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One is the Loneliest Isaian Authorship theory that You’ll Ever Do: A Great Reason to Read Isaiah as the Work of One Prophet

Isaiah and bridge pic smallYears ago, during my first Master’s degree, I spent on-again off-again bouts of time considering the relationship of the two stories in the middle of Isaiah to the material that was around it. What bothered me, initially, was discovering that the events for these four chapters are presented in reversed chronological order. The invasion of King Sennacherib in chapters 36-37 takes place in 701 BC two or so years after Hezekiah’s sickness & recovery and the visit from Merodach Baladan’s representative which occupies the attention of chapters 38-39.

This reversal had only one of 4 explanations.

  1. The author goofed.
  2. The authored borrowed the section from another book that goofed…. like say, 2 Kings 18:13-20:21 which also reverses these events and shares at points a word for word repetition.
  3. Both Isaiah and Kings borrowed from another source that goofed.
  4. At least one of these had some theological purpose for reversing the events.

In my post, “A Handy Dandy Summary of the Major Reasons for Supporting the Incorrect Two Isaiah Theory,” I describe 3 major reasons scholars believe that someone else wrote the 2nd half of the Book of Isaiah. In our last two Isaian authorship posts, I offered up defenses against both the Psychological argument that suggests a collection like Isaiah 40-66 would have no real meaning for recipients supposed to live during Isaiah’s years,[1] and the Style-shift argument which cannot imagine the same hand behind each work, in spite of the many striking similarities, because these are overwhelmed by the radical differences.[2]

Today, I would like to address the 1st argument, which regards structure. Frankly these two halves of Isaiah look like two books artificially held together with a narrative bridge. That said, however, I think a consideration of the historical bridge in all its reversed glory, together with my other conclusions about style[3] and exile visions[4] should at least suggest the likelihood of a single author for both parts of the book.

So here goes, using only dating schemes already accepted by most liberals, I want to show that the book of Isaiah existed in its present two parts prior to the exile in 586 BC.

We’ve shown that both Kings and Isaiah reverse the events of Sennacherib’s invasion and Hezekiah’s sickness and visit from Babylonian dignitaries. We’ve said that either somebody goofed somewhere or there is some specific theological reason for reversing them somewhere.

The standard position is that Isaiah borrowed from Kings. Kings is deemed to have been finished shortly after the 586 BC exile. The problem is that there is no discernible reason to reverse the dates in Kings.[5] The book fluctuates its coverage of Hezekiah’s ups and downs and could have no purpose in moving just one more circle of ups and downs out of sequence. Ancient writers are known to be more concerned with perceived relationships between events than their order, but these present no unique picture of that order; one listing of events is as purposeful as another.

When we turn to Isaiah, however, we find more than a possible purpose for the reversal. We find the heart and soul of the relationship between the two halves of the book.

1st Isaiah concerns 12 events in the Assyrian crisis. The question of the division concerns the people’s response to Assyrian threat which become all the more acute after Hezekiah’s father sells the nation out to Assyria in the hopes of being saved from the Syro-ephraimite pressures to join their fight against Assyria or die. The text plainly describes God’s use of this nation to punish his people north and south, but also clearly says that Assyria will not be the one to topple Judah, they will be given more time, spared when the waters have risen to the neck, when Jerusalem is left along like a signal pole on a hill. Thus, the first story, chapters 36-37, while happening after the second, is told first for it describes that “rising even to the neck” in Sennacherib’s invasion and God’s defense of Jerusalem at the very end. Assyria receives a blow and goes home. While the events perhaps unfolded a little differently in time, the message of the relationship of the events is clear. Assyria will not be the one. They are like  dream figments that will vanish when YHWH says, “Go!”

2nd Isaiah concerns the end of the exile wars against God’s people, their return home from Babylon (who possess the territory where the Northern people were taken in 722 & 701 BC as well), and God’s eventual outpouring of blessing upon Judah (a composite of southern kingdom residents and northern kingdom refugees). Thus, the second story, chapters 38-39, while happening before Sennacherib’s invasion, sets the stage for that final unfolding of exile. It is the answer to Isaiah’s last recorded declaration to Hezekiah, who has sought protection from Assyria in a forbidden covenant with Merodach Baladan, rather than remaining true in his faith in YHWH.

If the historical bridge serves a unifying function between two halves of a book by reversing the dates of its key events… AND that ordering of events is used in Kings as is, given that the ordering of these events is without consequence to the overall structure of Kings either way… AND Kings is dated even by liberals shortly after the 586 BC exile… THEN one may reasonably posit that the book of Isaiah may very well have had its present two part structure early enough for the author of Kings to borrow from it.

One book—pre-exilic. One author—Isaiah.

 


[1] One Reason Why I Think the Double Isaiah Vision Needs Corrective Lenses

[2] How Many Hats Can One Prophet Wear?—A 2nd Reason to Reconsider Multiple Isaiah Theories

[3] How Many Hats Can One Prophet Wear?—A 2nd Reason to Reconsider Multiple Isaiah Theories

[4] One Reason Why I Think the Double Isaiah Vision Needs Corrective Lenses

[5] Mid 6th century for final layer; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Books_of_Kings.

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