Chapters 40–66: content and arrangement
The background of chs 40–55 (or for some scholars 40–54 ) is the international situation during the reign of the last Babylonian ruler, Nabonidus (556–539 BCE). It is most likely that the prophetic author was among those deported to Babylon, though a Judean location is also possible.
The centerpiece of chs 40–48 is a prophetic oracle designating the Persian king, Cyrus II (the Great), as the instrument for the repatriation of dispersed Israelites and their reestablishment in the Judean homeland in the hands of the God of Israel, the one, true God and creator of the world. The author confidently predicts the imminent fall of Babylon and attacks Babylonian religious and intellectual traditions.
The note of consolation and hope continues in chs 49–55 , though there are also signs of dissatisfaction, anxiety, and internal tension in the community on whose behalf the prophet is speaking and writing (e.g., in 50.4–11 and 52.13–53.12 , the third and fourth of the “Servant Songs”; see 42.1–4n ).
While the third major segment of the book (chs 56–66 ) has connections with chs 40–55 , and also with chs 1–39 by virtue of its concern with the destiny of Jerusalem, the situation is in several important respects different. These texts seem to focus exclusively on the internal affairs of the community in the early Persian period (late sixth century BCE). The disappointment of expectations aroused by the conquests of Cyrus has led to a resurgence of non‐Yahwistic religious practices ( 57.1–13; 65.1–7; 66.3–4 ) and deep religious, social, and economic divisions within the Judean community (e.g., 56.1–8; 58.1–12; 59.1–8 ). Attention is directed increasingly away from an unsatisfactory present to the projection of a future intervention of God in judgment and salvation, an apocalyptic vision of a purified people and Jerusalem as the religious capital of the world.