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Australian Biblical Review


ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 57, 2009

ØYSTEIN LUND, Way Metaphors and Way Topics in Isaiah 40–55 (FAT 2/28; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007). Pp. xv + 331. Softback. €59.00.

This study by Øystein Lund questions a well established view that many of the ‘way’ passages in Isaiah 40–55 refer to a literal second Exodus or new Exodus from Babylon to Jerusalem. Lund proposes instead that these passages are better interpreted as providing a coherent message concerning the “way-situation” of the people and the call to return to the ways of YHWH (3). Although the proposed reading does not exclude a more literal application to a new Exodus, this is seen as secondary. Rather, the primary message of these texts, and indeed these chapters in Isaiah, is seen as an invitation to the audience to renew their relationship with YHWH that has been severely tested by the destruction of Jerusalem.

Lund begins with the divergent observations of those scholars who reject the mainstream view that the primary referent in the way passages is the new Exodus. Lund’s method, which is presented in Chapter 2, relies on an analysis of how metaphors are constructed in terms of their source domain (background of the imagery used) and target domain (object of the applied imagery). A reader completes the metaphor based on their knowledge of language and social convention and the context in which the metaphor is used. Lund then identifies all the passages in Isaiah 40–55 that use ‘way’ imagery, including several that are not normally interpreted as referring to the new Exodus (Chapter 3). The majority of the study (Chapters 4–13) is devoted to exploring ten of these passages in detail: Isa 40:1–11; 40:27–31; 42:18–25; 43:1–7; 43:16–21; 48:17–22; 49:7–12; 53:6; 55:6–13.

Key elements of Lund’s alternative interpretation can be found in his analysis of Isa 40:1–11; 40:27–31; and 55:6–13. Reference to the desert in 40:3 uses conventional figurative language to describe the difficult situation faced by the people rather than a literal desert between Babylon and Jerusalem. The arrival of YHWH and the announcement of comfort and forgiveness provide the transformation out of this situation. The central problem addressed in these chapters, according to Lund, is voiced in 40:27 as the people complain that their way (i.e. situation) is being ignored by YHWH. The following response offers an alternative vision—YHWH is fully capable of meeting the needs of the people if they will wait on YHWH. These two themes—the situation of the people and the response of YHWH to lead the people on a new way—are explored and developed through the rest of Chapters 40–55. These themes reach a climax in 55:6–13 as the people are invited to turn back to the ways of YHWH who will transform their desert situation and bless them.

This book challenges a long held interpretation of Isaiah 40–55. Hence it is both refreshing and disturbing at the same time. One strength of the study is its desire to seek a coherent interpretation of all the ‘way’ passages, not just those considered to speak of the new Exodus. Lund thus provides a satisfying reading of this entire section of Isaiah and shows how the ‘way’ works as a connecting thread. Its analysis of metaphor and related use of language conventions is also helpful, with frequent comparison with similar use in the Psalms and the prophetic writings of Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

After reading the book some questions remain. Lund rarely addresses why the majority of scholars have interpreted these passages in a particular way (i.e. new Exodus). The focus on Cyrus and the rebuilding of Jerusalem, for instance, do not neatly fit into Lund’s interpretation. While the work is strong on language and lexical issues it does not address the social context or apparent exilic provenance of these writings. Hence it is hard to reach a firm conclusion about which interpretation better explains the evidence. In order to push his interpretation, Lund tends to read all the metaphors in the same direction as addressing the one problem (i.e. Isa 40:27). A both/and approach may work better, with metaphors denoting both a return to the ways of YHWH and a physical return to Jerusalem. The case of the Qumran community is interesting here—their focus was on turning to the ways of YHWH through intensive study of Torah but they interpreted Isa 40:3 in a literal sense and so located their community in the desert.

Overall, this study provides a well argued challenge to the accepted wisdom of Isaiah scholarship. It highlights the importance of a theme that runs throughout Isaiah 40–55 and which is also found in other Jewish writings of the era. The study also highlights the importance and care needed in interpreting metaphors.

Review by
Peter Mallen
Uniting Church
Centre for Theology and Ministry
Melbourne VIC