AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOKS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT. by W. O. E. Oesterley, D.D., Litt.D.,& T. H. Robinson, D.D., Litt.D. Hon. D.D. (Aberdeen), Hon. D.Th. (Halle Wittenberg). © W O E Oesterley & T H Robinson 1934. First published SPCK. 1934. - This edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.


I.     Place in the Canon.
II.     Historical Background.
III.     Contents.
IV.     Structure and Date:
  1.   General: the larger divisions.
  2.   Chapters i-xxxix:
    A Ch. i. (i) Structure. (ii) Date.
    B. Chs.ii‑v. (i) Structure. (ii) Date.
    C.‑. (i) Structure. (ii) Date.
    D. Chs.i‑xi. (i) Structure. (ii) Date.
    E. Chs.xxiv‑xxvii.
    F. Chs.xxviii‑xxxv. (i) Structure. (ii) Date.
    G. Chs.xxxvi‑xxxix.
  3.   Summary and Conclusions.
V.     The Man and his Message.
VI.     The Hebrew Text and the Septuagint.


The Book of Isaiah belongs to the group known to Jewish scholars as the "Prophets", and more particularly, to that section called the "Later Prophets". (See above, pp.4 ff.)

That section consists of four books, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the "Twelve", and they are usually placed in this order.

There is, however, a strong tradition among the Rabbis to the effect that Isaiah should stand third of the greater prophets and not first. This seems to have been due, partly to the feeling that Jeremiah continued, in a certain sense, the book of Kings, and partly to the obviously later date of Isa.xlff. [Cp. Ryle, The Canon of the Old Testament, pp.237-239 (1895).]

In the Septuagint there are variations, but in the best MSS, the "Twelve" are placed before the other three, though their order is the usual one - Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel. In the Peshitta Isaiah stands at the head of the "Later Prophets", and is followed, not by Jeremiah, but by the "Twelve", while the Vulgate has the order usually found in modern versions.


The life and ministry of Isaiah fall within the period of the great advance of the Assyrians westward. When he received his call to the prophetic work, the first expedition of Tiglath-pileser had not yet taken place, and the political horizon of Palestine was limited by the little group of kindred states on both sides of the Jordan and to the immediate north and south.

Tiglath Pileser III.Tiglath-pileser came to the throne in 745BC, and spent the first few years of his reign in consolidating his kingdom, and in securing its northern and eastern frontiers. But in 738BC, he was in the west, and Menahem of Samaria paid tribute to him. Dynastic changes followed swiftly both in Israel and in Damascus, and the pro-Assyrian party gave place to another which was, perhaps, pro-Egyptian, and was certainly anti-Assyrian. Rezon of Damascus and Pekah of Samaria attempted to revive the alliance which, a century earlier, had kept Shalmaneser III at bay. They tried to force Ahaz of Judah into the coalition, and, on his refusal to join them, they made an attempt to replace him with one of their own nominees. The country seems to have suffered, and possibly Jerusalem was besieged. But the city was not taken, and in three successive years, 734-732BC, Tiglath-pileser was in Palestine. Damascus fell almost at once, and in 733BC, Hoshea replaced Pekah. In 732BC, the final settlement of the north was made. Great numbers of the inhabitants being deported, and both Damascus and northern Israel were organized as provinces of the Assyrian Empire. The territory left to Hoshea hardly extended north of the Plain of Esdraelon.

Sargon II.In 727BC, Shalmaneser V succeeded Tiglath-pileser. Revolts broke out almost at once, probably instigated by Egypt, and in 724BC, Shalmaneser moved westwards. Hoshea was captured and killed, but the city of Samaria resisted for another three years, and was captured only by Sargon, who succeeded Shalmaneser in 722BC. Samaria was now formed into an Assyrian province.

Up to this point Judah had been consistently pro-Assyrian. But with the outbreak of a new revolt in 711BC, Hezekiah seems to have taken the other side. The religious reform attributed to him, if historical, may have been, in one of its aspects, a gesture of independence. If so, it was carried out either at this date or between 705 and 701BC. The chief object of Sargon's wrath was Ashdod, which he captured, and no further harm seems to have befallen Hezekiah. The country remained quiet till after the death of Sargon in 705BC; but then, thanks to the energy and ability of the Babylonian Merodach-baladan, almost the whole empire broke away from Sennacherib. In the west the only vassal who remained faithful was Padi, king of Ekron, who was deposed by his subjects and sent to Jerusalem, where Hezekiah imprisoned him.Fragments of the Sargon Cylinder.But Sennacherib was equal to the occasion. He first defeated a concerted movement by the Babylonians and Elamites, driving Merodach-baladan finally out of the country. In 701BC, he marched westwards, everywhere putting down the rebellion. Judah was laid desolate, and Sennacherib claims to have captured forty-six fortified cities in addition to countless unwalled towns. Hezekiah submitted and Jerusalem was not seriously besieged. The Egyptians attempted to make a diversion, but were defeated at Eltekeh in the far south. Sennacherib carried away an enormous number of captives (he claims 200,150) and exacted a burdensome tribute from Hezekiah, whose territory he also reduced.

Judah was fortunate to escape so lightly. No doubt, one of the reasons why Assyria so easily overran Israel and Damascus is to be found in the social and moral deterioration of the country during the preceding century. Israel, especially in the north, had grown wealthy, and had succeeded in outstripping her rival, Damascus. But prosperity was confined to a small class; the rest sank into depths of poverty and even into slavery, as the wealthy became richer and more luxurious. There was an internal canker in the people, which meant that, sooner or later, the nation must lose her national independence. The conditions depicted for us by the eighth century prophets, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Micah, made the ruin of the country not merely intelligible but inevitable.

The religious situation, like the political and social conditions of the age, gave little hope for the future. The syncretism, the mixed cult, which meant that men worshipped Yahweh with the theories and rites appropriate to the old Canaanite Baals, could exercise no ameliorating influence. Hosea saw through this type of religion and declared it to be but the worship of Baal. The old traditional faith of Israel, traced back in history to Moses and, theoretically, imported with Israel into Palestine, retained its purity only in special places and groups of people. To the south and east, we may believe, where a large proportion of the community lived on a plane, which was still pastoral, rather than agricultural and civic, the old Yahwism had a better opportunity of maintaining itself. And there were groups of men and women, e.g. the Rechabites, who held that the old faith was the only justifiable one. The same position was taken by a strong element in the prophetic succession from Elijah onwards, and it was to this side of Israelite religious thought that the great canonical prophets belonged. It is against this background, historical, social and religious, that we must see the work of Isaiah. And, if we can but do so, we shall value all the more the truth and the courage that marked him out and gave him the unique position he still holds in the history of man's spiritual life.


Like most of the prophetic books, Isaiah consists largely of oracles of different kinds, together with a certain number of autobiographical and biographical passages. The latter are grouped together in chs.xxxvi-xxxix, thus dividing the strictly prophetic material into two parts. A detailed discussion of the contents, however, is possible only when the structure of the book as a whole has been considered.


1. General: the larger divisions.

As we have already noted, the book of Isaiah falls into three main sections. The first of these is the usual type of prophetic collection, and frequently the oracles and narratives bear the name of Isaiah the son of Amoz, a prophet who lived and worked in Jerusalem during the latter part of the eighth century BC.

  1. This division includes chs.i-xxxv.

  2. And in the third, chs.xl-lxvi, we have another oracular collection, in which, however, the name of Isaiah nowhere appears.

  3. In this division, we have narratives in the third person - type B.  The second division ( chs.xxxvi-xxxix) is closely paralleled by ii Kgs.xviii.13-xx.19, and it is clear that, even if we cannot definitely say that one passage was copied from the other, they have a common origin, from which neither can have diverged very widely. (See pp.228 f.)

It is generally recognised that the first and third divisions had originally nothing to do with one another. The third does not claim to be the work of Isaiah, and its style and vocabulary are different. [For a list of expressions that are characteristic of chs.xl-lxvi, but are never found in undisputed utterances of Isaiah, cp. Driver, op. cit., pp.225-227.]

There are striking differences in the theological outlook, of which the most prominent is the view taken of the relation between Yahweh and the other gods. Isaiah of Jerusalem despises them, and exalts Yahweh above them all, but in xl-lxvi their very existence is categorically denied (cp., e.g. xli.24, xliv.9). While we have in several of the pre-exilic prophets, adumbrations of such a doctrine, and in all of them beliefs, which ultimately and inevitably lead to it, it is in this third section of the book of Isaiah that we have for the first time a clear and unmistakable monotheism. And, perhaps most obvious and convincing of all, we note that the whole background of the two sections is different. We shall have to allow for the presence of later material in Isa.i-xxxv, it is true, but in those parts that are certainly to be ascribed to Isaiah himself, the background is that of the eighth century BC, during the great advance of Assyria westwards. Chs.xl.ff presuppose the last years of the Babylonian Empire, i.e. the latter half of the sixth century BC. This does not mean that there is no prediction in chs.xl-lxvi; on the contrary, a great deal of the material consists in utterances that foretell the future.

But, as Gray has so well observed, "prophecy, unless it can be shown to be a vaticinium ex eventu, must have been written before what it predicts, but after what it presupposes. Ch.ix.7-x.4 was therefore written before 722BC and xl-lv before 538. But the latter section, since it presupposes that Cyrus has already achieved remarkable victories, must have been written after circa 550BC." [Isaiah, p.xxxi (1912). For the historical background of xl-lv, see below, pp.262 ff.]

Such internal evidence as is available tends to support this conclusion. While it is true, at the beginning of the second century BC, the writer of Ecclesiasticus attributed the later portions of the book to Isaiah himself (Ecclus.xlviii.24f), it seems certain that the reference of the Chronicler in ii Chron.xxxvi.22-23 (= Ezra i.1-2) is to this book, there attributed to Jeremiah. The book of Jeremiah does contain a prediction of the return after seventy years (Jer.xxv.12, xxix.10), and is undoubtedly the subject of the reference in ii Chron.xxxvi.21; but the two verses in question especially connect Cyrus with the rebuilding of the Temple, and can refer only to Isa.xliv.28-xlv.1. It is thus clear that at the beginning of the third century BC, these chapters were not yet attributed to Isaiah. Probably their attachment to this book was accidental. An anonymous collection, included in the books of the prophets, was almost certain, in process of time, to be read continuously with the collection that preceded it. We have parallels in the two little collections, which immediately followed Zechariah, and the same principle may be seen in the Rabbinic dictum, that an "orphan" psalm is to be attributed to the last author mentioned in the titles. This combination of Isa.i-xxxix, and xl-lxvi requires no further explanation than the supposition that the second, anonymous, group was at some time or other placed immediately after the book that was attributed to Isaiah himself.

2. Chapters i-xxxix.

The original Isaianic book, like others of the longer prophetic books, is made up of a number of older and shorter collections. Here they are particularly easy to identify, and are clearly as follows:

A. Ch.i. (i) Structure. (ii) Date.
B. Chs.ii-v. (i) Structure. (ii) Date.
C. (i) Structure. (ii) Date.
D. Chs.i-xi. (i) Structure. (ii) Date.
E. Chs.xxiv-xxvii.    
F. Chs.xxviii-xxxv. (i) Structure. (ii) Date.
G. Chs.xxxvi-xxxix.    


A Ch.i: Structure.

A detailed analysis of the short collection in ch.i will serve to illustrate the method on which we may deal with the great majority of such collections. Verse i forms a title for the whole book, and we have then the following independent pieces:

  1. Verses 2-3. A brief oracle in which heaven and earth are called to witness the infidelity and ingratitude of Israel towards Yahweh. The metre is 3:3. Clearly inserted at the head as striking a keynote for the book, or at least the collection.
  2. Verses 4-9. A lament over the calamity and desolation which have fallen upon the land. While the sin of Israel is recognized as the primary cause, the stress is laid on the result of this, i.e. the disaster and sufferings of the land. The metre is 2 : 2, with an occasional 3 : 2.
  3. Verses 10-17. A denunciation of sacrifice as practised by Israel. The metre is the same as the last, with a much larger proportion of 3:2. The subject, however, is entirely different, and the collector has been led to place the two together by the reference to Sodom and Gomorrah with which the one ends and the other begins. We note further that, while the parallelism in verses 4-9 is mainly internal, that of 10-17 is usually external. [For the metrical references cp.pp.141 ff.]
  4. Verses 18-20. An appeal and a warning. The metre is again Qinah (3 : 2), and the parallelism in verse 18 is internal, in verses 19-20 external. We observe that a "signature" - "for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it" - is appended, a phrase which has no place in the metrical structure of the oracle.
  5. Verses 21-28. An elegy on the sinful city of Jerusalem. The metre is again Qinah, but it seems that once or twice an editor or copyist has added a word or two. Verse 25 has, apparently, lost a two-stress stichos, and, if this can be assumed, verses 21-23 and 24-26 look as if they might form exactly parallel strophes, the first lamenting the corruption of Jerusalem, and the second foretelling purification and restoration. The appearance, however, is fallacious, for 24a can have formed no part of the oracle itself, but rather implies that a new one is about to begin. This impression is borne out by the exclamation "Ah!" at the beginning of 24b, which would stand most naturally at the head of a metrical unit, whether poem or strophe. This does not exclude the possibility that 24a is wholly redactional, except, perhaps, for the "Therefore" at the beginning, and if we could accept this suggestion we might regard the whole passage as a continuous poem. If it were felt that the two must be kept separate, we can explain their proximity to one another by the similarity in language. Collectors, as we have seen, were fond of putting together pieces, which had ideas or words in common. Verses 27-28 are clearly a fragment - or a pair of fragments - which were appended to the preceding oracle before it was included in the collection.
  6. and g. Verses 29-30 and 31 are again fragments, of which the first is a condemnation of tree-worship, with an irregular metre (3 : 3 + 4 : 3), suggesting corruption, the second a couple of 3 : 2 lines, threatening punishment.


Ch.1: Date.

While this chapter is a very good example, on a small scale, of a typical prophetic collection, it also serves to illustrate the difficulties that confront us when we try to assign dates to the individual pieces. There is no reason to deny any oracle, or even fragment, to Isaiah, but we are forced back on guesswork as soon as we attempt a more exact dating. As far as we know, there was no point during the life of Isaiah (except possibly after the reforms of Hezekiah) when Israel could not be described as sinful and ungrateful, and we have nowhere any suggestion that there was a time when sacrifices were not offered. The second utterance, it is true, will more probably have come from a time when the land had been overrun by a foreign enemy, and here we are left with a choice between several possible occasions known to us.

The lament might describe the desolation wrought by the combined armies of Pekah and Rezon in 734BC. (see ii Kgs.xv.37), or to the invasion of Sennacherib in 701BC. (see ii Kgs.xviii.13ff.), or to some other similar disaster of which we have no surviving account, perhaps to damage done by Sargon in 711BC. [This campaign was undertaken primarily against the Philistines, see Duhm, Das Buch Jesaia, p.123 (1914), but the proximity of Judah may well have tempted the Assyrian army to marauding expeditions over the border.]

701BC is the favourite date, but we may ask whether Isaiah would have so spoken of the sins of his people at a point comparatively soon after the reforms of Hezekiah.

B Chs.ii-v: Structure.

  1. The collection opens with a "floating" oracle, ii.2-4 (metre 3 : 3), found also in Mic.iv.1-4. It is anonymous, and was adopted by both collectors to place at the head of their booklets. The text is better preserved in Micah than in Isaiah, and the collector in the latter case had only a mutilated form, for the last sentences, including the "signature", are now found only in Micah. Verse 5 is a pious exhortation based on the preceding oracle.
  2. ii.6-19 presents an extraordinarily difficult problem, since the text is corrupt, and, possibly, has been disarranged. We may have here a single poem with a refrain (verses 10 and 19), or we may have two different poems, to one, or both, of which the refrain had been appended at a later stage. The last suggestion derives some support from the fact that a prose addition in verses 20, 21 embodies the refrain in a totally different connexion. Probably verses 6-21 had reached something like their present form when incorporated by the collector, but verse 22 is an interpolation, which must have been inserted very late, since it is not represented in the Septuagint. Metres seem somewhat irregular, but the prevailing rhythm in both parts is 3 : 3.
  3. In iii.1-12 we have an oracle whose original nucleus was probably verses 1-6 (Qinah), but which has received additions. Possibly verses 11-12 were an independent oracle (3 : 3). Another short oracle in 3 : 3, with the "signature" at the end, appears in iii.13-15.
  4. iii.16-iv.1, in Qinah, describes the doom of the women of Jerusalem, and a late scribe has inserted in verses 18-23 a regular "milliner's catalogue" which, naturally, is in prose.
  5. iv.2-6 forms a little eschatological utterance, depicting the final purification of Jerusalem. The metre is somewhat uncertain, being mainly 3 : 3 (2 : 2 : 2) in verses 2-3, and Qinah in the rest. The passage may have undergone some revision before its inclusion in the collection.
  6.  v.1-7 (in Qinah metre) contains the "Song of the Vineyard", with its application, and this is followed by a series of denunciations on various types of sinners, landgrabbers (8-10, Qinah), drunkards (11-17, Qinah, and 22-24, 3:3), the presumptuous (18-19, in 2:2:2 rhythm), those who confuse moral issues (20, Qinah), the conceited (21, 3:3). These passages form a little collection by themselves, and, though they can have no original organic unity with one another, they were probably put together at an early stage. The exclamation with which each begins would form a link of the kind that often induced compilers to bring together pieces originally independent.
  7. v.25 is a curious mixture of an oracle-fragment with a refrain which appears repeatedly in ix.7-x.4. Its insertion here may be simply accidental.
  8. v.26-30 describes a coming invader who will execute Yahweh's judgement on His people. It is generally held that the section is connected with ix.8-x.4, which has all the appearance of being a strophic poem with the same refrain as that which we find in verse 25b. If this view of ix.8-x.4 were right, then probably the transposition is justified, though the reason for the change of place is not clear. The metre is Qinah, and the piece seems to be mutilated at the end. (For further discussion see below, pp.245 f, & for various arrangements cp. Gray, Isaiah, p.180.)


Chs.ii-v: Date.

Once again we find ourselves at a loss to assign accurate dates. The "floating oracle" in ii.2-4 may be as early as Isaiah, though there is a tendency to associate it with the comforting prophecies of the end of the Exile. It seems to have been known to the author of Joel iii.10, but this certainly does not imply an early date. The additions to the original nucleus of ii.11-19 are probably post-exilic. The oracle in iv.2-6 may also be comparatively late. It is eschatological (though not to be denied to Isaiah simply on that ground) and refers to the "Branch" in a way, which suggests that the term was a familiar expression of eschatological language. Elsewhere we know of it first at the end of the seventh century (e.g. Jer.xi.5, xxi.15), and then it seems to be a new concept. The "Song of the Vineyard" and the denunciations which follow may come from any period in the life of Isaiah, and the last oracle, if it be correctly connected with ix.8-x.4, will probably have been uttered at some point during the years 736-725BC.

C Structure.

In this section we meet with prophetic prose for the first time. It was, probably, all of the autobiographical (C) type originally, though one or two of the sections have now assumed the third person, e.g.vii.3, 13. A copyist may have mistaken the last letter of the Hebrew word "to me" for the initial of the prophet's name. There is other evidence to show that proper names were often indicated simply by their initial letter. While the main narratives are always in prose, the words, both of Yahweh and of the prophet, tend to assume a rhythmical form, often showing a certain parallelism, though no regular metre can be identified. In some instances, too, the collector has found narratives to which oracular matter has been attached.

  1. vi.1-13. The opening piece is Isaiah's story of his first ecstatic experience, constituting his call to the prophetic ministry. It is too well known to need further description; suffice it to point out that it ends with a verse that is hopelessly obscure, and may well have suffered textual corruption. Or, perhaps, verse 13 may be a collector's addition to what is one of the finest pieces of descriptive writing in all known literature.
  2. In vii.1-9 we have the first of a series of passages that deal with the joint attack of Israel and Syria on Judah. In its present form it is in the third person, but this may be due to accidental corruption, since, in general, the passage resembles others of type C rather than type B. The first five verses give the occasion, and the message is contained in verses 7-9. The latter can be arranged metrically (3:3), but is prosaic in form, and is suspected of having received later accretions.
  3. vii.10-17 gives another message of the same period, in which a symbolic child, named Immanuel, is mentioned. This is followed by a series of short utterances with an eschatological tone, which may, originally, have had nothing to do with the preceding passage. The first (verses 18-19) predicts the coming of armies both from Egypt and from Assyria against Judah. Isaianic authorship has been doubted on the ground that Isaiah never feared the military power of Egypt, though he was afraid of an alliance with that country. This however, is hardly decisive, since we must always allow for the possibility of a change in opinion due to altered circumstances.
  4. vii.18-25. Yahweh summons Egypt and Assyria to exact his vengeance on Israel (verses 18-19 - apparently originally 3:3). In verses 20, 21-22 and 23-25 we have three pictures of depopulation and desolation, which, again, we cannot safely assign to any particular period in the life of Isaiah, though there is no particular reason to suspect his authorship. The metre of the two former seems to have been 3:3; the third was probably Qinah in the main.
  5. viii.1-10. viii.1-4 is another passage derived from the autobiographical material. It describes the birth of Maher-shalal-hash-baz, whose name predicts the fall of Samaria and Damascus. To this have been appended two short oracles, or fragments of oracles. Thus, verses 5-8a (in Qinah, mutilated at the end) form part of a threat of destruction, verses 8b-10, part of a promise of protection, probably in 3:3.
  6. In viii.11-15 we have another extract from Isaiah's own writing, which may have been expanded. The prophet is warned against following popular opinions, and, while there are traces of parallelism and rhythm, no regular mare can be detected.
  7. viii.16-18. The last piece of autobiographical matter in this section is to be found in viii.16-18. Here Isaiah is bidden to seal up his testimony in the minds of his disciples, leaving his name and those of his children as a memorial for later generations.
  8. viii.19-ix.1 The extract is followed by two short fragments, of which the first, verses 19-20, is a warning against necromancy, and the second, verses 21-22, a threat of desolation. To this last a prose note has been appended in ix.1 (in Hebr.viii.23), mitigating the doom by a promise of restoration for northern Israel. This note may have been the work of Isaiah, or may have been expanded from something he said after the desolation of the north by Tiglath-pileser in 732BC. The compiler of this collection, vi-xii, has now used all the autobiographical material he thought suitable for his purpose, together with the oracular fragments appended to its various sections. He proceeds to add other oracles, which, as it seemed to him, might fit the general period to which his collection primarily refers.
  9. The first piece he thus takes is the well-known Messianic passage, ix.2-7 (Hebr.1-6). The metre is Qinah. Isaianic authorship has been questioned by a number of modern scholars, but the linguistic and similar grounds are indecisive, and it is impossible to resist the feeling that scholars have been too much influenced by the idea that Messianic prophecy is necessarily late. (Cp.Gray, Isaiah, pp.166-168 (1912), & for the other point of view, Cheyne, Introduction to the Book of Isaiah, pp.41-46 (1895).) In its simplest form, that of the expectation and hope of an ideal king (and that is all that can be claimed for this passage), it may have been very early, and we can certainly trace it in writings a century later than Isaiah, and, probably, also elsewhere in Isaiah himself. [e.g. in xx.1 f.] Perhaps too much stress has been laid on the connexion between this and the Messianic passage in ch.xi. As we shall see later, though there are similarities, there are also differences, and the two do not necessarily go together.
  10. ix.8-x.4. ix.2-7 is followed by a passage which has all the appearance of being a strophic poem, to each stanza of which a refrain has beep added. It extends from ix.8-x.4, and, probably, v.25b-30. Including this last passage, there are five stanzas: ix.8-12, ix.13-17, ix.18-21, x.1-4, v.25b-30. (See above p.242) The first of these, whose metre is partly 3:3, partly Qinah, threatens the pride of Ephraim with punishment. The second condemns the refusal of Israel to repent; it may be arranged in 3:3, but its language is prosaic. The third describes civil war in the Northern Kingdom, and written in 3:3; verse 20 looks like a gloss. The fourth condemns the corruption of justice (3:3), and the last forms a threat of foreign invasion. It is assumed that all refer to northern Israel. Closer examination, however, makes the unity of the whole problematical. The stanzas are not all of equal length (ix.14-15 are generally held to be a later insertion in the second section), and there is not that consecutiveness which would be expected in such a poem. The fourth section is often suspected of being a later composition, and it handles a theme slightly different from the others. Further, the construction of a poem of this kind is strange. Even if not wholly without parallel to the peculiar literary genius of the prophets, it is too artificial for the sudden, lyric, outburst of feeling and conviction that usually marks prophetic utterance. We are led, then, to suspect that an early compiler has taken four or five Isaianic oracles and has attached a refrain to them - possibly it was original with one of them. One of the oracles still maintained a separate existence, and was used by the compiler of the second collection (chs.ii-v); perhaps for this reason it was omitted from the group when the whole was absorbed into the book of Isaiah. We need not doubt that the passage was already in its present form when it was placed in this collection by the compiler; the unification of the five passages belongs to a still earlier stage in the history of the development of the text. We have no reason to doubt that Isaiah was the author of all five.
  11. x.5-9 forms a poem (3:3) in which Assyria is denounced, and the prophet's philosophy of history is enunciated. Two additions have been made to this, verses 10-11 (Qinah) turn the judgement from Assyria to Judah, and verse 12 summarizes the teaching of the oracle itself.
  12. In x.13-18 we have another oracle, mainly in 3:3 metre, on the same subject as the last, with an appendix added later, in verse 19. Two other pieces, fragmentary, now follow, in x.20-23 and 24-27a. The former of these is mainly in 2:2:2 metre, while the latter seems to be now in prose. Both hold out a hope of restoration to Judah, and the former of them speaks of the remnant that shall return. This is a doctrine characteristic of Isaiah, and the promise of deliverance from Assyria, which follows, may also be from his lips, although such a prospect is not usual with him.
  13. x.27b-34 gives us a vivid picture in Qinah of the advance of an army upon Jerusalem. It might conceivably have been the combined forces of Pekah and Rezon, but the compiler evidently thought of the Assyrians, since the rest of the oracles here put together deal with that people. x.33-34 may also have referred, in the first instance, to Assyria, and was probably added to this little group on that theory.
  14. A second Messianic passage appears in xi.1-9 (3:3). It is interesting to find this passage quoted in lxv.25, though the words are not taken exactly and consecutively. Moreover, verse 9b is not represented in lxv. though 9a is repeated accurately, and we may conclude that 9c, which does not fit the metre of the rest of this piece, was a later addition which was made before the compiler inserted the whole here. The quotations in ch.lxv will probably have been taken, not from the finished book, but from the isolated oracle. Unlike ix.1-7, this passage can hardly be pre-exilic, for the word used for "stock" in verse 1 implies the stump of a tree left in the ground after it has been cut down, and could hardly have been employed if the Davidic dynasty was still on the throne.
  15. xi.10-16. The remainder of ch.xi consists of a series of pieces that are probably fragments, and all seem to be not earlier than the Exile. Verse 10, for instance (3:3), seems to stand practically alone, though we can readily see why a collector should have attached it to the preceding. Possibly verses 11-14 (also 3:3) may be read continuously, as a promise of the return of the exiles, though some scholars regard verse 11 as prose. Verse 15 (Qinah) is again a fragment, which has little or no connexion with the preceding, and, while the mention of Assyria in verse 16 might imply a pre-exilic date, the language suggests dependence on the admittedly exilic and post-exilic portions of the book of Isaiah.
  16. xii.1-6. The collection concludes with a pair of psalms, in .1-2 and 4b-6 (both in 3:3); between them stands a little introduction to the second, verses 3-4a. These small psalms are songs celebrating the deliverance of Israel from captivity, and were suitably appended by the compiler to the last verses of ch.xi. They have parallels in other writings, e.g. verse 2 recalls Exod. xv.2, and 4b is made up of phrases that occur in Ps. cv.1 and cxlviii.13. It does not follow that we have here deliberate quotation from those psalms; the language may have been taken by both from some common source no longer extant. But the psalms are certainly post-exilic, and probably not earlier than the fourth century BC.

top Date.        

Some of the pieces in this collection are dated, and there is no reason to doubt the accuracy of the time assigned to them. Thus, certainly must be attributed to the last year of Uzziah, and the autobiographical material in chs.vii-viii clearly comes from 735-4 BC. We may ascribe ix.27b-32 either to that time or to 701BC. For the rest, we have no means of getting nearer than to say that some of the material is either exilic or post-exilic. Some of the pieces, as we have seen, have little appendices which cannot be earlier than the Exile, while the pair of psalms which conclude the collection and round it off into a compact whole are considerably later than the Return. This justifies us in believing that the date of the collection, as a collection, is probably not earlier than the middle of the fourth century BC, even though the greater part of the material included comes from Isaiah of Jerusalem, and must be ascribed to the eighth century BC.

D Chs. xiii-xxiii: Structure.

As in other books, notably Amos, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, we have here a collection of oracles that deal with foreign nations. Properly speaking, each is a little collection within the larger one, for in most instances we shall find that there is more than one piece dealing with each nation. We may take them in the order in which they stand.

  1. Babylon (i-xiv.23). Ch.i is sometimes treated as a single poem. But there are points where a division seems to be indicated by the sense and the forms used, and we may detect oracles originally independent in verses 2-3, 4-6 (both Qinah), 7-8, 9-12, 13 (a little apocalyptic fragment), 14-16, 17-22 (all in 3:3). To these we should add the song of rejoicing over the return of the exiles in xiv.1-2, a passage that has clearly suffered in transmission before being included in the collection. Xiv. 3-4a serves as an introduction to the great mocking elegy in Qinah over the fall of a tyrant, xiv.4b-21, one of the most striking and impressive pieces of poetry in the Old Testament-though it is hardly prophecy. It does not follow that this song was a part of the original set of oracles, and there is a tendency to see in it a reference to the death of one of the Assyrian kings - Sennacherib or Sargon. It has even been attributed in some quarters to Isaiah himself, though, obviously, the rest of this little collection must be much later. Verses 22-23 form an appendix to the collection on Babylon.

  2. Assyria (xiv.24-27). Only a single oracle in Qinah is included here; it may well have been Isaiah's, and have dated from 701BC.

  3. Philistia (xiv.28-32). Again we have only a single oracle in 3:3 whose date has given rise to some discussion. The best date for the death of Ahaz is 725 BC. The "broken rod" may well be Tiglath-pileser, who died in 727BC. His successor, Shalmaneser v, deposed Hoshea in 724 BC. And it was possibly the preparations for this expedition, which called forth this oracle from Isaiah, for its terms do not necessarily require that it should have been uttered immediately after the death of Tiglath-pileser, but only when symptoms of disloyalty manifested themselves. (Cp. Oesterley & Robinson, Hist. Of Israel, 459.)

  4. Moab. (xv-xvi). Here we have a number of oracles, two of which are found in a parallel collection in the book of Jeremiah; both are in a more or less mutilated state in each book. Thus xv.2b-7a = Jer.xlviii.34-38, and xvi.6-11 = Jer.xlviii.29-33, though with very frequent variations of order and transpositions. It would seem, then, that we have at least three separate poems preserved here, all in Qinah, the first contained in xv.1-9a, the second in xv.9b-xvi.5, and the third in xvi.6-12, while xvi.13 forms a concluding note to the whole collection. The problems presented by the text, especially in view of the parallels in Jeremiah, are far too intricate for detailed study at this point. [The best discussion in English is Gray, Isaiah, pp.271-295.]

  5. Damascus (and Israel) (xvii.1-11). We have here a series of pieces of which the first only refers to Damascus, while the rest are concerned with Ephraim. The first two oracles, xvii.1-3 (3:3) and 4-6 (probably Qinah), have the "signature", showing their independence of one another. The other two, verses 7-8 (metre uncertain) and 9-11 (3:3) both begin with the eschatological phrase, "In that day". While this may be a compiler's addition, we must not be blind to the possibility that Isaiah himself made use of the expression. At the close of this little collection we have an oracle in xvii.12-14 (3:3) which does not obviously refer to any people. It may, however, have been assumed by the compiler to date from the same period as the preceding oracles, i.e. circa 735 BC.

  6. "The Land of the Whirring of Wings." (xviii). A single oracle in 3:3, without a special title, suggests that it was originally attached to that which immediately precedes. On the other hand, it is generally agreed that the reference is to Ethiopia, and the final compiler may have inserted it immediately before the Egyptian collection on this ground. The reference is, apparently, to an Egyptian embassy, perhaps connected with the rebellion against Sargon that led to the fall of Ashdod in 711BC, or with the general rising against Sennacherib at the beginning of his reign. [The XXVIth Dynasty which was ruling in Egypt when these events took place, was of Ethiopian origin.]

  7. Egypt. (xix-xx). Ch.xix: opens with three oracles on Egypt, contained in verses 1-4 (3:3), 5-10 (3:3), and 11-15 (originally Qinah), respectively. The remainder of the chapter consists of a series of eschatological fragments and short pieces, each introduced by the phrase, "In that day". Two of these, verses 18 and 19-22, are sometimes referred to the Jewish temple erected at Leontopolis in the second century BC. The acceptance of this view, however, would place the compilation of this section very late indeed. (But see below, p.252.) In ch.xx we have a short biographical passage in prose, describing how Isaiah went for three years lightly clad and barefoot, in order to typify the desolation coming on Egypt.

  8. Two oracles describing the coming fall of Babylon, both in Qinah (xxi.1-5 and 6-10). The first is headed "Burden of the wilderness of the Sea", which may be the reason why it was not included in the collection of chs.i, xiv. (The Septuagint omits "of the sea.")

  9. Dumah, a Qinah fragment whose only identifiable reference is to Edom (xxi.11-12).

  10. Arabia (xxi.13-17). Here again we have a single Qinah oracle, with a prose appendix in verses 16f.

  11. The Valley of Vision. (x). This section is another example of a passage whose position has been determined by its title. In reality it is quite out of place in a collection that deals with foreign nations, since its subject is Jerusalem. The first part of the chapter, verses 1-14, consists of an account of the excitement over some festival, together with the contrast offered by the doom that the prophet foresees (verses 1-5, Qinah). This is followed by a series of little pieces, probably fragments, in 6-7 (3:3), 8-11 (the original nucleus has received considerable additions before its inclusion in the collection), and 12-14 (metre irregular). Any of these may have come from the period of Isaiah, perhaps when the armies of Sennacherib were likely to invade the land. The remainder of ch.x deals with a domestic matter, foretelling the disgrace of a high official named Shebna, and the appointment of Eliakim in his place. There seem to be two independent sections; the first (verses 15-23) is a medley of prose and poetry, the latter being, perhaps, the basis on which the whole was built. The second (verses 24-25, Qinah) may have been independent, and was probably added here by the compiler owing to the presence of the word "peg".

  12. Tyre. (xi). This collection opens with what appears to be a fairly long poem (verses 1-14, all in Qinah), describing the coming doom of Tyre; though it is possible that we should distinguish three oracles in verses 1-5, 6-9, 10-14. This section may well date from Isaiah himself, but the two little passages with that the section ends, verses 15-16 (Qinah) and 17-18 (Qinah, with an editorial introduction) are almost certainly by a later hand.


Chs.xiii-xxiii: Date.

As we have seen, this collection contains pieces from very varying dates. Some are, without doubt, to be attributed to Isaiah himself, others clearly come from the period of the Exile, or even later, while there is a strong suspicion that one of them, xix.19-22, may be as late as the second century BC. It is not impossible that this is a later interpolation, though we should be reluctant to assume that a prophecy would be added in the middle of a book or of a collection after it had reached a definite shape, for such additions are usually placed at the end. It is possible that the reference in the passage mentioned is not to the Temple at Leontopolis, but to some other; if not to that of Elephantine, then to one whose existence is otherwise unknown to us. No one suspected the presence of a Jewish temple at Elephantine until the discovery of the papyri in that spot.

In any case it is clear that the collection could not have been completed till long after the return from the Exile, and we dare not place it earlier than the end of the fifth century BC. While it is true that nothing in the collection betrays a knowledge of the reforms of Ezra, this may be accidental, and the collection may have reached its present form during or after his time. Probably the end of the fourth century should be regarded as the later limit.

E Chs.xxiv-xxvii.

This section, as its contents will show, belongs to a period, centuries later than the time of Isaiah. As in most of our prophetic books, various independent fragments have been combined. The whole section, apart from inserted fragments, is apocalyptic, and, as in so many other instances, contemporary historical events are placed in an eschatological setting.

While scholars in general are agreed as to these points, there are differences of opinion regarding details. Some authorities assign the section to the reign of Darius i Hystaspes (521-486BC.), others to the decade 340-330BC. But the developed form of the eschatological presentation, paralleled in the Sibylline Oracles, Daniel, Enoch and other apocalyptic books, as well as the advanced belief in immortality, points rather to 200BC, or even later, as the date. [Rudolph (Jesaia, 24-27 [1933]) assigns these chapters to 330-300BC; he believes that, with unimportant exceptions, they are all from the same hand. For extraneous influence on Jewish eschatology see Oesterley & Robinson, Hebrew Religion, pp.344 ff.]

The fragments (viz. xxv.1-5, xxv.9-12, xxvi.1-19, xxvii.2-5, xxvii.6-11) clearly did not originally belong to their present contexts, so that the original oracle, perhaps not all put together at one time, consisted of xxiv, xxv.6-8, xxvi.20-xxvii.1, 12, 13. [See among others, Duhm, op. cit., p.147; Lehmann, in ZATW 1917, pp.1 ff.]

The contents of the original apocalypse are as follows: xxiv. The apocalyptist foresees a great catastrophe in the near future; all classes, irrespective of calling or social position, will suffer. The earth, with all its inhabitants, save a small remnant, will be burned. But though the immediate future is so dark, there is hope beyond, for Yahweh will come and punish the powers on high and the kings of the earth; then the moon will be confounded and the sun ashamed; but Yahweh will reign on mount Zion in Jerusalem. The metre varies; verses 1-7 seem to have a Qinah base; verses 8-12 are 3 : 3; 13-14, Qinah; 16-20, 3 : 3; 21-23, Qinah.

xxv.6-8 (3 : 3) tells of how "on this mountain", i.e. mount Zion, a great feast, i.e. a symbol of the Messianic era, will be held; death shall be done away with, and God "will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the reproach of his people shall be taken away from off all the earth."

xxvi.20-xxvii.1, 12, 13 should follow after xxv.8, where it is prophesied that the reproach of God's people shall be taken away; until then the people are bidden to withdraw "until the indignation be overpast" (xxvi.20), and in the meantime God will come forth to punish the wicked, and to destroy the principle of evil symbolized by the primeval sea-monster (cp. Rev.xxi.1, "and the sea is no more"). The threefold name given to the sea-monster, "leviathan the fleeing serpent", "leviathan the winding serpent", "the dragon that is in the sea", is believed by some commentators to denote three world powers on the part of the apocalyptist. Media, Babylonia, Egypt, or Media, Persia, Egypt, or Persia, Greece, Egypt, or Parthia, Syria, Egypt. Others interpret them as the Sea, the Tigris, and the Euphrates. Yet others as the constellations Serpens, Draco, and Hydra.

That three world powers are symbolized is possible, seeing how often the apocalyptists worked current historical events into their eschatological scheme; but which three must depend upon the view taken of the date of the writing.

Ultimately the trumpet shall be sounded for the in gathering of Israel; they will come from Syria and Egypt to worship Yahweh on the holy mountain at Jerusalem. It will thus be seen that by eliminating the inserted portions a logical and straightforward eschatological picture is presented. The metre is uncertain, but was probably 3:3 originally. (In xxvii.13, "Assyria" as in Zech.x.10, stands for Syria.)

As to its date; for the reason already indicated we hold that this little apocalypse belongs to the period of the apocalyptic literature proper, i.e. 200BC, onwards. Hence we agree with Duhm and others who make out a strong case for the latter part of the second century BC. "The apocalyptist had witnessed the siege of Jerusalem and the devastation of Judaea by Antiochus vii Sidetes soon after the accession of John Hyrcanus (135). He had also seen the beginning of the Parthian war, and the unfortunate expedition of Antiochus in which the Jews were forced to take part (129)". The note of triumph in xxiv.16 is occasioned by the defeat of Antiochus; but the apocalyptist cannot join in this because he foresees as a result a Parthian invasion. [Duhm, Das Buch Jesaia, p.147 (1914). For an earlier, but post-exilic date, see Gunkel, ZATW 1924, pp.177-208.)

As to the inserted fragments, the historical background of xxv.1-5 (3:3) and xxvi.1-19 (The Metre is uncertain, but the basis seems to be 3 : 3.) seems to be the destruction of Samaria by John Hyrcanus, somewhere within the period 113-105BC; "the city of the terrible nation" (xxv.3) is Rome. The triumphant passage, xxv.9-12 (probably Qinah), may well belong to the time of Alexander Jannaeus (102-76BC), who greatly extended the borders of the Jewish kingdom; he subdued, among others, the Moabites (cp. verse 10). In the later part of his reign, it is true, he became very unpopular among his own people. But his earlier conquest of Moab may quite well have been the cause of the joyous outburst of this passage. In the two fragments, xxvii.2-5 (Qinah) and 6-11 (3:3), there seems nothing sufficiently decisive to suggest a date. (For a careful study of the text of these chapters, see Leibmann in the ZATW 1902, pp.1-56, 285-304; 1903, pp.209-286; 1904, pp.51-104; 1905, pp.145-171.)

F Chs.xxviii-xxxv: Structure.

  1. Ch.xxviii. This collection opens with the condemnation of the nobility of Samaria 1-4; verses 1-3, Qinah; verse 4, 3:3), to which a brief eschatological note has been attached in verses 5-6 (Qinah). This is followed by a pair of denunciations of the sins, apparently, of Judah. The first is drunkenness (verses 7-13; mainly Qinah), and the second (in which verses 14-19 are in Qinah) necromancy. This latter may extend down to verse 22, though the last three verses (3 : 3) may be a later addition to the original oracle. Verses 23-29 form an interesting passage, describing different methods of agriculture. The Metre seems to have been originally 3 : 3, though there are signs of redaction which produce a prosaic effect.
  2. Ch.xxix opens with an announcement of the destruction that is to fall on Jerusalem (verses 1-6, where the metre varies). It has been suspected that verse 5 is an interpolation due to a later writer who wished to turn the curse into a blessing. Certainly we may believe that verses 7-8 (Qinah) were appended with this object in view. The oracle on the blindness of the people (verses 9-11a) has received a prosaic expansion in 11b-12. In the next short utterances, verses 13-14 (3:3), the hypocrisy of current worship is condemned. Verse 15 is a fragment in which certain politicians are denounced, and to this, it seems, the very obscure verse 16 has been added. Both are probably to be scanned as Qinah. The passage that begins with verse 17 is often held to be post-exilic, largely because of its contrast between the exalted and the humble. While it is true that this contrast is characteristic of a comparatively late postexilic period, it must not be too hastily assumed that every passage in which it occurs is necessarily late. The general tone, however, of verses 17-24 makes Isaianic authorship improbable. The metre is mainly 3:3, with certain irregularities.
  3. Chs. xxx, xxxi deal mainly (though not exclusively) with Egypt and the proposed alliance with Egypt. It is a little curious that many of the oracles were not included in the collection now found in chs.i-xi. The pro-Egyptian policy is condemned in xxx.1-5 (3:3), and the fragment that follows (verses 6-7, 3:3) is directed against Egypt herself. Verses 8-11 (Qinah) speak of the writing down of the last message, and 12-14, (Qinah) threaten the people with complete punishment. These last two sections might have a general reference, but the oracle in verses 15-17 (Qinah) is once more directed against the Egyptian alliance. Verses 18-26 are a promise of restoration and an assurance of the continued care of Yahweh, which are almost certainly post-exilic and appear to be cast into rhetorical prose, though metre may sometimes be observed, e.g. in verse 18 (3:3). The remaining verses of the chapter contain three short utterances - verses 27-28 (Qinah), 29-30 (3:3?), 31-33 (3:3) - which may have come from the time of Sennacherib's return to Assyria after the campaign of 701BC. Ch.xxxi contains three pieces, in verses 1-3 (3:3), a condemnation of the pro-Egyptian policy, 4-5 (Qinah), to which 6 and 7 (3:3) have been added later, and 8-9 (3:3), which predict the destruction of the Assyrian army. It is possible that the latter part of verse 9 is an addition, but, with the exception of this and verses 6-7, the three oracles are probably due to Isaiah himself.
  4. Ch.xx opens with a Messianic oracle in verses 1-5, followed by a later addition in verses 6-8-all in 3:3. Verses 9-14 (Qinah) are a denunciation of the women of Jerusalem, in which some commentators find so strong a contrast to the treatment of the same theme in iii.16-iv.1 as to be convinced that the present passage is not the work of Isaiah. Verses 15-20 (3:3) are a fragment, mutilated at the beginning, which depict the glory of the coming new age. Here it seems impossible either to affirm or to deny Isaianic authorship.
  5. Ch.xxi consists, in the main, of a poem, we might almost say a psalm, which first pleads for deliverance from an oppressor, and then commemorates the deliverance when it comes. This is, by general consent, a post-exilic composition, but verse 1, a fragment that seems to stand as a text on which the psalm has been composed, does more resemble the style of Isaiah. The metre is irregular, and suggests that the poem is a late compilation from several sources-perhaps much expanded in course of time. But there is considerable difference of opinion regarding the interpretation, and therefore the date, of this self-contained chapter. Many commentators insist on a pre-exilic date and maintain that it is to be read in the light of the episode recounted in ii Kgs.xviii.14-37, in which case the date would be 701BC. But in view of verse 8, "he hath broken the covenant", this opinion can hardly stand, for Hezekiah, not Sennacherib, was the one who broke the covenant. Others are on stronger ground in regarding the chapter as late; Dulim dates it in the year 162BC, and sees in the enemy Antiochus Eupator; and it must be said that on reading i there is a good deal of justification for his contention. There is much in the thought and language of the chapter that marks it as late; and the eschatology, taken in conjunction with this, further supports a Maccabaean date.
  6. Ch.xxxiv is distinctly eschatological in tone, though it does not suggest the latest forms of Jewish eschatology. It describes the destruction of the hostile nations, especially of Edom, and often recalls ch.Ii. The metre varies, being Qinah in verses I-5a, 3:3 in 5b-8, Qinah in 9, and 3:3 again in verses 10-17.
  7. Ch.xxxv offers the other side of the picture, and in some ways resembles the prophecies of the period of the Return. It can hardly be later than the time of Ezra, and the picture of the safe journey reminds us of Ezra's refusal to demand a convoy from the Persian king (Ezra viii.22). The metre is a fairly regular 3:3.


Chs.xxviii-xxxv: Date.

Once more we have a collection including pieces from different periods, ranging from the eighth century, possibly down to the second. The vagueness characteristic of the later passages makes it very difficult to attempt an exact dating. But, if Duhm's date for ch.xxi be accepted, we must assume that the end of the second century BC is the earliest period to which we can assign the work of the final collector of the whole group.

G Chaps.xxxvi-xxxix.

[These chapters are mainly in prose (type B), but we have a song of triumph in xxxvii.22-34 (mainly Quinah) & a psalm in xxxviii.9-20 (also Quinah).]

In these chapters we have an historical appendix to the whole book of Isaianic collections. They deal with events in the reign of Hezekiah, in which the prophet took a prominent part, and they are largely duplicated in ii Kgs.xviii.13-xx.19. There are differences between the two passages, among which the most important are

  1. the absence of the account of Hezekiah's submission (ii Kgs.xviii.14-16) from the text of Isaiah, and
  2. the presence in Isa.xxxviii.9-20 of Hezekiah's song of thanksgiving.

There are also, as is to be expected, minor differences of text and arrangement. It is commonly held that the chapters in Isaiah are directly taken from the book of Kings. But it seems more in harmony with what we know of the growth of Hebrew literature to suppose that there existed a collection of the acts of Isaiah (the biographical matter that we have so often elsewhere in the prophets); and that this was employed both by the compiler of Kings and by the final compiler of Isaiah. The psalm in xxxviii.9-20 is not wholly suitable to its present position, and is best regarded as a post-exilic composition. It was included comparatively late in the narrative, or it would have appeared in Kings; but, again, we have no reason to bring its composition down below the fourth century BC. This will give us the terminus ad quem for the whole section.

Summary and Conclusions.  

We have now seen that the book of Isaiah, down to the end of ch.xxxix, was produced by the combination of no less than seven different earlier collections. The last of these is mainly historical prose, but the rest are composed normally of oracular matter, with certain exceptions, especially in the third collection. The first collection contains nothing that cannot come from Isaiah himself, while the fifth is wholly composed of much later material. The others consist of matter ranging from the eighth to the fifth (possibly even the second) century, and the date of the compilation of most of them seems to have been during the first half of the fourth century. It is to much the same period - naturally towards the end of it - that we should attribute the gathering together of the various collections and their formation into the book as we now have it. It is not impossible that later insertions may have been made after the main work of compilation. But it would be more natural for these to have been placed at the end than at the beginning, and we cannot attribute to this process more than occasional notes and comments, which might have been inserted in the margin and incorporated by a copyist. We shall be justified in believing that by 300BC, the book existed substantially as we have it to day, though we must allow for the possibility that the compilation did not take place till the first century BC.


Like Hosea, and. unlike Amos and Micah, Isaiah was essentially a man of the city. His home was in Jerusalem, and, though he was not unfamiliar with the life and work of the farmer, it was within the walls of a town that his days were spent and his work was done. He was, further, in some sense a courtier, familiar with the nobles, and, to some extent, recognized and trusted by the kings. (Cp.viii.2, x.15-25.)

With them he is perfectly fearless, and does not hesitate to speak the plain truth, whether in condemnation or approval. His words are received with respect, even though his advice is not always followed. Tradition records the martyrdom of Isaiah in the reign of Manasseh, but, as far as we know, during the period of his active ministry he suffered no kind of persecution. (Cp. The Martyrdom of Isaiah, v-x; & see the epistle to the Hebrews, xi.37.)

Isaiah's literary abilities were of a very high order. We have few pieces of prose in any language that can be compared with the account of his call in, and his short impulsive lyrics have an extraordinary beauty and power. We are impressed by the vigour that marks his account of the enemy's advance in x.28-32, by the pathos which finds expression in the lament over the desolate land (i.4-9), the passionate denunciation of injustice and oppression (cp. v.8-10), the bitter scorn of the heartless and fashionable women (e.g. iii.16-26), and the tender appeal of the great evangelical invitation in i.18-21.

All the features of great poetry are here - sincerity, honesty, depth of feeling, beauty of expression.

And while Isaiah never knew the spiritual anguish, which gave such poignancy to the utterances of Hosea and Jeremiah, his words are more often read and more truly loved than those of any other prophet, save only the great anonymous writer of the Exile, whose prophecies are appended to this book.

Isaiah was at one with his great predecessor, Amos, and with his equally great contemporary, Hosea, in the main outlines of his teaching. Like them he insisted on such doctrines as the supremacy of Yahweh, the demand for morality and the futility of sacrifice as a substitute for righteousness. From his call-vision in however, we gather that the dominant thought in his scheme of thinking was the holiness of Yahweh. He stood apart from all gods, and Israel must stand apart from all nations. Isaiah advocated complete abstention from the political entanglements of his age, and saw that the only hope for Judah's safety lay in her holding aloof from other nations. This, however, does not seem to have sprung from an appreciation of the international situation, so much as from his conviction that Israel must deal with Yahweh alone she must be holy to Him. If she interfered in world politics, she would be contaminated by contact with other deities, and would lose the protection that purity might have secured for her.

Yet Judah went her own way, and followed the path that led, in the end, to her doom. But Isaiah could not believe in her final extinction. Yahweh needed a people for His self-expression, and for that purpose, whatever happened to Israel a "remnant" must survive. The nation could not wholly perish, and though sin would inevitably result in appalling suffering, a spiritual nucleus would still exist.

Closely allied to the doctrine of the "remnant" is another, which, as far as we know, first manifested itself in the teaching of Isaiah. This was a belief in the coming of an ideal king, who should rule over his people in strict accordance with the principles of Yahweh. The Messiah, however, is not yet an eschatological figure; he has no connexion with the great day of Yahweh. He is to be simply an earthly monarch, whose righteous government is to restore happiness and prosperity to his people. Thus was born a doctrine that was to develop into one of the most significant beliefs of the Jewish people in centuries yet to come.


On the whole, the text of the book of Isaiah has not been badly preserved. The history of the prophetic writings in general meant that they were more subject than other parts of the Bible to textual corruption, which may often have taken place even before the collections of oracles were completed. We have, for instance, a number of oracles that are clearly mutilated, and there is no reason to doubt that this mutilation took place before the passages in question came into the hands of the collectors.

The only version that needs consideration is the Septuagint. This, however, is less helpful in Isaiah than in some other books, since it is often free, sometimes even paraphrastic. It is thus difficult to be sure what the original Hebrew was, as it lay before the translators. There is, nevertheless, a number of passages in which it may help us to improve the text as it now lies before us in our Hebrew Bibles. [The Greek text has been edited by R. R. Ottley, Isaiah according to the Septuagint, Vol I (1904, 1909), Vol. II (1906).]