Two Isaiahs, Or One? -- By: William Henry Cobb

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 038:150 (Apr 1881)
Article: Two Isaiahs, Or One?
Author: William Henry Cobb


Two Isaiahs, Or One?

Rev. William Henry Cobb

The subject of the unity of the Book of Isaiah may be discussed as a purely philological question. One of the advantages of this method is that it brings the controversy to an arena common to all parties. There exists at present, as is well known, a radical disagreement among biblical scholars as to the authorship of chapters 40–65. (to say nothing of certain portions in chapters 1–39.); and it cannot be doubted that much ammunition has been wasted on either side by the failure of the parties to come to a decisive action in this common arena. When, for example, a Christian believer takes the ground that inasmuch as the New Testament ascribes to Isaiah passages from the disputed chapters, he will defend the integrity of the book at all hazards, it is plain that the “mere critic” can never dislodge him from that position. He has intrenched himself behind a rampart which (from the stand-point of philology simply) would be called a theological bias. When, on the other hand, an unbeliever asserts a priori that it is impossible for a writer who died one hundred and fifty years before the Babylonian captivity to have made that period his present,

and sustained the assumed part with entire verisimilitude, through twenty-seven chapters of prophecy, this unbeliever is perfectly secure behind his anti-theological bias. Philology may present evidence, in the case before us, favoring either the unity or diversity of authorship; but philology deals with probabilities, and her weapons are not strong enough to carry either of the opposing fortresses. Each army stands on impregnable ground, and so neither can conquer the other. The present Article does not propose to compare the respective strength of these intrenchments, but (after the manner of the so-called later Isaiah) to invite all parties to the open field for a trial of arms. Whether the two main portions of what we now call the Book of Isaiah so resemble each other in language and style as to indicate” that they came from the same hand, or so differ as to point to the contrary conclusion, is a matter to be discussed with as little solicitude for consequences as though it were a question in Sanscrit or Norse literature. When, however, we speak of an investigation in point of language and style, we are coupling a simple subject with a very complex one. Men of excellent judgment and undoubted candor differ so radically on questions of style that as soon as a comparison on this basis between the first and second Isaiah is suggested we find them fortifying again. All agree, it is true, that there are great differences of style between the last...

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