A Redactional Study of the Book of Isaiah 13-23

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Jongkyung Lee
Oxford Theology and Religious Monographs
  • Oxford, England: 
    Oxford University Press
    , August
     2018.
     240 pages.
     $85.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780198816768.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Jongkyung Lee’s A Redactional Study of the Book of Isaiah 13–23 takes up the question of how the Oracles Against the Nations (OAN) section in the larger book of Isaiah was edited to include the material it now contains. Understanding these chapters is complicated by a myriad of issues, not the least of which revolves around the lengthy historical period reflected in the contents of this material. In Lee’s view, a substantial amount of the material in these chapters dates to the Assyrian period of the prophet Isaiah himself—though not necessarily composed by the prophet—and communicates doom and judgment on the nations named. Later prophetic authors inherited this and added new material reflective of their later context. Somewhat predictably, Lee argues that two different attitudes toward the nations can be detected in these later additions. Some additions continue the theme of judgment while others offer a new tone of hope. What is of interest is why and how these additions achieve these aims.

A Redactional Study begins with an introduction and survey of scholarship, followed by seven chapters in which Lee examines a series of redactional additions. Chapter 9 explores passages outside of Isaiah 13–23 that take a more positive view of the nations. A final chapter offers a summary of Lee’s argument and conclusions.

The substance of the text is found in Chapters 2 through 8. In these chapters, Lee argues that Isaiah 14:1–2, 32b, 18:7, 16:1–4a, 14:26–27; 23:8–9, 11, and 19:16–17—he treats them in that order—constitute redactional additions stemming from the same writers who were responsible for Isaiah 40–55, the Second Isaiah. As such, they are additions composed in the late exilic period. In this, Lee is clearly indebted to his doctoral supervisor H.G.M. Williamson’s The Book Called Isaiah (Oxford University Press, 1994). Integral to Lee’s argument is the place and function of Isaiah 14:1–2 and 14:26–27. These two passages, which bookend a section detailing the fall of Assyria, establish the two contrasting views that characterize the additions Lee identifies. So, 14:1–2 expresses the future return from exile that awaits YHWH’s people as well as the role the nations will play in that return. As such, it establishes the idea that the nations may enjoy some positive association with Israel. The relevant additions deal with Philistia (14:32b), Cush (18:7), and Moab (16:1–4a). By contrast, 14:26–27 introduces the notion that YHWH has planned to humble arrogant and proud nations such as Babylon. The oracle additions bring this vision to bear upon Tyre (23:8–9, 11) and Egypt (19:16–17), two late-exilic powers. 

In chapter 9, Lee asks if the positive view of the nations he identifies in the first four of the passages he deals with finds a reflex elsewhere in Isaiah—from passages which may be thought to have originated around the same time—late exilic or early post-exilic period. He identifies several of these from all areas of the book which appear to be compatible with the additions in the oracles against the nations. Among these, Isaiah 2:2–4 is arguably the most important given its placement early in Isaiah, and its incredibly irenic and welcoming view toward the nations.

As the title suggests, Lee’s study relies heavily upon redaction criticism in explaining the expansion of these chapters, both at the level of larger units within these chapters as well as the individual verses or half verses. His discussion in each chapter begins by establishing that the unit under consideration is, in fact, a secondary addition to pre-existing Isaianic material—I mean this in the literary, not authorial sense. To do this, he discusses the compositional history of the larger unit of which the addition is a part, establishing a date for each of the identified textual layers. This enables Lee to examine how the passages, which form the focus of his study, interpret the earlier material and modify its meaning. As anyone who has worked on the complicated question of Isaiah’s composition and formation can easily predict, Lee’s dating and compositional history conclusions will not be universally accepted, even though his discussion is generally judicious and cautious.

Lee’s work represents a helpful contribution towards the continuing effort to uncover how the composite book of Isaiah developed. He has drawn our attention to an oft-neglected portion of the book in that discussion. Additionally, if Lee’s thesis is correct, he has shed light on how prophecy continued to develop as a literary phenomenon in the late exilic period in order to re-interpret the pre-exilic Isaianic tradition for a later set of circumstances. In doing so, he also demonstrates how the authors of these exilic-era additions were readers of Isaiah as well.

About the Reviewer(s): 

J. Todd HIbbard is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Detroit Mercy.

Date of Review: 
April 30, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Jongkyung Lee is an Independent Scholar.

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