Abstract

Isaiah 8:1–2 is an elusive text, in regard to both its interpretation and its import. In these verses, YHWH commands Isaiah to write למהר שלל חש בז on a large גליון with a חרט אנוש. The writing surface, writing tool, and message are obscure and contested. However, I argue that the puzzle of Isaiah’s writing materials has not yet been persuasively solved, as scholarship has failed to consider Judah’s Egyptian scribal heritage. With this context, the prophet’s writing surface (גליון) can be correctly understood as a section of papyrus, and his tool (חרט אנוש) can be read as a red rush pen. These proposed identifications of Isaiah’s tools harmonize with comparative, etymological, epigraphic, and art-historical evidence for scribalism in the Levant and Egypt. Moreover, they illuminate the purpose and genre of YHWH’s message. It appears that Isaiah was borrowing the format and tropes of royal decrees, which were transcribed on large pieces of papyrus in front of witnesses. The use of red ink also hints at the text’s significance. The scene described in Isa 8:1–2 thus indicates that prophecy had taken on the garb of written record. The word of God was becoming not just an oral message but an authoritative document.

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