Eighth Century Israelitish Background of Isaiah 40-66 -- By: J. Barton Payne

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 29:2 (May 1967)
Article: Eighth Century Israelitish Background of Isaiah 40-66
Author: J. Barton Payne

Eighth Century Israelitish Background
of Isaiah 40-66

J. Barton Payne

Does Isaiah 40–66 reflect the Israelitish situation in Judah at the close of the eighth century, or that in Babylonia at the close of the exile over 150 years later? Since Biblical prophets speak predominantly to their own times, the locale of this latter part of Isaiah bears directly on its authenticity as a product of the historical prophet Isaiah, to which authenticity, let it be noted, the New Testament is itself committed (John 12:38–41, Rom 10:20). E. J. Young has stated explicitly that “the most formidable argument which must be faced by the defenders of the unity of the book is the one which maintains that the background of chapters 40–66 is Babylonian and not that of the eighth century B.C.”.1 The truth of his assertion, moreover, is illustrated by the following quotation from Clyde T. Francisco. For after capitalizing on the admission by many conservatives2 of such an exilic situation, he then proposes this question:

Both sides agree that the prophetical voice in chapters 40–66 speaks from the point of view of the Exile. Does this voice proceed from a flesh-and-blood prophet who himself has experienced the misfortunes of banishment from the homeland or from the eighth-century Isaiah as a work of imagination? The analogy of other prophecies would indicate that it is an actual prophet speaking to an audience of contemporaries.3

Evangelicals will of course appreciate Francisco’s zeal for the prophet’s being actual; but do all agree that the background is Babylonian and that Daniel and Zerubbabel should be taken as “Isaiah’s” contemporaries? It is the contention of the following study that such an admission is neither necessary nor appropriate.

The study commences with a sketch of the eighth century situation. Emphasis is laid on those portions of Isaiah’s book that fall immediately prior to chapter 40, on the nature, that is, of Isaiah’s ministry just before and during Sennacherib’s attack upon Hezekiah in 701 B.C.4 The content of chapters 40–66 is then evaluated in the light of this background. Statistical conclusions follow.

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