Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 18 (2018) - Review

Wasserman, Tommy, Greger Andersson, and David Willgren, eds., Studies in Isaiah: History, Theology, and Reception (LHBOTS, 654; New York: Bloomsbury, 2017). Pp. xxii + 234. Hardback. US $114.00. ISBN 9780567667182.

This volume brings together a selection of papers delivered at The Words of the Prophets conference, hosted by the Örebro School of Theology, April, 2015. As the title suggests, one goal of this collection is to provide a broad sampling of the types of work currently being conducted in Isaiah and to “shed new light on the book of Isaiah” (p. vii). Andersson's introduction summarizes each contribution, noting that they share the presupposition “that every utterance or text stands in a dialogue with other utterances and texts” (p. xv). This similarity across the nine contributions provides a level of cohesion among an otherwise diverse set of topics and methodologies. The volume is divided into two sections, with six chapters covering history and theology and three chapters covering reception.

In “The Theory of a Josianic Edition of the First Part of the Book of Isaiah: A Critical Examination,” H. G. M. Williamson challenges the influential theory of Hermann Barth from the 1970's that argued for an initial redaction of Isaianic prophecies during the reign of Josiah.[1] Also employing redaction criticism, Williamson finds a fatal flaw in Barth's argumentation that focused on the origin of most of Isa 10:5–34 with Isaiah himself and therefore formed a relatively secure starting point for Barth to trace the growth and development of the text under Josiah. By reanalyzing various interdependencies between phrases, Williamson argues that Isa 10:18 is dependent on 35:2 and therefore cannot be from Josiah's time, a fundamental starting point for Barth's argument. Williamson further reinforces his disagreement with Barth through a similar reanalysis of three other texts in Isa 1–12. Beyond the updated analysis of Barth's theory, this essay is methodologically clear and precise, even for those who do not work with redaction-critical argumentation.

Chapter two presents Antti Laato's “Understanding Zion Theology in the Book of Isaiah,” which sets out to establish a starting point from which to trace the development of Zion theology in Isaiah. Laato argues that the eighth-century prophet was a preacher of deliverance because of his unshakeable confidence in Yahweh's protection of Jerusalem. Based on the premise that the original prophet could not have, for example, preached doom against Hezekiah's pro-Egyptian policy while also preaching assured deliverance for Jerusalem, Laato argues that eighth-century Isaiah's Zion theology was based on earlier traditions of Yahweh as the Storm God who protected his residence in Jerusalem. This early Zion theology was only later related to the events of 701 BCE and Hezekiah and Jerusalem's deliverance from Sennacherib, thereby reusing and expanding the earlier prophetic preaching. Those who do not share Laato's premise that the eighth-century prophet only preached a message of salvation, excluding any messages of judgment, will find many aspects of his work unconvincing, though the methodology is clear and thus valuable as an example.

Stefan Green's contribution, “The Temple of God and Crises in Isaiah 65–66 and 1 Enoch,” speaks to the ongoing discussion surrounding the relationship between prophetic and apocalyptic texts. A noted shift between prophetic and apocalyptic texts is the way in which they envision the presence of God and the temple. Green suggests that a fourth Jewish temple crisis should be added to J. J. Collins' argument that three such crises, the destruction of Solomon's temple, the defilement of the Second Temple in the Maccabean era, and the destruction of the temple in 70 CE, fostered the development of many prophetic themes and motifs that reappear with certain transformations in apocalyptic texts from the Hellenistic and Roman eras.[2] Green argues that this fourth defilement of the Second Temple occurred during the early Persian Period due to Darius's involvement with its rebuilding. Noting verbal and thematic similarities between Isa 65–66 and the Animal Apocalypse, Green then proposes that this temple crisis is reflected in Isa 65–66, which formed a theological and thematic background for the Animal Apocalypse's perspective on a future ideal temple in which the presence of God would again dwell in purity.

“Divine Election in the Book of Isaiah” presents Hallvard Hagelia's survey of the theme of divine election across the entire book of Isaiah, an analysis previously lacking in Isaiah studies. Hagelia surveys the verb בחר and the noun בחיר while also covering texts that do not use those terms but still imply divine choosing. Thus, language that describes a person or group of people being called, redeemed, or otherwise brought into close relationship with YHWH is considered relevant for the concept of election. While not particularly profound or insightful, the chapter demonstrates that election is a concept that is found throughout the book of Isaiah, which, for Hagelia, contributes to the book's literary and theological cohesion and development.

David Willgren's “Antwort Gottes: Isaiah 40–55 and the Transformation of Psalmody” takes up the question of how the psalms came to be read as revelatory words from God rather than prayers written to God. Noting the authoritative status given to psalms among the pesharim of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Willgren argues that a step towards this status may have come from the way in which exilic and post-exilic prophetic texts used psalmic language within their prophetic sermons. Willgren disagrees with the idea put forward by scholars like Gerald Wilson that the stabilized collection of psalms itself explains their transition to an authoritative status.[3] And while others have studied the use and re-use of psalmic forms in prophetic texts such as Isa 40–55, Willgren proposes that this type of usage within prophetic texts is an indicator of how the book of Psalms later attained authoritative status. The significant verbal parallels between Ps 89 and Isa 55:1–5 form the foundation for Willgren's argument that the prophetic text responded to and reused psalms, a process that could have contributed to the authoritative and scriptural status the psalms eventually attained. The essay is appropriately cautious in its conclusions and forms a basis from which further exploration can be conducted.

In chapter 6, “From Indo-European Dragon-Slaying to Isaiah 27:1: A Study in the Longue Durée,” Ola Wikander problematizes the process for dating texts, especially when the text under examination contains ancient themes and motifs. Arguing against research that draws clear lines of borrowing in Hebrew texts from, for example, Ugaritic texts, Wikander instead demonstrates the prevalence of the dragon-slaying motif across multiple Indo-European cultures and centuries. From the perspective, then, of longue durée, the specific date of a specific text can be a problematic quest, since “working with mythemes and motifs carried through the longue durée, so to speak, upsets the knee-jerk historicizing tendency of exegetical scholarship” (p. 133). Wikander does not advocate for abandoning all attempts to date texts but rather advocates for greater methodological precision for texts like Isa 27:1 whose content belongs to the longue durée of a “common Northwest Semitic cultural-poetic milieu” (p. 120). Those hoping for a focused discussion on the Isaianic text will be disappointed in this essay, since it is hardly about Isaiah at all. But since the book of Isaiah is a quagmire of dating disputes, Wikander's discussion finds an appropriate home in this collection.

Karl Olav Sandnes's essay, “Paul, An Isaianic Prophet?”, begins the second section of the volume on Isaiah's reception history. Building on research that explores Paul's prophetic self-conception, Sandnes suggests that Paul drew heavily on the book of Isaiah for this self-conception.[4] Agreeing with M. W. Bates, Sandnes argues that Paul's use of Isa 52:7 and 53:1 in Rom 10:15–16 is an example of “prosopological exegesis” in which Paul identifies himself with the prophetic “our” of Isa 53:1.[5] With other such examples drawn from other Pauline letters, Sandnes presents a convincing case that the book of Isaiah, and especially Isa 40–66, played a key role in forming Paul's vision of his prophetic apostolate. While I have no disagreements with Sandnes's conclusions, many of his ideas would have been strengthened and clarified through more specific examples.

Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer's “Vocalization and Interpretation in Isaiah 56–66: Weyiqtol or Wayyiqtol in Isaiah 63.1–6 as a Case of Early Jewish Interpretation” provides a different window into Isaianic reception history through an analysis of the possible readings of Isa 63:1–6 determined by whether one chooses the Masoretic weyiqtol verbal pointing or the wayyiqtol pointing that appear to lie behind the LXX translation. Tiemeyer argues that Isa 63:1–6 originally referred to the events surrounding 586 BCE but that the sopherim and later Masoretic reading traditions re-interpreted the text as referring to future events, thus motivating the Masoretes to point the verbal forms as weyiqtol instead of wayyiqtol. This reinterpretation, Tiemeyer proposes, was influenced by the intertextual relationship between Isa 34:1–17, 59:15b–20, and 63:1–6, since the former two texts are both future-oriented. Tiemeyer's case is generally well-supported, even if some details lack convincing rationale. For example, though she demonstrates her understanding of the Hebrew verbal system's tense, aspect, and mood, she does not demonstrate such an understanding of the Greek verbal system when she equates the aorist verb form with the past tense (p. 168). The lack of nuance in this portion of her discussion, even in footnotes, is a weakness in her foundational starting point. Nevertheless, the essay provides an interesting hypothesis for Masoretic reception history of Isa 63:1–6 and a clear methodological presentation of the intersection between textual criticism and interpretative traditions.

The final essay, Knut Holter's “Some Interpretative Experiences with Isaiah in Africa,” is perhaps most valuable for its reminder to western scholarship that Africa has a rich and varied interpretative tradition that should not be ignored. While recognizing the impossibility of covering all of African Christianity, Holter's survey of popular and academic interpretations of Isaiah paints in broad strokes the key to understanding how African Christianity reads the Old Testament, “namely, its contextual sensitivity” (p. 195). In the popular and church context, Holter highlights examples from The African Bible, a Catholic study Bible, and The Prayer and Deliverance Bible, a Pentecostal study Bible.[6] In the academic context, Holter notes how current African academics combine traditional historical-critical methodologies with contextual sensitivity, demonstrating that African Old Testament scholars take for granted that academic study bears on present circumstances. The case study of the translation and usage of Isa 6:3 in the Malagasy language of Madagascar provides a window into the various dynamics that influence the use and interpretation of the Old Testament in Africa. Specific African contexts determine translation choices, which in turn influence popular and church usage, which also challenge academic engagement with both the present context and biblical-theological disciplines. For the Western academic who has little or no knowledge of interpretative contexts other than their own, this essay provides a starting point for awareness of how the Old Testament is read and used in the diverse African context, a context that will one day come to dominate biblical-theological scholarship as Christianity continues to grow in Africa and wane in many western countries.

This collection of essays runs the gamut from well-known fields of study in Isaiah with Williamson's redaction-critical and Laato's tradition-critical work, to new approaches to old questions in Wikander's use of longue durée to reframe the discussion of textual dating, to awareness of new interpretive contexts in Holter's survey of African use of the Old Testament. The volume will be useful to both senior scholars and new research students, and the diversity of topics and methodologies makes it useful to those outside of Isaiah studies as well. The methodological clarity provides a helpful window into the various types of work being done in Isaiah and which methodologies fit best with which types of questions. For North Americans, the collection gives access to Scandinavian scholarship, along with British, that is all in English, a gift despite certain essays containing numerous typographical errors. Greater detail in editing for such errors would have improved the volume. Nevertheless, the broad representation of topics and methodologies make this a useful volume for those wishing to push Isaiah studies forward into new and intriguing directions.

Megan C. Roberts, McMaster Divinity College

[1] Hermann Barth, Die Jesaja-Worte in der Josiazeit: Israel und Assur als Thema einer produktiven Neuinterpretation der Jesajaüberlieferung (WMANT, 48; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener, 1977). reference

[2] J. J. Collins, Jerusalem and the Temple in Jewish Apocalyptic Literature of the Second Temple Period (IRGLS, 1; Israel: Bar-Ilan University, 1998). reference

[3] G. H. Wilson, The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter (Atlanta: SBL, 1985). reference

[4] See, for example, J. W. Aernie, Is Paul Also Among the Prophets? And Examination of the Relationship between Paul and the Old Testament Prophetic Tradition in 2 Corinthians (LNTS, 467; London: T&T Clark International, 2012); A. J. Najda, Der Apostel als Prophet: Zur prophetischen Dimension des paulinischen Apostolats (Europaeische Hochschulschriften, 784; Frankfurt am Main: Lang, 2004); T. Nicklas, “Paulus – der Apostel als Prophet,” in J. Verheyden, K. Zamfir, and T. Nicklas (eds.), Prophets and Prophecy in Jewish and Early Christian Literature (WUNT, 2/286; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010); K. O. Sandnes, Paul—One of the Prophets? A Contribution to the Apostle's Self-Understanding (WUNT, 2/43; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1991). reference

[5] M. W. Bates, “Beyond Hays's Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul: A Proposed Diachronic Intertextuality with Romans 10:16 as a Test Case,” in C. D. Stanley (ed.), Paul and Scripture: Extending the Conversation. (SBL.ECL 9; Atlanta: SBL, 2012), 275–91. reference

[6] V. Zinkuratire and A. Colacrai, eds., The African Bible (Nairobi: Paulines, 1999); D. K. Olukoya, ed., The Prayer and Deliverance Bible (Lagos: Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries, 2007). reference