Were There Two or Three Different Isaiahs?


#1

So I came across something I had no idea about, this:

Controversial to some is the book of Isaiah. Chapters 40-66 seem to assume that the exile is a past event as opposed to prophecy (e.g., 42:22-25; 47:6). This is one of several factors that has led most scholars to conclude that Isaiah was written over several centuries extending well past the exile, which means that the final form of that book as a whole stems from that period.

Apparently Biblical critics think this:

Basically, they have imposed three divisions on the book:

First Isaiah. Chapters 1-39.
Possibly actually written by somebody called 'Isaiah' although "higher critics" were far from convinced on this point.

Deutero-Isaiah. Chapters 40-55.
Supposedly written by an unknown Jewish exile in Babylon during the sixth century B. C.

Trito-Isaiah. Chapters 56-66.
Supposedly written by a post-exilic Palestinian because of 'considerations of structure and background ideas.'

The reasons for the division of people in Issiah, from what I understand, is that Isaiah (living around 700 BC) could never have spoken of Cyrus who lived about 540 BC? And that the info about the exile etc is presented as a matter of fact and not as a prophesy.
**

My question: I always took Isaiah as a whole, so how as a Catholic should I understand this theory?**


#2

The more I research the more I realize that biblical critics state all kids of things these days:

  1. Moses didn’t write genesis
  2. Daniel is a fiction character… didn’t write his book.
  3. Isaiah didn’t write all of his book.

etc. etc…

Is this really the state of modern OT study??

What the heck?

How does the Catholic understanding of all this shake out??


#3

Further to my point, I found this:

At the heart of this oracle is the mention of Cyrus by name. He is first introduced in Isaiah 44:28; but then in 45 the point is stressed that the LORD called him by name. Those who hold to the traditional view of the book point to this passage as a remarkable example of God’s ability to predict the future. Those who take the critical view argue that since prophets do not predict in such a specific way in the Old Testament, we have here evidence of a later author in the Babylonian exile, who knew about Cyrus and “predicted” that he should be the deliverer.

Again, how should I as a Catholic understand this?


#4

The book of Isaiah is a book of prophecy in the tradition, or school of Isaiah.

The book as we know it today in the Bible is actually a collection of writings which represent a tradition that extended over a span of some three hundred years. The whole text can be sub-divided into three major parts: (i) Isaiah 1-39, for the most part, presenting the teaching of the prophet himself, who laboured in Jerusalem from 740 until sometime after 701 B.C.; (ii) Isaiah 40-55 (generally referred to as Deutero-Isaiah (second -Isaiah)), containing the oracles of another prophet in the tradition of Isaiah, who announced God’s word to the exiles in Babylon sometime between 550 and 539 B.C.; and (iii) Isaiah 56-66, Trito-Isaiah (third Isaiah), reflecting the same tradition at a later stage in Jerusalem after the Exile but before the arrival of Ezra and Nehemiah, perhaps around 500 B.C.

Isaiah is often considered the greatest of the Old Testament prophets because of the sheer range and vision of his prophecy. As I wrote in my post on the Eucharist, words have great meaning and power for the Hebrews. Thus their names are more than mere labels; they tell the identity, the significance, the sign-value of the person who bears them (hence the significance of the divine name of God for example). The name Isaiah means “God is salvation” and what is most extraordinary perhaps about this book is that it contains prophecies of Jesus, so numerous, so beautiful and so much more famous than any other prophet, that it has been referred to as the “Gospel of Isaiah”.

Isaiah has also been called “the Shakespeare of the prophets”, for his poetic turn of phrase rivalled only by Job and Psalms for poetic grandeur. At least ten of Isaiah’s passages have become unforgettable to all English-speaking peoples, immortalised in Handel’s world famous oratorio, The Messiah: 11:1-5; 7:14; 40:9; 60:2-3; 9:2; 9:6; 35:6-6; 40:11; 53:3-6; 53:8.

This prophet and his followers lived long before Christ, yet the detailed prophecies of the life of Christ we find in Isaiah are far more numerous and far more specific than anything else in the Bible. At least seventeen of them were fulfilled in truly remarkable detail.

Take the time to look up the following seventeen passages. These are only part of the more than three hundred different prophecies in the Old Testament that are fulfilled by Christ. Even though the New Testament writers (especially Matthew) deliberately used the style and language of Old Testament prophecies to describe events in the life of Christ—as a modern preacher might use the King James English to describe current events—the statistical odds that one man could fulfil all of these prophecies so completely is not much better than the odds that a monkey could type out Isaiah by randomly throwing marbles at a computer keyboard. Compare:-

1). Isaiah 7:14 with Matthew 1:22-23;
2). Isaiah 9:1-2 with Matthew 4:12-16;
3). Isaiah 9:6 with Luke 2:11 (see also Ephesians 2:14-18);
4). Isaiah 11:1 with Luke 3:23, 32 and Acts 13:22-23;
5). Isaiah 11:2 with Luke 3:22;
6). Isaiah 28:16 with 1 Peter 2:4-6;
7). Isaiah 40:3-5 with Matthew 3:1-3;
8). Isaiah 42:1-4 with Matthew 12:15-21;
9). Isaiah 42:6 with Luke 2:29-32;
10). Isaiah 50:6 with Matthew 26:26, 30, 67;
11). Isaiah 52:14 with Philippians 2:7-11;
12). Isaiah 53:3 with Luke 23:18 and John 1:11; 7:5;
13). Isaiah 53:4 with romans 5:6, 8;
14). Isaiah 53:7 with Matthew 27:12-14, John 1:29 and 1 Peter 1:18-19;
15). Isaiah 53:9 with Matthew 27:57-60;
16). Isaiah 53:12 with Mark 15:28; and
17). Isaiah 61:1-2 with Luke 4:17-21.

One of the most salient texts in Deutero-Isaiah, are the four Songs of the Lord’s Servant (42: 1-9; 49: 1-7; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12). The theme and tone that these texts share distinguish them from the rest of Deutero-Isaiah. The fact that each of them can be removed from its present context without interrupting the general flow of the text suggests that they were composed in light of each other and that together they comprise an independent collection. However, it is important to note that there exists a development of theme in them along the lines of the major portions of Deutero-Isaiah.

The first Servant Song (42:1-9) speaks of the servant’s call to ministry in a manner consistent with the international perspective characteristic of the first stage of prophet’s ministry under the shadow of Cyrus’ advance (the Persian king who, at the time of Deutero-Isaiah, had overthrown the Medes and was advancing against Babylon) cf. 41:1-48:22. By comparison, the remaining three Servant Songs (49:1-7; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12) reflect a personal aspect of suffering and affliction that corresponds with the tenor of the stressful days of restoration (49:1-54:17).

Disciples of the prophet produced their final version of the text prior to 515 B.C. The last editors of the complete Isaian collection located it in its present setting in the book when they completed the whole work between 450 and 400 B.C.

Scholars still debate who the Servant is: Israel, Cyrus or the prophet himself are all mooted as candidates. Closer analysis indicates that the Songs refer to Deutero-Isaiah himself, but they also point beyond him to the perfect Servant whom God will send in the future (42:1-12; cf. 9:1-6; 11:1-9).

The literary form of the Servant Songs derives from the “Confessions” of Jeremiah (Jer 11:18-12:6; 15:10-21; 17:14-18; 18:18-23; 20:7-18). Indeed, the witness of Jeremiah’s prophetic career and suffering introduces the theme of the last three Songs (Is 49:1; cf. Jer 1:5; Is 50:4-11; cf. Jer 20:7-13; Is 53:7; cf. Jer 11:19). Each Song indicates a development in the prophet’s vocation.


#5

continued…

The Song of the Suffering Servant is at the heart of the Gospel because it shows us that Jesus has atoned for our sin. This is the Good News of our salvation. The early Christian profession that “Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the Scriptures” primarily alludes to the Servant text (1 Cor 15:3; cf. Is 53: 4-5, 10). When Jesus declares His death will be “a ransom for many”, He is revealing Himself as the promised Servant (Mk 10:45; cf. Is 53:10-12). He makes the same point again at the Last Supper when he states that His blood will be poured out “for many” (Mk 14:24; Mt 26:28; see Is 53:11-12). His death is the sacrifice that makes atonement for sin and reconciles mankind to God in the New Covenant. The term “for many” is not exclusive but inclusive in that the saving work of Christ reveals God’s desire that all people be saved (1 Tm 2:4).


#6

Have you ever read Dei Verbum? It is the key document to understanding the Church’s teaching on revelation.

Pope Pius XII wrote an important encyclical on Scripture study in 1943 Divino Afflante Spiritu which inaugurated the modern period of Roman Catholic Bible studies by encouraging the study of textual criticism (or “lower criticism”) pertaining to text of the Scriptures themselves and transmission thereof (e.g. to determine correct readings), and permitting the use of the historical-critical method (or “higher criticism”), to be informed by theology, Sacred Tradition, and ecclesiastical history, pertaining to the historical circumstances of the text, hypothesizing about matters such as authorship, dating, and similar concerns.


#7

Thanks, so does that make Isaiah 44:28 and Isaiah 45:1 a prophesy or a statement of fact by someone living after the events? Or perhaps during? i.e., is Isaiah 44:28 and Isaiah 45:1 prophesy?


#8

I’m not sure I understand your question.


#9

Sorry, I mean this:

At the heart of this oracle is the mention of Cyrus by name. He is first introduced in Isaiah 44:28; but then in 45 the point is stressed that the LORD called him by name. Those who hold to the traditional view of the book point to this passage as a remarkable example of God’s ability to predict the future. Those who take the critical view argue that since prophets do not predict in such a specific way in the Old Testament, we have here evidence of a later author in the Babylonian exile, who knew about Cyrus and “predicted” that he should be the deliverer.

So do I as a Catholic understand the calling of Cyrus by name long before his birth to be prophesy then, correct?


#10

Can you explain to me in a nutshell what the paragraph above means? And in terms a layman/simple-man like me can understand? :):o


#11

Right. In the beginning of the book, we see history – Israel is facing distinct and real dangers from its neighbors, and we see that a prophet has risen up to tell them God’s word: repent! doom is upon you!

Deutero-Isaiah. Chapters 40-55.
Supposedly written by an unknown Jewish exile in Babylon during the sixth century B. C. 

Take a look at Isaiah 39, and then turn to 40. In 39, Isaiah is warning Hezekiah, “watch out! Babylon is coming, and all will be lost!”, but Hezekiah is all, “whatever… it’ll never happen in my lifetime!”

Then, beginning in chapter 40, we see a drastic change in scenario: the people have already been in exile, and the prophecy we see there is, “the time of the exile is over; God will return his people to their land!”.

Trito-Isaiah. Chapters 56-66.
Supposedly written by a post-exilic Palestinian because of 'considerations of structure and background ideas.'

Here, we see something completely different, yet again! The people have already returned to the Promised Land, but haven’t yet experienced the prosperity and blessings they had expected. Rebuilding the land hasn’t taken place, and some are worshiping false gods, and their leaders aren’t doing so hot a job, either.

So, we see that, within the context of Isaiah, we have three distinct messages, corresponding to three distinct periods of time in the lives of Israel. These periods of time are far longer than an individual prophet could have survived. (In fact, legend has it that Hezekiah’s son executed Isaiah by literally sawing him in half (take a look at Hebrews 11:37 – there’s reference made to that event, there).)

The reasons for the division of people in Issiah, from what I understand, is that Isaiah (living around 700 BC) could never have spoken of Cyrus who lived about 540 BC?

It’s not that the historical Isaiah could not have spoken of Cyrus; it’s that he couldn’t have spoken of him in the present tense, which is what is going on in Isaiah 41-45. There, Cyrus has already done some of his deeds which overthrow Babylon and are the catalyst for Israel’s return from exile, and therefore, he is seen has having done God’s will.

And that the info about the exile etc is presented as a matter of fact and not as a prophesy.

It’s that the exile is presented not as “a matter of fact”, but that it’s now coming to an end. :wink:

My question: I always took Isaiah as a whole, so how as a Catholic should I understand this theory?

So, how do we, as Catholics, approach the book of Isaiah? Well… what matters most, here? That a man named Isaiah was the one who penned the book? Or rather, that God sent prophets to His people, and through these prophets, God’s word of prophecy came to His people? :wink:


#12

Catholic are the experts on the Bible. We know all the stuff you have found out here–we found it out! It’s our book, we love it, we live it, and we’re not afraid of it. We study it, with papal mandate, to discover the truths of God’s revelation to us. It’s important that we do read it, study it, engage with it.

How’s that?


#13

Sounds good. :slight_smile:


#14

Pope Pius XII wrote an important encyclical on Scripture study in 1943 Divino Afflante Spiritu which inaugurated the modern period of Roman Catholic Bible studies by encouraging the study of textual criticism (or “lower criticism”) pertaining to text of the Scriptures themselves and transmission thereof (e.g. to determine correct readings), and permitting the use of the historical-critical method (or “higher criticism”), to be informed by theology, Sacred Tradition, and ecclesiastical history, pertaining to the historical circumstances of the text, hypothesizing about matters such as authorship, dating, and similar concerns.
[/quote]

Can you explain to me in a nutshell what the paragraph above means? And in terms a layman/simple-man like me can understand? :):o
[/quote]

Yep: in Divino Afflante Spiritu, Pope Pius XII pointed out that we cannot treat Scripture as if it were written in a vacuum: it was written in particular historical times and places. And, if we want to understand what was written, and what the (human) authors had in mind, we need to consider what their points of view were – that is, we need to understand the contexts of their lives, if we want to understand what they were attempting to say. If we were reading a Sherlock Holmes novel, and a character mentioned a “Super Bowl,” then we’d understand it to mean something completely different than if a writer mentioned the same term in 1990. So, if we wanted to ‘get’ what these different writers were trying to say, we’d have to understand their place and time in history.

In the case of the Bible, God definitely inspired human authors; but He allowed them the freedom to express His ideas in their own words. We need to understand them if we hope to be able to understand everything that they’ve written…

Does that help?


#15

Thank you very informative for me, so my question is then simply this:

Was the mention of Cyrus a prophesy made centuries before his birth by Isaiah (or a prophet of Isaiah? Or was it stated as a matter of fact with reference to what was happening at the time that part of of the book of Isaiah was being written?** i.e. was it a pure prophesy made well before the fact?**


#16

**Do I as a Catholic understand the calling of Cyrus by name long before his birth to be prophesy then, correct? **


#17

@Fishy: you may want to read Warren Carroll’s History of Christendom, Vol. 1, regarding your initial question.


#18

Can you give me the gist of it?


#19

That is the most important question, isn’t it!?!?!?!? :wink:

Let’s look at the text itself:

[LIST]
*]Who has stirred up from the East the champion of justice, and summoned him to be his attendant? (Is 41:2)

*]He pursues them, passing on without loss, by a path his feet scarcely touch.
*]Who has performed these deeds? Who has called forth the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD. (Is 41:3-4)

*]I have stirred up one from the north, and he comes; from the east I summon him by name; He shall trample the rulers down like mud, like a potter treading clay. (Is 41:25)

*]Thus says the LORD, your redeemer,… I say to Jerusalem, Be inhabited! To the cities of Judah, Be rebuilt! I will raise up their ruins.
*]I say of Cyrus, My shepherd! He carries out my every wish, saying of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Lay its foundations.” (Is 44:24,26, 28)

*]Thus says the LORD to his anointed, Cyrus, whose right hand I grasp, subduing nations before him, stripping kings of their strength, opening doors before him, leaving the gates unbarred: … For the sake of Jacob, my servant, of Israel my chosen one, I have called you by name, giving you a title, though you do not know me. (Is 45:1, 4)
[/LIST]

So… you tell me: all of these references are to Cyrus; and all of them use present and past tenses to talk about what God has already done, and about the things that Cyrus is about to do. Is this all strictly prophecy about someone who is not yet alive? Or is it prophecy about someone who has already stood up to the Babylonians and is now in a position to help out the Israelites (even if he doesn’t know that he’s doing God’s will by doing so)?

The scholars you have read suggest that the text is talking about someone already alive. It’s a reasonable assertion. Does it change the meaning and value of the text if that’s the case? Speaking for myself… it doesn’t seem so. It’s still God who’s leading His people from exile, through the actions of Cyrus. There are still future actions that are being prophecized here. Does it make it less the word of God if the prophecy isn’t 200 years in advance? Nah… :wink:


#20

True, true. I agree.

Is it also true that Cyrus is mentioned many times elsewhere in the OT, just not by name, before his birth? I read that somewhere… is that true?


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