Since the beginning of the twentieth century, authorship of the Book of Isaiah has come into questions. Mainstream Bible scholars everywhere identify at least three separate authors of the Book of Isaiah and the notion idea of a Second Isaiah was put forward as early as 1167 AD, by a Jewish Bible Scholar, Abraham ben Meir Ibn Ezra. He saw three divisions within Isaiah so distinct to him that he suggested there were different authors of each and since then his theory has expanded.
Compiling the Book of Isaiah
There is no reason to assume that Isaiah wrote his book in a single setting. He served Judah as the prophet for nearly 40 years and through the reigns of four kings, which would have given him time to write much. But whether he pulled his works together or not, is unknown.
Of course, if it was a biblical scribe who compiled the writings of Isaiah, he could have chosen to put them together as we see them today and easily after Isaiah’s death. This itself could have taken as much as a hundred years and still leave time for his words to make it onto the Brass Plates that Lehi and his family took with them.
It is also clear that the Qumran community had access to Isaiah’s works as seen in the Great Isaiah Scroll found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. This ancient scroll has all sixty-six chapters of Isaiah that we find in our modern Bible, which means that at least by 350 BC, the Book of Isaiah as we know it, was complete. Written in Hebrew, the scroll contains the entire Book of Isaiah and it is the earliest full copy of that book, being nearly a thousand years older than the oldest known transcripts known this discovery.1
Background to the Multiple Authorship Theory
As stated before, Ibn Ezra, is the first to put forth the ideas of multiple authorship. He was a noted Jewish Bible scholar during the 1100s who hinted at three divisions within Isaiah he saw as so distinct that to him pointed to different authors. However, most Christian and Jewish Bible scholars accepted the idea of single authorship of Isaiah until the late 1700’s.
At that time two German historical-critical scholars, Eichhorn and Döderlein, and later Wilhelm Gesenius began to theorize that Isaiah 1–39 and 40–66 were written by two different individuals about 150 years apart. A hundred years later, Bernhard Duhm (1892) further hypothesized that there was another break between chapters stating that the last ten chapters might have even been written later still and suggesting that a third author had written these chapters.
This new Bible scholarship influenced by the Enlightenment and its religious skepticism accepted the existence of God but not that he intervenes on Earth. This called into question a Prophet’s ability to foresee the future. Even going so far as to reject any scripture as actually coming from God. Naturally then Bible prophecies came under scrutiny and in the case of Isaiah chapters 40–66 it was postulated these chapters were written by a historian after the fact, who was part of Judah’s Babylonian captivity; his predictions were not inspired by God.
Proto, Deutro and Trito Isaiah Authorship
In today’s world of Bible scholarship, nearly every scholar questions the idea of a single prophetic voice in the Book of Isaiah. For the most part, scholars would identify at least three Isaiah’s in the Bible, Proto or First Isaiah, Deutro or Second Isaiah and Trito or Third Isaiah.
Since 1789 this hypothetical author has been referred to as the Second Isaiah or Deutero-Isaiah. But once the dual authorship of Isaiah was generally accepted, it soon became apparent that there was no need to stop at two Isaiahs. By applying exactly the same reasoning that split the original Isaiah in two, it was possible to break up the two main sections into a number of separate packages, each of which in turn readily yielded to the fragmentation process to produce scores of independent compositions, all going under the name of Isaiah. 2First, chapters 40—66 broke up into separate books, 40—55 being by one author and 56—66 by another, duly labelled Trito-Isaiah. Chapters 36—39 were recognized as a separate book on the grounds of their resemblance to 2 Kings 18:13—20:19. The earlier Isaiah, chapters 1—35, became a swarm of separate sayings glued together, according to one school, from a large number of smaller or medium-sized collections or, according to another school, gathered as minor additions to a central main work. Some scholars agreed that chapters 1—12 and 13—23 represent separate collections, though each had his own theory as to how, when, where, and by whom such collections were made. 3 There is no point to going into the subject in detail. Typical is the present dating of the so-called Trito-Isaiah, which is variously placed in the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th centuries B.C. 4
These same scholars often call Isaiah’s prophecies historical fiction or say they were placed into scripture after the fact, denying God’s hand in those prophecies, pointing to different literary forms and theological messages in each section of the book.
The Deutero or Second Isaiah theory claims that Isaiah chapters 40—55 do not contain the same kind of personal details about Isaiah when compared to Isaiah 1—39. In the first 39 chapters, Isaiah shares numerous personal stories, explaining his dealings with the kings and others. This theory also suggests that the language and style of Isaiah 40—55 differs from the earlier chapters. But that leaves chapters 56–66 of the book.
Scholars generally believe that disciples of Isaiah who wrote the last eleven chapters would no longer have been in Babylonian captivity, but back in Jerusalem. “Unlike Second Isaiah with its grand poetry and drawn out description of the coming salvation of God, chapters 56-66 are a mixture of prose and poetry, of hope and despair at the same time. The major portion of Isaiah 56-66 arose against the background of the severe hardships that prevailed in the time between Sheshbazzar’s unsuccessful attempt to rebuild the Temple and its completion under Zerubbabel in 515 B.C. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah are contemporaries of Trito-Isaiah.”5
I first became aware of this and other controversies regarding the Book of Isaiah about a year ago when I joined the SearchIsaiah team. This was a surprise because, like other members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I read the Standard Works to find Christ and to seek guidance in my life. All the time without knowing that there are others around us examining these works in ways that I could not have imagined.
Victor Ludlow’s Thoughts on Unity of Authorship
In The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Victor Ludlow states: “Of the writings in the Old Testament, the message of Isaiah enjoys high priority among Latter-day Saints. The attraction derives primarily from the extensive use of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon.” He then goes on to explain that Church members, ” belief in revelation and the seership of prophets, along with the quotations from Isaiah in the Book of Mormon and its admonitions to study his writings, have reinforced Latter-day Saints in the traditional view concerning the date and authorship of Isaiah,” in three ways:
- First, while some scholars argue that prophets could not see the future and that, therefore, the later chapters of Isaiah must have been written after Isaiah’s time (e.g., Isa. 45 concerning Cyrus), Latter-day Saints recognize that prophets can see and prophesy about the future. In chapters 40-66, Isaiah prophesies of the future, just as the apostle John does in Revelation 4–22,and the prophet Nephi in 2 Nephi 25–30.
- Second, the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi and his family left Jerusalem about 600 B.C. and took with them scriptural writings on plates of brass that contained much of the Old Testament, including Isaiah (1 Ne. 5:13;19:22-23). Book of Mormon prophets taught from the brass plate records, not only from chapters 1-39, which are usually assigned by scholars to the prophet Isaiah of the eighth century B.C., but also from the later chapters, the so-called Deutero-Isaiah. For example, Isaiah chapters 48-54 are all quoted in the Book of Mormon, with some passages mentioned a number of times (1 Ne. 20–21; 2 Ne. 6:16-8:25; Mosiah 12:21-24;14;15:29-31; 3 Ne. 16:18-20;20:32-45;22). Hence, the existence of a virtually complete Isaiah text in the late seventh century B.C., as witnessed by the Book of Mormon, negates arguments for later multiple authorship, whether those arguments be historical, theological, or literary.
- Finally, other significant witnesses exist for the single authorship of Isaiah, including Jesus Christ in particular (cf. Matt. 13:14-15;15:7-9; Luke 4:17-19; 3 Ne. 16, 20-22). Indeed, after quoting much from Isaiah 52(3 Ne. 16:18-20;20:32-45) and repeating Isaiah 54 in its entirety (3 Ne. 22), the resurrected Jesus Christ admonished his Book of Mormon disciples to study Isaiah’s words and then said, “A commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah. For surely he spake as touching all things concerning my people which are of the house of Israel” (3 Ne. 23:1-2).
“Latter-day Saints accept the words of the risen Jesus that Isaiah was a seer and revelator whose prophecies, as recorded throughout his book, will eventually all be fulfilled (3 Ne. 23:1-3). Particularly from Jesus’ attribution of Isaiah 52 and 5 4 to the ancient prophet have Latter-day Saints concluded that the book of Isaiah is the inspired work of the eighth-century prophet Isaiah, son of Amoz.” 6
In 1981, in his seminal work, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet, Ludlow added a defense for the unity of Isaiah in the book’s appendix (with the author’s permission you can read it in its entirety here). He offers readers ten additional witnesses for consideration each of which validate the book’s unity alone, but when read together offer a compelling witness for the book’s integrity by one author:
- In quoting Isaiah, Jesus named him specifically both in the New Testament (Matt. 13:14–15; 15:8–9; Luke 4:18–19) and in the Book of Mormon in 3 Ne. 16, and 20–22.
- Similarly many other New Testament writers quoted from Isaiah and naming his as they did (Matt. 8:17; 12:18-21; John 1:23; 12:38; Acts 8:30-33; Rom. 10:16, 20-21.)
- The Great Isaiah Scroll found among the Dead Sea Scrolls is the earliest known Isaiah text and contains all 66 chapters.
- As writers and historians of antiquity Ben Sira in Ecclesiasticus 49:17-25 and Josephus in Antiquities, XI, 1-2 referred to Isaiah’s prophecies like Cyrus as fulfilled
- The Judeo-Christian traditions from their earliest times until the last couple of centuries has supported the single authorship of Isaiah in their texts. The oldest Jewish (Masoretic Text) and Christian (Septuagint) record Isaiah as a unified book.
- Book of Mormon writers quoted from both “Proto” and “Duetro” Isaiah including these chapters from the second half Isa. 48-55, which would show the compilation of the book not later than 600 BC, in time for Lehi to take the plates with them.
- Critical attitudes and anti-dogmatic beliefs during the Enlightenment (17–1800s) fostered a kind of vogue attitude of the scholars which lead to radical criticism of the Bible beyond its natural bounds.
- As internal evidence in the book, Isaiah unique use phrases and techniques “uncommon in other works, such as imagery, parallelism, psalms, repetition, paronomasia, and expressions such as ‘the Holy One of Israel.’
- Modern apostles have witnessed concerning Isaiah’s authoring his whole book. (James E. Talmage, CR, April 1929, pp. 45-47; Bruce R. McConkie, Ensign, Oct. 1973, pp. 78-83, and Jeffery R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon, Deseret Book, 1997)
- “A personal testimony about Isaiah’s book and his efforts in its composition is available to everyone who seeks for a witness through the Holy Ghost.
“Also, there is no record of anyone besides Isaiah writing the last half of his book. If the “Deutero-Isaiah” is one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament, why is no mention made of him? All other prophetic writings at least mention their source, even the small, comparatively insignificant Obadiah. As one Jewish scholar records:7
‘If the author of the latter part [of Isaiah] were another prophet, who was contemporary and lived among the people whom he consoled, how can it possibly be believed that his name would be entirely forgotten? Isaiah ben Amoz who lived centuries before the Exile was well remembered and details of his life recorded. Furthermore it is indeed strange that Isaiah ben Amoz who denounced the people and whose message was certainly not welcome at the time should be remembered and his writings preserved but the name of this supposed Second Isaiah who preached a message of consolation whose message must have been quite welcome should be forgotten and, indeed, so completely forgotten that we do not even know his name.8
Sidney Sperry on Authorship, Style, and Theology
In making a literary comparison between First and Second Isaiah, Sperry writes: “I am willing to admit a somewhat different style in Isaiah 40-66 as contrasted with most of what precedes. There is a note of triumph in these chapters not so apparent in other sections of the book. There is a brighter and more comforting tone throughout. But all of the supposed differences do not necessarily argue for a different author. A writer may vary his style from one lime to another as he: writes under different conditions and on different subjects.
“In Isaiah 40-66, Isaiah deals with the great theme of Israel’s redemption. This accounts for the difference in style (or should we say mood) between them and most other chapters in the book…
“In ‘Second’ Isaiah and in ‘Trito’ Isaiah there is no real difference in the prophet ‘s theology as compared with other chapters—what we find is rather an extension or more complete expression of his theology. …Authors usually claim the privilege of emphasizing different doctrines and topics as occasion requires. The internal evidence, therefore, is strongly in favor of the unity of Isaiah.”9
Avraham Gileadi’s Thoughts on Isaiah’s Authorship
Gileadi’s treatment of Isaiah contrasts a seven-part structure of the entire book, with 33 chapters in each half. He writes: “Literary structures are a way of organizing the content and carry their own message over and above what appears on the surface. Analyzing structures reveals the underlying themes and concepts of the Book of Isaiah. Its layered holistic structures attest to a single author—Isaiah.” Then he shows this pattern to make his point:
|Rebellion & Compliance (Isaiah 6–8; 36–40)|
|Rebellion & Compliance (Isaiah 6–8; 36–40)|
|Punishment & Deliverance (Isaiah 9–12; 41–46)|
|Humiliation & Exaltation (Isaiah 13–23; 47)|
|Suffering & Salvation (Isaiah 24–27; 48–54)|
|Disloyalty & Loyalty (Isaiah 28–31; 55–59)|
|Disinheritance & Inheritance (Isaiah 32–33; 60–66)|
“The above seven pairs of antithetical themes reveal a divine pattern in which ruin precedes rebirth, punishment precedes deliverance, humiliation precedes exaltation, suffering precedes salvation, and disinheritance precedes inheritance.”10
Recently I was reading about the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar’s part in taking the lost tribes of Israel into captivity when I read this with interest: “The consensus among modern scholars is that the book of Daniel is historical fiction.”101 I’ve read the same kinds of things about Isaiah for a year now, that it is fiction, constructed after the fact and while I admit that Wikipedia is not the best source, it seems to point to what nearly every scholar thinks about the authorship and unity of Isaiah.
These scholars outside and some inside the Church debate the authorship of the book of Isaiah, theorizing that there were three or more authors. And if you look at Isaiah as a whole you can see their point:
- Chapters 1-35 focus on judgments against Israel, the Jews, and humankind in general.
- Chapters 36-39 are a mostly historical narrative closely aligned with 2 Kings 18:13–20:19)
- Chapters 40-66 are words of comfort and hope
While these divisions may point to multiple authorship, they could also reflect a prophet’s life of service for over forty years. Even though Isaiah chapters 40—55 do not contain the same kind of personal details about Isaiah as when compared to Isaiah 1—39 a prophet over time might choose to emphasize different doctrines and topics.
Though I see no sense in taking a polemic position on the matter, I feel that anyone of faith I can keep their own beliefs regarding the Book of Isaiah. When a theory is proposed a thousand years ago and then built on for 150 years it is still a theory. The Book of Mormon is my main reason for accepting the words of Isaiah and even Christ commanded, “… search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah.” (3 Nephi 23:1). If it is good enough for our Lord then it is good enough for me too.
In favor of the unity of Isaiah
In favor of the critical division of Isaiah
|Click here to see Part 2||Click here to see Part 3|
1 The Digital Dead Sea Scrolls: The Great Isaiah Scroll“
2 The more the authorship of the Book of Isaiah has been investigated, the more complicated has the question appeared.” Finally “there remained very few long passages of unchallenged authoriticity. …It seemed that the entire book was best described as an anthology of the work of many writers, …a confusing amalgam of greater or smaller fragments from many sources.” J. Eaton, “The Origin of the Book of Isaiah ” VT 9 (1959): 138—39.
3 The process is described in the latest extensive survey of the problem, Otto Eissfeldt, Einleitung in das Alte Testament, 3rd ed. (Tübingen: Mohr, 1964), 408—12. For the English translation, see Otto Eissfeldt, The Old Testament, An Introduction, trans. by Peter R. Ackroyd (New York: Harper, 1976), 304—7.
4Hugh Nibley, Since Cumorah, Chapter 5: The Bible in the Book of Mormon.
5 TRITO (Third) ISAIAH After the Return of the Exiles Chapters 56-66
6Victor Ludlow, Isaiah: Authorship, The Encyclopedia of Mormonism
7 Victor Ludlow, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet, Deseret Book
8 Freehof, Isaiah, pp. 199-200.
9 Sidney Sperry, The “Isaiah Problem” in the Book of Mormon, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol 4, No. 1, Article 17
10 Avraham Gileadi, Isaiah’s Layered Literary Structures, Isaiah Explained
11 Nebuchadnezzar II, Wikipedia
Other References used in this article:
- Joseph Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1–39: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, vol. 19 of the Anchor Bible Series (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 2000), 87; Shalom M. Paul, Isaiah 40–66: Translation and Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012), 1–3
- W. S. LaSor, D. A. Hubbard, and F. W. Bush, Old Testament Survey (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982), 371–77
- R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1969), 764–80.
- Craig A. Evans, “The unity and parallel structure of Isaiah”, Vetus Testamentum, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 2 (April 1988), 132. Evans quotes the work of William Brownlee from 1964, and his argument that the Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaa) supports the previous authorship theories of scholars that Isaiah’s of Jerusalem’s writings only go up to Isa. 33. See also H. G. M. Williamson, The Book Called Isaiah: Deutero-Isaiah’s Role in Composition and Redaction (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 15-16.
- William F. Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity: Monotheism and the Historical Process, 2nd ed. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday/Anchor, 1957), 275.
- God’s Word In Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship, p. 108
- John Welch, Authorship of the Book of Isaiah, Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, FARMS, p.436
- Kent Jackson, “Isaiah in the Book of Mormon,” A Reason for Faith, Deseret Book
- David Bokovoy “The Truthfulness of Deutero-Isaiah: A Response to Kent Jackson (part 1), at Rational Faiths—Keeping Mormonism Weird.
- Yakov ben Tov, “The Isaiah Nephi Could Not Have Known” at Faith Promoting Rumor