Undisclosed Speech: Patterns of Communication in the Book of Isaiah

Hanna Liss


This article deals with the lacking communicational
equivalence between the prophet and his contemporaries created by the ‘command
not to comprehend’ (Isaiah 6). The structure of non-comprehension is regarded as
a necessary result of the prophetic word and describes the impossibility of
comprehending what Isaiah himself could only understand after the event of his
purification (Isa 6:6-7). Prophetic message and its rejection are thus
complementary elements. This structure of a lacking communicative equivalence is
to be illustrated in Isaiah’s prophetic activity. Isaianic prophecy consists of
several different modes of language that bear relevance regarding the topic of
non-comprehension: 1. The use and function of metaphoric language: Isaiah uses
the metaphors as an instrument of defamiliarization. At the same time,
metaphorical language encloses a destructive element, since it destroys
fundamental ideas and beliefs Isaiah’s contemporaries still adhere to. 2. The
quotations: The quotations fulfill a very important task within prophetic
language. Not only is the prophet’s theo-political view of history handed down
by means of these quotations, but also the confrontation with the prophetic word
and thereby the people’s status of non-comprehension. The process of the
literary tradition of the prophetic heritage includes the confrontation and
preserves it for later generations. 3. Fictitious realms: By means of fictitious
elements, the prophet creates a “theo-political” sphere over against the
“geo-political appearance”, thereby giving his God the possibility of escaping
the previous patterns of expectation. In view of the political and military
circumstances at the end of the 8th century, the prophetic fiction represents a
kind of Judean “counterpropaganda” for later generations.

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