Original Research - Special Collection: Septuagint

The naked truth or prophecy as folly? A performative interpretation of Isaiah 20

Hendrik L. Bosman
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 78, No 1 | a7612 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v78i1.7612 | © 2022 Hendrik L. Bosman | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 06 April 2022 | Published: 15 June 2022

About the author(s)

Hendrik L. Bosman, Department of Old and New Testament, Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa


How does one make sense of a naked prophet who walked the streets of Jerusalem for no less than three years? This contribution interpreted the ambulatory naked prophet in Isaiah 20 as a sign-act by means of symbolic interactionism and performative interpretation according to which symbolic or sign-acts are multivalent entities. Isaiah 20 was interpreted as an embodied, multivalent text that invited ongoing appropriation among subsequent audiences while exploring the potential meaning(s) of the initial act within the parameters of text and context. It is presupposed that human beings reinterpret symbolic acts in different subsequent contexts and that a symbolic act should never be reduced to one single (original!) meaning – this reinterpretation process is illustrated by the Septuagint translation of Isaiah 20. Furthermore, the question will be posed how one could interpret and appropriate a disruptive and ‘foolish’ prophetic and symbolic act of public exposure – Isaiah as an ‘agent provocateur’?

Contribution: The performative critique of Isaiah 20 drew attention to the neglected multivalent character of the initial sign-act that enabled ongoing appropriations (‘Fortschreibung’) in new contexts of competing power relations. At first the sign-act was relevant for its pre-exilic audience, then for the post-exilic and even later for a Hellenistic audience by means of the Septuagint version. It also illustrated that text interpretation can be a catalyst that unsettles and disrupts power (within and beyond academic and believing communities), even when it is considered folly.


Isaiah 20; prophecy; sign-acts; performative criticism; symbolic interactionism; Fortschreibung


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