What Happens To Ms Babylon In Isaiah 47, Why, And Who Says So? -- By: John Goldingay

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 47:2 (NA 1996)
Article: What Happens To Ms Babylon In Isaiah 47, Why, And Who Says So?
Author: John Goldingay


What Happens To Ms Babylon In
Isaiah 47, Why, And Who Says So?

John Goldingay

Summary

In Isaiah 47 Ms Babylon is punished not for promiscuity or other sexual misdemeanour but for a failure in her womanhood which lies in a failure of womanly compassion. She is punished not by rape or sexual humiliation but by her reduction from a position of royal authority to one of domestic servanthood.

I. Introduction

Isaiah 47 has often been reckoned a passage in which a city is metaphorized into a woman punished for her promiscuity; its military assault and subjection are then being described in terms of a woman’s sexual assault and rape.1 At the same time it comes within a section of the Hebrew Bible where a woman’s voice has been discerned more explicitly than anywhere else in the Prophets.2 My aim here is to reconsider the chapter in the light of the apparent tension between these two views.

Ch. 47 is the only example in Isaiah 40-66 of a prophecy against another nation; indeed ‘in brief form, Isaiah 47 offers one of the most comprehensive statements of Israel’s theology of the

nations.’3 As such its functions might be expected to include those of indirectly warning the community not to be overly impressed by the enemy and of indirectly promising deliverance by portraying its oppressor’s fall. ‘Babylon presented itself as autonomous, invincible, and permanent’ (cf. vv. 7, 8, 10), and Israel could easily accept this characterisation with its implications for Israel’s own self-understanding and its understanding of God, ‘a classic example of the phenomenon, noted by Marx, of the victim willingly participating in the ideology of the perpetrator’. The prophet’s task is to enable people to see Babylon differently, and thus no longer to define their own position so hopelessly.4 The poem works by its ironic, even taunting bidding of a woman who had reckoned she would sit enthroned and secure for ever and could stand firm, not least on the basis of her resources of ‘knowledge’. Her prestige, power, confidence, and faith will all turn out to be il...

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