Review Part 1: Reading Isaiah

by Peter D. Quinn-Miscall. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1989.

[Note: The Nerd has a lot less time in his life for blogging than he used to. So things like book reviews might have to come in multiple parts. It seems better to the Nerd than not doing them at all.]

Peter Quinn-Miscall’s book on Isaiah is something different in a word of boring Isaiah books. In my judgment, this is not a book for a beginner trying to figure out Isaiah, not a Cliffs Notes or Spark Notes. It will not be something you can use easily to get an A in the Isaiah course you signed up for at university.

Rather, it’s a book for people who have spent some time in Isaiah. It’s for those who have read a few commentaries (by read, I mean skim, of course). It’s for those who want to see some different ways of reading.

Quinn-Miscall’s reading is not your average one. Most people, traditional and academic, see the book of Isaiah in historical layers of some kind: past sin, present repentance, and future redemption. Quinn-Miscall sees the final book (there may be layers of writing and multiple authors, but he is examining it as a finished work of literature) as a piece of idealist writing. There is no simple progression from past sin to present repentance or from present repentance to future redemption.

Isaiah, he says, sees it as one whole, a sort of ideal to believe in and aim for. He is not specific and makes no guarantees. The mysterious messianic future will depend as much on God’s unknowable timing as it does on the reactions of Jerusalem and the nations. Perhaps Quinn-Miscall’s idealist reading can best be seen in the way he translates Isaiah 2:1-4 with present tense and modal verbs (a grammatically feasible notion for sure):

This will be in latter times:

The mountain of the house of the Lord is established

as tallest of mountains, as the highest of the hills,

And all the nations flow to it, many peoples come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,

to the house of the God of Jacob,

That he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths;

For teaching comes forth from Zion and the word

of the Lord from Jerusalem.”

He judges among nations and decides for many peoples;

They beat their swords into plowshares and their spears

into pruning hooks;

Nation does not lift a sword against nation,

and they no longer learn war.



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