First Isaiah and the Disappearance of the Gods
By (author) Matthew J. Lynch
Publication date:Q2 2021
Length of book:144 pages
Isaiah 1–39 uses the unique term אלילים—usually translated as “idols”— more than anywhere else in the Hebrew Bible. In fact, ten out of eighteen occurrences of the word are in this section, suggesting that it may even be a First Isaian neologism. Using this linguistic phenomenon as a point of departure, Matthew J. Lynch reexamines the rhetorical strategies of Isaiah 1–39, revealing a stronger monotheizing rhetoric in First Isaiah than previously recognized.
Standard accounts of Israelite religion frequently insist that monotheism reached its apex during the exile, and especially in Deutero-Isaiah. By contrast, Lynch’s study brings to light an equally potent mode of monotheizing in First Isaiah. Lynch identifies three related rhetorical tendencies that emphasize yhwh’s supreme uniqueness: a rhetoric of avoidance, in which the author chooses not to confer the status of אלהי (god) on other deities, preferring instead the dysphemistic אליל (idol); a rhetoric of exaltation to emphasize yhwh’s “high,” “lofty,” and “exalted” status in opposition to all that which exalted itself; and a rhetoric of abasement, wherein all other claimants to absolute power—whether human or divine—are subjugated absolutely before the divine king.
Succinctly and persuasively argued, Lynch’s book will change how biblical scholars understand the nature and development of Israelite monotheism. It will be welcomed by scholars and students of the Hebrew Bible, in particular those whose research centers on First and Second Isaiah.
—H. G. M. Williamson, Emeritus Regius Professor of Hebrew, University of Oxford