TextPart 3: The Servant’s Burial according to the Scriptures The variation in Isaiah 53:9 touches directly on Christ’s fulfillment of the prophecy in his burial. Peter J. GentryIllustration by Peter Gurry. Images from Wikipedia, iStockphoto, and UnsplashApril 6, 2022 ShareFacebookTwitterLinkedInPrint Isaiah’s fourth servant song is by far the most famous, not least because Christians have long read it as one of the greatest Old Testament prophecies about the heart of the Christian faith, the death of Jesus. In this Easter series, we are focusing on major textual problems in Isaiah 53 as a necessary step in identifying the suffering servant. Christ was buried according to the Scriptures. This is what the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3–4 and he also says that it is a matter of chief importance. With more detail, Matthew reports that Jesus’ body was laid in a new tomb of a rich man named Joseph of Arimathea. But were these details predicted in the Scriptures? Before answering this question by treating the textual problem in Isaiah 53:9, let’s review some conclusions of our series. In Isaiah 52:14–15, we showed that the prologue’s description of the servant’s exaltation was better understood in terms of an exalted high priest’s anointing and his sprinkling of many nations, a theme picked up again and expanded in the latter part of the song. In the case of Isaiah 53:8, we saw that, although the textual problem is difficult, the Hebrew text behind the LXX is probably the original text, and therefore, Isaiah’s song pictures the servant being stricken to death. In this article, we move to Isaiah 53:9 and must unpack yet another textual problem, this one having to do with whether the servant is assigned a death or a tomb with the rich. To see why, we will (1) list the witnesses with an English translation; (2) summarize and make some observations about them; (3) show that the best reading is found in 1QIsaa; and (4) conclude with the relevance of this reading for the New Testament’s portrait of Jesus. Witnesses ReadingWitnessText1. his tomb1QIsaaAnd they assigned his burial with wicked men and with a rich man his tomb1Corrector has עשיר (singular) by erasing ים and corrected עמ to עת (= את assuming weakening of gutturals). 1QIsab and 4QIsad are damaged at this place in the manuscript and do not give pertinent information for this problem. ויתנו את רשעים קברו ועמ עשירים בומתו2. in his deathsMTAnd he assigned his burial with wicked men, and with a rich man in his deaths (?) וַיִּתֵּן אֶת־רְשָׁעִים קִבְרוֹ וְאֶת־עָשִׁיר בְּמֹתָ֑יוLXXAnd I will give the wicked for his burial and the rich for his death καὶ δώσω τοὺς πονηροὺς ἀντὶ τῆς ταφῆς αὐτοῦ καὶ τοὺς πλουσίους ἀντὶ τοῦ θανάτου αὐτοῦ· Symmachus (via Eusebius)He will assign the wicked for his grave και δωσει τους ασεβεις αντι της ταφης αυτου Latin VulgateAnd he will give the wicked for his burial and the rich for his deathet dabit impios pro sepultura et divitem pro morte sua Syriac PeshittaHe gave his grave with the impious and the rich in his death (or at his death) ܝܗܒ ܪܫܝܥܐ ܩܒܪܗ ܘܥܬܝܪܐ ܒܡܘܬܗ Aramaic TargumAnd he will hand over the wicked to Gehenna and those rich in possessions which they robbed to a death of Perditionוְיִמסַר יָת רַשִיעַיָא לְגֵיהִנָם וְיָת עַתִּירֵי נִכסַיָא דַּאְנַסוּ בְּמוֹתא דְאַבדָנָא3. his high placesMedieval MSS2de Rossi 440, 545, primo 304“his high places” בְּמֹתָ֑יו] בָמתיוA survey of witnesses to Isaiah 53:9 The three main options are: “his tomb” 1QIsaa“in his deaths” MT, Targum, smoothly translated as “in his death” in LXX, Vulgate, Peshitta“his high places” Medieval Hebrew manuscripts Observations First, we need to consider whether or not the Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaa) from the Dead Sea Scrolls has preserved a better reading than the Masoretic Text. Isaiah 53:9 is rendered by the ESV as: “And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death.” Related The Great Isaiah Scroll was among the first discovered. Today, it is housed at the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem. Photo by Dennis Jarvis How Much Can the Most Famous Dead Sea Scroll Prove?The Great Isaiah Scroll is a crucial piece of the Old Testament puzzle, but it doesn’t give us the whole picture. Anthony Ferguson For the phrase “in his death,” the Masoretic Text (MT) has “in his deaths,” with the word for death in the plural (בְּמֹתָ֑יו) followed by the pronoun. Elsewhere in the Old Testament the word for “death” is found in the plural only in Ezekiel 28:10 where the phrase means “the deaths of the uncircumcised people” (מוֹתֵי עֲרֵלִים) and both words are plural. Thus, a phrase “in his deaths” where “death” is plural and the referent is singular is both odd and unique. And this is not from a small sample; the noun “death” is found 161× in the MT (including Isa. 53:9). Two medieval manuscripts and the first hand of a third have בָמתיו (also Rome, Bibl. Vat. Urbinates 1). If the first vowel is qāmeṣ instead of shewa, the phrase would mean “his high places.” This is an error in vocalization since shewa is guaranteed by a Masoretic note in our best manuscripts.3Petrograd Prophets, Paris BN heb 2 and 6, Rome, Bibl. Vat. ebr 468 and 482, and Second Rabbinic Bible. The Septuagint, the Syriac Peshitta and the Latin Vulgate render this phrase with the word “death” in the singular. This is a facilitating translation, smoothing over the difficulty. The Jewish revisor Symmachus corrects the first-person singular verb in the Septuagint to a 3rd masculine singular pronoun and renders “wicked” (רשעים) by the more usual equivalent “the wicked” (ἀσεβεῖς), but is not extant for the part of the verse we are considering. Nonetheless, the reading of Symmachus shows up the interpretive character of the LXX and aligns closely with the MT. The paraphrase of the Aramaic Targum is the only witness which allows for this word a plural context thus supporting the MT. 1QIsaa is the sole witness attesting בומתו, whose meaning will be discussed shortly. Note that 1QIsaa also has בומתי in Isaiah 14:14 and 58:14. Its testimony is older than all of the other witnesses. In the history of interpretation, almost the entire Jewish tradition reads “in his deaths.” Three Jewish commentators offer a different interpretation of whom the chief is Abraham ibn Ezra (1089–1164 AD). Ibn Ezra states: “some say that the word במתיו is from the root בָּמוֹתֵימוֹ (Deut. 33:29), the meaning being the construction one establishes over a grave. במתיו would therefore be similar to קברו [“his grave”]… If someone objects that the vocalization of בָּמוֹת does not change in בָּמותימו, while it changes in the word בְּמתיו, one can answer that this word can be spelled according to two noun patterns like סְרִיסֵי (“officers of”; Gen. 40:7) and סָרִיסֵי (“eunuchs of”; Est. 6:14).” The Best Reading Before offering an interpretation of the reading in 1QIsaa, we must analyze the different ways the terms are spelled in this particular manuscript. This step will ensure accuracy of interpretation. Here is the data of 1QIsaa with the MT given for comparison in parentheses: Related A New Series on Isaiah’s Suffering ServantJohn D. MeadePart 5: The Servant Who Sees Light after AnguishAnthony FergusonPart 2: Does Isaiah’s Servant Really Die for the People?John D. Meade “Tomb” or “Height” Isaiah 14:14 בומתי (MT בָּמֳתֵי)Isaiah 58:14 בומתי (MT בָּמֳותֵי) “Cult Shrine” or “High Place” Isaiah 16:12 הבמה (MT הַבָּמָה)Isaiah 36:7 במותיו (MT בָּמֹתָיו) This analysis shows that 1QIsaa consistently distinguishes the Hebrew terms for “tomb” and “high place” with distinct ancient spellings for each. Concerning these spellings of 1QIsaa (בומתו Isa. 53:9, בומתי in 14:14 and 58:14), let us note that, already in the 18th century, before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Dr. Jubb already surmised that Hebrew lexicography is wrong to confuse a word במה (plural: במות) meaning “a place consecrated to the deity,” “a cult center or shrine,” with a word במות (plural: במותים) designating a “height.”4Quoted by Robert Lowth, Isaiah. A New Translation with … Notes, London, 1778. In this sense (attested in Isa. 14:14; 58:14), the word would designate in Isaiah 53:9 more specifically a funerary mound or tomb. Note that in Isaiah 16:12 and 36:7 where it clearly indicates places of worship, 1QIsaa does not write waw (ו) in the first syllable. Barthélemy believes that the spellings of 1QIsaa confirm the opinion of Bauer/Leander (597) who saw in בָּמֳתֵי the plural constructed from a singular בֹּ֫מֶת. He argues that we should correct Jubb’s intuition and say therefore that we have confused in the Masoretic vocalization and in the lexicons, a word בָּמָ֫ה “high place” and a word בֹּ֫מֶת “funerary mound.” 1QIsaa allows us to find the second word in Isaiah 53:9. Get new articles and updates in your inbox. Leave this field empty if you're human: There may be a problem, however, in proposing בֹּ֫מֶת as the form of the noun in the singular. If the singular was “tomb”(בֹּ֫מֶת), the construct plural would be “of tombs” (בָּמְתֵי), like “of holy ones” (קָדְשֵׁי), instead of the spelling “of heights” (בָּמֳתֵי)which is found in MT in Isaiah 14:14 and 58:14. In a reanalysis of the form of the noun, Hardy and Thomas propose a base form *bɘmot derived from original *bumut. This would yield a noun bɘmot, construct masc. plural בָּמֳתֵי. This noun means “back, mountain ridge » height, barrow/funeral mound.” A different and unrelated noun would be bɔmɔ, plural bɔmôt meaning “cult center / shrine.”5Hardy and Thomas reject the proposal that Isaiah 53:9 is related to bɘmot meaning ‘back’ » ‘height’ for the following reasons: “it preferences the evidence from one text, the Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsa), which it has been suggested represents a corruption, over that of the earliest interpreters; and second, it relies on a meaning of the lexeme, ‘dead body, corpse’, unattested elsewhere (Kogan and Tishchenko, p. 346).” See Humphrey H. Hardy II and Benjamin D. Thomas, “Another Look at Biblical Hebrew bɔmɔ ‘High Place’,” Vetus Testamentum 62 (2012): 175–188. They are responding to L. Kogan and S. Tishchenko, “Lexicographic Notes on Hebrew bamah,” Ugarit-Forschungen 34 (2002), 319–52. Nonetheless, the Great Isaiah Scroll is consistent in Isaiah 14:14, 53:9 and 58:14 versus 16:12 and 36:7. But since the Great Isaiah Scroll is consistent in 14:14, 53:9 and 58:14 versus 16:12 and 36:7, we are looking directly at genuine evidence for the Hebrew language in the second or first century BC, not a corruption in one place in a manuscript. And this is the earliest interpretation! Moreover, the base meaning of the noun is “back” and not “corpse.” The notion of a back-shaped geographical feature like a mountain ridge or height can be easily derived metaphorically from “back.” Furthermore, an evolution in lexical usage from “open country” to “height” is just not plausible. There is good reason, then, on the basis of our earliest witness to the text, to propose the following translation: “And he assigned his grave with the wicked and his tomb with a rich man.” The Servant’s Tomb in the New Testament Although this textual problem may not seem significant, this solution actually contributes to the portrait and prediction of the suffering servant. Assigning the servant’s tomb with a rich man accords with a detail given by Matthew that “a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, … took the body [of Jesus] … and laid it in his own new tomb” (Matt. 27:57–60). Our reading of Isaiah 53:9 fits the prediction of the servant’s burial in a rich man’s tomb that Matthew reports. Our reading fits the prediction of the servant’s burial in a rich man’s tomb that Matthew reports. Therefore, in summary, the servant was stricken to death in 53:8 and assigned a tomb with a rich man in 53:9. There is a progression between these two verses which matches the early creed that Paul also received as of chief importance: “Christ died … according to the Scriptures and was buried … according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3–4). Peter J. Gentry Peter Gentry (PhD, University of Toronto) is Distinguished Visiting Professor of Old Testament and Senior Research Fellow of the Text & Canon Institute at Phoenix Seminary. He is the author of several books, including Kingdom through Covenant (with Steve Wellum) and the Septuaginta volume on Ecclesiastes. He is currently writing a commentary on Isaiah. View all posts Notes1Corrector has עשיר (singular) by erasing ים and corrected עמ to עת (= את assuming weakening of gutturals). 1QIsab and 4QIsad are damaged at this place in the manuscript and do not give pertinent information for this problem.2de Rossi 440, 545, primo 3043Petrograd Prophets, Paris BN heb 2 and 6, Rome, Bibl. Vat. ebr 468 and 482, and Second Rabbinic Bible.4Quoted by Robert Lowth, Isaiah. A New Translation with … Notes, London, 1778.5Hardy and Thomas reject the proposal that Isaiah 53:9 is related to bɘmot meaning ‘back’ » ‘height’ for the following reasons: “it preferences the evidence from one text, the Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsa), which it has been suggested represents a corruption, over that of the earliest interpreters; and second, it relies on a meaning of the lexeme, ‘dead body, corpse’, unattested elsewhere (Kogan and Tishchenko, p. 346).” See Humphrey H. Hardy II and Benjamin D. Thomas, “Another Look at Biblical Hebrew bɔmɔ ‘High Place’,” Vetus Testamentum 62 (2012): 175–188. They are responding to L. Kogan and S. Tishchenko, “Lexicographic Notes on Hebrew bamah,” Ugarit-Forschungen 34 (2002), 319–52. Nonetheless, the Great Isaiah Scroll is consistent in Isaiah 14:14, 53:9 and 58:14 versus 16:12 and 36:7.