on March 10, 2012
The old Anchor Bible series, now Anchor Yale Bible, was useful not only because of the competence of the scholars involved but even more because of its format. In general the volumes made room for textual notes (recording important variants in manuscripts), detailed translation notes (often giving literal versions and explaining how a Hebrew or Greek phrase was used, and giving alternative ways of reading a phrase), commentary on what the meaning of a pericope may have been to a contemporary audience, and interpretation (a discussion of contemporary readings). There are usually thorough introductions bringing a lay reader up to date on current scholarship regarding text, authorship, history of the period in question, etc.
More recently there seems to have been some editorial slippage. The useful format described above, which made arcane scholarship available to serious readers without Greek or Hebrew, has been relaxed to the point that it is hard to tell who these commentaries are aimed at. In this particular volume (Isaiah 1-39) Blankenship clearly knows his material and he can write forcefully. However the historical exposition is so condensed it ended up confusing more than clarifying. To some extent this reflects controversies in our understanding of 8th-5th century Israel, but if the goal of this introduction is to take a reader from the "old" consensus about who Isaiah was and what he wrote to the current (unsettled) views, it does a marginal job at best.
More importantly perhaps: the translation notes have been cut to a minimum and piled up without indentation in a misguided attempt to save space. The format alone makes them almost unreadable. This was the feature that most clearly distinguished the Anchor Bible from other equally scholarly commentaries. It needs to be expanded, not curtailed.
As far as the commentaries on each section, Blankenship can be helpful, but he frequently just gives it up. A glaring example is the discussion of the famous crux on almah ("the virgin shall conceive"). He tells us the literature on this is too extensive to summarize, that Jewish scholars in the Middle Ages never tired of pointing out there was a different word specifically meaning "virgin" as opposed to "young woman" and ... that's pretty much it. I imagine a scholar may be bored at having to go over this material over and over again, but what readers need is a detailed exposition of the Hebrew, Septuagint and Latin versions and possible translations--a brief but definitive excursus. What we get here is redundant to scholars and inadequate for lay readers.
So here's a plea to the series editors: make sure your contributors know who they are writing these commentaries for. If they imagine a serious lay reader or a pastor whose knowledge of ancient languages is shaky, but who wants access to the best contemporary scholarship on these texts, they won't miss the mark.
on June 18, 2014
This book is highly packed with information and yet straight to the point. There are lots of abbreviations and the author doesn't waste his words. Transliterations and translations were provided (there are no Hebrew forms as the target audiences are highly-educated non-specialists). The book is highly critical: there are many conjectural emendations, rearrangement of texts and bracketing some lines as scribal glosses. Nevertheless the author has reasonably justified his corrections. He doesn't presume divine inspiration which is a good starting-point for a critical commentary. The translation is not very literal despite the author's effort in recovering the Ur text - he has also taken into account the intelligibility of the text by smoothing out passages by supplementing and paraphrasing some words. Each unit or pericope is followed by a textual note which shows differences between ancient manuscripts. It is then followed by interpretation. I would prefer if each unit is explained as a whole and then followed by a line-by-line exegesis which will make the reading easier for the researcher. The bibliography appears in the middle of the book (after the Translation and Introduction) and is sorted into two: Commentaries and Monographs/Articles.