Dating Isaiah 40-66: What Does the Linguistic Evidence Say? -- By: Mark F. Rooker

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 58:2 (Fall 1996)
Article: Dating Isaiah 40-66: What Does the Linguistic Evidence Say?
Author: Mark F. Rooker

Dating Isaiah 40-66: What Does the Linguistic Evidence Say?

Mark F. Rooker

[An earlier draft of this paper was presented at the Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Society in Kansas City, November, 1991.]

Christopher Seitz of Yale Divinity School has recently stated that the division of the book of Isaiah into two or three Isaiahs is “in many ways the greatest historical consensus of the modern period.”1 It is certainly true that most critical scholars have taken this to be axiomatic arguing that Isaiah 40–66 was composed in the exilic period or the post-exilic times. The major reasons offered in favor of the late dating for Isaiah 40–66 are: (1) The references to Judah as ruined and deserted with the temple destroyed (e.g., 44:26b; 58:12; 61:4; 63:18; 64:10f), (2) The difference of language and style between chapters 1–39 and 40–66, (3) The advanced theological ideas in chapters 40–66, and (4) the occurrence of the name Cyrus (Isa 44:28; 45:1).2

Many conservatives, on the other hand, have rejected the division of Isaiah and argued for the eighth century provenance of Isaiah 40–66, during the lifetime of Isaiah the prophet. Arguments for the early date include: (1) The references to the widespread practice of idolatry (which was eradicated in the exilic and post-exilic period), (2) The apparent Palestinian setting of the geographical and topographical references (44:14; 41:19), (3) The unlikelihood that the esteemed author of chapters 40–66 would forever remain anonymous, and (4) New Testament passages that explicitly refer to texts from Isaiah 40–66 as coming from the prophet Isaiah.3

But what can be gleaned from the study of linguistic evidence, especially the diachronic study of the Hebrew language which has proven itself to be trustworthy and objective in dating Biblical texts?

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