Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 16 (2016) - Review
In a revised version of his doctoral thesis (supervised by Dr. Philip Jenson and Dr. Gordon Wenham at the University of Bristol), Abraham Sung-Ho Oh presents a unified reading of the theology of Third Isaiah (TI). Oh adopts a canonical approach for his study. He argues that when TI is understood within the context of Isaiah, its theology is revealed as eschatology framed in the context of covenant. That is, the eschatological hope of Israel as revealed in TI is based on fulfilled covenant promises and restored covenant relationship with YHWH. Oh defines covenant as the integrated tradition of the Noachic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic Covenants (p. 235). Oh begins with the assumption that there exists a coherent theology in TI. Working within this assumption, he then carefully identifies and examines this eschatological theology as it develops around the themes of covenant, the coming of YHWH, Zion, and the new heavens and the new earth. Following an introductory chapter, each of these themes forms the topic of chapters 25. Chapter 6 presents both a summary and conclusion of Oh's work.
Chapter 1 serves as Oh's introduction. It contains a comprehensive overview of the study of TI beginning with the Reformers and ending with the more recently embraced canonical approach of Brevard Childs and Christopher Seitz. Additionally, Oh includes in his introduction a significant excursus on eschatology in OT studies. This excursus allows Oh to define his use of the term eschatology, which he understands broadly as the future hope of Israel (p. 44). Presuming an eschatological focus in TI, Oh chooses four significant passages to analyze in detail: Isa 56:18; 59:15b21; 60:122; and 65:1325. In addition to allowing Oh to explore several key themes in TI, the restriction of his study to only four sections creates a sufficiently manageable corpus of material.
Chapter 2 begins Oh's theological analysis of TI with an examination of Isa 56:18. True to his introduction, Oh begins this analysis by locating TI canonically. In doing so, Oh emphasises that, even as the introduction to the third section of Isaiah, Isa 56:18 demonstrates considerable thematic unity with both Proto-Isaiah (PI) and Deutero-Isaiah (DI). Oh argues that these verses form the framework in which the eschatology of TI can be seen as coherent. As the prologue to TI, then, Isa 56:18 envisions the eschatological hope of Israel as a hope born out of renewed covenant between YHWH and his (expanded) people. Thus, according to Oh's argumentation, the eschatological salvation of Israel is prefaced by covenantal relationship.
Chapter 3 picks up Oh's second theme, the coming of YHWH, by examining Isa 59:15b21. Oh chooses this passage instead of 63:19b64:2 or 66:1524, which also contain theophanic imagery related to the coming of YHWH, because it is a more comprehensive and a more vivid description of how YHWH's coming will transform Zion. Oh argues that this coming is related to 56:18 because YHWH's coming will initiate covenant renewal through the removal of sin and the conquest of Israel's enemies. Intriguingly, Oh proposes that the coming of YHWH in TI is accompanied by the presence of a messianic figure, identified in 61:13, who may be understood as contiguous with DI's servant figure and PI's messianic expectation.
In chapter 4 Oh demonstrates that Zion is also a central image of the eschatology of TI. Oh suggests that, read together with PI and DI, the imagery of Zion envisioned in the eschatological age of TI is a fulfillment of Isaianic expectations. Additionally, in pursuing a coherent theology for TI, Oh argues that the vision of future Zion is a realization of the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenant traditions. As a result, the passage is held securely within the framework provided by Isa 56:18 and builds on the eschatological vision that Oh argues is the heart of TI's theology.
Chapter 5 engages the text of Isa 65:1325 and its vision of a new heaven and a new earth. Oh argues that, through intertextual links concerned with the transformed state of the animal world and the former things and the new things or creation and new creation (p. 216), the eschatological vision of TI is both related to and a fulfillment of the expectations of PI and DI. Oh states that this vision, which is both eschatological and apocalyptic, represents the full restoration of the covenant in the eschatological era.
Finally, in chapter 6 Oh summarizes his conclusions concerning a coherent theology of TI. He asserts that, based on his exploration of TI and his expositions on Isa 56:18; 59:15b21; 60:122; and 65:1325, the theology of TI can be understood as coherent when seen as the establishment of a new covenant, which is the eschatological reapplication of the past (p. 220). Oh also argues that such a reading of TI creates space for new reflection on the potential theological unity of Isaiah as a whole.
Oh presents a detailed and rigorous analysis of his chosen passages. Each chapter contains a section devoted to locating the text both in the context of TI and in the book of Isaiah before embarking on a verse-by-verse examination of the theological claims made by the text. In each section Oh critically engages relevant scholarship and notes the interpretive issues. His careful study and analysis of the text lend credibility to his argument. Indeed, Oh clearly delineates the parameters of his study and presents an internally consistent argument. As a result, those who agree with Oh's definitions will find his thesis convincing and his monograph a significant contribution to the study of Isaiah.
Oh's extensive use of untranslated German and Hebrew, as well as his dense review of the relevant literature, likely limit his readership to graduate students and fellow scholars. However, this does not hinder Oh's work from being a welcome addition to the study of Isaiah, OT eschatology, and the canonical interpretation of biblical texts.