Blake Couey – Reading Isaiah’s Poetry

Episode: Biblical poetry can be tough going. It doesn’t rhyme, doesn’t have meter, and it comes from an ancient culture. But it makes up some 27% of the Bible! In this first of two episodes on biblical poetry, Matt L. talks with J. Blake Couey, who is a reliable guide through the challenging waters of ancient Hebrew poetry, and who brings listeners his infectious appreciation for the prophetic poetry of Isaiah 1-39. Matt and Blake discuss the (fairly) recent discovery of how biblical poetry works, prophecy, and much more from Blake’s book book Reading the Poetry of First Isaiah: The Most Perfect Model of the Prophetic Poetry (Oxford University Press, 2015).

Guest: Blake is Associate Professor in Religion at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota. He teaches in the area of Hebrew Bible. His courses include an introduction to the Bible and upper-level courses on prophets, women and gender in the Bible, and biblical conceptions of God. He is also affiliated with the Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies and Comparative Literature programs. Blake’s primary research interests are Biblical Hebrew poetry and prophetic literature, with a focus on the book of Isaiah. In addition to, Reading the Poetry of First Isaiah he is co-author with Elaine James of Close Readings: Biblical Poetry and The Tasks of Interpretation (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming).

BookReading the Poetry of First Isaiah (Oxford University Press, 2015) provides a literary and historical study of the prophetic poetry of First Isaiah, an underappreciated but highly sophisticated collection of poems in the Hebrew Bible. Informed by recent developments in biblical studies and broader trends in the study of poetry, Dr J. Blake Couey articulates a fresh account of Biblical Hebrew poetry and argues that careful attention to poetic style is crucial for the interpretation of these texts. Discussing lineation, he explains that lines serve important rhetorical functions in First Isaiah, but the absence of lineated manuscripts from antiquity makes it necessary to defend proposed line divisions using criteria such as parallelism, rhythm, and syntax. He examines poetic structure, and highlights that parallelism and enjambment create a sense of progression between individual lines, which are tightly joined to form couplets, triplets, quatrains, and occasionally even longer groups. Later, Dr Couey treats imagery and metaphor in First Isaiah. A striking variety of images-most notably agricultural and animal imagery-appear in diverse contexts in these poems, often with rich figurative significance. – From the publisher’s site.

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