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The OT Prophet Isaiah lived in the 8th-century BC. Cyrus, the Emperor of Persia, lived well over one hundred years later: Cyrus (580-529 BC) was the first Achaemenid Emperor. Yet The Book of Isaiah in Chapters 44 and 45 speaks of Cyrus in no uncertain terms:

Isaiah 44-28

Who is saying of Cyrus, My shepherd, And all my delight He doth perfect, So as to say of Jerusalem, Thou art built, And of the temple, Thou art founded.

Isaiah 45-1

Thus said Jehovah, To His anointed, to Cyrus, Whose right hand I have laid hold on, To subdue nations before him, Yea, loins of kings I loose, To open before him two-leaved doors, Yea, gates are not shut:

If this is so, it's a miracle.

However, it is possible that the book of Isaiah is simply written after the event and written in a way that make it look as if it could predict prophecy. How do we know which one is right?

Note: I used Young Literal Translation because it transliterate YHWH into Yehovah where all other translation seems to take more "liberty". To me, it's much less confusing.

If there are significant differences that may change the meaning, I'll consider all translations.

Note2: In Christian world, this sort of "I told you so" fulfillment lead to disputes of when a text is actually written. For example, Christian gospel "may" have predicted fall of Jerusalem before 70 AD. This causes a dispute over when the Gospel was actually written. See: Who says Jesus couldnt predict the fall of Jerusalem

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"If this were true, then it's a miracle." No. It is a prophecy, and if we are working within the biblical context, the Bible is replete with prophecies that were fulfilled. – user2590 Sep 25 '13 at 4:26
It is not a prophesy as it was written in the past tense. Cross posted at judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/31318/… and skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/17871/… – Henry Sep 25 '13 at 18:31
@Henry - tense has nothing to do with it. Prophetic visions transcend boundaries of time, space and tense. A prophet when enveloped by the spirit of prophecy ascends to a different plane of reality where past merges with future, and heaven merges with earth. Also note that I specified "within the biblical context," meaning the traditional view that the entire book was written by Isaiah. – user2590 Oct 7 '13 at 3:54
@Coelacanth: The traditional view is that sections were added to the book of Isaiah later. That is why Isaiah's name does not appear after chapter 39. Some later readers may have decided otherwise, but such interpretations are not more in the biblical context than the 19th century revival of the Flat Earth theory. – Henry Oct 7 '13 at 8:54
up vote 10 down vote accepted

The earliest manuscript we have of the Book of Isaiah is The Great Isaiah Scroll:

The Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaa) is one of the original seven Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in Qumran in 1947. It is the largest (734 cm) and best preserved of all the biblical scrolls, and the only one that is almost complete. The 54 columns contain all 66 chapters of the Hebrew version of the biblical Book of Isaiah. Dating from ca. 125 BCE, it is also one of the oldest of the Dead Sea Scrolls, some one thousand years older than the oldest manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible known to us before the scrolls' discovery.

So our oldest extant copy of Isaiah dates to a much later period than that of Cyrus.

More directly regarding the question at hand:


Modern scholarship considers the Book of Isaiah to be an anthology, the two principal compositions of which are the Book of Isaiah proper (chapters 1-39, with some exceptions), containing the words of the prophet Isaiah himself, dating from the time of the First Temple, around 700 BCE, and Second Isaiah (Deutero-Isaiah, chapters 40-66), comprising the words of an anonymous prophet, who lived some one hundred and fifty years later, around the time of the Babylonian exile and the restoration of the Temple in the Persian Period. By the time our Isaiah Scroll was copied (the last third of the second century BCE), the book was already regarded as a single composition.

If so, no miracles or prophecies are required to explain the mention of Cyrus in the Book of Isaiah: Chapter 45, where his name is mentioned, was originally written during the time of Cyrus's rule.

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Your anthology point is key here. Indeed many think there were three parts, chapters 1-39, 40-55, and 56-65, written at different times and probably by different people. – Henry Sep 25 '13 at 18:35
@Henry - Indeed. Most of the Hebrew Bible (OT) is comprised of anthologies and compilations that represent collections culled from diverse sources, oral and written, that were edited and composed into the "books" which we have today. This point is actually touched upon in Talmudic sources, and is readily apparent to the careful reader of our contemporary "books" in many places, particularly when read in the original Hebrew. – user2590 Sep 25 '13 at 22:03
Good answer as it goes. I'd upvote it if you presented the evidence scholars use to support this belief, as that was what the question asked for. As it stands, you might as well have just answered "Yes". :-) – T.E.D. Oct 7 '13 at 13:22
-1. "Modern scholarship considers" is an evasion. "Considers" on what basis? On the a priori assumption that prophecy is impossible? – user438 Jul 17 '15 at 21:05

The use of the term Tartan in Isaiah 20 v 1 shows at least this section of Isaiah was written early, prior to 600 bc. Tartan is a military term in the Assyrian Army and is the highest position in the Army under the King himself. There would typically be one Tartan controlling the left side of the battlefield and another controlling the right side, and the King controlling the middle depolyment. The Assyrian Army ceased to exist when the Assyrian Empire ceased in 609 bc, when it was destroyed by the Babylonians. The language fell into decay and its military terms would have fallen more quickly into oblivion, seeing as there was no longer any Assyrian Army after 609 bc.

Furthermore, there is historical information in Isaiah chapters 1 to 39 which has been confirmed from other sources. Most cynics accept this section was written when it claims to have been written, soon after 700 bc.

Chapters 44 (late) and 45 (early in the chapter) refer to Cyrus, who was King of Persia and conquered Babylon and ended the Neo Babylonian Empire October 12th 539 bc.

In Isaiah it is written:- Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself, v24 .... who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose’; saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’ and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’” v28

Chapter 45 continues:-

Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed: 2 “I will go before you and level the exalted places,[a] I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, 3 I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. 4 For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me. 5 I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me,

Cynics claim this section must have been written once Cyrus has become King of Persia or around that time or afterwards, and that the Jews have dishonestly pretended this is prophecy when in fact it wasn't. So they claim chapters 40 to the end were written later than 1-39.

One problem with this is that the sins which are so vigorously condemned in 40-66 are the sins of the pre-captivity ie the sins before going into exile in Babylon, they are the sins of Israel and Judah prior to the destruction of the Northern tribes and Judah prior to the destruction of Judah in the early 500s bc. For instance, idolatry is condemned and the burning of their own children to Molech is condemned in chapter 57. These sins did not happen after the return from captivity 536 bc... they are exclusively the sins of the pre-captivity. After the captivity the Jews were exceedingly careful not to worship the idols of the surrounding nations.

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military terms would have fallen more quickly into oblivion, seeing as there was no longer any Assyrian Army after 609 bc Why so? Terms may live much longer than states. – Matt Nov 2 '15 at 17:50
Got any scholarly links for this stuff (particularly the second to the last paragraph)? From what I've been able to dig up, the standard scholarly opinion is now that the material from Isaiah was from three different groups of sources, compiled roughly at three different times. If you are going to dismiss those folks as "cynics", I'd like to see some backup for that. – T.E.D. Nov 2 '15 at 17:59

Josephus writes (Ant. XI:1:2):

This was known to Cyrus by his reading the book which Isaiah left behind him of his prophecies; for this prophet said that God had spoken thus to him in a secret vision: "My will is, that Cyrus, whom I have appointed to be king over many and great nations, send back my people to their own land, and build my temple." This was foretold by Isaiah one hundred and forty years before the temple was demolished. Accordingly, when Cyrus read this, and admired the Divine power, an earnest desire and ambition seized upon him to fulfill what was so written...

Assuming for purposes of argument that Josephus' account is true, then plain common sense dictates that he was so impressed precisely because it was the genuine article - a prophecy from an earlier period - rather than a crude contemporary forgery.

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Josephus was popularizing (and embellishing) the biblical accounts for his audience but as far as I know, he did not have independent sources. So I don't think his text can be used as evidence for anything. – Felix Goldberg Jul 18 '15 at 17:25
@FelixGoldberg That he didn't have independent sources is itself an assumption, and not a very well supported one. Indeed, on the contrary, it is likely that there were quite a few written sources he could have used for information on the Persian empire that have since been lost. – user438 Jul 19 '15 at 1:54
Not very likely, I think. He would have told us about them then, the way he mentioned Nicolaus of Damascus for a later period. The burden of proof is on you, I am afraid. – Felix Goldberg Jul 19 '15 at 2:42
@FelixGoldberg: He mentions Nicolaus only because he was a close friend of Herod (and, in one place, to criticize him for writing so uncritically about his subject); but after all it's not a modern textbook where the source of every statement has to be given. I'm not saying that it's 100% certain that Josephus had contemporary records to draw on, but I am arguing that it's at least possible and hence constitutes evidence. – user438 Jul 19 '15 at 13:55
Guess we'll have to differ on this one. – Felix Goldberg Jul 19 '15 at 14:27

Isaiah 20:1 is key in its reference to Sargon. Two hundred years ago, none of the major historians, Herodotus and Xenophon included, had any clue as to who Sargon was. Of course, the higher critics of the period took this and ran with it. Until the year 1843, when the excavation at Khorsabad were started. Sargon's Palace was magnificent and Isaiah mentioning him by name shows that he was a contemporary, thus making the writing of the book of Isaiah dated towards the end of the eighth cenrtury B.C. Thus the prophecy about Cyrus and the specific details of how he would capture the city are divinely inspired.

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Welcome to History SE James. Thank you for your contribution to the community. However, One thing that I notice lacking in your answer is the references. Please add references to back up your statements. Also the bit about divine inspiration might derail the topic and start an opinion based debate. – NSNoob Apr 28 at 4:31

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