For more than 35 years, the book Isaiah Prophet, Seer, and Poet has been the clear standard explaining Isaiah’s prophecies and teachings to Latter-day Saints. However, Victor Ludlow’s work also explores this prophet’s ancient Hebrew poetic styles, symbols, and idioms making the rest of the world take notice. This book is filled with sketches, the author’s outlines and charts, maps, and other illustrations.
Victor L. Ludlow has accomplished what few scholars have done-presented a worthy commentary on one of the most difficult books in world literature. The task that Victor L. Ludlow set for himself would have discouraged lesser scholars, but he has the credentials and the will to pursue the project. The work examines the “historical context, literary style, scriptural context and doctrinal application” of Isaiah and is designed “to help the readers of Isaiah to understand his writings” (p. xi). Here for the first time Latter-day Saints have at their command a commentary on Isaiah that brings together LDS doctrine, reputable scholarship, and an informed discussion of the nature of the Hebrew writings of Isaiah.
Two features of the book deserve special note. First, the entire Book of Isaiah has been included within the text of the commentary, making it unnecessary to keep a copy of the Bible at hand to read the passages being discussed. The text of Isaiah used for inclusion varies from section to section with fourteen different translations being used, including some of Ludlow’s original renderings. This use of different English versions of Isaiah allows For the reader to see other possibilities of interpretation and to become familiar with the style and readability of the various translations now available on the market.1
Conveniently, the author offers fourteen different English translations alongside the King James Version of Isaiah to help readers see possible meanings and some of his translations. He uses his background from Harvard and Brandeis Universities where he earned an advanced degree in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies to help readers understand the culture and history of the ancient Middle East.
As he moves through Isaiah chapter-by-chapter and verse-by-verse, Ludlow explains historical, literary, other prophetic and doctrinal dimensions. The publisher, Deseret Book, describes it as “a four-dimensional approach to Isaiah.” Within the literary dimension, Ludlow analyzes the poetic and prophetic styles of Isaiah’s writing. Also helpful to the LDS audience, he helps us understand Isaiah through the eyes of other prophets.
In his doctrinal dimension, the author explains Isaiah’s prophecies with verse-by-verse commentary explaining the prophet’s teachings and modern applications to his words. This book offers Latter-day Saints a way to strengthen their testimony of the Lord with a clearer understanding of Isaiah’s writings and witness of the Messiah to come.
For four decades, Ludlow’s work has been a treasure. But it grew out of need as he began teaching Old Testament at BYU to teach those subjects. The demand for Isaiah studies was almost immediate, and in the mid-1970’s he began teaching Isaiah as a stand-alone subject.
However, interest on the subject was spreading church-wide and in the early 1980’s. When Jeffrey R. Holland was the church commissioner, Ludlow received the commissioner’s research fellowship to write resource materials on Isaiah. The research was intended for the LDS Church curriculum writers, but many of the Brethren asked for those materials too. This was the groundwork for what became this go-to book.
1 Isaiah Prophet, Seer, and Poet—JOURNAL 23:4