J. Stromberg, Isaiah After Exile: The Author of Third Isaiah as Reader and Redactor of the Book

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 12 (2012) - Review

Stromberg, Jacob, Isaiah After Exile: The Author of Third Isaiah as Reader and Redactor of the Book (OTM; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). Pp. 322. Hardcover. US$125.00. ISBN 978-0-199-59391-0.

Isaiah After Exile, Jacob Stromberg's revised doctoral thesis, belongs in the growing corpus of studies that look at the text-historical development of the book of Isaiah. Stromberg explores the role of the author of the final layer of Isa 56–66 (referred to by Stromberg as Trito-Isaiah [hereafter TI]) in shaping the book of Isaiah. Stromberg argues that this author, responsible for Isa 56:1–8; 65–66, has shaped his own material in conscious continuity with and development of the existing Isaianic material in Isa 1–39* and 40–55, as can be detected by numerous textual similarities and allusions. As such, he is an “author” of his own material, as well as a “reader” of the existing Isaianic material in Isa 1–55*. Moreover, he is a “redactor” insofar as he has added editorial comments at key places in the existing Isaianic material. Stromberg identifies the author of these editorial comments with TI because (1) the comments share the same theology as TI's writing in Isa 56; 65–66* and (2) they develop the material in Isa 1–55* in the same way as does this writing.

In the brief introduction, Stromberg sets the stage for the following investigation and outlines his methodology. He points out that both reading and redacting are hermeneutical enterprises. We can expect the work of a redactor to reflect his reading of his sources, and we can expect his additions to earlier material to reflect his own writing.

Part I of the book focuses on the material in Isa 56–66. Chapter one contains a detailed overview of the various theories pertaining to the formation of Isa 56–66. Stromberg accepts the common view that the material in Isa 60–62, as well as that in Isa 63:1–6 and Isa 63:7–64:11, forms the earliest parts of Isa 56–66. In dialogue with previous scholarship, Stromberg also accepts the prevalent view that Isa 56:1–8 and 65–66 constitute the latest material in Isa 56–66 and form a framework around the earlier texts. He further argues that this later material presupposes and further develops the earlier texts. As to Isa 56:9–59:21, Stromberg tentatively agrees with P. A. Smith's view that it was written by the author of Isa 65–66 but he chooses not to investigate that issue further.

Chapter 2 asks whether Isa 56:1–8; 65–66 are original compositions or “redactional assemblages of some sort.” Expressed differently, is the unity of these texts on an authorial or a redactional level? Stromberg begins by looking at Isa 56:1–8 and argues, following especially G. Polan and P. A. Smith, that it is an authorial unity.[1] Turning to Isa 65:1–66:17, he contends, against the views of especially Sekine and Koenen, that the structure of the material, its use of unique vocabulary, and its single purpose to serve as a response to the preceding lament (Isa 63:7–64:11), together suggest that it constitutes an authorial unity.[2] Finally, Stromberg examines the textual relationship between Isa 56:1–8 and 66:18–24, often understood as an editorial framework owing to the many parallels between the two texts. He demonstrates that, rather than distinguishing Isa 66:18–24 from the preceding material in Isa 65:1–66:17, it is preferable to view all of Isa 56:1–8; 65–66 as composed by the same author, “Trito-Isaiah.”

Part II looks at TI as the reader of the existing Isaianic material assumed to be at his disposal, i.e. Isa 1–39*; 40–55; and 60:1–64:11. Which passages (intertexts) does TI allude to and what does he do with them? Stromberg does not suggest new intertexts but builds upon previous scholars' insights and aims to strengthen their arguments. The relatively short chapter 3 looks at the intertexts that TI used to shape the material in Isa 56:1–8. Stromberg argues, following primarily R. Rendtorff, that Isa 56:1 is a synthesis of the theme of צדקה and משפט in Isa 1–39 and the theme of צדקה and ישועה in Isa 40–55.[3] As such, Isa 56:1 declares that the call in Isa 1–39 to righteousness is still in force and should be understood as the basis for the enjoyment of God's promise of salvation as proclaimed in Isa 40–55.

Stromberg then turns to the issue of the textual relationship between Isa 55 and 56 and concludes, in line especially with Beuken's research, that Isa 56:1–8 was written as a conscious development of Isa 55, a finding that explains the many similarities between the two passages.[4] Again, this shows that TI regarded the existing material in Isa 40–55 as still relevant to his own post-exilic audience, yet it was changed insofar as it now concerned (only) ethical individuals, including foreigners who wished to attach themselves to the God of Israel.

Stromberg also looks at the notion of the singular “servant” in Isa 40–55 and the plural “servants” in Isa 56:1–8 and 65–66. He argues that, as in the preceding case, TI moved away from the collective understanding of God's salvation in Isa 40–55 and instead advocated a more narrow definition restricted to ethical individuals.

Stromberg finally demonstrates that Isa 56:8 alludes to Isa 11:12 rather than, as often argued, to Ps 147:2. His case is supported by, among other issues, Sweeney's claim that Isa 56:7 alludes to Isa 11:9.[5] The fact that TI used Isa 11 as an intertext in 56:7 renders it likely that he used it again in an adjacent verse. Stromberg concludes that Isa 56:1–8 reinterprets the ingathering in Isa 11:12 to include also non-Israelites.

The substantial chapter 4 looks in a similar manner at the intertexts of Isa 65–66. Through close studies of shared syntax, themes, and vocabulary, and building on previous scholars' insights, Stromberg argues convincingly that the author of Isa 65–66 depended upon and reworked substantial amounts of material from Isa 1–39*; 40–55; and 60–62. Stromberg's analysis focuses on how TI read the earlier material as well as on the specific selection of texts that influenced him. According to Stromberg, TI sought in particular to redefine the identity of the recipients of God's salvation by excluding the wicked and sometimes including people from outside of Israel. Throughout the chapter, Stromberg discusses:

1. the use of 55:6–9 in 65:1–2;

2. the allusion to the “former” and “latter” things in 40–48 in 65:16b–18;

3. the allusion to 37:3 in 66:9, and the allusion to 37:30b in 65:21b;

4. the use of 11:6–9 in 65:25;

5. the echo of Isa 54:1, 11 in 66:7–14;

6. the reuse of 40:1–11 and 45:20–25 in 66:15–24 (40:5/66:18–19; 40:10/66:15);

7. the allusions to 11:11–16; 49:22–23; and 62:10–12 in 66:18–24.

In Part III, Stromberg argues that TI redacted Isa 1–55*. At the time of TI's activity, a near final form of Isa 1–39* existed, with the likely exclusion of the so-called Isaiah apocalypse (Isa 24–27). As to Isa 40–55, Stromberg highlights that, regardless of whether we consider it as an authorial unity or as a gradually composed body of literature, it is likely that by the time of TI the material in Isa 40–55 existed in its (near) final form.

Chapter 5 focuses on TI's redactional additions to select material in Isa 1–39. Stromberg limits his investigation to passages that many scholars recognize as editorial additions. Stromberg's decision is reasonable, given the limitations of a doctoral thesis, yet this selection means that other passages not discussed may also stem from TI's pen. In each instance, Stromberg begins by arguing that a verse is redactional. He then defines the manner in which the redactional verse refocuses the surrounding earlier material. If this manner is reminiscent of the manner in which TI, in his own writing in Isa 56:1–8 and 65–66, refocused the material in Isa 1–55*, then Stromberg concludes that the redactor is TI. Stromberg argues that the following passages were composed by TI: Isa 1:27–31; 6:13bβ; 4:2–6; 11:10; 7:15. He also suggests that TI was responsible for editing the material in Isa 36–39.

As an example of Stromberg's argumentation, he notes that many scholars detect a strong affinity between Isa 6:13 and 65:9. He also notes that (other) scholars argue for the redactional origin of parts of this verse (v. 13bβ). He then evaluates and corroborates the claim that v. 13bβ is redactional, and shows how this quarter-verse refocuses the corporate tone of the surrounding material (where everyone will be destroyed) to a more individual tone (where the wicked will be destroyed but a righteous remnant will be saved). In the light of the observation that such a division—between a wicked majority and a righteous minority—brings to mind the theology evinced in Isa 56:1–8 and 65–66, Stromberg concludes that TI is responsible for v. 13bβ.

The much shorter chapter 6 examines Isa 40–55 in a similar manner. Stromberg investigates Isa 48:22 (nearly identical to Isa 57:21); 48:1 (sharing key vocabulary with Isa 59:14–15); and 48:19b (reminiscent of Isa 66:22). Building upon previous scholarship, Stromberg confirms that (1) these three verses have a redactional character and (2) they introduce a distinction between the many wicked and the righteous few, not present in the surrounding verses. For example, the addition in Isa 48:22 functions as a conclusion to all of Isa 40–48 and seeks to qualify the offer of salvation found in these chapters by excluding the wicked.

Finally, Stromberg looks at the many textual similarities between the material in Isa 54 and 56–66. In particular, he shows that while Isa 54:17a contains a general offer of salvation, v. 17b, with its reference to the “servants of the Lord,” restricts the offer to a few righteous ones. This restriction of salvation is in line with the thinking found in Isa 66:7–14. A link between the two texts is further established by the affinity between Isa 54:11 and 66:13 and their shared use of the root נחם (“comfort”).

This is a very fine and well-researched monograph which can be highly recommended. The book is densely written, which means that it is not light reading, yet it is ultimately rewarding to be in the company of such a well-read and erudite author. Although many of the arguments in the book have been phrased before by different scholars in individual publications, Stromberg is the first to collect them, systematize them, and synthesize them into one coherent redactional theory.

One minor aspect open to critique is Stromberg's use of the term “Trito-Isaiah.” Most scholars have used that term to refer to either the author of Isa 60–62*, understood to be the kernel of Isa 56–66, or the material in Isa 56–66 as a whole. Stromberg's use of the term as referring to the author of the final layer of texts in Isa 56–66 is therefore difficult to get used to, and potentially confusing. The confusion is heightened by the fact that Stromberg also uses, for example in the title of his book, the phrase “the author of Third Isaiah,” which indicates that he takes the term TI to signify not only the author of the latest layer but also the layer itself.

Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer, University of Aberdeen

[1] G. Polan, In the Way of Justice towards Salvation: A Rhetorical Analysis of Isaiah 56–59 (AUS, 7/17; New York: Peter Lang, 1986); P. A. Smith, Rhetoric and Redaction in Trito-Isaiah (VTSup, 62; Leiden: Brill, 1995). reference

[2] S. Sekine, Die Tritojesajanische Sammlung (Jes 56–66) redaktionsgeschichtlich untersucht (BZAW, 157; Berlin: de Gruyter, 1989); K. Koenen, Ethik und Eschatologie im Tritojesajabuch. Eine literarkritische und redaktionsgeschichtliche Studie (WMANT, 62; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchern Verlag, 1990). reference

[3] R. Rendtorff, “Isaiah 56:1 as a Key to the Formation of the book of Isaiah,” in Canon and Theology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1993), 181–189. reference

[4] W. A. M. Beuken, “Isaiah 56.9–57.13: An Example of the Isaianic Legacy of Trito-Isaiah,” in J. W. van Henten, H. J. de Jonge, P. T. van Rooden, and J. W. Wesselius (eds.), Tradition and Re-Interpretation in Jewish and Early Christian Literature: Essays in Honour of Jürgen C.H. Lebram (Leiden: Brill, 1986), 48–64. reference

[5] M. A. Sweeney, “The Reconceptualization of the Davidic Covenant in Isaiah,” in J. van Ruiten and M. Vervenne (eds.), Studies in the Book of Isaiah: Festshrift for Willem A. M. Beuken (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1997), 41–62. reference