Friday, November 04, 2005

Ibn Ezra on Two Isaiahs

As the Outsider requested, here is information on the statements I referred to in "Rabbinic vs. Modern Academic Beliefs" made by Ibn Ezra on Isaiah 40:1 and 49:7. I would like to preface it with the following, however. Prior to my writing of the original article, I had heard many times, mainly at YU, that Ibn Ezra claimed that Isaiah had actually been written by two people, but I had never studied the matter. Before including the reference to Ibn Ezra's two Isaiahs, I searched the internet to find out where Ibn Ezra actually said anything about it, and came up with Isaiah 40:1 and 49:7, which I then looked up. I admit that I did not feel I properly understood his comments in their entirety, but what I saw was enough to convince me that what I had been told at YU, by people I respect, was correct. In writing the article, I referred to the matter of the authorship of Isaiah, and the location of the relevant statements of Ibn Ezra, but did not elaborate, because I did not feel I understood enough to say anything intelligent beyond that. I hoped that no one would merely take my word for it without verifying my sources. Perhaps that was irresponsible of me.

When the Outsider requested that I provide details about the Isaiah Ibn Ezras, however, I decided to bite the bullet and decipher in full what he meant. I made reasonable progress for a while, but eventually I hit a brick wall that I seemed unable to break through or to circumvent. I spent hours trying the figure out what on earth he was saying, and finally, on my final attempt (funny how that always happens), I found more than I could have dreamed of: all the information I sought, spoon-fed right to me, at the following web address:

What follows is an edited version of what is written there (any of you can, of course, check out the original for yourselves). I was just too lazy to write the whole thing out in my own words, since it is fairly lengthy. This modified version is therefore my partially plagiarized summary of (much of) the evidence indicating that the Ibn Ezra believed the book of Isaiah had been written by two different people. I do not claim that it represents what the author of the article on that website believed. However, I have examined the assertions that I have taken from the website, and have satisfied myself they are reasonable, and that I can't come up with any other set of assertions that are as reasonable. My gratitude goes to the people involved in providing this information on that site.

As always, if you discover problems with the arguments presented here, please let me know. The case I present seems reasonable to me, but I don't dogmatically insist on it, and I do wish to believe what is true and not to believe that which is false. If you think, for reasons with substance, that it's wrong, I want to know about it.

One more thing: I'm tired, and I'm not going to do a careful edit of this piece before I go to bed. I'm going to post it anyway. So please forgive any poor editing as being, rather, lack of editing.

Here goes:

Ibn Ezra says the following at Isaiah 40:1:

נחמו נחמו עמי. נדבקה זאת הפרשה בעבור שהזכיר למעלה כי כל אוצרות המלך גם בניו יגלו לבבל על כן אחרי זאת הנחמות ואלה הנחמות הראשונות מחצי הספר על דעת רבי משה הכהן על בית שני ולפי דעתי הכל על גלותינו רק יש בתוך הספר דברי גלות בבל לזכר כי כורש ששלח הגולה ואולם באחרית הספר דברים הם לעתיד כאשר אפרש. ודע כי מעתיקי המצות ז״ל אמרו כי ספר שמואל כתבו שמואל והוא אמת עד [וימת] שמואל והנה דברי הימים יוכיח ששם דור אחר דור (לפני) [לבני] זרובבל והעד מלכים יראו וקמו שרים וישתחוו ויש להשיב כאשר ישמעו שם הנביא ואם איננו והמשכיל יבין׃

"Be comforted, be comforted, my people." This chapter has been placed here because in the preceding chapter, it is stated that all the treasures of the King, and even his sons, will be carried away to Babylon; thus, it is followed by these words of comfort. These first words of comfort, with which the second part of the book [of Isaiah] begins, refer to the construction of the Second Temple, according to Rabbi Moshe Hakohen; my opinion is that they refer to [the future redemption from] our current exile, only that there are references to the Babylonian exile [of between the two Temple eras] to record that Cyrus, who permitted the exiled Jews to return [text defective; either a misprint or an omission]. However, the statements at the end of the book [definitely] refer to [our] future, as I will explain. [Translation until this point adapted from M. Friedländer's 1873 The Commentary of Ibn Ezra on Isaiah, which I happily found in the JCC library, much to my astonishment. He notes the textual problem that I mention.]

Know that the recorders of the commandments [presumably meaning either the amoraim in general or the redactors of the Gemara specifically] said that Samuel wrote the book of Samuel, and this is [only] true until ''And Samuel died'' [I Samuel 25:1].

[Note: in my Mikraos Gedolos text of Ibn Ezra, the word וימת does not appear. I think that even without it, the meaning of the statement is clearly the same. The website I am using presents וימת as part of the original text. While I do not know the website's source, the existence of many inaccuracies in the texts of medieval commentaries is well-known, and since I do not believe that it alters the meaning of the passage anyway, I have accepted this emendation.]

[This approach to authorship I am hinting at] is proven by the book of Chronicles, where there are [listed] generation after generation of the descendants of Zerubbabel [I Chronicles 3:19–24; 10 generations are listed after Zerubbabel, in all].

[Note: here again, I have emended the text as it appears in my edition. My book says לפני זרובבל, "before Zerubbabel." I am substituting the website's version, לבני זרובבל, "of the descendants of Zerubbabel." I feel justified in doing so because (a) the physical difference between the two words is so slight (פ vs. ב) that an error in transcription can easily have occurred; and (b) I can't make heads or tails of the sentence as it reads according to my edition, whereas according to the website's version, it makes a lot of sense.]

And the evidence [for using this approach here in the book of Isaiah] is ''Kings shall see and arise, princes shall bow" [Isaiah 49:7]. One can reply [that this verse means to say that the kings and princes will do this] when they hear the name of the prophet; and if that interpretation is not correct, he who is enlightened will understand.

I'll spoil the surprise by telling you right now that Ibn Ezra is going to argue that this part of Isaiah (i.e., Chap. 40 until the end) was not written by Isaiah (ben Amotz), because Isaiah lived too early. First Ibn Ezra notes that Samuel didn't write all of the book of Samuel, since he obviously could not have written "And Samuel died'' and the material after it. Then he draws our attention to an extensive genealogy in Chronicles that seems to be a later interpolation, for the following reason: the Gemara (Bava Batra 15a) says that Ezra wrote Chronicles up to (and including) that point at which he own genealogy is recorded (I Chronicles 7:1-5). It says Nehemiah wrote the rest. Now, Ezra, Nehemiah and Zerubbabel were all contemporaries of each other (see, for example, Ezra 2:2 and Nehemiah 8:9; for more proofs, ask me). Thus it is highly unlikely that either of the two authors of Chronicles established by the Talmud could have written down the names of the descendants of Zerubbabel to the tenth generation. Thus he has demonstrated that the fact that the Talmud says X wrote a book of Nach does not mean that X wrote all of it.

After providing us with this background, Ibn Ezra proceeds to explain why he believes this part of Isaiah was not written by Isaiah, by quoting part of Isaiah 49:7: ''מלכים יראו וקמו שרים וישתחוו''.

What is bothering him about these words? Look at that verse and the one immediately following it:

כה אמר־ה׳ גאל ישראל קדושו לבזה־נפש למתעב גוי לעבד משלים מלכים יראו וקמו שרים וישתחוו למען ה׳ אשר נאמן קדש ישראל ויבחרך׃ כה אמר ה׳ בעת רצון עניתיך וביום ישועה עזרתיך ואצרך ואתנך לברית עם להקים ארץ להנחיל נחלות שממות ׃

So says God, the redeemer of Israel, his Holy One, to him whom man despises, to him whom the nation abhors, to a servant of rulers: kings shall see and arise, princes shall bow, because of God who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you. So says God: in a time of favor I have answered you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you, and I will preserve you and give you for a covenant of the nation, to restore the land and to assign desolate inheritances to their owners [Isaiah 49:7-8].

This is what Ibn Ezra says ad locum about these verses:

ז) מלכים יראו וקמו. הנה כבר רמזתי לך זה הסוד בחצי הספר ועל דעת רבים כי המלכים כמו כורש כאשר ישמע דברי הנביא יקום וישתחוה׃
למען ה׳. כי נאמן בדברו. והנה כ״ף ויבחרך לעד על יושר זה הפירוש׃
ח) בעת רצון עניתיך. גם זה עד על הרמז ורבים אמרו כי כ״ף עניתיך שב אל כורש והנה אין הפרשה דבקה׃

7) "Kings shall see and arise." I have already hinted at this secret halfway through the book [i.e., his comments to 40:1]. According to many, [the interpretation is] that when the kings, like Cyrus, hear the words of the prophet, they will rise and bow. [Emphasis on "the words" added.]
"Because of God." For he is faithful to his word. The [letter] כ״ף of ויבחרך is evidence of the correctness of this explanaton.
8) At a time of favor I have answered you: This [wording] is also evidence for what I have been hinting at. Many say that the [letter] כ״ף of עניתיך refers back to Cyrus, but then the passage doesn't fit.

Ibn Ezra emphasizes the fact that in these two verses, God addresses the prophet in the singular, with the suffix כ״ף. He thus faces a problem: God is not addressing all of Israel (Radak, for example, disagrees). God seems to be promising that when the prophet's prophesies finally come true, kings and princes will show their respect to the prophet, who had been despised and treated badly up until then. But if Isaiah is the prophet here, how will Cyrus and all the other kings and princes be able to bow to him and show him their respect? He will have been dead for 200 years by the time they are alive and have the chance!

Ibn Ezra quotes a simple answer that he claims "many" give: all the verse is saying is that when the vindicated words of Isaiah are mentioned to those kings in the future, they will bow and acknowledge how great a prophet Isaiah was. This does not seem to be the "secret" he suggests will explain this verse. Indeed, recall that back on 40:1 he mentioned this answer of the "many," and said, "if that is not so, he who is enlightened will understand." He does not seem to reject the "many"'s explanation outright, but he has his own secret, one that he feels at least as adequate.

So returning to 40:1, we find that Ibn Ezra points out that the Talmud's ascription of a particular book to a particular person does not always mean that that person wrote the whole book; and that he relates that principle to the book of Isaiah by quoting a verse which, from an historical perspective, is problematic, if understood to have been said by Isaiah. He quotes an interpretation of that verse that reconciles Isaiah's authorship with the historical facts, and then says, "But if that's not the answer, then there is a secret." If the secret is not that someone else wrote the balance of Isaiah, then why did he bother to prove that Talmudically unascribed authorship is possible? Sounds like he means that the part of the book beginning with Chapter 40 was written by a different, presumably later, author.

By the way, I read that Isaiah 1-39 is noticeably different from Isaiah 40-66. I have not investigated this in detail, so I cannot guarantee that it is true. If it is, though, that would help explain why Ibn Ezra chooses Chap. 40 as the point at which "Old Isaiah" and "New Isaiah" meet.

I'm tired, and I think I've presented enough information to make the general outline of the "Ibn Ezra and Isaiah authorship" discussion clear. What follows is most of the rest of the above-cited website, unedited. It contains some added information about Ibn Ezra's theory that God speaks personally to the prophet (periodically) in the latter part of Isaiah, as well as a somewhat more detailed summary of the argument that Ibn Ezra believed in two authors of Isaiah (though not all backed up by presented evidence). I've italicized the whole thing.

Ibn Ezra refers to this ''secret'' again at the end of his commentary on the famous ''Suffering Servant'' section of Sefer Yeshayah, the pesukim between 52:13 to 53:12. Controversy has raged over these pesukim for many centuries, since the Christians claim that they refer to none other than their own messiah. Many of our meforshim do battle with this interpretation, bringing proof after proof that these pesukim couldn't possibly refer to Yoshke.** Ibn Ezra explains the entire section, word by word, according to one of the mainstream Jewish interpretations, which is that the ''servant'' is a symbol for all of Klal Yisroel. But then, suddenly on the last posuk, Ibn Ezra lets us know that he himself doesn't agree with this derech. He tells us his own opinion is that the ''servant'' of the section is one and the same as the servant mentioned in earlier passages. Here are his words:

...והנה פרשתי לך כל הפרשה ולפי דעתי כי הנה ישכיל עבדי הוא שאמר הנביא עליו הן עבדי אתמך בו ויאמר לי עבדי אתה וכן כתוב בדעתו יצדיק צדיק עבדי לרבים וכתוב גוי נתתי למכים והסוד כאשר רמזתי בחצי הספר והנה כל הפרשיות דבקות זאת עם זאת
(פירוש ראב״ע, ישעיה נג׃יב)
…I have thus explained to you the entire section [i.e. according to the majority view, that the ''עבד'' of this section refers to the Jewish people, and not to the prophet himself]. But in my own opinion [the servant here, the one in] ''הנה ישכיל עבדי'' [posuk 53:12] is the very same [servant] about whom the prophet said ''הן עבדי אתמך בו'' [posuk 42:1], as well as ''ויאמר לי עבדי אתה'' [posuk 49:3]. And it is written [here] ''בדעתו יצדיק צדיק עבדי לרבים'' [posuk 53:11], [just as] it is written [above] ''גוי נתתי למכים'' [posuk 50:6]. And the secret is as I hinted halfway through the sefer. Now all the sections fit together well.
(R. Avrohom ibn Ezra to Yeshayah 53:12)

So what exactly is the "secret"? Throughout his explanations of all these nevuos Ibn Ezra systematically and consistently emphasizes the Bablylonian setting. Throughout his explanations of all these nevuos, he also emphasizes their autobiographical nature. He leaves it to us to connect the two and draw the obvious—and shocking—conclusion: A different novi, living two hundred years after the Yeshayah for whom the whole sefer is named, wrote all of these prophecies. According to Ibn Ezra, even the famous ''Suffering Servant'' narrative was written by this anonymous novi.

Note that Ibn Ezra wasn't motivated to come to his conclusion for any of the heretical reasons of the Modern Bible critics. Ibn Ezra obviously has no problem with a novi seeing into the future, which is why he doesn't mention his ''secret'' in his peirush either of the two places where Koresh's name is mentioned, which were the favorite proofs of the kofrim. Ibn Ezra came to his conclusions not because of any doubts as to the powers of nevuoh, but rather as result of his sophisticated literary and grammatical sensibilities, his acute sensitivity to all the dimensions of what we call poshut pshat.

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