Claims, Reasons, and Evidence about the Book of Isaiah

Good academic research is a function of making claims and supporting those claims with reasons and evidence. Up until the 18th century, preachers and believers lived by the claims about the book of Isaiah that had been made in the books of 2 Chronicles (32:20-23) and 2 Kings (20-8-11), which is that he was a prophet. The authors of those two books were Ezra and Jeremiah, respectively, who lived in the 5th and 6th centuries B.C., respectively. Isaiah lived in the 8th century B.C., well before them. Their claims to his prophet status were backed by the simple fact that his predictions came true before or during their lifetimes. In other words, their claims about him being a prophet were backed by reasons and evidence.

Isaiah prophesied a Babylonian takeover of Assyria (605 B.C.; Isaiah 14:24-25) and destruction of Solomon’s Temple (586 B.C.; Isaiah 63:18-19), which occurred before and during Jeremiah’s lifetime. He further prophesied the Mede and Persian rise to power (539 B.C.; Isaiah 47:11; 13:17-19; 20-9-10) and the Jewish exile and the return from the exile and the rebuilding of the Temple (Isaiah 27:12-13; 14:1-2; 45:13). These events occurred before Ezra’s lifetime. Jesus, John, Paul, and Luke all attributed a wide variety of Isaiah’s passages solely to the prophet Isaiah (e.g., John 12:36-43; Acts 8:28-38; Romans 10:16). In Against Apion 1:37-44 and Antiquities of the Jews, books 10 and 11, the 1st-century Jewish historian timed the closing of the Jewish canon of scripture to King Artaxerxes’ time (5th century B.C.) and attributed Isaiah’s scripture solely to Isaiah the prophet, respectively. The medieval commentator Rashi also attributed Isaiah’s scripture solely to Isaiah the prophet.

Such prophecies made German scholars in the 18th and 19th centuries uncomfortable since they realized their divine implications. They responded with the Deutero-Isaiah proposition, which suggests Isaiah was authored by numerous people over time and his books had divisions such as “Proto-Isaiah” (1-39), “Deutero-Isaiah” (40-55), and “Trito-Isaiah” (56-66). According to Ulrich Berges (2010), “The historical gap of more than 150 years which lies between Isaiah at the end of the 8th century and the time of the end of the exilic period presumed in Isaiah 40-55 (Cyrus’ decree in 539 B.C.E.), could, with the rise of the historical critical Bible interpretation, no longer be overcome merely by referring to the visionary power of Isaiah. To compound matters, Isaiah is said not only to have announced the prospect of salvation, but also to have mentioned the name of the new Persian ruler, Cyrus II (559-530) in Isa 44:28; 45:1. It was this problem which gave rise, toward the end of the 18th century, to the argument between ecclesiastical and rationalistic interpretation. his argument was not only concerned with the question as to which words can be traced back to Isaiah, but more fundamentally with the question as to what rationally comprehensible accreditation one was prepared to give to the prophets and what not. This is of utmost importance to the emergence of the Deutero-Isaiah hypothesis.”

The process of coming to a conclusion starts with one or more premises. When the premise is that prophecies are not possible, the conclusion is that Isaiah must have been written by someone else during the times of the prophesied events. Today’s scholars in many instances assume this conclusion and do not even source their first premise (e.g., Baltzer, 2010). They rather jump to the “scholarly consensus” of multiple authorship over time. See the sampling of scholars in my references for examples.

They do not claim to be in agreement on the specific dating of the supposed “redactions,” authorship attributions of sentences and chapters, location origin of the authorship (in Jerusalem, Babylon, or Persia), style variations, or unity or division of Isaiah, yet they seem to unite on the foundation, which is that he didn’t write his entire book (e.g., Baltzer, 2010; Becker, 2020; Berges, 2010; Buttenweiser, 1919; Coggins, 1998; Gitay, 1980; Goulder, 2004; Hurowitz, 2003; Mastnjak, 2020; and Niditch, 1980). At issue is they don’t have ancient support for their claims. Niditch (1980) even noted their lack of clear historical references and elusive support. In contrast, we have ancient attestations to support our claim that Isaiah authored Isaiah solely in the 8th century B.C.

References

Baltzer, K. (2010). The book of Isaiah. Harvard Theological Review, 103(3), 261-270.

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

Berges, U. (2010). The book of Isaiah as Isaiah’s book: the latest developments in the research of the prophets. Old Testament Essays, 23(3).

Buttenweiser, M. (1919). Where did Deutero-Isaiah live? Journal of Biblical Literature, 38(3/4), 94-112.

Coggins, R.J. (1998). Do we still need Deutero-Isaiah? Journal of the Study of the Old Testament, 81, 77-93.

Gitay, Y. (1980). Deutero-Isaiah: Oral or written? Journal of Biblical Literature, 99(2), 185-197. These arguments relate to those made by James Muilenburg (1956) Isaiah, Chapters 40-66, Introduction. IB 5.

Goulder, M. (2004). Deutero-Isaiah of Jerusalem. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 28(3), 351-362.

Hurowitz, V.A. (2003). Review: Restoring the Temple: Why and when? The Jerusalem Quarterly Review, 93(3/4), 581-591.

Josephus, The Life – Against Apion, with an English translation by H. St. J. Thackeray, Loeb Classical Library, London and New York, 1926, pp. 176–81. In Dunkelgrun, T. (2016). The Testimonium Flavianum Canonicum. Josephus as a witness to the Biblical canon. International Journal of the Classical Tradition, 23, 252-268.

Josephus, F. Antiquities of the Jews. English translation provided by William Whiston at Perseus at Tufts University: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0146%3Abook%3D11%3Awhiston+chapter%3D5%3Awhiston+section%3D2

Mastnjak, N. (2020). The book of Isaiah and the anthological genre. Hebrew Studies, 61, 49-72.

Niditch, S. (1980). The composition of Isaiah 1. Biblica, 61(4), 509-529.

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


20 Replies to “Claims, Reasons, and Evidence about the Book of Isaiah”

  1. Good research here! Although I agree with it, I know skeptics would counter by stating that the language isn’t always that clearly understood. There’s a lot of words that Isaiah uses that could be interpreted differently. (A plain reading of the text isn’t always going to give the reader the answer.) Do you have a source for the correct interpretation of Isaiah’s prophecies?

    Like

    1. I’m not sure how to answer this. We can see how translators to English vary in their Isaiah versions. I tend to go with the ESV as being the closest to the Dead Sea Scrolls and meaning from my estimations.

      Like

  2. “Up until the 18th century, preachers and believers lived by the claims about the book of Isaiah that had been made in the books of 2 Chronicles (32:20-23) and 2 Kings (20-8-11), which is that he was a prophet.”

    This is not exactly true. Ibn ben Ezra, who wrote in the 11th century, saw the composite work of Isaiah, and set his division of the book between chs 39 and 40.

    Like

  3. “In Against Apion 1:37-44 and Antiquities of the Jews, books 10 and 11, the 1st-century Jewish historian timed the closing of the Jewish canon of scripture to King Artaxerxes’ time (5th century B.C.) and attributed Isaiah’s scripture solely to Isaiah the prophet, respectively. The medieval commentator Rashi also attributed Isaiah’s scripture solely to Isaiah the prophet.”

    I have raised this point before with SJ, and without adequate response. Historians do not simply accept every historical claim on the face of it, which is why it is important to interrogate and carefully weight the value of the sources. Josephus and the NT are veery useful for investigating the history of their own period in the first century, and Josephus also has access to sources from the Hellenistic and Hasmonaen periods which is also very valuable. However, it is abundantly clear from reading Josephus himself (something that I suspect SJ has not actually done beyond quote-mining small sections that she likes) that his only source for the history of the biblical period is the Bible itself, buttressed by substantial and obvious editorial flourishes and blanket speculation. In other words, no credible historian of Iron Age Israel considers Josephus to be a reliable source for this period. Once again, SJ’s astonishing credulity is on full display.

    Like

  4. “The process of coming to a conclusion starts with one or more premises. When the premise is that prophecies are not possible, the conclusion is that Isaiah must have been written by someone else during the times of the prophesied events.”

    This is certainly a big part of scholarly research, since historians are rather bound to investigate the events of the natural world, from a methodologically naturalistic perspective. There is no access of any kind to the kind of evidence needed to posit supernatural occurrences, and the naturalistic explanations for these things universally are more plausible, and with substantial frequency align with pre-existing historical knowledge.

    In this case it is not just the impossibility of fulfilled prophecy that lead researchers to the correct conclusions about the composite nature of Isaiah. Rather, there are numerous other features within the book stemming from literary, social and internal features that SJ is either ignoring or unaware of. If she were an honest researcher in this project, then she would honestly deal with the arguments and the evidence instead of hand-waving at them and dismissing them out of hand.

    Like

    1. Kipp – I’m not sure if you saw my response. Did you? I want to paraphrase what you said. Do you agree that what I paraphrased accurately represents your views?

      Like

  5. If you do end up writing a book on Isaiah, SJ, be sure that you deal adequately with all the evidence from Qumran in 1QIsa-a and in the Cave 4Q mss which show the clear divisions in the book.

    Like

    1. Yes, I’ve been reading about the first one in Mastnjak, N. (2020). The book of Isaiah and the anthological genre. Hebrew Studies, 61, 49-72.

      Like

  6. Be sure also to read Brownlee, “The Literary Significance of the Bisection of Isaiah in the Ancient Scroll of Isaiah from Qumran,” in Trudy Dvardtsat Pyatogo Mezhdunarodnogo Kongressa Vostokokevedov (Tzolatel’stvo Literatary, 1962), 1:431–37; Brooke, “The Bisection of Isaiah in the Scrolls from Qumran,” in Studia Semitica (JSSup 16; Oxford UP, 2005), 73–94; Cook, “The Dichotomy of 1QIsa-a,” in Intertestamental Essays in Honor of Józef Tadeusz Milik (Qumranica Mogilanensia 6; Enigma, 1992), 7–24; Høgenhaven, “Isaiah Scroll and the Composition of the Book of Isaiah,” in Qumran between the Old and New Testaments (JSOTSup 290; Sheffield, 1998).

    Like

    1. I appreciate your references. Thank you! I have a question. What support does Brownlee have for a “school” of Isaiah followers? I see zero references here.

      Like

      1. This derives from the fact that there are multiple authors/editors working in Proto-Isaiah. In the ANE the sayings and writings of highly regarded prophets were commonly collected and edited by followers.

        BTW, William Brownlee was George Brooke’s doktovater. Brooke is my doktorvater.

        Like

      1. I do not have electronic copies of any of these.

        BTW, did you read the Mastnejak article? I found it quite convincing, and it aligns with numerous things I have posited here and elsewhere.

        Like

      2. I read the Mastnjak article and did find it interesting. I have referenced it a lot in my work.

        Like

      3. The Mastnjak article is absolutely devastatingly bad for your arguments about the single authorship of Isaiah.

        Like

      4. It’s interesting that you think that. To me, his work builds my case. I am presenting both sides of this argument and will let the audience decide.

        Like

      5. IF you actually think that Mastnjak’s article does anything at all to build your case, then you clearly don’t have the faintest idea about what he is talking about, and the arguments he has presented.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: