Isaiah and Job

Basel's dance of death, forside
Bible quotes and preacher (Büchel, 1773)
Büchel, Preacher

The dance starts with quotes from Isaiah and the Book of Job.

The Bible texts have presumably been a part of the mural, as shown by Büchels watercolour (picture to the right). These Bible texts also introduce the dance in the oldest printed text, Huldreich Frölich, as well as the oldest manuscript, Iselin.(1)

In contrast there are neither Bible quotes nor preacher in Kleinbasel, which raises the question whether the Bible quotes were a part of the original mural, or if they were added in 1568 when Hans Kluber renovated the mural.

Warnung Esaie am 40. Capitul.
ES spricht der Prophet Esaias,
Daß alles Fleisch ist Höw und Graß,
Sein Schöne wie die Blum im Feld,
Das Graß verdorrt, die Blum wird welck:
Vergleichts Volck dem Graß auff der Heyd,
Wanns HERRN Athem sie anwäyt,
Die Blum verreißt, das Graß verdorrt,
Doch bleibt in Ewigkeit sein Wort.
Isaiah' warning in chapter 40
The Prophet Isaiah says
that all flesh is like hay and grass.
Its beauty is like the flower in the field,
the grass withers, the flower fades.
He compares people with the grass on the heath,
when the spirit of the Lord blows on them.
The flower is carried off, the grass withers.
Yet his word shall stand for ever.

The above is a paraphrase of Isaiah 40:6-8. From a Christian point of view, chapter 40 of Isajah is very interesting. Verse 3 is about the voice crying in the wilderness »The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God«. Precisely the quote that introduces the oldest gospel, namely Mark. Verse 9 is about »Zion, that bringest good tidings, […] Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings«, where the word for "good tidings" in the Greek textual tradition, the Septuagint, is "evangelion" i.e. gospel.

Trost des Jobs am 19. Capitel.
Ich weiß daß mein Heyland thut leben
Christus, der mir hats Leben geben,
Wird mich auß der Erden erwecken,
Mein Gebein mit der Haut bedecken:
Und wird mein Fleisch GOtt lebend sehen,
Mit meinen Augen wirds geschehen.
Job's comfort in chapter 19
I know my Saviour makes alive.
Christ who gave me the life,
will awaken me from the earth,
cover my bones with skin,
and my flesh will see God alive
This will happen with my eyes.

The quotes from the Book of Job are a bit strange. First of all, there's obviously no mention of "Christ" in the Old Testament.

And if you check the Book of Job chapter 19, most Bible translations say the opposite of Christ covering Job's bones with skin: »And though after my skin worms destroy this body« (KJV). A few translations also say the opposite of Job expecting to see God from his flesh: »And after my skin, even this body, is destroyed, Then without my flesh shall I see God« (ASV). However the Catholic Douay-Rheims has a text that fits the bill: »And I shall be clothed again with my skin, and in my flesh I shall see my God«.

These verses — along with further selections from the Book of Job — were used in the "Officium mortuorum" (office of the dead) in medieval books of hours.

Finally comes the saying: »Was lebt, Das stirbt durch Adams Noth. Was stirbt, Das lebt durch Christi Todt.«, which is a slight rewrite of 1. Chorinthians 15:22: »For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.«. You might check the page about the Original Sin.


Footnote: (1)

Iselin . . .: handwriting from 1577 by Ludwig Iselin that contains the full text from the mural; transcription by Mischa von Perger in Totentanz-Studien, pp. 93-132.