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Interpreting Isaiah

Issues and approaches

H. G. M. Williamson and David G. Firth (editors)

ISBN: 9781844743827
288 pages, Paperback
Published: 19/06/2009



H. G. M. Williamson and David G. Firth

1. Recent issues in the study of Isaiah
H. G. M. Williamson

2. Monotheism and Isaiah
Nathan MacDonald

3. Too hard to understand? The motif of hardening in Isaiah
Torsten Uhlig

4. Isaiah and politics
David J. Reimer

5. Faith in Isaiah
Philip Johnston

6. Nationalism and universalism in Isaiah
Richard L. Schultz

7. Wisdom in Isaiah
Lindsay Wilson

8. The theology of Isaiah
John Goldingay

9. The text of Isaiah at Qumran
Dwight Swanson

10. Isaiah in the New Testament
Rikk E. Watts

11. What’s new in Isaiah 9:1–7?
Paul D. Wegner

12. A structural-historical exegesis of Isaiah 42:1–9
S. D. (Fanie) Snyman

13. An inner-Isaianic reading of Isaiah 61:1–3
Jacob Stromberg


H. G. M. Williamson and David G. Firth

The book of Isaiah is perhaps the best-known prophetic book of the Hebrew Scriptures. Its historic importance is evident from its prominence at Qumran and in the New Testament, and it has continued to stimulate reflection and discussion by faithful Jewish and Christian believers ever since. Though at times those discussions have seemed more like a battle to be fought over the book’s interpretation than something which promotes God’s reign, we should at least recognize that this shows that the interpretation of Isaiah has been seen as a matter of the utmost importance. It is a text to be weighed, on which to meditate and pray, and through which to explore the ways in which God works. It is a text that has been understood as formative to the identity of the people of God.

However, study of Isaiah is in the midst of a period of great change. A generation ago the dominant tendency was either to study Isaiah as containing three distinct works whose internal relationships were limited or to expend considerable effort in demonstrating that Isaiah of Jerusalem was the author of the whole book in the eighth century BC. One could say that in either case, the focus was author-centred, with the question being whether one dealt with one, two or three authors (and perhaps a few redactors as well). Although the arguments were not static, the leading questions were largely formulated in the nineteenth century. It would be wrong to say that these questions are no longer important, but they now seek a place on the scholarly agenda alongside many others. In particular, a great deal of work is now being done on the ways in which the book of Isaiah is shaped and how its component parts relate to one another, so that text-centred questions have now come to the fore. Scholars are thus interested in asking about the purposes behind the shape of the book and how the various component parts engage with one another as well as exploring the insights opened up by increased awareness of the ways in which Hebrew poetry, and prophetic literature in particular, seek to communicate. In addition, we are increasingly aware that the interpretation of texts is not a neutral process, and that the questions we ask may be generated by interpreters themselves, so that another signifi cant body of research is concerned with reader-centred matters. Feminist and liberationist concerns have been prominent, though any approach to Isaiah that starts with present-day concerns can properly be considered here.

The study of Isaiah is changing and therefore books about Isaiah also need to change. While many excellent resources are available, they tend to fall into two categories. Many are introductions aimed at beginning students, which attempt to provide an overview of scholarship on Isaiah. Others contain various highly learned articles, often focusing on the minutiae that contribute to the goals of scholarship. But there is less literature that bridges the gap between the two, building on introductory work and helping readers to take the next steps in the study of Isaiah. This book, like its companion volume on Psalms, helps to meet that need, assuming some foundational knowledge gained elsewhere and guiding readers through current issues and approaches.

The chapters within this book fall into three basic groups. The first of these (by H. G. M. Williamson) presents an overview of current scholarly approaches to the book of Isaiah, creating a context for the various discussions that follow. The second group then examines a range of themes within Isaiah and approaches to it, including both specific issues and more general matters relevant to the book as a whole. The reception of the book at Qumran and in the New Testament is also considered here. The third group offers three exegetical explorations of Isaiah so that the discussion of approaches to the book is earthed in specific exegetical work. A range of different approaches to the book of Isaiah is thus modelled.

As with the volume on Psalms, this book was produced by a collaborative effort. The various chapters have been written by members and guests of the Tyndale Fellowship Old Testament Study Group. Draft chapters were circulated electronically and then discussed at the conference in June 2008 (in Cambridge, England), with beneficial interaction among contributors and other participants. We were thus able to draw on the skills of a community of scholars committed to the work being done here, and questions and comments from many participants have in some way helped shape the final presentation of the chapters. At the same time, we have sought to reflect the diversity of the Tyndale Fellowship in the chapters themselves, so that although all the contributors are united in their commitment to the authority of Scripture and the importance of faithful interpretation, we have consciously sought to include a range of different approaches to Isaiah reflecting different perspectives on the author, the text or the reader. This is particularly evident in the exegetical papers that reflect this diversity in their understanding of the nature of exegesis as well as the formation of the book of Isaiah, but it is also apparent in the essays that discuss different issues. This diversity is also evident in the contributors themselves – some are renowned scholars whose work on Isaiah is well known, while others have only recently completed their doctoral studies.

Allowing space for such diversity is important if we are truly to appreciate the range of approaches to Isaiah currently available. It is thus not our purpose to off er an overview that resolves all the critical questions about Isaiah and allows only one approach to the book. Rather, we want to take seriously the fact that there is a range of issues and approaches, and that we learn most about Isaiah when we allow a dialogue in which they can be heard, though here a dialogue shaped by committed Christian faith.

The editors would like to thank all the contributors for their happy acceptance of suggested changes, some substantial, in order to keep to strict word limits and to fulfil the book’s aims.