On Second Isaiah

Such a can of worms I’ve opened, at such a busy time for everyone! Chris at Higgaion [defunct blog] brings up some good points concerning my critique of dating “Second Isaiah” to the sixth century. Of course, I am unrepentant, and not so easily turned aside. As I mentioned in my earlier post, it was a superficial treatment of some work I’d been doing on Isaiah, not detailed, and so with only that input, and if that were all I had in my hand, I’d agree with Chris that it’s not likely. But, I think perhaps, as Chris said himself, “Kevin is onto something important here.”

In response to Chris’ points however, I have a few of my own:
1.) What is the basis of the assumption that only the exile of Judahites by Babylonians is the possible context for any texts dealing with exilic subjects? Both Israel and Judah experienced much more massive deportations at the hand of the Assyrians in the late eighth and early seventh centuries, and some of those deportees, as in the case of others from the campaigns in the west, will have certainly ended up in Babylon and other southern Mesopotamian cities. In fact, we know of some who ended up in Elamite border cities. Both Israel and Judah are mentioned throughout Isaiah (claiming that “Israel” really refers to only the remnant of “Judah” is special pleading) in contexts of exiles, reassuring them, and so on. Would a prophet like Isaiah working precisely at the time of the fall of the Northern Kingdom actually have ignored that and the fate of its exiled people? Obviously not, though it is part of, for lack of a better term, academic orthodoxy to treat every reference to an exile to the Babylonian Exile of 586.

2.) A local Babylonian ruler, as “Judah’s erstwhile ally” in the person of Marduk-apla-iddina/Merodach-baladan was gone by 703, and Isaiah certainly displays a negative opinion of the Sealand/Chaldea/Babylon (ch 21). Regardless, the Assyrians, except for briefly installed Chaldean rulers between the years of about 700-689, ruled the city before and after that until Nineveh fell. The Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian dynasty had not yet been established, of course. Similarly, Elamite and Median behavior toward Babylon was never a set piece. For instance, in 693, the Elamite Hallushu-Inshushinak occupied Babylon, which is only four years prior to the destruction of the city, and which undoubtedly contributed to its destruction. And while Elam and Babylon were allies in the later seventh century, they were not always so earlier in the century. See the intricacies of this period as covered in CAH III pt 2, especially regarding the occasionally duplicitous Elamites.

3.) I wouldn’t deny some minor tinkering with the text of Isaiah from later, especially elaboration on the Cyrus passages, OBVIOUSLY. But I will strongly deny that the entirety of Isaiah 40-66 MUST somehow be associated with some later time than the late eighth and early seventh centuries. Aside from portions of chapters 44-45, certainly not the entirety of 40-55, there’s really very little that requires that later date, and very little throughout the rest of the book as well. And it is certainly likely that the unusual presence of this name Cyrus I, originally intended to represent only the grandfather and the positive example/potential of his resistance to the Assyrians, would later be reworked to include the much more spectacular and well-known events in the career of Cyrus II. This redaction is not terrifically intrusive, either, consisting of block additions of material.

There is potential here to open up a wider understanding, as I noted in my earlier post, not just of Isaiah, but of all the other pre-exilic and exilic prophets’ particular expectations or reflections on the destruction of Babylon in 689, its rebuilding beginning with Esarhaddon, and subsequent magnificence under Nebuchadnezzar. The city was under Assyrian control for just about the same amount of time it was under the Neo-Babylonians, roughly 70 years, during les than ten of which it was a deserted, flooded ruin. Now, I think it incumbent upon anyone who requires all Biblical mention of Babylon or exile to prove that every such must be in reference to only the Neo-Babylonian exile of only Judahites to Babylon. Such, I believe, is an academic canard, dating from those simple days when that was the only exile of Judahites that scholars knew about, and while they still adhered to the “Lost Ten Tribes” theory of the utter depopulation of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and its complete and utter replacement by foreigners, and had the image of little or no contact between exiled populations and their former homelands. All of these are known, through documentary finds, to be false ideas. This is an inertia that is particular to Biblical Studies. Here’s an experiment: pick up two history books from around 1930, one on Mesopotamia and one on Israel. Then compare them with similar books from 2000. Seventy years, a nice Biblical number! Compare the kinds of completely sweeping changes that have taken place over those years in writing Mesopotamian history. And look at the relatively few changes that one will find in critical Biblical Studies. It’s outrageous. It’s precisely the input on issues like the complications of the last century of the Neo-Assyrian Empire’s history that has been enlightened through the publication of texts from the 1930s and onward. Biblical Studies needs to catch up.

But that’s enough for now, I think.


  1. Hello,

    You make some good points about alternative exiles and I would argue that the case against an exilic setting for Isaiah 40-48 is stronger; the deportation by the Assyrians to Babylonia of Judahites in 701 is the background the return of such deportees encouraged and prophesied in Isaiah 40-48. It is shocking that scholars have not explored this setting for Isaiah 40-48.


  2. Exactly, Andrew! It can also be argued that the exile of 701 was much more of a shock to Judah, which went from regional superpower to one city and a few villages almost overnight. The Assyrians established a garrison and palace at Ramat Rachel, and likely some of those newly built and very effective walls of Hezekiah’s were broken down, this latter being a common requirement of the Assyrians. From suzerainty to subjection is so short a time must’ve had a great impact on the national mood, and this is seen in Isaiah.

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