donderdag 21 februari 2013

Review of: Joseph Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 56–66: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB 19B), Doubleday, 2003; in: Irish Theological Quarterly

Joseph Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 56–66: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB 19B), Doubleday, 2003.

Review in: Irish Theological Quarterly 2006 71: 353
Review door: Michael Maher
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Isaiah 56–66: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (The Anchor Bible, vol. 19B).
By Joseph Blenkinsopp. New York: Doubleday, 2003.
Pp. Xvi+348. Price $45.00. ISBN 0-385-50174-9.

Having published commentaries on Isaiah 1–39 (2000) and Isaiah 40–55 (2002) Professor Blenkinsopp brings his Anchor Bible commentary on the whole Book of Isaiah to a conclusion with this masterful exposition of the chapters that have been known as Trito-Isaiah since the time of Bernhard Duhm (1892). As one would expect, he follows the same method of presentation as in the two earlier volumes. He begins by offering the reader a new translation of the eleven chapters that are the focus of his attention in this volume. He divides the text into twenty-five sections of different lengths and he supplies each section with an appropriate heading. The text is presented as recitative verse, a term which, as Blenkinsopp says in his first volume, allows for variations in rhythmic regularity and cadence. The translation of each section is printed again at the point where the commentary on that particular section begins, this time with the addition of a number of textual notes to explain Blenkinsopp’s choice of this or that reading. I would describe the translation as both literal and literary, in the sense that the translator remains very close to the original Hebrew while providing us with a fluent text that reads well. Blenkinsopp’s translation of one particular word in 59:2b attracted my attention in a special way. His rendering is, ‘Your sins have concealed the Face from me.’ The ancient versions (Targum, Syr., Vulg. LXX) and modern translations have, ‘Your sins have concealed his face from me.’ Blenkinsopp retains the MT panim, ‘face,’ which he understands as a technical term for God’s presence. This interpretation of ‘face’ in 59:2b has been proposed before, but it seems to me to be less than convincing.

The translation of chapters 56–66 is followed by an introduction of more than sixty pages. This begins with a short account of the history of the interpretation of Isaiah 56–66 since the time of Duhm, and with a consideration of the relationship of chapters 56–66 to chapters 40–55 and 1–39. It is Blenkinsopp’s view that, ‘In subject matter, tone, and emphasis chapters 56–66 are distinct enough to warrant separate treatment, yet they belong on the same textual and exegetical continuum as chapters 40–55.’ Indeed, he asserts that chapters 56–66 can be read as ‘an exegetical extension or Fortschreibung of 40–45.’ The relationship of chapters 56–66 to 1–39 is much less clear. In terms of the great general themes, all sections of Isaiah have much in common. But there are relatively few sayings in 56–66 that betray familiarity with sayings in 1–39 that are deemed by most commentators to be proto-Isaianic. In discussing the literary character of chapters 56–66 Blenkinsopp states that the influence of Deuteronomic language and theology can easily be detected in these chapters. From the point of view of literary quality he does not rate this section of Isaiah very highly. These chapters are not belles lettres, but polemical writings designed to advance particular causes and to make an impact on the course of events. With regard to the structuring of the text, Blenkinsopp makes his own the commonly accepted view that chapters60–62 form the central core of Trito-Isaiah. These chapters are quite distinctfrom the four chapters that precede them and the four that follow. In trying to establish a date for the composition of Isa 56–66 Blenkinsopp gives special consideration to the ‘abadim of 65:13–14 and the haredim, ‘tremblers,’ who are mentioned four times in Isa 66 and Ezra 9–10. His discussion of the fortunes of the ‘tremblers’ allows him to conclude, if only provisionally and tentatively, that Isa 65–66 reflect the situation in the province of Judah from shortly before the activity of Ezra (458) to the arrival of Nehemiah (445). Apart from these two chapters (65–66) and a few other scribal addenda, the rest of the material in chapters 56–66 would be earlier.

Blenkinsopp believes that one should use both the synchronic and diachronic approaches when discussing the arrangement of Isa 56–66 as they have come down to us. He himself discovers the outline of a pyramidal structure in these chapters with chapters 60–62 forming the apex of the pyramid. Extending out in both directions from this apex he finds a series of parallel passages moving toward the base. Thus 59:15b-20 is parallel to 63:1–6; 59:1–15a parallels 63:7–64:11; 56:9–58:14 is parallel to 65:1–16; finally, 56:1–8, the opening verses of Trito-Isaiah, is parallel to 66:18–24, with which it ends, and these two blocks form the base of the pyramid. He admits that few if any of these parallels are completely symmetrical. But the structure does allow us to conclude that the diverse material of chapters 56–66 has been deliberately arranged according to an aesthetic and thematic plan. This understanding of the structure of Trito-Isaiah is ingenious, and although it may not convince everyone, it has the merit of offering a plausible theory about the literary composition of those chapters.

Blenkinsopp believes that Isa 56–66 depend on and borrow from chapters 40–55. His explanation of the dependence is that individual texts from 40–45 were taken over, expanded and adapted by later readers and writers who believed that Deutero-Isaiah’s message was still relevant. The numerous similarities between Isa 40–66 and the Deuteronomic corpus indicate that those who handed on, developed, and reinterpreted the ideas of chapters 40–55 that are incorporated in 56–66, belonged to the Deuteronomic school in the period after the destruction of Jerusalem. This process of handing on and developing earlier traditions is what Blenkinsopp calls Fortschreibung.

In a short section in which he discusses the Hebrew text and the ancient versions of Isa 56–66, Blenkinsopp argues that the text of these chapters has been well preserved and that he found few instances in which emendationof the Masoretic text seemed to be called for. After a short section (pp.71–76) on Isa 56–66 in Jewish-Christian polemic and in early Christianity, Blenkinsopp goes on to discuss aspects of theology in these chapters. Since Trito-Isaiah is to be dated in the period following the return from the  Babylonian exile it was addressed to a people who were in a state of disorientation and disillusionment. It is apparent from these chapters that religious observance among the people was merely formal. There was rampant injustice, murders were frequent, the poor were neglected, and syncretistic rites were being practised. Isa 56–66 respond to this discouraging situation, addressing the people in a homiletic style that is strongly influenced by the Deuteronomists. The monarchy had come to an end at this time and there were large settlements of Jews in Babylon and in Egypt. Trito-Isaiah addresses Jews everywhere as God’s holy people (62:12), and foreigners and eunuchs are accepted as members of the community (56:1–7). This final section of Isaiah also gives us important insights into the piety of the early post-exilic period when prayer was beginning to gain prominence at the expense of sacrifice.

Following the extensive and informative introduction, Blenkinsopp supplies the reader with a rich bibliography that covers the period from T.K. Cheyne’s commentary in 1882 to an article by A.S. van der Woude in 1999. This brings us to the commentary proper which deals in turn with each of the twenty-five sections into which, as earlier stated, Blenkinsopp divides the text of Isa 56–66. The commentary on each section begins with a bibliography that is relevant to that particular section, and this is followed by Blenkinsopp’s translation of the verses in question. As noted already, the translation of each section is accompanied by judicious textual notes. One important feature of the commentary is the way in which Blenkinsopp draws attention to the stylistic, linguistic, and thematic characteristics that link Trito-Isaiah with both Isa 1–39 and especially with chapters 40–55. He also enters into dialogue with many scholars who have contributed to the study of Isaiah, and he gives a fair hearing to proponents of theories that he may reject. In discussing Isa 56:1–8 Blenkinsopp writes that, ‘The passage is coherent and well organized and makes its point elegantly and economically.’ The same can be said of Blenkinsopp’s commentary. He too makes his points elegantly and economically. He has shown sensitivity to the historical, literary, and theological issues that are raised by Isa 56–66, and has given us a commentary that is well informed, balanced, reliable and readable.

Mater Dei Institute,

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