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Religion Old Testament

First Isaiah and the Disappearance of the Gods

by (author) Matthew J. Lynch

Penn State University Press
Initial publish date
May 2021
Old Testament, Old Testament, Old Testament
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    May 2021
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Isaiah 1–39 uses the unique term אלילים—usually translated as “idols”— more than anywhere else in the Hebrew Bible. Using this linguistic phenomenon as a point of departure, Matthew J. Lynch reexamines the rhetorical strategies of First Isaiah, revealing a stronger monotheizing rhetoric than previously recognized.

Standard accounts of Israelite religion frequently insist that monotheism reached its apex during the exile, and especially in Deutero-Isaiah. By contrast, Lynch’s study brings to light an equally potent mode of monotheizing in First Isaiah. Lynch identifies three related rhetorical tendencies that emphasize yhwh’s supreme uniqueness: a rhetoric of avoidance, referring to other deities as idols (אלילים) to avoid conferring on them the status of gods (אלוהים); a rhetoric of exaltation, emphasizing yhwh’s truly exalted status in opposition to all that which exalted itself; and a rhetoric of abasement, fully subjugating all other claimants to absolute power—whether human or divine—before the divine king.

Succinctly and persuasively argued, Lynch’s book will change how biblical scholars understand the nature and development of Israelite monotheism.

About the author

Matthew J. Lynch is Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Regent College. He is the author of Monotheism and Institutions in the Books of Chronicles and Portraying Violence in the Hebrew Bible: A Literary and Cultural Study.

Matthew J. Lynch's profile page

Editorial Reviews

“The references to idols in the first half of the book of Isaiah have never before been studied together in detail. Given the prominence of the subject in the second half of the book, this is a surprising gap that Lynch here fills with great insight. This will prove to be an enduring contribution to the wider topic of the development of monotheism in Israel.”

—H. G. M. Williamson, Emeritus Regius Professor of Hebrew, University of Oxford