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Book of Isaiah

(y - zay' - uh)

General Information

The Book of Isaiah is the first and longest of the books of the Major Prophets in the Old Testament of the Bible. It derives its name from the prophet Isaiah, who lived in Jerusalem, perhaps of aristocratic origin. His prophetic career spanned half a century, from around 742 BC to at least 701.

The book, however, contains the work of more than one man. Scholars now generally agree that chapters 1 to 35, known as First Isaiah, can be ascribed either to Isaiah himself or to his disciples; chapters 36 to 39 have been taken directly from 2 Kings 18:13 - 20:18. Chapters 40 to 55, known as Second Isaiah, or Deutero - Isaiah, were the work of an anonymous prophet - poet during the latter part (c. 545 - 540 BC) of the Babylonian exile. Chapters 56 to 66, known as Third Isaiah, or Trito - Isaiah, were written by authors unknown in detail but working around the end of the 6th century (525 - 500 BC) or the beginning of the 5th (500 - 475 BC). Some of the material may be derived from a period even later than these times (c. 375 - 250 BC).

First Isaiah falls roughly into four periods: (1) From 747 to 736 BC the prophet speaks about internal political and economic policy; (2) in 736 - 735 he addresses the crisis caused by the Syro - Ephraimite War, an attempt to force Jerusalem into an anti - Assyrian alliance; (3) after a period of silence, he speaks again, addressing himself to the attempt of King Hezekiah to free himself from the status of a vassal to Assyria (716 - 711); (4) again after a time of silence, Isaiah speaks of Hezekiah's second attempt to establish political independence (705 - 701). The writings from these periods fall into seven collections of sayings on themes of sin, judgment, and deliverance from the judgment. The Immanuel prophecies (chapter 6 - 12) are well known to Christians, who interpret them as references to Christ.

Second Isaiah comprises poems of various genres: oracles of deliverance, hymns, prophetic legal speech designed to show that the God of Israel alone is God, and discussion forms designed to repel opposition. In addition, the material of Second Isaiah contains the passages about the Servant of the Lord, also interpreted by Christians as references to Christ (42:1 - 4; 49:1 - 6; 50:4 - 9; 52:13 - 53:12).

Third Isaiah includes 14 independent sayings concerning the operation of the restored Temple, with corresponding emphasis on the sabbath and cult. The material comprises a short prophetic liturgy (56:9 - 47:13), an oracle of promise (57:14 - 21), an exhortation and promise (58:1 - 12), prophetic invective and threat (65:1 - 2), and a promise (65:8 - 25). The final chapter contains a prophetic denunciation of the Temple and a rejection of the sacrificial cult, as well as three prophetic sayings that announce an imminent end and its results. Isaiah contains some of the most beautiful and best known passages in the Bible. Two manuscripts of the book were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

George W Coats

J H Hayes and S A Irvine, Isiah (1987); G A F Knight, Prophets of Israel: Isaiah (1962); J R Rosenbloom, The Dead Sea Isaiah Scrolls (1970); J W Whedbee, Isaiah and Wisdom (1971).

Brief Outline

  1. Introduction (1)
  2. Denunciation of Jerusalem (2-5)
  3. Temple vision (6)
  4. Book of Immanuel (7-12)
  5. Prophecies against the nations (13-23)
  6. Prophecies of judgment and future blessings (24-35)
  7. Historic events (36-39)
  8. Book of Consolation (40-66)


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