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Of Dead Kings and Dirges: Myth and Meaning in Isaiah 14:4b-21
R. Mark Shipp, Shipp
AcBib 11
Publication Date
December 2002


065011P-ShippIsaiah 14:4b–21 has plagued scholars for many years. Neither its form nor its mythological content have been adequately explored or explained. This study argues that the form of this passage is that of the royal dirge, known from texts from Ugarit and Mesopotamia, and that the entire poem should be understood as “mythological.” “Day star son of dawn,” helel ben shahar, is a star associated with kingship in Mesopotamia, close to (“son of”) the Ishtar star in the heavens. Other mythological imagery abounds in the passage, such as the Rephaim, probably dead kings, and the motifs of ascent and descent. In this parody of a dirge, Isaiah 14 uses the mythology and ideology of the royal dirge to mock the King of Babylon.

R. Mark Shipp is Associate Professor of Old Testament at the Institute for Christian Studies in Austin, Texas.