Isaiah Lit. Crit.

The following is a contemporary view of The Book of Isaiah based on current Biblical knowledge and modern techniques of literary criticism. This view is not shared by those who believe that the Bible must be taken literally and who, consequently, believe, in spite of historical problems thrown up by the text, that there was only one author of the Book. The debate on authorship did not begin with Christian scholars but with Abraham Ibn Ezra, a Jewish scholar resident in Spain (died 1197).

The Book of Isaiah can be divided into three parts: Chapters 1-39 ("Proto-Isaiah" from the 8th Century); 40-55 ("Deutero-Isaiah from the Exilic period of the 6th Century); and 56-66 (a collection of writings building on both of the previous "Trito-Isaiah" from the post Exilic period up to the 4th Century).

There is substantial evidence that Deutero-Isaiah, the author of Chapters 40-55 was an exile in 6th Century Babylon as there are references to: ruined Jerusalem (44:28; 52:9); Babylonian life (46:1-2; 47:1-3; 48:20); Cyrus (45:1); and Jews in Egypt (409.12). Furthermore, Assyria is not mentioned in these Chapters and the themes and their handling are Jeremiaic: monotheism (45); ridicule of idols (40:19-20; 41:6-7; 44:9-20); Exodus (Isaiah 43:18-19; 52:9-1043:18-19; 52: 9-10[/passage]); and vicarious suffering (53). Yet even here there is continuity, with Chapter 40 repeating the vision of Chapter Six; in both the Prophet interrupts the vision with: "What shall I cry?" and receives his commission; and the famous "Suffering Servant" in Chapters 52-53 picks up Chapter 1:5-6. It can also be argued that Chapters 36-9 form an appropriate literary introduction to Deutero-Isaiah. The issue is further complicated by 13-4 and 34-5 being Babylonian Chapters; and the "Apocalypse" in Chapters 24-7 being of doubtful authorship.

There is also a theory, dating back to an Isaiah Commentary of Bernard Duhm from 1892 that the 'Servant Songs" (42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12) constitute a separate story not written by Deutero-Isaiah but, after a long debate, current consensus is returning to the theme of integration rather than separation.

Stylistically the Book is far from homogenous: Chapters 3 and 5 may be compared with Amos and Hosea; Chapters 40-55 are closer to the 6th Century Jeremiah; and Chapters 24-7 are closest to very late prophets like Isaiah and Isaiah of the 4th Century. Yet there is continuity with later quoting earlier Chapters (11:6-9 in 65:24) and major themes recur such as: God's action in history (7:17; 29:1-4; 45:1-7); 29.1-4; 45.1-7); and the individual saviour figure (9:2-7; 12:1-5; 32:1; 42:1-4; 52:13-15; 53:1-12). The distinctive name for God: "The Holy One of Israel" occurs 31 times in the Book and only four times outside it. The Book also has some structural unity, with an introduction (1), with a progression from the sins of the people to "Comfort, Comfort, My people" (40); then the last Chapters go further with the description of a new Exodus and rebuilt Jerusalem, culminating in a "New Heaven and a New Earth" (65-66).

Partly taken from:

Sawyer, John F.A.: Prophecy and the Biblical Prophets, OUP (Revised 1991 Edition), Chapter 5. The Prophets (II), pp83-95.

Related Study Sheets…