A Paradigmatic Instance of Treachery

May 02, 2015Filed under Theology#quotesMarkdown source

What I would like to suggest about the effect of the language of poetry in this [Isa. 1:2–9] and most other Biblical prophecies is that it tends to lift the utterances to a second power of signification, aligning statements that are addressed to a concrete historical situation with an archetypal horizon. The Judean contemporaries of Isaiah the son of Amoz become the archetypes Sodom and Gomorrah in respect to both their collective destiny and their moral character. If one considers, as the metaphors of the poem require one to consider, how God has treated them as beloved sons, then their exploitation of the poor and the helpless in their midst (1:23 and elsewhere), in flagrant violation of God’s commands, becomes a paradigmatic instance of treachery, of man’s… capacity for self-destructive perverseness. In this fashion, a set of messages framed for a particular audience of the eighth century B.C.E. Is not just the transcription of a historical document but continues to speak age after age, inviting members of otherwise very different audiences to read themselves into the text.

—Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry, p. 146.