Isaiah 40-66: Return and Restoration

In Isaiah 40-66, the prophet(s) built on the theological paradigms of Isaiah ben Amoz (Isaiah 1-39).

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DeuteroIsaiah, or II Isaiah, focuses on the exile to Babylonia, which presented the people of Israel with both theological and physical challenges. The second half of Isaiah speaks to a people despairing at the "loss" of their God, since their relationship with the deity had always presumed an intimate relationship with the land. These chapters, a lifeline to the exiles, are crucial in the development of Jewish theology, and most of the haftarot (synagogue prophetic readings) from Isaiah are drawn from them.

Some modern scholars subscribe to an essential division of the book of Isaiah into two parts:

·        I Isaiah, or the prophecies of Isaiah ben Amoz (chapters 1-39), and

·        II Isaiah or DeuteroIsaiah, beginning at chapter 40, composed some two centuries later.

Some scholars go further and set apart the last portion of the book (Chapters 56-66), calling it III Isaiah or TritoIsaiah.

For fuller detail on medieval and modern observations on the composition and authorship of Isaiah, consult the full text of Dr. Fishbane's article. This article is excerpted from The JPS Bible Commentary: Haftarot, and is reprinted with permission from the Jewish Publication Society.

The Commentators' Puzzle

The Book of Isaiah as a whole (chapters 1‑66) constitutes the first of the three large collections of prophetic books in the received Hebrew Scriptures: Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. The opening superscription to the book dates the Prophetic mission of Isaiah ben Amoz from the reigns of Kings Uzziah and Ahaz, in the mid‑eighth century B.C.E. (Isaiah 1:1). Since Isaiah 40‑66 does not begin with any new chronological reference, the prophecies in the last half of the book were presumably understood by the ancients as part of the predictions of Isaiah ben Amoz.

The abrupt shift in the Isaianic corpus from oracles of doom to themes of consolation (beginning with Isaiah 40) has long drawn the attention of commentators --particularly since the prophecies of exile announced to King Hezekiah (in the first part) refer to the eighth century B.C.E., while the prophecies of return from exile (in the second part) refer to a historical reality two centuries later.

Splitting the Collection

 Isaiah 40‑66 is an ensemble of several units that have been variously subdivided over the centuries.A broad consensus of scholarly opinion distinguishes three parts:

 Part I, chapters 40‑48, is a collection of prophecies of comfort emphasizing an imminent redemption; these oracles arc addressed to the Babylonian exiles (called Jacob or Israel) and highlight the power of God as the creator of the universe and the fulfiller of prophecies.

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Michael Fishbane

Michael Fishbane is the Nathan Cummings professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Chicago. His research spans the spectrum of biblical and Jewish studies and he has written numerous books in Jewish Studies.