Isaiah Part Three Deep Dive

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ISAIAH: A PROPHET FOR ALL WITH RESOUNDING RESONANCE | DR KYLE KEIMER

©Kyle H. Keimer 2014

Who wrote the book called Isaiah, and for whom was it written? The traditional ascription of the book to the eighth century prophet, Isaiah son of Amoz, has fallen out of fashion in the present scholarly atmosphere though there are still those who make cases for the unity of the book and its ascription to the historical Isaiah. More popular, however, is the view that multiple authors — how many is a debate — composed the book called Isaiah and that this book was written over a period of at least two hundred years, from the eighth century BC to the sixth. Part of this latter view is that various Judaic communities, from Judah and Babylon, contributed to the book; additional later redactions were made, but by the second century BC it had been standardized for the most part (cf. Ecclus 48:17-25). One later Rabbinic tradition sees Hezekiah and his colleagues as the authors of Isaiah (Bava Batra 15a), though this tradition paralleled the otherwise accepted idea of a single eighth century prophet as the author.

Once the Book of Isaiah reached a stage of acceptance, or perhaps canonization, it was variously adopted and reviled by disparate Jewish groups over the centuries. Today, the oracles of judgment and blessing found in the pages of Isaiah are an integral part of Jewish religious observance as they dominate the haftarot readings around the foreboding ninth of Av, a date associated with the greatest tragedies of the Jewish people.

This deep dive will look at the enduring relevance that the Book of Isaiah has had for the Jewish people, focusing in particular upon discrete historical contexts and central literary themes found in the book. When the various themes are juxtaposed to key historical events it becomes clear why this book has had such resounding resonance over the millennia. Furthermore, Isaiah son of Amoz will be assessed as an historical figure

I. Introduction

In preparing this, I struggled with where to begin. So much literature has been generated on the person of Isaiah and the book called Isaiah that I could talk for days. To focus on the authorship of the Book of Isaiah, including focusing on the historical figure of Isaiah ben Amoz in particular, would not serve us best as we know few details about the prophet himself and there is no scholarly consensus on how much of the book named after him that he actually wrote. Similarly, to offer form, source, or redactional criticism of the Book of Isaiah is also impractical as no two scholars agree entirely on the history of the book’s composition. Therefore, the starting point, and my adopted critical approach is that of canonical criticism; which assesses the life of a document after its completion. This approach will be most conducive for our present purposes as I am more interested in presenting the use of the book in Jewish communities over the course of history even unto today. Nevertheless, understanding the use of the Book of Isaiah by various communities must at times wander into the other forms of critical analysis if we are to understand its application. The Book of Isaiah, in its early history at least, was much like the living traditions of Judaism today. It expanded, was appropriated, and was struggled with by various communities beginning with the original audience in the eighth century (this is not to say that a ‘book’ existed in the eighth century, but that at least the oracles and sayings of Isaiah were known).

In what follows, I will attempt to present the majority views held by scholars concerning the Book of Isaiah, and I will articulate the enduring legacy of this book as presented through thematic, contextual, and theological lenses.  

II. Structuring the Text

Over the last 230 years, scholarly understanding of who wrote the Book of Isaiah and how it reached its present form has varied greatly. The traditional view was that Isaiah ben Amoz wrote the book in the eighth century. This is certainly the impression one gains from reading the book itself. Yet, scholars noted a change in language beginning in Chapter 40, specific references to Cyrus the Great, who lived 150 years after Isaiah, and additional imagery they tied to an exilic or post-exilic historical context. Thus the book was divided in two; Chapters 1-39 were attributed to Isaiah, and Chapters 40-66 were attributed to the so-called ‘Deutero-Isaiah’, an anonymous individual who lived in the exilic or post-exilic period (Döderlein 1775; Eichhorn 1780–1787). Eventually, distinction was made within Chapters 40-66. It became common to attribute Chapters 40-55 to Deutero-Isaiah, who was now placed specifically in the exilic period, and Chapters 56-66 to ‘Trito-Isaiah’, another anonymous individual who lived during the post-exilic period (Duhm 1892). Again, specific references to the Temple in particular led scholars to believe that these chapters were written only once the Temple was rebuilt in Jerusalem following 515 B.C.

Eventually, this tri-fold division gave way to further divisions due to perceived contexts for given passages within these broader segments of the text. Ultimately, an Isaianic school was proposed. Such a school purportedly adhered to the original teachings of Isaiah ben Amoz and continued to add to his prophecies over the next four hundred years (see good summary of scholarship by De Jong 2007: 13; Holladay 1978; and Williamson 1994). At the same time, there are scholars who have re-introduced arguments for a single author of the book, noting the use of the specific phrase ‘the holy one of Israel’ and the fact that aside from the two references to Cyrus the Great, Chapters 40-66 are devoid of specific historical details, a feature more akin to ‘predictive’ prophecy than to prophecy ex eventu (Harrison 1970; Oswalt 1986:17–29; 1998:3–12).(*1)

In general, there is much debate within the textual criticism of the book called Isaiah, and were we to delve into various forms of literary criticism we would find a divisive web of views when it comes to authorship, dating, and literary structure. Of course, this is to be expected when no original manuscripts exist and scholars are working from entirely later completed copies.

How one divides the Book of Isaiah, that is how one understands the present canonical structure of the book, and to whom they attribute each passage or segment, is tied to two main factors:

  1. the nature and reality or non-reality of predictive prophecy; and

  2. the purpose and use of the book. The remainder of this deep dive will address this second factor, leaving the first to be discussed elsewhere.

On a quick aside, if we step back and look at the broader scholarly approaches used over the last hundred years we see that there has been a shift from focusing on the prophet himself, to the text, to portions of the text, to the text as a whole. The most recent approaches to the text are now articulating Isaiah and his prophecies in light of ancient Near Eastern prophetic traditions known from Neo-Assyrian sources. For the remainder of this deep dive, I will refer to Isaiah as the author of the text for ease of discussion.

From a canonical perspective, we begin with a chart showing some of the generally agreed upon divisions of the book into literary segments, including some of the key themes found in those segments.

III. Themes of the Text

The two biggest themes found throughout the Book of Isaiah are judgment and hope. They are so pervasive that they can even be used to structure the book as a whole. The first five chapters of the book alternate between such messages before giving way to larger segments detailing judgment — Chapters 7-39 — and hope — Chapters 40-66. Hope, which comes from the Hebrew qawah, can also be translated ‘expectation’ or ‘a/wait’. It is an active concept typically used for people waiting on YHWH. It is something that the Jewish people today still practice.

If you notice, however, there is an interesting break at Chapter 6. This chapter records Isaiah’s call and commission. It is interesting in that Isaiah begins in a state of uncleanliness/impurity or unrighteousness. Then he sees YHWH and has his mouth burned with a hot coal. This hot coal, or fire, purifies his mouth and by extension his entirety as the mouth embodied that which issues forth from a persons’ inner being. Comparable Mesopotamian rituals concerning mouth purity are known and give context for Isaiah 6, which also contains an element of legal tradition. In a classic article, Hurowitz (1989) contends that Isaiah is in the royal courtroom and is not prepared to defend his people, who themselves are not prepared to be on trial. His purification, which would allow defense, comes too late and Isaiah — though he would be used for the good of his people — is instead used to proclaim punishment. In some regard this pericope embodies in a microcosm the collective Jewish experience in later generations and lends itself to the later development of eschatological and missiological expectations. More on this later.

The next cluster of themes — trust and rebellion; servanthood and kingdom; arrogance and humiliation — have relevance yet today for the Jewish people, and to a large extent to humanity as a whole. Though not all are equally as relevant, as these themes were meant for an original ancient audience, they are themes that have come up for the various Jewish communities within numerous specific historical contexts.

For Isaiah, one of the big questions of the day was who to trust and against whom to rebel. He makes it pretty clear that YHWH is the one in whom trust should lie, and comes into conflict with King Ahaz over this matter. Ahaz instead places his trust in Assyria, is castigated by Isaiah for such a stance, and is portrayed as his son Hezekiah’s foil. Hezekiah, on the other hand, ultimately hears Isaiah, rebels against Assyria, prays for deliverance at the hand of YHWH, and is granted that deliverance when Sennacherib, king of Assyria, leaves Jerusalem standing. Throughout the Book of Isaiah, trust in YHWH is the expectation and the answer, but this message often falls on deaf ears, and instead of rebelling against the nations, the Israelites rebelled against God.

For Isaiah, rebellion against God leads to humiliation. Humiliation itself is the offspring of arrogance. Arrogance is denying a sense of servanthood, which is tantamount to rebellion against YHWH. What this rebellion looks like, how arrogance is manifest according to Isaiah, is through the worship of idols and through self-elevation, or pride. In the words of Norman Podhoretz, ‘pride in self, reflected in the delusion that we humans possess the power to create a perfect world, is what the Book of Isaiah, in all its parts, identifies as the source and fount of idolatry’ (2001: 14). He continues, stating that ‘revolutionary utopianism’, or the prideful idea that humans can bring about ultimate and lasting peace, has led to great atrocities in an effort to reach that peace. Instead, such peace is only attainable via God, a fact that is made clear by Isaiah.

In Chapters 7-8, King Ahaz trusts in Assyria to deliver him and bring peace from the northern Kingdom of Israel and Damascus. Destruction ensues. In Chapters 36-39, however, Hezekiah submits himself to YHWH and salvation for his nation and himself ensues. If we factor in the archaeological record, we see a greater nuance in the role and person of Hezekiah that amplifies Isaiah’s message that servanthood to YHWH results in a righteous and peaceful kingdom, while servanthood to one’s self results in destruction. It is clear that Hezekiah undertook massive preparations to rebel against Assyria; he built fortified cities and stockpiled supplies and weapons as we see in the archaeological record. Yet this was all to fail. Sennacherib and his unstoppable military machine destroyed 46 cities, captured, deported, or killed innumerable people, and turned his attention to Jerusalem. Destruction layers at every major site excavated in the Shephelah of Judah attest to the extent of Assyrian destruction.

Hezekiah rebelled against Assyria. On the one hand, he was pragmatic, preparing his kingdom to withstand the onslaught of the most powerful military force of the day. On the other hand, however, was the message of Isaiah: trust in YHWH. The sequence of events as preserved in the biblical texts, both Isaiah 36-39 and 2 Kings 18-21, relate that Judah was decimated and Jerusalem was on the throes of being conquered when Hezekiah turned from his own attempts to save the kingdom to trust in YHWH. Once prayed to, YHWH sent His angel to wipe out the Assyrian army and Sennacherib returned to Nineveh never to campaign in the west again. For Isaiah, the message is clear: the way to salvation is through YHWH. One’s trust should lie in Him. One should be a servant to Him. Then, once the proper role is adopted, the kingdom of God will issue forth, and peace and righteousness will ensue.

When these themes are all viewed together, Isaiah’s depiction of YHWH as wholly unique becomes clear. YHWH is the one true God who controls the destinies of all. This fact is born out by the alternating focus upon the nations, Israel, and Jerusalem. Furthermore, YHWH is unique because of His righteousness. He is wholly consistent and righteous. People, however, are not. Using the nations Israel and Jerusalem to illustrate the difference between the righteousness of humans and the righteousness of YHWH, Isaiah shows that, when left to their own devices, righteousness is an elusive thing for most humans. But, there is hope. The righteousness of YHWH ensures that a failed people continue to receive blessings. After all, YHWH and Israel did cut a covenant. Just as the words ascribed to Moses in Deuteronomy 32:21 state: ‘They made me jealous by what is no god and angered me with their worthless idols’. This brings punishment, but yet YHWH says in verse 39: ‘There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand’. At the conclusion of this so-called song, Moses states that YHWH, ‘will take vengeance on his enemies and make atonement for his land and people’ (Deuteronomy 32:43). You may try and fail; God will try and succeed. You may need to be ‘purified’ by fire (or judgment), but God will always preserve you (or at least a remnant).

IV. Settings of Isaiah

We turn now to a few specific historical contexts and consider how the themes just discussed apply.

A. 8th Century

In the 8th century, we see the resurgence of the Assyrian empire. Beginning with Tiglath-Pileser III, Assyria expands rapidly and is soon on the doorstep of both the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Life in the shadow of Assyria underlies much of Isaiah’s early prophecies. There are three main periods of interaction between Assyria and Israel/Judah: 734-732 during the reign of TPIII; 714-712 during the reign of Sargon II; and 705-701 during the reign of Sennacherib.

While it is not always easy or possible to correlate specific oracles given by Isaiah with individual historical events or personages, it is clear that he viewed Assyria negatively. This is best encapsulated by Isaiah 7:20 and 8:7.

Already our themes of trust and rebellion are clear. Israel, according to Isaiah, has rebelled against YHWH. They have also put their trust in Assyria. For Isaiah, these truths lead to humiliation and servanthood to an earthly power. Only once Hezekiah comes to the throne in Judah and turns to YHWH are his kingdom, his capital city of Jerusalem, his people, and he himself saved. Both the judgment wrought by Assyria and the deliverance from them are initiated by God because He is holy.

Additional themes that are most comfortable in the eighth century include the following:

  1. morality is essential; sacrifices without it are useless;

  2. Jerusalem, despite the Assyrian destruction of most of Judah, is inviolable; and

  3. justice and peace will reign under a messianic king. Who this king in Isa 7-9 is is unclear.

As for Isaiah, the son of Amoz, we learn few details about him from the book attributed to him. We know not where or when he was born, nor where, how, or when he died. What we do know is that he received visions during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, that is the second half of the eighth century BC. Later Rabbinic sources provide additional details of Isaiah’s life, however those traditions may or may not be historical. Instead of introducing those traditions here, I will wait until we get to the Rabbinic period in our discussion because they are more useful for understanding the concerns and beliefs of that later time period.

B. Sixth Century (Post-586 B.C.)

In 586, the Babylonians destroy Jerusalem and burn the Temple, on the 7th day of the 5th month, that is, the 7th of Av (Jer 52:12 has the 5th month, 10th day). In a series of deportations, many of the best, brightest, and wealthiest Judahites are deported. Based on 2 Kings 25:12; Jeremiah 52:16, it was believed that so many were exiled that an ‘empty land’ resulted. Presently, the ‘empty land’ of Judah following the Babylonian campaigns is growingly considered a myth thanks to much archaeological discovery and new nuanced readings of the text of Isaiah.

Oracles of Isaiah promising hope and restoration could well fit best in this period, when Jerusalem is no longer controlled by Israel/Judah, when a Messiah from the line of David is not on the throne of Israel/Judah, when the Temple of YHWH does not exist, and when Israel/Judah is, for the most part, outside of the Promised Land. Other features that most scholars like to point out for the Babylonian period include: Babylon is the main enemy; Jerusalem is destroyed but is to be restored (45:13); Cyrus the Persian is predicted to destroy Babylon and rebuild YHWH’s temple (44:28-45:1; 47; 48:14); there is much imagery of a new Exodus back to Zion (40:3-5; 55:12-13); and the servant of YHWH is significant for His role in restoring the salvation of Israel and the nations (42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12).

C. Sixth Century (Post-539 B.C.)

Features identified in Chapters 56-66 include references to a remnant either returning or having returned from exile (56:8; 60:4), the blessings of YHWH will include all, including eunuchs (56:3-5), who were ritually impure because they were mutilated, and foreigners (56:3-7; 66:18-23). Additionally, while there are references to the Temple being rebuilt or already rebuilt (56:5, 7; 66:6), the call of Isaiah proclaimed already in Chapter 1:11-17, that YHWH does not demand sacrifices but a contrite heart, reappears (66:1-2). On the one hand, restoration has arrived, but on the other hand, the ethical responsibility of Israel is still the condition upon which this restoration resides.

The post-exilic period is one of establishing identity for many Jews. Who are we, who is a part of us, how do we keep from being dissolved and/or undergoing another exile by God? Lines start to be drawn in order to determine who the true Israel is. Those who were exiled believed that only they were the remnant of Israel, purified by the fire of the exile. Those who remained in the land believed that they were the remnant of Israel, left to tend the land after having the cancerous portions of society removed by the Babylonians. This dual claim to legitimacy is perhaps best encapsulated by the differing views expressed in Ezra 2 and Isaiah 66. Ezra 2 counts as ‘Israel’ only those who returned from the exile. Those who never left are counted as less than. Isaiah 66:1-6, however, portrays the people of the land, that is, those who are not privy to the rebuilding of the Temple as detailed in Ezra 4, as the favored ‘Israel’ of YHWH because their hearts are right.

The question of who is the true Israel is one that continued and developed in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. We see a fragmentation of Judaism into various sects, the most radical of which, the Dead Sea Sect, separated itself from others in order to maintain a rigorous amount of purity and await the fulfillment of Isaiah’s eschatological oracles.

Before considering the place of Isaiah within the Dead Sea Sect, let me just say that by the 4th Century, the historical oracles of Isaiah had come to pass. The Judahites were judged, Jerusalem was destroyed, the Temple burnt, the land taken away. But a remnant remained, as did hope. This remnant, whether in the land or in diaspora, was re-established in the land and in Jerusalem. Now, the Jewish people were refined, much the way Isaiah’s mouth was refined, and ready to hear the prophecies of Isaiah to ensure that judgment was not again necessary. The promises of hope were almost all fulfilled. All that was needed was the Messiah. And so the people waited. But in this waiting, new challenges appeared, such as Hellenism, and time sapped the urgency of righteous living for some. Others were emboldened to achieve a new level of righteousness and purity while they hoped, while they waited, for the appearance of God’s Messiah.

D. On the Shores of the Dead Sea

Those who were emboldened to live more ritually strict, that is pure, lives retreated to the shores of the Dead Sea. In separating from other Jewish groups they saw themselves as the actual remnant foretold in Isaiah. Their leader, a man known only as the teacher of righteousness, was the awaited messiah.

For this community, which self identifies only as ‘the Yahad’, the ‘community’, the oracles of Isaiah had new meaning. The situation that the prophet lived through in the 8th Ceentury B.C. was repeating itself in the Hellenistic and Hasmonean periods — the high priesthood went to the highest bidder, ethical standards changed, the beauty and prowess of man now superseded the righteousness of YHWH in the hearts of some. Judgment was coming again, but the Yahad recognized this and was prepared.

The significance given to the Book of Isaiah and its prophecies is clear from the number of copies of the book, the number of pesharim, or commentaries on it, and the number of references to it in the sectarian literature among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Twenty-one copies of Isaiah make it the third most copied biblical book found amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls — only behind the Psalms and Deuteronomy. Interestingly, the copies of Isaiah all indicate a rather set text, unlike much of the Pentateuch, which was often ‘re-written’ or ‘re-worked’. The rough standardization of the Isaiah scrolls suggests that it was already ‘scripture’ at this time.

The pesharim on Isaiah all belie the eschatological expectations held by the Yahad. In particular, portions of Isaiah 8-11 were all featured; these chapters detail Immanuel and the promised deliverance of Israel. Furthermore, the Yahad even saw themselves as the harbinger of the end times, citing Isaiah 40:3 in their self-identification.

E. Isaiah and the Rabbis

Various traditions dealing with Isaiah were known in the late Second Temple Period and passed into the Aggadic, or homiletical literature. If you remember, the Book of Isaiah preserves few details about the prophet himself, yet by the later Second Temple Period, that is the Hasmonean and Roman periods, traditions surrounding Isaiah and many of the other Hebrew prophets had arisen. Isaiah was understood to be a descendent of Judah and Tamar (Gen 38; Sot. 10b). Isaiah’s father, Amoz, was a prophet (PdRE 118; Lev. R. 6:6), and he was the brother of King Amaziah (Meg. 10b.). Elsewhere, Isaiah is said to have been born in Jerusalem.

Details of Isaiah’s death are preserved in the Ascension of Isaiah, a composite Jewish and Christian source that states Isaiah was martyred at the hands of King Manasseh (Asc. Is. 5:1ff.). This tradition appears to be an early Jewish tradition, perhaps being formalized in the Hellenistic/Hasmonean period. The story has elements common to other martyrdom stories found in Jewish literature of the late Second Temple Period (cf. 2 Macc 6:18-7:42; Jub 1:12; 1 En 89:51-53; 4Qp-Hosb 2:4-6). It is apparently well enough known that mere allusions to the tradition suffice for clarification and/or rhetorical purposes in early Christian writings (Acts 8:34; Heb 11:37). Later Rabbinic literature preserves additional details and offers the fullest account (Yev. 49b; TJ, Sanh. 10:2, 28c). When Isaiah was about to be killed by Manasseh, he spoke the name of God and was turned into a cedar tree. Saws could not cut it until they got to his mouth, at which point they could and did saw the tree in half, because Isaiah had slandered his people (Isaiah 6:5; PR 33:150; cf PdRK 117, 125). Thus died Isaiah.

Another variant of the story has Isaiah fleeing, turning into a tree, and being discovered by Manasseh because of his tzitzit (tassels). The conversion into a tree, presence of tassels, and death by being sawn in half all passed into Islamic lore as well (recorded by the scholars Tabari and Tha‘labi and passed down by Wahb ibn Munabbih).

One of the great resources available for understanding the use and understanding of the Book of Isaiah in early rabbinic tradition is the Isaiah Targum. A targum was an Aramaic translation. The ‘translator’ or meturgeman of the Isaiah Targum, as Chilton (1987:xiv) states was, “more than a ‘translator’, or even an ‘interpreter’”. He ‘voiced a new message for his time’ (1987:xiv). Yet, the message was comparable to that of Isaiah in the eighth century. God is righteous. If Israel adheres to its covenant with YHWH, they will be blessed; if they don’t, they will be destroyed. In the meturgeman’s commentary, it appears that Israel is actively rebellious (5:3; 28:10). Repentance, therefore, is necessary and is a key theme in the Targum (Chilton 1987: xvi). Also key in the Targum is the Messiah, who will bring military victory and righteous teaching (10:27c; 16:1, 5; 53:5b; 56:9). He serves as ‘general and teacher, intercessor and final arbiter’ (Chilton 1987: xvii). The role of the Messiah is comparable to what develops in Christianity, however, one main difference in the Targum is that the Messiah will rebuild the Temple (53:5a). With the rebuilt Temple, it is possible for Isaiah’s words in Isaiah 2 to be fulfilled — all the nations will come to Jerusalem and know the law of the YHWH.

‘The Targum informs us much more than any other sort of rabbinic literature about the understanding of Isaiah which ordinary attenders at synagogues might have shared’ (Chilton 1987: xxvi). It reworks Isaiah 40:3 to intend the diasporic community of Israel, hoping and waiting for the eschatological arrival of the Messiah promised by Isaiah hundreds of years earlier. This Messiah will bring not only military victory but righteous rule. In fact, the targumic portrayal of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 does not hint at a beaten or bruised Messiah, but a powerful Messiah who will be victorious over sinful enemies. Tiqvah, hope and waiting, predominate for the author of the Isaiah Targum. This concept of tiqvah is related to the idea of trust so dominant throughout the book of Isaiah and associated in particular with the historical Isaiah himself.

The interpretation of the Book of Isaiah that comes through in the Targum is quite comparable to more recent Jewish understandings of the message of that book. The two even share positive views of Isaiah himself. According to R. Jonathan Sacks,

Isaiah is a leader on par with Moses and Jeremiah, all of whom are set apart as leaders by three things:

  1. they are prophets of hope;

  2. they delivered their criticism in love; and

  3. spoke more than others about the role of Jews and Israel among humanity as a whole.

These three qualities within a ruler give people ‘the ability to recover from crisis and move on’.

F. Isaiah for Today

Readings from the Book of Isaiah factor into the haftarot readings. The haftarot are Shabbat readings from the prophets that are typically tied to the Torah readings in a thematic manner. They are thought to have developed in the Hellenistic period when the Seleucid Antiochus IV banned Torah reading. While most haftarot readings are thematically related to the Torah readings, there are ten special readings related to the experiences of the Jewish nation as a whole. These readings come around the ominous 9th of Av, the date assigned to the Babylonian destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, the Roman destruction of the second Temple, and numerous other fateful events experienced by the Jewish people over the centuries.

Following the 17th of Tammuz, which commemorates the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem by the Romans (?), 3 shabbats of destruction are preached. The haftarot readings come from Jeremiah 1:1-2:3, then Jeremiah 2:4-28; 4:1-2 or 3:4, then Isaiah 1:1-27. It is this last reading, from Isaiah that encapsulates the height of desolation, and the height of the call to repent. If there is repentance, then there is blessing; if there is not, then there is destruction. Unfortunately, repentance did not come and Isaiah 1 preserves Isaiah’s vision, or chazon, of destruction at the hands of the Assyrians — Hasidic lore claims that every Jew is shown a vision of the un-built Third Temple on this Shabbat, referred to aptly as Shabbat chazon. Then comes the  9th of Av, commemorating destruction by fire (Deuteronomy 4:25-40; haftorah-Jeremiah 8:13-9:23 = morning readings) (Exodus 32:11-14; 34:1-10; haftorah-Isaiah 55:6-56:8 = afternoon prayer readings). Afterwards, there are 7 weeks of consolation captured in the haftarot readings. The first is known as Shabbat nachamu, named after the first word of Isaiah 40, nachamu—’comfort!’ Then, each subsequent Shabbat for the next six weeks is from Isaiah (Isaiah 40:1-26 (Shabbat nachamu); Isaiah 49:14-51:3; 54:11-55:5; 51:12-52:12; 54:1-10; 60:1-22; 61:10-63:9). All come from Chapters 40-66, which are dominated, again, by the theme of hope. At the end of these readings is rosh Hashanah, the new year. Following purification by fire, hope abounds. This hope is fulfilled in some regards at rosh Hashanah, the new year. A fresh start for Israel to live righteously, tied to the bounty of the land, as it was in Deuteronomy 32. Or a chance for Israel to repeat the sins of the past as envisioned in Isaiah 1.

V. Conclusions

I will conclude by saying that the Jewish calendar adopts much of the message of Isaiah for the collective whole of Judaism. The history lived by Isaiah in the eighth century, the judgment proclaimed, the hope awaited are remembered every year. Some Jewish groups proclaim YHWH’s righteousness by the mere fact that the Jewish people continue to exist even today. And whether a secular Zionist singing the Israeli nation anthem, hatiqvah, ‘the hope’, or an orthodox Jew awaiting the promised messiah, both groups have been influenced by the message of Isaiah and both continue a living tradition that stretches back to the prophet himself. To have the messages to the entire Jewish people all drawn from Isaiah is the greatest confirmation that he and his message continue to have a resounding resonance with the Jewish people.

(*1)Points against dividing the book: Qumran scroll; no precedence or evidence for an “Isaianic school”; no unanimity of results amongst scholars; the book of Isaiah presumes a single author; Isa 41-48 distinguishes between false gods who are man-made and cannot see the future and between YHWH, who can. If written after the fact, there is a deliberate fabrication of the truth (for more detailed discussion of the critiques see Harrison (1970) and Oswalt (1986:17–29; 1998:3–12); the use of the phrase “holy one of Israel”.

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Williamson, H. G. M.

1994 The Book Called Isaiah: Deutero-Isaiah's Role in Composition and Redaction. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Various Authors

2007 “Isaiah” in Encyclopaedia Judaica, Second Edition (Vol. 10). Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik (eds.). Pp. 57–75. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA.


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