Are there any scholars who argue for a single author to the Book of Isaiah?


#1

I loathe studying Sacred Scripture at university as one is often forced to ‘play ball’ with liberal ideas and agendas that contradict Catholic teaching, and if one doesn’t ‘play ball’ one’s marks will suffer.

I have to write an exegetical paper on Isaiah. I’m aware of the two-author and three-author (and even four-author) hypothesis concerning the authorship of Isaiah, but I want to argue that there is one-author behind the text (with later editors an exemption). Are there any accredited scholars who defend this one-author stance?

One needs to fight peer-reviewed academia with peer-reviewed academia. Other sources defending this stance will be useful, but I really need modern/contemporary scholarship for this paper.

Thanks!


#2

It’s really a logically untenable position you’re trying to argue. You’ll probably only find biblical literalists who try to defend one “Isaiah” as the author. It’s not a non-Catholic position to think there were probably three authors.


#3

Do you perceive the “three writers” authorship of Isaiah to be part of a ‘liberal agenda’? If so, then why?

I want to argue that there is one-author behind the text (with later editors an exemption). Are there any accredited scholars who defend this one-author stance?

Mind if I ask… if there is no evidence that you know of to support this stance, what is the reason that you wish to argue it?


#4

Here is an article by Adams that gives a statistical argument for single authorship.

Let me caution you though that basically everyone who studies Isaiah within the critical framework concludes there were at least two if not three or four authors. This includes, as far as I can tell, basically all other statistical studies.

I don’t think you should be surprised that if you take a course in the critical method, you will be marked down for a paper that says “The historical method is all wrong, we should trust the devotional tradition.” If you think the critical method is invalid, then you probably shouldn’t take a course on it!

It’s worth to noting that the Catholic Church does not the position that Isaiah had a single author. New Advent has a summary of what the Church requires the Faithful to believe, and while single authorship is allowed, it is the trueness of the prophecies that must be acknowledged.

But if you want to try to argue against the conclusion (and take the bad mark!), I think the Adams article is probably your best start, even though I don’t think it’s peer-reviewed.


#5

John,

If you take this tack, the criticism that you’d have to refute is that this only shows stylistic unity within the book. (In fact, in the paper, they make the claim that the Book of Isaiah shows stylistic features that distinguish it among O.T. literature.) Therefore, the counter-argument could be made that, if later authors (i.e., the proposed ‘deutero-Isaiah’, ‘trito-Isaiah’) were attempting to mimic the stylistic features found in proto-Isaiah (since they were writing in the Isaiah tradition), then we would expect that there wouldn’t be significant stylistic variance between the three divisions of the book. The real question is how you’d attempt to refute this kind of argument against your assertions of single authorship.


#6

Where did you get the idea that this is a “liberal” idea rather than good scholarship?


#7

I should have clarified, I don’t believe in the multiple-author theories to the Book of Isaiah, yet don’t think that those who hold to such ideas are going against Church teaching or are therefore ‘liberal’ if they do.

It’s more so the approach in general of mainstream contemporary critical biblical scholarship, and many ideas adopted by spheres in critical biblical scholarship - such as that the Sacred Scripture was not divinely inspired but was purely a human response to the Divine (we were given readings stating exactly this). The common view of such ‘liberal’ styled scholarship is to also assert that that in the prophetic literature which has been historically fulfilled, was added/edited into the original text after the event; whilst that which wasn’t fulfilled was the original source of the prophet. They leave no room for anything divine or supernatural. Truly one cannot get any more of a rationalistic, human and nonspiritual way of approaching the Scriptures. Often such scholarship treats Scripture apart from Tradition and the analogy of faith, and this leads down all sorts of rabbit holes.

Dei Verbum:

"serious attention must be given to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture if the meaning of the sacred texts is to be correctly worked out. The living tradition of the whole Church must be taken into account along with the harmony which exists between elements of the faith.

Thanks for the replies, and carefully tread for the article. I don’t think the critical method is invalid, but that as a tool it has its limited uses - but some treat it like a hammer, smashing the Scriptures to bits.

I’m aware there are other arguments, but this is among them. It seems the theories that assert multiple authorship of the Book of Isaiah mainly argue on the premise that a) it’s unlikely said prophecies about Babylon and Cyrus would have been made before the emergence of these powers, thus b) they must have been written afterwards, and therefore c) there must have been more than one author. Such a stance in my opinion thus amounts to a rejection of the supernatural quality of the prophecies and therefore undermines the possibility and role of God’s Divine Inspiration in the composition of the Sacred texts. The fact of stylistic continuity is evidence for a single author - certainly not proof though.

A simplistic summary: The above position and the position of a single-author (or a cooperating scribe under Isaiah) both begin on a presupposition: the above, on the basis that the said prophecies can’t have been made before they historically occurred; and the single-author stance, that the prophecies had to have been made prior to the events by Isaiah. I’ll happily go with the latter which supports the notion that the prophecies are genuine prophecies. (If one holds the stance of multiple authorship and that the prophecies were made prior the events, that’s another thing altogether. The timeline provides a bit of room for this possibility).

The textual claims, such as variance of mood and different theological perspectives between certain aspects of the book as evidence of multiple authorship seem highly bogus and speculative. It’s like they’re clutching at straws to defend their stance against the long established single-author stance. Most people when they write a book do so over a lengthy time period, this can reflect certain alternations in the text. Variants of mood and theological slant are methods employed by any theological writer depending on the immediate subject matter. Such a position is less far fetched (or at the most, as far fetched) as the claim of multiple authorship on the basis of such minor textual variances which can be found within any written work (i.e. Lord of the Rings). In 500 years they’ll probably argue The Lord of the Rings was written by at least two authors, since poems and narrative are used within the same text lol

Other may disagree on certain points, that’s okay, I don’t want to enter into a debate on it since I haven’t got the time. I appreciate your feed back :slight_smile:


#8

OK, fair enough. There are certainly some misled scholars out there. Yet, what you’ve outlined is not what the multiple-author theory proposes, right? I mean, I’m sure there’s a juxtaposition of those who support ‘multiple-authors’ and those who think ‘prophecy isn’t real’, but that doesn’t mean that the multiple-author theory makes these claims! One can advocate for the multiple-author theory without trashing the notion of prophecy, don’t you think?

I don’t think the critical method is invalid, but that as a tool it has its limited uses - but some treat it like a hammer, smashing the Scriptures to bits.

All tools have limited uses. The trick to using them is two-fold: don’t utilize them beyond their intended use (“honey, would you mind handing me my philips-head screwdriver? I need to finish pounding in this nail”) and don’t unnecessarily limit them short of their intended use (“no, honey, not this one here – that’s my bathroom philips-head screwdriver! Give me that one over there – it’s my living room philips-head screwdriver!”)…

I’m aware there are other arguments, but this is among them.

OK, but refuting one argument doesn’t disprove the claim; it merely disproves the particular argument. You’re not planning on arguing that, since one particular argument (out of many) for the multiple-author theory can be assailed, then the theory itself is wrong… are you?

It seems the theories that assert multiple authorship of the Book of Isaiah mainly argue on the premise that it’s unlikely said prophecies about Babylon and Cyrus would have been made before the emergence of these powers

That’s one way of framing the argument – which, to be honest, doesn’t have as much to do with world figures as it does span of time between the sections of the Book. You allude to precisely this notion later in your post.

Such a stance in my opinion thus amounts to a rejection of the supernatural quality of the prophecies and therefore undermines the possibility and role of God’s Divine Inspiration in the composition of the Sacred texts.

Again, if you recognize that other arguments for multiple-author exist, then why do you make this claim? If we posit an Isaiah and a Deutero-Isaiah, both of whom prophesy to the people of God (one prior to the upheavals in Judah, and the other prior to the return from Babylon), then we have both the ‘supernatural quality of the prophecies’ and a reasonable explanation of the timing of the prophecies…

A simplistic summary: The above position and the position of a single-author (or a cooperating scribe under Isaiah) both begin on a presupposition: the above, on the basis that the said prophecies can’t have been made before they historically occurred; and the single-author stance, that the prophecies had to have been made prior to the events by Isaiah.

And as such, you’re merely tearing down one argument for the multiple-author theory, and not the theory itself. If I were grading a paper that made that claim, I’d grade you down – not on your adherence to ‘single-author’, but on a poor approach that draws conclusions before examining all alternatives.

(If one holds the stance of multiple authorship and that the prophecies were made prior the events, that’s another thing altogether. The timeline provides a bit of room for this possibility).

:thumbsup:

There we go. See? If you claim “single-author must be correct because retroactive prophecy is wrong”, then this is precisely the rebuttal you’ll face. :shrug:

(Edited to add: I tried to avoid getting on my soap-box, but have failed. :blush:

Here we go:

The project of writing a term paper isn’t merely to provide a vehicle for you to present your arguments. It’s meant to build solid research skills. You’ve started in the right direction – you’ve asked “are there scholars out there who advocate for the single-author theory in Isaiah?” Your next step, of course, is to go out there and find them. Asking on an internet forum isn’t exactly ‘doing research’ (and, to tell the truth, is rarely productive). You don’t mention where you’ve been looking for references, but now it’s time to go out there and find them! I’d be surprised if your university doesn’t provide access to various services that aggregate articles and reviews (e.g., JSTOR, etc). Search on “Isaiah authorship” and start reading! Not every article will be helpful, but some might cite scholars who say the sort of thing you’re trying to argue. Don’t be afraid to read those who hold to the multiple-author theory: if they’re good scholars, they’ll also ID the arguments for single-authorship and provide citations from the scholars who make those claims! There are scholarly debates over the number of authors – 2? 3? – and you can use these against the multiple-author claim in general, if you’re crafty enough! Engage in the process of doing research – rather than the process of railing against your teachers – and you just might find what you’re looking for! :wink:

Good luck! :thumbsup:)


#9

At very great cost (I toppled over a pile of books on the floor) I dug out my copy of The New Jerome Biblical Commentary and looked over the introduction. I was willing to do this, just to check into it (with an open mind) but the compilers of that 1992 commentary shy away from a one-author theory of composition. The essays in this book are loaded with references, and I didn’t study them to see if there might have been someone who believed in the single-author theory.

I have three- or four-feet of shelf space of Jewish commentaries, but not much beyond the Torah. The only discussion of this topic I have is in the 2nd Ed of The Jewish Study Bible (Oxford U Press) and its introduction affirms the multiple author idea, this going back to “the middle ages.”

The Dead Sea Scrolls included a copy of Isaiah which was found to be (I’ll use these words) in the final form that we have it today.

So, I can’t find support for that in either Jewish or Christian commentary.


#10

I think I can fill in for that.

The idea that Isaiah is composed by more than one author certainly is medieval. It was a Jewish commentator that first suggested it. Abraham ibn-Ezra (1089-1164), in his commentary on Isaiah, already expressed hints that chapters 40-66 may have been written by a later prophet, and quotes a contemporary exegete, Moses ibn Chiquitilla ha-Kohen, as holding a similar idea.

These first comforting promises, with which the second part of the book of Isaiah begins, refer, as R. Moses Hakkohen believes, to the restoration of the temple by Zerubbabel; according to my opinion to the coming redemption from our present exile; prophecies concerning the Babylonian exile are introduced only as an illustration, showing how Cyrus, who allowed the captive Jews to return to Jerusalem, … About the last section of the book there is no doubt, that it refers to a period yet to come, as I shall explain.—It must be borne in mind, that the opinion of the orthodox, that the book of Samuel was written by Samuel, is correct as regards to the first part, till the words “And Samuel died” (1 Sam. 25:1); this remark is confirmed by the act that the book of Chronicles contains the names (of the descendants of David) in genealogical order down to Zerubbabel.—The words “Kings shall see and arise, princes and shall worship” (49:7) support this view, though they might be also explained as follows: “Kings and princes will arise, etc., when they head the name of the prophet, even after his death.” The reader will adopt the opinion which recommends itself most to his judgment.

They noticed what later scholars also saw, that there is a sort of ‘continuity error’ between chapters 1-39 and 40-66: Isaiah’s name suddenly stops being used after chapter 39 (which might explain Abraham’s reference to the books of Samuel being written by multiple authors - since the book goes beyond Samuel’s death), and that chapters 40-55 seem to presuppose that Jerusalem has already been destroyed (they are not framed as prophecy) and the Babylonian exile is already in effect - it even mentions the Persian king Cyrus by name (44:28; 45:1).


#11

To the OP: you’re free to believe in a single authorship for Isaiah, but I would suggest actually learning about the multiple authorship theory first, the reasons why the theory was even suggested in the first place, rather than simply dismiss it as ‘liberal’ tripe without even looking at it.

As Gorgias pointed out, if you’re thinking that the multiple author theory simply rests on a denial of prophecy, then you’re not quite right. That’s not even the foundation of that theory. One could advocate for the existence of a deutero-Isaiah without denying divine prophecy - Abraham ibn-Ezra was able to do so. So even if you shot the idea of vaticinia ex eventu (prophecy after the event) down, that isn’t an argument against deutero-Isaiah (or trito-Isaiah).


#12

I should add:

Older scholarship imagined that Isaiah can be neatly divided into two (or three sections): Isaiah wrote the first half of the book (chapters 1-39), while a later prophet (or two) wrote the second half (chapters 40-66). Some even point out that since chapters 56-66 meanwhile seem to assume an even later situation (the exiles have returned and the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple is underway), there could have been a third author responsible for that section.

However, the more recent understanding points out that we actually cannot neatly divide the book as we would like, since Deutero-Isaiah is now thought to have likely redacted Proto-Isaiah and added in some material within the Proto-Isaiah section (chapters 34-35 are in Deutero-Isaiah’s style, for instance). Some even scholars question whether there was a ‘Trito-Isaiah’ at all (since they point out the similarities between the two sections kind of outweigh the supposed differences); couldn’t it be just Deutero-Isaiah all along?

Recent scholarship actually emphasizes more the unity of the book as a whole: Isaiah could well have been an amalgamation of prophecies by two or more people (the historical Isaiah and some later prophet/s), but the work as we have it now is deliberately arranged such that it gives a unified, overarching theological message.

So to John (the OP), if you’re going to claim a single author for Isaiah, you’d be on more firmer ground basing your argument on this.


#13

A defense of a single author of Isaiah
On the feast of Saint Athanasius who argued against bad theology and ultimately was proved correct, I will take up the argument from the gospel of John that the book of Isaiah is by a single author. I am amazed how hostile the replies are to the suggestion of the unity of Isaiah and the thought Isaiah wrote Isaiah. The gospel of John attributes three passages in Isaiah to the same Isaiah.
John 12:38-41 RSV - it was that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed our report, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 39 Therefore they could not believe. For Isaiah **again **said, 40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they should see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.” 41 Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke of him.
So John attributes Isaiah 53:1 to the same Isaiah who wrote Isa 42:19-20 and the Isaiah who saw God’s Glory Isaiah 6.
Grace and peace,
Bruce


#14

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