The Superscription of the Book of Isaiah   1 comment

Above:  Isaiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART I

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Isaiah 1:1

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The Book of Isaiah contains the works of multiple authors writing over a span of centuries, from circa 742/733 B.C.E. to after 537 B.C.E.  The traditional division of the Book of Isaiah (First Isaiah = chapters 1-39, Second Isaiah = chapters 40-55, and Third Isaiah = chapters 56-66) is overly simplistic.  I follow the division from The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003):

  1. First Isaiah = chapters 1-23, 28-33;
  2. Second Isaiah = chapters 34-35, 40-55;
  3. Third Isaiah = chapters 24-27, 56-66; and
  4. A historical appendix verbatim from 2 Kings 18:13-20:19, except for King Hezekiah’s prayer of thanksgiving (Isaiah 38:9-20) = chapters 36-39.

I wrote about Isaiah 36-39 relatively recently, when blogging through the Second Book of Kings.

Isaiah ben Amoz (First Isaiah) was a resident of Jerusalem.  He, an aristocrat, may have been a priest serving at the Temple.  Isaiah’s name meant “the Lord is salvation.”  First Isaiah did not compose all of Isaiah 1-23, 28-33.  Multiple authors contributed to chapters 1-12 alone, for example.

The superscription names four Kings of Judah:

  1. Azariah/Uzziah (r. 785-733 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 15:1-7; 2 Chronicles 26:1-23);
  2. Jotham (r. 759-743 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 15:32-38; 2 Chronicles 27:1-9);
  3. Ahaz (r. 743/735-727/715 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 16:1-20; 2 Chronicles 28:1-27); and
  4. Hezekiah (r. 727/715-698/687 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 18:1-20:21; 2 Chronicles 29:1-32:33; Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 48:17-22 and 49:4).

Placing dates from the period of Uzziah through Hezekiah on the Gregorian Calendar and the B.C./B.C.E.-A.D./C.E. scale is notoriously difficult.  If one consults five commentaries and study Bibles, one may find as many estimates of any given important date, such as the year in which King Uzziah died  and Isaiah ben Amoz received his prophetic commission from God (Isaiah 6:1).  I prefer to cite dates from The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), as much as possible.  When I consult study Bibles and commentaries, I find a range of years (742-733 B.C.E.) for the death of King Uzziah.

The royal chronology included at least one co-regency, that of Azariah/Uzziah and Jotham.  The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), in the back, holds that the reigns of Azariah/Uzziah and Ahaz may have overlapped.  Other study Bibles I consult indicate that these two reigns did not overlap.

Anyway, Isaiah ben Amoz (First Isaiah) prophesied during perilous times.  The Assyrian Empire loomed in the distance at the beginning of this prophetic career.  Also at the beginning, tensions with the Kingdom of Aram and the (northern) Kingdom of Israel were prominent.  After Assyria conquered Aram then Israel, that empire posed a greater threat to Judah.  Meanwhile, on the domestic front, economic injustice was increasing.  First Isaiah was a contemporary of Hosea, Amos, and Micah, who prophesied regarding those problems, too.

The Books of Hosea, Amos, Micah, and Isaiah have existed in their current forms since after the Babylonian Exile.  This reality has presented many interpretive difficulties for themselves for years.

So be it.  The subsequent editing of texts to address then-current conditions provides a useful model for interpretation.  Despite the historical-critical methodological difficulties inherent in the final versions of these books–First Isaiah, in this case–they continue to address societies and nation-states in the present day.  I acknowledge the historical reality without any fear of offending God as I ask, in the words of a spiritual mentor of mine from the 1990s:

What is really going on here?

Any historical hiccups which may exist will not stand in the way of answering that question.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 28, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN H. W. STUCKENBERG, GERMAN-AMERICAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND ACADEMIC

THE FEAST OF SAINT BERNARD OF MENTHON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND ARCHDEACON OF AOSTA

THE FEAST OF EDWIN POND PARKER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JEREMIAS DENCKE, SILESIAN-AMERICAN MORAVIAN COMPOSER AND ORGANIST; AND SIMON PETER AND JOHANN FRIEDRICH PETER, GERMAN-AMERICAN COMPOSERS, EDUCATORS, MUSICIANS, AND MINISTERS

THE FEAST OF ROBERT MCAFEE BROWN, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, THEOLOGIAN, ACTIVIST, AND ECUMENIST

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One response to “The Superscription of the Book of Isaiah

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  1. Pingback: The Downfall of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire and the End of the Babylonian Exile | BLOGA THEOLOGICA

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