Prophetic Faith in Isaiah.
by Sheldon H. Blank.
Harper. 241 pp. $3.75.
A prime ingredient disappeared from Jewish life when, following the example of philological study generally, concern for the Jewish literary tradition became professional. Books were transformed into laboratory specimens to be approached only by a guild of experts; widespread amateur competence in original texts and adult interpretation gave way to authoritarian and condescending popularizations. The merit of Professor Blank’s book is that it respects both the subject and the reader by making original scholarly work of high quality accessible to others than the author’s own peers.
That the prophetic books, and Isaiah in particular, do not receive the kind of treatment accorded to works of comparable standing in other literatures is scandalous; new books on Sophocles or Dante addressed to the cultivated amateur appear every year. Isaiah, as the dust jacket on Professor Blank’s book asserts, stands “at the summit of Old Testament religion”; of the so-called Second Isaiah (Chs. 40-55) C. C. Torrey wrote, with excusable hyperbole, that he is “supreme and unrivalled among the great poets of the world.” Despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that it is rather an anthology than a unified book or the work of a single man or a single century, Isaiah has been the best loved and most familiar of all prophetic writings, and a fresh study is always timely.
Professor Blank’s book is therefore very welcome. It would have been more so if he had not chosen to limit himself, as his title indicates, to the religious content. To be sure, the chief interest of Isaiah, even to the secular-minded, is religious, and religion must be the prime concern of a professor in a theological seminary; but even religious significances can be illuminated by a brief account of political and social backgrounds and by consideration of literary techniques and properties. These things, as well as the text and the accepted criticism of it, the reader of the present volume is assumed to know; the foreword warns us that the book “is not an ‘introduction,’ it is not a ‘COMMENTARY,’ it is not a ‘survey of recent literature upon,’ and it is not a polemic.” It is in fact a series of disparate scholarly studies (some of which have indeed appeared in scholarly periodicals) tied together by a common theme and building up a unified picture, but differing from ordinary philological studies in their decidedly protreptic and homiletic tone.
What Professor Blank has chosen to give is rich in solid and acute scholarship and zestful eloquence. He shows us the Isaiah in his uncompromising starkness by disengaging his utterances from their incrustations and correcting dislocations, and enlarges upon the significant theological advance of the Second Isaiah in making the personal name of Israel’s God mean God unqualified and in conceiving of Israel as God’s prophet. He analyzes the implications of the conception of Israel as the prophet of the one and only God with reference to ideas of faith, holiness, prayer, and the proper relationship of Israel to God and the world. Incidentally he disposes of the inveterate Christological interpretations of the name Immanuel, the young woman who gives birth, and the suffering servant. On Isaiah 53, which is the principal suffering-servant poem, Professor Blank is particularly enlightening; the servant is the prophet, who symbolizes the totality of Israel.
There is much else here that students of the Bible will find fresh and stimulating; the pity is that “students” must be qualified by “of the Bible.” Professor Blank has loosened the grip of the professionalist mold; we could wish that he might shake it off entirely and apply his scholarly and literary talents to a book which will introduce amateurs to the whole of Isaiah.