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Book of Isaiah
| Light iron-age reading|
|Gabbin' with God|
The Book of Isaiah follows the Jews from their sinful, idolatrous life in Judah, into their punishment of Babylonian captivity, and back home again after their divine liberation.
Cyrus the Messiah?
Isaiah 7:14 contains the infamously disputed verse "Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the עלמה shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel." To this day, the question of whether the Biblical term 'almah above refers to a "young woman" or "girl" as in modern Hebrew or to a "virgin" (properly betulah in Hebrew) remains a divisive issue in Biblical translations.
“”2 prophets -- 1 book!
There are arguments that more than one author composed the book of Isaiah.
The first Isaiah, who probably wrote books 1-39, was a courtier and advisor in the court of King Hezekiah of Judah and several of his predecessors.
The second Isaiah, who takes over after Chapter 39, writes of the eventual restoration of a fallen Israelite nation and does not actually identify himself.
There are several reasons for such a conclusion:
- Change of subject matter: Books 1-39 center on events of 700-601 BCE; it deals extensively in the repercussions of Judah's involvement in numerous wars and alliances in the area, as well as predictions of a Jewish Messiah to come. Chapters 1-12 mainly prophecy against Israel (not Judah, their home country). Chapters 13-23 mainly prophecy against foreign nations. Chapters 24-27 describes end-time judgment and may have been added in 500-401 BCE. Chapters 28-35 mainly prophecy about with Judah, Israel, Egypt, and Edom. Chapters 36-39 are a single story. After book 39, the return from Babylonian captivity (587 BCE) becomes the dominant subject matter and other historical events of the time are mentioned or alluded to as well; for example, Cyrus is named in Isaiah 44:28. Finally, books 55-66, instead of focusing on a people returning home, focus on a people returned home and rebuilding a broken Judah.[note 1]
- Change of God: Before book 40, Isaiah describes God's anger and coming vengeance (suggesting a pre-exile viewpoint), and after it, a description of God's coming mercy and forgiveness (a post-exile viewpoint).
- Isaiah's name: After book 39, Isaiah's name no longer appears, suggesting a different author.
We may never truly know, because the most recent transcript of Isaiah date to about 125 BCE, about 475-575 years after Isaiah lived, which makes it impossible to tell if there were later additions or Isaiah was always one document.
That said, consensus is for multiple authors. From the finders of the Dead Sea Scroll:
Modern scholarship considers the Book of Isaiah to be an anthology, the two principal compositions of which are the Book of Isaiah proper (chapters 1-39, with some exceptions), containing the words of the prophet Isaiah himself, dating from the time of the First Temple, around 700 BCE, and Second Isaiah (Deutero-Isaiah, chapters 40-66), comprising the words of an anonymous prophet, who lived some one hundred and fifty years later, around the time of the Babylonian exile and the restoration of the Temple in the Persian Period. By the time our Isaiah Scroll was copied (the last third of the second century BCE), the book was already regarded as a single composition.
Almost all modern scholars agree that Isaiah was written in three sections, though some break it into four.
- Chapters 01-39: 1st Isaiah or Proto-Isaiah. Written by Isaiah, 700-601 BCE. Isaiah had disciples who carried on his prophetic ministry after his death.
- Chapters 40-55: 2nd Isaiah or Deutero-Isaiah. Written by one or more of Isaiah's followers, 600-501 BCE (probably 537 BCE), during the Babylonian Exile.
- Chapters 56-66: 3rd Isaiah or Trito-Isaiah. Written by one or more of Isaiah's followers, 500-401 BCE. May or may not be clearly distinguishable from 2nd Isaiah.
- Chapters 01-23, 28-34, and 36-39: 1st Isaiah or Proto-Isaiah. Written by Isaiah, 700-601 BCE.
- Chapters 24-27: Isaiah Apocalypse. Written by someone long after the Babylonian Exile, 500-401 BCE, and the last of the authors.
- Chapters 35 and 40-55: 2nd Isaiah or Deutero-Isaiah. Written by one or more of Isaiah's followers, 600-501 BCE (probably 537 BCE), during the Babylonian Exile.
- Chapters 56-66: 3rd Isaiah or Trito-Isaiah. Written by one or more of Isaiah's followers, 500-401 BCE, shortly after the Babylonian Exile.
Despite this broad scholarly consensus, many biblical literalists still assert that Isaiah 45 predicted that Cyrus will conquer Babylon, 150 years before the event. Isaiah 45 was likely written near or after 537 BCE, right about the time of Cyrus' conquest making this "prediction" very weak.
The fact that Cyrus is mentioned by name is usually brought up as further evidence. How could people 150 years earlier know that a king named Cyrus would be born and save them? The answer is, again, that they didn't; they knew him by name because they wrote at a time when he existed.
Where Christians might leap to the "miraculous" prophetic explanation for the match between the "prophecy" and such real historical facts, normal historians see the same match and conclude that the more likely explanation is that "Isaiah" was writing with the benefit of hindsight, especially given that we actually have no record of the Book of Isaiah pre-dating these events.
Other religious views
Isaiah and human rights
The book of Isaiah has a large amount to say on social justice; this sort of sentiment is something neglected by many conservative Christians, who tend to focus on the exclusionary parts of the Bible. For example, Isaiah 58:6-10 gives the following poem as an instruction from God:
6 "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: / to loose the chains of injustice / and untie the cords of the yoke, / to set the oppressed free / and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry / and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— / when you see the naked, to clothe him, / and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn, / and your healing will quickly appear; / then your righteousness [a] will go before you, / and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; / you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. / "If you do away with the yoke of oppression, / with the pointing finger and malicious talk,10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry / and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, / then your light will rise in the darkness, / and your night will become like the noonday.
1980's Christian metal band Stryper often referred to Isaiah 53:5 on their album covers.
The text of The Messiah by Handel is taken from Isaiah, and regardless of your religious beliefs is a sweet piece of composition.
- Christian apologists might respond that God could simply have predicted these future events. However, prophetic books of the Old Testament were written for a current audience. References to events a century or more in the future would have no meaning to the audience, suggesting against this idea.
- Old Testament Life and Literature (1968), Chapter 18 - Isaiah and Micah, available on Internet Infidels
- Bava Basra (15a)