By Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: Isaiah 1.1
Note to the Reader – I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Book of Isaiah in conjunction with this article.
The Book of Isaiah
This month we are returning to examining books from the Old Testament. The first book of this series of studies is from Isaiah. Perhaps one of the most remembered passages is from Isaiah 52 and 53. As Christians we look back to this section of Scripture and see a vivid picture of the suffering servant1 and interpret it as a prophecy of Jesus. Isaiah is a powerfully portrayed picture of Jerusalem and her God, YHWH. In recent years its authorship has been contested, but it still provides instruction and hope for those who read and study it.
As readers, we are given important historical information from the opening lines of the book.2 From the opening verse, we are given the name of the man who had these visions: he is identified as Isaiah, the son of Amoz. It is worth noting that Isaiah’s name is also found in Kings, and Chronicles.3 But there is another piece of historical information found in the same first verse of Isaiah.
From the opening claim, we learn when Isaiah lived and saw his visions. He lived during the reign of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, four kings of Judah. These kings are part of a long line of rulers for Judah (the Southern Tribes: Judah, Benjamin, and some Levites) during the period of the Divided Kingdom which began shortly after the death of Solomon. It is estimated that these four kings mentioned in Isaiah reigned from 792 to 686 B.C.E.4 These dates are less than two centuries before Babylon’s invasion and the fall of Jerusalem in 586.5
As we continue, let us consider some tidbits mentioned in the NIV Archeological Study Bible. These provide additional points of interest which can enrich one’s reading of the Book of Isaiah. The study Bible states that Isaiah has a “polished literary style; rich vocabulary; beautiful and varied use of poetic imagery; and distinctive phraseology, such as ‘the Holy One of Israel’ and ‘my servant.’”6 The study Bible also gave this information regarding the book of Isaiah:7
- Recent archaeological discoveries confirm that some Israelites worship Asherah as the Lord’s consort or partner (17:8).
- The Assyrians were notorious for leading away their captives by ropes tied to rings in their noses (37:29).
- Throughout the Old Testament we see instances of God dispatching angelic agents as carriers of plague (37:36).
- The Hebrew phrase for “a memorial and a name” (yad vashem) was many centuries later chosen as the name of the principal Holocaust monument in Jerusalem in modern Israel (56:5) .
- During the Jerusalem siege Hebrew slaves were released – only to be reclaimed by their masters after further consideration (58:6).
Before we close, this author wants to offer some thoughts regarding the multiple author scenario for the book of Isaiah. First, we must accept the fact that scholars seem to have found some “significant stylistic, historical and theological differences [that] distinguish chapters 1-39 from chapters 40-66”.8
In order to resolve these linguistic and theological differences, it has been proposed that there are three Isaiahs. The first Isaiah is recognized as the Isaiah named in the first chapter and certified as the visionary of chapters 1-39. However, chapters 40-55 are attributed to a second Isaiah called Deutero-Isaiah, and chapters 56-66 are ascribed to a third Isaiah called Trito-Isaiah. The study of linguistics, including the use of particular vocabulary during certain time-periods, along with certain passages offered as critical proof against a singular Isaiah makes the defense of a singular author much more difficult.
It seems that this scholarly critical approach has had at least two outcomes. First, the tactic seems to have been unnecessarily destructive for believers that trust in the “inerrancy of God’s Word”. Second, we must recognize that the scholarly method (even if dubious) influences statements like: “Although scholars believe that many prophets were historical people, they aren’t so certain they were the actual authors of some prophetic books. What role did they play in the Bible?” found in Secrets of the Bible published by U.S. News.9 That statement puts forth two strong ideas in application to the Book of Isaiah. First, Isaiah cannot be the author of the entire book. If so, then what does that mean?
As believers, we in America and other Western countries align the author with the written material. We assume the two inseparable. The author personally produced the work. The writer might have an editor, but the material flowed from his head to his hand. The written material is simply never considered to have been recorded by anyone else. Understanding this, consider the following lengthy excerpt about authorship:10
In the Near East, authorship is understood differently than in the Western world. A book written about the preaching of Matthew or a compilation of Matthew’s writings would be known as the Book of Matthew. The reason for this is that the scribe or copyist would not consider himself an author of the material he wrote or compiled. The writings that appear on these scrolls never contain the name of the author or the copyist, especially in the case of sacred literature. For instance, if Joshua had written a book about Moses, the name of the manuscript would be the Book of Moses, but it would not include Joshua’s name. As another example, the books of Moses and Joshua give the details of the death and burial of both these Hebrew leaders. But, how could they have recorded their own deaths? What happened was this: Moses and Joshua had possession of the tribal records. But after their deaths, scribes arranged these accounts in the best chronological order possible with supplementary material.
That information from a Near Eastern authorship perspective actually provides a tremendous relief to the believer. It has as evidence that authorship is Isaiah’s, but the recording thereof was performed by copyists or scribes. This is very powerful evidence to support the idea that the visions are Isaiah’s and allows for the development of language, because of different copyist having slightly different skills. This begins to address the scholars’ findings and restores the faith of the believer. It is my hope that our LORD as well as this amazing information from our Near Eastern brethren encourages us as we study the visions of the prophet Isaiah, a Hebrew name that means “Yahweh is Salvation”.11
1. “Suffering Servant.” Isaiah 52.13-53.12; NASB.
2. “Historical Information.” Isaiah 1.1; NASB.
3. “Isaiah’s Name in Kings and Chronicles.” King James Concordance, e-Sword, Version 7.9.8, II Kings 19.2, 19.20, 20.1; II Chronicles 26.22, 32.30, 32.32; NASB,
February 26, 2009.
4. “Date of Kings Reign.” Commentary on Isaiah 1.1, Archaeological Study Bible, New International Version, p. 1053, ISBN-10: 0-310-92605-X.
5. “Fall of Jerusalem.” Timeline, Archaeological Study Bible, New International Version, p. 1051, ISBN-10: 0-310-92605-X.
6. Introduction to Isaiah; “As You Read” Archaeological Study Bible, New International Version, p. 1052, ISBN-10: 0-310-92605-X.
7. Introduction to Isaiah; “Did You Know?” Archaeological Study Bible, New International Version, p. 1052, ISBN-10: 0-310-92605-X.
8. “Scholars’ Findings.” Nelson’s Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts, Isaiah, p. 204, ISBN 0-7852-1154-3.
9. Kugel, James L. “Reading the Bible.” Secrets of the Bible; U.S. News & World Report; March 2009: 11.
10. Errico, Rocco A., and George M. Lamsa. Aramaic Light on the Gospel of Matthew. Pages 2-3. Smyrna, GA: Noohra Foundation, 2005. ISBN-13: 978-0-9631292-6-0.
11. “Meaning of Isaiah’s Name.” Nelson’s Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts, Isaiah, p. 204, ISBN 0-7852-1154-3.