The Study of the Book of Isaiah
The Message of Isaiah
The Book of Isaiah is one of the most important books of the Old Testament. While little is known of the personal life of the prophet, he is considered to be one of the greatest of them all.
The book is a
collection of oracles, prophecies, and reports; but the common theme is the
message of salvation. There was,
according to these writings, no hope in anything that was made by people.
The northern kingdom of
To these and many other questions the book addresses itself.
be a purging of the nation because God is holy.
Before the nation could inherit the promises made to the fathers, it
would have to be made holy. So God
would use the pagan nations to chasten
The messenger of the message of salvation is the prophet Isaiah, whose name means "salvation of Yahweh," or "Yah saves." He was the son of Amoz; he may also have been related to the royal family, perhaps King Manasseh, by whom he was believed to have been sawn asunder (see the Apocryphal literature; Heb. ). He prophesied in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, and also may have lived past Hezekiah into the reign of Manasseh. Assuming that he was a young man at the death of Uzziah in 742 B.C.when his official ministry began, he might have been 70 or 80 at the time of his death (ca. 680 B.C.). Therefore, the prophet would have ministered for at least 60 years in an effort to bring the nation back to God.
collection of Isaianic oracles fits the
setting of the first half of the book is
The Assyrian Period
On the one hand we have the historical background of the book during the Assyrian crisis. Here are some of the most crucial events in this period:
1. "The Young Lion Roars." In 743 B.C. there was a coalition under Azariah against Tiglathpileser III (743, 738, 735). The important comparative material can be read in ANET, p. 282, lines 103ff. The record in 2 Kings 15:19-20 (compare ANET, p. 283, lines 150ff.) tells how Rezin, Menahem, and Hiram were put under tribute to Assyria. This may have taken place in 738 (although Young in his commentary says 735).
Smoking Firebrand and the Trembling Heart."
The Syro-Ephraimite war took place in
735-733 B.C. According to 2 Kings
15, 16, there was an attempt to set up Ben Tabil
on the throne when Ahaz of the Davidic dynasty did
not go along with the treaty.
Ahaz appealed to
Tiglathpileser of Assyria for help, but this was a mistake (see ANET,
Pekah was removed and Hoshea put in power
Dove without Understanding."
Hoshea's revolt and call to
Bird in the Cage." There were
rebellions during the reign of Hezekiah in
So there is a major section of the book written against the backdrop of the Assyrian crisis.
The Babylonian Period
On the other
hand we have the apparent setting of the circumstances of the Babylonian
captivity, 586-536 B.C. Actually,
the passages do not include very specific details and descriptions of
The Persian Deliverance
What can we
make of the use of the name of Cyrus in the oracles?
Critical scholarship finds it too difficult to accept that a prophet
could predict the name of a king some 175 years before he came on the scene.
But was the
line of which Cyrus was a part was founded by Achaemenes,
who ruled from 700-675 (contemporary with Isaiah).
It was he whose name was taken for the empire, the
Achaemenid Empire. His son
was Teispes (675-640); he expanded the boundaries
of Parsa (
return to this issue later. But it
is important to realize that the movements of these world powers were
well-known in the various courts, including
The Outline of the Book
The following outline of the contents of the book will enable us to gain a quick overview and see how the different parts fit together.
I. THE BOOK OF JUDGMENT (1:1--35:10)
A. The Message of Rebuke and Promise (1:1--)
4. Isaiah's cleansing of unholiness and calling to the ministry to the unholy nation that faces desolation (6:1-13).
B. The Message of Immanuel (7:1--12:6)
The sign of the birth of Immanuel and the judgment to come by
2. The judgment on the nation and the deliverance by the birth and reign of the Son (8:1--9:7).
The doom of
The destruction of the pride of
C. The Burden upon the Nations (13:l--)
D. The Message of Judgment and Promise, the "Little Apocalypse" (24:1--27:13)
1. Judgment for sin will fall on the land, but a remnant shall rejoice at the advancement of the kingdom (24:1-23).
2. Praise is offered to the LORD for His judgments and His deliverance of the believing remnant (25:1-12).
A song of rejoicing in the consolation of
As with a vineyard, the LORD cares for His own and so His discipline on
them differs from His judgment on the pagans: they will be preserved to
Woes upon Unbelievers in
The self-indulgent and scoffing
The blind souls of
3. The rebuke is given for trusting in allies rather than in the LORD in the time of chastening, which is designed to bring about faith (30:1-22).
The people should turn from allies and trust in God who alone can bring
Judgment will fall on the enemies of
F. Further Messages of Judgment and Promise (34:1--35:10)
1. The destruction of Gentile power will certainly come to pass (34:1-17).
2. The blessing of the redeemed is to see the kingdom of peace and prosperity, physically and spiritually (35:1-10).
II. THE BOOK OF HEZEKIAH (36:l--39:8)
The Deliverance of
The invasion of
The encouragement of Isaiah in the time of mourning at the reception of
the letter from Sennacherib prompts a prayer that leads to victory (37:1-38) .
The Deliverance of
1. The king's life is extended through prayer.
2. The king offers a song of praise for his deliverance.
The Deliverance of
The pride of Hezekiah displays the treasures to the king of
2. The prophet announces the Babylonian captivity.
III. THE BOOK OF COMFORT (40:1--66:24)
A. The Promise and Purpose of Peace (40:1--48:22)
The prologue of the Book of Comfort announces the coming of God to
2. The exhortation of God over the raising of the Persian deliverer, over His promises, and over the folly of idols (41:1-29).
3. The Servant of the LORD is raised up by the incomparable God, causing praise to Him (42:1-25).
4. The Servant of the LORD will be regathered because they are His people and all will see His sovereign acts (43:1--44:5).
5. The ability of God over idols to control history because He is the living God: the establishment of Cyrus as His shepherd and anointed servant, bringing the Gentiles into submission (44:6--45:25).
Because of the weakness of the gods of
Based on these prophecies, the LORD exhorts
B. The Prince of Peace (49:1--57:21)
Messiah brings light and restoration: light to the Gentiles when
3. Chosen Israel, the promised nation, should look in faith to the LORD for another return to the land (51:1-16).
5. The Suffering Servant: blessings of redemption come to the nation and grace for the Gentiles (the next two sections) because (in this section) the Servant will be exalted from the lowly place by His death on behalf of the sins of the people as a reparation offering (52:13--53:12).
6. The people of God, therefore, will be blessed with redemption and dominion (54:1-17).
7. Grace will be extended to all (Gentile) sinners who trust in the LORD (55:1--56:8).
8. Among the redeemed in the kingdom, wicked leaders and corrupt idolaters will not be found (56:9--57:21).
C. The Program of Peace (58:1--66:24)
1. In view of the false and ritualistic worship in his day, the prophet looks to the coming of Messiah in light and the turning of people to Him (58:1-14).
There will be blessings of glory
4. Messiah will be filled with the Spirit of the LORD to fulfill the work of redemption and deliverance in the Messianic age (61:1-11).
5. The prophet, wishing to see the promises of glory fulfilled, prepares and calls the people to God, who will defeat all enemies (62--63).
In response to the mercies of God for His people
In response to the prayer of
8. The LORD God will be worshipped in sincerity and shall comfort the remnant in the great day of redemption (66:1-24).
The Text of the Book of Isaiah
The Hebrew Text
Masoretic Text of the book is by far the superior
text type, even though it retains the difficulties and archaisms of the
language. The major concern has
been the relationship of the
about twelve fragments of Isaiah in the
1QIsab is the
The Greek Text
The Greek translation of the Isaianic material was not done all that well, probably not because the translator(s) did not know the language, but because there was a preference for smoother readings. Ziegler tried to produce an eclectic text, which is readily available to students in the standard edition of the LXX edited by Rahlfs (the Goettingen edition). The Cambridge Septuagint on the other hand (eds. Brooke and McClain) used Codex Vaticanus (B) throughout, and then offered variants to the readings.
Translations are the shortest forms of commentaries; they range from tight, literal translations to free paraphrases. It is often helpful to consult translations to see the way the text has been interpreted. To do this well, however, would require some facility with the Hebrew text; but if you are not able to do that, then the better commentaries will have to be used.
The Authorized Version is still superior to many that are out today. It was a remarkable piece of work given the manuscripts that they had. You might wish to look at the New King James Version which modernized and corrected the AV but retained its essential nature. It is very good for public reading.
The Douay Version has undergone many changes like the AV. This is almost like the Vulgate of Jerome.
The Old Revised Version (1883-1885) is good for the original text as well as textual criticism and philology.
The Emphasized Bible can be helpful as a good window to the Hebrew; it marks the commentary work of Delitzsch.
Moffett, Old Testament in 1926, and the complete work in 1933, is written in everyday English. It was influenced by Deissmann, using the common language of the people. It is old line liberal, offering emendations without notice, but fresh and literal.
The Revised Standard Version of 1952 was a very conservative translation with regard to text, grammar, and philology, especially in comparison to other translations. It does resort to higher critical ideas, but usually puts the changes in footnotes. The big change was that they tried to put the Semitic view forward; they thought that the text was not always Messianic where it had been so interpreted, that the AV had read much of the NT back into the text. They simply tried to see what the original writers saw; but they have little emphasis on one mind, the unity of revelation leading to Christ. It ended up with somewhat of a skeptical American viewpoint. But in grammar and syntax and philology, good.
The Berkeley Version is very good.
The Confraternity Version is a revision of the Douay, but very good. The Phillips Version is a reworking of the Moffett edition, with little in it that is fresh. The Amplified seems awfully confusing; it is not always clear which words are being added to the text, and there is a wide range of meanings in some of the variations. The Living Bible is rather "liberal" in its free renderings, and inconsistent in that at times it almost preserves the AV; however, this should change since it is in the process of complete rewriting by a large number of scholars.
Most students are familiar with the ASV of 1901, the NASV, the NIV, and the NRSV, all of which are useful in studying the text. Hebrew students have liked the NASV because it provides a very literal translation, using the standard definitions in the lexica. It is, though, too literal and stilted. The NIV provides the balance for it; it is frequently free and interpretive.
The Jewish Publication Society's TaNaCH Bible is also helpful. "T" stands for the Law (Torah), "N" stands for the Prophets (Nebi'im), and "Ch" stands for the Writings (Chetubim).
The modern exegete must look at a few of the most recent or the best translations to get a feel for the way scholarship has understood the text and rendered it into English. The people who have worked on these are the people who teach in the Seminaries and Universities within the areas. Also, if you make a great deal of use of the Book of Common Prayer, you will have to check the translations of the Psalms and the bits of Isaiah.
Higher Criticism of Isaiah
Higher criticism deals with the date, authorship, and integrity of the book, as opposed to lower criticism which focuses on textual variations in the manuscripts.
The Title (Isaiah 1:1)
Is the title in Isaiah 1:1 the title of chapter 1, or chapters 1-12, or chapters 1-66? This, of course, will be the involved discussion on the next several pages. But several considerations here lead to the conclusion that the title was meant to be the heading for the entire collection:
1. The title
verse mentions all the kings under whom Isaiah prophesied.
It is similar to Micah 1:1, Hosea 1:1, and other superscriptions of
prophetic collections. They all
name the kings in full--apparently for the whole book.
The contemporary Micah was addressed to
2. The heading is parallel to the way that other prophetic books are written.
3. Ezekiel 1:1 is a contrast to the pattern; Isaiah 2:1 is written for a small section of the prophecy.
4. A major
objection is that parts of the book are not written to or about
5. Chapter 1 is a prologue for the whole book, and not the chronological beginning of the oracles. It sets forth the major themes that will be heard throughout the collection. Ewald called it "the grand arraignment."
The Description of Isaiah as Revelation
Isaiah is immediately described as a "vision" or "revelation." The Hebrew hazon (pronounced khah-zone; from hazah) is a synonym for the ordinary word ra’ah, "to see," in passages like Psalm 58:9, Psalm 11:7, and Canticles 7:1. But it can mean "see" in a super-sensory way, in a visionary trance or ecstatic state, such as in Numbers 24:4. As a noun the word describes divine communication. The Hebrew word dabar (pronounced dah-var), meaning "word, event," is the thing that the prophets usually saw (see 1 Chron. where the subject is "words" without implying actual sight). Thus, the book is "The Revelation of Isaiah"--a divine communication through the prophet Isaiah.
The prophets occupied a unique position in God's program. They had inter-communication between heaven and earth. At times the prophets entered into the heavenly court in their spirits, saw the heavenly scene, observed the future plan, had the mind of God, breathed the Spirit of God, or spoke the message of God. They may have been caught up consciously in the spirit to such visions, or they may have simply preached a sermon based on the Law, and their words were inspired by God to reveal not only the current needs but also the future. Consequently, through all this they were recognized as speaking for God; they had authority to appoint kings or depose kings, priests, and even other prophets. For our interest, however, they wrote Scripture, the revelation of God that was binding for all people of all times--their immediate audience, and future generations as well--including us! They interpreted history (past, present, and future); they called people to repentance through moral prophecies; and they often lived out their messages through their life circumstances. When they foretold the future, even though their audiences might not have lived to see it all fulfilled they took courage in their faith to endure what they were facing. Their messages were powerful and precise, both for their moral preaching and their future predictions. Only in certain respects does the New Testament spiritual gift of "prophecy" compare with the office and function of the classical prophet in Israel.
When the prophets spoke, they spoke the Word of the LORD. But they had to pass the two tests laid down in the Law (Deut. 13 and 18). First, their pronouncements had to harmonize with the Torah. Deuteronomy 13 says even if they came with signs and wonders, if their words did not harmonize with Torah, they were to be removed. Deuteronomy 18 says that what they predicted had to come to pass. This is the second test. Even if some of their predictions lay off in the future, there were enough predictions from them that were current and therefore authenticating. We must also keep in mind that some of the non-writing prophets, an Elijah or an Elishah, did not predict much, but did give the word that certain things were about to happen--according to their words. If a prophet was proven false, no one need fear that prophet, even if employed by a king who had defected from the faith.
It should be stated, though, that the true prophets often declared the Word of the LORD in peril of their lives. Jesus Himself lamented that Jerusalem had slain the prophets. And, of course, He would be numbered among them.
The Authorship of the Book of Isaiah
The issue of the unity and the authorship of the Book of Isaiah is a very complicated issue; many modern scholars have accepted the view that there is multiple authorship for the book, although most people trained by them probably have very little idea of the complicated ideas involved because they never studied them, never read the literature on the other side. And, this is true of those trained in the traditional view; they probably cannot defend their position because they never studied it thoroughly nor read material on the other side either. And, I suspect that this will be true of you too; you will formulate some conclusion without having studied in great detail the arguments on both sides, or without reading the literature--which is voluminous.
In the following outline of the issue I have listed the basic arguments. I myself remain unconvinced that multiple authorship is the only or the best solution to the difficulties in the book. The acceptance of one Isaiah is not a view that I consider a major tenet of my faith, but it is what I find still the most compelling for all the data.
The Critical View: Multiple Authorship and Later Dating
A. The traditional view was that the book was a unity, written by the prophet Isaiah who lived around 700 B.C., even though sections of the book prophesied the details of the Babylonian captivity some 125-175 years later.
B. Modern scholarship questioned the validity of this view and proposed an alternative explanation of the Babylonian sections.
1. Deutero-Isaiah, an unknown prophet who lived during the exile, wrote the later sections, and they were appended to the prophet Isaiah's work.
a. J. C. Doderlein (Esaias, 1775) and J. G. Eichhorn (Einleitung ins AT, 1780-1783) are generally recognized as the founders of the modern critical approach to Isaiah. They attributed Isaiah 40-66 to a prophet of the exile.
b. George Adam Smith's commentary (in The Expositor's Bible, 1890) and Driver's Introduction (1891) popularized the view among English-speaking people.
2. Bernhard Duhm (Das Buch Jesaja, 1892) proposed that chapters 56-66 were the work of a post-exilic writer; so "Trito-Isaiah" was introduced into the scholarly world. This view has largely been accepted by critical scholars.
3. The fragmentation of the book continued with sections of Isaiah 1-39 being chipped away as later or spurious. These details are not necessary for this discussion (you can read about them) which will focus on the main issue of whether Isaiah could have or did write the whole book, or most of it.
C. Critical Arguments Against the Unity of the Book
1. The Historical Perspective
They note that the standpoint of the writer of chapters 40-66 is the
b. They argue that the mention of Cyrus by name (44:28; 45:1) is a sure indication of a late exilic date. It is too specific for an eighth-century prophet to have written; prophets do not predict this precisely. They could, but they just do not seem to do it.
And, as Eissfeldt notes, it is
d. Another argument is the idea that a prophet always addressed his contemporaries in their own historical situation. There is no precedent in the Bible for a prophet entirely forsaking his contemporary scene (I will contend that Isaiah does not forsake his audience in looking to the future, any more that John did in writing Revelation). Since the historical situation in view in these chapters is exilic with the prospect of imminent release, the prophet must be living among them, we are told. His prophetic utterances are thereby predictions after the fact, or "historical prophecy," to bring the exiles comfort and hope.
2. Literary Style and Vocabulary
a. Driver maintains that there is a marked difference in style between “First” and “Second Isaiah.” First Isaiah's style is terse and compact, his rhetoric grave and restrained. On the other hand, Second Isaiah often develops an idea at considerable length and his rhetoric is warm and impassioned.
b. In addition, Driver presents several examples of vocabulary differences between the two.
3. Theology: Driver argues that Second Isaiah "moves in a different region of thought from [first] Isaiah; he apprehends and emphasizes different aspects of Divine truth" (p. 243). For example, First Isaiah depicts the majesty of God, whereas Second Isaiah emphasizes His infinitude.
4. Isaiah 36-39: Eissfeldt maintains that the presence of chapters 36-39 (which he says derive from the Book of Kings) shows that at one time the Book of Isaiah must have ended with chapter 35.
5. Linguistics: Based on his computerized study of Isaiah, Radday (pp. 274-77) concluded:
a. The book is composed of two different parts: 1-35 and 40-66.
b. The most dissimilar parts are chapters 1-12 and 40-48. Since Isaiah undoubtedly was the author of the first, he could not have written the latter, we are told.
c. Chapters 13-23 must be ascribed with a very high degree of probability to the author of chapters 1-12 (i.e., Isaiah).
d. Chapters 49-57 and 58-66 display so many affinities with each other and so few with the rest of the book that one has to attribute them to yet a third prophet.
e. The verdict on chapters 23-35 is inconclusive, but these chapters belong in any case to the first part of the book.
II. Conservative Response to the Critical Arguments
A. Concerning Literary Style and Vocabulary
1. Arguments based on style and vocabulary are precarious. These factors may and do vary depending on the subject matter, the purpose, the audience and the genre. For example, many of the words that Driver argues are unique to Second Isaiah, and thereby supporting his view, can be explained along the lines of different subject matter. It is not surprising to find vocabulary of choosing, praising, singing, rejoicing, having pleasure, and acceptance, to be found in passages that deal with the restoration (40-66), and to be absent in section that deal primarily with the announcement of judgment (1-39).
2. In addition, such a criterion is a two-edged sword in that it can (and has) been used to support the unity of the book. For example, the rare word for "reed" (’agmon) is used in 9:13; 19:15; and 58:5, each time with a figurative sense in the realm of humility and weakness; see also the well-known example of "the Holy One of Israel" which occurs 13 times in 1-39, 16 times in 40-66, and only 7 times elsewhere in the Old Testament.
Concerning Theology: This too is similar to the arguments based on
language and style since the theological ideas can very depending on the
purpose, subject matter, and circumstances.
If there was one Isaiah, he ministered for decades; he would have lived
C. Concerning Chapters 36-39
1. Assuming that 2 Kings 18-20 is the source for these chapters, it is possible that they were appended to Isaiah's work out of a "desire to collect together in one book everything concerned with Isaiah." Isaiah could have used them as one of his sources as he compiled his final literary product.
2. However, it would be more likely, as Walton has argued, that Kings used Isaiah as a source because
a. The events in Isaiah 36-39 are not in chronological order--Hezekiah's illness (chapter 38) and the envoys from Merodach-Baladan (chapter 39) took place prior to Sennacherib's invasion of Jerusalem (a position defended by Gene Merrill, Kingdom of Priests).
It makes more sense to say that Isaiah reversed the order of these
events and placed them here as a transition to chapters 40-66--Hezekiah's
mistake brings the prophecy of
D. Concerning Linguistic Variations
1. Radday's work does not satisfy either side in the debate. The conservative scholar will not like the conclusion that the book is divided into two parts, 1-35 and 40-66. But on the other hand, certain critical views are also called into question by his study: (1) chapters 13-23 are called Isaianic, whereas many critical scholars see some of these chapters as non-Isaianic; and (2) chapters 49-57 and 58-66 are linguistic units, whereas critical scholars divided the theological studies of Second Isaiah differently.
2. Radday's linguistic analysis raises certain questions. When a new area of study is opened up, the conclusions must always remain tentative. Radday says, "whether or not our five conclusions are correct will be possible to ascertain only after statistical linguistic in general, and in Hebrew and in the Hebrew Bible in particular, have progressed much further." More importantly, however, is the fact that in doing such work one must have a control with which the data can be compared. Are there sufficient works by authors in biblical Hebrew that can serve in such a capacity?
E. Concerning the Historical Perspective
1. There is overwhelming agreement that chapters 40-66 are written from the viewpoint of the Babylonian captivity. For conservatives and liberals alike this has never been in question. The question is whether or not the author was actually among the exiles, or whether he was projecting himself forward to that period, writing from the perspective of the exile. The question is then broadened to ask whether prophets in general project themselves into the future to predict things.
2. There is historical precedence for such prophetic activity. Driver maintains that "the writings of the prophets supply no analogy for such sustained transference to the future as would be implied if these chapters [40-66] were by Isaiah, or for the detailed and definite description of the circumstances of a distant age." Moreover, it is generally argued that prophecy arose in a specific historical situation to address the needs and the situation of the prophet's contemporary audience. While such prophecy may refer to a future time, it must do so from within the prophet's contemporary setting so as to have relevance for his audience. The case made by critical scholarship is not ironclad; there are satisfactory proposals for these points--although they are answered as well.
a. Driver's point that there are no cases of sustained future prophecy must be modified. There is the prophecy of Daniel 7-11 which is rather dramatic, most of Ezekiel 37-48, and Zechariah 8-13. In Daniel and Ezekiel the prophet is transported from his contemporary setting into the distant future. Of course, these examples will not be accepted by liberal scholars; the critical view of Daniel is that it is written after the fact and not prophecy at all; and that Ezekiel is too symbolic to be relevant. One must also note, however, that parts of First Isaiah also project to the future: Isaiah 11, 13, 24-27, and 32-35, some of which deal also with Babylon. Of course, critical scholarship questions whether these are Isaiah's either. Driver is correct, however, in noting that there is no other example of a sustained future prophecy like Isaiah 40-66. But then we must add, there is no prophecy like Isaiah, period.
b. The question of what relevance a prophecy of the future would have for the earlier audience is an important one because there are many passages in the Bible that seem severed from their historical setting. For example, what relevance do all the plagues in Revelation have for the people at the end of the first century? Another interesting case is the example in Genesis 15 (which, the critic will also say was written later, during the exile): Abraham receives the dream that he will die in a ripe old age, but his descendants will go to Egypt and suffer bondage for 400 years before being delivered. It apparently was a comfort to the old man to know that no matter what lay ahead the promises were sure. So it seems reasonable to say that Isaiah's audience would have profited greatly by these passages--not as much as those living through them, though. His audience would be encouraged by the message because chapters 1-39 are judgment; they would be relieved to know that judgment, even future judgment, is not final. In fact, I should think it would be more encouraging for the exiled community to read these chapters if they had been written as prophecy way before the time than if some contemporary wrote them. Much material in other prophetic works also is to be fulfilled far into the future--but the audience that heard it, and the audiences that read it in the intervening time, will gain much from the message.
Finally, there is a case where a prophet named someone by name well
into the future. In 1 Kings 13 the
young man of God predicted that a king named Josiah would complete the
judgment. Josiah was 300 years
away. Of course, critical
scholarship would say this is not convincing because Kings was written after
the time of Josiah. But that begs
the question; the text reports what a prophet said in the days of Jeroboam.
You will have to answer the question, "Did he say it or did he not say
it?" Ultimately, can the Bible be
believed to tell the truth? We
might also cite the specific prophesies of Messiah.
True, they do not give the name Jesus, but they are very detailed with
regard to the place of his birth, the circumstances, the time of his death,
and a number of other items.
Prophets do seem to make specific predictions about things in the future.
The prophet Isaiah would not be ignorant of
III. Additional Arguments for the Unity of the Book
The Palestinian Setting:
Some conservative scholars make a strong case that the data of Isaiah 40-66
suggests a Palestinian provenance for the writing.
Young states, "the author of Isaiah 40-66 was a Palestinian.
The author does not show familiarity with the land or the religion of
The argument of Isaiah 40-48 loses its force if predictive prophecy is
Vasholz writes, "The citations concerning Cyrus and his deliverance of
Judah (Isaiah 44:28-45:6) to make sense, must be considered as prophetic, not
present or past history, reinforced by a prophet who has a record that he is
Yahweh's spokesman. The prophecies
about Cyrus and Israel's new exodus are told way in advance (`you have not
heard of them before') to demonstrate Yahweh's decisive supremacy over the
`gods' and to prove anew the futility of worshiping them (Isaiah 45:15-17).
Thus, when the Cyrus event does come to pass, `before they happened I
announce them to you' (Isa. 48:5), the prophecies
concerning the Suffering Servant may also be trusted."
The point of these passages is that Yahweh can predict the future well
in advance; the prophecies would
have little impact if the predicted events could be seen on the horizon.
Or, to put it another way, what some critical scholarship seems to be
saying is that the writer wanted to encourage the faith of
C. The Details of Isaiah 56-66 are occasionally not in harmony with the post-exilic period. For example, God accuses the nation of idolatry in 57:3-13. This sin was characteristic of the pre-exilic period, but not after the exile. So why is it here? Those who argue for a Trito-Isaiah (a third Isaiah who wrote of the Jerusalem material in the last part of the book) say that these types of themes indicate a post-exilic writer in Israel. But these abominations in Isaiah 57 are pre-exilic Canaanite types, and not post-exilic sins.
D. Tradition and the Canonical Text
1. Until the 18th century Jews and Christians accepted the unity of Isaiah (with rare exceptions). Ecclesiastes 48:24 (2nd century B.C.) reads: "By the spirit of might he [Isaiah] saw the last things, and comforted those who mourned in Zion" (the last clause being a reference to Isa. 61:3). Granted, tradition is not a very strong argument; but the debate falls into the general discussion of all the modern critical views that by reason so easily set aside tradition (for which see the introductions).
All extant Hebrew manuscripts, the Old Greek (LXX), and 1QIsaa
E. The Problem of Anonymity: Since the question of precedence is so important to critical scholarship, then it must also be asked where we find any other prophetic work that is anonymous. But this is not merely a prophetic work; by most assessments "Second Isaiah" is one of the greatest if not the greatest prophetic work. And can we say that it was anonymous? And can we actually say that it got into the canon that way? And that it was somehow appended to First Isaiah, another prophet’s work? Oswalt comments that one of the best arguments for the unity of the book is its present unified form. How in the world did it get that way? What processes were used, especially if an anonymous work was added to another work--even if it was written in the spirit of Isaiah (as we are told)?
F. The Witness of the New Testament: The writers of the New Testament, as well as Jesus, attribute passages from both sections of the book to Isaiah. One prime example is John 12:37-41, which quotes Isaiah 53:1 and as Isaiah's. Of course, critical scholars discard this as mere accommodation to popular views or to the current knowledge level of the people. But conservatives who hold to divine inspiration of Scripture will not tolerate this explanation.
IV. Concluding Considerations
A. Summation: You will find as you work through all the literature that these arguments have been worked and reworked until very little new can be said. But you should know the main arguments for and against the unity of the book if you are going to do anything with this book (or even if you wish to think yourself biblically educated). It is safe to say that a minority of modern scholars hold to the unity of the book. But there is a growing number of liberal scholars who acknowledge the unity of the book--although because of prophetic contents they will classify it all as Third Isaiah, post-exilic, and not the work of the historic Isaiah! But what does this say for all the previously made arguments on style, linguistics, and theology that were supposed to show us several authors? It seems then that the real issues are the date and the question of predictive prophecy. There are major issues to deal with on both sides; but I personally still take the early date. There are some key questions that I would ask and have to settle before changing.
B. Key Questions
1. Who is the author of the second half of the book? Since the normal custom was for the prophetic author to be named, I would wonder who this was and why he was not named. In effect, if it was not Isaiah's, it was passed off as his (and was a forgery) for centuries.
2. What is the actual evidence for disunity and how strong is it? If the second half is later, should there not be more evidence to support that? Does it not all come down to the name Cyrus? There is no Aramaic in this section of the book; there are no Persian words. The text on the whole is pure Hebrew. Moreover, it looks like Jeremiah and Zephaniah quote from this section of the book (e.g., compare Isaiah 43:1-6 and Jeremiah 30:10). I would still expect more explanation of the manuscript evidence, the versions, the apocrypha, and the New Testament. Can all these be set aside in a cavalier fashion?
3. How did the book develop? There is still not a shred of actual evidence that any part of this book existed by itself— just theories. Some of the topical and literary arguments for the book are overstated. There are passages about Babylon in the first half of the book, and references to Assyria and Palestine in the second half. But there is still an amazing unity and flow to the argument of the book: Chapters 1-39 is about judgment and Assyria; it has many predictions, some to be fulfilled then, others later; Chapters 36-39 is history, proof of the prophecy section, verifying Isaiah's work as a prophet (the same as Jer. 52). Much of the theology of the first half requires the material in the second half; and much of the material in the second half is obviously based on the first half. It may then be accepted as canonical, and the rest of his utterances trustworthy. This in no way rules out the possibility that there was a good deal of final editing and rearranging of the collected oracles as the work was made ready for its inclusion into the canon.
4. What is the nature of prophecy? This is the major issue. How do we view the work of a prophet in predicting the future? Did they read coming events and anticipate more accurately than others what was coming? Or did they actually prophesy things that no one could have imagined? It is very likely that your theological presuppositions will come into play here. Scholars do not like to make this the issue; they would rather say that such is unprecedented (but so was the Virgin birth, the resurrection, etc.). These chapters in Isaiah claim great abilities for Yahweh, among them predicting and controlling the future. But it is critical to note that Isaiah had no idea when these things would be fulfilled; he might have thought they would occur in the war that was coming, i.e., that the audience he was addressing would be the nation going into exile and coming back. So if you do not believe in this type of predictive prophecy, you will have trouble with the unity of the book.
5. What is gained and what is lost in either view? It may be that in the routine preaching and teaching of the theology of the book that it might make very little difference which view is taken. The point of the passage will stand in either case, usually, whether it is a rebuke, a comfort, or a song. Christoph Barth in his theology simply passes over it with a "whichever view is taken" approach. But it may be along the way that whether a passage is prophecy or history will have a bearing on your message. And it all will make a difference on your general interpretation of prophecy. Conservative Christians, those who really study and think through the issues carefully and honestly) can make a strong case that a single author for the book is most consistent with a belief in divine revelation and in the predictive nature of prophecy, that is, amazingly specific predictions! To reduce those passages to "on-the-scene prophecies" when the argument of the book itself is based on the idea that they were delivered much earlier, or to make part of the book a mysterious forgery by having it added to another portion of a prophet, or to discard the witness of the New Testament, are to the conservative all unacceptable explanations based on faulty presuppositions.
Ackroyd, Peter R. "Isaiah 1-12: Presentation of a Prophet." VTSupp 29 (1978):16-48.
Anderson, Bernhard W. "Exodus Typology in Second Isaiah." In Israel's Prophetic Heritage. Edited by Bernhard W. Anderson and Walter Harrelson. New York: Harper and Row, 1962. Pp. 177-195.
Blank, Sheldon H. "Traces of Prophetic Agony in Isaiah." HUCA 27 (1956):81-48.
Eaton, J. H. "The Origin of the Book of Isaiah." VT 9 (1959):138-157.
Eichrodt, Walther. "Prophet and Covenant: Observations on the Exegesis of Isaiah." In Proclamation and Presence, Old Testament Essays in Honour of Gwynne Henton Davies. Richmond: John Knox Press, 1970. Pp. 167-188.
Engnell, Ivan. "The `Ebed Yahweh Songs and the Suffering Messiah in Deutero-Isaiah." BJRL 31 (1948):54-93.
Feinberg, Charles Lee. "The Place That Isaiah Holds in Prophetic Truth." BibSac 93 (1936):451-455.
Goldingay, John. "The Arrangement of Isaiah 41-45." VT 29 (1979):289-299.
Harner, Philip B. "The Salvation Oracle in Second Isaiah." JBL 88 (1969):418-434.
Liebreich, Leon J. "The Compilation of the Book of Isaiah." JQR 46 (1955-56):259-277; 47 (1956-57):114-138.
Manahan, Ronald E. "The Cyrus Notations of Deutero-Isaiah." Grace Journal 11 (1970):22-33.
McCullough, W. S. "A Re-Examination of Isaiah 56-66." JBL 67 (1948):27-36.
Melugin, Roy F. "The Conventional and the Creative in Isaiah's Judgment Oracles." CBQ 36 (1974):301-311.
North, C. R. "The `Former Things' and the `New Things' in Deutero-Isaiah." In Studies in Old Testament Prophecy. Edited by H. H. Rowley. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1946. Pp. 111-126.
Payne, D. F. "The Servant of the LORD: Language and Interpretation." The Evangelical Quarterly 43 (1971):131-143.
Payne, J. Barton. "Eighth-Century Israelitish Background of Isaiah 40-66." WTJ 29 (1966-67):179-191; Part II, WTJ 30 (1967):51-58; Part III, WTJ 30 (1967-68):185-203.
________. "The Unity of Isaiah: Evidence from Chapters 36-39." BETS 6 (1963):50-56.
Phillips, Morgan L. "Divine Self-Prediction in Deutero-Isaiah." Bib Res 16 (1971):32-51.
Scott, R. B. Y. "The Literary Structure of Isaiah's Oracles." In Studies in Old Testament Prophecy Presented to T. H. Robinson. Edited by H. H. Rowley. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1950. Pp. 175-186.
Snaith, Norman H. "The Servant of the LORD in Deutero-Isaiah." In Studies in Old Testament Prophecy Presented to T. H. Robinson. Edited by H. H. Rowley. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1950. Pp. 187-200.
Von Waldow, H. Eberhard. "The Message of Deutero-Isaiah." Interpretation 22 (1968):259-287.
Th. C. "Essentials of the Theology of Isaiah."
In Israel's Prophetic Heritage. Edited by Bernhard W. Anderson
and Walter Harrelson.
Young, Edward J. "The Origin of the Suffering Servant Idea." WTJ 13 (1950):19-33.
________. "The Study of Isaiah Since the Time of Joseph Addison Alexander." WTJ 9 (1946):1-30; 10 (1947-48):23-56; and 10 (1947):139-167.
Isaiah 1-12. Old
Edward J. The Book of Isaiah.
*Motyer, J. Alec.
The Prophecy of Isaiah.
North, C. R.
***Oswalt, J. N.
The Book of Isaiah, 2 Vols.
Smith, George Adam.
The Book of Isaiah. 2 Vols.
Wade, G. W.
The Book of the Prophet Isaiah.
Watts, John D. W.
Isaiah 34-66. Word
Claus. Isaiah 40-66.
Old Testament Library.
Hans. Isaiah 1-12.
**Young, Edward J.
The Book of Isaiah. 3
N.B. These notes made available to my classes through the internet will eventually be published as a commentary in the same format as my work on Genesis (Creation and Blessing) and Leviticus (Holiness to the LORD [available June 2002]), both done by Baker Book House, to be titled Wonderful Redeemer, Holy Sovereign, A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Isaiah.
By this we mean that the Masoretes living in Tiberias completed their work of writing the vowels in the manuscript. They were not making up the vowels; they were inventing a system of marks to represent the oral tradition, the pronunciations, that the scholars knew but that the people scattered throughout the world would not know.
For further reading, see Millar Burroughs, The Dead Sea Scrolls of St. Mark's Monastery, and The Dead Sea Scrolls; see also W. F. Albright, ed., The Bible and the Ancient Near East, and Orlinsky's introduction in C. D. Ginsberg, Introduction to the Critical Edition of the Masoretic Text.
The use of the Old Greek is one of the most difficult tasks in exegesis, for it requires a working knowledge of Old Testament Greek as well as Hebrew. Rahlfs Septuagint gives the text, but almost no apparatus. For that one has to turn to Ziegler's work. The Cambridge Septuagint is available in both the technical critical edition, as well as in the edition that offers the Greek and an English translation beside it. If one wants to start working with this material, then both of these texts should be used: the column OT Greek at least gives a translation, but since it is simply codex B, Rahlfs would have to be checked to see if the critical text agreed with B. Fields' work on the Hexapla may also prove helpful since it will list the Hebrew, the Latin, the Old Greek, and any Greek recensions that change the Old Greek. It is a complicated work, but has a wealth of information in it that would be otherwise unavailable to most students.
This, in itself, does not necessarily mean that the whole book was written by the same person, but that the title was meant to reflect that view. When the title was added to the collection is unknown; but in general prophetic works could not be admitted to the canonical collection if anonymous.
Begin with the basic Old Testament Introductions: R. K. Harrison, Gleason Archer, Brevard Childs, S. R. Driver, Otto Eissfeldt, to start, and then LaSor/Hubbard/Bush, Pfeiffer, Rentdorff, and Young. Also, for an initial probe, read the dictionary article: ISBE (rev. ed.), s.v. "Isaiah--VIII. The Critical Problem," II:893-904, by G. L. Robinson and R. K. Harrison. In the commentaries there will be helpful treatments as well: Oswalt (NICOT [rev.], and Grogan (Expositor's, Vol 6). In this reading notice bibliography along the way. But some additional works would include Yehuda T. Radday, The Unity of Isaiah in the Light of Statistical Linguistics (1973), ch. 1 and 2; and O. T. Allis, The Unity of Isaiah (1950), chapter 3. Additional names and references will be given in the discussions to follow.