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I first posted this here, at Mi Yodeya, but they seem to feel it's off-topic. Happily for me, someone still gave an answer that allowed me to improve the question considerably. I've adapted the question somewhat for this site.

tl;dr

The Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) version of Isaiah permits us to read Isaiah 52:14 as describing a servant whose appearance was 'anointed' beyond human semblance, rather than the familiar 'marred'. The Targum seems to support this, and early Christians saw the servant as a prophecy of the Messiah (i.e. the anointed one). Should we prefer this reading?

Details

English translations of Isaiah 52, based on the Hebrew of the Masoretic Text (MT), describe the servant as 'marred', or similar.

Isaiah 52:14 (NASB; MT)

Just as many were appalled at you, My people, So His appearance was marred beyond that of a man, And His form beyond the sons of mankind.

כַּאֲשֶׁ֨ר שָׁמְמ֤וּ עָלֶ֙יךָ֙ רַבִּ֔ים כֵּן־מִשְׁחַ֥ת מֵאִ֖ישׁ מַרְאֵ֑הוּ וְתֹאֲר֖וֹ מִבְּנֵ֥י אָדָֽם

The word translated as 'marred' is מִשְׁחַת = MIShḤAT. The Great Isaiah Scroll (GIS) found at Qumran has one extra letter at the end of this word compared to the MT, making משחתי, which could be read either as MIShḤAT = 'marred' again, or as MAShAḤTI = 'I anointed'.

Isaiah 52:14 (NASB, modified by me)

Just as many were appalled at you, My people, So His appearance I anointed beyond that of a man, And His form beyond the sons of mankind.

This reading appears to be supported by the Targum Jonathan (TJ; a First Century CE Aramaic paraphrase) version of the previous verse, which identifies the servant as the Messiah/anointed one.

Isaiah 52:13 (TJ translation by Reverend C.W.H. Pauli, hereafter RP; TJ)

Behold, my servant the Messiah shall prosper, He shall be exalted and extolled, and He shall be very strong.

הָא יַצְלַח עַבְדִי מְשִׁיחָא יְרוּם וְיִסְגֵי וְיִתְקוֹף לַחֲדָא

To anoint someone's appearance beyond that of a human seems to imply glorification, and this also seems to be supported by the Targum.

Isaiah 53:3 (RP; TJ)

His visage shall not be the visage of a common person, neither His fear the fear of a plebeian; but a holy brightness shall be His brightness, that everyone who seeth Him shall contemplate Him.

בְּכֵן יְהֵי לְבוּסְרָן וְיִפְסִיק יְקָר כָּל מַלְכְּוָתָא יְהוֹן חֲלָשִׁין וְדָוָן הָא כֶּאֱנַשׁ כֵּיבִין וּמְזוּמַן לְמַרְעִין וּכְמָא דַהֲוַת מְסַלְקָא אַפֵּי שְׁכִנְתָּא מִנָנָא בְסִירִין וְלָא חֲשִׁיבִין

Motivation

This question is prompted by reading Margaret Barker's book, Temple Mysticism - An Introduction (ISBN-13: 978-0281056347).

Caveats and acknowledgements

I don't read Hebrew or Aramaic and haven't read the Targum extensively. I relied on copy-and-paste to quote Hebrew script so, while I tried to copy accurately, I'm unlikely to spot any mistakes I made. Transliterations are from the erudite answer of Mi Yodeya user magicker72, to whom I'm indebted. The original research is Barker's. I of course recognise that the Targum is not canonical, and use it only as a source of insight into how 1st Century Jews understood Isaiah.

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  • Margaret Baker is well-known for her very "creative" (and IMHO, far-fetched at times) interpretations
    – Dottard
    Dec 6, 2021 at 21:30
  • @Dottard I agree her ideas are pretty distinctive. That's part of my reason for wanting to test them out with you guys.
    – mjc
    Dec 6, 2021 at 21:32

2 Answers 2

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The operative word here is מִשְׁחָת (mishchath) for which the BDB meaning is listed below. The word only occurs twice in the OT and moth times means "marred" or "disfigured", ie, Isa 52:14, Lev 22:25.

"Annointing" is done with oil and there is no connection or association with oil in Isa 52:13, 14. Such a meaning here would be out of place because it is dicussing one whom observes are shock at seeing. This is confirmed by the Hebrew parallelism:

Just as many were appalled at Him—

His appearance was disfigured beyond that of any man,

and His form was marred beyond human likeness—

APPENDIX - Brown-Driver-Briggs meaning of מִשְׁחָת

מִשְׁחַת noun [masculine] disfigurement of face Isaiah 52:14.

מָשְׁחָת noun [masculine] corruption (ritual), Leviticus 22:25 (H).

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  • With respect to oil, is oil normally mentioned close to the word 'anointed'? For instance, Gen 31:13 has "you anointed a pillar", but doesn't seem to mention oil nearby. With respect to the observers' shock, isn't that consistent with witnessing superhuman glory? BDB lists 'stunned', 'stupefied' and 'awestruck' for שָׁמֵם = ShAMEM (studylight.org/lexicons/eng/hebrew/08074.html), which your translation gives as 'appalled'. With respect to parallelism, are there two separate verbs/verbal adjectives, 'disfigured' and 'marred' in the Hebrew? I only see one.
    – mjc
    Dec 6, 2021 at 22:20
  • @mjc - your last sentence is correct but a second use of the same verb is implied by the Hebrew construction as most versions give.
    – Dottard
    Dec 6, 2021 at 22:32
  • Sure; I don't object to translating the one verb twice, but if that's a parallelism then so is "Just as many were awestruck at Him - His appearance was anointed beyond that of any man, and His form was anointed beyond human likeness", no?
    – mjc
    Dec 6, 2021 at 22:39
  • @mjc - that is the problem - anointed is not a verb of degree - one is either anointed or not and so cannot be more or less anointed! It is the very construction of degree - "more marred" or "more disfigured" is what makes anointing an impossible meaning.
    – Dottard
    Dec 6, 2021 at 22:44
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    @Dottard—Read the following from Charles Spurgeon. In particular, “We know that the anointing received by our Lord Jesus Christ was the resting of the Spirit of God upon him without measure.” Because Jesus Christ had the Holy Spirit without measure (cf. John 3:34), the Holy Spirit — “the oil of gladness” — is the anointing Jesus Christ had more than his brothers, because none of his brothers (i.e., Christians) has ever had the Holy Spirit without measure. Dec 11, 2021 at 20:34
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Either way it is a prophecy concerning the Messiah. And as we read on we read "..He is despised and forsaken of men, a man of pain and acquainted with sickness... He was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.." So 'marred' fits but also 'anointed' fits just as well, to me the passage has the same meaning either way.

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