Thibble Thursday: New Day Dawning (Isaiah 9)

Summer’s here. No excuse to not do this every week.

Short snarky summary: A new day of great joy is too come! The most joyful part of it, of course, will be when evildoers get what’s coming to them.

This chapter as a whole has a lyrical, poetic structure. There’s a repeated motif (a chorus, if you will) in between verses on individual topics. Structurally, it is very much a poem, or possibly even a song. Contentwise, though, it’s hard to know what to make or it, because i seems to be a messianic song of redemption stapled messily to an awfully vindictive tale of wrath. Is the future good or bad for Israel and Judah? This chapter is, to say the least, ambiguous on that point, because neither the jubilee nor the wrath seems to be targeted at a specific subset of the Hebrew people, so it’s not as if the good, kind, just people are designated for redemption while the greedy and the cruel are the targets of the wrath. I can’t quite bridge this tonal shift, so maybe as we work through it I’ll see a better way of looking at it that will make it make sense.

The first several verses set forth a tale of joy and peace: light dawning where there was dark, joy where there was once misery, and the destruction of all instruments of oppression. The last of these is a pretty standard social-justice theme of Isaiah, and it goes into fairly explicit detail cataloging the ephemera of the oppressor: yokes and sticks to torment the people, boots to stamp on them with, and “garments donned in infamy”. OK, the picture of slavery might have broken down there wih that last bit.

Further on within this same theme, there will be more discussion of the bounties of joy and peace and plenty, but before we get to that, we take a short dodge into the explicitly messianic, Like, literally, as in a significant section of the text of Handel’s Messiah: “For Unto Us a Child is Born” is taken from this verse. We’ve seen a lot of fate-imbued children in the last few chapters: Maher-shalal-hash-baz in Chapter 8, and Immanuel in Chapter 7. Both of these children’s births, however, have been more put forward as a sign of change than as the agent of change in their own right, whereas this child will have “authority settled on his shoulders”, giving him a more active role in bringing forth the golden age. A discussion of his name (or what he is called in this particular verse) calls attention to a difference between Jewish and Christian messianism, if I read it right: the Hebrew read is that his name is roughly “God is everlasting, the Prince of Peace”, which is pretty much in line with the sort of names attributed to pious characters throughout the Bible, whereas the Christian take is broadly that his name is “Everlasting God, the Prince of Peace”. That’s a significant difference in interpretation which plays out profoundly theologically, since mainstream Judaism has never attributed divinity to the messiah, whereas mainstream Christianity does. There might be a chicken-and-egg question as to whether the theology affected the interpretation or vice versa, but it’s a point of some interest here.

(Incidentally, on the subject of this parade of children, I’m not sure what standard commentary is on how many of these kids are the same, in either tradition. OK, I know that Christian theology typically equates the Immanuel of Chapter 7 with the messiah of Chapter 9 and elsewhere (and all of these figures with Jesus, of course), but I don’t know if Jewish interpretation also considers Immanuel the messiah, or how Maher-shalal-hash-baz fits into any of this.)

This block of text, with that messianic interjection, ends much as it began: that peace and justice will emanate from the throne of David. It’s heavily implied, if not stated outright, that the child “with authority on his shoulders” is in fact the heir of David (and standard messianism in both religions holds that the Messiah is from the line of David).

But next we move into a completely different prophecy, one which feels diametrically opposed to what we’ve just read. After the beautiful vision of a shining future of peace and prosperity, we get a harangue set in, as far as I can tell from my translation, the present tense and discussing God’s wrath and why Israel deserves it. Maybe the tense shift (now versus later) explains the dichotomy, although it’s a bit backwards from the rhetorically effective way to do this: present the crappy present first, and then the potential for the future. Either way, the sins credited to Israel are the ones we’ve seen before: greed and haughtiness, and lack of true justice. The framing is interestingly placed in the midst of the disaster: that Israel (presented through the metonym of Ephraim and Samaria, which we’ve seen before), having fallen prey to disaster, boastfully proclaims that they’ll rebuild but even better than before (specifically: stone instead of brick, cedar instead of sycamore), and that this prideful self-confidence is why God brought enemies to raze and loot the land.

At the end of this condemnation of self-confidence, we get the first of three repetitions of the chorus “Yet his anger has not turned back, and his arm is outstretched still”. I must admit I like this repetition and the structure it brings to this chapter, perhaps more than I should. It matches the themes of a present-tense wrath, and it has a lyrical quality which works.

The next stanza continues to itemize the tribulations God will bring forth. It starts with the phrase “For the people has not turned back to Him who has struck it,” which has an unsettling domestic-violence vibe, but I suppose that particular read in the God/israel relationship has always been there. The punishment to be exaced on Israel for this crime is to have their heads and tails cut off. But this is not a literal threat that Israelites will be decapitated, as the text hastens to mention! Raher, the people’s (corrupt) leaders are the heads, and the false prophets and counselor the tails. because these particular representatives of the people are so very wicked, apparently God will show them no mercy and strike them down. Already, Isaiah says, their wickedness has spread like fire, burning all it touches. There are specific victims of the unholy fire of Israel’s leaders’ wickedness given, but they all seem metaphorical: thorns, thistles, and forest all succumb to the spreading blaze. It would be cool if there were some context for reading these different types of vegetation as different aspects of the state and its people, but no dice.

The final stanza gets down to some specific natural disasters and large-scale human disasters. God’s fury apparently shakes the earth, which suggests some reference to an earthquake: there apparently was a major earthquake during the reign of Uzziah, which goes unmentioned in 2 Kings but appears prominently in the book of Amos. Also prophecied is civil strife, with every man raiding his kinsmen, with Ephraim against Manasseh and vice versa, and then both against Judah. It’s not clear what specific events in the histories of the two nations these prophecies refer to, but there’s a surfeit of choices: Israel had perpetual internal conflict, particularly over the succession oof kings who met violent ends at the hands of usurpers, and thy also occasionally opened hostilities against Judah, with whom relationships ranged from cold civility to outright war. So while I don’t have a single obvious reference for Isaiah’s prophecied war and discord, his prophecy certainly picks up on the general tenor of the times.

finally, this pronouncement of woe ends with the third (and thus rhythmically most powerful) repetition of the promise that God is not yet done with Israel’s punishment, the prophecy ends, as if Isaiah was saying, with his final repetition of the chorus: “Show’s over, folks. Go home.”

Next time: a final callback to the wrath of these stanzas, and more tedious local politics.

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Tasting the Conspiracy, item L11: Chicken Chow Mein

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

Still on backlog; anticipate a cavalcade of posts at some point, now that the semester’s over.

Chicken Chow Mein

I needed a wider angle to capture the noodles, so this is one of the rare portrait-orientation photos.

What exactly is this dish? “Chow mein” is a peculiarly variable term in American cuisine, describing a number of different dishes, most of which are preparation-style and noodle-choice variations on a stir-fried formula akin to a crispier version of lo mein. In several parts of the Midwest, however, “chow mein” is basically what is elsewhere called “chop suey” served with the crispy noodles which are a typical accompaniment to soup. This particular dish appears to be sliced chicken and veggies, particularly large pieces of cabbage, in a white sauce.

How authentically Chinese is it? In this particular incarnation? Not very. Not very Chinese at all. It might be the least authentically Chinese thing you can get at your average Chinese-American restaurant. The name 炒面 is authentically Chinese, apparently from the Taishanese dialect, and some dishes which share this name might have more authentically Chinese roots, but I’m answering the question for this specific variant.

Is it any good? Eh, not very. It’s ridiculously bland, and the big chunks-o-cabbage are texturally a bit overwhelming. The soup noodles are frankly a bit confusing: am I meant to put them in the sauce, where they lose a bit of their crunch, not unlike one does with soup? They certainly aren’ adding a lot to this particular dish, and given that “crispy noodles” are the namesake feature of chow mein, I’d expect them to play a more vital role than this sad little packet of soup noodles does.

How does it complement the rice? Well enough; the sauce is plentiful, thick, and velvety, even if it is bland.

Tasting the Conspiracy, item L10: Moo goo gai pan

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

A backlog item that’s not just a retread with a new protein! Shame it’s still a brown-sauce creation.

Moo Goo Gai Pan

Almost all Chinese-American dishes have some English in their names. This one doesn’t.

What exactly is this dish? The literal translation of its name is “button mushrooms and sliced chicken”. That’s basically truth in advertising. Breast-meat chicken slices and mushrooms do form the core of this dish, which in this particular incarnation also includes carrots, fairly large chunks of cabbage, water chestnuts, and snow peas. The sauce ranges from a brownish soy base to a soyless white sauce; this one is on the whiter end of the spectrum, without much of a soy contribution and very light ginger flavor.

How authentically Chinese is it? Its actual Chinese origins are murky; the name 蘑菇雞片 is authentically Cantonese, but given that Chinese-American cuisine was pioneered by people whose first language was Cantonese, that proves nothing about its origins except that it wasn’t made up out of whole cloth by white Americans or by third-generation immigrants (neither of which tend to be popular theories for any Chinese food, really). The sauce is milder and a lot less soy-driven than I would expect from a Chinese dish aiming at this particular combination of meat and vegetables, and on that point, most of the additional vegetables would probably not have been present in an authentically Chinese dish, because traditional stirfries don’t as a rule go for a wide variety of vegetables within a single dish. Bottom line: if there is a traditional Chinese dish which shares this one’s name or its namesake ingredients, it is probably a very different preparation.

Is it any good? Meh, bland. Unless you really like mushrooms or really dislike soy (neither of which I particularly do), this honestly seems to be aiming at the same place as Chicken with Mixed Vegetable and falling short in almost every regard.

How does it complement the rice? There was for sure some quantity of sauce, and a very light cornstarch thickness to keep it from just running to the bottom of the container, and it was flavorful enough to provide something of an interesting accent to the rice, so, all in all, it’s a success on the “good with rice” front

Fribble Friday: Gang Aft Aglay (Isaiah 8)

Spring break. A surprisingly busy spring break, but I’m still going to make time to write about Biblical stuff, although I’m running a bit behind schedule.

Short snarky summary: Judah is doomed. Probably they shouldn’t have attracted the attention of the Assyrians. God’s still with them though, even in conquest. Isaiah’s son is all mixed up in this somehow.

This chapter is really opaque, and it reads even more explicitly as a short-term prophecy than the last one did. It could be spun into messianism by someone minded to do so, but I am increasingly of the opinion that the messianic read of Isaiah is taking an awful lot of passages out of what is not a particularly mysterious current-events context and inserting them into a not-entirely-justified large scale eschatological reading.

So in this chapter Isaiah is commanded to, essentially, commemorate the birth of his son, by writing his name (the long-winded and apparently meaningful ‘Maher-shalal-hash-baz’, which apparently translates to “Speedy looting and pillaging”, which is what the Assyrians are going to do), and by testifyiing to his birth and legitimacy in a formal setting. The birth of Isaiah’s son, like the “Emmanuel” of the last chapter, is meant to serve as a sort of timeline of coming events: before he learns to speak, Assyria will despoil the land of Samaria. This part is certainly true, timeline-wise; Israel is about to get hammered pretty hard by Judah’s Assyrian allies. God insisting his prophets use their own family life to demonstrate prophetic principals is not unique to Isaiah; just wait until we get to Hosea, who is commanded to marry a prostitute to tech Israel a lesson about faithlessness.

God then delivers a prophecy in verse, which feels vaguely messianic to a modern reader but is pretty explicitly referential to current events, to the extent of including a specific reference to the king of Assyria. The verse is essentially a lament for the people of Judah, who have spurned God’s aid (I guess God is really, really irked by Ahaz’s polite rebuff in the last chapter of a demonstration of his power). Judah is specifically excoriated for rejecting “the gently flowing waters of Siloam”, an intriguingly specific rand slightly anachronistic eference to a particular dramatic incident in Judeo-Assyrian relations. During Ahaz’s reign, Siloam was just a spring and pool near Jerusalem. But during the reign of his son Hezekiah, the pool was diverted into an artificial underground waterway. This bit is historically sound; the tunnel itself still exists, and dates back to Hezekiah or earlier, and was indeed an aqueduct which brought water into the city of Jerusalem. Sennacharib besieged Jerusalem during the reign of Hezekiah, and the siege was broken by a mysterious plague among the Assyrians, but it would’ve ended differently, and a whole lot sooner, if Jerusalem had no water sources (Neil Stephenson’s Snow Crash wanders into discussing this incident too, drawing a connection between informational hygiene and pure water supplies and, uh, yeah, it’s not exactly an orthodox read of the siege of Jerusalem). But coming back to what Isaiah’s talking about here: the tunnel of Siloam was to be Judah’s pride and salvation back in the days of Hezekiah, lauded as a time of great faith and of adherence to the law. Spurning “Siloam” here really seems to be about turning their backs not specifically on artificial waterworks, but on the values which were considered to define that period. The weird thing is the ahistoricality of it all. The great faith in God and in civil engineering which marked Hezekiah’s reign isn’t something people in Ahaz’s day had turned their back on, because it hadn’t happened yet.

Continuing the theme of waterways, the grace of God as embodied by the Siloam is contrasted with “the mighty, massive waters of the Euphrates”, which metaphorically are the massive, destructive force of the Assyrian Empire, which will flood Judah and ruin it. The next verse suggests, however, that all is not lost—that God is with Judah, and because of that, uh, they’ll be utterly broken and doomed to failure. No, seriously, that’s the gist of the text, and I’m wondering if maybe I’m attributing the failure and ruination to the wrong people. The pronouns are a bit vague. Maybe because God is with Judah, all the other peoples of the world are doomed to failure? That doesn’t really work thematically; the Assyrian and Babylonian and suchlike empires don’t end up so much broken and foiled in their plans as eventually collapsing under their own weight. I don’t quite know what to make of this because I’m pretty sure I’m misreading it, but it doesn’t make sense in any reading I can think of: it doesn’t make sense to suggest the conquering empires will fail, because they don’t and won’t, in the short term; it doesn’t make sense to assert the ruination and failure of Judah as a consequence of God’s favor, because that’s completely nonsensical. I’d welcome a different read because mine doesn’t work at all.

The next verse of the prophecy continues this somewhat bewildering theme. It starts out sensibly enough, suggesting that faith in God is more important than faith to the judgments of man, and that one must keep firm in devotion despite how out of step it might be with the prevailing trends. But then the second half of the same prophecy is all about how God’s love will be “a trap and a snare for those who dwell in Jerusalem”. It is honestly not clear how Isaiah (and by proxy, God) feels about Judah or Israel. Maybe he’s talking about the post-Exile dwellers in Jerusalem? That’s the closest I can get to a coherent read on this verse declaration of faith in God, that the ruination predicted in the second half is for the occupiers, not the Jewish residents. But that feels like a very tenuous reading.

We then return to prose for the conclusion, which is that Isaiah and those who believe his words shall suffer in silence and wait patiently. Ephatically they will not, he says, take refuge in divination. When redemption comes, he says, we’ll know, and until then we need to wait patiently. Any who seek for solace in witchcraft (“ghosts and familiar spirits that chirp and moan”, according to the text, in a delightful turn of phrase) will only end up disappointed and frustrated, seeing nothing but despair.

After this caution against trying to foresee the day of redemption, we have a final verse (8:23, which is relabeled as 9:1 in most translations of the Bible but not in my Tanakh) which meanders back into the murk of vague prophecy. There’s a precondition described for redemption of the land, involving “the former king” bringing “abasement to the land of Zebulon and Naphtali”. Who’s this former king? Well, Zebulon and Naphtali are part of Israel,so maybe it’s an Israelite king? One shortly prior to the Assyrian conquest? hat would be the puppet Hoshea, or his predecessor Pekah, I suppose? Both were arguably humiliating monarchs for Israel (the former for the nation being conquered on his watch; the latter for serving as a vassal to the conquerors).

Another note on this strange construction: why Naphtali and Zebulon in particular? The typical tribal metonym for Israel up until now has been Ephraim (the tribe of Jeroboam, and the tribal territory containing Samaria). What’s significant about Naphtali and Zebulon to lead them to be called out now? Well, their tribal territories formed the north central part of Israel. If we were prooftexting against Christianity (which is not a chronologically justifiable approach) we’d note with interest that the Naphtali/Zebulon zone contains several sites of interest, particularly Nazareth and the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Presumably from a New-Testament-inspired viewpoint that choice of tribes acquires additional rsonance, but I have no idea what it might have meant to Isaiah, or been meant to convey to a pre-Christian audience.

Anyways, the “prior” king will bring shame to Israel and its destruction, while the “later” will “bring honor to the Way of the Sea” through Galilee and trans-Jordan. I guess the presumption is that Naphtali will become powerful through its control of the sea and of the river? To a Christian reader, I imagine the “later king” is Jesus, and the glory he brings to Galilee is simply his origin there, but to a non-Christian view this reads much more as some sort of commentary on the practical, logistical role which control of waterways plays in the rise and fall of nations. And who is that “later king”? Well, if you don’t force it into a messianic read, there aren’t a lot of choices; Israel’s been dissolved as a nation, remenber.

More prpohecy next week! Maybe we’ll eventually cycle back to the social-welfare gospel, because I kinda liked that part and I am finding this prophetic stuff a bit opaque.

Tasting the Conspiracy, item L9: Mixed Vegetables

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

This one is also ripped off mostly from my writeup of L5. I approached this one with trepidation because the idea of having another brown-sauce stirfry with no protein at all was kind of dispiriting, but, surprise! It had tofu to hang my hopes and dreams on!

Mixed Vegetables

Unlike Shrimp with Mixed Vegetable and Chicken with Mixed Vegetable, this one contains at least two vegetables which are mixed, what with being a plural and all.

What exactly is this dish? Lightly seared tofu in the usual brown sauce with a number of vegetables which might vary depending on what’s in stock; this particular incarnation has mushrooms, broccoli, carrots, snow peas, cabbage, and bamboo shoots. This is a completely different veggie mix from both the chicken and shrimp mixed vegetable dishes, lending weight to the theory that “mixed vegetable” is an arbitrary potluck selection which changes regularly. There might be onion in there too, but if so it’s minced pretty fine.

How authentically Chinese is it? Much like beef with broccoli, this is a straightforward enough presentation I find it hard to imagine it’s not vaguely similar to some food eaten in China. The protein, vegetables, sauce, and cooking method are all pretty standard parts of the Chinese culinary toolset. I doubt I could match it onto a specific traditional food, because it seems like it’s of a piece with the standard “throw lots of stuff together according to a traditional cooking method” approach to non-fancy food that every cuisine has. I’d venture the Chinese version has a more flavorful sauce, probably with more ginger and garlic. Also, the Chinese are apparently not that big on dishes with a large variety of different vegetables, so a more traditional preparation would likely be pared down to a smaller selection of veggies. Seared is definitely a valid way to prepare tofu, for what it’s worth.

Is it any good? Much like the other mixed-vegetable dishess, it kind of hits a minimal interest level of having essential Chinese flavors without actually being distinguished enough to be a memorable experience in any way. I might’ve preferred a slightly crispier sear on the tofu, but I basically feel that anything less than a crunchy exterior on tofu tends to constitute wasted potential (I’ll make an exception for mapo doufu, which is supposed to have a soft soupiness). It’s an OK blend of textures and flavors although for my own personal tastes I would probably swap the mushrooms out for cabbage or something. I probably wouldn’t select this over the chicken or shrimp, but as a vegetarian offering it’s a pretty good incarnation of the form.

How does it complement the rice? The sauce was moderately moist; thinner than the chicken variant, maybe a bit thicker than with the shrimp? It didn’t quite stretch to flavor all of the rice, but it certainly kept eating the rice from being a dry slog.

Tasting the Conspiracy, item L8: Shrimp with Mixed Vegetable [sic]

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

Working through backlog again, this time with a few retreads; this one has text stolen shamelessly from L5, since it differs mostly in choice of protein.

Shrimp with Mixed Vegetable

It’s not unlike the chicken with mixed vegetable, but inexplicably shrimpier.

What exactly is this dish? Medium-size shrimp in the usual brown sauce with a number of vegetables which might vary depending on what’s in stock; this particular incarnation has mushrooms, snow peas, broccoli, baby corn, and bamboo shoots. This is a completely different veggie mix from its chicken-based cousin which I had weeks prior; it’s not clear whether the change is a difference between veggies chosen to complement different proteins or an arbitrary potluck selection which changes regularly. There might be onion in there too, but if so it’s minced pretty fine.

How authentically Chinese is it? Much like beef with broccoli, this is a straightforward enough presentation I find it hard to imagine it’s not vaguely similar to some food eaten in China. The protein, vegetables, sauce, and cooking method are all pretty standard parts of the Chinese culinary toolset. I doubt I could match it onto a specific traditional food, because it seems like it’s of a piece with the standard “throw lots of stuff together according to a traditional cooking method” approach to non-fancy food that every cuisine has. I’d venture the Chinese version has a more flavorful sauce, probably with more ginger and garlic. Also, the Chinese are apparently not that big on dishes with a large variety of different vegetables, so a more traditional preparation would likely be pared down to a smaller selection of veggies.

Is it any good? Much like beef with broccoli, it kind of hits a minimal interest level of having essential Chinese flavors without actually being distinguished enough to be a memorable experience in any way. The mshrooms don’t much do it for me, but I do like snow peas. It’s an OK blend of textures and flavors although for my own personal tastes I would probably swap the mushrooms out for cabbage or something. Shrimp is less bland than chicken, so I have a slight preference for this dish over its chickeny cousin on that front.

How does it complement the rice? The sauce was moderately moist; I think shrimp tend to sweat out a bit. I think it might have been a bit thinner than the sauce on the chicken with mixed vegetable. It didn’t quite stretch to flavor all of the rice, but it certainly kept eating the rice from being a dry slog.

Wibble Wednesday: Milk and honey (Isaiah 7)

Back for more! Fell out of the swing; I need better self-discipline.

Short snarky summary: Judah is at war. Isaiah has a vision which is either one of short-term prosperity or is some sort of messianic wankery. Also, there are mistranslation follies to contextualize Christianity.

It looks like the theme of social justice is well-and-truly on the back burner now, to be replaced with murky but peculiarly specific predictions which seem to be about current events. The chronology is a bit whimsical: last chapter was a vision which came to the prophet on the death of Uzziah (a.k.a. Azariah); for this chapter we’ve jumped completely over the sixteen-year reign of Uzziah’s son Jotham, and into the reign of his grandson Ahaz. We aren’t told much in 2 Kings about Jotham, except that he was a good king, built up the temple, and that during his reign the kings of Aram and Israel were starting to show hostility to Judah. Both of these are significant to understanding Ahaz, whose reign is detailed in 2 Kings 16. Notably, Ahaz is emphatically not a good king, and does evil of the idolworshipping variety (including the likely slanderous accusation of sacrificing his own son to Moloch). Meanwhile, the tension with Israel and Aram explodes into outright war, and after fighting the alliance to a stalemate in his own territory, Ahaz appeals to the Assyrians for aid and ends up essentially as an Assyrian vassal state when they come to help out and then forget to leave.

So all in all, Ahaz is regarded as pretty blameworthy. Ignoring the idolworshipping bits, which are not something Isaiah goes berserk over, you still have the unwise political machinations: the bloodshed amongst brothers in the hostilities with Israel, and the subjugation of the state resulting from Ahaz’s appeal to Assyria. Isaiah, one might imagine, would prefer that Ahaz trust in God instead of man. And that is, to some extent, what this chapter is about.

See, in this chapter, Isaiah is commanded by God to meet Ahaz on the road and give him some advice. The advice is basically to be firm, and to not be at all afraid of Aram or of “Ephraim” (Israel is referred to frequently in this chapter as Ephraim. Ephraim is a tribe, but Israel as a whole is more than just the tribe of Ephraim, so I may be missing something here. Samaria is in Ephraim, and the original Israelite king Jeroboam was from Ephraim, so maybe that’s why it lends its name to the nation as a whole). Isaiah refers sneeringly to the Israelite king Pekah as “the son of Remaliah”; apparently simply referring to someone by their father’s name was disrespectful, and he promises that Israel’s power will be broken in sixty-five years (which it is: Assyria conquered Israel during the next king’s rule).

God (through Isaiah, presumably) commands Ahaz to ask for a sin of God’s power and compassion, but Ahaz demurs, out of what appears to be a surfeit of modesty. Instead of praising Ahaz’s unqualified faith, though, Isaiah takes the unwillingness to demand a sign as evidence of a lack of faith, and promises that in spite of Ahaz’s unwillingness God will send a sign anyways: that a young woman will bear a child named Emmanuel, and that before he reaches the age of reason the Judahites will experience plenty while Israel and Aram will be struck down.

This bit of prophecy, with “young woman” (העלמה) translated frequently as “virgin” is foundational to Chriisian messianism (and apparently to a lesser extent Jewish messianism). The odd thing for me is not so much the (potentially inaccurate) presumption that the young woman is a virgin, so much as attaching a much larger historical and theological implication to what seems, in context, to be a limited short-term prophecy about a reversal of fortune in this specific Judah-Israel-Aram conflict. In fact, the important events in this prophecy are all supposed to occur before this child (who is not attributed any remarkable behaviors or powers) reaches maturity! I’m honestly bewildered to discover that one of the primary texts of messianic belief is, on the face of it, not particularly messianic at all.

Anyways, Isaiah’s prophecy is opaque and occasionally ambivalent. The time to come, heralded by Emmanuel, will feature some evil portents, including the coming of insects and bees to plague Judah, and the replacement of prosperous vineyards with thorny wilderness, but there are also bits in the prophecy that seem positive for Judah, such as the prediction that all who are in Judah will have ample animals, enough milk to make curds, and will feast on honey.. And then there are the bits that are just plain wierd, such as the intimation that Assyrians will come and shave some nation’s (Judah’s? Isarel’s? Aram’s? the text is coy about it) head, beard, and pubes. This might be the only mention of pubic hair in the Bible, incidentally.

So in some ways we’re still in trippy wild vision territory here, but this all seems likeit’s meant to be relevant to the immediate conflict. Modern readings of this text (both Jewish and Christian) seem to consider it to be referential to a much wider conflict, however.