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ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 52, 2004

Joseph Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 56–66. Anchor Bible. (New York: Doubleday, 2003). Pp. Xvi + 348. $US45.00.

It is a pleasure to find a commentary dealing with Isaiah 56–66 in detail after a dearth of works in this area from English writers over the last two decades. The first third of the book gives the new translation, background to the formation of Isa 56–66, its literary character, theology and a comprehensive bibliography. The new translation makes it easier to read in English, and on the whole keeps the integrity of the Hebrew language (v.1, instead of “to come” the author has “near at hand”; “my deliverance” instead of “my righteousness”). On the other hand, I think the use of “an utterance of the Sovereign Lord YHVH,” instead of the usual “Thus says the Lord God,” is not helpful. Joseph Blenkinsopp thinks Isa 56–66 is the result of redactional activity rather than the result of authorial activity (p.37). He maintains that the content is disparate and any aesthetic effect is by accident rather than design (p.37). I think this is an arbitrary division because authors are involved in redactional activity. Blenkinsopp acknowledges that the material in Isa 56–66 comes from different periods of Israel’s history, but he maintains the decisive influence can be traced to the Deuteronomists. I do not think he produces enough evidence to back up this claim and his examples can be explained by the use of traditions from Israel’s literature.

In his exploration of historical clues in Isa 56–66, he takes the example of haredim (tremblers) and explores its use in Ezra 9–10 with the conclusion that the latter part of Isa 56–66 comes from the “same historical and social situation, but from different perspectives” (p.53). His argument could have been strengthened if he had explored the use of nacar (foreigner)and badal (separate) and the results could support a literary reading that suggest the final composition for the whole of Isa 56–66 comes from around 400 BCE. Blenkinsopp gets caught into the old redactional need to date the various parts of Isa 56–66 to certain historical situations that can result in as many as eight different periods or as little as two or three. In his summary, Blenkinsopp recognises that Isa 56–66 depicts a conflict between groups, but acknowledges that we have no record after Ezra-Nehemiah about the fate of the group who was facing exclusion (Isa 56:1–8; 66:2).

I think it is a helpful reminder in his section on theology that the Hebrew Scriptures are not talking about theoretical considerations, but about responses to concrete historical situations within the Yahwistic relationship.

The commentary proper has a helpful structure in that there is a list of books and articles dealing with the following text at the start. This eliminates footnotes and the difficulty of finding endnotes at the end of the book. In his “Comments,” section Blenkinsopp mentions possible redactional activity and the theological implications for a particular community. While I may not agree with his conclusions, it is helpful to have the theology grounded and he is thorough in his coverage of the major issues.  This volume is an excellent addition to libraries and for those people who want to study the Hebrew Scriptures.

Review by
Anna Grant-Henderson
Adelaide College of Divinity/Flinders University of SA
34 Lipsett Terrace
Brooklyn Park SA 5032, Australia