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Beuken, Willem A. M.
Jesaja 28–39. Übers. u. ausgelegt v. W. A. M. Beuken. Unter Mitwirkung u. in Übersetzung aus d. Niederländischen v. A. Spans.
Freiburg-Basel-Wien: Herder 2010. 494 S. gr.8° = Herders Theologischer Kommentar zum Alten Testament. Lw. EUR 90,00. ISBN 978-3-451-30133-9.
Hugh G. M. Williamson
This is the final volume of Willem A. M. Beuken’s trilogy on Isaiah 1–39 in this series, the previous two volumes on 1–12 (2003) and 13–27 (2007) having already received a warm welcome from reviewers and other scholars.
In fact, it is the second time that B. has provided a substantial commentary on these chapters since he contributed a volume in English on Isaiah 28–39 to the »Historical Commentary on the Old Testament« series in 2000. Given that he had previously written three volumes on Isaiah 40–66 in the »Prediking van het Oude Testament« series (1979–89), it is not surprising that he is widely regarded as a foremost international commentator on this major Biblical book.
In the decade since his previous commentary the study of the book of Isaiah has produced an avalanche of further work in both monographs and articles and it is clear that B. has somehow man-aged to keep fully abreast of this new material. As with his previous publications, the volume will be found to have great value in charting current work, even while he manages clearly to maintain his own distinctive style and approach. In this regard, I mention in passing, it would have been helpful if the bibliography could have been consolidated. Not only are we referred for many of the standard works to the first volume in the series, but the introductory listing is divided into seven sections while in addition each chapter then also has its own separate bibliography. Given that references in the text are generally provided by author and date alone it can sometimes be a tiresome business to track down the full reference, and for some I am still hunting (e.g. Jeremias 2006, mentioned on p. 25).
Closer comparison of the two works shows that in the detailed verse-by-verse commentary, both text-critical and exegetical, there is a considerable degree of overlap, the comments having often been only modestly revised, if at all, or updated in the light of recent studies. Without, admittedly, having undertaken a full comparison, I have not detected any major changes of interpretation in the passages I have looked at in this particular regard. In this respect the present commentary is slightly fuller but not significantly dif-ferent.
Where the real novelty of the present work becomes apparent is in the lengthy introductory discussion of each section. Here B. is able to take further the programme that he has made peculiarly his own over the past decades in a way that the earlier commentary series did not really allow. Alongside his diachronic analysis of the text, in which his general stance is in line with moderate critical opinion, he shows increasingly an insightful interest in a syn- chronic reading of the text, and this in ways that certainly cause the reader to see familiar material with fresh eyes.
To cite a striking example: Isaiah 24–27 is more or less universally agreed to be a relatively late section in the book, certainly added after the material on either side of it was more or less fixed in its present shape. As B. showed well in his earlier commentary on them, these chapters were probably included in order to give something of a universalizing interpretation to the more historically specific oracles against the nations which precede them in chapters 13–23. That certainly makes good sense and it has been adopted by a number of recent authors. Coming to chapter 28, whose opening section seems to revert to the days of the historical prophet Isaiah with its talk of the northern kingdom of Ephraim (Israel), it has proved difficult to imagine that there is any particularly close connection with the previous chapters. B. here shows in several extended elements of his presentation that there are indeed connections both of theme and of vocabulary, a case which I do not recall having ever seen before but which, at the synchronic level, can obviously not be ignored. Similarly, on pp. 264–66 he notes links with Isaiah 33 as well. This marks a major development in understanding.
Of course it also raises questions about how to account for this and how it relates to our understanding of the history of the book’s composition. On p. 50, for instance, B. suggests that chapter 28 can only have been given its present position because of the inclusion of chapters 24–27. To my mind, however, it is easier to envisage an earlier connection from the oracles against the nations straight to chapter 28 (oracle against Ephraim, with no major heading, such as marks other major breaks in the first part of the book), thus confirming the more usual view that chapters 24–27 were added subsequently into their present position. The chal- lenge to me is therefore to explain the observations that B. has so acutely made at the synchronic level (a demanding but by no means impossible task). That can hardly be undertaken here, of course, but it is indicative of the stimulus that this fine commentary will give to future scholarship.
The concluding chapters of this section of the book, 36–39, raise problems at the level of the relation between synchronic and diachronic approaches of an even more challenging nature because, as is well known, they appear also in more or less the same form and wording in 2 Kings 18–20. There must, therefore, be some form of literary association between them, but disagreements persist as to how exactly this is best to be described. On this matter B. gives us a masterly summarizing survey of the various ways in which the relationship between the parallel Biblical texts have been explained over the years.
In his earlier commentary B. was well aware of the fact that chapter 39, with its anticipation of the Babylonian exile, functions well in the present form of the book as an effective bridge between its two main parts. The listings of secondary literature indicate that he has continued to work at this material in the years since, however, and some of the fruits of that further research are here ap-parent.
He therefore now supplies additionally other contributions concerning the position of these chapters as a whole in the book, such as a number of previously unnoticed links with chapter 1. This would suggest that some aspects of the redactional activity in these chapters must relate more or less to the final form of the book as a whole, not just to the time of the initial joining of the first two main parts. I believe this conclusion is correct, as the close of chapter 39 in fact rather clearly anticipates not just 40–55 but 40–66 as a finished whole (see the references to peace and its lack as an evident structuring device at 39:8, 48:22, 57:21 and 66:21).
In short, it is apparent that although this is the second substantial commentary by B. on these chapters of Isaiah there is enough important new material here (new to scholarship as a whole, I should emphasize, not just to his own written contributions) to ensure that the present volume will be welcomed as a significant fresh contribution to exegesis. By no means for the first time we are therefore indebted to B. for his pioneering work on this major prophetic book.