46. Isaiah

• Question: 

• The study of the book of Isaiah is in many ways a microcosm of the problems involved in the study of the literature of the Hebrew Bible overall. With this in mind, review what in your judgment have been the main lines of scholarship on the character, coherence (or lack thereof), composition, and historical/cultural significance of this book, and evaluate at least two of the positions you review.

Sources: Peter R. Akroyd. Studies in the Religious Tradition of the Old Testament. (1987) esp. pp. 879-103; H. G. M. Williamson, “Synchronic and Diachronic in Isaian Perspective” in Synchronic and Diachronic? A Debate on Method in Old Testament Exegeis. Ed. J. C. de Moor (1995), 211-226; W. A. M. Beuken, “The Main Theme of Trito-Isaiah: ‘The Servants of YHWH’.” JSOT 47 (1990) 67-87; Ronald E. Clements. Old Testament Prophetcy: From Oracles to Canon. (1996) esp. pp. 78-92; Benjamin Sommer. A Prophet Reads Scripture: Allusion in Isaiah 40-66. () esp. pp. 152-184;. J. Blenkinsopp. Isaiah 1-40; Isaiah 40-55; Isaiah 56-66. AB. Vol. 19, 19A, 19B (2000, 2002, 2003);

Proto-Isaiah = PI (1-39) comes to us from the pre-exilic period, 

Deutero-Isaiah = DI (40-55) from the exilic

Trito-Isaiah = TI (56-66) from the post-exilic

Answer: The Book of Isaiah is riddled by a web of sharp disjuncts and continuities.  [With allowance made for later insertions (e.g., Isa 24–7; 34–35)], the Book may be safely divided into 3 parts, PI, DI, & TI, each assigned to the preexilic, exilic, and postexilic periods, respectively.  There are undeniable clues within the text that make this conclusion inevitable (Ahaz & Hezekiah for PI; Cyrus for DI; & Temple/sectarinanism for TI).  Despite these disjuncts, the Book is a web of continuities that demonstrate their redactional unity.  

• The redactional unity between DI and TI is clear.  TI develops themes found in DI (e.g., the Servant).  

• The unity between PI and TI is less clear.  However, TI makes clear use of PI themes (1.27-31  66.17-24; 11.1-9  66.25; 34-35  TI). TI makes use of both DI & PI, though relying more on DI, and can be seen as the redactor of the whole PI-DI-TI.

• The relation of PI to DI & TI is complex.  First, the disjunct between PI & DI is sharper than that between DI & TI.  In fact, it is possible to think of DI independent of PI.  There are, to be certain, links between DI and PI, but revealingly DI demonstrates more ties to Jeremiah than to PI.  DI seems to have been written in light of the whole prophetic tradition, not only based on PI.  It is TI, then, who developed the themes from DI and attached the redacted DI-TI onto PI.  This is most clear from the fact that Isa 1, 34-35 look forward to both DI & TI.  The complexities of the redactional history Isaiah is reflected in the multiple headings of PI (1.1; 2.1; 6.1; 13.1; 14.28).

• Bernhard Duhm stands at the source of modern scholarship on Isaiah.  His division of the Book of Isaiah into three parts (Proto-, Deutero-, & Trito-Isaiah) in his 1892 commentary has enjoyed near canonical authority even if, from the very start, the hypothesis has not been with its critics (i.e., Charles Cutler Torrey).  To be fair, Johann Cristoph Döderlein is credited with ascribing 40-66 to an independent source in the 1770s.  Ibn Ezra also hinted at this possibility.  In the past, the appending of 40-66 to PI was explained as an accident: There was space on the scroll that needed to be filled!  Today, while there is agreement in the gross division of the three books of Isaiah, scholars have begun to emphasize the redactional unity and interdependence of the three books.  Yes, PI (1-39) comes to us from the pre-exilic period, DI (40-55) from the exilic, and TI (56-66) from the post-exilic.  But the overall shape of the Book of Isaiah reflects a complex redactional history that obviates the distinctiveness of the PI, DI, and TI as well as require their unity.  For example, the irenic vision of Isa 66.25 recalls 11.1-9.  The vision in TI has been transformed, however, by the glaring omission of a reference to the “shoot of Jesse” so prominent in PI.  TI recalls but transforms PI.  Such intertextual relationships populate the entire book and cmakes difficult any claim for PI, DI, and TI radical independence.


• PI (1-39): The prophetic activities of PI are set against the background of the Syro-Ephraimite crisis (late 730’s) during the reign of Ahaz (735-715) and Sannacherib II’s (704-681) invasion of Judah in 701 BCE during the reign of Hezekiah (715-687).  The pre-exilic period is clearly in the background, and an 8th c. Isaiah of Jerusalem may be understood to be responsible for (parts of) PI.  However, the overall shape of PI looks forward to the Babylonian exile of 587/6.  The final chapter, Isa 39, ends with Isaiah’s prophecy to Hezekiah, who had  shown all the riches of Judah to the envoys of the Babylonian king, Merodach-Baladan, that foretells the Babylonian exile.

• PI Outline:

• 1-12: Book around Immanuel

• 1.1 : First Title – The entire chapter, made up of some genuine Isaiah material looks forward to TI.

• 2.1 : Second Title – reflects the first expansion of the core Isianic material.

• 5.8-24 & 10.1-4 : Woe Sayings

• 6-9 : Isaianic Memoir

• 12 : Conclusing Hymn of Thanksgiving

• 13-23: Oracle against the Nations

• 13.1-22 : Fall of Babylon

• 20.1-6 : Sign act against Egypt & Ethiopia

• 24-27: Isaiah Apocalypse – either DI or TI.  The important issue here is the identification of the city in 24.1-13; 25.2; 26.5-6; 27.10-11.  Blenkinsopp thinks this is Babylon, falling at the hand of Cyrus in 539, hence DI.

• 28-35: Miscellaneous

• 34: ascribed to TI

• 35: ascribed to DI (or to TI)

• 36-39: Hezekiah

• PI Issues:

• Two Titles in 1.1 & 2.1:  The two introductions to Isaiah have long puzzled commentators, in particular as to the relation of Isa 1 to PI and to the Book of Isaiah as a whole.  Isa 1, as is generally agreed, contains genuine oracles from the 8th c.  Yet, they seem to reflect the concerns of the entire book, espeically TI in 1.27-31.  We detect in this final stanza concerns characteristics of TI: pietism, sectarianism, and an orientation toward the future.  (1) Pietism: In contrast to the preceding oracles, this final stanza of Isa 1 distinguishes the elect from the reprobate on the basis of religious religious/ritual observance – not on the basis of social and ethical violations.  (2) Sectarian: Zion and her penitents will be saved – whereas the rebels and sinners will be destroyed.  This sectarian vision is reflected in TI (see Isa 66, esp. v. 24).  (3) The stanza seems to look to a future judgment.  One might take these observations to conclude that Isa 1 was appended later to the collection beginning with Isa 2.1 close to the end of the history of formation.  

• Now, the issue is not even as simple as that.  There are, actually, several introductory titles throughout PI that may be grouped into two categories:

• 1.1, 2.1, & 13.1: “ Vision (חזון)[…]/Word (דבר)/Oracle (אשׂמ) that Isaiah son of Amoz saw (חזה)…”

• 6.1 & 14.28: “In the year King Uzziah/Ahaz died…”

• Here is how Williamson interprets this data.  First, the second group of introductions (6.1 & 14.28) represent the first collection of Isaianic material around the time of the Syro-Ephraimite crisis and Sennacherib II’s invasion of Judah during the reigns of Ahaz and Hezekiah, respetively.  This represents the earliest collection of Isaianic material.  These were later expanded by genuinely Isaianic material now introduced by 2.1 and 13.1 during the time of DI.  Finally, Isa 1.1 was appended later still, during the time of TI.  Williamson argues, therefrom, that various materials from the time of DI and TI were introduced into what is now PI: Isa. 24-27, 34, 35, etc.

• Note: Williamson’s analysis makes evident the role of Isa 12, which rounds off and concludes the first 12 chapters.  Isa 13, thus, opens a new section of PI of which 36-39 is an unnatural conclusion as these final chapters look forward to DI.

• Isaianic Memoir (6-9): Karl Budde, in early 20th c., argued that Isa 6.1-9.6 constitutes a Memoir the prophet himself assembled shortly after the Syro-Ephraimite crisis.  This thesis has come under increasing criticism and even those who hold onto the idea of a Memoir argue for a radically reduced one (6.1-8 & 8.1-4 only).  The radicalism is without warrant, but it is clear that Budde’s original fullness cannot be maintained.  Perhaps the most important in this section, in so far as the history of interpretation is concerned, has to do with 7.14, the Immanuel sign.  His identity, whether he is Hezekiah, Isaiah’s son, any old bloke, or Jesus Christ has been a point of speculation and contention for millenia.  Critical scholars currently favor Hezekiah or Isaiah’s son.

• Ahaz, Hezekiah, PI & DI (6-9 & 36-39): The verbal and situational parallel between Isa 6-9 & 36-39 make it clear that Ahaz and Hezekiah are here being compared and contrasted.  (1) Situation: Both Ahaz and Hezekiah face imminent foreign invation: by Syro-Ephraimite coalition and Assyria, respectively.  (2) Encounter with Isaiah: The two kings meet Isaiah at the same geographical location in Jerusalem: “the conduit of the Upper Pool on the Way to the Fuller’s Field” (7.3 & 36.2).  (3) Theme: The theme of trust is primary in both situations: “If you do not stand fast in faith, you will not stand at all” (7.9) and Rabshakeh’s repeated taunt not to traust in God (Isa 36).  These parallels obviate the fact that Ahaz and Hezekiah are to be compared and contrasted, especially in regard to their relation to God and the prophet (disbelief vs. faith).  Thus, Williamson’s opinion that oracles around Ahaz and Hezekiah form the first layer of collected material.  However, it is clear that this layer was later reshaped to look forward to DI.  Isa 39, with the visit of the Babylonian envoy, makes this clear.  At the time of this expansion, the material introcued by 2.1 and 13.1 seem also to have been added.  One might also note the role of “signs” in PI in relation to DI & TI.  “Signs” form an important part of Isa 6-9 (Isaiah’s children).  In this light, Hezekiah’s plea for a “sign” in 38.22 receives no answer (contra 2 Kgs 20.8ff.) and looks forward to DI & TI, in particular TI (Isa 66.19).


• DI (40-55): DI assumes a totally different historical context from PI.  It begins with the assumption of the end of the Babylonian exile: “Comfort, comfort my people” (40.1).  Undeniable, in this regard is the Cyrus oracle (44.24-45.8).  45.1 names Cyrus: “This is what Yahweh says about his anointed one, about Cyrus…”  The overall message of DI is comfort, foretelling of Israel’s, Zion’s restoration, hence the common title: Book of Consolation.  Of particular note in DI are the Servant Songs and the first thorough articulation of monotheism.

• DI Highlights:

• Servant Songs: 42.1-9; 49.1-6; 50.4-9(11); 52.13-53-12.

• Cyrus Oracle: 44.24-45.8.

• Monotheism: Isa 45.5, 6, 14, 18, 21-22; 46.9.

• Universalism: 45.20-25

• Idolatry: 46.1-7

• Chaoskampf: 51.9-11

• DI Issues:

• Relation to PI: Some scholars argue for a strong relationship between DI and PI, arguing that DI developes some of the themes of PI.  Others doubt the strong relationship.

• R. E. Clements argues that DI developed the themes of PI.  Clements points to 2 main (reversals of) themes: 

• Israel’s blindness and deafness: 6.9-10  42.16, 18-19; 43.8, etc.  Israel, who is blind and deaf, conemned in PI will be delivered in DI.  This theme is reflected in 35.5, a clue Clements takes to argue that Isa 35 is a DI composition and insertion.

• Divine election of Isarel: 2.6  41.8-9; 44.1-2, etc.  DI, in reaction to PI, emphasizes the chosenness of Israel.

• Benjamin D. Sommer, in emphasizing the central role of allusion in DI, notes that DI alludes to passages in Jeremiah more often than PI passages (i.e., 57.17-21 // Jer 6.13-14).  (note: Sommer defines DI as Isa 40-66.).  

• Blenkinsopp, like Sommer, is wary of an essential relationship between DI and PI.  This is evident in his analysis of Isa 35.  He believes that Isa 34-35 was the creation of TI and reflects TI’s reworking of both PI and DI themes, hence the reflection of themes from both.  Important to Blenkinsopp is the observation that Isa 35 seems to picture a future, ahistorical, almost eschatological salvation of TI (cf. 35.8-10).  The image of the Highway and water in barren lands, present in DI (40.3; 41.18-19; 43.19-20; ect.), is also present in TI (62.10).  Furthermore, themes of  rejoicing (שוש & גיל) appear only in 35.1-2 and 61.10; 65.18-19; 66.10, etc.  Blenkinsopp, thus, takes DI’s development to have been fairly indepenent from PI, only later appended along with TI.

• Servant: (See 77.Servant Songs)  The servant theme, almost completely absent in PI, is promient in DI and developed in TI.  This language of servanthood, therefore, strengthens the bond between DI and TI and exposes the relative independence of DI from PI.

• Monotheism: (See 63.Monotheism, esp. 63.b)  The declaration of Yahweh’s oneness and uniqueness in DI is a breakthrough in the history of religion.  Yet it retains references to mythology, noticeably in Isa 51.9-11.  One might reconcile this contradiction in noting that the reference to Rahab and the Sea in 51.9-11 has been historicized as the exodus event (51.10).  Another tactic would be to echo Kaufmann that such fragments of mythology are to be expected in a folk and non-systematic expressions of monotheism that arose from within a polytheistic background.  What is important, then, is that mythology is not given an ontological reality above and beyond the reality inhabited by God and history, which are one.


• TI (56-66): The historical backdrop of TI is the postexilic community of Yehud during the Persian time.  The sectarianism reflected in these chapters may find their concrete background in the time of Ezra/Nehmeiah (see bleow).  Bernhard Duhm was the first in 1892 to separate TI from DI, argued as independent since the 1770s.  His thesis has enjoyed longetivity.  But scholars today emphasize the depedence of TI on DI, less so on PI.  What is clear, then, is that TI was not an independent composition but one that cosciously reworked the themes of DI and, to a lesser extent, those of PI.  The connection to DI are clear: Comfort (נחם); Coming of God (with Power); Glory of God (יהוה כְּבוֹד); Creator God; Justice, Righteousness, Salvation ( משפט, צדקה, ישועה); Sevant and Servants ( עבד, עבדים).  The connection to PI is less clear though certain: 1.27-31  66.17-24; 11.1-9  66.25; 34-35  TI; etc.  

• TI Issues:

• Servant  Servants: (See 77.b.Servant Songs)  It is Beuken’s opinion that the transformation of the identity of the servant(s) in TI constitutes the strongest link between DI and TI.  Indeed, he views this as the main concern of TI.  The open inclusion of all Israel under the title “servant” and the later restriction of the “servant” to only the prophet was radically narrowed and expanded to identify the disciples/followers of Second Isaiah’s teachings.  This is the birth of sectarianism and the concommitant high rhetoric separating insiders and outsiders (Isa 66).

• Sectarianism: Isa 66.2, 5, we find reference to those who “tremble” at God’s words.  The only other reference to temblers as a religious identity is in Ezra 9.4; 10.3.  Ezra 10.3 unites Ezra with the “tremblers” and Ezra may have been one of them: Ezra and the tremblers have the right to legislate reform.  Furthermore, it makes sense within TI to equate the servants to the tremblers.  When Ezra was called back, his supporters were left exposed to the authorities Ezra had alienated.  The tremblers, as reflected in Isa 65-66, would have been the object of abuse at these authorities (priests? lay aristorcracy?), leading to the hostile rhetoric of the conclusion.