Monday, August 25, 2014

the "elegance of language" allows a crude "loud fart": prophetic paranomoasia and structural synesthesia in Isaiah 5:7

The  multiplex literary canvas of Isaiah 5 includes the well-known  verse 7 phenomenon of...well, a very little-known literary term,  paranomoasia (Paronomasia - Merriam-Webster Online).
 You might call it a pun or a play on words; but hey, impress your friends by calling it a proleptic and prophetic  paranomoasia.  Or   "paranomoasia plus"  (:

I looked for justice,  but I saw oppression.
I looked for  righteousness, but I heard an outcry (of pain).

justice   (A)                           oppression  (B)
righteousness  (A)                 outcry   (B)


Jim posts:

Since I’m presently working on Isaiah for the series it’s only natural that I’d wind up in Chapter 5 with it’s stunningly beautiful pun

לְמִשְׁפָּט֙ וְהִנֵּ֣ה מִשְׂפָּ֔ח לִצְדָקָ֖ה וְהִנֵּ֥ה צְעָקָֽה׃

God looked for justice (mishpat) but only saw oppression (mispach). God looked for righteousness (tzedakah) and instead he heard an outcry of pain (tz’acha).
This pun is virtually impossible to render in English. The Common English Bible tries, but meets the same resistance as every other rendition has-
God expected justice, but there was bloodshed; righteousness, but there was a cry of distress!
The REB is essentially the same. What this shows, it seems to me, is that the rendition of puns from one language to another is excessively difficult. Perhaps translators, and especially commentators, should indicate the pun in transliteration in a footnote or in their comments so that readers of English can at least have some sense of the beauty and brilliance of the underlying original. link

Or try this on:

and he looked for justice — Both the administration of justice by magistrates, and justice in the dealings of the people with one another: but behold oppression — From the powerful upon their inferiors; and for righteousness — For equity, mercy, and benevolence; but behold a cry — From the oppressed, crying to men for help, and to God for vengeance. “The paronomasia, or play on the words, in the Hebrew, in this place, is very remarkable;mispat, mispach; zedakah, zeakah. There are many examples of it in the other prophets; but Isaiah seems peculiarly fond of it. The rabbis esteem it a great beauty: their term for it is, elegance of language.” Bishop Lowth, in Benson Commmentary

I have color coded the words above to highlight the obvious contrasts between what God was looking for, and what he found.  This the vertical connections:

Justice                                           oppression
righteousness                                  ":cry 

But  once one reads the above in the original Hebrew, it;s clear the color-coding should (also) work horizontally:

mispat                                            mispach

zedakah                                         ze'akah


I keep expecting this to create a chiasm; but it's   a powerful punch of a  paranomoasia  kind of parallelism.

And to reinforce the contrast, another striking feature: a kind of structural synesthesia in the league of Revelations 1:8's  "I turned to see the voice."
Did you notice the (literally) non-sensical:

I looked for justice,  but I saw oppression.
I looked for  righteousness, but I heard an outcry (of pain).

How do you hear something you're looking for??
(See Webb's "The Divine Voice" and Cytowic's "The Man Who Tasted Shapes")

Brueggemann quips about this exact literary/thematic connection and it's practical application:,"This comes as close to a  synergism as a Calvinist could want" (Using God's Resources Widely," p. 49; he also spins this out in another article.
The prophetic pronouncement is devastating. And it took a lovely literary "elegance of language" to provide the ugly practical app.  The words must have landed like...well, in Eugene Peterson's classic line about  yet another poetic device, metaphor... " a loud fart in the salon of spirituality."

Being quite steeped in Scripture (and known to love Isaiah), I think Bono nodded to Isaiah's pun (and maybe a line from a Jackie Pullinger book)  in his live introduction to "Last Night on Earth"  (See  "I wanted to know Jesus, but you gave me a library").

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