Deutero-Isaiah: A Commentary on Isaiah 40-55
A review of Klaus Baltzer's, "Deutero-Isaiah. A Commentary on Isaiah 40-55," by Dr. Richard Hess.
Baltzer, Klaus Deutero-Isaiah. A Commentary on Isaiah 40-55. Translated by M. Kohl. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress. 2001 Hardback, $62.40. 597 pp. ISBN 0-8006-6039-0.
This work represents the thorough research and exegesis of the author on the sixteen chapters traditionally ascribed to Second Isaiah. Those looking for a discussion of the questions of authorship in the light of traditional Evangelical apologetics on this issue will not find it here. Baltzer's concern lies elsewhere. He presents spirited arguments for a distinctive analysis of the form and theology of the text. In terms of the form, Baltzer seeks to argue for a kind of dramatic presentation. Although he surveys ancient Near Eastern and particularly Egyptian dramatic texts, his real interest lies with the Greek dramatists. It is with these that he spends most of his time, and here that he devotes the greatest emphasis in analysis of the form and in its comparison with the text of Isaiah as it develops through the sixteen chapters. This formal comparison allows for a coherent analysis to an otherwise difficult text in terms of its organization. The nature of the series allows Baltzer free reign to argue his thesis and to interact with so much of the secondary literature that has appeared on these chapters. Baltzer demonstrates many interesting comparisons throughout the overall organization of the text. However, ultimately his thesis remains one on which most readers will reserve judgment. The comparisons are not so close as to provide the sort of clear section-by-section identification and sequence that would convince. This thesis, especially the comparison with the Greek drama form, also tends to push the date later (into the fifth century) than many scholars would accept for the basic composition of much of this text. The theory does raise questions about the possibility of a comparison an earlier form of dramatic composition (Mesopotamian?), concerning which we do not yet have sufficient data.
The theological perspectives of the work follow many traditional lines of thought regarding the important contribution that this biblical text makes to the Israelite understanding of the nature of God as Creator and his unique and sole nature as divine. Baltzer's contribution lies rather in his analysis of the Servant Songs, those texts that review the role and mission of the Servant and culminate in the Suffering Servant passage of Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Where the author identifies the Servant as an individual, he does so with the view that this figure is explicitly modeled on Moses. Again and again Baltzer returns to texts from the Pentateuch to identify parallels with the language and picture of the Servant and the Lawgiver. This is a significant comparison, although the identification of messianic figures in prophecy with Moses not unique. However, the nature of the argument does not ultimately convince. This is not because Baltzer does not sufficiently argue his case. To the contrary, some textual discussions, such as those of the Suffering Servant, are dominated by pages of discussion seeking to make verbal and thematic connections with Moses narratives. Nevertheless, in the end there is a sense that the author argues too much with too little evidence. The point is never proven to this reviewer's satisfaction. At times homonyms are identified and used to interpret texts that are removed from the context. For example, the general interpretation of the first verbal root in 53:5 is that which means “pierce.” However, Baltzer prefers that root meaning “profane,” despite the absence of any clear mention of cultic sins in the context whereas the theme of the Servant's suffering and death is dominant. In this he follows a proposed BHS emendation made without any manuscript support. Although this may improve the proposed parallel with Moses, the first priority for the interpretation of a vocabulary term must be the context. Even more problematic is the manner in which the attempt to argue this thesis so dominates the exegesis of some of the Servant Songs that it limits the exegetical analysis that is not directly tied to the thesis. This is unfortunate because it does not allow Baltzer to provide more of an exegesis that would contribute to the understanding of the text even by those who are not inclined to accept this distinctive thesis.
Baltzer has provided a useful contribution to the study of Isaiah 40-55. His awareness of the vast secondary literature and interaction with it are particularly valuable. However, the author's theses regarding the formal analysis of the chapters as well as the literary and theological connections with Moses remain uncertain.
Richard S. Hess, Ph.D.
Professor of Old Testament