Isaiah between Judeo-Christian Borderlines

The project IJCB has received financial support from The Polin Institute (for the years 2022-2024) and the Academy of Finland (for the period 1.9. 2022 – 31.8. 2026). The IJCB focuses on the relationship between the early Christian interpretation of the Book of Isaiah (= BI) and the reception history of the same in Early Judaism. It will contribute new knowledge about the ways in which the Jewish reception of the BI influenced the Christian interpretation, and how these interpretive themes continued in the early Church. It also deepens the understanding of the development of anti-Judaic theology in early Christianity.

The hypothesis is that the early Christian interpretation of the BI in the New Testament, and in early Christian literature, took a stand in established Jewish interpretations. Early Jewish interpretations, in turn, were closely linked through scribal schools to the final composition of the BI. Several interpretive themes, formed in the early Jewish reception history of the BI in the post-exilic period, were later adopted and modified, or refuted, in early Christian interpretation. This allows the researcher to put these two realms, Jewish and Christian, in dialogue with each other. The background for the IJCB was Antti Laato’s monograph Message and Composition of the Book of Isaiah: An Interpretation in the Light of Jewish Reception History (Deuterocanonical and Cognate Literature Studies 46; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2022) where he mapped many important reception historical themes in early Jewish writings.

Methodologically, the IJCB uses Justin Martyr’s work Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew (= Dial) as a starting point. His active use of the BI will be compared with the one found in other early Christian and Jewish literature. This comparison with the Jewish interpretation of Isaiah is possible and reasonable due to the fact, shown by earlier scholarship, that Justin’s exegesis and the Jewish texts of the Second Temple period share many Isaiah texts. The research starts from Justin’s exegesis, which is compared vertically with earlier Jewish and Christian writings (mainly from the New Testament and Apostolic Fathers). A horizontal dimension will be found in another Church father, Tertullian, who lived only slightly later than Justin. Part of the focus will be to examine how these two, Justin and Tertullian, with their Isaiah exegesis, but also with their exegesis in more general terms, established anti-Judaic traditions which were later transmitted in the Christian tradition and subsequently received some reactions in rabbinical writings.

There are two important kick-off events for the IJCB. First, our ÅAU research team has already in 2022 begun to read Justin’s Dial together and discuss how he interpreted the Isaiah texts. By means of regular monthly meetings we will collect details from Justin’s exegesis in a way that will benefit our research in different case studies. Second, we will host an international conference in co-operation with Regensburg University in May 4-5, 2023 (the conference was postponed because of covid from March 2022) where we discuss broader interpretations of early Isaiah reception in Jewish and Christian writings.

The research team of ÅAU has the following members in alphabetic order:

Adj. prof. Sven-Olav Back: Justin’s chiselling and use of Isaianic building-blocks (texts) in constructing his theory of Christian understanding vs. Jewish misunderstanding of the prophetical writings. Back is also completing his Swedish translation of Dial and we deal with his translation in our monthly discussions.

Dr. Stefan Green: How were Isa 65-66 used in early Jewish and Christian writings. A special focus is laid on Justin’s way of interpreting Isa 65-66 and the comparison of Justin’s exegesis with Paul’s in Rom 9-11.

Doct. stud. Simon Johansson: The Spirit of Yahweh in the Book of Isaiah and its reception in early Jewish and Christian writings.

Adj. prof. Anni Maria Laato: Comparison between Isaiah exegesis of Justin and Tertullian.

Prof. Antti Laato: Justin’s use of composite quotations in the Isaiah exegesis and other case studies related to the early reception history of the BI in its Judeo-Christian borderlines. Laato’s article “Reading Isa 8:4 inside Isa 7:10-17 – An Attempt to Understand Justin Martyr’s Isaiah Exegesis” related to IJCB will be published in the journal Annali di Storia dell’Esegesi in the near future.

Dr. Pekka Lindqvist: Influence of early Christian Isaiah exegesis in rabbinical sources.

Doct. stud. Topias Tanskanen will defend his doctoral thesis on Jacob tradition in the Book of Jubilees in 2022. After that he will continue his post-doc project in the IJCB with the topic: Early Syriac Isaiah exegesis in comparison to Justin.

The IJCB-project will contribute fresh, valuable knowledge on how Jewish interpretive traditions of the BI were adopted, modified and challenged in Christian exegesis, as well as valuable new knowledge on the argumentative rhetorical strategies used in early Christian polemics against Judaism. In addition, new light will be cast on the extent to which the rabbinic Judaism reacted to this.