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.


HOME | Historical Background. | Authorship of Isa.lvi‑lxvi. | Structure and Contents. | Date. | The Hebrew Text and the Septuagint. | The Prophet and his Teaching.


The external history of the times to which these chapters belong, i.e. 538BC onwards (see further § IV), does not offer any help in understanding them, nor does it throw any light on them. Nowhere is there any allusion to what was happening in the outside world; the suzerain power, so far as our knowledge goes, does not seem to have interfered with the Jews in any way to their detriment. Seal of Darius I. Darius i (522-486BC.) was largely occupied with the organization of his empire into satrapies, with the Scythian and other campaigns, and later with wars against the Greeks. Practically the whole of the reign of Xerxes i (485-465BC.) was taken up with struggles against the Greeks on land and sea; these continued during the reign of Artaxerxes i (464-424BC.), who also had serious trouble with Egypt.

It can thus be well understood that the Persian rulers were too much occupied in other parts of their empire to concern themselves much about Palestine. Nor was there any need for this, since the Jews were in no position to attempt to throw off Persian suzerainty. It is not until the reign of Artaxerxes iii (359-338BC) that the Jews joined with others in revolt. The result of which was, however, disastrous for them.

Regarding the history of the Jews, so far as the period under consideration is concerned, our knowledge is but scanty; the important events were briefly these:

In 537BC a number of the exiles in Babylonia returned to Palestine under the leadership of Sheshbazzar.

From 537 to 520 BC the historical books of the Old Testament give no information as to what took place.

In 520 B.C the rebuilding of the Temple was begun under the inspiration of Haggai and Zechariah. The governor of Judah at that time was Zerubbabel - of Sheshbazzar nothing further is said; the High Priest was Joshua, the son of Jehozadak.

The re-building of the Temple was completed in 516 BC.

Then again there is silence, so far as the historical books are concerned, until 444 BC when Nehemiah came to Jerusalem as governor of Judah. How long he occupied this position is not indicated, but it must have been for at least twelve years.

The arrival of Ezra with a further contingent of returned exiles from Babylonia took place in 397BC. But how long he worked among his people in Palestine is, again, not recorded.

Eliphantine Papyrus. From the Elephantine papyri we learn that in 408BC Sanballat was still governor of Samaria, though his two sons, Delaiah and Shelemiah, acted for him, presumably on account of his advancing age. In the same year, we learn further that the governor of Judah was Bigvai (= Bagoas), and that the High Priest was Johanan, also written Jehohanan.

In view of these exiguous data it is the more to be welcomed that in Isa.lvi-lxvi a few incidental references to events in Judah may be gathered. The most important, from the religious-historical point of view, of these is what is said about a body of worshippers living among the Jews who were regarded as heretical (cp. Isa.lvii.20). It is certain that many of the inhabitants of Judah, who had been left in the land when their brethren were led away into exile, were on friendly terms with the Samaritans and apparently joined in their worship, which was conducted in the Temple at Jerusalem (cp., e.g., Neh.i.28ff.). Their false worship is also spoken of in Isa.lviii.1ff, lxvi.3, 4, and elsewhere; and we learn from such passages that the movement was in process of development that ultimately resulted in the definite break from Judaism known as the "Samaritan schism". It will, however, be realized that the evidence points to the fact that the Samaritans were joined by a certain number of their Jewish brethren in the south. The general state of things at this time was clearly deplorable. The religious leaders are represented as utterly unfit for their position, "blind", "without knowledge", and "dumb dogs", who dream and love to slumber; they are greedy, insatiable and intent upon gain (lvi.9-12). As had so frequently happened before, the wealthy oppressed the poor (xviii.7). So few are the righteous in the land that they threaten to disappear altogether The worship is unreal and hypocritical; with bitter irony the prophet mocks at the external form of fasting, which is deemed sufficient:

"Is it to bow down his head as a rush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?" (lviii.5).

The people place a bar between them and their God through their sins (lix.1-4). The evidence of these chapters shows, therefore, that internal conditions in the land during this period (for the date see § IV) were, both socially and religiously, unhappy.


 It has been held by some scholars that these chapters were written by the same author who wrote chs.xl-lv, chiefly because there are some notable instances of identity of thought and language in each (cp. especially chs.lx-l). That there are affinities between the two sets of chapters is undeniable. But, on the other hand, the differences in general outlook and religious thought, quite apart from style, between the two are so marked that it is impossible to believe that both can have come from the same author. The similarities between the two parts can be accounted for on the supposition that the writer of the later collection (lvi-lxvi) was influenced by Deutero-Isaiah. And that he adopted at times thoughts and expressions from his greater predecessor, not appearing to realize that they did not always harmonize with his less exalted ideas.

An examination of the various literary pieces which make up chs.Ivi-lxvi will show that there are reasons for believing that they were written at different times. While there are good grounds for believing that most of these literary pieces are from the same author, it seems probable that a few of them were not his; but the opinions of scholars differ on the subject.


As in the case of chs.xl-lv, the last eleven chapters of our book consist of a number of independent literary pieces, and, like the former, they are almost wholly poetical in form. The difference of subject matter contained in the various pieces makes it, as a rule, not difficult to separate them off; their contents are briefly as follows:

Ivi.1-8: Irregular metre; its original form is no longer to be identified. An exhortation to observe the Law; with a strongly universalistic outlook the prophet contemplates the reception into the congregation of Israel of non-Jews. All who observe the Sabbath and keep the covenant have a right to take part in the worship of the Temple.

Ivi.9-lvii.13: The metre is variable; probably it was originally 3 : 3 alternating with Qinah. A denunciation against the religious leaders and against idolatrous worshippers within the Jewish community; the reference is to those who were in close touch with the Samaritans; we may see here the roots of what grew to be the "Samaritan schism".

Ivii.14-21: The metre is an almost regular 3 : 3, but the text is somewhat corrupt. The theme is the mercy of God on sinners who show a contrite heart; but for the wicked that persist in their wickedness there can be no rest.

Iviii: The metre is the same as the preceding with but few irregularities due to textual corruption. A denunciation against the sins of the people exemplified by insincere worship and formalism, concluding with an exhortation to observe the Sabbath. Possibly several originally independent pieces have been combined here.

lix: The metre is again 3 : 3; but verse 21 is a prose conclusion. A further denunciation of the sins of the people; the prophet rebukes the plea that Yahweh has no care for His people, and concludes with a promise that God will deliver the nation from its ills. The section is not a unity; verses 1-15a, consisting of three oracles (verses 1-4, 5-8, and 9-15a) are of an entirely different order from verses 15b-21, the two pieces having been joined together by a late scribe. The latter piece contains a good deal that is borrowed from earlier writers.

lx: Verses 1-9 are 3 : 3; verses 10-16 Qinah, with some irregularity; verses 17-22 are again 3 : 3 and Qinah, but not consistently. A hymn celebrating the future glory of Jerusalem; for the light of Yahweh shall shine upon it, and the Gentiles shall flow into it; it concludes with an ideal picture of a righteous people.

lxi: Verses 1-3 mainly 3 : 3; verses 4-7 Qinah; verses 8-11 again 3 : 3; the prophet's message of comfort to his people.

l.1-9: The metre alternates between 3 : 3 and Qinah. This piece is closely connected with the foregoing, the subject being the future glory of Zion.

l.10-12: Qinah, but verse 10 is mutilated at the end, something having fallen out. The people are here addressed, but the theme is again the future glory of Zion. Verse 10 is reminiscent Of xl.3, upon which it is doubtless based.

li.1-6: The metre is 3 : 3, but there are a few textual corruptions; an independent poem. Yahweh is represented as coming from Edom, where He has overcome the enemies of His people.

li.7-lxiv.12: Although this may be regarded as a unity, the metre changes; li.7-17 are Qinah, though with irregularity, while verses 18, 19 and lxiv.7-12 are 3 : 3; but not invariably. The section is divided into two parts, li.7-15, and li.16-lxiv.12, but these are closely connected, so that it may be regarded as a whole. The first is a poem recognizing the divine mercy; the second is a prayer on behalf of the people suffering through the attack of an enemy. [In the Hebrew text lxiv.1=2 in the English Version.]

lxv, lxvi: These chapters form a unity, but clearly marked sections are discernible.

lxv.1-7: Qinah (verses 1-5), followed by 3 : 3 in verses 6, 7. A denunciation uttered against those who are practising a false worship. lxv.8-12 are Qinah (verses 8-10), followed by 3 : 3 (verses 11, 12). The orthodox and the schismatics contrasted. lxv.13-25 are, with the exception of verses 17, 18 (3:3), Qinah. The future of the schismatics is contrasted with that of those who are loyal to Yahweh and who will enjoy the happiness of the Messianic times (verses 17-25). lxvi.1-4, consisting of Qinah (verses 1, 2) and 3 : 3 (verses 3, 4), records the intention of the schismatics to build a temple of their own; but their false worship will bring upon them the wrath of Yahweh. lxvi.5-16 is mostly Qinah, but verses 12ff seem to be prose; the punishment of the schismatics, but the peace and happiness of those faithful to Yahweh. After verse 5 it is probable that verses 17-24 should come, they seem to have been displaced. These verses are in prose up to and including verse 21, the last three verses are 3 : 3. This passage deals further with the false worship of the schismatics, and the reward of the faithful is again described.


Connected with the question of date is that of authorship, already dealt with; unity of, authorship for these chapters is insisted on by a number of eminent scholars, while others dispute this. If we could be certain that the whole of Isa.lvi-lxvi came from the prophet designated for convenience' sake Trito-Isaiah, the question of date would be simple. But there are certain indications appearing in some of these sections that may point to a date later than the time of this prophet.

There are two landmarks in early post-exilic times of paramount importance, viz. The rebuilding of the Temple completed in 516BC, and the advent of Nehemiah in 444BC. Owing to this reformer's influence and activity a marked difference was created in the social and religious life of the people. As a first step in seeking to date these poems it will be well to gather from them any indications that may point to their having been written within this period (516-444BC.), or after it.

lvi.1-8: In this section there are various passages that show that the Temple had been rebuilt (verses 5-7), while the universalistic attitude necessitates a date prior to the advent of Nehemiah with his strongly nationalistic outlook.

lvi.9-lvii.13: must be assigned to a similar date - though for a different reason: The state of the religious leaders, the idolatrous worship, and Nehemiah would never have tolerated the superstitious practices of the people, here portrayed. The section must, therefore, belong to a time before his advent.

There is no direct mention of the Temple; but its existence may well be implied in lvii.13:

"He that putteth his trust in me shall possess the land, and shall inherit my holy mountain."

The mountain received its sanctity from the presence of the Temple on it.

In the next section, lvii.14-21: verse 19 shows that the Temple had been rebuilt: "I create the fruit of the lips", refers to divine grace on the worshippers; the "fruit of the lips" means praise and thanksgiving; hence the existence of the Temple worship is implied. Other verses in the poem (1-4, 17, 20) point to undesirable elements among the people of a kind that Nehemiah would not have permitted, so that the conditions suggest a time before his arrival. At first sight the words in verse 14,

"Cast ye up, cast ye up, prepare the way, take up the stumbling-block out of the way of my people",

being so reminiscent of xl.3, 4, would suggest that the section belonged to the eve of the Return. But that cannot be the case.

The Hebrew word for "stumbling-block" is used in reference to those who are disturbing the religious life of the faithful by a heretical form of worship - spoken of also in the preceding section - they are like the troubled sea casting up mire and dirt (verse 20). [The word is most used in a figurative sense; it occurs in a literal sense in Lev.xix.14.]

In the next section there are indubitable signs of the services of the Temple being regularly held (e.g. verse 2), and the prophet's rebuke to the people for their wrong spirit when keeping the fasts (verses 3-5), and for not observing the Sabbath (verse 13), points also to this. That it belongs to a time before the arrival of Nehemiah is evident from this non-observance of the Sabbath (see Neh.i.15-22); he would never have suffered the desecration referred to in verse 13. Moreover, verse 12 shows that the city walls had not yet been rebuilt, which is conclusive evidence for a period before Nehemiah's governorship.

For the next section (lix) see below.

The whole of lx-li.6, forming originally a separate collection, contains indications of the period to which it belongs similar to those accruing in the sections already dealt with. In Ix.13 the beautifying of the sanctuary is spoken of, showing that the Temple had been rebuilt. And Ix.10, 11, lxi.4 make it clear that the walls of the city had not yet been rebuilt.

For the section li.7-lxiv.12 see below.

Chs.lxv, lxvi, with the exception of lxvi.5, 17-24 (see below), can be taken together as they have many features in common. That the Temple has been rebuilt is indicated by lxv.11, lxvi.1; the latter runs:

Thus saith Yahweh, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what manner of house would ye build for me, and what manner of place for my dwelling?

This does not mean that the Temple had not yet been built; the words must be understood in the same sense as those of i Kgs.viii.27. The context shows this.

["But will God in very deed dwell on the Earth? Behold, heaven & the heaven of the heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded."]

For verses 3, 4 speak of the impure sacrifices that were being offered. This idolatrous form of worship (see also lxv.2-5, lxvi.17), denounced also in some of the earlier sections, again points to a time before Nehemiah's arrival; he would never have tolerated such things. All the sections referred to, and they constitute the bulk of "Trito-Isaiah", may thus be assigned to the period 516-444BC. A more precise dating does not seem possible. There are three sections, however, which for reasons to be given, do not appear to belong to this period; they are:

lix: Of the three pieces contained in this chapter, verses 1-4 do not give any indication of date, and could belong to almost any time. But 5-8 would seem to be a later insertion. The liturgical character of verses 9-15a with the note of confession points to a time at any rate after Ezra. The section 15b-21 with its eschatological note in verse it must also belong to a later time.

li.7-lxiv.12: This section forms a complete whole, though both as to this, as well as to the period to which it belongs, opinions differ, some scholars holding that it is a compilation. In li.17-19 it is said:

O Lord, why dost thou make us to err from thy ways, and hardenest our heart from thy fear (i.e. from fearing thee)? Return for thy servants' sake the tribes of thine inheritance. Wherefore have the ungodly despised thy temple, (emended text: לטה צעוז רשעים קדשב(Marti, Duhm).) and our adversaries trodden down thy sanctuary?

In connexion with this must be read also lxiv.11, 12 (Hebr.10, 11):

Our holy and beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, is burned with fire; and all our pleasant things are laid waste. Wilt thou refrain thyself from these things, O Lord? Wilt thou hold thy peace, and afflict us very sore?

It is clear from these passages that the Temple had suffered grievous damage; and were it not for the quite obvious post-exilic character of the rest of the section, one would naturally think of the 586BC catastrophe.

But, as this seems out of the question, there are only two other occasions to which reference can be made here: the severe chastisement inflicted on the Jews by Artaxerxes iii Ochus about 350BC, or the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus iv in 169BC as recorded in i Macc.i.20-28. This latter can, however, be ruled out. For in li.17 there is an obvious allusion to a captivity; nothing in the nature of a deportation occurred in the time of Antiochus iv, but Artaxerxes iii carried captive "many ten thousands" - of the Jews to Hyrcania, on the shore of the Caspian Sea. It is true that there is no reference to the desecration of the Temple by the several ancient writers who record this episode; but as these are all non-Jewish that is easily accounted for. The section li.7-lxiv.12 may, therefore, with considerable justification, be assigned to about the year 350BC.

Finally, we come to the concluding section, lxvi.17-24, to which verse 5 also belongs. Opinions again differ as to its date, and it seems difficult to reach a definite conclusion. All that can be said is that the universalistic attitude of verses 18-21, 23, and the eschatological nature of verses 22, 24 offer some grounds for assigning the section to the latter part of the fourth century.

The results of our investigation may be summarized thus: -

By far the larger portion of these chapters is from the writer designated "Trito-Isaiah", the sections belonging to him being Ivi.9-lvii.13; lvii.14-21; lviii; Ix-li.6; lxv; lxvi.1-4, 6- 6; all these pieces are to be assigned to the period between the years 516-444BC.

The remaining sections, lix; li.7-lxiv.12; lxvi.5, 17-24, may be regarded as belonging probably to the latter half of the fourth century BC.


Though the text of "Trito-Isaiah" has not, upon the whole, been preserved in quite as pure a condition as that of "Deutero-Isaiah", it is, generally speaking, satisfactory. There are, it is true, serious defects here and there, and numerous small errors occur; a few displacements, notably lxvi.17-24, are also to be noted; but, in spite of these, the text cannot be said, taking it as a whole, to be in a bad state. Redactional elements are to be discerned, but they are comparatively rare.

Nevertheless, the use of the Septuagint is very necessary. For although there are no passages of any length which in the Septuagint reflect a better form of text than that of the MT (lix.17, which is rightly omitted by the Septuagint, is the longest), there are numerous cases in which just the difference of a word represents quite obviously a reading superior to that of the present Hebrew text, and makes the sense of a passage clearer. Sometimes, too, a word in the MT is not represented in the Septuagint, and the omission makes a better reading. (For the study of the Septuagint see Zillessen in ZATW, 1906, pp.231-276.)


Apart from those elements for which the writer of these chapters was indebted to "Deutero-Isaiah", such as the omnipotence and unity of God, and universalism, there are various subjects dealt with which point to post-exilic times. To "Trito-Isaiah" the Temple, its sacrificial worship, and the Law, occupy a place of importance quite unrecognized by the earlier prophet. In his denunciations of sin as the bar which separates Yahweh from His people, his call to repentance, and his insistence that there can be no forgiveness for those who lead unworthy lives and whose worship is insincere, "Trito-Isaiah" follows in the steps of the pre-exilic prophets. There is in these chapters a strange alternation of threats of punishment and promises of a glorious future, due to the conditions of the time. Evil spiritual leaders and irreligion among the people demand threats, while the prophet's optimistic hopes constantly assert themselves, doubtless one of the marks of "Deutero-Isaiah's" influence. Here and there, as already indicated, apocalyptic elements are to be discerned, e.g. Ix.19, 20; in this and in other respects the prophet was influenced by Ezekiel; he also draws at times from the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah. There is but little of originality of teaching about "Trito-Isaiah". But he lived at a time when the work of a prophet was intensely needed and without his influence and teaching it is difficult to see how the Jews could have failed to sink down to the religious level of the surrounding peoples.