Textual Issue (sample)

Isa 53:11, plus, see 'light'

A rendering similar to 'he will see light' is recommended where MT has 'he will see.' The word אור 'light' is attested in three Qumran scrolls, 1QIsaa, 1QIsab, and 4QIsad, and 'light' (φῶς) is likewise found in the Septuagint. The Qumran evidence is particularly significant, since 1QIsab differs from MT in relatively few places, so few that it exemplifies the proto-MT or early rabbinic text. Thus we have agreement between proto-MT and the Hebrew behind the Septuagint, not to mention the other two scrolls. If we accept יראה אור 'he will see light' as original, an explanation of why some manuscripts lack the word אור suggests itself. Due to the visual similarity of יראה and אור, a scribe could have written יראה then glanced back to the wrong place in the exemplar, mistaking אור for the word just copied, and thus omitted אור by accident.


MT מֵעֲמַ֤ל נַפְשׁוֹ֙ יִרְאֶ֣ה יִשְׂבָּ֔ע , lit. 'from the travail of his soul he will see he will be satisfied,' is initially puzzling. In particular, the verb יִרְאֶ֣ה seems to lack an object--he will see what? Two scrolls from Qumran cave 1, 1QIsaa, 1QIsab, and one from cave 4, 4QIsad read יראה אור 'he will see light.' Attestation in the scrolls helps to confirm the assumption that the word אור 'light' was also present in the Hebrew text that was before the translators of the Greek Septuagint, where we read δεῖξαι αὐτῷ φῶς, 'to show him light.' The Revised CATSS (Tov-Polak 2004) indicates that the Greek text probably reflects a different vocalization of יראה, which would explain why the sense of the Greek is 'to show him' rather than 'he will see.' Other ancient sources, the Syriac Peshitta, the Aramaic Targums, and the Latin Vulgate reflect the Masoretic text.

In their comments, Keil and Delitzsch accept MT, rendering 'he will see' without an object, and Kutscher (Isaiah Scroll, 433, Heb.) sites the distribution of the plus (אור 'light') without further comment. He does however note that Seeligman (Tarbiz 27) regarded the plus as secondary. BHS is also matter-of-fact in citing the plus and the texts that contain it, whereas the earlier BHK had recommended it ("ins c G אוֹר," insert אוֹר 'light' on the evidence of the Septuagint), even before any of the Qumran scrolls had been discovered. HALOT records a clear preference for the plus, as do HPR (Vol. 4, 146), CTAT (Vol. 2, 403-407), and de Waard (Isaiah, 196-97).

Translations are nearly unanimous in seeking an explicit object for the verb יראה, even when the plus is not adopted. KJV and a number of others construe the opening phrase of the verse מֵעֲמַ֤ל נַפְשׁוֹ֙ 'from the travail of his soul' as the object of יִרְאֶ֣ה 'he will see.' A typical rendering is thus 'he shall see of the travail of his soul' but some translations that follow essentially the same strategy are different on the surface. For example, NET has 'Having suffered, he will reflect on his work.' NASB and NJPS have 'it' as the object of see. ESV, however, renders without an object, 'Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied.'

Translations that adopt the variant attested in three scrolls from Qumran and the Septuagint include JB, NJB, NAB, NEB, REB, NIV, TEV, and NRSV. Of these, NIV, TEV, and NRSV can be regarded as moderately eclectic, less quick to adopt non-MT variants than some other translations. NRSV provides a fairly literal rendering, 'Out of his anguish he shall see light.'


Only in a relatively small number of places does the scroll 1QIsab differ substantively from MT. It is a prime example of the proto-MT group. That it does so here, sharing the plus אור 'light' with 1QIsaa, 4QIsad, and the Septuagint, adds significant weight to an argument for the authenticity and originality of this "variant." In addition, a text with the reading יראה אור is liable to suffer in transmission due to the graphic similarity of these two words. Perhaps we should allow that the second word has indeed dropped out accidentally (through haplography) in some witnesses, including MT. That the resulting reading in MT is not "impossible" allows a number of translations (ancient and modern) to render it. With אור 'light' the text is more natural in both structure and meaning.

Among the translations sampled, there are two noteworthy progressions. First, the KJV 'He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied' is revised in the NKJV 'He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.' It seems that the NKJV simply improves the English of the KJV by removing 'of,' leaving 'the labor of His soul' as direct object of 'see.' Comparing the NKJV to the Hebrew one notes that the translation is now smoother than the source. We sometimes refer to this as amelioration, by which we mean 'improvement.'

Second, NRSV has been noted to be somewhat less inclined to depart from MT than its predecessor, RSV. In this case, however, NRSV moves away from MT where RSV had followed it. It would seem that this contrary motion should be attributed to the weight of the evidence, perhaps the Qumran evidence in particular (the RSV reflects some readings from 1QIsaa but was completed before the full implications of the scrolls could be taken into account).

Common Text
יִרְאֶה אוֹר (vqi3ms ראה; ncmsa אוֹר) 'he will see light'