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Source texts

Targum Yonatan (TY) of Isaiah 52:13 identifies the servant as the anointed one:

הָא יַצְלַח עַבְדִי מְשִׁיחָא יְרוּם וְיִסְגֵי וְיִתְקוֹף לַחֲדָא (source)

Behold, my servant the Messiah shall prosper, He shall be exalted and extolled, and He shall be very strong. (source)

TY of Isaiah 53:3 describes his appearance:

בְּכֵן יְהֵי לְבוּסְרָן וְיִפְסִיק יְקָר כָּל מַלְכְּוָתָא יְהוֹן חֲלָשִׁין וְדָוָן הָא כֶּאֱנַשׁ כֵּיבִין וּמְזוּמַן לְמַרְעִין וּכְמָא דַהֲוַת מְסַלְקָא אַפֵּי שְׁכִנְתָּא מִנָנָא בְסִירִין וְלָא חֲשִׁיבִין (source)

His visage shall not be the visage of a common person, neither His fear the fear of a plebeian; but a holy brightness shall be His brightness, that everyone who seeth Him shall contemplate Him. (source)

Between these verses is 52:14, which, in the MT, reads,

כַּאֲשֶׁ֨ר שָׁמְמ֤וּ עָלֶ֙יךָ֙ רַבִּ֔ים כֵּן־מִשְׁחַ֥ת מֵאִ֖ישׁ מַרְאֵ֑הוּ וְתֹאֲר֖וֹ מִבְּנֵ֥י אָדָֽם (source)

Just as the many were appalled at him — So marred was his appearance, unlike that of man, His form, beyond human semblance (source)

Here in the MT Hebrew the servant's appearance/visage is described as מִשְׁחַת, typically translated as 'marred' or similar. The same translation is given in the online version of the Qumran Isaiah scroll. The Septuagint version has ἀδοξήσει, translated here as 'despised'.

Question

Given the context provided by TY, should we use the Qumran version, משחתי, and read "MAShAḤTI" = "I anointed" rather than "MIShḤAT" = "was marred"? Then 52:14 would read,

Just as the many were appalled [or amazed?] at him — So I anointed his appearance, unlike that of man, His form, beyond human semblance

and the sense would be "anointed (as in TY of 52:13) so that his appearance was made glorious beyond human appearance (as in TY of 53:3)".

(As a small additional point, this article points out that Isaiah 52:14 is the only instance of 'marred' in the Tanakh; but magicker72 points out that other forms of the verb do appear elsewhere.)

Motivation

This question is prompted by reading Margaret Barker's book, Temple Mysticism - An Introduction (ISBN-13: 978-0281056347).

Edits

Edit 1: I removed references to Christianity, in the hope that that makes the question less likely to be closed as off-topic. I also added Targum locations.

Edit 2: I removed the long quote from Barker that made up the bulk of the original question, and now cite primary sources directly, in order to deemphasise the link to Barker, in the the hope that that makes the question less likely to be closed as off-topic.

Caveat and acknowledgement

I don't read Hebrew or Aramaic and haven't read TY extensively. I'm relying on copy-and-paste to quote Hebrew script, and I'm unlikely to spot any mistakes I make in copying. Thanks to magicker72 for giving an erudite answer, which I've used to improve the question.

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    Based on the details of this question, it is off topic and doesn’t belong on this stack. Margaret Barker is a Methodist (Christian) Bible scholar and her views and approach are at best, comparative religion by definition. Here’s a link to her bio: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Barker Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 2:28
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    @Yaacov asking peshat in a pasuk is comparative religion?
    – robev
    Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 6:59
  • @robev The question is specific to Barkers book. Yes, it is comparative religion in that context. The question should be closed. Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 11:44
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    I've said over and over, the irony of using a Pharisaic translation to prove Jesus when Pharisees rejected Jesus is befuddling to me.
    – Yehuda
    Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 19:15
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    @Yehuda 'Pharisaic translation' meaning the Targum? I wouldn't describe my interest as 'to prove Jesus', but it doesn't strike me as befuddling why people might use Pharisaic texts for that purpose: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criterion_of_embarrassment
    – mjc
    Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 19:51

1 Answer 1

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The Hebrew text of Isaiah 52:14 reads מִשְׁחַת MIShḤAT, which is a noun meaning marring or disfigurement (see the BDB dictionary). This derives from the root שחת, which carries meanings like decay, destruction, corruption; the מ of משחת is part of the form of the noun (ie. there are nouns formed from root letters XYZ that look like miXYaZ, where in this case, X=Sh, Y=Ḥ, and Z=T). There is another root משח that means anoint, and a noun משחה MIShḤA/MOShḤA that in certain forms (namely, in construct form, when it means "anointing of") becomes משחת (ie. the same consonantal form as in Isaiah 52:14; cf. Ex 30:25 and many others), but the context is not right for that reading in Isaiah 52:14. Although משחת doesn't appear again in Tanakh with the meaning of our verse, the root שחת appears with this meaning many times (eg. Gen 6:11-13, 13:10, Ex 32:7, Deut 9:12, 32:5, ...). However, ignoring the printed vowels, the consonantal text could also be read as MUShShAḤTA, which would mean "you were anointed", or MOShḤAT, which would mean "marred" (as a participle, cf. Malachi 1:14).

The correct word in the Septuagint to look at is ἀδοξήσει adoksēsei, and the phrase is translated (in NETS) as "so shall your appearance be without glory from men" or "so shall your appearance be held in no esteem by men" (and translated in your link as "shall be despised").

Targum Yonatan on this verse has the text דַהֲוָה חֲשִׁיךְ בֵּינֵי עַמְמַיָא חֶזְוֵהוֹן, with the key word חשיך. This has meanings of luckless, poor, dark (see Jastrow).

The appropriate location of the Great Isaiah Scroll can be seen here. The fourth word of the second line is משחתי, which is our word with an extra letter on the end. This letter might make the marring plural, without changing the meaning, or make the word mean "be marred" (as translated here and here) — but as I mentioned above, this latter is already a possible reading of the Masoretic consonantal text as well, so I don't see anything new here. The word could also be read as MAShAḤTI, which means "I anointed", but this is difficult to understand in context.

In short, I don't see anything special about the Great Isaiah Scroll that points to anointing more than the Masoretic text does. Caveat: I don't have the book you're quoting, so I can't check for more details. But without more details, I don't find her comments persuasive.

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  • Thanks for the erudite answer. Could you say some more about the contextual difficulty you see with reading "you were anointed" or "I anointed"? In particular, is the difficulty syntactic or thematic? I can't debate Hebrew syntax, but I could try to put Barker's case for the thematic consistency of that reading.
    – mjc
    Commented Dec 5, 2021 at 21:48
  • @mjc Syntactic/semantic. What does "I anointed from man from [your] appearance" mean? I guess you could insert missing but "understood" words to give a meaning, but I don't think there's an un-forced read here with the meaning "anoint".
    – magicker72
    Commented Dec 5, 2021 at 22:25
  • Would you accept that Targum Yonatan's Aramaic translation/explication of 52:13 identifies the servant as the anointed one/messiah? (I couldn't see an English translation of the targum itself in the site you linked, so I'm using this: books.google.co.uk/…)
    – mjc
    Commented Dec 5, 2021 at 22:52
  • @mjc It certainty looks like "my servant the anointed one", but without context (I haven't read the context in a while), I won't admit to any particular reading.
    – magicker72
    Commented Dec 5, 2021 at 23:23
  • If you do, I'll be interested to know what you find. With respect to "I anointed from man from [your] appearance": the CJB has "he was so disfigured that he didn’t even seem human"; the KJV has "his visage was so marred more than any man"; if we swap in "I anointed", don't we get something reasonable? "I so anointed him that he didn't even seem human"; "his visage I so anointed more than any man". As Barker says, this would then seem to fit with TJ's 53:3, "His visage shall not be the visage of a common person [...] but a holy brightness shall be his brightness".
    – mjc
    Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 0:05

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