Reading Isaiah as Christian Scripture

The Ancient vs. Modern Audience of the Book of Isaiah

In his article, ‘Reading Isaiah from Beginning (Isaiah 1) to End (Isaiah 65-66): Multiple Modern Possibilities’, David Carr provides an intriguing analysis of ancient and modern reading methods.  It is eye-opening to see that the difference in the way this text is approached, what one expects to find in it, and how it is absorbed.  First, the ancients primarily heard the text while modern readers are trained to read the text silently.  Second, the ancients worked with a text in a scroll format while modern reader works with a ‘codex’, i.e. bounded book with pages.  Codex format in much more conducive for textual comparisons via concordances and other resources.  For ancients the primary reference tool was their resilient memory.  Third, bound by codex mentality modern reader has a special interest in the overall coherence of the ‘book’, which according to Carr was not shared by the ancient readers.  Rather than an interest in the coherence of the book the ancients had a concern for the coherence of their world. Carr writes, “Ancient readings although intensely interested in the text, usually have a broader theological/legal horizon in the forefront.  This means that ancient readings are less interested in the individual book of Isaiah than they are in using Isaiah as part of Scripture to discern and articulate Truth.”  Finally, most modern readings of the book of Isaiah are carried out as isolated academic activity.  Carr writes, “These studies lack multiple and explicit connections between details of their interpretation of the text and a believing community for which the text is normative.”  This stands in a radical contrast with the ancient readings where interpretation of a text was means of shaping community’s life and behavior.

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