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The Ghostly Prelude to Deutero-Isaiah

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The article is a close reading of Isa. 40:1-11, which focuses on its function as a prologue to Deutero-Isaiah, and hence distinguished by its promise of a new beginning, and on its dependence on, and reversal of, the past, the spectral voices it seeks to repatriate. It is concerned with the secondariness of Deutero-Isaiah, and the consequent ambiguity of its messages. The voice of the poet/prophet is refracted through disembodied voices, which themselves cite other voices, before finally adopting that of the female herald, through whom the advent of God becomes manifest, only to be indefinitely deferred through metaphor and simile. In the background there is the frequently asserted relationship with Isaiah 6 as a metapoetic key to the book. Does its purview extend to Isaiah 40, and is the message of comfort conveyed by Deutero-Isaiah subverted by the incomprehensibility mandated by it? The complexities of the passage, and hence of the book as a whole, require attention to the detail of each its parts, but also to its fragmentariness, as it seeks to reconstruct a fractured reality. This is achieved in part through the emphasis on the materiality of the voice, as flesh (basar) and sonority, and as the matrix (mebasseret) of the future. The analysis proceeds from the voice of maternal comfort in vv. 1-2, to the announcement of the way and the universal theophany in vv. 3-5, to the pathos of transience in vv. 6-8, and finally to the deferred resolution in vv. 9-11. In the conclusion I discuss the relation of the text to the Freudian uncanny, the correspondence and non-correspondence with chapter 6, and the question of the relationship between historical and literary approaches.


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