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The Book of Isaiah: One Author or Three?

November 5, 2013

Eerdmans Companion

Isaiah 1:1 reads, “The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah” (NRSV).

Scholars remain divided as to whether or not this “vision of Isaiah” verse is meant to apply to all 66 chapters, or whether Isaiah might be the author of just the first 39 chapters, with other authors (in the tradition of Isaiah) having penned chapters 40-55 and 56-66.

I’ve long had my eye on The Eerdmans Companion to the Bible and have begun using it recently. Its introductory section to Isaiah had what I thought was a refreshingly balanced approach to the issue of authorship in Isaiah:

Taken as an introduction to the book as a whole, Isa. 1:1 identifies the contents of the subsequent 66 chapters as the “vision” of 8th–century Isaiah. But modern scholars have challenged the traditional view that considers him the source of all the material contained in the book that bears his name. Though chapters 40–66 echo certain themes contained in chapters 1–39, they also contain specific, predictive prophecies that some scholars doubt Isaiah foretold. For example, they consider it unlikely that an 8th–century prophet not only predicted the 6th–century Persian king Cyrus’s conquest of the Babylonian Empire but also named him specifically (see 44:28 and 45:1). Old Testament prophets normally directed their messages to contemporaries. For Isaiah to have directly addressed the Babylonian exiles (and perhaps returnees to Judah) pictured in chapters 40–66, his prophetic ministry would have to have extended well beyond the reign of Hezekiah (the last king mentioned in 1:1), and he would have to have lived for more than two centuries.

On the other hand, in this book God holds out his power to predict the future as proof of his divine supremacy (chs. 41, 44, 46, and 48). It is not unreasonable, therefore, to think that Isaiah mediated predictive messages as words from God and at times addressed audiences of future generations.

More details on this Bible guide are here at the Eerdmans page. I’m finding that it’s a concise yet substantive way to get myself oriented to a given book of the Bible.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. bubaflub permalink
    November 5, 2013 12:35 pm

    Abram,

    Does Eerdmans talk about some of the internal (i.e. textual) evidence for or against the single authorship of Isaiah?

    Thanks,

    b

    • November 5, 2013 12:49 pm

      No, it’s a pretty sparse section. You can view a good chunk of it on the Amazon book preview.

  2. kmpenner permalink
    November 5, 2013 2:06 pm

    Note that on pages 283 and 377, Isaiah is placed among the post-exilic prophets.
    Personal story: When I was a teaching assistant at McMaster University, the professor asked me for suggestions to assign as possible essay topics. I suggested the authorship of Isaiah: one author or more? She asked: but whom could students read as a proponent of single authorship? Whom indeed?

    • bubaflub permalink
      November 5, 2013 2:12 pm

      I read O. T. Allis’ “The Unity of Isaiah: A Study in Prophecy” (http://www.amazon.com/The-Unity-Isaiah-Study-Prophecy/dp/1579105505) though there has probably been much published since then.

      • November 5, 2013 2:25 pm

        Thanks, Bob–I’ll check it out.

        Ken, one thing I didn’t interact with in my post is that I’m not convinced that acceptance of “predictive prophecy” closes the case on authorship. I.e., I would think one could believe in predictive prophecy, yet still hold to a multiple authorship theory. I’m not sure those two things have to be mutually exclusive.

  3. bubaflub permalink
    November 5, 2013 2:40 pm

    I’ll also note that Longman and Dillard’s OT Intro have an extended discussion on pg. 268-274 about the authorship. Their bibliography is probably a good starting point for reading both sides.

  4. December 16, 2013 2:45 pm

    Three😀 Hugh Williamson is great on Isaiah though I’m not fully by his take on Deutero-Isaiah’s role in composition and redaction.

    • December 16, 2013 5:41 pm

      Thanks! I’ll check it out.

      • December 17, 2013 11:52 am

        His ICC commentary is well worth a read, though only chs. 1-5 are done at the moment.😦

      • December 17, 2013 12:31 pm

        Thanks for the clarification–that is what I found when I searched his name. Looks good!

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