*This post was originally published bilingually in English as well as Korean back in 2018. Now the post is separated in each language. For the Korean version, see this.
The Tripartite Division of Isaiah and the Problem of the Authorship of the Book of Isaiah (2)
#1. Second Isaiah has been traditionally regarded to be chs. 40-55. As mentioned in the previous post, however, chs. 34-35, which originally was deemed to belong to First Isaiah, is these days viewed as Second Isaiah. Second Isaiah mainly prophesizes the restoration of Judah from the Babylonian destruction (the judgment of God), and its geographical backdrop is primarily Babylon. Second Isaiah even talks about the return from the Babylonian deportation:
Go out from Babylon, flee from Chaldea,
declare this with a shout of joy, proclaim it,
send it forth to the end of the earth;
say, “The LORD has redeemed his servant Jacob!” (Is 48:20, NRSV)
#2. The God of Second Isaiah is a comforter, a deity of forgiveness and salvation. The words of restoration, as manifested in Is 48:20, strongly remind us of the concept of Exodus from Egypt. The restoration is realized by Israel’s execution of the order of “fleeing.” But! Would these words of restoration be meaningful for those who didn’t even experience any harm from Babylon yet? These words of restoration and salvation are indeed targeting the deported people in Babylon, who are expecting to return to their homeland.
#3. Third Isaiah, which has been traditionally regarded to be chs. 56-66, is these days considered to include chs. 24-27. Third Isaiah talks mainly to the people of the post-exilic era, who encountered many problems that the return from Babylon caused. That is to say, Third Isaiah has messages about re-settling down in the homeland and reconstruction of the Jewish community. Therefore, Third Isaiah emphasizes the importance of the Jerusalem temple, once destructed but now rebuilt. It also encourages the Jewish. people to recover and reorganize their worship and other religious rites. Through the words of comfort, Third Isaiah tries to console the wound that the Babylonian devastation left on the people. Through the words of warning, it tries to awaken the people to the cause of the disaster and urges them to strive to build a better future. Also, Third Isaiah recognizes the God of Israel as the God of the universe, who maintain and control the world and human history; it eventually proclaims that the whole world will follow the God of Israel as the universal God.
#4. But! Can these messages be really meaningful for those who considered Babylon just as a nation defeated and subjugated by the Assyrian empire? As indicated in the previous post, First Isaiah contains the words of warning that the Assyrian empire will deliver God’s judgment. First Isaiah does not seem to be aware of the eventual fall of Judah brought by the Babylonian Empire. Second Isaiah, however, already prophesizes the restoration of Judah from Babylon, and Third Isaiah deals with the circumstances of the post-exilic Jewish community. If the historical Isaiah prophesized all these words included in 2 and 3 Isaiah, this should mean that Isaiah surely knew the Babylonian destruction of Judah. Then Isaiah should have cried the imminent judgment that God will bring to Judah as hard as possible, just like Jeremiah did. But First Isaiah does not foresee the Babylonian hegemony in the sixth century in the Levant area. It does not seem reasonable to think that the historical Isaiah wrote the entire book of Isaiahp>
#5. Most lay Christians’ primary way of understanding the author of each biblical book is overly simplistic. But, including the book of Isaiah, the actual process of the formation of each text is extraordinarily complex. In fact, it is too complex to decipher the process perfectly. What we know is that the formation of biblical texts is undoubtedly complex. But do we have to precisely understand every step of the formation to grasp the meaning of the Bible? I would say “no.” What I am concerned about, nonetheless, is that ignoring the complexity of the formation of the Bible or teaching that the Bible is actually written by biblical authors accordingly exactly to the dictation of God distorts the history of the formation of the Bible. Then Christians cannot avoid building their faith upon a lie rather than a solid rock. I think this attitude will eventually run into a crisis.
#6. The claim that Isaiah is not responsible for the entire book of Isaiah is not for belittling the authority of the Bible, though most Christians would feel that way. Such a feeling arises because of a groundless belief that every single word in the Bible reveals accurate historical accounts.
#7. We live in an information age. Many sorts of knowledge, which ordinary people rarely or didn’t have access to, are open to the public these days. The knowledge that biblical scholars have produced is not an exception. Younger generation Christians will eventually experience a hard process of deconstruction of their old beliefs, voluntarily and accidentally as they are exposed to the information that will defeat their existing belief systems. Would you want to be defeated? Or would you, on your own, remove biases and be born again?