Klaus Baltzer. Deutero-Isaiah. A Commentary on Isaiah 40-55. Translated by Margaret Kohl. Edited by Peter Machinist. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001. Pp. xxv + 597. ISBN 0-8006-6039-0. US $78.00.
1. This immense work of mature scholarship provides a benchmark resource for the study of DtIsa (Deutero-Isaiah). It is daring in conception, rich in detail, exhaustive in its treatment of virtually all aspects of the text, and at the same time readable and personal.
2. Altogether the book reaches almost six hundred pages. It begins with a Table of Contents (pp. vii-xv); a Foreword, Preface, and Abbreviations (xvii-xxv). Next is an extensive Introduction that treats I. Literary Questions (Textual Criticism, Literary Criticism, Form and Genre Criticism, Isaiah 40-55 as Liturgical Drama, The Structure of Isaiah 40-55, Liturgical Drama and Festival, Where Was Deutero-Isaiah's Work Composed and Where Performed?, "Deutero-Isaiah" as Author); II. Historical Questions, including The Date of Deutero-Isaiah; III. Deutero-Isaiah's Theology (pp. 1-44). The Commentary itself follows (pp. 47-487). The book concludes with an extensive Bibliography, which is introduced with the notation that materials listed therein reflect Baltzer's personal selection (pp. 491-548); and an Index of references: Biblical (OT, NT), Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, Qumran Texts, Hellenistic Jewish Writers, Rabbinic Literature, Greek and Roman Writers, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, Quran, Zoroastrian Texts (pp. 549-596).
3. In the Introduction, the first section under the heading of Literary Questions is Textual Criticism. Baltzer points out that the text of DtIsa is well preserved. This is true of the Masoretic Text, whose reliability is confirmed by 1QIsaa. The latter differs from MT mostly in matters of orthography. He does state, "My firm impression is that in the exegesis of individual passages 1QIsaa is often preferable as probably preserving the original reading, although one must allow for the usual scribal and hearing errors" (p. 3, col. 1). For the LXX, Baltzer quotes the dictum of Eissfeldt, who says in his Introduction: "The translation of the Pentateuch is good, that of Isaiah of little use." What Eissfeldt meant, I suppose, was that LXX Isa was of little use for the purposes of textual criticism because it is not a literal translation. Baltzer also points out that the LXX translator ran into difficulty with Deutero-Isaiah's liking for wordplays. The Targums, the Syriac translation, and the Vulgate, Baltzer says, are all part of the interpretive tradition of DtIsa. K. Elliger's contribution to the textual criticism of DtIsa is specifically mentioned, and, where a choice among readings is called for, "the decisions of Barthélemy, Lohfink, Rüger, and others are helpful" (p. 3, col. 2).
4. Modern translations such as the NRSV are also of use to the commentator, as well as older, familiar translations. Baltzer calls attention to the artistry and power of the language of DtIsa. In the translation he provides in the Commentary, Baltzer has tried to "bring out the spectrum of what is said, even for readers unfamiliar with the original language." So it is that sometimes he provides a breadth of the possibilities of translation by employing alternative words, divided by slashes (p. 4, col. 1).
5. In the light of Baltzer's remark about the excellent preservation of the text of DtIsa, one might think that textual criticism would play only a minor role in the Commentary, but this is not so. At the beginning of each section of text, Baltzer provides his translation and, with it, matters of textual criticism. Such details are also taken up in the commentary on the text, as well as in footnotes. He also gives translations for the various kinds of differences in the textual tradition, which is helpful for everyone. Perhaps this is the place to mention that users would have appreciated some key to the devices used in the translation. For example, the meaning of the supralinear letters of the alphabet used as indices to the text-critical comments in the next column is clear enough, but what does it mean when words are italicized, placed within "pointed" brackets (with or without an index letter) or round or square brackets?
6. As examples of the treatment of text-critical issues, we may take the first two sections of text, 40:1-8 and 40:9-20. Four comments are provided with the translation of 40:1-8: one concerns the translation of yk in v. 2; the second involves the pointing of h)lm in the same verse; the fourth provides an alternative translation of dsx in v. 6. The third comment also involves a matter of pointing, but this time the LXX and Vulgate are brought to bear. The comment with the translation, "Then I said" (in "pointed" brackets), states, "The pointing of MT (rma)fw:) presents difficulty if the verbal form as we6qat@al is taken seriously. LXX (kai\ ei]pa; cf. Vg) suggests the vocalization wayyiqt@ol (rma)owF) [.] 1QIsaa offers hrmw)w. See below on this passage." In the introductory notes to the commentary on vv. 6-8, Baltzer points out that the difficulty "seems at first to be a textual one" (p. 56, col. 2). The MT has the third masculine singular perfect of rm)--so, "and he (or: one) said." 1QIsaa has the first person singular. (A footnote ponders whether the form could be a feminine singular participle, indicating a speaker referred to as female.) The reading of the Isaiah Scroll corresponds to LXX and the Vulgate. As Baltzer says, most modern scholars have adopted the reading with the first person, but the reading of the MT is more difficult and, Baltzer thinks, "probably the original one." However, in Baltzer's opinion, the difference between the two readings is not substantial: "It makes no difference that in this verse the speaker uses the first-person form for the first time." When we get to v. 6 in the commentary, Baltzer says that there is in fact good reason for the speaker to use the first person, based on the ancient messenger formula. As a result, "Then I said: What shall I call?" also has its point (p. 57, col. 1). If Baltzer's comments here seem indecisive, they attest the difficulty of being sure of what reading was intended originally.
7. The comments that accompany the translation of 40:1-8 make no note of the absence in the LXX of "Truly, the people are grass!" (v. 7). In the commentary, Baltzer points out that the sentence could be a gloss: it is lacking in the LXX, and in 1QIsaa these words are "interpolated between the lines and in the margin" (p. 58, col. 1). Baltzer apparently accepts them as original because the vocabulary is that of DtIsa and the sentence is comparable to 42:24, "Is it not Yahweh against whom we have sinned?" The reader is advised, then, that not all matters of textual criticism are taken up in the comments that accompany the translation.
8. The next section of text is 40:9-20. Here six comments accompany the translation. Two refer to matters of pointing; one sends the reader to "below" for the interpretation of the Hebrew translated "When anyone sets up an image" in v. 20; three involve matters of textual criticism. In the first case, at v. 12 1QIsaa reads My ym "water of the sea" instead of Mym "waters" (MT). Baltzer observes that the emendation of MT to Mym@y "seas"--as Winton Thomas proposes in the BHS apparatus--has often been suggested. For his part, Baltzer points out that the assonance Mym#$w Mym in MT is surely intentional and sends the reader to Muilenberg's commentary on this verse. (Mym@y "seas," in the BHS apparatus is not cited.) The issue is addressed again in the commentary (p. 66, note 106), where Baltzer says the sound sequence suggests that the change from MT to 1QIsaa "is not to be recommended."
9. The second instance of text critical comment is upon the fact that t[d whdmlyw "and taught them knowledge" is not represented in the LXX at v. 14. Baltzer cites works by Whybray and Melugin on this question. He states that it could be a gloss in MT, but, if so, it is an early one: in the introductory comments to the section vv. 12-17, Baltzer reminds the reader that "and instructed him" is attested by 1QIsaa (p. 66, col. 2). This conservative approach to the Hebrew text will be a help to users of BHS. There the text-critical note on t[d whdmlyw is "> , frt dl [i.e., perhaps delete]."
10. The third text-critical comment relates to the reading "less than nothingness" in MT at v. 17. The reading in 1QIsaa (see also the Syriac and Vulgate) is sp)kw "and as nothing." Baltzer retains MT on the grounds that it is the more difficult reading. In a footnote in the commentary section, Baltzer allows that it is possible to follow 1QIsaa and the Syriac, but 'm as partitive "would also make sense: 'as part of nothing,' 'less than nothing.'" He refers us to Young's commentary (p. 71, note 128). Baltzer seems less confident in the footnote than in the comment that accompanies the translation. The BHS editor's apparatus on this variation reads: "l c a Syh sp)k@;," i.e., "read with 1QIsaa." It is clear that Baltzer's commentary will be useful in its textual notes as a corrective, or at least counterpoint, to the text-critical notes in BHS. (By the way, BHS cites the Isaiah Scroll reading without the waw.)
11. The most provocative aspect of the Commentary is its fundamental thesis, that DtIsa is a "liturgical drama" in six acts, plus a prologue and an epilogue, performed by two or three chief actors (pp. 7 [col. 1], 14 [col. 1], 15 [col. 1]). Here he uses the word "drama" "to designate an overall genre that is able to absorb other, very diverse separate genres" (p. 7, col. 1). From the outset Baltzer must overcome the dictum he quotes from Encyclopedia Judaica : "Neither biblical nor talmudic literature contains anything which can be described as 'theater' or 'drama' in the modern sense of these terms" (p. 7, col. 2). Baltzer's response to this negative appraisal is that, except for Attic drama, little drama has come down to us from the ancient world and, finally, there are questions about defining drama (p. 7, col. 2). Taking DtIsa as liturgical drama permits Baltzer to offer a cogent exploration of the structure of the corpus as a whole. He thinks that it may have been performed at Passover / Mazzot. The elements of the Mazzot festival are more pronounced than those of Passover in DtIsa (p. 22, col. 2).
12. Deutero-Isaiah is commonly dated in the late 540s B.C.E., placed among the Babylonian exiles, and thought to be the work of an individual, anonymous prophet. Baltzer would place the collection later, between 450 and 400 (p. 30, col. 1). He associates DtIsa with a group of people (p. 26, col. 1), though it is conceivably an individual achievement (p. 25, col. 2); Jerusalem is probably the place of composition (p. 24, col. 1). He suggests that the liturgical drama DtIsa constitutes may have been performed in the forecourt of the Temple, though it may have been performed in Babylon as well because "the work is also 'publicity' for Jerusalem as a place of pilgrimage" (p. 24, col. 2).
13. The theology of DtIsa is one of crisis and hope. What is unique is the way DtIsa selects, combines, and applies Israel's traditions (p. 33, col. 1) The subsections of Baltzer's summation of Deutero-Isaiah's theology are:
14. The single facet of Deutero-Isaiah's theology that has tantalized and fascinated scholars most is that of the "Servant of God" texts, which Baltzer numbers as four: 42:1-9, 49:1-6, 50:4-11, 52:13-53:12. In his view, a survey of Isaiah 40-55 as a dramatic text helps to explain the irregular distribution of the Servant texts. He sees them as "elements of an ideal biography" (p. 19, col. 1). Baltzer makes a detailed and convincing case for understanding the Servant texts as molded by the Moses tradition. He is not the first to make this connection--he mentions specifically a text in the Babylonian Talmud and, among modern interpreters, Sellin--but his detailed examination, both in the Introduction and in the Commentary, is likely not equalled in other commentaries on DtIsa. In his Commentary on 49:1-6, Baltzer posits that the person the prophet has in mind for the Servant of God is Nehemiah (p. 314, col. 2). One wonders whether the figure of Nehemiah will bear the weight of this identification, but the suggestion is provocative and will doubtless stimulate the address of other scholars.
15. If the Servant texts are in some sense a "memorial" of Moses (p. 20, col. 1), we must ask why his name is never pronounced. Baltzer responds:
[The] Servant's anonymity is also a means of abstraction. He becomes a "type." He is the just person who suffers for the sins of the many. But in the "type" that the role represents, an unmistakable individuality is preserved (p. 428, col. 2).So Baltzer concludes that the Servant as model for imitation means that he can also be understood in a collective sense, even if that was not the original understanding (p. 429, col. 1).
16. The Commentary unfolds by sections, with Baltzer's translation and textual notes at the head of each of these. As is the case with other Hermeneia volumes, the layout does not seek to fill every available centimetre with type; at the same time the reader does not have a sense of blank, useless space. The translation is a sort of "working" translation, with optional translations provided. But the translation does not go too far in that direction. It is probably the "working" nature of the translation that has permitted the word "goodliness" to appear on its very first page, at 40:6--a word that is not yet English, as far as I can tell. The translation is followed by verse-by-verse commentary that incorporates a judicious use of Hebrew and an informative examination of language. As has already been pointed out, the text of DtIsa has been well preserved, so textual criticism does not occupy a large place in the Commentary, but, where such issues arise, they are dealt with alongside the translation and in the text or apparatus.
17. From time to time the text of the Commentary features a brief or not-quite-so-brief excursus: the rendering of wyrbx as "comrades" at 44:11 (p. 195, cols. 1-2); "the Cyrus edict" (p. 223, col. 1-224, col. 2); homage iconography (p. 238, col. 1-p. 240, col. 1); "exodus" (p. 388, col. 1-p. 389, col. 1); "The Lawcourt Scenes in Zechariah 3 and Job 1" (p. 401, col. 1-p. 402, col. 1); "exaltation" texts, such as the Testament of Moses (Assumptio Mosis) (p. 396, col. 2-p. 398, col. 1); Anat (p. 440, col. 2-p. 441, col. 1); F. Stolz's summary of the meaning of tw) (p. 486, col. 1); "the name" (p. 486, col. 2-p. 487, col. 1). Only the excursuses on Anat and "The Lawcourt . . ." actually bear the title "Excursus," and none appears listed under Contents. They make a useful contribution to the Commentary.
18. In conclusion, this is a rich and valuable commentary and reflects a lifetime of scholarship. Anyone working on the text or interpretation of DtIsa will profit from its insights. Whether or not Baltzer's contention that DtIsa is a "liturgical drama" from the mid-Persian period will find widespread support remains to be seen, but the suggestion is stimulating and its presentation does not impede the reading of his work.
© TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 2003.
Claude Cox McMaster Divinity College