Book of Isaiah
|Books of Nevi'im|
It consists of prophecies delivered (Isa. 1) in the reign of Uzziah (1-5), (2) of Jotham (6), (3) Ahaz (7-14:28), (4) the first half of Hezekiah's reign (14:28-35), (5) the second half of Hezekiah's reign (36-66).
Thus, counting from the fourth year before Uzziah's death (762 BC ) to the last year of Hezekiah (698 BC ), Isaiah's ministry extended over a period of sixty-four years. He may, however, have survived Hezekiah, and later been martyred by being sawed in half. (For more information on Isaiah's life, see Isaiah.)
The book, as a whole, has been divided into three main parts:
- The first thirty-five chapters, almost wholly prophetic, Israel's enemy Assyria, present the Messiah as a mighty Ruler and King.
- Four chapters are historical (36-39), relating to the reign of Hezekiah.
- Prophetical (40-66), Israel's enemy Babylon, describing the Messiah as a suffering victim, meek and lowly.
The genuineness of the section Isa. 40-66 has been keenly opposed by able critics, who assert that it must be the production of a deutero-Isaiah, who lived toward the close of the Babylonian captivity. This theory was first formulated by Koppe , a German writer at the close of the 18th century. There are other portions of the book also (e.g., ch. 13; 24-27; and certain verses in ch. 14 and 21) which they attribute to some other prophet than Isaiah. Thus it is possible that as many as five or seven, unknown authors had a hand in the production of this book.
The arguments in favor of dividing the book are various:
- Critical scholars argue that the historical Isaiah, living in 700 BC, could not have foretold the appearance and the exploits of Cyrus, who would set the Jews free from captivity one hundred and seventy years later.
- While the first 39 chapters of the book are primarily concerned with the threat from Assyria, chapters 40-66 appear address a different historical situation, namely the Babylonian captivity (and possibly the period after the exile), as a present reality.
- The later chapters (40-66) differ stylistically and linguistically from those that precede it.
These and other considerations have led most modern critical scholars to conclude that the book of Isaiah, in its present form, is the result of an extensive editing process, in which the promises of God's salvation are re-interpreted and claimed for the Judean people through the history of their exile and return to the land of Judah. Since it is probably useless to try to reconstruct a precise account of the history of the book's composition, Biblical scholars such as Brevard Childs have argued for reading the book as a literary unity. Current research is exploring the book's intertextuality, the allusions and references later editors made to connect the different layers of the book.
Other scholars dispute these conclusions and argue for the unity of the composition of the book. They argue that the diversity of subjects treated of and the peculiarities of the prophet's position at the time the prophecies were uttered can sufficiently account for the differences in style, theme, and language. Furthermore, when the Septuagint version was made (about 250 BC) the entire contents of the book were ascribed to Isaiah, the son of Amoz. In the time of Jesus the book existed in its present form. Many prophecies in the disputed portions are quoted in the New Testament as the words of Isaiah (Matthew 3:3; Luke 3:4-6; 4:16-41; John 12:38; Acts 8:28; Romans 10:16-21). Tradition has ascribed the whole book to one author.
Besides this, the internal evidence, the similarity in the language and style, in the thoughts and images and rhetorical ornaments, all points to the same conclusion; and its local coloring and allusions suggest its Palestinian origin.