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The Oxford Study Bible Study Bible supplemented with commentary from scholars of various religions.

The Book of the Prophet Isaiah - Introduction

There are three major collections of literature in the Book of Isaiah, reflecting different periods of Israel's political and religious history. Most of the material in chs. 1–39 is related to Isaiah of Jerusalem, an eloquent prophet whose career spanned four decades (ca. 742–701 B.C.E.) and the lives of four kings of Judah: Uzziah, (783–742 B.C.E.; see 1.1; 6.1 ), Jotham (742–735 B.C.E.; see 1.1 ), Ahaz (735–715 B.C.E.; see 1.1; 7.1–12 ), and Hezekiah (715–687 B.C.E.; see 1.1; 38.1–6 ). Throughout this period Judah was faced with one crisis after another, primarily because of the advance of the Assyrian Empire toward Egypt. Assyria swallowed up the Northern Kingdom of Israel (721 B.C.E.) and frequently threatened to conquer Judah (see chs. 7; 36–39 ). Isaiah interpreted these events in terms of the LORD's will, calling for trust in the LORD rather than political alliances ( 7.1–9; 30.1–5; 31.1–9 ).

The literature in chs. 1–39 consists primarily of prophetic speeches, reports of Isaiah's activities, and an historical appendix (chs. 36–39 ). Collections of Isaiah's speeches seem to have existed separately. When the words were recorded (perhaps by disciples; see 8.16 ) and gathered into one book the words of the collectors, editors, and of later writers were added. Many units in these chapters, therefore, are easily recognized as not being those of Isaiah, but written in different styles and reflecting later historical situations.

Chapters 40–55 are from an unknown prophet, now called Second Isaiah, active in Babylon toward the end of the Exile (587–539 B.C.E.), whose words were joined to those of Isaiah. This conclusion is based on the difference in historical situation, namely exiles receiving the promises of a return to their homeland, and not the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem threatened with imminent invasion. The glowing promises of this section have led to its often being called the “Book of the Consolation of Israel.” One discerns in moving from the first (chs. 1–39 ) into this section, a change in religious ideas, especially now a clear affirmation, in theological language, that there is only one God for all peoples. Moreover, a different vocabulary is used, and the style has become more rhetorical and complex.

The final chapters of the book (56–66) reflect for the most part the life and thought of the postexilic community struggling against discouragement to reestablish its life in the promised land. The varying styles, religious ideas, and historical situations reflect diverse authors writing over a longer period of time. This section is often called “Trito-Isaiah” or “Third Isaiah.”

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