Geo-Political Introduction

The Writer Of Isaiah

It is commonly agreed that the writer of the Book of Isaiah is the 8th century BCE Jewish prophet who gave his name to the Book of Isaiah.
Thus, the true relationship between the Book of Isaiah and the historical writer is not straightforward. The prominent theory holds the following view:

The Book of Isaiah is seen as being two different books, or two main parts of the same book. The first half of the book (chapters 1–39) is considered to be generally written by the prophet Isaiah.

The second half of the book is seen as dating from immediately before the exile in Babylon till immediately after the end of this exile, which means almost two centuries (200 years) after the time of the original prophet.

But even within the first half of the book, the original poetic text written by the prophet is seen to be ‘interspersed with prose commentaries written in the time of King Josiah a hundred years later’.

Still, Jews and Christians alike, do consider the Book of Isaiah as part of the Biblical canon.

1-Name: US /aɪˈzeɪ.ə/ or UK /aɪˈzaɪ.ə/;[2] Hebrew: יְשַׁעְיָהוּ, Modern Yeshayahu, Tiberian Yəšạʻyā́hû; Syriac: ܐܹܫܲܥܝܵܐ ˀēšˁyā; Greek: Ἠσαΐας, Ēsaïās; Arabic: إشعيا Ishiya;[1] “Yah is salvation” or God is the salvation
We notice that Isaiah, which probably was a very common name in Hebrew culture, is also a meaningful phrase which was coincidently very relevant to the context of the book:  ‘God is salvation’. Therefore,  this name is more suited to be a title than a writer’s name; since God’s mission in the whole of the book was to save the house of Judas in one way or another.

2-Date of Birth: Isaiah is thought to have lived between c. 740-681 BC but he was definitely born well before 740BC.
We know this, because King Ahaz of Judah (Judea), was pressured in 733 BC by the Israelite king to join forces against Assyria, but instead, Ahaz sought to unite with their enemy. Isaiah was involved in the king’s dilemma and the decision making (Isaiah 7:1). This means that Isaiah was already an adult and a prophet in 733BC. We can guess that he was at least 30 years of age (because he had a grown-up son who he has taken with him to speak to Ahaz). However, he could have been a lot older than that.

It is generally thought that Isaiah must have begun his time as a prophet a few years before Uzziah’s death. However, we can see that in Chapter 6, Isaiah said that he received his ministry, or his call to become a prophet, in the year Uzziah died, (King Ahaz was already a co-regent), which is about 740/739 BC

Therefore, it is more probable that Isaiah was born in 760 BC or before.

3- It is also generally believed that Isaiah lived for 14 years after Hezekiah’s reign began. Archaeologist Edwin Thiele has concluded that the reign of this king might have begun c. 715 BC or before. So, this might place the death of Isaiah on c. 701 BC or before at the age of approximately 59 years.

4-Place of birth and life: Although the Bible does not mention where was Isaiah born, it is clear that he lived in Jerusalem not far from the king’s dwellings (2 Kings 16:2).

5-Background

a- His link to the house of Jacob: According to ancient rabbis, Isaiah was linked to the first ancestry Judas; son of Jacob from Tamar (the seemingly cursed daughter in law who tricked Judas into getting her pregnant with the family heir). Ref: Sotah 10b.

 

b- His link to the house of King Joash: The Talmud tractate Megillah (15a) states that Isaiah’s father (Amoz) was a prophet and the brother of King Amaziah. This entails that Isaiah was the nephew of King Amaziah of Judah; which seems to be very unlikely since there is no mention of this in the Bible.

Besides, no one knows for sure who is Amoz; the father of Isaiah. However, in my opinion, Isaiah’s link to King Joash could be through his cousin Zechariah more than anything else since both Zechariah and his father Jehoiada were priests. So, Isaiah could well be a great cousin of King Joash, and a three four or five times removed cousin to King Ahaz.

 

c-Isaiah’s immediate parent: There is no direct or indirect biblical indication of the father Amos, separately from Isaiah. All that we know about the father ‘Amos’ is based on his name being associated with Isaiah’s name in three places in the book: three times in the book we are told he was the son of Amos, or Ben Amos (1:1, 2:1, 13:1).

-C1- The interpretations of the Jewish tradition: Apparently, there are two interpretations of this in the Jewish tradition:

* Isaiah was the son Amos who happened to be the brother of King Amaziah. However, there is no reference to the existence of the brother of King Amaziah anywhere in scriptures (to my knowledge)!
* Isaiah was the son of the prophet Amos. Amos (/ˈeɪməs/; Hebrew: עָמוֹס, Modern Amos, Tiberian ʻāmōs) was one of the Twelve Minor Prophets. An older contemporary of Hosea and Isaiah, Amos was living in Israel in c. 750 BC during the reign of Jeroboam II, (786–746 BC), and King Uzziah in Judea (783 – 742 BC). Since Isaiah is estimated to be born around 760 BC, this makes the fathering of Amos to Isaiah very plausible.

The prophet Amos was also from the southern Kingdom of Judah but preached in the northern Kingdom of Israel. Before becoming a prophet, it is said that he was a sheep herder and a sycamore fig farmer (7:14). Despite being from the southern kingdom of Judah, Amos’ prophetic message was aimed at the Northern Kingdom of Israel, particularly the cities of Samaria and Bethel. Amos felt called to preach in Bethel, where there was a royal sanctuary (vii. 13), and there to announce the fall of the reigning dynasty and of the Northern Kingdom. But he is denounced by the head priest Amaziah to King Jeroboam II and is advised to leave the kingdom. There is no reason to doubt that he was actually forced to leave the Northern Kingdom and to return to his native country.

This makes his fathering and even parenting of Isaiah possible, as the latter lived in Judea, and namely in Jerusalem when he ministered to the king (2 Kings 16:2).

If in spite of the possibility of being the prophet Amos’ son, Isaiah was not, then it is highly possible that such a relationship was declared in order to emphasise the spiritual connection and continuation between the two prophets and their books.
(see how the word ‘amos’ is used in sentences, in the last page of the introduction)

Background Conclusion: Looking at Isaiah’s background, the Bible only mentions Isaiah’s father’s first name: Amos = עמוס

The most common meaning for the word (amos) and the words deriving from it, is ‘carried’, ‘laid’, ‘put’. Let’s see how it was often used in scripture(2) (see example underneath)

The phrase ‘son of’ occurring in the Book of Isaiah three times, does not have to refer to the name of a ‘father’. Traditionally in the Middle East, the use of the phrase (son of/ daughter of) is met by its counterpart (the father of/ the mother of). All of these phrases do not have to refer to a family relationship of any kind. They are often used as nicknames (like the short name Dick for Richard) for people who you may not want to confuse with someone else in the neighbourhood. They can also be used as a love and tease nickname even for someone who is single and who is therefore still childless, to be called the father of this or that. In this sense, it can be used as a positive omen for a single man, whose mother is hoping to see his offspring (heir) in the near future, as it can be used to call a barren woman or man whose neighbours or family members wish that they become fruitful.

With regard to the phrase ‘son/daughter of so and so’, this becomes more descriptive of the nature of the person him/herself or what they are associated with. In this case, Isaiah could just be known of ‘Isaiah son of Amos’, referring to the laden nature of men in general, the same way that Jesus was known to be the ‘son of man’ or at times the ‘Son of God’.

6-Family Life:

A-  Wife: According to some interpretations Isaiah was married, and his wife was called “the Prophetess” (Isaiah 8:3). However, none of these studies is certain if this was her real name, an honorary name or a mere description. Also, if it was the latter, the studies are not sure if this description was given to her because of her endowment of the gift of prophecy or because her husband was a prophet, (Isaiah 38:1) like in the case of a king’s wife who is called a Queen automatically, or like Deborah in Judges 4:4 and Huldah in 2 Kings 22:14–20.

Nevertheless, according to traditional Christian views, ‘the prophetess’ was a reference not to Isaiah’s wife but to the Theotokos.
B- Children: So, in Isaiah 7:3, we read: “Then the Lord said to me: Take your son Shearjashub[b] and go see King Ahaz. You will find him on the road near the cloth makers’ shops at the end of the canal that brings water from the upper pool.
The only reason to doubt that this is a genuine reference to his life and that it might be a symbol, the fact that the name She’ar-Ya’shuv in Hebrew means ‘a few will return’ or ‘A remnant shall return’, which sounds like something that had to do with the prophecy he was about to give.
Then again in Isaiah 8:3, we read: ‘Then I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said to me, “Call his name Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz;”

Now, these children could well be real children whose names were chosen by God to become a living testimony for the prophecies He commissioned Isaiah to release to the people.
Or, as the traditional Christian view would have us see; these children were only symbols for something bigger. The ‘prophetess’ herself, was a reference not to Isaiah’s wife but to the Theotokos and the names given in reference to Christ, with the verse then being seen as a prophecy of the Incarnation.


Family Life Conclusion:
The mention of the first son was in Isaiah 7:3  “Then the Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out now to meet Ahaz, you and [a]Shear-Jashub your son, at the end of the aqueduct from the upper pool, on the highway to the Fuller’s Field,”
Footnote: Shear-Jashub means A remnant shall return.
The mention of the wife and the younger son:
Isaiah 8:1-4

Moreover the Lord said to me, “Take a large scroll, and write on it with a man’s pen concerning [a]Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. And I will take for Myself faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah.”

Then I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said to me, “Call his name Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz; for before the child [b]shall have knowledge to cry ‘My father’ and ‘My mother,’ the riches of Damascus and the [c]spoil of Samaria will be taken away before the king of Assyria.

 

There are two possibilities in the interpretation of the family of Isaiah.

+The first possibility: The information we have about the wife and two children is historically accurate albeit them being a living prophecy for what is to come.  This entails that Isaiah was called to use his children’s names and his own life circumstances (like conceiving his younger son), as a living testimony to the will of God and a prophecy on what is to come, which is the future of the house of Judas and the coming of the Messiah.

+The second possibility: All the information provided about Isaiah is a parable reflecting the message of God.  An example of this is that the traditional Christian views themselves considered the Prophetess to be a symbolic reference to the Theotokos because her involvement in chapter 8 was very significant to the nature of the prophecy itself.

 

Conclusion:

In the book of Isaiah, we find no substantial reference about the so-called author’s life as a person or about his background. We also notice that all the information we know about Isaiah is a striking revelation of his prophecies.  This means that each piece of information could be used metaphorically to describe his mission as a prophet and to further explain his prophecies.

Therefore, if the fact that everything we know about Isaiah was symbolic and none of it has actually taken place literally, then the following questions will present themselves: what is the extent and limit of symbolism in Isaiah?  Is there anything else in Isaiah that could only be read as an analogy rather than a historical fact?  Is the author’s name itself real? Was the first part of the book of Isaiah written (physically) on the time of king Ahaz the son of Jotham, or was it in fact, the Holy Spirit recounting the events to someone who lived a hundred year later in Babylon?

Although it may seem far-fetched, the second possibility respects more the nature of the style of the text and limits the feeling of superficiality and the lack of spontaneity of the actions.  When the events are regarded as humanly physical, confusion quickly limits our insight. For example, why God wanted the older son; Shear-Jashub to accompany Isaiah whereas we can’t see him talking or doing anything afterwards? What is the point in mentioning him even if he did actually go? Why did Isaiah want to tell us (the readers) that the actual lovemaking with the prophetess was connected to the prophecy even before the conception took place?

2 And I will get reliable witnesses, Uriah the priest and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah, to attest for me.”
3 And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said to me, “Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz;”  We can see that the “and” connective indicates the continuation of a list of actions that were triggered by the main stimulus, which is in this context, God’s instructions.

However, the only details that confirm that Isaiah was, in fact, a prophet rather than the Holy Spirit himself, is in the following verses:

Isaiah 1: 1 The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz (etc)”

Having a vision is a part of being a human and having a special relationship with God.  So, Isaiah may indeed be a real person; a prophet. However, one may ask: who was introducing the book to the reader?  Who was the true author of verse 1? This author clearly didn’t belong to the same historical period as Isaiah because of the way s/he referred to that “in the days of Uzziah, Jothan, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah”.  How did this author find the book of Isaiah?  Was it a written manuscript he found or was it a verbal narration?  And if it’s the latter; who had narrated the whole book to the writer perhaps hundred years after the events that took place in the book?  Was the narrator of the first verse the same as the one who recounted the events of the book of Genesis to Moses?

(1)

And now, my father laid (amis) a heavy yoke on you, but I add to your yoke; my father flogged you with whips, but I, I flog you with scourges!” –1Ki 12:11

And they tore their garments, and each man loaded (Amas) his donkey and went back to the city.” –Gen 44:13

In those days I saw in Yehudah those treading wine presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and loading (amasim) donkeys with wine, grapes, and figs, and all kinds of burdens, which they brought into Yerushalayim on the Sabbath day. So I warned them on the day they sold food.” –Neh 13:15

Listen to Me, O house of Yaaqob, and all the remnant of the house of Yisrael, who are borne (amasym) from the belly, who are carried from the womb. –Isa 46:3

Bel has bowed down, Nebeo is stooping, their idols were on the beasts and on the cattle. That which is carried is burdensome (Amusot), a burden to the weary.” –Isa 46:1

Bel has bowed down, Nebeo is stooping, their idols were on the beasts and on the cattle. That which is carried is burdensome (Amusot), a burden to the weary.” –Isa 46:1