Original Research

Isaiah 5: A prophetic critique of economic proportion

Jacqueline N. Grey
Verbum et Ecclesia | Vol 39, No 1 | a1845 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v39i1.1845 | © 2018 Jacqueline Nancye Grey | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 12 February 2018 | Published: 05 September 2018

About the author(s)

Jacqueline N. Grey, Department of Biblical and Ancient Studies, University of South Africa, South Africa; and, Department of Theology, Alphacrucis College, Australia


The text of Isaiah 5 describes a rapidly changing society in 8th-century BCE Judah. This shift is driven by forces such as increased international trade, the clash of urbanisation and agrarianism, and the rise of the urban elites. These changes have direct correlation with the transforming economic environment of that period. Yet scholars have paid little attention to the economic realities reflected in the message of the prophet Isaiah. This article explores the context of Isaiah 5 through an engagement with economic theory. While recognising the dilemmas in the adoption of tools from contemporary economic theory to analyse an ancient society, this article utilises game theory to shed light on the historical and cultural background to the text. By applying the ‘prisoner’s dilemma’ it explores the ‘deal’ being offered by the prophet to the Judahite leaders in Isaiah 5: 8–24. In particular, the article looks at rational choice and the self-interested basis of decision-making to draw insights from the text by highlighting the conflicts of interest for the wealthy elite of Isaiah 5.

Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: This research relates to the disciplines of Old Testament Studies and Economic Theory. The focus is applying economic theory to the biblical text of Isaiah 5.


Old Testament; Isaiah; prophet; latifundia; Game Theory


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