Originally published in The Jewish Chronicle, 5 June 1981.
Isaiah XXI: a Palimpsest. By A. A. Macintosh. Cambridge University Press. £12.50.
Isaiah 13-39. By Otto Kaiser. Translated from the German by R. A. Wilson. SCM Press. £7.50.
A palimpsest is a parchment which has been written on twice, the second time after the first writing has been erased. The very difficult chapter 21 of the book of Isaiah, containing oracles against foreign nations, presents many problems, textual, linguistic, historical and literary, the solution to which, according to Macintosh, can be explored by seeing this section as a palimpsest in the sense that the original has been altered, elaborated and added to by a later prophet or prophets so that what we now have is a highly edited text. Macintosh’s attempt at reconstructing the history of this notoriously obscure passage is carried out with full scholarly rigour and is addressed to experts in the field. A welcome feature of the work is its use of the mediaeval Jewish commentators, largely ignored by “Old Testament” scholars.
Kaiser’s work is part of the commentaries to Isaiah in the Old Testament Library series, hence there is no significance to the particular chapters examined more than the other chapters of the book. This work is far less detailed and more popular than the Macintosh book, though the methodology employed is very similar in the two investigations.
The publisher’s blurb to Kaiser quotes “The Tablet”: “There is no doubt that Professor Kaiser has done his task well, and all through, beyond erudition shines a robust Christian faith.” The Jewish reader can gain much from this book but he will wish that a commentary of equal learning were available written by a Jewish scholar through which would shine instead a robust Jewish faith.