Understanding Isaiah

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Understanding Isaiah Book Review

In her review of Understanding Isaiah, Ann Madsen, an Isaiah scholar, found the title itself “inviting’ and she promised readers will find it be user-friendly. She explains how layout chosen presents each chapter of Isaiah as a chapter in the book, and each begins with a focused paragraph or two to help readers in “likening Isaiah unto ourselves.” At the beginning, the authors include six pages of good guidance to get started in the 659-page volume.

She asks: “‘Who does not long to understand Isaiah?” Then from the book, she answers: “‘Most of us know that we have been commanded to search the words of Isaiah diligently. And most of us agree that that is a hard thing to do.’ The authors offer tools and suggestions to ease the task. The first time reader of Isaiah, the seasoned scholar, and all students in between will find aid and comfort here as they seek to understand Isaiah.”

In the review, Madsen wrote: “by relating themes of particular chapters to specific challenges, people face today,” readers will be able to “liken” Isaiah to themselves. “This approach welcomes the reader into the section with some notion of its content. Of course, the idea is the authors’ interpretation, but this is the stuff of which commentaries are made. Isaiah’s poetry is so heavily symbolic that authors have difficulty standing back and allowing readers conjure their images, allowing the metaphor speak to each on a personal level. The temptation to simplify is always present, especially when there are so many levels of meaning to be plumbed; defining one may close the door to others waiting in the wings. The Isaiah text is printed in Hebrew poetic form: short poetic lines enable the reader to discern the symbolic parallelism that is obscured when the book is written in prose as it is in our King James Bible.”

The authors, Jay Parry, Donald Parry, and Tina M Peterson,  suggest the book “…be used as a reference and study aid. …Each section consists of a descriptive heading, an introduction to the section, the text of that passage of Isaiah, and a phrase-by-phrase commentary. The Isaiah text includes alternate readings from the Book of Mormon, the Joseph Smith Translation, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible. It also includes clarifications of archaic words. The text is arranged in poetic form where possible.” This format shows Isaiah’s use of parallelism as a Hebrew poetic form. Though I have just picked up my copy, I have already found it to be one of the best parts of my library.

Ann N. Madsen, an Isaiah scholar and poet, teaches ancient scripture at Brigham Young University. She received her MA degree from BYU in ancient studies with a minor in Hebrew. At present, she serves on the Sunday School general board of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She and her husband, Truman, have three children and a Navajo foster son, sixteen grandchildren and, at the moment, twenty-five great-grandchildren.

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