Part I – Who Was Isaiah?

Twenty-two copies of the Book of Isaiah were found in the collection we know as the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in caves near Qumran, on the northern shores of the Dead Sea, in 1947 and afterwards. One of the copies (catalogued as 1QIsaª) is virtually complete, matching the standard text of the Hebrew Bible we have today, with small variations in spelling and orthography, and some small damage for pieces of the scroll broken off over time.

This reproduction offered by Biblical Reproductions, is from another manuscript of the book, found in Cave number 4 of Qumran, and contains portions of Chapters 22 and 23 of the book. These scrolls are the oldest pieces of the Bible text ever discovered.

But who was Isaiah?  Was he one man or more than one?

In fact, there seem to have been three prophets, all called Isaiah. The King James version, and all of the other translations of the Hebrew Bible ever made, are identical in content, although not in precise wording.  There is only one book called Isaiah.  But the (almost) universally held scholarly opinion is that two, or perhaps three, different hands wrote it.

Chapters 1-39 is called by the scholars “First Isaiah” and was written in Jerusalem at the time the Assyrians—having  just destroyed Samaria—were besieging the city, about 720-710 BCE.  Nevertheless, there is nearly universal scholarly agreement that parts of this block of text are unconnected, and pieces added in later.  Thus chapters 36-39 are largely prose accounts of Judean history taken from 2 Kings 18-20; and Chapters 24-27, an apocalyptic vision, should be
dated to the post-exilic period. The second writer—called “Deutero-Isaiah” in the scholarly literature—starts his prophecy at chapter 40 (“Comfort ye…”) and was written by someone in Babylonia after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. Chapters 56 to 66, called Third (or Trito)-Isaiah, are stylistically the same as the previous block of Deutero-Isaiah. The writer may even have been the same person, or a student or disciple of his, but the context is different.  These last ten chapters are addressed to an audience living again in Judah after the return from exile, and the book seeks to encourage them in their hardship of rebuilding while condemning them for reverting to pagan practices.

The authorship of Isaiah is still a matter of some scholarly debate. The Book of Isaiah, however, was found in exactly its present form in the Dead Sea Scrolls, which means the work was assumed by the rabbis to be of one hand as far back as the first century CE, or even earlier.

The reproduction of the Isaiah scroll presented here at, contains both historical data and a prophetic vision. Biblical Reproductions is licensed by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Author: Walter Zanger