Tasting the Conspiracy, item L14a: Chicken Lo Mein

If it’s not clear what this is or why I’m doing it, check out the intro post.

Chicken Lo Mein

Beige-on-beige. Try to spot the chicken!

What exactly is this dish? Sliced chicken stir-fried in a tangle of round wheat noodles, with a brown sauce that’s reduced down to be basically dry. Veggies are sparse and light: bits of scallion, onion, and carrot are among the more prominent.

How authentically Chinese is it? Well, lo mein (捞面) is a real variety of noodle and a dish made with them, but in the Canotnese tradition it’s apparently some kind of deconstructed soup, with the noodles served on the side and dipped into the soup. The Chinese-American stir-fry dish is a wholly local creation, although it’s not entirely sui generis: it’s not too far afield from, say, Shanghai fried noodles. I’m a bit suspicious of any direct ancestry there though, since Chinese-American cuisine derives more from the culture of Guangzhou than Shanghai

Is it any good? In this particular combination, it’s not really, and for reasons which can’t actually be laid at the feet of the dish itself. this form is a lunch combo with fried rice (or white rice on demand), and there’s no two ways about it: noodles with a side of rice is kind of aggressively starchy. Most of these lunch-combo dishes are driven by protein and veggies, and while there is protein in the lo mein, it’s really in a pretty lopsided balance with the noodles. All in all, this combo taken as a whole is something of a carbohydrate monster with little relief from the bland starchiness. Noodles alone would actually work OK, in a not very aggressive way, but it’s hard to work up enthusiasm for either the main or the side when they have a certain indistinguishable cereal aspect. chicken, the blandests of the proteins, does very little indeed to lift the combination out of the doldrums.

How does it complement the rice? Er, see above. The rice entirely upsets the balance of the meal and turns it from a reasonably tasty tangle of fried noodles into a grim deathmarch through the Land of Starch. The noodles themselves are, while not bone-dry, only thinly coated with a sauce which does not really transfer onto the rice at all.

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IFComp 2017: 10pm by “litrouke”

The Twenty-third Annual Interactive Fiction Competition is on, and anyone can play, participate, and judge. There are nearly 80 games this year, and there is no way I’m getting through all of them, but I’ll do my best. This is the first game according to my randomized ballot.

Blurb: 10pm, and dinner is still sitting in the oven.
The TV is droning. The front door is closed.
You look at the clock.
You look at the door.
You wait.

Content warning: Profanity, allusions to sex and violence, unhealthy parenting.
Estimated playtime: half an hour
Format: Web (Twine 1.4.2)

Well, I played through twice, to see what different kind of endings come out. The structure and interface of the game reflects the protagonist’s atypical state: you’re a boy who doesn’t speak, and all of your interactions through the game are by selecting the broad meaning of your hand signs. You’re living with a man (probably your father?) who doesn’t use apostrophes, and things are kind of stressful but depending on the choices during the game they might by either getting by or really fraught. On my first playthrough things were pretty good, and even on the second playthrough the basic premise that these people like and care about each other came through. It’s more or less a vignette, and to some extent you can decide for yourself what the shades of meaning within specific signs you choose to use are.

Apropos of the sign system, one thing which disappointed me is that there seemed to be a more or less ignored complexity in the system: I’d often get two or three signs in different colors to form a sentence with color constraints out of, and the design of the interface suggested that a mix-and-match wold work, but the response suggested that in almost all cases only the first sign determined how what I said was interpreted, and in that case just having one big block to drag and drop seems like it would make a lot more sense and not pretend to a complexit where there wasn’t one.

All in all, though, from a narrative standpoint it basically works and doesn’t outstay its welcome. At times it seems a mite sentimental (on some narrative paths) but never tips over the edge. The narrative leaves a lot of the premise beyond the basic history a bit nebulous: what Ty does, how they live on days other than this one, and what happened to make Bird so troubled. But this is largely a broadstroke work, and curious as I am about the backstory, I get why it’s not really immediately germane to the work and would most likely dilute its emotional force.

Wibble Wednesday: The scent of jasmine (Isaiah 17)

Things is busy now, and I should be doing other stuff, but this is worthwhile, I reckon.

Short snarky summary: Isaiah is either wrong, or exaggerating, or predicting a future which hasn’t come yet. Once again we teeter between the elegiac and the triumphalist in discussing ruined cities.

Every chapter or pair of chapters for some time seems to be focused on a specific ancient center of civilization. We’ve seen Babylon and Moab, and this chapter is now the first half of the “Damascus” pronouncement. Like the two previous pronouncements, this one is a prophecy of doom. Just like in the two previous cases, it probably behooves us to have some idea what it’s talking about.

Anyone who reads the news, of course, knows where Damascus is. It’s in Syria. The ancient city of Damascus was in pretty much the same place. The earliest settlement there might indeed be very old, but the place clearly starts showing up on geopolitical maps as somewhere to watch out for in the mid-to-late Bronze Age. In particular it is the capital city of the nation of Aram (which is sometimes called Aram-Damascus; that’s how central Damascus was to that kingdom). The Arameans were off to the northeast of Israel, which put them far enough from Judah that there wasn’t much interaction between the two states. On the other hand, Aram was one of Norther Israel’s more significant neighbors and the Biblical account suggests pretty much constant tension and occasional war. There’s a lot of cultural common ground though: Aramaic would become a major language of Judaism in exile, and the Arameans themselves were a Semitic people like the Hebrews. Eventually, Damascus fell to the same guys who overran everyone in the Near East, namely, the damn Assyrians. Those guys are everywhere, particularly in Isaiah’s pronouncements, so we’re following a common theme here. Incidentally, 2 Kings 16 credits Judah with an assist on that conquest: in a rare moment of alliance, Israel and Aram ganged up on Judah, while Judah pled with Assyria for assistance. That achieved their goals short-term, but left Judah immediately threatened by Assyria, which became a crisis in Hezekiah’s reign.

A notable footnote with regard to Isaiah’s prophecy: Damascus wasn’t actually razed. Assyria kept it as a vassal city, and it then passed from hand to hand as one after another empire swept through the Near East. Many centuries later it would become one of the jewels of the Islamic world. But the big takeaway is that, subjects and captives though the Aramites may have been, they appear to have been in continuous residence of this same city for a very long time. It’s entirely possible the modern Syrians are descended, at least in part, from the Arameans.

I provide all this dreary history mostly to put it all in stark contrast to the first prediction of Isaiah’s most recent declaration: “Damascus shall cease to be a city; it shall become a heap of ruins.” Most of Isaiah’s descriptions track pretty well onto specific aspects o the Assyrian conquest. This one really doesn’t. For a start, the Assyrian conquest of Aram was too early: that happened way back during the reign of Ahaz, Hezekiah’s father, and we already saw the fallout from that back in Isaiah 7. For another thing, Damascus remained. it emphatically wasn’t ruined then, nor was it depopulated and destroyed in any of the following years.

For a messianic read, of course, this isn’t a problem, but up until now I’ve been able to get a pretty solid argument going that Isaiah’s really about local events in time and place and that messianism is a stretch. So I’m kind of loathe to use that cop-out, although better Bible scholars than me don’t have a problem with it.

So, anyways, after we’re told that Damascus (and its outlying areas) will be depopulated and laid waste, we move to another unusual verse, which equates temporal power from “Ephraim” and that of Damascus. That’s an odd juxtaposition, because Ephraim, as we’ve seen before, is a tribe of Israel typically used as a metonym for the whole northern kingdom. But Israel and Aram aren’t the same place! Or are they? Certainly at some point in this timeframe they were allies, since they ganged up on Judah. Maybe Aram was much closer to Israel than we thought; after all, I’ve operated under the impression that Judah and Northern Israel were never really unified, and that the closest they got was a cultural kinship and occasional alliance. Isn’t Aram kind of in the same boat, as a Semite people with some historical claims of kinship to the House of Jacob? For all we know all three of these kingdoms were regarded as part of the same sprawling “peoples”. Certainly that explains the next stanza, where Isaiah predicts that “the mass of Jacob shall dwindle”, which makes plenty of sense if that mass also includes Aram. The decimation of Jacob (whether Aram or Israel or both) is put in some colorfully violent agricultural terms, which would’ve made a lot of sense ot people around this time. So the victim of this despoliation is compared to wheat that has been reaped, or an olive tree that’s been beaten, in each case with only a few tiny productive bits remaining.

The next stanza turns to afairly predictable theme of Isaiah’s. Destruction can go a couple of ways. It can be deserved, in which case triumphal mockery continues, or piteous, in which case the next theme is one of charity, or it can be chastisement, in which case the next theme is repentance. Aram is basically “Even Norther Israel”, so it gets to be a Hebrew nation for whom the scourging of fate is meant to be corrective. And thus the end result of all this death and destruction is that the people turn with renewed vigor to god, sashing their idols and whatnot. But atonement is apparently not yet complete, because immediately following the verses describing contrition, Isaiah promises that the land will remain a desolation, because the people are still not truly returned to God.

The next verse though, focuses on the conquerers. In context, that pretty much has to be the Assyrians, if we want this to make any sense as a contemporary prophec and not a messianic promise. Certainly the description of “Nations raging like mighty waters” sounds a lot like the Assyrians, because no other player in local nation-building rated that kind of description at that ppoint But interestingly, he then turns to how these peope, too will be driven and humbled before God. We’ve sort of seen that theme before, back in Chapter 14, where God promises to crush Assyria after they had served their purpose. Those promises at least, in a contemporary-to-Isaiah consideration of the prophecies, is authentically a statement of things to come.

Next up: how will Aram handle liberty from the Assyrians?

Tasting the Conspiracy, item L13: Beef with Snow Peas

If it’s not clear what this is or why I’m doing it, check out the intro post.

Oy, fallen way behind again. I still remember them all pretty well though.

Beef with Snow Peas

Yup, that’s beef, alright. With snow peas. And carrots. Nobody said there would be carrots!

What exactly is this dish? Slices of stir-fried beef with snow peas, just like it says on the tin, but in addition to snow peas, there are also carrots. There was also a single water chestnut, which I can only assume was a mistake. All the vegetables are fairly lightly cooked, to keep some snap and crunch. Of course there’s sauce too, and it’s exactly the brown sauce you expect. Oh well, they can’t all be imaginative.

How authentically Chinese is it? I’ve done my “veggies in brown sauce” spiel many times by now, and the capsule version is that protein and veggies stirfried in a simple soy-and-ginger sauce is something it’s reasonable to believe Chinese people probably would eat because it’s kind of the obvious way to combine a bunch of standard ingredients. That having been said: while snow peas are absolutely a traditional part of Chinese cuisine (both the pods and the young leaves, the latter of which is not really popular in America), it seems to usually favor a simpler presentation as a side dish rather than accenting a meat dish. I’m sure this combination has been eaten in China, because you don’t get 1.3 billion people without some of them trying out every viable permutation of your cuisine, but I’m not sure it would be regarded there as a particularly distinguished variation on the plain mix-and-match stirfry.

Is it any good? It works for me. Beef is a bit tough (at least in a stirfry) and the textural meatiness of it contrasted well with the crisp crunch on the vegetables. The brown sauce was, eh, a brown sauce. Within any specific class of dishes there’s straight-up not a lot of variation. But this was a reasonably good representative of the family.

How does it complement the rice? The sauce was pretty thin. Rice that I shoved into the entree side of the container picked up some oily, beefy flavor, but it mostly wanted soy sauce to give it flavor in the end.

Wibble Wednesday: Darkest before Dawn (Isaiah 16)

Class is back in session, and I have been slammed. Hopefully I can get back into a rhythm here, though.

Short snarky summary: Now that Moab’s been fucked over comprehensively, we’re allowed to feel sorry for them.

So, last chapter was a great deal of lamentation over a (possibly future, possibly past) wholesale destruction of Judah’s not very friendly neighbor Moab. It wasn’t very clear in that chapter why Moab was being mourned, but in this chapter a compassionate tone returns: Isaiah bids the people of Judah welcome and shelter the fugitives of war. It’s a refreshing return to a theme which had been for some time eclipsed by Messianism and various forms of triumphalism: the central message of social justice we saw in the early chapters of Isaiah. Moab as a nation may have been an enemy of Judah, but Moabites individually, shellshocked, lost, and wandering along the rivers into Judahite territory, deserve not contempt but comfort.

This asylum is, however, linked closely to another verse which suggests the time being spoken of hasn’t yet come, becauuse the justification for providing such a safe harbor careens firmly back into Messianism, putting forward the utopian view of a nation untroubled by violence, and ruled in goodmess “in the tent of David”. The reference to David is ambiguous because it could be a reference specifically to the Judahite royal line, or to the Messiah alluded to in Isaiah 11 as growing “from the stuump of Jesse” Or to both, if we bu into the notion that these two descendants of David are the same. It could even be a reference to Hezekiah, who brokered truces after successfully weathering Assrian assault.

The reference to David in the specific context of discussing Moab is interesting, however, since it’s established geneology in the book of Ruth that David is in fact of Moabite ancestry. A fair amount of scholarship, however, places the authorship of the Book of Ruth later than Isaiah, so this may be a reference unsupported by the actual chronology of events, depending on whether the notion that David was of Moabite stock was kicking around even before the Book of Ruth. In any case, the Messianic ruler of Judah is put foorth as a good reason why Judah should and will open its arms to the friendless and the stranger, which makes sense thematically, although it’s a side of the messianic promise we haven’t seen: not only conquest and peace, but also charity.

The next verse (16:6) is quoted in my edition, although no speaker is given. God, I suppose, because the words are a judgment on Moab’s iniquities of pride, for which the nation is deserving of destruction But then, from this one verse of triumph, the mood bounces right back to the elegiac, mourning for the destruction of Moab’s vineyards, and its grapevines, and its winepresses… damn, the mourner here seems to perceive the tragedy mostly through a very specific Moabite agricultural product! Maybe they don’t give a damn about the nation or people of Moab at all, but were just very fond of Moabite wines. It’s on account of all this wine-making paraphernalia that the speaker apparently mourns for Moab and Kir-heres. Nobody knows, incedentally, what this second place is. It might or might not be the same as the Kir-hareseth mourned for several verses earlier as a source of raisin-cakes (seriously, Isaiah, I’m pretty sure there are interesting aspects of Moab that aren’t made of grapes), or even the Kir mentioned back at the beginning of Chapter 15. “Kir” literally means “walled locale” (i.e. fortress or walled city), so it’s possible that Moab contained lots of fortifications with close variants on the same name starting with “kir”.

So this chapter is pretty short, closing out the so-called “Moab pronouncement”, but after the final elegy for destroyed Moab, the text returns to prose just long enough to finally give us a notion of when all this happened or will happen: god has decreed for the great diminution of Moab to happen in three years. Given that these words are supposedly) spoken by Isaiah, whose lifetime we can definitively link to the events of Assyria’s rise and aggression, my read on this is that it refers to Moab being overrun by the Assyrian empire, since the chronology works right and that definitively did squash Moab as an independent nation for some time. There’s very little good archaeological evidence for the extent, in time or place, of Moabite hegemony, which means our estimates of just when the nation finally collapsed are a big uncertain smear running from the Assyrian conquest through to the ascent of the Persian Empire. That’s a pretty long and active length of history where we can neiter confirm nor deny Moab independence. Could they have been definitivel crushed and exiled by the Assyrians? Entirely possible, and definitely consistent with the lament and proposed timeline in this pronouncement.

Thibble Thursday: Towns that we’d never been to (Isaiah 15)

Still getting back into things after a while out of town. And the semester’s starting again soon. Woo.

Short snarky summary: Isaiah’s most recent wodge of prophecy is a lamentation for some ruined place. It’s not clear why it’s been despoiled or why we should care.

We finally ended the so-called “Babylon Pronouncement”, and we move on to a new one, the “Moab Pronouncement”. Now, just like we did with Babylon, it might not hurt to get some sort of handle on just where and who Moab was, and why they were significant.

Moab was a kingdom east of the Dead Sea, which put it directly east of Judah but inconveniently on the other side of a body of water, crossable, no doubt, but logistically more complicated than overland maneuvers. Moab did share a land boundary with the Northern Kingdom of Israel, though, and could plausibly have invaded Judah through the complicity of their northern frenemy. Significantly, way back in the mythological days of the Exodus, the Israelites invaded Canaan from the east (which, yes, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense geographically) and were approaching Canaan by way of Moab.

Overall, Moabite-Hebrew relations tended to be bumpy, ranging from a war footing to cautious alliance. There’s archaeological evidence of war, and Biblical narratives occasionally mention hostilities (including rebellion in the time of King Ahab, suggesting that Moab had been a vassal state of Israel previously), but they also prominently mention alliance on a personal level at least, in the book of Ruth, which tells the story of a Moabite ancestress of King David.

This personal connection might be important, or it might not. The Deuteronomists had this weird thing about the Davidic dynasty which made pretty much everything which related to King David and his descent unusually elevated in their eyes, but Isaiah comes from a seemingly different tradition, and maybe both traditions preceded the incorporation of the Book of Ruth and its Moabite lineage into the canon anyways.

Moab fell to Assyria pretty soon after the empire rose, and dwindled away under the imperial vassalage of several successive Near East empires (Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian), so by the time Isaiah was written, Moab was already emphatically past its glory days and along the road to dissolution. So predicting the ruin of Moab wasn’t a real profound or prescient prophecy, but let’s take it apart anyways.

The text has a certain lyrical quality to it. Now, almost all of Isaiah is somewhat versified, but this chapter hits us over the head with a purely poetic repetition: “Ah, in the night Ar was sacked, Moab was ruined” is repeated verbatim, with “Ar” replaced by “Kir” on the second go-round. Ignoring the self-conscious stylized lamentation, the question is: when and where did this sack happen? Well, nobody really has a clue where either Ar or Kir is or was, but from context we can infer they’re in Moab (Kir is sometimes identified, on the basis of what seems to be no evidence but wishful thinking, with the long-established settlement of Al-Karak in Jordan). Kir gets an offhand mention back in 2 Kings 16 as the site to which the Assyrians deported Aramites after sacking Damascus, which suggests it was by that time already an Assyrian conquest. So Isaiah’s text here might very well be a lamentation for a past event rater than a prophecy after all! It wold certainly explain the use of the past tense.

A vivid description of the mourning among the populace follows. It has symbols common throughout Biblical literature: weeping, wailing, shorn beards and heads, dressing in sackcloth (no ashes, though). Meanwhile, we are assailed with the names of all the places where there is mourning: Dibon, Nebo, Medeba, Heshbon, Elealeh, and Jahaz. Taking these in order, we actually start with what was definitely a site of some importance in Moab. Dibon (or Dhibon) is a real place in Jordan and is the site of the Masha Stele, one of the most significant pieces of Near East archaeology ever and one that links the site closely both to a Moab kingdom and to Israelite subjugation; its presence in a list of significant Moabite sites, then or now, is utterly unsurprising. Nebo is most likely Mount Nebo, and has been previously mentioned in the Bible most significantly as the site of Moses’s death; it also gets mentioned in the Masha Stele as the site of a Moabite victory (and presumably a reclamation of territory) from Israel. Medaba is also an ancient city still around in western Jordan today, so it too is plausibly Moabite by geography (if not by archaeology, AFAIK). Heshbon is no longer occupied but its ruins are in the suburbs of Medaba; Elialah is probably Al’al, a bit further northeast, and finally, Jahaz is also mentioned in the Masha Stele as a liberated city but nobody knows where it is nowadays; a 1984 paper of Dearman provides reasonable evidence that it is the same site as the ruins at Khirbat al-Mudayna, also in the present-day outskirts of Madaba. So these are a cluster of cities which geography and archaeology put in a tight cluster in Transjordan, around the northern tip of the Dead Sea. The interesting part is that Biblical evidence (wth the support of the Masha Stele) suggest that these were at least occasionally also Israelite territory. Joshua 13 explicitly lays out the boundaries of the Tribe of Reuben’s territory as including Dibon, Jehaz, and Heshbon, and having Medaba on its boundary (although since Dhiban is south of Madaba and Heshbon north, Madaba would basically have to be in the territory of Reuben). So interestingly enough either the Bible massively overstates the territorial boundaries of Israel (which is plausible) or Moab had a much more tenuous existence than it seemed. My read here is that Moab definitely had an independent existence between the events described on the Masha Stele (in the reign of King Omri of Israel) and the conquest of Kir by the Assyrians (during or prior to the reign of King Pekah). Notably all of this was history as far as Isaiah or any of his future editors were concerned, and these cities were neither Reubenite nor Moabite any more.

But was the Reubenite history of the cities relevant to this lamentation? Certainly this whole chapter is more mournful than triumphant over Moab’s destruction, reflecting the ambivalent relationship between Judah and Moab (rendered all the more ambivalent by the fact that Northern Israel was frequently antagonistic to both). Probably some of the “Moabites” here are ethnically and culturally Israelites, if the border cities had the tangled history which both the Biblical and archaeological records show. That’s reason enough, perhaps, for Isaiah to declare that “My heart cries out for Moab”.

The rest of the chapter describes the aftermath of conquest. Again, I’m assuming we’re looking specifically at an Assyrian conquest ere, because no other one makes sense and the scale of the destruction described looks kinda like the sort of thing the Assyrians did. There are fugitives, and we get a sense of their route from another list of names: Zoar, Eglath-shelshiyah, Luhith, Horonaim, and the Wadi of Willows. Zoar is probably in the south, based on mentions of it elsewhere; none of the other locations can be even remotely located, although the Wadi of the Willows is tentatively identified by some as Wadi al-Hasa, also located in southwestern Jordan. So an educated guess would be that all the unknown cities are somewhere on a southern route from Madaba, close to the eastern shore of the Dead Sea all the way down to its tip.

So this lamentation, somewhat cliched though it is, gives us a pretty good feel for geography. What it doesn’t give a good view of is the political situation. Everything I’ve said about why, when, or by whom Moab was conquered, or why Isaiah laments for them, is pretty conjectural.

Fortunately, there’s another chapter of explanation coming up, which sheds some light on what in the conquest of Moab deserves mourning. And in that chapter, we’ll see the surprising return of a theme Isaiah hasn’t mentioned for a while.

Wibble Wednesday: A little bit louder and a little bit worse (Isaiah 14)

Has it really been a month? Argh. Travel, then keyboard trouble, and more travel soon enough. And Isaiah’s kind of rough sledding to say anything interesting about, which I’ll get into below.

Short snarky summary: Babylon’s doomed, and that’s good news for Israel! We already said that last chapter, but it apparently bears repeating.

Every week it gets harder to come up with any really new commentary on Isaiah. The fact is, we’ve wandered into a groove of “God’s angry at Israel, God will send oppressors, the oppressors will become prideful and will be smote for their pride, Israel will rise again,” and we just go round and round in it without much progress. There’s sometimes a dash of messianic spice, and the oppressor bounces from Assyria to Babylon, but, y’know, there’s only so many variations on this particular scheme. At the end of Chapter 13, there was a prediction that Babylon would be overthrown and ruined by God’s will. Most of this chapter is bringing out specifics of that ruin and of Israel’s redemption.

We start with the redemption aspect, in which it is predicted that the House of Jacob (a politic choice of phrase, encompassing as it does both Judah and North Israel) will rise up again, reclaiming the land of Israel, and being joined by strangers to swell their ranks as well. This passage is a little bit alarming on that front, though: the prediction of strangers coming to the ways of Israel and bringing them to their own homelands sounds almost evangelical, but their’s a dark twist of these strangers, these converts to the community, being kept by Israel as “slaves and handmaids”. I kinda liked Isaiah more when he was talking about being nice to the friendless stranger.

The triumphaism doesn’t end there, because the next several verses, which cover fairly familiar thematic ground, are put forward as a “song of scorn” over defeated Babylon. These verses are, as I said, pretty stale stuff conceptually, but bring in a few interesting metaphors and concepts. One image brought front and center is of the king of Babylon going down to Sheol (the realm of the dead; distinct realms of punishment and ease aren’t really a thing in this particular tradition yet) and commiserate with all the other once-great now-vanquished mighty ones. In their sympathy they address Babylon as “Shining One, son of Dawn”, which my gloss identifies as a lost mythical character, but one could easily enough map it (as either a forbear or a a later myth-merge) into the much, much later Christian notion of Lucifer the Morning-star.

Another interesting allusion occurs in the next stanza, where the King of Babylon’s pride is identified as an ambition to climb to the sky, to build a throne above even the seat of God. Well, placed particularly in the context of Babylon, and of overwhelming ambition struck down by God, there’s what appears to be a blindingly obvious reference to the Tower of Babel; I don’t know if it has any significance beyond the obvious thematic and geographic correspondence, though.

The rest of the song of triumph over Babylon is the usual triumphalism; blotting out their name from the world,completely obliterating the nation, and burying its king in obscurity and dishonor. For the record, I’m pretty sure it didn’t happen exactly that way: Babylon was conquered by Cyrus, but (a) it didn’t actually go away; the Babylonian people remained a politically and culturally significant force in the Achaemenid Empire long after they were swallowed up, and (b) King Nabonidus apparently survived the conquest, althouhh his son and co-regent Belshazzar did not; it’s not clear that either of them were dishonored in death (it didn’t really seem like the Persians’ style, frankly).

Near the end of this prophecy (called the “Babylon Pronouncement”, remember) the focus seems to run off the rails, because next comes a stanza where the extermination to be brought forth by God is described as a course of action “To break Assyria in My Land”. Wait, what? Assyria? Assyria and Babylon are geographically heavily overlapping empires, but completely distinct in time, culture, and ethnicity. Assyria was itself fallen before Babylon became really significant to politics as touching directly on Israel. It’s worth mentioning again, of course, that Babylon is utterly anachronistic as a concern for Isaiah at all; during Isaiah’s lifetime, the city of Babylon and the surrounding ethnically Chaldean communities were vassals of the aggressive Assyrian Empire which would shortly thereafter demolish Northern Israel and fail to conquer Judah. So for Isaiah to be talking about Asssyrians isn’t all that weird, but bringing them up in the middle of a screed about the punisshment due the Babylonians just point up how weird the original target of that screed was. Babylon was at a nadir of influence and importance at that particular point in history! The Assyrians didn’t use it as a base of operations or their own capital or anything; they basically knocked over a few buildings every time the natives got restless, which was all the time. So it’s hard to read the Babylonians and Assyrians in this chapter as one and the same group, unless you go with an incredibly anachronistic view of associating both groups with “whatever the hell was to the east of Israel”, which would include not only the Assyrians and the Babylonians but also the kingdoms of Hatti and Mittani, and the Persian Empire. So I don’t know if this Assyria/Babylon confusion is the result of inconsistent, post-Isaiah modification of just who the black-hatted imperial villain is here, or whether both sections were written at the same time with two distinct antagonists in mind, or what. Fortunately, the final stanza makes it clear we’re well and truly out of talking about the eastern, Mesopotamian foes, with a pronouncement on the death of King Ahaz.

First, a bit of a backgrounder on Ahaz. He was a Judahite king, the father of the Hezekiah whose reign Isaiah generally approved of and which saw the coming of that failed Assyrian siege. Ahaz, by way of contrast, made nice with the Assyrians, which Isaiah emphatically did not approve of. Ahaz himself dealt with a different foe, the Kingdom of Israel with an Aramite assist. Way back in Isaiah 7 we got a close-up on how Isaiah felt about all this: he disapproved of Ahaz’s irresolution and fear, he disapproved of being asked to prophecy instead of rusting to God, and he really disapproved of the alliance with the Assyrians against these foes (surprisingly, he didn’t seem to care at all about the civil-war aspect of a Judah-Israel clash). So there was little love lost between Isaiah and Ahaz, and furthermore, from Isaiah’s point of view, Ahaz’s death was the beginning of a new golden age, with Hezekiah hewing to and rediscovering the Law, and rebuffing the Assyrians to boot. Surprisingly in light of Hezekiah’s actual signiicance, the foe this stanza tells to beware is… Philistia? Hey, hopefully you remember those guys; they were the constant antagonists back in the days of Saul and David. The thing is, they’re not by any stretch of the imagination associated with either Babylon or Assyria, or with any actual foe of either Ahaz’s or Hezekiah’s, as far as I can tell. They’re off to the southwest, far from Aram, far from Babylon, and far from Assyria (they’re close to Israel, but Israel and Judah are at the center of the narrative here, so that kind of goes without saying). The Philistines were still around in Hezekiah’s day and they even get a mention as a people Hezekiah defeated (2 Kings 18:8), but what the hell are they doing here? They weren’t really much of a local power any more, which is why Hezekiah rolled over them so easily, as Aram had a few generations earlier. Why this particular Judahite triumphalism over what seems to have been a fairly minor victory, and one with no lasting effects? This actually lends some credence to the “contemporary Isaiah” theory (i.e. that one of the authors of the Book of Isaiah was actually either Isaiah or someone else around the same time), since nobody from the much later times when Babylon was significant would’ve been likely to have cared enough to put in a prophecy of a largely insignificant act of Hezeiah’s.

Anyways, next chapter we get entirely out of talking about Babylon. We move on to a different hated set of foreigners.