Notes: Toward Explaining Multiple Authorship

These are notes I am collecting for an introduction to Isaiah explaining multiple authorship to an audience who might resist the idea based on faith in the final form of the text.

The perceptive reader grasps from the first chapter that the book of Isaiah is not chronological. The first chapter refers to events at the end of Isaiah’s lifetime. This already challenges the idea that Isaiah wrote his prophecies down as they came to him in some sort of chronological order.

The next observation might be that Isaiah is never referred to after chapter 39. Furthermore, chapter 40 begins with the assumption that the exile of Judah has already happened and is about to come to an end. Since Isaiah died more than a century before the exile started, this should be a sign that someone later than Isaiah of Jerusalem is writing these words. Readers have resisted this simple logic because the “Book of Isaiah” has been presented as a unity and it is natural to assume a book has one author.

What if, in the aftermath of ruin, people found the words of an old prophet comforting and true? He spoke of ruin and promise, dark days and light to come afterward. What if new prophets, literary prophets rather than the kind who spoke in the court of kings or in the public square, took up his words and arranged, expanded, re-used, and added to his words? What if they turned a written core of material dating to the time of Isaiah of Jerusalem and turned it into a collection of truth and hope about Jerusalem and its people?

They looked back on ruination and asked why. They lived with a history of apparent failure, with the seeming collapse of a divinely ordered society. They sought faith in a future with God.

And in their post-catastrophe situation they saw answers and found comfort in the words of Isaiah of Jerusalem, Isaiah ben Amoz, a prophet from before the catastrophe. Survivors and exiles and then after them returnees and survivors who had stayed in Jerusalem received words based on and related to what had come long before from the mouth and hand of Isaiah of Jerusalem. This whole collection was “Isaiah.”

. . . [this is a stub; I will add to it] . . .


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