7 Quick Insights: The Prophet Isaiah

  1.  He lived from 740 BCE to 681 BCE One of the greatest prophets, a contemporary of Hosea, Amos and Micah. His prophecies include the vision of the Merkavah (the divine chariot) and many descriptions of the Messianic Era.  I learned that dating people and events of that era is very problematic.  There is a discrepancy of about 170 years between the traditional Jewish chronology and that of general historians.  We know that the discrepancy comes in during the Persian period. Biblical chronology would appear to make that period much shorter than it actually was. Various attempts have been made to reconcile these chronologies, but serious Jewish historians, even Orthodox ones, have generally come to accept the non Jewish chronology. Thus, the destruction of the First Temple is widely accepted as having occurred in 586 BCE, when Jewish chronology puts it close to 400 BCE.
  2.  Isaiah is read as the Haftorah during the 7 weeks of consolation because his words are so full of hope…
  3.  His words represent more than a “lions share” (over 25%) of the Haftorah selections for  annual reading schedule (because of the hope he speaks, I suppose)
  4.  Many scholars believe the book of Isaiah was written by 3 people, or at least at 3 different stages of Isaiah’s ministry and lifetime, but that the Isaiah of Jerusalem was the primary author or main “voice.”   The traditional Jewish view is that he was the author of the entire book. As British Chief Rabbi Joseph Hertz points out, it would be very strange to have preserved the memory of an author of a more minor prophecy, but to have forgotten the author of some of the most major and magnificent prophecies of the Bible. The reason for critics’ understanding, is that there are three distinct sections of the book. The first is very similar to Jeremiah; prophesies of doom and punishment because of Israel’s disobedience, while holding out hope of a change in direction.The second section seems to be speaking to Israel already in Babylonian exile, predicting an end to that exile; even mentioning Cyrus by name. The third is a vision of the future redemption, culminating in a universal acceptance of G-d and Torah. We can either say that these are three men speaking at different times, or one man who begins with the events of his own time, then speaking of the distant future through the power of prophecy.
  5.  Isaiah’s ministry lasted 86 years, and he was a prophet during the reign of 4 Kings of Judah Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah.  According to Rashi, his ministry officially began “in the year of King Uzziah’s death (Isaiah 6:1) and that the book of Isaiah is not in chronological order.  There is a talmudic tradition that  says Isaiah was a cousin of Uzziah.   The Talmud says King Hezekiah’s son Menasseh (who the Talmud says  murdered Isaiah) Legends of the Jews 4:9 …since Hezekiah married Isaiah’s daughter, the legend goes “he died at the hand of his grandson.”
  1.  The Torah says Isaiah is the son of Amoz, which links him to the Royal family (the line of David); the Talmudic traditions notes him as a cousin of King Uzziah.  The Torah states he has two children in Chapters 7 and 8 of Isaiah, and so therefore he also had a wife.  Scholars also debate whether she was a neb’iah (a prophetess in her own right) or just the wife of a prophet (since the naming of children was done by wives, she obviously had been given a prophetic deposit concerning her sons’ names).  Their two sons, Shear-Yashuv (the small remnant that will return to Me through you) called Immanuel (El is with us), and Maher-shalal-hash-baz because they would stand as a witness against Ahaz. Isaiah 8:14 Rashi says it was Ahaz who locked the synagogues and the study halls, lest the children of the schools study Torah.  He said, “If there are kids, there are no bucks.  If there are no bucks, there are no flocks.  If there are no flocks, there is no Shephard.  I will cause Him to remove His presence.”  The prophet said to him, “No matter how much you bind the testimony and seal the Torah to close it up, so that it shall not be found in Israel, it shall not avail you.  The children in this section (according to Rashi) are also the disciples of Isaiah who are as dear as children to him; they shall be a sign and wonder that the Torah will survive in Israel through them.
  2.  Other events going on in the world during his ministry include:
  • The period of the Greek Dark Ages (1100-600 BCE);
  • According to legend Rome was founded by Romulus and Remus (753 BCE);
  • the Northern Kingdoms fell to Assyria (722 BCE) creating a mixed group of people, commonly referred to as Samaritans.  
  • Assyria eventually falls to Babylon (612 BCE), and Judah eventually falls to Babylon (597 BCE), and the temple is destroyed (586 BCE and during the lifetime of Jeremiah).  Babylon eventually falls to Persia (539 BCE) and under Cyrus’s reign the Temple is rebuilt.  Even though this is 150 years after Isaiah’s lifetime, perhaps he was able to “see” the future redemption and this is the source of his hope and faith.

You can read more in “The Prophets” by Abraham Joshua Heschel http://amzn.to/2xYFbix

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