Answering Morna Hooker
The problems of Morna Hooker are our problems, they are the problems of anyone who is listening to the Bible. The main part of the trouble can be stated simply: Where are the quotations? Why doesn’t Jesus quote Isaiah 53-55 up, down, round about and backwards? If he thinks that he is the “Man of Sorrows” and is going to die on the cross and be raised on the third day and further that Isaiah prophesied this ahead of time, why doesn’t he say so loud and clear? Moreover, why don’t the writers of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John slap down copious quotations from Isaiah to prove their point.? Why does Matthew, to take but one example, quote Isaiah 53 but not in reference to Jesus’ death and resurrection but instead in reference to healing? The short answer to these question is, they cannot. To expand: Jesus and the New Testament writers cannot lay down whole slabs of Isaiah to undergird their contention because it is not there. To repeat, Isaiah is not there— Isaiah has been explained away, translated away in fact, by the authors of the Septuagint. For those wedded to the idea that Jesus is the suffering servant (most churchgoers and pastors, me included) Morna Hooker’s and the rest of the academy’s denial of what seems self-evident is both strange and unwelcome. Outside the university, people of the pews and pulpit have looked at the conclusions of the professors and simply walled them over, like a Fortunato and his little jingling bells. But this will not do. So, where are the quotations? One key to understanding the non-appearance of Isaiah quotation may lie with Peter. In Matthew 16:21, we read in the King James Version of the Bible “from that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed and be raised again on the third day, then Peter took him and began to rebuke him saying, ‘Be it far from thee Lord.” However, the literal translation of Peter’s words are a bit different. Peter says, “Mercy to thee Lord.” Most scholars seem to take this phrase as a reference to 2 Chronicles but the phrase is an exact quotation of Isaiah 54:10 in the Septuagint’s Codex Vaticanus. Please note, however, if your fingers take off in a run at this moment to google an online translation (Brenton, 1851 perhaps) you will return disappointed. Your time would be more usefully spent walking to the bookshelf and finding your cold, lonely hard copy of Brenton’s. Open it and glance at the English. Once again, disappointment, but now, look at the Greek. Brenton (the man) uses the Codex Vaticanus primarily, but when something odd comes up he translates according to the other two codexes. And something odd has come up. More on that in a few moments. But first, let’s pause for a moment and take in what Peter is saying in Matthew 16:22. He quoting, not just alluding, but quoting, Isaiah 54. Now consider a second point: It looks like Jesus’ fellow Jews did not believe that the Messiah, the Coming One could die. The Messiah, as Martha says, must “remain.” * I am not alone in seeing these things, many other students of the Bible have noticed without too much difficulty that Isaiah 53 was not interpreted by “Second Temple Judaism” as being about the Messiah. What if, however, the evidence works the the other way and helps us understand why Jesus and the New Testament writers did not lay down the aforementioned “slabs of Isaiah quotation.” Jesus and his disciples could not lean on Isaiah 53 in order to explain Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. Why? Because Isaiah 53 in the Septuagint is a translation and that translation explains away, and decidedly so, the suffering and death of the Messiah. So while Peter knows that Jesus is the Messiah predicted by Isaiah 53, he also “knows” that the Messiah “cannot” suffer and certainly cannot die. Now, it’s time to consider the oddness of Isaiah 54:10 in Brenton’s translation. Lancelot Brenton cannot be blamed for translating at this place in accordance with both the Alexandrinus and the Sinaiticus. The Vaticanus makes no sense. —There must be a mistake! “The Lord” must be the subject of the sentence and Zion “thou,” it’s object. Isaiah 54 is mostly about Zion anyhow. Isaiah is saying what he already said of her in Isaiah 52! But what if we take the Greek seriously, “eilos soi kurie”? Our next question must be how did this odd phrase show up in Isaiah 54? Judah Goldin, renowned theologian and author of “Song of the Sea” helps us understand. In Part 1, I quoted a scholar who observed that the “faithful pities of David” in Isaiah 55:3 sums up what comes before. Let us say, for the moment, that he is correct. In that case, Isaiah 55:3 would be the “interpreting scripture,” but Judah Goldin noticed something about interpreting scriptures, namely that they can distort the interpreted scripture. This “distorted scripture” is by no means a bad thing according to Goldin but becomes God-breathed and helpful. Consider Genesis 1 as an example of this. In the Septuagint of Genesis 1, the sea becomes good. The translators obviously distorted the verse, and yet, Paul does not look on this askance, he writes, “all scripture is God-breathed and profitable.” By “all scripture” he means the Septuagint too. To sum up, the interpreters/translators of the Septuagint looked at Isaiah 53 in light of Isaiah 55, as well they might. The man of sorrows is supported by love all the way the through, that is, the faithful pity/compassion of David. This pity/compassion is what exalts him; what makes him, instead of the criminal that he appears to us sinners to be, the glorious mercy seat carrying away the sins of both Jews, “we” and Gentiles, “many nations.” However, the translators/interpreters of the Septuagint also use Isaiah 55:3 to explain away the suffering and death of the man of sorrows, causing them to add something that seems quite out of place in Isaiah 54, “mercy to you Lord,” quoted by Peter. Thus, under these circumstances, how could Jesus and the writers of the New Testament possibly refer to large chunks of of Isaiah 53-55 or even small ones in the manner in which Morna Hooker and the rest of scholarship would prefer? The Septuagint, the Bible that everyone knew and quoted, “God-breathed and profitable” makes this impossible. Instead, Jesus and the New Testament writers needed to do a “work-around.” What’s a “work-around”? In addition to ballet I also treat my aches and pains using a method developed by fascia therapist, Sue Hitzmann (this is not a paid for endorsement, fear not). Where there is pain, her patients are not to put direct pressure on the area but rather, go right up to the hurt area, and then, back off, working around the problematic part. In the same way Jesus and the N.T. writers work up to Isaiah 53 and then back off. They leave clues but prefer not to quote directly. Why? Because the Septuagint simply will not bear the weight. Moreover, they have confidence in us. Yes, I have come to the conclusion that they have confidence in us because they have confidence in God. This is perhaps the most amazing part. They expected the hearers of the New Testament to exercise ourselves. They will not spoon-feed us. Luke-Acts is all about the empowerment of humanity. Notice how Luke never reveals the scripture that Jesus opens to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. We are expected to follow the numerous clues and with the help of the Holy Spirit find the way ourselves. Jesus said to his disciples, “you feed them.” Both scholars and hoi polloi are both right and both wrong. The people are right in seeing that the New Testament obviously is pointing to Jesus as the man of sorrows, but they are wrong in walling over the excellent observations of Morna Hooker. The academy following Morna Hooker is right to demanding the end of laziness in exegesis but wrong in supposing that Jesus is not the man of sorrows. The clues are there; we can and we must follow.