Deutero Isaiah’s Faulty Premise and Logic

In a prior blog, I shared a quote from a critical scholar called Ulrich Berges on the book of Isaiah that made clear the faulty premise upon which the Deutero Isaiah theories are based, which is that fulfilled prophecies aren’t possible. Access that blog here:

This blog continues this discussion with several rebuttals to the Deutero Isaiah theory, starting with trends in the theory from other “scholarly circles.” If you’re unfamiliar with the Deutero Isaiah theory or Isaiah’s timing, you may want to read the linked blog first.

Traditional Christian and Jewish beliefs place the prophet Isaiah in the 8th century B.C. and attribute the prophetic book in the prophets section of the Jewish Scriptures entitled “Isaiah” solely to him. In the 18th century, German scholars noticed some highly specific prophecies in Isaiah, which were fulfilled over a hundred years after he lived. They couldn’t stomach the theological implications of those fulfilled prophecies, so they decided to craft a story that suggests Isaiah is an ancient version of Wikipedia, which was authored and edited by multiple unnamed sources over centuries. Their primary premise is that people added prophecies after they occurred because they couldn’t have known of any such specificities in advance!

Other Scholarly Circles

Johann Gottfried Eichhorn (1752-1827) grabbed Döderlein’s baton (on Deutero Isaiah) and circled the track in his book entitled Einleitung in das Alte Testament (Introduction in the Old Testament) in 1783, which “enjoyed an unusually broad distribution outside of the circle of professional biblical scholars.”[1] From his book and others in the 1800s, a new conception developed among scholars that “assumed a later, exilic composition of Isaiah 40-66.”[2] Note the word “assumed,” which suggests that later composition is a given or a proven fact. Of course, it’s not even close.

Bernard Duhm (1847-1928) jumped onto this new bandwagon with his notions of a three-part division of Proto Isaiah (chapters 1-39), Deutero Isaiah (40-55), and Trito Isaiah (56-66). He further pointed out the Servant Songs of Isaiah in 42:1-4, 49:1–6; 50:4–9; and 52:13–53:12.  Duhm argued that all three divisions were written over centuries, ending as late as the 2nd century B.C. Odil Hannes Steck (1935-2001) rejected Duhm’s 3-part divisions when he observed successive literary steps in Deutero and Trito Isaiah and that Isaiah 35 bridged Proto and Deutero Isaiah.[3]

“The collection of Second Isaiah owes its present form to a long editorial process that started with the basic core in Isaiah 40–46 (or 48). Its various augmentations were added in part to a core that was still independent but also inserted, in part, into what was becoming the Großjesajabuch [Big book of Isaiah].”[4]

In recent times, the “person of the prophet” Isaiah has been replaced with the rediscovery of the essential unity of the book and the interest in the book as a literary.[5] For example, Zion is prominent throughout, as are the holiness of God and the values of righteousness and justice.[6] Though scholars have acknowledged unity, scholarship persists in manufacturing divisions.

In summary, over the past few centuries, scholars in English-speaking and German-speaking countries have posited numerous divisions to Isaiah, rendering the book a veritable panoply of brilliant writers and editors who were never identified nor credited by anyone in ancient times. Should we thank these scholars for finally giving credit to those poor folks by bestowing upon them the recognition they deserve? They pieced together a masterpiece puzzle and duped their ancient peers! Or should we tell the emperor he’s wearing no clothes?

We have numerous reasons to reject their hypotheses, including the conservative nature of ancient orthodox Jews, illogical underpinnings of their arguments, faulty premise against prophecies, and the voices of numerous ancient sources who support the prophet Isaiah as the sole author of Isaiah.

Conservative Nature of Ancient Orthodox Jews and Illogical Underpinnings

The hypothesis that the books were written over centuries ignores the simple fact that ancient Jews would not have allowed people to add significant material to their holy, divinely-inspired, and prophetic scriptures, particularly after the 5th century B.C. (in Artaxerxes’ time) when they closed their canon. As others have pointed out,[7] the Sanhedrin were highly scrupulous and conservative men with extremely strict views of inspiration and an intense reverence for their sacred texts. That they would allow a series of unnamed scribal editors to swoop in, redact, and significantly add to their scriptures time and again over centuries is ludicrous. Note that this would involve not just changing one scroll in one location in the ancient Near East – but changing all of the scrolls in all locations across a wide geographical region. Recall that between the 8th and 5th centuries B.C., Hebrew leaders (and their scriptural scrolls) moved frequently between places such as Judea, Israel (Samaria), Babylon, and Assyria.

The Dead Sea Scrolls have given us a good indication that ancient groups of Hebrew people, such as the Essenes, valued their holy scriptures and preserved multiple copies. The Essenes preserved 21 copies of Isaiah alone!

Furthermore, memorization was highly valued in ancient oral traditions since it was very costly to copy important information on papyrus. Copies were likely kept in the First and Second Temples and synagogues and backed up in places designated by ancient Jewish priests, kings, prophets, and/or the Sanhedrin. Making significant insertions after holy scriptures had been memorized is implausible.  

To scholars, this scenario (around 537 B.C.) would have to be plausible:

“No no, most excellent Moshe. Put your old Isaiah scroll away. We must now memorize this new version of the prophet. The scroll I have has some exciting new material! It speaks of our ruler King Cyrus and includes prophecies about a voice in the wilderness and a Suffering Servant. It also says God named Cyrus during Isaiah’s lifetime, even though we know a scribe added that passage this year.”

“But my good friend Shlomo. It took me a year to memorize Isaiah’s history.”

“Oh, they changed that too. We’ll both have to start over, friend. You know how our prophets’ words evolve to fit the times!”  

Let the Ancients Speak Against their Faulty Premise!

These scholarly conclusions rest on a faulty premise, which is the assumption that Isaiah could not have possibly prophesied something as specific as that the Hebrews would be exiled by Babylon or King Cyrus would free them. Such prophecies have divine implications and they think God doesn’t exist! Isaiah wasn’t considered a prophet because he never truly prophesied! His inclusion in the Jewish Scriptures is based upon the fact that his prophecies were fulfilled. Furthermore, their conclusions fail to take into account ancient voices who credited Isaiah – and only Isaiah – as a prophet who wrote the entire book in his name. These include references to Isaiah as a prophet in Kings and 2 Chronicles during Isaiah’s lifetime, 1st-century references by Jesus, Luke, Paul, and a Jewish historian Josephus (37 – 100 A.D.), and a reference around 1000 A.D. by Rashi.

Kings and 2 Chronicles

“And Hezekiah said to Isaiah, ‘What shall be the sign that the Lord will heal me, and that I shall go up to the house of the Lord on the third day?’ And Isaiah said, ‘This shall be the sign to you from the Lord, that the Lord will do the thing that he has promised: shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or go back ten steps?’ And Hezekiah answered, ‘It is an easy thing for the shadow to lengthen ten steps. Rather let the shadow go back ten steps.’ And Isaiah the prophet called to the Lord, and he brought the shadow back ten steps, by which it had gone down on the steps of Ahaz.” (2 Kings 20:8-11)

“Then Hezekiah the king and Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, prayed because of this and cried to heaven. And the Lord sent an angel, who cut off all the mighty warriors and commanders and officers in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned with shame of face to his own land. And when he came into the house of his god, some of his own sons struck him down there with the sword. So the Lord saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib king of Assyria and from the hand of all his enemies, and he provided for them on every side. And many brought gifts to the Lord to Jerusalem and precious things to Hezekiah king of Judah, so that he was exalted in the sight of all nations from that time onward.” (2 Chronicles 32:20-23)

The New Testament

“But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’” (Paul, in Romans 10:16)

“Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over and join this chariot.’ So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ And he said, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:

‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.’

And the eunuch said to Philip, ‘About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?’ And Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he replied, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. (Acts 8:26-38 with the sometimes omitted verse 8:37 inserted in italics)

Jesus directly referenced Isaiah numerous times in the Gospels and attributed to him authorship of quotes in the latter books (Isaiah 6:10; 44:18).

“When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.  Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God (John 12:36-43).

Josephus

Ancient Jewish historian also offered a refutation in his writings. In chapter 1 in book 11 of Antiquities of the Jews,[8] he shared the following information about King Cyrus of Persia:

“In the first year of the reign of Cyrus; which was the seventieth from the day that our people were removed out of their own land into Babylon; God commiserated the captivity and calamity of these poor people: according as he had foretold to them by Jeremiah the Prophet, before the destruction of the city; that after they had served Nebuchadnezzar, and his posterity; and after they had undergone that servitude seventy years, he would restore them again to the land of their fathers; and they should build their temple, and enjoy their ancient prosperity. And these things God did afford them. For he stirred up the mind of Cyrus, and made him write thus throughout all Asia: “Thus saith Cyrus the King: since God Almighty hath appointed me to be King of the habitable earth, I believe that He is that God, which the nation of the Israelites worship. For indeed he foretold my name by the Prophets, and that I should build him a house at Jerusalem, in the country of Judea.”

“This was known to Cyrus by his reading the book which Isaiah left behind him of his Prophecies. For this Prophet said, that God had spoken thus to him in a secret vision: ‘My will is, that Cyrus, whom I have appointed to be King over many and great nations, send back my people to their own land, and build my temple.’ This was foretold by Isaiah one hundred and forty years before the temple was demolished. Accordingly, when Cyrus read this, and admired the divine power, an earnest desire and an ambition seized upon him, to fulfill what was so written. So he called for the most eminent Jews that were in Babylon, and said to them, that ‘He gave them leave to go back to their own country, and to rebuild their city Jerusalem, and the temple of God; for that he would be their assistant; and that he would write to the rulers and governors that were in the neighborhood of their country of Judea, that they should contribute to them gold and silver, for the building of the temple; and besides that, beasts for their sacrifices.’”

Rashi

Rashi, an influential Jewish commentator from around 1000 A.D., made mention of Isaiah. In his commentary on Isaiah 1:1, he stated that Isaiah’s book was not presented in chronological order.[9] As Rashi noted, the book of Isaiah begins with the death of King Uzziah but Isaiah 6:8 speaks of the day King Uzziah became a metzora (which is a person afflicted with a spiritual malady or a leper). Rashi further noted the distinction of prophecies of retribution in 1-39 and consolations in 40-66 in his commentary on Isaiah 40:1.

“Console, console My people He returns to his future prophecies; since from here to the end of the Book are words of consolations, this section separated them from the prophecies of retribution. Console, you, My prophets, console My people.”

In his commentaries on Isaiah 44:7 and 45:3, Rashi emphasized that Isaiah wrote his book prior to the 1st Temple’s destruction in 586 BC and that the Hebrews hadn’t (again) gone into exile and that Cyrus hadn’t even been born yet when Isaiah prophesied of him.

“All the creatures and the signs. Marvelous things and those that will come. And those destined to come, let them tell, as I do now, for the Temple has not yet been destroyed, and you have not been exiled, and neither has Cyrus been born, but I am reporting it to you.”

Conclusion

It appears that the emperor in scholarly circles is wearing no clothes, yet which Biblical scholars in modern days will tell him? They may risk tenure in our universities if they don’t toe the party line.

“And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I [Isaiah] said, ‘Here I am! Send me.’ And he said, “Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive. Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.’” (Isaiah 6:8-10)

J Thomason is a Christian business professor who teaches university courses on leading and managing people, communication, and culture. She is making a video series on Isaiah, which begins with this YouTube video:


[1] Becker, U. (2020). The Book of Isaiah: its composition history. Oxford Handbooks Online. https://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190669249.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780190669249-e-2#oxfordhb-9780190669249-e-2-note-64

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Becker, U. (2020). The Book of Isaiah: its composition history. Oxford Handbooks Online. https://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190669249.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780190669249-e-2#oxfordhb-9780190669249-e-2-note-64

[5] Ibid.

[6]. Williamson, H. G. M. (2012) Isaiah, Book of. In Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets, edited by Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville, 364–378. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press; Kaiser, O..(1994). Grundriß der Einleitung in die kanonischen und deuterokanonischen Schriften des Alten Testaments. Band 2. Die prophetischen Werke. Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, Cited in Becker, U. (2020). The Book of Isaiah: its composition history. Oxford Handbooks Online.

[7] Anderson, S.R. (1909; 1990). Daniel in the Critics’ Den. A Defense of the Historicity of the Book of Daniel. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

[8] Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews. English translation by: https://penelope.uchicago.edu/josephus/ant-11.html

[9] Rashi. Commentary on Isaiah 1:1. Sefaria. https://www.sefaria.org/Rashi_on_Isaiah.1.1.2?lang=bi

18 Replies to “Deutero Isaiah’s Faulty Premise and Logic”

  1. I think you’ve made a great case for the unity of Isaiah. I particularly like this part of your argument:

    To scholars, this scenario (around 537 B.C.) would have to be plausible:

    “No no, Rabbi Moshe. Put your old Isaiah scroll away. We must now memorize this new version of the prophet. The scroll I have has some exciting new material! It speaks of our ruler King Cyrus and includes prophecies about a voice in the wilderness and a Suffering Servant. It also says God named Cyrus during Isaiah’s lifetime, even though we know a scribe added that passage this year.”

    “But Rabbi Shlomo. It took me a year to memorize Isaiah’s history.”

    “Oh, they changed that too. We’ll both have to start over, friend. You know how our prophets’ words evolve to fit the times!”

    Making constant additions to the text strikes me as a real problem. I liked your reference to the emperor having no clothes, I think this is an important understanding for all forms of Biblical defense, because Satan has to attack God’s word with fabrication from nothing, pure lies. I’d love to help you see that in the same way that the emperor has no clothes in Biblical studies attacks, he also has no clothes in scientific attacks, there is a direct correspondence between the two. If you have a moment to read, I’d love it if you’d let me know what you think of this brief article:

    https://answersingenesis.org/blogs/calvin-smith/2020/12/14/why-evolutions-emperor-has-no-clothes/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This actually might be the worst part of SJ’s terrible article, as it betrays an obvious and total lack of understanding for Judaism in the Babylonian and Persian periods. It is a dumb argument, since it depends on nothing more than SJ’s overactive imagination.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Kipp, thanks for your response. I’m interested in your view, but I have a really hard time understanding how additions could be made to Isaiah, in light of the part of Stephanie’s argument I quoted in my comment. Wouldn’t Jewish scribes and teachers of the Law resist new additions to the Scriptures they already had? And wouldn’t those additions need to travel far and wide and be accepted by all, in order to be in Isaiah as we have it today?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. @philosophicallogic21: the problem in SJ’s premise is that it is entirely faulty. In the first place, Jewish “scriptures” were not standardized nearly so early—they were still fairly fluid in the second century BCE, so “new additions to Scriptures” is an anachronistic concept when considering the time period in question. Most scholars in the field accept that the Torah was possibly accepted by most Jews as “authoritative” in the Persian period, but that the other collections—the Prophets and the Writings—were still not set or “closed” even by the first century CE. (Some scholars even suggest that there was an alternative “Enochic” Torah that was competing with the authority claims of the “Mosaic Torah.) We see in the manuscripts we have a rather surprising tolerance for a variety of texts and versions, which actually conflicts with any ideas about an established, set, widely accepted standardized text of “scripture” at any point before the destruction of Herod’s Temple.

        Second, I don’t believe that the contents of Second and Third Isaiah can be properly understood as “additions.” I liken the development of the book of Isaiah as we now have it very much like the book of the Twelve Prophets as we now have it. That is to say, there is good reason to think it was assumed from the outset to be a composite work. Like the Book of the Twelve, or another collection in the so-called “Megillot,” what we now know as Isaiah was originally a compilation of separate works that were collected together. At a point in time, the scroll of Isaiah (=Isaiah 1–39) was copied with the collection of anonymous Servant Songs (=Isaiah 40–55), and the anonymous predictions of comfort for the returnees from Babylon (=Isaiah 56–66), all together on the same scroll. This absolutely could have happened without anyone confusing the division between these separate works from the outset. And then—since Isaiah is the only prophet named in the first book of the collection—it is completely plausible to expect that over hundreds of years of copying the entire compilation eventually came to be associated with only him. It is entirely likely that all of this occurred before anyone accepted the Isaiah collection as a form of “scripture.”

        Not only does this theory make good sense of the nature of the Isaiah texts, it can also be accounted for through the available manuscript evidence, where there is some minor indications of a sense among copiests that this was a compilation. Moreover, there is precedent within Jewish manuscript culture for handling texts precisely the way I have described here. All of this certainly has to be regarded as more convincing that SJ’s ridiculous, imaginary exchange between Rabbis Shlomo and Moshe at a time before there were even any rabbis!

        Like

      3. Good point. I’ll replace “rabbis” with “priests.” As for the rest of your arguments, I don’t buy them. I’ve been reading the academic literature on how we got here (and everything I can find on my university’s website on Deutero-Isaiah) and I’ll keep reporting.

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  2. I am indebted to you for your study into the assault on Isaiah and sharing your observations. My former profession was in Information Technology and one of the tools that we constantly made use of, and still do, is knowing where to find accurate and relevant information, that we and others sometimes need. And that is what you have again, assisted us in. Your work matters. Thank you. God’s grace, peace and blessings to you and yours. Love in Christ – Bruce

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Bruce! I realized a short while back that God has been directing me to Isaiah since 2012! We need to get the word out. Biblical scholars haven’t considered the basic premise of this issue and are running rampant with nutty notions.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You’re right. Let me clarify. Some Biblical scholars haven’t considered these. Please point me to the ones who’ve used my arguments. I’d love to read them.

    Like

    1. I would say that virtually every scholar who has done any work in Isaiah has considered all of your arguments. The vast majority who have ignored them have done so because they are not remotely convincing.

      Like

      1. That’s an assertion. How about providing some support? I’d like to see the specific arguments against my points (since you say they are there). Thanks.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll be surprised if Kipp resurfaces to give me any point-by-point refutations. If he does, I look forward to reading the arguments against my points. I believe his position is built on a very faulty premise. I haven’t seen push-back against that premise in what I’ve found in academic publications. I also haven’t found anyone addressing the logical points I made on ancient Hebrews.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s great, it sounds like you’re really doing some excellent research. I’ve always found that any study of the Bible always pays back so much value, seeking God is the greatest thing we can do with our time, in addition to helping others find God. I’m enjoying your work in Biblical studies, I hope you’re having fun studying the Bible!

    Liked by 1 person

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