Of all the texts in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, perhaps no book has a more colorful history of interpretation than Isaiah. A comprehensive history of this interpretation between the prophet Malachi and the first days of Christianity, Joseph Blenkinsopp’s Opening the Sealed Book traces three different prophetic traditions in Isaiah—the “man of God,” the critic of social structures, and the apocalyptic seer.
Blenkinsopp explores the place of Isaiah in Jewish sectarianism, at Qumran, and among early Christians, touching on a number of its themes, including exile, “the remnant of Israel,” martyrdom, and “the servant of the Lord.” Encompassing several disciplines—hermeneutics, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Second Temple studies, Christian origins—Opening the Sealed Book will appeal to Jewish and Christian scholars as well as to readers fascinated by the intricate and influential prophetic visions of Isaiah.
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“The specific instantiation of this general thesis will be the interpretation of the book of Isaiah as an essential and irreplaceable factor in the legitimizing, grounding, and shaping of dissident movements in late Second Temple Judaism, with special reference to the Qumran sects and the early Christian movement. The interpretation of texts is generally understood to be a scholarly and scribal activity; it is that, but it is also a social phenomenon and, typically, a group activity.” (Page xv)
“For the author of Chronicles, therefore, Hezekiah is center-stage throughout, and Isaiah, mentioned only once in passing, is a marginal figure. He is compensated, however, by being assigned the role of the historian of the reign, in keeping with the author’s practice of citing prophetic sources at the conclusion of the reigns of several Judean kings.35 There is no allusion anywhere to Isaiah’s indictments of his contemporaries.” (Page 45)
“Christianity originated as a Palestinian Jewish sect in the mid-1st century c.e. Its origins are therefore to be sought not just in Second Temple Judaism in general but in late Second Temple sectarian Judaism.” (Page xvi)
“Here too, therefore, the profile is that of the ‘man of God’ and saint (ṣaddîq) rather than the free prophet as a critical and often destabilizing force in society.” (Page 46)
“the prophet in the guise of apocalyptic seer who predicts and heralds the final and decisive intervention of God” (Page xvii)
This wide-ranging and original book probes the interpretation and use of the book of Isaiah in Second Temple Judaism and the New Testament. An impressive and stimulating contribution to the early history of biblical interpretation.
—John J. Collins, Holmes Professor of Old Testament, Yale University
Joseph Blenkinsopp brings his enormous learning to the use of the book of Isaiah in a later generation of Jewish and Christian reading. This important book makes two immense contributions to our learning. . . . it greatly illuminates our historical understanding of formative Jewish and Christian communities in their use of Scripture . . . it makes clear how relentlessly pluralistic is our long-term reading of Scripture that resists any single reductionist reading.
—Walter Brueggemann, professor emeritus, Columbia Theological Seminary
Blenkinsopp not only explores the history of Isaiah’s reception in early Judaism and Christianity but also uncovers the numerous links between the figure of the prophet (and his book) and Jewish apocalyptic and sectarian movements, including Christianity itself. A brilliant and largely convincing synthesis by a scholar renowned for the depth and range of his learning.
—Philip R. Davies, professor of biblical studies, University of Sheffield