Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 10 (2010) - Review
For the last years, the Pontifical Biblical Institute of Rome has been publishing several dissertations of the Institute itself and of the Gregorian University. M. García Fernández's book took on similar methodological approaches and goals as those of earlier works such as Ristabilire la giustizia (P. Bovati), La vita minacciata (B. Costacurta), Tiempo de callar y tiempo de hablar (S. J. Báez Ortega), La visione contradetta (R. Fornara).
At the beginning of her book, the author expresses how she has carefully constructed her work on the horizon of biblical theology. Such a construction, which reflects the approach of P. Bovati, the director of her doctoral dissertation, remains at the heart of M. García's book. Specifically, she advances a thematic study on the consolation following a threefold methodological process, namely, establishing the semantic field of consolation, exegetically studying particular and relevant texts in Isaiah 40–55, and systematically presenting the results of her research.
For the first part, the author indicates that the Hebrew root of the word console could be defined as a move from a negative situation to a positive one. This move particularly illustrates a relationship between two individuals and their own individual freedom, both of which are needed in order to fulfill both the giving and receiving aspects of consolation. This definition is important throughout the book and emerges as a result of a thorough study of the relevant Hebrew root. Such a study is conducted through two complementary dimensions: the syntagmatic relationships and the semantic associations, or paradigms, which can be drawn from them. Both of these dimensions make up the dynamics and the development of the phenomenon of consolation. The fact that this methodological approach plays a significant role in the development of the book shows the extent to which P. Bovati's or B. Costacurta's thought has intellectually influenced the work of M. García.
In the second part, M. García studies the phenomenon of consolation and its particular process within Isaiah 40–55. To accomplish the task, the author follows the hermeneutical principle of studying the final form of the texts (Isaiah 40–55 in this particular case) in order to understand their theological meaning. Towards the end, she states that according to Second Isaiah God's consolation consists of God's attempt to reestablish and to resume the covenantal relationship with the people. It is important to point out that God's offer of salvation and consolation involves God's self-communicating act revealing and giving God's very self to the people. Such an act in turn moves the heart of the Israelites both directing them to different ways of understanding and appreciating the value of God's consolation, thus, enabling them to overcome their resistance to and rejection of God's salvation. In other words, according to Isaiah 40–55, human liberty plays an important role in the movement from desolation to consolation. For (Deutero)Isaiah, it seems that everything depends on the people while God has already done all that God could do to love them.
In addition, the author offers an important literary conclusion to her study of Isaiah 40–55. Consolation and its process, both as a textual and as a thematic element, unify the different parts of Second Isaiah. In other words, consolation remains the heart or the backbone framework of Isaiah 40–55.
The conclusion of M. García's studies has profound influence on biblical theology specifically regarding the area of consolation and reconciliation. God remains the only One who can console Israel. At same time, God also seems to be the one who has abandoned God's people. Therefore, it is necessary that God would reveal God's self and act as the one who really comforts. In Isaiah 40–48 God presents God's self as the one who creates, justifies, redeems, comforts, and saves, etc.
Hence, Isaiah 40–55 is getting at the root Israel's suffering (i.e., its sins) and offering its people the various skills for their liberation. As a result, God is portrayed as the reconciler, helper and rebuilder who possess a deep compassion for God's people strengthening them and restoring them to original justice.
According to Isaiah 40–55, reconciliation means a free and personal decision from God who saves those who live in sin and fault without having them admitted to their sins and faults. God's forgiveness, which remains at the heart of God's relationship with the people, in this sense, serves as the basis and foundation of consolation.
Two particular points of M. García's book also deserve some critical evaluation. First of all, the author holds the opinion that there is a deep connection between the Second Isaiah's strategies that produces the movement from desolation to consolation and the juridical process rîb, which is reflected in different prophetic books. The author's opinion is dubious at best if not speculative since her book doesn't offer enough explanations to sustain such a connection.
Secondly, a much needed in-depth study of Isa 52:13–53,12 (the Fourth Servant Song) within the framework of consolation is lacking in the book. To her credit, the author understands the intercession of the Servant in connection with the rîb. However, in my opinion, there exists an important link between the Servant's mediation of God's saving mercy and the suffering of the Servant. Epistemologically, such a suffering can be useful to discuss positions about the existence of evil and the need of forgiveness. It might be possible, on the one hand, that the rîb could be helpful in explaining and clarifying that link better. On the other hand, a reference to Genesis 37–50 (the Joseph's story), which is totally absent in M. García's book, could have offered a more complete insight on that important link.