Thursday, February 07, 2008

New Exodus in Second Isaiah, part I

The title given for the OT Prophecy module essay last semester was: Consider how the New Exodus theme is used in the Book of Isaiah. I knew the New Exodus theme was used in the book of Isaiah, but had never given much thought to how. And, as is usually the case with these things, when you look into it, it just gets better!
The theme of a new or second exodus...occurs throughout the canonical book of Isaiah, but becomes especially prominent in chapters 40-55...Most scholars see these chapters as the work of Second Isaiah, an exilic prophet, although some attribute the whole canonical book to pre-exilic Isaiah of Jerusalem. There is no doubt that chapters 40-55 are addressed to the exilic community and whether they originated in a pre-exilic or an exilic situation, we must primarily consider their impact on an exilic audience.
Snaith describes the Second Exodus theme as the one controlling theme of Second Isaiah, to which all other themes are subservient! Before you can successfully examine the theme of the Second Exodus, you need to have a handle on what's important about the exodus itself. Key here is seeing the relationship between the exodus and the Genesis prologue, the exodus and Sinai and the exodus and the Heilgeschichte of Israel as a whole. The employment of the theme by Second Isaiah to describe the release of captive Israel from Babylon has to be understood against its ANE background: this is not allegory (which assumes a vertical-spatial relationship for meaning), but historical typology (for which a horizontal-temporal relationship is key; it's about history).

This provides further contrast with ANE parallels where the annual rhythmic cycle of nature was identified with the repetition of the events of primeval time. Second Isaiah does not identify the new exodus as a return to the old in ‘a great historical cycle’, but a linear progression in Yahweh’s purposes for history. This heightening means that the ‘new exodus will be a radically new event. It will surpass the old exodus not only in wonder but also in soteriological meaning’.

Isaiah develops the theme eschatologically and it is here that the richness of his work comes out. With a theme so closely tied to the Mosaic covenant, the absence of references to it is truly significant. Instead we find the covenant language of the Noachian and Davidic covenants, through which Isaiah hints at a new unconditional covenant, with a new covenant mediator. We also find prominent creation theology, hinting at the recreation of Israel.
...the new exodus from Babylon does not merely constitute an idealised paradigm for God’s saving activity, but is the means by which the grand eschatological horizon foreseen by Second Isaiah is to be realised in the future. The inevitable eschatological consequences of the new exodus are telescoped into the event itself. Yahweh’s post-exilic people in Israel still awaited these consequences.