Isaiah 6 is written with a mixture of prose and verse, detailing the calling, or commission, of Isaiah by the Lord God. Much of the verse is written in the style of a vision, detailing message to the people of Judea. The main theme running through Isaiah is the message of salvation, even the name of the prophet means ‘salvation of Yahweh’. The book is first of the ‘major prophets’, so called due to its greater length than the shorter ‘minor prophets’ or ‘twelve prophets’. In the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible and in all other English Bibles, the book follows on from the Song of Solomon or Song of Songs. However in the Hebrew Bible, it is seen after 2 Kings, which A.S. Herbert states is ‘a more natural order since this prophet [Isaiah] was deeply involved in the historical events of his day’ and gave a ‘distinctive interpretation of these events’ (1973:1). The genre of the book is mainly of a prophetic nature, with a mixture of oracles, prophesies and reports of the situation in Judah; however it does deviate from this, most notably in chapter 13, where it takes the form of a supposed psalm. This book is written at a time of great strife for the region of Israel. The region has split into two kingdoms, the Assyrian empire is closing in around them and the death of Jeroboam II of Israel (745 BC) and the death Uzziah of Judah (742) ended a time of peace, security and prosperity for both states. Soon after Jeroboams death, civil war broke out in Israel and in 721 BC the Assyrian armies completely subjugated the kingdom. So, we can see that Isaiah is writing in a time of great conflict and insecurity, which increased throughout his prophetic life, ending in the unavoidable conquering of the small Judean kingdom by the Assyrian empire.
It is not easy to trace who Isaiah actually was and when he lived, however the general consensus is that he started his ministry around the death of King Uzziah in 742 BC, where he is thought to be around the age of 20. However, the date of his birth is unknown, along with the date of his death, which is thought to be cc. 680 BC, making the prophet well into his 70’s or 80’s before he stops his ministry. We can justify that he certainly ministered during the reign of four Judean kings, Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, as found in Chapter 1 verse1 (Watts 1985:XXV). Clements, however, questions the validity of the first chapter in Isaiah as it seems certain that it has been ‘composed at a relatively late stage in the literary growth of the book’ (Clements 1980:8). It has been speculated that Isaiah may have been related to the royal blood line, most notably Manasseh, who, tradition dictates, martyred Isaiah by sawing him in two (Heb. 11:37). However, this is hardly convincing as many prophets where martyred by Kings and rulers and there is no real evidence to suggest any relationship between Isaiah and Manasseh other than that Isaiah may have still been ministering around the time of Manasseh’s reign.
Another problem with dating this book is the question of the authorship. During the time that the books in both the Old and New Testaments were written, it was not uncommon for disciples and students of teachers and prophets to publish works in their tutors name, or to continue a teachers works. Therefore, it is unclear how many authors the book of Isaiah has. Both Watts and Clements maintain the view that Isaiah 40 – 66 are the works of followers of Isaiah during the exile and restoration periods, with Clements stating that the work of J.C. Doederlien in 1775, which argued the above point, has ‘come to be the prevalent consensus of scholarships’ (Clements 1980:2).
The text will have been originally written in Hebrew, the oldest surviving copy being part of a collection found in the Qumran Caves, the dead sea scrolls, dating back to around 125 BC. Although there are not many major translation errors, we don’t have the original scroll from over 600 years...