Joseph Blenkinsopp Yale University Press 2002-04-16

This is the second in a series of three commentaries on the Book of Isaiah by Blenkinsopp, professor emeritus of biblical studies at the University of Notre Dame. Like the earlier volume, this one provides a new translation of the text, followed by a lengthy introduction (87 pp.) and an extensive, up-to-date bibliography (45 pp.). The commentary proper (198 pp.) includes for each subunit of text a bibliography and translation, as well as text-critical notes and interpretive comments.

The introduction to the commentary addresses a variety of important issues, including Isaiah 40–55 as part of the Book of Isaiah, Isaiah 40–55 as part of the biblical canon, the literary character of Isaiah 40–55, the formation of Isaiah 40–55, the history of interpretation of these chapters, Isaiah 40–55 in its historical context, the theology of these chapters, the text and ancient versions, and hermeneutical method.

As Blenkinsopp explains, his method is historical-critical. He agrees with the traditional higher critical position that these chapters originated in the sixth century B.C. He prefers “the Babylonian diaspora” as the place of origin, though he acknowledges “Neo-Babylonian Judah” as a possibility (p. 104). Taking issue with the conclusions of recent canonical critical analysis of the Book of Isaiah, Blenkinsopp agrees with Hermisson’s conclusion that “the core content of Deutero-Isaiah provides no basis for understanding it as a literary extension . . . and interpretation of First Isaiah” (p. 50). He sees “the hand of a Trito-Isaianic editor” in chapters 49–55 (p. 80).

As for the servant songs, Blenkinsopp understands Cyrus to be the referent in 42:1–7, while a “prophetic figure” takes over Cyrus’s task in 49:1–6 (pp. 77–78). This prophet also speaks in 50:4–9; Blenkinsopp concludes that “there is good reason to identify the voice heard in 49:1–6 and 50:1-9 with the voice of the author, or at least the principal author, of section 40–55” (p. 320). In the fourth song (52:13–53:12) “a co-religionist who had come to believe in the Servant’s mission and message, one who in all probability was a disciple, speaks about the origin and appearance of the Servant, the sufferings he endured, and his heroic and silent submission to death” (p. 349).

A review of this nature can offer only a sampling of Blenkinsopp’s conclusions. He suggests emending ds,j, in 40:6, arguing that it “does not make good sense” here (p. 178). However, the term makes perfectly good sense here; the reliability of God’s promise is contrasted with frail humankind and their unreliable promises. His comments on the problematic “covenant of the people” in 42:6 are cursory. He concludes that the referent of “people” is “general and universal” here, but is then reapplied to Israel in 49:6, 8 (p. 212). He regards “Israel” in 49:3 as an “early gloss” because it creates an apparent inconsistency with verses 5–6 (p. 298). But is it not possible that the servant is an idealized “Israel” who delivers blind, exiled Israel from its darkness?

The fourth servant song presents many textual and interpretive challenges; unfortunately Blenkinsopp devotes only twelve pages to the passage. He interprets the language of 53:8–11, traditionally understood to refer to the servant’s death and resurrection, to mean that the servant’s mission “will be continued and carried to fruition through his disciples” (p. 355). He emends the difficult µyciT; in 53:10 to a Qal passive µc'Tu and translates the clause, “if his life is laid down as a guilt offering” (pp. 346, 348). He translates qyDIx]y" in 53:11 as “will vindicate” (p. 346), a meaning attested for a Hiphil form of this verb in 50:8. Yet he does not adequately present or interact with other options such as “declare innocent,” a meaning attested for the Hiphil of qdx in at least five other texts, or “make righteous, lead to righteousness,” the meaning of the verb in Daniel 12:3, the only other passage where the verb is collocated with “the many.”

Blenkinsopp translates dwId: ydes]j' in 55:3 as “the tokens of faithful love shown to David” (p. 367). Once again the discussion of the syntax and meaning of the phrase is cursory (p. 370). He concludes that the text does not envision the restoration of the Davidic dynasty. Rather, “what is promised is that the hearers will experience the same tokens of God’s faithful love . . . that God performed in former times on behalf of David.” He then adds, “The reference is therefore not to deeds performed by David himself on behalf of his people but to God’s gratuitous acts of favor toward David” (p. 370).