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Prophecy of Isaiah Paperback – 16 Jul 1999
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Alec Motyer gives us the fruit of over three decades of the study of Isaiah. With reference to the Hebrew text.
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A major frustration is that it lacks some of the basics of a technical commentary such as an index, or indeed, any index at all! This makes it rather frustrating to use. If you're trying to follow a discussion on a particular topic you have to find the 'first reference' and then Motyer does point you forward but not ideal.
Similarly there's only a (very!) 'Select' Bibliography. If you're trying to find the full details of a citation good luck, there's no author index so back to looking for the 'first reference'.
Finally, to me it reads like a series of technical mini-monographs.
This is a disappointing commentary, considering what it might have been. It's under IVP's Academic imprint, but this is not really an academic book. It could have been, considering Motyer's life-long engagement with Isaiah, and the breadth of his scholarship, but IVP appear to have opted for something less.
The strengths are above all in Motyer's grasp of the structure of the book as a whole. This is not merely his endorsement of the traditional evangelical opinion on unity of authorship / pre-exilic dating for the later sections, although many conservatives will find his arguments there helpful. It is in particular in his sense of the book's poetry, his ability to identify poetic structures as they give cohesion to individual oracles. For readers who understand Isaiah as Christocentric, there are many suggestive and insightful remarks. In details of translation Motyer is often sharp and concise.
The weaknesses are several. First, there is simply not enough detailed analysis of the text. Many words go without any discussion. There is virtually no consideration of textual variants - almost no reference in the book to either the LXX or to the Qumran Isaiah. The corollary of this is that Motyer moves far too readily to a moral or devotional application. Not that what he says in this vein isn't sometimes helpful - though it does tend to disregard concrete political or economic issues - it's just that there is a need for more substantial work on the text of Isaiah. Often this commentary reads like either a TOTC or a Bible Speaks Today.
The crying shame is that Motyer didn't provide his own translation. Presumably following IVP policy, the book refers primarily to the NIV. Unfortunately a high proportion of Motyer's references to the NIV are to point out its failings. Having Motyer's own translation would also have made the book much more useable. As it is, the layout is not good, and the content moves unpredictably between exegesis and application. Although Motyer is often a model of clarity, his writing in this seems awkward. Reading it, I found myself wishing for the clarity of organisation and layout found in the Anchor series (though I could do without Anchor's bad setting and printing).
What might have been, if there had been a strong editor. It's well worth having. The go-to book on Isaiah? Sadly not.