Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The Curses of Isaiah

Opening the accursed Book of Isaiah, Seymour Light read: ‘When darkness covers the Earth’ – a prophecy for Israel  - and ‘thick darkness the peoples’ - then ‘the wealth of nations shall come to you:’ 
 Your gates shall be open continually; day and night they shall not be shut; that men may bring to you the wealth of the nations, with their kings led in procession. For the nation and kingdom that will not serve you shall perish; those nations shall be utterly laid waste.

‘You shall suck the milk of nations’ (60:11-12,16)

There are some optimistic moments in this book, but a continual destructive theme of wreck, smash destroy runs though it, ever hurling curses and forseeing ruin. One may be shocked by the way Sunday preachers just pick out benevolent-sounding excerpts, ignoring the larger context. Thus of the Babylonians (13:16): 
Their infants will be dashed in pieces before their eyes; their houses will be plundered and their wives ravished. 
This raving reminded Seymour Light of the ‘happy’ Psalm 137 ‘Happy shall be he who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!’ The Babylonians, on the receiving end of the Psalmists’s rage, had the deity Ishtar, Queen of Heaven, who had been around for a few millennia before Yahweh. 

The coming wrath of the Lord will be so bad, Isaiah foresees, that people will have to crawl into holes in the ground to escape from it!
So man is humbled,
and men are brought low --
forgive them not!
Enter into the rock,
and hide in the dust
from before the terror of the LORD,
and from the glory of his majesty.
And men shall enter the caves of the rocks
and the holes of the ground,
from before the terror of the LORD,
and from the glory of his majesty,
when he rises to terrify the earth. (2:9-10, 19)
The whole Earth is going to suffer from the ‘glory of the Lord’ like some dire radiation-poisoning.

Isaiah has it in for the pretty ladies:
 The LORD said:
Because the daughters of Zion are haughty
and walk with outstretched necks,
glancing wantonly with their eyes,
mincing along as they go,
tinkling with their feet;
the Lord will smite with a scab
the heads of the daughters of Zion,
and the LORD will lay bare their secret parts.(4:16-17)
Dirty pervert, thought Seymour Light.

No Help for Farming
 Arriving in Canaan  the ‘promised land’ the Hebrews had to become farmers: "By the eighth century, a small group of prophets wanted to make the people worship Yahweh exclusively. But this was not a popular move. As a warrior, Yahweh was unsurpassed, but he had no expertise in agriculture, so when they wanted a good harvest, it was natural for the people of Israel and Judah to have recourse to the cult of fertility god Baal and his sister-spouse Anat, practicing the usual ritual sex to make the fields fertile." (Karen Armstrong, 17)
Ishtar /Ashtoreth would have had more of a reputation for making crops grow than the Yahweh could ever manage. As a sky-god associated with mountains and war, He was prettty useless in this regard, His fiery curses were most unlikely to improve crop yield. 

To make crops grow? - no, how to destroy farms!
 What more was there to do for my vineyard,
that I have not done in it?
When I looked for it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?
And now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down.
I will make it a waste;
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and briers and thorns shall grow up;
I will also command the clouds
that they rain no rain upon it. (4:4-6)
Large-scale farmers get a curse:
 Woe to those who join house to house,
who add field to field,
until there is no more room,
and you are made to dwell alone
in the midst of the land (5:8)
As do early risers:
 Woe to those who rise early in the morning (5:11)
Plus those who reckon they are smart:
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
and shrewd in their own sight!
But Yahweh’s rage hardly needs a cause, it’s more like a force of Nature:
Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against his people,
and he stretched out his hand against them and smote them,
and the mountains quaked;
and their corpses were as refuse
in the midst of the streets.
For all this his anger is not turned away
and his hand is stretched out still.

Chapter 6 manages quite a decent vision of God, with seraphim around Him, singing Holy, Holy, Holy etc, and Isaiah gets his message to humanity – but that message is just the usual bleak moaning:
Then I said, "How long, O Lord?" And he said:
"Until cities lie waste
without inhabitant,
and houses without men,
and the land is utterly desolate,
and the LORD removes men far away,
and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.
And though a tenth remain in it,
it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak,
whose stump remains standing
when it is felled."
Here’s another ‘agricultural’ passage, or rather curse:
therefore, though you plant pleasant plants
and set out slips of an alien god,
though you make them grow on the day that you plant them,
and make them blossom in the morning that you sow;
yet the harvest will flee away
in a day of grief and incurable pain.(17:10,11)

Egypt receives the blast of Yahweh’s curse, for no particular reason:
 And the waters of the Nile will be dried up,
and the river will be parched and dry;
and its canals will become foul,
and the branches of Egypt's Nile will diminish and dry up,
reeds and rushes will rot away.
There will be bare places by the Nile,
on the brink of the Nile,
and all that is sown by the Nile will dry up,
be driven away, and be no more.
The fishermen will mourn and lament,
all who cast hook in the Nile;
and they will languish
who spread nets upon the water.
The workers in combed flax will be in despair,
and the weavers of white cotton.
Those who are the pillars of the land will be crushed,
and all who work for hire will be grieved.(19:5-9)
Plus, Yahweh takes a malicious credit for having sown ‘confusion’ in its government:
those who are the cornerstones of her tribes
have led Egypt astray.
The LORD has mingled within her
a spirit of confusion;
and they have made Egypt stagger in all her doings
as a drunken man staggers in his vomit. (19:13,14)
with a poisonous pipedream added:
 And the land of Judah will become a terror to the Egyptians; every one to whom it is mentioned will fear (19:17).
In your dreams, Yahweh.

Earth Gets Cursed

After loads of curses have been cast here and there, finally the whole Earth gets one!
Behold, the LORD will lay waste the earth and make it desolate,
and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants
The earth shall be utterly laid waste and utterly despoiled;
for the LORD has spoken this word.
The earth mourns and withers,
the world languishes and withers;
the heavens languish together with the eart
 Terror, and the pit, and the snare
are upon you, O inhabitant of the earth!
He who flees at the sound of the terror
shall fall into the pit;
and he who climbs out of the pit
shall be caught in the snare.
For the windows of heaven are opened,
and the foundations of the earth tremble.
The earth is utterly broken,
the earth is rent asunder,
the earth is violently shaken.
The earth staggers like a drunken man,
it sways like a hut;
its transgression lies heavy upon it,
and it falls, and will not rise again.(24:1,3,17-20)
Isaiah praises the Lord for doing ‘wonderful things’ but these always turn out to be acts of destruction. In vain we seek for a single constructive act of Yahweh from Isaiah!
I will exalt thee, I will praise thy name;
for thou hast done wonderful things,
plans formed of old, faithful and sure.
For thou hast made the city a heap,
the fortified city a ruin;
the palace of aliens is a city no more,
it will never be rebuilt. (25:1-3)
Here is one more ‘agricultural’ curse, this time against women, as if they had been enjoying life a bit too much:
 Rise up, you women who are at ease, hear my voice;
you complacent daughters, give ear to my speech.
In little more than a year
you will shudder, you complacent women;
for the vintage will fail,
the fruit harvest will not come.
Tremble, you women who are at ease,
shudder, you complacent ones;
strip, and make yourselves bare,
and gird sackcloth upon your loins.
Beat upon your breasts for the pleasant fields,
for the fruitful vine,
for the soil of my people
growing up in thorns and briers; (32:9-12)
Were these nightmare-delirium visions any use to anyone, Seymour Light wondered? No wonder the people kept turning to their old Astarte- Ashtoreth goddess religion, probably more help for actually getting a harvest.

Yahweh raves on, again cursing Planet Earth:
Let the earth listen, and all that fills it;
the world, and all that comes from it.
For the LORD is enraged against all the nations,
and furious against all their host,
he has doomed them, has given them over for slaughter.
Their slain shall be cast out,
and the stench of their corpses shall rise;
the mountains shall flow with their blood.
All the host of heaven shall rot away,
and the skies roll up like a scroll.
All their host shall fall,
as leaves fall from the vine,
like leaves falling from the fig tree.
For my sword has drunk its fill in the heavens;
behold, it descends for judgment upon Edom,
upon the people I have doomed.
The LORD has a sword; it is sated with blood,
it is gorged with fat…
a year of recompense for the cause of Zion. (34:1-8)
All for the cause of Zion!
Their land shall be soaked with blood,
and their soil made rich with fat.
For the LORD has a day of vengeance,

Against Ishtar
Seymour Light was not sure if he could take much more of this accursed text:
Come down and sit in the dust,
O virgin daughter of Babylon;
sit on the ground without a throne,
O daughter of the Chalde'ans!
For you shall no more be called
tender and delicate.
Take the millstones and grind meal,
put off your veil,
strip off your robe, uncover your legs,
pass through the rivers.
Your nakedness shall be uncovered,
and your shame shall be seen.
Sit in silence, and go into darkness,
O daughter of the Chaldeans;
for you shall no more be called
the mistress of kingdoms.
These two things shall come to you
in a moment, in one day;
the loss of children and widowhood
shall come upon you in full measure,
in spite of your many sorceries
and the great power of your enchantments. (47:1-4,9)
One God insults another! Yahweh wants to uncover her legs and strip her naked before delivering his usual set of curses. Seymour Light’s kind kept reeling and boggling, as to how anyone could regard this stuff as sacred text? 

He found solace from perusing his old copy of The Paradise Papers by Merlyn Stone: ‘Exploding with derisive accusations at ‘The daughter of Babylon’, again a reference to Ishtar, [Isaiah] insulted Her for Her self-assurance and her sexuality, as well as Her magical powers and spells. Over what appears to be the independence of the Hebrew women, apparently influenced by the freedom of the women all about them, Isaiah listed all of their jewellery with the greatest contempt and then threatened, ‘The men shall fall by the sword and thy mighty in war and she being desolate shall sit upon the ground. And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man and say, only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach.’
Thus the Hebrew prophet looked forward to the day of male glory when all independent women would choose to be the property of a man, as they may have forced to be in the desert..’ (p.202).

The Magi of Chaldea with their star-lore get scoffed at and cursed:
 You are wearied with your many counsels;
let them stand forth and save you,
those who divide the heavens,
who gaze at the stars,
who at the new moons predict
what shall befall you. (47:13)
Behold, they are like stubble,
the fire consumes them;

Plundered Wealth
Isaiah promises wealth to Zion - which always comes from plundering other nations!
you shall eat the wealth of the nations,
and in their riches you shall glory (61:6)
and -
I have removed the boundaries of peoples,
and have plundered their treasures;
like a bull I have brought down those who sat on thrones.
My hand has found like a nest
the wealth of the peoples;
and as men gather eggs that have been forsaken
so I have gathered all the earth; (10:13-14)

A Happy Ending?
Isaiah ends on its 66th chapter with a declaration that everyone will come to worship Yahweh:
all flesh shall come to worship before me,
says the LORD.
In case any one objects to this, the very last verse of Isaiah dwells on the rotting worm-infested bodies of those who chose otherwise:
And they shall go forth and look on the dead bodies of the men that have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched
No black magic text has ever been as terrible as this, mused Seymour Light. Further, this was an entirely material religion, whereby there was no after-life or spirit separate from the body, and therefore the doom here envisaged for rebels just had their bodies rotting in perpetuity in unending pain.


The Conscience of Seymour Light assaulted him, saying: “Sir! What are you doing? Did not the Saviour read from the Book of Isaiah in announcing the start of His ministry?”
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good tidings to the afflicted;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favour,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn; (Isaiah 61:1-2, Luke 4:18)
Seymour Light was plunged into a deep silence. He walked amongst the bare trees under the moonlight. Eventually, he replied: "Yes, but the Prince of Peace omitted Isaiah’s line about ‘…and the day of vengeance of our God’  - He proclaimed no god of vengeance."

His Conscience continued, indignantly: and do you merely omit the great prophetic passages concerning the Saviour in chapters 9 and 42, eg?*  All four gospels Matthew Mark and Luke start off by quoting the glorious and optimistic text of Isaiah, as the mighty prophet Elijah came back and lived as John the Baptist, herald of the Christ:

A voice cries In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD,make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up,and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level,and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,and all flesh shall see it together. (40:3-5) 
There was a long silence. Then all Seymour Light replied was: Chapter 63 of Isaiah yet again celebrates mass murder, slow and agonizing - 
I have trodden the wine press alone  ...I trod them in my anger and trampled them in my wrath; their lifeblood is sprinkled upon my garments ...  I trod down the peoples in my anger, I made them drunk in my wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth." (verses 3,6)
A Tarantino-esque scene.

* In O'Brian's view, the second part of Isaiah 'the Book of the Consolation of Israel' was very different in tone from its first pert - 'It is full of hope, of justice, of love and redemption.' Eg chapter 41 was concerned with trying to make the desert bloom. 'The closing sentiments of Isaiah are unrecognisable as having any affinity with the hectoring Yahweh of the Exodus.' There had been in O'Brien's view 'a change in personell'! (249-50) 

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