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Reading Isaiah: Poetry and Vision [Paperback]

By Peter D. Quinn (Author) & Peter D. Quinn-Miscall (Author)
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Item description for Reading Isaiah: Poetry and Vision by Peter D. Quinn & Peter D. Quinn-Miscall...

This practical, "how-to" literary introduction to Isaiah as a poem is based upon the English text and focuses upon parallelism, figurative language, and the use of imagery.

Publishers Description

Perfect for students, "Reading Isaiah" is a practical and nontechnical literary introduction to the book of Isaiah as a poem. Peter Quinn-Miscall translates much of the Hebrew text and focuses upon parallelism, figurative language, and the use of imagery.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Westminster John Knox Press
Pages   236
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.08" Width: 5.98" Height: 0.65"
Weight:   0.75 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Aug 1, 2001
Publisher   Westminster John Knox Press
ISBN  0664223699  
ISBN13  9780664223694  

Availability  103 units.
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More About Peter D. Quinn & Peter D. Quinn-Miscall

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Peter D. Quinn has an academic affiliation as follows - University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia Chairman Department of Oral an.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Old Testament

Christian Product Categories
Books > General Interest > Literature & The Arts > Poetry

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Reviews - What do customers think about Reading Isaiah: Poetry and Vision?

explicit methodology, for good and for ill  Jul 24, 2005
Perhaps it requires a breakdown of certainties and 'assured results' like the one that has reigned in Isaiah studies for two decades to produce a book like this. In the wake of a century of historical reconstruction of the stages by which the book of Isaiah is alleged to have grown, Peter Quinn-Miscall is very clear about what he feels we do not know. His 'new way' of reading Isaiah is meant to allow readers to make their own decisions about the ambiguities and contradictions which he believes characterise this long and eminently quotable Old Testament book.

The author is keen to ask questions rather than provide answers. Indeed four of his five chapters have questions as their title. The first of these ('What Is the Book of Isaiah?') surveys the landscape of the historical periods involved, of Isaiah's imagination, and of scholars' treatment of the book. The author is unfailingly self-conscious in his methodological clarity: 'I do not employ...', 'I will not thereby be taking a stand...', and similar expressions spell out clearly what he does and does not intend to do. He consistently keeps his promises. 'Isaiah' is shorthand for 'the book as we have it', since Quinn-Miscall's approach forbids him approving or disapproving scholarly reconstructions of just which words belong to the eight-century prophet and which do not.

The author is concerned with themes (Chapter Two: 'What Does Isaiah Think?') and how these themes are expressed in images in the `grand, unified poem' which he takes Isaiah to be (Chapter Three: 'What Does Isaiah Imagine?'). Contrary to more traditional criticism, he is not concerned with how these features may vary across historical or literary layers of the text. As a result, he is free to quote the book extensively, without reference to the context in which the passages he cites are found. This is at once a useful and a discomfiting feature of his work. On the one hand, it collects expressions about a given theme (say, 'Justice and Righteousness') in one handy location, where Quinn-Miscall provides helpful explanation about it. Sometimes this comment bears remarkable similarity to observations `pre-critical' scholars used to make-and conservative scholars still do in circles where unity of authorship is stressed-about their quite different 'Isaiah'. On the other, one suspects that Quinn-Miscall's 'Isaiah' sounds a little too much like a 21st-century post-modern aesthete: 'Isaiah writes a book that mixes and presents all of these different aspects in a constantly shifting style ... I call this diversity Isaiah's encyclopedic quality. When Isaiah treats a topic, he looks at it from many sides and considers a variety of the connotations and implications of these many sides.' One needn't be a cheerleader for unfettered historical reconstruction or a monotone chanter of prediction and fulfilment to wonder whether Isaiah and those who passed on his prophetic burden weren't getting at something rather more specific and perturbing than that.

The same is true of the author's treatment of imagery. His method is to lay out a group of Isaiah passages which utilise similar imagery, a helpful arrangement for readers who want a survey of the riches that are worked and reworked in Isaiah's book. True to form, Quinn-Miscall is doing exactly what he has promised us: 'I am not presenting this as the only way to approach Isaianic imagery ... Readers can begin with this and then develop their own ways of dealing with the imagery and indeed with other aspects of Isaiah.' One must congratulate rather than fault a writer for accomplishing his objective.

Still, the method does not escape some inherent weaknesses. In particular, this is visible when Quinn-Miscall attributes motive to Isaiah's presentation. Isaiah is 'a vision of the variety of ways in which the relations of God's ways and human ways can display themselves across time and across cultures.' Such mixing of images 'illustrates Isaiah's desire to be inclusive'. But is inclusiveness really the prophet's-or the book's-intention?

The author's decision not to consider historical depth in his reading of Isaiah unnecessarily flattens the book. The result is that Isaiah's remarkable recycling of images, rich with irony and hope, becomes a mere presentation of various ways that God and people behave. Recent work in Isaiah that attempts to trace the various uses of the same image (for example, reversal of the blindness and deafness theme in the second part of the book) is more helpful in this regard, for it pays attention to the drama of human rebellion, divine threat, punishment by exile, and merciful restoration. In such an approach, the images do indeed shift, but not as in the simple beauty of a kaleidoscope's turn. Rather, images heavy with judgement in the early chapters eventually become vehicles of hope as the Lord beings chastisement of his nation to an end and awakens his despondent people with fresh mercy. All of this takes time, which is to say, history.

In his fourth chapter ('Who Speaks and Who Acts in Isaiah?'), Quinn-Miscall illuminates the reader's path by profiling the protagonists of the book. I found this chapter helpful, because observations about ambiguity ('Who is speaking here and to whom?') are now taken a step further, in an attempt to see whether the absence of the clarity one might seek is purposeful rather than just there. For example, Quinn-Miscall affirms that our inability to discern when God is speaking and when his prophet is holding forth tells us something important about the nature of prophecy itself.

Still, the method he utilises sometimes dissolves the history-borne pathos of the book into general truths which do little to explain why such an ambitious project as the book of Isaiah was undertaken in the first place: 'In this vision we encounter one prophet named Isaiah who is an exemplar of the mission of reporting and interpreting the divine word, but who in many ways is supplanted by other notions of what a prophet is.' 'Assyria symbolizes anyone employed as a divine instrument and also the proud and haughty.' There is succour for the reader of a long, complicated biblical book in Quinn-Miscall's counsel that `flat, one-dimensional characters' like Assyria are 'types, symbols of a particular attribute or fate'. However, one misses a further word about the excruciating fact of Assyrian hegemony or a note regarding what in particular made this character such a relentless memory in the reflections of Old Testament Israel.

In his final chapter ('The Lord's Holy Mountain'), Quinn-Miscall presents his reading of the principal 'messianic' material in Isaiah. He underscores the idyllic imagery of future hope, while eschewing attempts to find subsequent individuals or groups who fit the description. In a manner that has particular value for readers familiar only with the interpretation of such texts afforded by the New Testament and Christian tradition, Quinn-Miscall calls attention to the surprisingly small role played by kings in this imagery.

This well-written book accomplishes what its author has set out to do. Quinn-Miscall has provided a concise and informative survey of the themes and imagery of Isaiah. As a primer for new readers of Isaiah and a refresher course for veterans, its worth is palpable. One will look elsewhere for interpretative depth, theological weight, or insight into the forces that provoked the composition of such a book. The author himself reminds us of what we may expect: 'I ask questions and provide no sure answers.'

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