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Shalom Paul’s commentary on Isaiah 40-66

October 29, 2011

9780802826039_lI’m so excited:  Shalom Paul’s commentary on Isaiah 40-66 (in English) is scheduled to be released imminently.  (Amazon price: $42.84; the Amazon description is mangled and includes the product description for John Oswalt’s commentary [which I consider to be poor.])

Shalom Paul’s English commentary is presumably an adaptation of his two-volume Hebrew commentary  in the outstanding (Hebrew University) Magnes Press מקרא לישראל series.  (I have not read the Hebrew edition.)

The 2008 Hebrew edition received favorable reviews; Igal German (Toronto) wrote:

Isaiah 40-66: Introduction and Commentary is an updated and extensive exegetical guide to interpreting the Book of Isaiah 40-66…. [It]  combines strong scholarship and detailed exegesis of the biblical text. The author contends, on the basis of historical and linguistic criteria, that Isaiah 40-66 should be attributed to an anonymous prophet called Second Isaiah who prophesied in the mid-sixth century BCE, toward the end of the Babylonian exile and the early return of the nation to Israel some 150 years after the prophecies of Isaiah from the eighth century BCE collected in Isaiah 1-39…. Paul examines Isaiah 40-66 through a close (synchronic and plain) reading of the biblical text, offering a thorough exegesis of the historical, linguistic, literary, and theological aspects of the prophet’s composition. The book carefully examines the intertextual influences of earlier biblical and extra-biblical texts, primarily Akkadian and Ugaritic, which shed new light on many of the themes, verses, motifs, and expressions found in the oracles of Second Isaiah. Though the author is interested mainly in synchronic readings, he utilizes modern historical-critical notions in a reasonable manner…. [T]he author also draws on the rich spiritual legacy of the medieval Jewish commentators and their keen analysis of scripture. Paul extensively quotes from Rashi, Kimhi, Abrabanel and others as well. An example of their contribution to interpreting Isaiah 40-66 is the question of identifying the cryptic group that is called to comfort God’s people in Isaiah 40:1. According to some medieval interpreters (among them Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and Kimhi) the addressee of God’s calling is a group of prophets. This suggestion should be seriously considered in light of the exilic prophetic activity (85). Isaiah 40-66: Introduction and Commentary is to be highly praised, especially for its well-written introduction that includes a thorough bibliography (I, 3-80)…. In sum, Shalom Paul offers an excellent commentary on Isaiah 40-66. Indeed, it is a significant contribution to the Mikra Leyisra’el academic project undertaken by Israeli biblical scholars.

and Benjamin Sommer (Jewish Theological Seminary) wrote:

[T]he massive erudition behind Paul’s two-volume work does not weight it down or render it too detailed for practical use….  For almost every verse that appears in this corpus, Paul provides parallels to the use of individual words, phrases, and vocabulary clusters. These parallels come from Sumerian, Akkadian, Ugaritic, Aramaic, Qumranic, and rabbinic literatures, as well as from other passages in the Hebrew Bible itself…. The constant reference to these other literatures gives Paul’s commentary an intertextual, almost midrashic, feel. Yet Paul takes these parallels in a direction that differs significantly from midrash. Through his intertextual mode of exegesis. Paul in effect re-creates the world of discourse in which and through which the prophet under consideration engendered meaning. Paul leads his reader deep into the textual, linguistic, and cultural context of ancient Israel. Thus his approach is intertextual in the correct and narrow (rather than a sloppy and overused) sense of the word: his concern is not only to show us what texts Second Isaiah knew and alluded to in poems but to open up for us the larger sign systems in which Second Isaiah’s poetry functions…. Paul’s lively attention to questions of poetic form, and especially of word play and sound play (e.g., the repetition of sibilant consonants), renders this a fine literary commentary and allows the reader to revel in the plaisir du texte that Second Isaiah so consistently provides.

There is a real dearth of good commentaries on Isaiah – commentaries such as Oswalt’s are ultimately colored by Christological interpretation.  Perhaps the best critical commentaries in English to date have been those of Brevard Childs and Joseph Blenkinsopp (volume 1, volume 2, volume 3); but neither of those primarily approach Isaiah as a literary work as Paul reportedly does.  Similarly, I cannot think of a contemporary academic critical commentary on Isaiah in English from a Jewish perspective (there are several devotional commentaries on Isaiah, such as those published by Artscroll, Judaica Press, and Soncino.)

Some readers of this blog will know Shalom Paul as the former chair of the Bible department at Hebrew University or as the current chair of the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundations.  You may also know him from his , his collected articles, his festschrift, his Studies in the Book of the Covenant in the Light of Cuneiform and Biblical Law (which argues that the Book of the Covenant [Exodus 21:2-23:33] represents a sharp break from other contemporary Near Eastern cultures), or his commentary on Amos (my favorite commentary on Amos by far.)

This looks to be an outstanding commentary on Isaiah for its concentration on the literary features of Isaiah 40-66 and its focus on that a single work.

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