This is the final installment in a series of three commentaries on the Book of Isaiah by Blenkinsopp, professor emeritus of biblical studies at the University of Notre Dame. As in the two earlier volumes the author provides a new translation of the text, followed by a lengthy introduction (65 pages) and an extensive, up-to-date bibliography (32 pages). The commentary proper (189 pages) includes a bibliography and translation, as well as text-critical notes and interpretive comments for each subunit of text.
The introduction to the commentary addresses a variety of issues, including Isaiah 56–66 as part of the Book of Isaiah, the chapters’ literary character, their historical context, their formation, the text and ancient versions, the early history of interpretation of Isaiah 56–66, and theological themes. Blenkinsopp’s method is historical-critical; as in earlier volumes he rejects newer canonical approaches such as those of Brevard Childs and Christopher Seitz (pp. 28–29). In agreement with Bernhard Duhm, Blenkinsopp states that Isaiah 56–66 “is a composition or compilation distinct from [Isa.] 40–55” (p. 55); yet chapters 56–66 “are essentially ordered to and dependent on chs. 40–55” (p. 56). While chapters 40–55
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“are concerned primarily with Judah’s place on the international scene,” chapters 56–66 focus “on internal affairs” (p. 30). Departing from Duhm and following Odil Steck, Blenkinsopp concludes that chapters 56–66 “do not come from one hand or from one time period” (p. 59). Nevertheless the chapters are arranged in “a pyramidal structure converging at its apex in 61:1–3” (p. 61). As for the date of origin Blenkinsopp, though aware of “the poverty of our knowledge,” accepts as “a reasonable working hypothesis” the majority opinion that chapters 56–66 originated during the first century of Persian rule over the province of Judah, around 522–424 B.C. (pp. 42–43).
Blenkinsopp sees chapters 56–66 as distinct in origin from chapters 40–55, but he also sees thematic links between the two sections. In the introduction he includes a helpful discussion of key terms that show up in both sections. Throughout the commentary proper he seeks to integrate the two sections by comparison and contrast. For example he understands the appeal to build a roadway in 57:14 as having a “broader and less specific meaning” than in 40:3. Here it is “not just a way of life in general but a way of life in conformity with prophetic example and teaching and, in the context of Isa 40–66, the example and teaching of the Servant-prophet of ch. 53” (p. 169). The juxtaposing of this appeal with the preceding diatribe (57:3–13) indicates “the consolation offered in 40:1 is therefore not unconditional,” but available only to “the contrite and humble faithful of 57:15” (p. 169). Regarding the speaker in 61:1–3 (which in Blenkinsopp’s view is the structural “apex” of these chapters), he concludes that “the voice we are hearing in 61:1–3 is that of a disciple of the Servant [of chapters 40–55] and therefore one of the ‘Servants of YHVH’ of whom we hear later in chs. 65–66” (p. 221). He accepts “in a general sense” John Oswalt’s view of the speaker as “the Messiah-Servant,” but he concludes that there must also be a historical referent (p. 220).
In his treatment of Isaiah 63:1–6 Blenkinsopp downplays similarities to 34:1–17. He argues (p. 249) that Edom in 63:1–6 “is not the victim of the violence described,” but rather the “site of a final annihilating action against hostile nations,” chosen because of Edom’s “paradigmatic status” as Israel’s neighbor, kinsman, and hostile enemy and because Edom is viewed “in heroic poetry” as Yahweh’s original home (cf. Deut. 33:2; Judg. 5:4; Hab. 3:2).
Blenkinsopp’s comments on the reference to divine hardening in 63:17 are brief and inadequate. He points out that the “standard explanation for this kind of language is that God was seen to be responsible for everything . . . so that no distinction is made between the absolute and the permissive will of God (e.g., Amos 3:6).” He then adds that “we should not underestimate the willingness of biblical authors to charge God with indifference to or even complicity in human evildoing, a point made forcibly in Isa 6:9–10 and even more so in the book of Job” (p. 263). Blenkinsopp’s capitulation to monism and the so-called demonic-in-Yahweh viewpoint is disappointing and unjustified. Lindström has challenged and refuted this position. He demonstrates that the texts used to defend the theory (including Amos 3:6) are inappropriately universalized and do not support a monistic reading when examined within their contexts. (See Fredrik Lindström, God and the Origin of Evil: A Contextual Analysis of Alleged Monistic Evidence in the Old Testament [Lund: C. W. K. Gleerup, 1983].) Unfortunately Blenkinsopp does not cite or interact with Lindström’s important work. The hardening mentioned in 63:17, like that of 6:9–10, must be understood within the context of divine discipline for sin.
Blenkinsopp’s higher critical assumptions about the dating of texts are evident in his comments on 65:17–18, which describes a new creation. He states, “While the creation recital of Gen 1:1–2:4a and Isa 65:17–25 may well have been roughly contemporaneous and may well have shared elements of the same Weltanschauung, it has proved impossible to establish with a reasonable degree of assurance a relation of dependence in either direction” (p. 287). He then highlights the differences between the view of creation expressed in Isaiah 40–66 and that of Genesis 1. Blenkinsopp says Isaiah 65:25 is dependent on both 11:6–9 (in an “abbreviated version”) and Genesis 3:14b.
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