On the Authorship of Isaiah XI.-LXVI.



This question, linking itself with the historic integrity of the books of the Old Testament, and practically involving the whole issue as to real prophecy, deserves at the hands of all intelligent friends of divine revelation a thorough and fearless investigation. The issue upon this point in our times comes up in the form of a challenge from the neological critics of the present century to make good the long-admitted doctrine that the one Isaiah of the age of Hezekiah wrote as well the last twenty-seven chapters of this book as the first thirty-nine. The animus of this challenge is a denial of all real inspiration, inasmuch as on their admission stubborn proofs of divine prescience appear in these latter chapters, provided they were really written in the age of Hezekiah, and because, if these proofs can be set aside, other like proofs of real prophecy may be summarily disposed of by similar criticism.

This question was discussed at some length, yet not exhaustively, in the Introduction to my Notes on Isaiah (pp. 12-21). That discussion called forth some adverse criticism,1 much in the spirit of modern neology, mainly useful as re-opening the discussion and suggesting new points in support of the ancient faith of the church of God. The present Essay may therefore be regarded both as supplementary to my Introduction to Isaiah, and as a reply to the points of adverse criticism above referred to.

Who was the Author of Isaiah xl.-lxvi?

The neological critics (as above) held thus:

1. That a striking difference of diction and literary character in general distinguishes the last twenty-seven chapters from the first thirty-nine.

2. That the compilers inserted the historical chapters (xxxvi.-xxxix.) between the two divisions intentionally, to guard the reader against the mistake of supposing that the same author wrote both portions.

3. That the compilers (not the author) prefixed the name of Isaiah to the whole book as in our Bibles, just as they prefixed the name of Samuel to the two books which bear his name.

4. That, inasmuch as certain other books of the Old Testament (e.g. those of the Pentateuch and of Job) appear without the names of their authors, there is no objection a priori to their hypothesis that this portion of Isaiah appears without the name of its author.

5. That the author of the latter portion may have been Baruch, Zerubbabel, or Daniel.

6. That the allusions in chapters xli.-xlvii. to the rise of the Persian empire, to Cyrus, and to Babylon, are historic, and not prophetic.

These positions should be examined.

1. They assert a striking difference of diction and literary character in general between the earlier and the later portions of this book.

This position, to be of any avail, must affirm not only a slight, but a striking, diversity; not merely such as should be expected in the same author between his middle life and his old age — between what was written amid the exciting scenes of present history and what was written in the retirement of age, when borne forward into the gloriously-anticipated future. The diversity affirmed should be such as demands another author and another age, namely, dialectic differences, affecting the cast of the tongue itself, or such marked mental peculiarities as refuse to come under the sup position of the same author. The former class of diversities may be readily admitted; the latter are altogether denied.

The dialectic changes in the Hebrew language from the age of Hezekiah to the age of Zerubbabel and Daniel are fortunately " not far to seek." The Chaldaic forms and words which appear in the Psalms of the later age, and in Ezra and other writers of the restoration, are well known. But those forms and words do not appear in the later chapters of Isaiah — certainly not in any such number and frequency as to give it the general character of the Chaldaic age. No competent critic has ever shown this; there is not the least danger that any such critic ever will. Further, those peculiarities of style which embody and express an author's mind, which are accepted by all competent judges as identifying the author by his thought-power, his taste, his imagination, his habits of mental action and expression — all these peculiarities stand out with unrivalled boldness in Isaiah, as compared with any other Hebrew prophet or author, — not to say, any other author of all time, — and, beyond all reasonable question, are essentially the same in the latter portion as in the former. There is no evidence that, prior to the last hundred years, even so much as one out of the thousands who have read Isaiah has ever detected any such difference between these two portions as would indicate one mind in the former, another in the latter. Let this argument take a yet more definite form. The men best qualified to detect such differences of style as would prove a different author are, of course (other things being equal), those who are most familiar with the language, who are conversant not only with the limited amount of ancient Hebrew now extant, but with the entire literature of their nation, and with its changes during the lapse of time involved in the question. These best judges are, unquestionably, the ancient Jews — first and chief, the learned scribes of the age of Ezra and onwards, who compiled the Old Testament canon, and who retained their ancient Hebrew, despite of their former Chaldean surroundings (Neh. viii. 8); next, the Jewish doctors in the schools of Hillel and Shammai, flourishing in the first century before the Christian era, and also the first after; then, the men who taught in the colleges of Tiberias, and also of Babylon; those who have given us the Chaldee Targums; and, indeed, the continuous series of learned Jews, down to the great Reformation in Germany, when even German scholars sat at the feet of the learned Jews of Spain. Through all these centuries of Jewish learning, and among the hundreds of scholars profoundly versed in the tongue sacred to their national history and literature, not a witness has ever arisen to testify against the authorship of the one Isaiah. Not a man has left upon history the first hint that he found reason to question the universally accepted doctrine that Isaiah wrote the entire book which bears his name.

Such testimony is unimpeachable. No set of critics can ever arise competent to impeach it. The Hebrew tongue is dead; the men to whom it was a living language have given us their testimony, and have passed away, never to have any successors of equal competency on this question. A body of national literature whose limits are no longer known was at the command of the fathers in this series of witnesses, and can be reached by no critics of modern times. Therefore it is simply impossible that any critics shall ever arise competent to revise and reverse the decision of the ancient Jews on the question of the literary diction of the book of Isaiah. The attempt is simply an impertinence — a puerile assumption.

It scarcely need be added that these ancient Jewish wit nesses to the authorship of Isaiah (especially the oldest, who are the most important witnesses in the long succession) were not only competent on the score of being masters of the language, and judges, therefore, of all that pertains to dialect and style; but they were men of staunch integrity and of most watchful jealousy against everything false. They were servants of the God of truth; consecrated to the purity of God's word of truth. So much can be affirmed most positively, without opening the question with the neologist as to their special inspiration for this work.

2. It is claimed that the compilers inserted the historic chapters (xxxvi.-xxxix.) between the two portions of this book, with the intention to guard the reader against assuming that the same author wrote them both.

This assertion is without proof. There is not the slightest intimation of such a purpose in the location of these historic chapters here. But, on the other hand, these historic chapters are here for the double purpose: (a) Of giving the historic fulfilment of foregoing prophecies respecting the fall of Sennecharib, e.g. Isa. x. 5-34 — a prediction which, judging from the dates of the chapters that precede and that follow, was written in the reign of Ahaz; also, Isa. xvii. 12-14, xviii. and xxxiii. It was important that these prophecies of the fall of the Assyrian should be verified to all future readers of this book by this historical narrative of the facts, (b) The concluding verses of this narrative (xxxix. 5-7) foreshow the captivity to Babylon, and therefore naturally introduce the chapters that follow (xl.-lii). These historic chapters (xxxvi.-xxxix.) are here, therefore, not to break the connection between the former portion and the latter, but to cement it. They give just enough of history to verify the foregoing prophecies of Sennecharib's fall, and to introduce the great prophetic fact of the captivity to Babylon — a fact which is assumed throughout the concluding portion, not as having transpired, but as being certain to transpire.

3. It is claimed that the compilers (not the author) pre fixed the name of Isaiah to the whole book as in our Bible, just as they prefixed the name of Samuel to the two books which bear his name.

Let the question be put, and fairly met: Who wrote the first verse of Isaiah— "The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem "? The neological critics say: The compilers of the Bible, and not Isaiah himself. On the contrary, I maintain that it was written by Isaiah the prophet, and on the following grounds: (a) By the general, if not even universal, usage of antiquity, the author put his name at the head of all documents which required his name at all. Cicero's Epistles begin: " Marcus Tullius Cicero to—." So the Persian kings, as in Ezra i. 2: " Thus saith Cyrus, king of Persia "; and vii. 12: " Artaxerxes, king of kings, unto Ezra the priest," etc. (b) Every prophetic book of the Old Testament opens with the prophet's own name; this introduction being more or less inwoven into the following context as part of the book itself. This inweaving is strongly marked in Jeremiah, in Ezekiel, in Hosea; all indicating that the prophet himself introduced his own name, and not the compilers. Moreover, this introduction of the prophet's name appears with considerable variety in form, such as might be expected if written by the various authors, but not what we should expect from one and the same body of compilers. Still further; this introduction of the prophet's name appears in all the manuscripts and in all the ancient versions, and therefore comes down to us with the strongest possible evidence of being the writing of the author, (c) A similar announcement of the prophet's name appears in Isa. ii. 1; xiii. 1, and a statement very analogous in xx. 2; "The word that Isaiah the son of Amos saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem," etc. To suppose that these verses are the work of the compiler, and not of the author, is simply preposterous. But the usage which reached to particular individual prophecies must have obtained in regard to the entire book. If these are Isaiah's own words, then, so is the first verse of chapter first.

Yet another assumption of the critics in question demands notice, expressed in the words: " Just as they prefixed the name of Samuel to the two books which bear his name." That is, as the compilers put the name of Samuel as the author at the head of two historical books, and made a bad mistake in so doing, so the same compilers put Isaiah's name at the head of this entire prophecy, and made a similar mistake in regard to the latter part of the book. Is there any truth or force in this criticism? None at all. The compilers never supposed that Samuel was the author of these entire books. They never meant to hint it. The supposition that they did is the blunder in the case — the blunder, not of the compilers, but of their modern critics.

Samuel himself had not written his own name into the introduction to this historic book, as the prophets did in their prophetic books, thus: " The words of Samuel the prophet, the son of Elkanah." They did not signify their opinion as to the author by the Hebrew preposition (lamed) before the name " Samuel," as is common in the Psalms: (ascribed) "to David," or "to Asaph." Nothing of the kind. They only placed the name " Samuel " at the head of these books, to distinguish them from other books: over the first " Samuel א "; over the second, "Samuel ב." This mode of designation was of no authority, and was entirely disregarded by the translators of the Septuagint, who, as is well known, designate these historical books as the first, second, third, and fourth " Book of Kings." Indeed, the full caption, which has so unfortunately misled our American neological critics dates no further back than King James. Yet further, if the assumption made by the critics in question is valid, then, on the same principle, the compilers must have supposed that the third and fourth of these historical books were written by the "Kings," and the fifth and sixth by a certain ancient gentleman honored by the name of " Chronicles "!

4. The next point is, that, inasmuch as certain other books of the Old Testament (e.g. those of the Pentateuch and of Job) appear without the names of their authors, there is no objection, a priori, to the hypothesis that this latter portion of Isaiah appears without its author's name.

This comparison between the historical books, on the one hand, and the prophetical books, on the other, is admirably suggestive. It opens a mine of truth which will pay well for the working. The assumption is that these two classes of books stand on the same footing as to being anonymous — that, as some of the historical books appear without name, therefore any of the prophetical may appear so without prejudice against their reference to an unknown author. On this point my appeal is to the facts of the case.

No historical book in the Old Testament (save Nehemiah) appears with the author's name incorporated into the first verse with the usual ancient formula. The first five books (the Pentateuch) are indicated severally by their first Hebrew words, represented by, " In the beginning," " The names," etc., etc.; the subsequent books variously; yet in no case (save Nehemiah) is the author's name given. Obviously, it was not deemed important that the author of an historical book should make himself responsible as its author by incorporating his name in his work. These historical books, written close upon the time of the events, or drawing from records already in the public archives of the nation, simply narrated events well known. These books themselves went, like the books of Moses, into the national archives. The fact of their being accepted by the proper authorities, and placed in these archives, was all the voucher needed. Practically, nothing was left dependent before the Hebrew people upon the author's name or standing. Whether the narrator were " Nathan the prophet," or " Gad the seer," was a matter of very little consequence. So we must infer from the utter absence of the author's name. Moses is presumed to have been the author of the first five books (using antecedent documents, however, in the case of Genesis); but this assumption rests not on the testimony of his name standing in the first verse of each book, after the form of the prophetic books.

But, turning to the prophetical books, we find a totally different usage. Every prophetical book of the Old Testament bears the prophet's name as author in the introductory verse or verses. These are declared to be " his words." He is the man who "had the vision" — the man to whom "the word of the Lord came." This invariable fact is a point of supreme importance to our main question of the authorship of the latter portion of Isaiah. Let us scan this fact thoroughly. It includes every one of the twelve minor prophets. It is made boldly prominent and emphatic in the first three of the major series, viz. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. The book of Daniel begins with history, and, consequently, its opening verses follow the usage of history, not that of prophecy. But each several prophetic vision gives the name of Daniel with scrupulous care: " In the first year of Belshazzar, king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head upon his bed; then he wrote the dream, and told the sum of the matters " (vii. 1). So Daniel viii. 1; ix. 1, 2; x. 1. This usage reaches even to the one prophetical book of the New Testament, the Revelation of John. It is, therefore, invariable and universal. This fact alone is of itself a sufficient refutation of the neological assumption that Isa. xl.-lxvi. is the work of some nameless prophet, which, after floating about loose for a season, was picked up by somebody, and appended to the writings of the great Isaiah.

But we have not only the fact of a universal usage, the prophet's own name at the head of every recognized prophetical book; we have also most abundant reasons for the fact. Unlike the modern neologists, the ancient Hebrews believed in real prophecy. It was to them a fact of tremendous import that God spake to them through human lips, often disclosing the future destinies of themselves or of their enemies, such as no human prescience could reach. But it came to pass, in the degenerate age of the nation, that false prophets arose — arose not merely to display their skill in forecasting the future; not merely to get power over mind or to amuse the people, but to gainsay the real word of the Lord, to stiffen the rebellious heart of the people, and in the result to bring down upon the nation untold calamities. No set of men ever played more boldly the game of " stealing the livery of heaven to serve the devil in." The history shows that they stole the customary formulae of the true prophets: "Thus saith the Lord," "The burden of the Lord," etc. (Jer. xxiii. 25-40). They used prophetic symbols, after the manner of the true prophets, for the sake of the stronger impression upon the people (Jer. xxviii.). They even " wore the rough garment to deceive." Consequently, the most vigilant scrutiny was demanded to discriminate between the true and the false. The Mosaic law, in providing for this order of men, laid down the principles by which their character and claims were to be tested. These principles (Dent. xiii. 1-5; xviii. 15-22) shut off not only those whose predictions failed to be verified, but those also whose teachings led men into idolatry, and, by parity of reasoning, toward any sin. The prophet must be upright before God and man. He must have a known personal character, and this must be unimpeachable. The prophet was currently spoken of as a "man of God." Consequently each author-prophet must stand on his own bottom. When he writes, let him back it with his own proper name. This demand was imperative; there could be no evading it. Every accepted prophetical book must bear the veritable name of its prophetic author. So we find it. Therefore the neo- logical assumption that the last twenty-seven chapters of the book of Isaiah were found floating about with no prophet's name anchored thereto, and yet were taken up and honored with the name of Isaiah, — the greatest prophet of Hebrew antiquity, — is more than an anomaly; it is, critically speaking, an absurdity, an utter impossibility.

Though to all unprejudiced minds it will seem superfluous to say more, yet, out of deference to the spirit of neological criticism, it will not be amiss to push this investigation yet further. Be it remembered, then, that false prophets had reached the summit of their power in the age of Jeremiah, and in the early years of the captivity. Some of them appear in the history among the captives in Babylon, close, therefore, upon the time where the critics in question locate the pseudo-Isaiah. Sensible Jews were still smarting under the terrible curses brought upon them by false prophets. Just here the pseudo-Isaiah appears. Did Ezra and the men of his school, " the great synagogue," the recognized compilers of the Hebrew scriptures, know anything of this nameless personage? They must have known him, if he lived where the new critics place him. Did they lend them selves to the fraud of palming off his book upon the great Isaiah? Where is the first trace of proof against them that they were parties to such a transaction? Yet, on the theory in question, it is simply impossible that they should not have known the writer of these twenty-seven chapters. Were they the men to offer a bounty upon irresponsible prophesying? On the neological assumption, they must be held responsible for palming off the prophecies of this nameless and irresponsible false prophet ("pseudo-Isaiah") upon the renowned Isaiah. Believe this, who can?

Essentially the same might be said of the translators of the Septuagint, who give us the entire sixty-six chapters as the prophecies of the one Isaiah. Had they ever heard of this Isaiah Second, the pretender; and were they parties to the deception of ignoring his name, and honoring him with the prestige of the immortal Isaiah?

Josephus bears some very emphatic testimony to the pro found esteem in which all Jews held their sacred books, and to the argus-eyed jealousy with which they watched over their integrity and honored the memory of their prophetic authors. Is it quite in keeping with this testimony that some unknown author should append twenty-seven chapters to the book of the distinguished Isaiah, and this jealous, watchful people never know it, or, knowing it, connive at the fraud? The men who can believe this must have large credulity, to be used whenever it may be useful to carry a point against valid prophecy.

5. It is said that " the author of this latter portion of the book of Isaiah may have been Baruch, Zerubbabel, or Daniel."

It must be very convenient (for the purpose of baffling investigation and refutation) to name Baruch and Zerubbabel — men of whose minds and style as authors nothing to the purpose can be known. But when they name Daniel as the pseudo-Isaiah, the authors of chapters xl.-lxvi., they come within the range of review. The prophetic writings of Daniel and the latter portion of Isaiah can be readily compared. In all that pertains to prophetic diction, style, symbolism, they are wide as the poles apart. The one is of Jerusalem; the other, of Babylon. The one conceives of the church of God as a Hebrew, all true worship at the Temple — all Gentiles gathering there into the one Zion of God; but the other has been schooled, not at Jerusalem, but in the courts of kings and in the succession of world-empires, and you would not be reminded that he had ever been at the Temple by any power it has ever had over his symbol ism. Great hostile powers with him are savage wild beasts — of all which symbolism Isaiah knows nothing. The contrast between these two men is the widest possible. The only charitable supposition is that the critics who pitched upon Daniel as the author both of the visions that bear his name, and of Isa. xl.-lxvi. had never read these writings.

6. Finally, it is claimed that the allusions in Isa. xl.-xlvii. to the rise of the Persian empire, to Cyrus, and to Babylon are historic, and not prophetic. That is, the writer lived so far down in the age of the captivity that he knew Cyrus personally, and had the sagacity to see in him a great conqueror, the prospective deliverer of God's people from Babylon. It was a happy hit — a fine specimen of wise, successful forecast — so much; nothing more. There is no real prophecy here — nothing which demands the fore knowledge of the Infinite Mind. This is the neological assumption. Granted; and it proves the pseudo-Isaiah to be false, indeed, and even blasphemous. For, throughout this entire passage (xli.-xlvii.) which treats of the Persian Cyrus and of Babylon, the writer claims to write real prophecy. Or, more precisely, he introduces Almighty God (Isa. xli. 1-5) as convening the heathen nations and their idol-gods, and challenging them to produce the first case of real prophecy; and then, over against their utter failure, he sustains his own true divinity on the ground of having repeatedly predicted future events which have already come to pass, and of now foretelling yet other events, viz. those pertaining to Cyrus, of which he avers that not the first germ had yet developed itself to human view. Hear his words: " Let them [the heathen and their gods] bring forth and show us what shall happen; let them show the former things what they be [former prophecies which they have predicted], that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them [i.e. may see if they have been fulfilled]; or let them declare to us things to come [things yet future — new prophecies]. Show the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods," etc. (Isa. xli. 22, 23). Thus God challenges them to show themselves gifted with prophetic power. But of himself God says: " Behold, the former things [previous predictions] are come to pass, and new things do I declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them " (Isa. xlii. 9), i.e. before the first germ of the bud appears to the human eye, I give you predictions of events which no human sagacity can ever reach. In the same strain of challenge to the heathen and their gods to produce real prophecy, and of lofty claim on his part to the highest prophetic power, are the passages: Isa. xliii. 18-21; xliv. 26-28; xlv. 20, 21; xlvi. 9-11.

Thus this neological assumption sinks these chapters not only below the honesty and truthfulness of inspired revelation, but quite below the average morality of merely human authors. According to this theory, the writer has the blasphemous impudence to represent the great God as convoking the nations to hear his solemn averment; as then proceeding to make a test-issue with them of his claims to supreme divinity against theirs on the single point of prophetic power; and finally, making a special point of predicting Cyrus by name as his servant, before even the first germ of the bud had begun to swell so as to be visible to the human eye. And yet — such is the boldness of this blasphemy — this whole showing is false to the bottom! There is no real prophecy in it whatever. The author lived in the very age of Cyrus; and, being a pretty shrewd man, he foresaw the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus a little way in the distance, and then seeks to make capital out of his own shrewdness to support the claim of the infinite God to such foreknowledge as no sagacity of mortals could ever reach.

This is the latest American edition of German neology.

1) E.g. in the "Nation," March 11, 1869, p. 195.