vs.2,3) where the first use of a word with ambiguous meaning is explained by the second use in the next clause, which may be the case here. But we may also consider the metaphor of goats and sheep, evil and good parts of the whole nation. Kid may also be plausible, since ancient people usually ate young he-goats, which are useless, but not young rams, sheep. The mention of sheep in the following verse may also indicate another animal here. There could be also a parallel with scapegoat here.

[xxxii] Both allegories are odd, since kids and sheep bleat when they are mistreated. Possibly, the reference is to the absence of meaningful speech: as a kid or a lamb cannot convince the butcher, so was the man unable to change people’s religious convictions. He either stopped teaching, or silence refers to the futility of his teaching. He received a rejoinder and could say nothing more—which explains why the following sentence asks, who would talk with his generation?

[xxxiii] The translation, By oppression and by judgment he was taken away, relies on extremely irregular use of the preposition min as governing an instrumental case. There are hardly any such certain Tanakhic uses of Hebrew preposition, and even their translation as instrumentals mostly reflects the English convention, not their Hebrew meaning. The same Aramaic preposition governs the instrumental case a few times in Tanakh; but here the preposition is Hebrew.

 Although, He was taken from jail and court—is clearly for execution, Taken by oppression and by judgment is unclear; it presupposes the same subject oppressed and took the man. If the subject is the people, then oppression is not an instrument of execution. If the subject is God, then we would have to presume he deliberately oppressed the man, not a welcome thought for many, and then took him from this world in the manner of Enoch or Elijah, which presumption is too high-flown for the very constrained praise of the man by the Isaiah. Further, this reading is not congruent with his soul was exposed to death.

[xxxiv] The word is rare, only thrice encountered in Tanakh, and all three times with unclear meaning. The root relates to closeness, limitation. Thus, one other entry relates to pressure and yjr yjord—to closeness. Other words from this root have connotations of stateship and public meeting.

The translation as oppression is unwarranted. The word is also usually translated thus in Psalm 107:39, which is wrong in relation to the princes mentioned there. Rulers can be pressed (surrounded and wander in wastes) but not oppressed; tortures applied to the deposed rulers of antiquity are no oppression, either. Even supposing that the word relates to the commoners mentioned before, still evil and sorrow are more in line with the pressure (of circumstances) than of oppression, of which there is no indication in the context whatsoever. In the only other instance, Proverbs 30:16, the same word refers to barren [womb] or the one closed and causing birth pangs, thus a closed place, confinement.

The translation as perversion or protection is unwarranted.

The root may be related by the two-letter cell to the strong of v. 12. In the meaning of hard circumstances, it is semantically related to his work of v. 11, which also has that connotation.

[xxxv] The subject was tried after a considerable imprisonment, long enough to mention, since ancient trial was short. Perhaps this unusual, worth mention, length of the man’s confinement indicates that he was not condemned for a normal crime but for some act whose criminality was ambiguous, like improper teaching. In such a case, he would have been kept not in a jail but rather in a fortress or some similar place. There is a specific word for jail in Hebrew; the English confinement suggests a surrounded place.

[xxxvi] Disaster certainly relates to the people, not to the man. In Tanakh, the word למ׀, to it, refers to the collective image (singular form of multitude, such as nation). The appropriate noun is always nearby, usually one word from למ׀, as is the nation here. Syntactically, למ׀ cannot be emphatic preposition, since no object follows it.

[xxxvii] The Qumranic manuscript has it, they gave, which has about the same meaning, considering that the man was executed by the people whom the Isaiah calls criminals; Qumranites switched responsibility from the man to the people.

[xxxviii] The verb is in the past, since prefix ׀ signals the tense reversal. While there are examples in Tanakh to the contrary, their ratio among all verbs prefixed with ׀ does not exceed the statistics for erroneous usage of other verb forms, and therefore where ׀ makes semantic sense as a tense-reversal device, it should be considered to be employed thus.

The attempts to adduce the hypothetical “prophetic perfect” (supposedly the prophets occasionally employed a past tense either to present the prophecy as surely done, or to demonstrate the continuity of the prophesied events) tense implicitly require a major assumption—namely, that the text in question was written as a prophecy. This not only turns translation into doctrinally charged exegesis, but represents a case of circular logic, since the future tense is then used to “prove” that the text is actually a prophecy, and thus could be applied to a certain later figure.

The verb is in the third person singular masculine While this form is sometimes employed as an impersonal verb “someone gave,” such reading is unusual, and Isaiah is not fond of it—even to the extent of excessive clarification, as in the verse 3: [despised] by men. In our rendering, he gave and his tomb have the same antecedent, while an impersonal verb reading requires two different antecedents in one phrase—and both unnamed, which is highly unlikely. And even then, “someone gave” is not easily stretched to the common “they gave;” in Ezek32:25, they gave [her a grave] is correctly expressed with נתנ׀.

Still another problem with the “they gave” translation is the suffix ׀, meaning his [tomb]; [gave] him would have been denoted with the preposition ל׀ instead.

Possibly, here is wordplay on the double meaning of נתנ, to give and to let. The man gave (left) his tomb, i.e., died, and he let (could not stop) the rich from using high burials. The urgency of the issue of these burials is evident from Isaiah 22:16 where the Isaiah harshly criticizes a royal servant Shebna for this transgression.

A curious interpretation suggests that the man let the rich use high places (perhaps excarnation, leaving the body exposed for birds and other scavengers to pick the flash off the bones) for burial, a practice Samuel accepted but which the purist Ezekiel condemned later. That and other dilutions of the tradition may have led to God’s desire to have him suppressed, and he was executed. That interpretation, however, raises a grammatical issue: while the rich (collective) got [permission for] high burial grounds (plural), commoners got only a single tomb. Such a correlation of singular and plural is improbable.

[xxxix] There is no need for the dative case preposition ל in this and the next phrase because of the dative shift, where the noun in the dative directly follows the verb. Isaiah 50:4 and Prov 13:21 contain exactly the same syntax.

[xl] Parallelism in this verse is only superficial, since rich are not synonymous with wicked in ancient literature. The Tanakhic Isaiahs criticize the unrighteous gain, or unethical behavior of some of the rich and powerful, but never the wealth per se. When rarely all rich are called evil, so are all other people, as in Mic 6:12, disproving the specific association of rich with wicked. Accordingly, במה  is likely different from קבר  , not synonymous in parallel verses, and therefore a different (but related) meaning of altars and tomb is plausible. The assumption of strict parallelism in this pericope would lead us to believe that the man did not leave anything to the commoners, but only to the wicked rich, which is rather unlikely. (While wicked and rich may be equaled if they are certain foreigners, e.g., Assyrians, there is no clear evidence in the Isaiah 53 that the man was executed by the conquerors. It is possible to envisage a connection between עשר for rich, רשע  for wicked and אשר for Assyrians.)

[xli] The author employs a wordplay: the word base for malefactors is reish-shin-ayn, and for the rich—ayn-shin-reish. This is why rich is in the singular: the plural ending -im would destroy a near-perfect transposition RShAimAShR, making it into RShAimAShRim.

[xlii] The usual translation of high burials as tomb or death is impossible, since the word is in the plural, which cannot point here to intensity. The only example usually advanced on application of the word deaths to a single person is Ezek 28:10, “You will die [the] deaths of [the] uncircumcised.” However, while singular you nominally applies to the ruler of Tyre, it actually refers to the whole nation. The verse continues, “by hand of aliens.” Clearly, aliens in plural are needed to kill not a single person, but multitude of the city dwellers. Ezek 27 addresses Tyre as a nation. Likewise, Ezek 28 does to the people of Sidon, addressing them as collective plural, akin to you in the commandments.

Certainly, the plural of deaths cannot be meaningfully compared, as some do, with life or water. These words are almost exclusively employed in the plural (because a moment of life or a piece of water cannot be singled out), while death is employed in the singular as often as any other word.

Moreover, evidently in order to comply with the gospel narration, מ׀ת was usually translated not death, but tomb.  Although there exists at least one labored reference to an intensive plural of deaths in Ezekiel, there is not a single instance of מ׀ת with the meaning of tomb used as an intensive plural. Therefore, it could be only tombs.

Still more, in order to read high burials or altars as death or tomb, the translations usually disregard ב.  If not part of the word base במת (altars), it could be only a prefix, meaning in, which does not fit in the phrase without a considerable semantic stretching. Besides, the term נתנ ב    (he gave in smth or, even more so,  someone gave in smth) is highly unusual in Hebrew.

Also consider the poetic parallelism with transposition; the standard wording would be, לרשעימ    במת׀ את עשראת קבר׀, ל leaving no room for ב as a preposition in את – ל, את- ל structure.

[xliii] Even accepting for a moment the prophetic perfect and the intensive plural, we still need to twist the meaning to make any sense of the phrase. Let’s look at several translations.

New International Version: He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death. But the term “assigned in his death” is nonexistent in Hebrew. Absence of the metaphorical meaning makes the phrase senseless.

New King James Version: And they made his grave with the wicked, but with the rich at his death. Besides previous objections, the Hebrew phrase mentions two different objects, not one grave.

Holman Christian Standard Bible: He was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man's grave. But even Ezekiel’s intensive plural, usually cited as an example, refers to death, not to grave. Also, grave is his, not the rich man's. And rich is obviously a collective plural, parallel to the wicked, not one man. The translation of preposition את as like is extremely irregular. The translation is also meaningless, since criminals were not buried in rich men’s graves; even if we refuse to apply the later Mishnaic law to those times, such defiling burial likely would be objected to by the owners of neighboring plots.

New Revised Standard Version: They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich. Here the preposition ב (in) is simply omitted.

American Standard Version: His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet he was with a rich man in his death. The Hebrew text does not contain he was.

New Living Translation: He was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man's grave. Here was put is invented, and the translation of ׀יתנ (he gave) as was buried is indefensible. The grave is his, not the rich man’s.

Overall, the phrase is clear and readable, not significantly different from how an Israeli newspaper would have written today: he gave… his altars. Choosing the common reading, they will make his tomb, requires seven significant changes or nonstandard assumptions in two Hebrew words.

[xliv] His death gave everyone a place to worship him: the rich at the places of sacrifice, the commoners (wicked), for whom offering is too expensive, his burial place; every stratum of society was guilty of idolatry directed at him. Perhaps only the nobles who sentenced the man where the exception.

A less plausible possibility is that the court (the rich) condemned the man because of popular pressure from wicked commoners, who got him dead, but the rich people (supposedly more knowledgeable) worshipped him at altars. The Isaiah could not be sympathetic to such worship.

Altars in plural may also relate to introducing new deities or, rather, new values—the crime Socrates was charged with in similar circumstances.

[xlv] The usual translation of תשימ as you made [his life an offering for sin] is grammatically implausible since the verb we translated as brought or laid is feminine third person or masculine second person singular future tense. The soul (f.) brings something. To have something done to the soul, other translations presuppose a masculine personage, a man or the nation. In standard Hebrew, however, verbs with pronoun features relate to a nearby noun, not to a presupposed object. Indeed, there is a number of occurrences in Isaiah, as in 57:15–19, when the pronoun’s subject is undefined, but we believe that these occurrences were purposely made cryptic, just like Isaiah 53 53. Besides, the reading, If you (masculine singular) would give a ransom for his life, presupposes two undefined and different antecedents in a phrase, which is highly unlikely. As we translated it, the phrase is grammatically perfect, with the verb תשימ (she would give) referring to the soul, and the next verb, יראה (he would see)—to the male pronoun suffix ׀ in נפש׀  (his soul).

Another possible argument is based on poetic transposition. The literal text is, If would bring a guilt offering his soul; therefore, the correct order is, If his soul would bring an offering, which makes clear that it is the soul which should do something, not that something is to be done for her benefit.

A suggestion of an external action, like ransoming, is also refuted by the hard mental work required of the man in the following verse.

[xlvi] Translations commonly drop in result of, completely changing the meaning. Better attempts read out of his anguish, which is a farfetched interpretation and not the proper translation of the words.

[xlvii] Possibly, in the Isaiah’s view, the man had only to pretend repenting. That dishonesty was not outright condemned is evident from the Christian parable of the unfaithful steward, and Greeks often praised it, especially when it was directed against barbarians. Similarly, the man could have lied to the others, i.e., not his followers.

[xlviii] Here is wordplay: righteous is also someone acquitted in court. Having repented, the man would have been acquitted by court and thus justified himself before a multitude of Jews, proving himself righteous.

Righteous may denote a king, as in Isaiah 49:24, or perhaps the leader or founder of a sect, as with the Essenes. In both cases, צדיק is a title, probably referring to the man.

[xlix] Not necessarily the same subject as the righteous, possibly a common metaphor of Israel. This title was not of major importance: Isaiah called thus the nation, himself, Cyrus, and even a royal official Eliakim ben Hilkiyahu.

[l] The translation Justify the Jews (righteous) before many (nations) is less plausible, since the next phrase refers to their (multitude) deviations, a term, which the author could hardly have applied to Gentiles who are not bound by Judaic law.

The translation the righteous shall make many righteous is impossible, since it ignores the preposition ל: to, for, or before many.

[li] The usage of רבמ, many, as a noun is nonstandard in Hebrew

[lii] Here is wordplay: the same verb סבל has the sense of to share in v. 4

[liii] Allot opposes cut from the land of the living. His life would have been preserved.

The Isaiah might have envisaged a relationship between the root חלק here, ח׀ל for shocked, חלה  for illness, and חלא for ill, alluding to the sense of the חל  cell, division—drawing the attention to the sectarian division of the nation.

[liv] The man will be recognized as leader.

[lv] To the ancient mind, one who has many (subjects, riches, soldiers, etc.) is great.

[lvi] There is dative shift; preposition  את refers to the booty, not to the strong.

[lvii] Ex 15:9, Gen 49:7 are better translated take away then allot or divide, which words presume the object of division being partially left with its previous owner, but allot is the only choice of translation in the previous phrase. Supposing a different meaning of the same verb  חלק in the two verses, we may translate, he will take away the captives of the strong—lead Jews from exile, cf. Isaiah 49:25.

[lviii] Although the modern meaning of עצ׀מימ is strong, in antiquity strength was generally a matter of being many. The connotation differs considerably: the man would have been on equal footing either with all Jews or specifically with the leaders, the strong. The author chose a word other than רבימ (multitude) since that word occurs already three times in the previous two verses.

[lix] Gain is the result of his work, as in Prov 31:11, of his repentance. The man would have become an important member of society, and Jews at large would have benefited from his repentance, perhaps as he taught and turned them to righteousness.

[lx] There are other common meanings of the term תחת אשר, translated as even though: instead of what [he risked his life and was considered a criminal] or because [he exposed himself to death, he is reckoned among criminals].

[lxi] A person condemned to stoning was stripped (uncovered), presumably in order to aim correctly. Perhaps the author alludes to his execution for blasphemy.

[lxii] A punishable misdeed, usually inadvertent or not recognized by the perpetrator as sinful. The Isaiah possibly contrasts the sinful delusion of us all with offense of many. This can be resolved by suggesting that the man shared the offense of founding a sect.

[lxiii] The translation of הפגיע as attached is justified grammatically. The Hebrew הפעיל form denotes action done to elicit action by another person (causation). The root meaning of פגע is to touch painfully. יפגיע means caused the touching, namely that he would cause [criminals] to touch [him], or he would be attached to criminals . Joshua 19:11, and 22 bear this meaning out, where the word appears in the simple active form, פעל. The Even-Shoshannah dictionary equates הפעיל with פעל in this case, although the development is noted only in post-Tanakhic times. This development is only natural, since to touch is a reflective verb and to touch someone is the same as to cause him to touch you. Besides the parallel to vs. 6, the Isaiah has another good reason to employ the causative: to relate that the attachment to criminals was a byproduct, caused by the man’s actions.

Considering that the root letter פ is nonessential here, we may also consider הגיע, to arrive. The meaning of הפגיע is to cause someone to arrive somewhere and be attached to something, so that the something would touch him.

Another argument is that the word is in the future tense, while the previous verb is in the past. Although the Tanakhic use of tenses is loose, such a switch from past to future is probably meaningful: would be attached [to criminals] by [future] popular opinion.

The preposition ל used here also appears in Joshua 19:11 in the form אל to describe attachment (of territory to a river) without actually entering (the river). In the same Isaiah 53, when one territory borders another, the preposition is ב. Similarly, the man is attached to criminals, but he is as different from them as land from river, not similar as one land to another.

The translation superficially has a problem of the absent object or subject of the causative will attach, יפגיע. Both are present in the similar structure in vs. 6. The subject here is God. He suggested to the man a path of repentance. Because the man did not follow it, but chose to continue in the common sin, חֵטְא-רַבִּים, God will attach יפגיע him to criminals in the same manner God earlier pushed הפגיע the delusion into the man.

[lxiii]  Although him would be usually rendered in Hebrew as את׀, in this phrase the first pronoun he ה׀א   is just as acceptable.

If, however, we are to seek the object explicitly stated nearby, the only plausible reading is, And the offense of many he has lifted and will attach it [the offense] to criminals. This phrase does not immediately make sense. Many may be those (people in general) before whom the righteous (the man) should have been justified in vs. 11, and therefore the offense referred to is their rejection or conviction of him. Lifted may be interpreted as upheld, supported with his behavior. Criminals (פשעימ) may be those because of whose crimes (מפשענ׀) the man was shocked in vs. 5. And the overall meaning is, By his refusal to repent, he supported the claims of many accusers, and attached the blame of their rejection to the members of his group. However, this interpretation runs into the problem of he was reckoned among criminals (פשעימ): if we take פשעימ as a self-humiliating term for the sectarians, the man was attached to this group only because of the execution. It is possible to read the phrase as, He caused the sin of many (who convicted him) to be attached to the whole nation (פשעימ), but this reading plainly retrojects the views of the evangelists onto the text of Isaiah. The concept of collective responsibility is alien to Judaism where only the guilty ones bear their sins, and even the family members are generally not responsible for sins of other members. This absence of the collective responsibility should not be confused with acceptance of the collateral damage, such as intended drowning of Jonah’s ship.

The preposition does not support a possible translation, was smiting or in order to smite. To smite (in פעל) is always used with the preposition ב, and never with ל, as in the present case.

The preposition denies the common translation, to intercede. Everywhere in Tanakh, when the meaning is intercession, the preposition ב occurs, meaning intercession before someone, and there is a clear definition of the goal of the intercession, such as not to burn the scroll of the Torah. Intercession is never objectless.

In Is 53:12 there is no phrase relating to whom the purported intercession is addressed. Hebrew does not routinely employ structures without antecedents. Therefore, probably the meaning is not interceded, but another word, which does not require another preposition besides ל. And this meaning is "to be attached," which also makes sense as the poetic repetition of the earlier “reckoned among criminals.”

Isaiah 59:16 אינ מפגיע without prepositions is usually rendered as no intercessor, but the context refers to military affairs or, at any rate, use of force, and so, There was no man, no one to stand against. There is hardly any inference to intercession in the sense of pleading. Another possibility is that a reference to intercessor was deliberately planted in Isaiah 59 to create continuity for the theme of Isaiah 53 53.

Isaiah 47:3, וְלֹא אֶפְגַּע אָדָם (without ב or ל), usually translated, And I will let no man intercede, is actually, And I will not strike a man [who does this to you]; let intercede is two verbs, not one as אפגע.

In Job 36:32, מפגיע, [gives lightning a charge that] it strike the mark has the same meaning of attached, touch the mark, not actually punch it, and certainly not intercede.

The general meaning of touch, attached is borne by the semantic relation. Vs. 6: God הִפגיע(pushed) sin into him, and as a result, vs. 12, he יפגע (will be attached) to criminals.

[lxiv] The word מרא cannot plausibly be a noun, since this would make six nouns in a row, highly atypically of Hebrew. The construction כנ – כ, translated here as just as—so, is causation by analogy (e.g., just as you will give—so you will you receive), and therefore requires a verb in each part of the causative structure. The only word which can be a verb is מרא.

[lxv] Here is the dative shift, with dative case preposition ל missing before the first noun

[lxvi] The common translation of משחת  as marred is grammatically impossible because of the vocalization; the word is a noun. The attempts to render distortion are not supported by other uses of this word. Besides, the notion of ugliness is foreign to the context.

[lxvii] The attempts to render נזה  startle are pure conjecture, based neither on the root meaning, nor on the established usage of the word.

[lxviii] While this rendering of the last two verses is not certain, the common one is grammatically impossible. These verses certainly have to do with anointment, and most probably—by sprinkling, i.e., with water. The prophet whom God addresses, and who performs this rite, is described in 20:2 as naked and barefoot, a familiar image. Just see how the Isaiah attempted to embed the words anointment and sprinkle under innocent words, superficially read as marred and startled. While baptism is called immersion in Hebrew, unction is as good a description, especially when joined with sprinkle. It is not an error that the Qumran scroll has the anointment in plural: many people were baptized. The turn, anointment from man is the same used in Matthew 21:23–26, which is hardly a coincidence. The Jews expect baptism from Elijah when he would return from heaven, and certainly were astonished by baptism from a common man. (The relations between the person whom God addresses as you, and the man, mentioned here in the third person, are too much like those depicted between John the Baptist and Jesus.)

[lxix] evidenced by  ס and פ marks in Masoretic edition