Klaus Baltzer, Deutero-Isaiah: A Commentary on Isaiah 40–55.
(Trans. Margaret Kohl; Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001), xxv, 597 pp. ISBN 0-8006-6039-0. $78.00
Reviewed by Aaron W. Park
San Francisco Theological Seminary/Southern California

“A fundamental thesis of the present commentary is that DtIsa’s [Deutero-Isaiah’s] work is a liturgical drama,” writes the author (p. 7). As a drama, Deutero-Isaiah has its generic elements such as Prologue, Acts and Scenes/epeisodioi (episodes), and Epilogue. Each act is closed with a hymn, which functions as a curtain in a modern theatrical sense. The date of composition is postulated sometime in the fifth century bce analogous to the classical period of Greek drama.

Baltzer is dissatisfied with the outcome of earlier literary criticism and form-genre criticism in that the commentator’s focus on individual, smaller units failed to see the composition of Isaiah 40–55 as a whole. The author tried to see an “umbrella” genre that integrates discrete literary units and diverse genres.

Baltzer finds a plentiful documentation supported from ancient Near Eastern literature and particularly from those of Attic drama. Broadly defined, the word “drama” denotes “an overall genre that is able to absorb other, very diverse separate genres” (p. 7). This includes: structure, audience, and (liturgical) performance. Redactional elements of additions and changes are certainly present but “very slight” in the sight of the author so as to break down this over-arching scheme of a liturgical drama.

The book further examines each literary, structural unit delineated in pp. viii-xv, providing the author’s translation with text-critical notes in a margin and a detailed discussion of literary, compositional features conversant with a wealthy body of literature (pp. 47–487). It also includes a bibliography in the order of commentaries on Deutero-Isaiah, select monographs and articles, articles taken from TDOT (TWAT) and TLOT (THAT), and biblical and extra-biblical indices (pp. 491–596).

One major area of Baltzer’s contribution to genre criticism in general and to Isaiah 40–55 in particular lies in his attempt to understand an overall generic feature of these chapters in terms of a “liturgical drama.” The following diagram summarizes his major structural headings and sub-headings presented in pp. viii-xv and explained throughout the commentary.

Structure: Isaiah 40–55 as liturgical drama:

Prologue: “In Heaven as on Earth” 40:1–31

A. Prelude in Heaven 40:1–8

B. Entry 40:9–20

C. Speaker and Chorus Antiphonally: Hymnal Dialogue 40:21–31

Act I. The beginning of what is to come 41:1–42:13

A. (41:1–13) with 3 sub-sections

B. (41:14–16) with 5 sub-sections

Act II. Jacob/Israel (Again) YHWH’s servant 42:14–44:23

A. (42:14–43:7) with 3 sub-sections

B. (43:8–28) with 3 sub-sections

C. (44:1–23) with 4 sub-sections

Act III. The Sovereignty of God and Earthly Rule 44:24–45:25

A. (44:24–45:13) with 3 sub-sections

B. (45:14–25) with 4 sub-sections

Act IV. The Downfall of Babylon 46:1–49:13

A. (46:1–13) with 3 sub-sections

B. (47:1–48:11) with 3 sub-sections

C. (48:12–49:13) no numbering (8 divisions?)

Act V. The Rise of Zion/Jerusalem out of Deepest Humiliation 49:14–52:10

A. “Zion” as Woman, Bride, and Mother 49:14–21

B. The Decisions of the Ruler 49:22–50:1 (50:2–51:16)?

C. The Turn of Events 51:17–52:10

Act VI. Salvation for the Servant of God, for Zion/Jerusalem 52:11–54:17

A. The New Exodus 52:11–12

B. Servant of God Text IV 52:13–53:12 (6 sub-sections with no numbering)

C. The (Renewed) Marriage of Zion/Jerusalem 54:1–17 (with 3 sub-sections)

Epilogue Festival of the Pilgrimage to “the Holy City” 55:1–13

A. Promises (with 3 sub-sections) 55:1–5

B. Dismissal (with 3 sub-sections) 55:6–13

Framed by a prologue and an epilogue, the body consists of six parts, each of which represents an “Act” in theatrical terms. (The author, however, cautions the reader to differentiate between a modern concept of theater and that of ancient drama as expressed in Attic drama and Deutero-Isaiah.) Each “Act” is followed by Hymns (42:10–13; 44:21–23; 45:25; 49:13; 52:9) with the exception of Act IV. Hymns serve to demarcate the end of each Act and give performers a chance to make necessary changes in roles and costumes. The author convincingly argues that an epilogue replaces a hymnic element in Act IV, for no further change is envisioned

Baltzer’s proposal invites the readers to explore an uncultivated area in form and genre criticism as well as to raise some questions. The following observations mainly apply to his structural understanding of Deutero-Isaiah as a whole.

Within Act V (Isa 49:14–52:10), Isa 49:14–50:1 is named “Throne Scene: [YHWH] as Judge and Ruler (Poem)” and Isa 50:2–51:16 “The Establishment of Guilt.” This seems to indicate essentially two structural divisions. However, Baltzer artificially makes it into three sub-divisions to conform to an alleged “triadic pattern that is maintained with astonishing strictness” (p. 15). In doing so, he leaves Isa 50:2–51:16 outside of his presumed structure of a liturgical drama.

Baltzer’s structuring often ignores the Hebrew syntax. For example, Isa 49:14 begins Act V. This verse, however, is syntactically connected to v. 13. The antithetical pose of batomer zion (“but Zion said”) cannot stand alone apart from its previous verse 13. Both v. 13 and v. 14 constitute prophetic exhortation, and v. 15 introduces YHWH’s speech without a speech formula. Baltzer places 52:9 at the end of Act V. The so-designated hymn in 52:9, however, does not end a literary unit of Act V, but 52:10 does. In fact, 52:9 is merely an invitation to sing with 52:10 being a reason to sing, and a hymn proper such as 42:13 is not present here.

Although the author aims at drawing an over-arching structure of Isaiah 40–55, his conclusion seems to be based on his preconceived structural understanding of Attic drama, and he consequently bypassed structural signals given in the text. One such indicator is a messenger formula koh amar adonai that typically introduces YHWH’s speech units (43:1, 14, 16; 44:2, 6, 24; 45:1, 11, 14, 18; 48:17; 49:7, 8, 22, 25; 50:1; 51:22; 52:3–4).

My main difficulty with Baltzer’s structuring has to do with a lack of clearance and/or consistency in his sub-divisions. The sub-divisions in Prologue (40:1–31) are named: “prelude in Heaven” (40:1–8), “entry” (40:9–20), and “speaker and chorus antiphonally: hymnal dialogue” (40:21–31). But the remaining subdivisions in Acts I-IV are not clear in that the readers have to work on their own to find what each sub-divisions named A, B, C might stand for. Act V clearly provides headings for sub-divisions, but it poses its own problems in that “Servant of God Text III” does not fit into the scheme.

Baltzer’s commentary is undoubtedly a masterful piece, providing a rich documentation of both ancient and modern literature. His proposal of a “liturgical drama” is certainly worthy of consideration in genre research. And text-critical notes are particularly helpful. All in all, this is a welcome addition to the already well-established Hermeneia Commentary series, and no serious student and theological library can afford to ignore its presence.