Background from the Jewish Bible (Isaiah 40:1-5)

The authors of the Gospels evidently knew little or no Hebrew, for they consistently quote from Greek versions of the Hebrew Bible which sometimes differ from it in significant ways. However, they lay great stress on the idea that the major events in Jesusí life can be seen as predicted by the Jewish prophets, especially Isaiah. In the following passage, Isaiah announces the coming of the Messianic age, in which the earth will be radically transformed. Probably the original context was the impending return from the Babylonian Captivity, which the poetic vision of the writer imagines as involving the creation of a highway through the wilderness back to Jerusalem. These words were memorably set to music in George Frederick Handelís Messiah.

Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, (1)
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord's hand
double for all her sins. (2)

A voice cries out:
ìIn the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.î

(1) That is, the people of Jerusalem, the Jews.

(2) Various prophets had earlier seen the Jewish defeat by Babylon as punishment for various sins, especially insufficient faithfulness to monotheism.


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This is an excerpt from Reading About the World, Volume 1, edited by Paul Brians, Mary Gallwey, Douglas Hughes, Azfar Hussain, Richard Law, Michael Myers, Michael Neville, Roger Schlesinger, Alice Spitzer, and Susan Swan and published by Harcourt Brace Custom Books.

The reader was created for use in the World Civilization course at Washington State University, but material on this page may be used for educational purposes by permission of the editor-in-chief:

Paul Brians
Department of English
Washington State University
Pullman 99164-5020

This is just a sample of Reading About the World, Volume 1. This is just a sample of Reading About the World, Volume 1. If, after examining the table of contents of the complete volume, you are interested in considering it for use at your own campus, please contact Paul Brians.

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