Excerpts from Isaiah 40–66 (Eerdmans Critical Commentary) by Shalom M. Paul

Shalom M. Paul is Yehezkel Kaufman Professor Emeritus of Bible at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and chair of the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation.

Shalom M. Paul
Shalom M. Paul

In the following excerpts from his new Eerdmans Critical Commentary volume on Isaiah 40–66, he introduces us to the anonymous prophet commonly known as Second or Deutero-Isaiah — and to the commentary that anonymous prophet’s writings have now inspired.

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From the Preface:

For a score or more years, I have been enchanted by the prophecies in Isaiah 40–66, in which the anonymous prophet comforted and encouraged his people during the last years of the Babylonian exile and the early years of their return to Zion.

In this commentary I have not attempted to review all the possible interpretations of modern exegetes or the plethora of secondary literature. Medieval commentators, who are often overlooked or rarely referred to, are cited when their remarks are significant to the understanding of a verse. The reader is also referred to the comprehensive bibliography at the end of the volume that covers all aspects of this prophetic work. What is unique about this commentary is the exegesis of the Hebrew text with its emphasis on the philological, poetic, literary, linguistic, grammatical, historical, archaeological, ideational, and theological aspects of the prophecies, in which every word, phrase, clause, and verse is examined and explicated, and, in addition, aided by both inner-biblical allusions, influences, and parallels, and extrabiblical sources, primarily from Akkadian and Ugaritic literature. The Septuagint, as well as the Isaiah scrolls from Qumran — especially the complete Isaiah scroll, IQIsaa — are of paramount significance and are adduced when they shed light on the verses or deviate from the Masoretic text.

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From the Introduction: DEUTERO-ISAIAH

The Masoretic book of Isaiah is composed of two distinct sections written by two different authors at different times. The first section (chaps. 1–39, with the possible exceptions of chaps. 34 and 35; see below) was composed by Isaiah ben Amoz of Jerusalem (First or Proto-Isaiah), and the second by an anonymous prophet, referred to as Second or Deutero-Isaiah, whose prophecies (encompassing chaps. 40–66) were added to the opus of his predecessor. The melding of these two works into one book is quite ancient, as is evident from Sir 48:24 (composed ca. 190 BCE): “With inspired power he prophesied the future and consoled the mourners in Zion,” which clearly alludes to both Isa 2:1 and 61:2-3. Moreover, in the large Isaiah scroll discovered in Cave 1 of Khirbet Qumran (1QIsaa), dated to the mid-second century BCE, there is no sign of a separation between the two sections of the book. The present-day accepted division is based on many distinctive features, for example, differences in language (the second half of the book is characterized by Late Postexilic Hebrew and bears signs of Aramaic influence) and ideology, including his concept of universal monotheism, the incomparability and singularity of God, his fierce polemic against idol worship, the eternal covenant of God with the nation, his religious universalism, the future splendor of Jerusalem, and the sui generis idea of the divine servant. Special attention must also be paid to the different historical background reflected in his prophecies that distinguishes him from First Isaiah.

Isaiah 40–66 (ECC)
Isaiah 40–66 (ECC)

First Isaiah prophesied in Jerusalem during the second half of the eighth century BCE, at a time when both the northern kingdom of Judah and the southern kingdom of Israel were still in existence, and when the nation was still in possession of its ancestral land (although the north was indeed destroyed in the latter days of his prophetic career). The monarchs referred to in Isaiah’s prophecies are Uzziah (1:1; 6:1), Jotham (1:1), Ahaz (1:1; 7:1, 3, 10, 12; 38:8), and Hezekiah (1:1; and frequently in chaps. 36–39) — kings of Judah; Pekah son of Remaliah, king of Israel (7:1, 4, 5, 9; 8:6); and Rezin, king of Aram (7:1, 4, 8; 8:6; 9:10)—all of whom rule within this time frame. The Assyrians are the sole enemy mentioned (e.g., 7:17, 20; 8:4, 7; 10:12 [scholars acknowledge the prophecy against Babylon in chap. 13 to be a late addition]), serving as the rod of the divine wrath (10:5). Three of their kings are noted by name — Sargon (20:1), Sennacherib (36:1; 37:17, 21, 37), and Esarhaddon (37:38) — while the Babylonian monarch, Merodach-baladan, is presented in the positive light of a well-wisher, following Hezekiah’s recovery from illness (39:1). The events described in chaps. 1–39 all occurred in this period, for example, the death of Uzziah, king of Judah (chap. 6); the war between Judah and the Syro-Ephraimite alliance (chaps. 7–8); the Assyrian conquest of Ashdod (chap. 20); and, above all, the capture of the Judean cities and the siege against Jerusalem in 701 BCE (chaps. 36–37).

In contrast, Deutero-Isaiah prophesied in the second half of the sixth century BCE, during the final years of the Babylonian exile and the beginning of the return of the exiles to Jerusalem. The kingdom of Israel had ceased to exist many years earlier (720 BCE), and the Judean monarchy had met the same fate in 586 BCE. The cities of Judah, foremost among them Jerusalem, and the Temple were in ruins, while the forlorn Israelites languished in the Babylonian exile. Babylon, itself on the brink of destruction, is depicted as full of sorceries (44:25; 47:9-15), riches (45:3), overweening pride (“I am, and there is none but me”; 47:8, 10), and possessed by an overblown sense of security and selfimportance (47:1, 7, 8). The description of the deportation of its two chief deities — Bel (=Marduk, the head of the Babylonian pantheon) and his son, Nebo (= Nabû, the divine scribe; 46:1-2) — alludes to Babylon’s imminent downfall. In the latter chapters, the prophet describes the domestic scene prevalent in Jerusalem, where pagan practices prevail and a discernible split is evident within the community itself (e.g., chaps. 65–66).

The only foreign monarch who appears in the prophecies of Deutero-Isaiah is Cyrus, king of Persia (559-530 BCE), who is mentioned by name (44:28; 45:1), alluded to explicitly (41:2-3, 25; 43:14; 45:2-6, 13; 46:11; 48:14-15), and referred to as “My shepherd” (44:28), “His anointed one” (45:1), and “the man of My counsel” (46:11). Cyrus appears on history’s stage as a tool of God whose purpose is to free Israel from captivity and perform the divine will of rebuilding the Temple and Jerusalem (44:28). The nation, in turn, is commanded: “Go forth from Babylon! Flee from Chaldea!” (48:20; and cf. 52:11). In contrast to First Isaiah, who predicts the ascension of a Davidic scion in the latter days (11:1-9), Deutero-Isaiah reinterprets these promises of the eternal covenant promised to David as applying to the nation as a whole (55:3-4) — an ideological revolution at odds with most of the historiographical and psalmic literature (e.g., 1 Sam 25:28; 2 Sam 7:4-17; 23:5; 1 Kgs 2:4; 8:23-26; 11:38; Ps 89:25-37; 132:10), as well as the prophetic literature (e.g., Jer 23:5-6; 33:14-18, 19-22, 26; Ezek 34:23- 24; 37:24-25; Hag 2:23).

This bipartite division of the canonical book of Isaiah was first alluded to in Abraham Ibn Ezra’s commentary (where he also quotes the Spanish sage Moshe ben Shemuel HaKohen ben Jaqtila, who lived in Cordoba at the beginning of the eleventh century CE), where he comments several times that chaps. 40ff. are prophecies of consolation delivered to the Babylonian expatriates, that is, to Deutero-Isaiah’s contemporaries:

The first consolations from the second half of the book refer to the Second Temple, according to RabbiMoshe Hakohen, may he rest in peace. And according to my opinion, they all refer to our exile. Nevertheless, issues of the Babylonian exile are spoken of in the book, along with mention of Cyrus, who freed the expatriates. At the end of the book, however, there are references to the future . . . and he who is wise shall understand.
(Ibn Ezra, commentary on 40:1)

Or it is a reference to the Babylonians, and that is correct. . . . Indeed, I have already hinted to you of the secret in the second half of the book. And according to many, the mention of “kings” (in his prophecies) refers, for example, to Cyrus.
(Ibn Ezra on 49:7)

We have already said regarding this prophecy that it refers to the Babylonian exile.
(Ibn Ezra on 52:1)

See also his remarks on, for example, 41:2, 6, 25; 43:14, 16; 44:25; 45:1; 46:11. The distinction between the two parts of the book was rediscovered by J. Ch. Döderlein in 1776 in his Latin commentary to Isaiah and popularized by J. G. Eichhorn in 1783, and since then has become part and parcel of all scholarly research. One reason for combining the two sets of prophecies was their linguistic affinity, which was due to the influence of First Isaiah on this prophet (see below, §14) — though, as will be seen, Deutero-Isaiah was influenced just as much, if not more, by Jeremiah (see below, §15). Another likely motive for the combination of the two prophetic works was the desire to append prophecies of consolation and comfort to the impending exile prophesied in chap. 39. After Israel would serve their term of punishment, they would be redeemed. Compare Ibn Ezra’s comment on 40:1: “This passage [i.e., chap. 40] comes next, since above [39:6-7] it was prophesied that all the king’s treasure and his sons would be exiled to Babylon, and thus there follow prophecies of consolation.” A narrative continuity spanning the three great empires of the ancient Near East — Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia — is thereby established.

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