10 September 2003

'zdq' in isaiah: intro

(the following bits of essay don't really make any particularly original contribution, but they do collect together some of my thoughts on the topic, at least as i was thinking it thru a couple of years ago)

The notions of “righteousness,” “the righteousness of God,” and “justification” have a significant place in Christian theology, in part due to the attention given them by Paul, especially in Galatians and Romans. But this terminology was not newly minted by New Testament writers, having its roots, instead, deeply within the Hebrew Scriptures and Isaiah in particular.

The book of Isaiah uses words formed from the “zdq” root eighty times in its 66 chapters, with meanings ranging from “personal covenant faithfulness” to “divine vindication.” Of these eighty instances, two-thirds occur in the second (and shorter) portion of the book, in what is often distinguished as “Second Isaiah” (chapters 40-66). By far, the most common forms of zdq in Isaiah are “zedeq” and “z’daqah,” each of which occur at least twice as much in Second Isaiah as in the first part of the book. (see note below)

These brief observations suggest some shift in focus between the two parts of Isaiah, a shift marked temporally and thematically as the prophecies move from a pre-exilic attention largely upon imminent judgment towards an exilic eschatology of repentance and vindication.

In the following remarks, then, I will give some analysis of the semantic range of zdq, particularly the shifts between First and Second Isaiah. After this analysis I will briefly suggest some ways in which this terminology may undergird Pauline theology. After these remarks, there is a listing of all the occurrences of “zdq” in Isaiah along with some initial interpretive annotations.

(note: for those of you who worry about these sorts of things, i should perhaps add that my use of the terminology of "first" and "second" isaiah is, for my purposes, purely a literary division in terms of theological emphasis and context; you needn't read into it any particular theory of authorship or date of composition or the like)