Isaiah - Introduction
The book of Isaiah in its current form was written and assembled over the course of several centuries. This process began in the eighth century BCE, with the collection of the prophecies of Isaiah son of Amoz, who was active in the Southern Kingdom of Judah during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah ( 1.1 ). It was completed no later than the second century BCE, since a complete Isaiah scroll dating from that time has been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran (1QIsaa), and the Septuagint (LXX), the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures from around the same time, contains the complete book as we know it. The author of Sirach, who wrote in the early second century BCE as well, was familiar with chs 36–39 and 40–55 (Sir 48.22–25 ), showing that a version of Isaiah containing at least these sections was in general circulation by then.
There is no record of the editing and compiling process that the book of Isaiah went through, but there are explanations for the characteristics of the text as it now stands. The most obvious of these characteristics, and the first one to be noticed, is the division after chs 1–39 , which refer mostly to events of the eighth century BCE. Chs 40–66 cannot be earlier than the sixth century, since they clearly address a situation reflecting the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BCE and the deportations of large parts of the population of Judah to Babylon. Within chs 40–66 , moreover, chs 56–66 (or possibly 55–66 ) may date from an even later period, after the return of some of the people from the Babylonian exile in 538 BCE. These three divisions of the book are usually labeled First, Second, and Third Isaiah. In addition, chs 1–39 are also composed of smaller units dating from a variety of times (see below and the commentary). But it is important to look beyond these divisions of the book for structural and thematic interconnection between different parts, such as its first and last chapters. These interconnections make clear that the book of Isaiah reached its present form not as the result of a haphazard accumulation of different kinds of material, but as the outcome of a cumulative series of interpretations that reapplied and expanded older writings to meet the needs of later periods and situations.