TextPart 5: The Servant Who Sees Light after Anguish Some ancient manuscripts of Isaiah 53:11 say the servant sees light after his suffering. Does this predict Jesus’ resurrection? Anthony FergusonIllustration by Peter Gurry. Images from Wikipedia, iStockphoto, and UnsplashApril 16, 2022 ShareFacebookTwitterLinkedInPrint During Holy Week, Christians often turn their attention to the servant songs of Isaiah, and to Isaiah 53 in particular, because these passages depict the work of God’s salvation through a coming servant, a servant the New Testament writers identify as none other than Jesus (1 Pet. 2:22; Luke 22:37). In this series, we have reflected on several textual issues related to the servant’s identity and work. As today is Easter Sunday, we turn our attention to the beginning of Isaiah 53:11 to ask whether Isaiah’s prophecy includes not only the servant’s death, but also his resurrection. A quick survey of a few of our English Bibles illustrates the nature of this textual problem and highlights the issue of what the servant sees. ESV Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfiedNASB As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied.CSB After his anguish, he will see light and be satisfied.NIV After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; These four English translations take a slightly different approach to identifying what the servant sees. They range from an unidentified object to a specific object. On the one side, the ESV does not specify what the servant sees. The NASB identifies the object imprecisely as simply it.The CSB is more specific by describing the servant as seeing “light.” Finally, on the opposite side of the continuum, the NIV not only identifies the servant as seeing light but as seeing the “light of life.” Witnesses The difference between our English Bibles at the beginning of Isaiah 53:11 illustrates for us an ancient variant that scribes and Bible translators have considered for at least two thousand years. Here is a survey of how Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Aramaic, and Syriac scribes have approached this variant. ReadingWitnessText1. He shall seeMTFrom the anguish of his soul, he shall see; he shall be satisfied מֵעֲמַל נַפְשׁוֹ יִרְאֶה יִשְׂבָּע Theodotion, Aquilahe shall see; he shall be filled ὄψεται ἐμπλησθήσεται Symmachushe shall see; he shall be filled ὄψεται χορτασθήσεται VulgateBecause his soul labored, he shall see and he shall be satisfied pro eo quod laboravit anima eius videbit et saturabitur TargumHe will deliver their soul from the servitude of the nations. They will look on the vengeance of their enemies. They will be satisfied with the plunder of their kings. מִשִׁעבוּד עַמְמַיָא יְשֵׁיזֵיב נַפשְׁהוֹן יִחזוֹן בְפוֹרעָנוּת סָנְאֵיהוֹן יִסבְעוּן מִבִזַת מַלכֵיהוֹן PeshittaAnd from the labor of his soul, he shall see and he shall be satisfied ܘܡܢ ܥܡܠܐ ܕܢܦܫܗ ܢܚܙܐ܂ ܘܢܣܒܥ2. He shall see light1QIsaaFrom the anguish of his soul, he shall see light and he shall be satisfied מעמל נפשוה יראה אור וישבע 1QIsabFrom the anguish of his soul, he shall see light; he shall be s[atisfied מעמל נפשו יראה אור יש֯[בע 4QIsadFrom the anguish of his soul, he shall see l[ight] and be satisfied מעמל נפׄשו יראה או֯[ר ]וׄשבע֯ LXXFrom the pain of his soul to show him light and to form ἀπὸ τοῦ πόνου τῆς ψυχῆς αὐτοῦ, δεῖξαι αὐτῷ φῶς καὶ πλάσαιA survey of witnesses to Isaiah 53:11 Although we could discuss multiple textual issues here, we will focus on the problem of what the servant sees. These ancient translations provide us with two basic options. “He will see” MT, Theodotion, Aquila, Symmachus, Vulgate, Targum, Peshitta“He will see light” 1QIsaa, 1QIsab, and 4QIsad, LXX External Evidence The first reading is widespread, occurring in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and Syriac texts. Moreover, it is early since Aquila dates to the second century AD, and Theodotion probably dates to the first century. Despite these facts, it is not surprising that these texts agree with the Masoretic Text (MT) since they were all translated from a text very close to the MT. The Targum interprets an MT like text by adding the phrase “on the vengeance of their enemies, showing the textual difficulty in this verse. The second reading is also widespread, occurring in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Hebrew parent text of the LXX. It is even earlier than the first reading since the Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaa) dates to the second century BC. 1QIsaa is, in fact, our oldest biblical manuscript preserving this verse, and it reads “light.” Unlike the first reading, the external evidence for this second reading can be described as “surprising” since three Isaiah manuscripts from Qumran attest it. Most surprising of all is the testimony of 1QIsab, a first-century BC manuscript, that usually reads very closely with the MT. Here, however, it agrees with the LXX and two other Dead Sea Scrolls against the MT. Overall, the external evidence favors the second reading: the servant sees “light.” Now, we turn to the internal evidence. Get new articles and updates in your inbox. Get 50% off the directors’ new book when you subscribe. Leave this field empty if you're human: Internal Evidence When considering internal evidence, we are asking the following questions: which reading was more likely to derive from a scribe, and which reading was more likely to derive from the author? We can answer these questions by comparing the reading of 1QIsab and the reading of the MT.1Although 1QIsaa is older than 1QIsab, we will compare the MT to 1QIsab because this is the only difference between these texts. 1QIsaa has other minor differences when compared to the MT. The use of the Masoretic vowel signs didn’t develop until the fifth through seventh centuries so we will only compare the consonants. MT מעמל נפשו יראה ישבע From the anguish of his soul, he shall see; he shall be satisfied 1QIsab מעמל נפשו יראה אור יש֯[בע From the anguish of his soul, he shall see light; he shall be satisfied Could the MT have lost the word “light” (אור)? First, let’s consider if the MT lost this word by scribal error. Scribes, at times, omitted text when their eyes skipped over words. This is known as parablepsis (lit. “to look beside”). Parablepsis can be caused when words start with the same letters (homoioarcton) or when they end with them (homoioteleuton). These are not uncommon scribal errors. Yet, when we compare the reading of the MT with the reading of 1QIsab, parablepsis is not a likely explanation. Notice how the words אור (ʾôr) and ישבע (yiśbāʿ) do not begin with the same letter, ruling out homoioarcton. Likewise, יראה (yirʾeh) and אור (ʾôr) do not end with the same letter, ruling out homoioteleuton. Thus, the scribe of the MT likely did not commit parablepsis. If this was a scribal error, the error was simply a “random omission.”2Tov uses this language to describe this error in TCHB, 221. Related A New Series on Isaiah’s Suffering ServantJohn D. MeadePart 2: Does Isaiah’s Servant Really Die for the People?John D. MeadePart 1: The Servant Sprinkles Many as Anointed PriestPeter J. Gentry What about an intentional omission? At times, scribes could intentionally omit words for the sake of clarity. But this cause, in my experience, is rare. Moreover, the immediate context of the MT does not provide a basis for omitting this word. That is, the effect of omitting this word does not achieve any apparent goal like providing greater clarity; if anything, it makes it less clear. This explanation seems unlikely. Could the other witnesses have added “light” (אור)? First, could the word have been added through scribal error? At times, scribes accidentally add words. Reasons for adding content include errors such as dittography (a scribe writes a word twice instead of once), but the letters of the word “light” are not written twice so that explanation does not account for the data. In other instances, scribes may incorporate marginal readings into the text, but there is no evidence for that happening here. It is improbable that the other witnesses added this word by accident. Second, could the other texts have added this word intentionally? This explanation is possible since the verb “to see” (ראה) often takes an object. People see “something” or “someone.” Even though this verb often takes objects, objects are not always specified.3See DCH, s.v. ראה. It is possible that the lack of an object led a subsequent scribe to add an object. Although this is possible, several witnesses have this object. How did this reading become so widespread if it was a scribal addition?4See Dominique Barthelemy Studies in the Text of the Old Testament: An Introduction to the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, Textual Criticism and the Translator 3 (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2012), 399. To See Light or Not? Finally, we should ask what’s at stake. What would it mean for the servant to “see light” here? There are two idiomatic phrases in Hebrew that are especially relevant. First, the phrase “see light” (יראה אור) is an idiom for describing life while the phrase “not seeing light” is an idiom of death.5John Meade mentioned this connection to me in a private conversation. Job 33:28 and 30, for example, describe life—resurrected life—as “seeing light.” Moreover, in Psalm 36:9, “seeing light” is associated with the “fountain of life” which is the opposite of death according to Proverbs 13:14 and 14:27. Furthermore, death is described in Job 3:16 and Psalm 49:19 as “not seeing light.” Second, a related Hebrew idiom means “to regain strength” (תארנה עינים).6See DCH, s.v. אור. This idiom is used by Jonathan to describe the effect of honey. Although famished and weak, the taste of honey caused his eyes to be bright (1 Sam. 14:27, 29).7Moreover, in Ben Sira 13:26, the author describes the happy heart as a “bright countenance” פנים אורים. Overall, the idea of “seeing light” describes life. And not just any life, but specifically the revival of life or resurrected life. Isaiah describes the servant as smitten, afflicted, pierced, crushed, and oppressed. He is described as a lamb led to the slaughter. The climax of this suffering is none other than his death (Isa. 53:8) and being buried (Isa. 53:9); yet, out of this anguish, the servant “sees light” and is satisfied (Isa. 53:11). The reading of 1QIsaa, 1QIsab, 4QIsad, and the Hebrew parent text of the LXX describes the servant’s death and resurrection idiomatically as “seeing light.” Thus, what’s at stake, is nothing short of the servant’s resurrection after death. The question remains: which reading is more original? The two (opposing) explanations with the best support are that: the reading “light” was lost due to a scribal errorthe reading was added for the sake of clarity Among these options, my conclusion is that the more original reading is likely “he shall see light” because it is more likely that the small word “light” was lost in the MT tradition because of scribal error rather than the reading being a secondary addition preserved in three early Hebrew manuscripts from Qumran and the LXX. The fact that the reading “light” appears in 1QIsab is especially important since this text aligns closely with the MT tradition but disagrees here. Conclusion The textual problem in this text concerns the resurrection, a matter of first importance for the gospel according to Paul. He says this happened according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3–6). Without the resurrection, humanity is still lost and under the curse of sin. Without the resurrection, we stand before God still under our first father, Adam. The servant, however, as a new Adam, rewrites our past and gives us a new history through his resurrection. The servant, as a new Adam, rewrites our past and gives us a new history through his resurrection. This idea is taught in Isaiah 53 since the servant is “cut off from the land of the living”—an idiom for the curse and spiritual death (Isa. 53:8). Remarkably, Isaiah’s servant receives the covenantal blessings of an inheritance (Isa. 53:12) and, despite dying, he “shall see light” (Isa. 53:11). The dead can see light, and this is our hope for this Easter season. He is risen! Anthony Ferguson Anthony Ferguson (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) wrote his dissertation under Russell Fuller comparing the non-aligned texts of Qumran to the Masoretic Text. He currently serves as lead pastor at 11th Street Baptist Church in Upland, CA and as an adjunct faculty at California Baptist University and Gateway Seminary. He has published in the Journal of Biblical Literature and the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. View all posts Notes1Although 1QIsaa is older than 1QIsab, we will compare the MT to 1QIsab because this is the only difference between these texts. 1QIsaa has other minor differences when compared to the MT.2Tov uses this language to describe this error in TCHB, 221.3See DCH, s.v. ראה.4See Dominique Barthelemy Studies in the Text of the Old Testament: An Introduction to the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, Textual Criticism and the Translator 3 (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2012), 399.5John Meade mentioned this connection to me in a private conversation.6See DCH, s.v. אור.7Moreover, in Ben Sira 13:26, the author describes the happy heart as a “bright countenance” פנים אורים.