Isaiah Authorship Discussion – Post I

by hamiltonmj1983

After thinking about how I would approach this discussion (and I do mean discussion, I am really hoping that I will get comments from all different types of opinions), I have decided that I will first lay out the groundwork for the single-author theory as presented by John Oswalt. In the spirit of full disclosure, I disagree with this point of view, so I would very much like those out there who do agree with this view to keep me accountable! I want to present it as fairly as possible, and my goal in this post is not to argue against it, but simply present it (I hope that in your comments, you will make your arguments for and against this view!

John Oswalt makes clear his point of view in his commentary on Isaiah in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament series. I primarily used pages 17-34 and 44-49 to glean his thoughts on authorship, composition, and unity of the book.

The primary, driving force behind Oswalt’s argument is whether or not prophecy is a foretelling of the future, or simply speech that “calls a particular people to faith in God.” Oswalt stands solidly on the former idea, and argues that “[s]urely if there is such a deity, and if he is able to make special knowledge about himself available to his messengers, it is no great feat to make special knowledge about the future available to these messengers.”

The major point that Oswalt wants to get across is that Isaiah calls Israel to worship Yahweh because Yahweh can do something the idols cannot: correctly foretell and manipulate the future. Oswalt then boldly claims that if the prophecies were written after the fact, then the account of Yahweh intervening in history is suspect.

Oswalt also argues that “the most striking argument” for the unity of the composition as a whole is that it currently is a single piece of literature. He goes on to say that the burden of proof is on the person who wishes to disassemble the body of literature into smaller parts. He claims that if the present work was the redaction of at least 3 major works, then explaining how the current single piece of literature came together is very difficult.

Oswalt challenges the “Isaiah school” idea by arguing that, in modern scholarship, very little of the book of Isaiah is attributed to the historical Isaiah. How then, could he possibly have accrued such a following that they would continue to write in his tradition for hundreds of years?

He goes on site R. Margalioth, who argues that the first half of the book and the second half of the book share some features and terminology that is either not used or hardly used elsewhere in the Hebrew bible.

Finally, he argues that the most compelling argument is the thought structure of the book. He argues that the book is linked together with an overarching thought structure that connects it and signifies that one hand controlled the creation of this book. Basically, he argues that in 7-39, the Judeans had “encountered the truth…but they had not acted upon it in a long-term way…[t]he problem was motivation.” Then, in 40-48, he argues that the text explains the proper motivation for trusting God and acting on what was mentioned in 7-39, and that Israel must become a servant, although it could not achieve that goal on its own due to its sinful nature. 49-55 helps us out next, explaining the vision of the Messiah that Oswalt believes was first given in chs. 9 and 11. Through his servanthood, Israel may now be forgiven and the hope of chs. 54-55 may be realized. But not all is said and done; “the realities of human inability and divine ability must find a concrete meeting point,” according to Oswalt. That is the purpose of 56-66.

Oswalt makes very clear that for the purposes of his commentary, “the theological and ideological unity of the book is a primary datum. Other datum, especially those relating to date and authorship, must be considered in light of this datum.” This basically means, as far as I can tell, that he will only interpret the literary and linguistic evidence towards authorship and dating after he has already determined the unity of the book based on theological assumptions.

I hope that this has accurately and honestly portrayed the position of Dr. John Oswalt. If anyone feels that I did not do a good job, please let me know and correct me in the comments! If you agree with this view, let me know why! If you disagree with this view, let me know why! Let us start a conversation, let us be civil, let us be respectful, and let us learn! Next I will attempt to approach Isaiah through the eyes of Brevard Childs, but I hope that before I do that, you will all weigh in on this point of view! What do you think?