There are three items in Isaiah 20:1 which give clues as to when it was written:
In the year that Tartan came unto Ashdod, (when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him,) and fought against Ashdod, and took it;
1) The use of the term Tartan shows at least this section of Isaiah was written early, prior to 600 bc. Tartan was a military term in the Assyrian Army and was 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 deployment. 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.
2) As another contributor has already said, the mention of the Assyrian king "Sargon" is also witness that Isaiah 1-39 was written early, because Sargon was unknown to history, including Herodotus, until his palace was discovered in the nineteenth century. The historian Herodotus does mention one of the attacks of Sennacherib as it affected Egypt (Herodotus Book 2, Chapter 141): Sennacherib was the king after Sargon, but he nowhere mentions Sargon (- this Sargon is not to be confused with Sargon the Great, who was many centuries earlier).
3) Then also, the manner of describing the year in Isaiah 20:1 is suitable for the age in which Isaiah was written. "In the year that Tartan came unto Ashdod" is similar to the manner in which the Assyrians named their years, its in the form of an Assyrian Eponym ( - though I am not saying this was an actual name of a year in the Assyrian Eponym List). Those interested in this can search for "Eponym Dating System" in google.
Aside from Isaiah 20:1, the Assyrian title "Rabshakeh" is used several times in both Isaiah (ch 36 & 37) and 2 Kings (ch 18 & 19). "Rab" means "chief" and "shakeh" means "cup-bearer", a title whose meaning only became apparent with archaeological discovery in the modern age.
Furthermore, there is historical information in Isaiah chapters 1 to 39 which has been confirmed from other sources. Most significantly there are three prisms in which Sennacharib relates his attacks on Judaea from 704 to 681 BC (Google "Sennacharib's Annals"). Most accept this section of Isaiah 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.
By "cynic" I simply mean those who have decided the book Isaiah is an amalgamation of different writings, by different authors, some anonymous. Those who hold this view either believe that the anonymous author(s) deliberately sought to mislead, in which case the cynic is accusing them of dishonesty, or that the compilers of the final version were dishonest in putting together with a work of the true Isaiah (chapters 1-39) a work which could not have been clearly the work of Isaiah, seeing as, according to the cynics' theory, it was anonymous. Such a belief is cynical, attributing to either the original author or the compilers of the final version a dishonest purpose - to try to produce a document which looks as if the Isaiah of 700 BC was predicting the name of a man who became king of Persia 559 BC and fulfilled some of the prophecy around 539 BC, namely Cyrus.
By saying "cynic" it does not even necessarily mean they are wrong to believe what they believe. I merely mean their belief is a cynical view of the book of Isaiah, and necessarily attributes bad motives - including an intention to mislead - to someone, somewhere in the production of the book of Isaiah as we have it today. By calling them cynics, it is not intended to be understood they are so named pejoratively just descriptively: if they were ever to be proved correct in their beliefs about the book of Isaiah they would not think they were insulting themselves to boast how very long they had been cynical about it.
But, there are serious problems with this view (that some anonymous prophets were involved in the production of the final book of Isaiah):
- Below is a list of all the prophetic books of the Old Testament where the author is anonymous:-
There aren't any. It only speaks of true prophets and false prophets. The Old Testament knows nothing of anonymous prophets. Every book of prophecy in the Old Testament has the name of the prophet who gave it. Particularly interesting is
The vision of Obadiah (Obadiah 1:1)
The book of Obadiah has only 21 verses yet we are told who wrote them. How could it be possible that the most sublime of all the prophesies, the book of Isaiah, should contain portions for which we have no idea who is the author? If such a comparatively ordinary prophecy such as Obadiah's has the name of the prophet how is it conceivable that the name of the prophet of the most glorious prophetic portion of the most sublime prophecy of them all, the book of Isaiah, should be unknown?
There is only one book in the whole Bible which is truly anonymous: the Letter to the Hebrews. When an anonymously written work is produced there arises speculation as the the author. This happened with the Letter to the Hebrews.
The first speculation that we still have preserved is Miniscule 1739, from the 10th century, on which is written
"To the Hebrews, written from Italy by Timothy".
The second extant manuscript containing speculation is Miniscule 81 from the 11th century which claims
"To the Hebrews, written from Rome by Paul to those in Jerusalem".
The next manuscript is Miniscule 104 from the 11th century which claims
"To the Hebrews, written in Hebrew from Italy anonymously by Timothy"(!)
Then finally the King James Authorised Version tells us Hebrews is
"The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews"
which is a clear case of going beyond what is written in the Scripture, (though I must stress that these titles are not in the inspired Scripture text itself, they merely introduce the Scripture.) These show that where the original document was written anonymously different theories begin to emerge as to who wrote it. But as for the book of Isaiah there is unanimous agreement in every ancient Old Testament version that Isaiah wrote the whole of the book of Isaiah. Unanimous suggests not anonymous.
- Though many readers might not value its witness, the New Testament in many places attributes the whole of the book of Isaiah to the prophet Isaiah. The people who wrote the New Testament saw Isaiah as one book. An interesting passage is John 12:38-40:-
That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord,
who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been
revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He
hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with
their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal
In this passage, the first quote is from Isaiah 53:1, the second is from Isaiah 6:10 and the third is from Isaiah 6:1. For 53:1 the author of John's Gospel tells us that it was that which Isaiah spake, and for 6:10 and 6:1 the author tells us that Isaiah said again. So if we do not believe that the same author wrote both 1-39 and 40-66 then we have to doubt also this passage in the New Testament and in fact we must doubt most of the passages in the New Testament which refer to the book of Isaiah because most of them refer to that which "Isaiah spoke". (See Matthew 3:3, 4:14, 8:17, 12:17, 13:14, 17:7; Mark 7:6; Luke 3:4, 4:17; John 1:23; Acts 8:28-30, 28:25; Romans 9:27-29, 10:16, 10:20, 15:12.)
- It is peculiar that anyone living in our century should think the name "Cyrus" could not have been written 700 BC but must have been written after he became king of Persia. Why? Because Isaiah 40-66 contains Chapter 53, one of the most breathtaking prophecies in the whole of the Old Testament. Obviously, Chapter 53 truly predicts the future because we have it preserved in the Great Isaiah Scroll of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which we know was written at least a century and a half before the beginning of Christ's ministry.
The proof we have that Chapter 53 is a true prophecy of the future should enable us to believe the name "Cyrus" was announced before he was born.
Interestingly, the Great Isaiah Scroll has no gap in the scroll between the end of chapter 39 and the start of chapter 40. You can see the original scroll online here http://dss.collections.imj.org.il/isaiah .
The idea of multiple authors of Isaiah began with Johann Doederlein, professor of theology at Jena, a rationalist who lived in the "Age of Enlightenment", and who died over 150 years before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Great Isaiah Scroll, containing Isaiah Chapter 53, is dated to about 125 BC, over 100 years before the time of Christ:
53 Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?
2 For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.
8 He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.
9 And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
The passage predicts that when the Saviour comes 1 he would be despised and rejected; 2 he would be put on trial (verse 8); 3 he would die without children (verse 8); 4 he would take the punishment for other people's sins; 5 he would be buried in a rich man's grave (the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea); 6 he would rise again from the dead; 7 his death would be effective for many.
If Chapter 53 could be prophesied by a prophet could not the very same prophet have predicted a deliverer by name, i.e. "Cyrus"?
- It is claimed that no where does the name Isaiah appear in 40-66, the section with prophesies concerning Babylon. But, actually, Isaiah does attest his name to prophesies relating to Babylon: he does it in chapter 13 which begins
"The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw." (Isaiah 13:1)
And it is in 1-39 that the destruction of Babylon by the Medes is prophesied (Isaiah 13:17). The question is "Why would any editor/redactor place this passage by some future anonymous prophet in this part of the book"?
- Before the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC there was idolatry and worship of Baal, even child sacrifice in Judaea. After the Jews returned from captivity in the days of Cyrus there was no such gross idolatry. The temptations they faced were different and the typical sins after the 70 years of Babylonian Captivity were different. The following passages are examples of those passages which describe the gross sins before the Babylonian Captivity: Jeremiah 7:31 & 19:5, 2 Kings 16:3, 21:6-16; 23:26, 24:3-4; 2 Chronicles 28:3, 33:1-19.
But after the Babylonian Captivity the sins of the Jews were different. I quote from Gleason Archer's book "A Survey of Old Testament Introduction" (1st edition 1964, page 330):-
The book of Malachi contains a list of sins into which his [Malachi's]
countrymen had fallen. Yet none of these suggests the slightest practice of
idolatry. There was intermarriage with foreign women of idolatrous background;
there was oppression of the poor by the rich; there was desecration of the
sabbath; there was a withholding of the tithes - but none of these authors
[Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Ezra and Nehemiah] ever mentions the reappearance
of idolatry in the land of Judah. The only possible conclusion to draw is that
the worship of graven images there was unknown.
And for anyone to see this for themselves the only way is to read all of these books in their entirety. Haggai and Zechariah write about the period 525 to 515 BC, Malachi is some time after the Captivity, probably about 430 BC, Ezra is writing about the events of the whole period from 539 BC to very roughly 430 BC, Nehemiah is writing about the period 445 to 430 BC. In addition, there is no condemnation of idolatry amongst the Jews in the book of Esther either (about 480 to 475 BC), nor in the apocryphal writings between the Testaments. The Jewish world before the Babylonian Captivity was very different to their world post-Captivity. Frankly, the post-Captivity world in the Old Testament is remarkably similar to our modern world, namely, no graven images, no gross worship of the ancient vicious gods of Baal and Molech, and no miracles either (until the New Testament period).
What then are we to make of the repeated condemnations of the worship of graven images and of idolatry in 40-66? If these chapters were written at a later date, after Cyrus had come to power, then in these passages sins are being condemned (or commented on) which were no longer a snare. For example:-
I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images. (Isaiah 42:8)
But draw near hither, ye sons of the sorceress, the seed of the adulterer and
Against whom do ye sport yourselves? against whom make ye a wide mouth, and draw
out the tongue? are ye not children of transgression, a seed of falsehood.
Enflaming yourselves with idols under every green tree, slaying the children in the valleys under the clifts of the rocks?
Among the smooth stones of the stream is thy portion; they, they are thy lot: even to them hast thou poured a drink offering, thou hast offered a meat offering. Should I receive comfort in these?
Upon a lofty and high mountain hast thou set thy bed: even thither wentest thou up to offer sacrifice.
Behind the doors also and the posts hast thou set up thy remembrance: for thou hast discovered thyself to another than me, and art gone up; thou hast enlarged thy bed, and made thee a covenant with them; thou lovedst their bed where thou sawest it.
And thou wentest to the king with ointment, and didst increase thy perfumes, and didst send thy messengers far off, and didst debase thyself even unto hell.
Thou art wearied in the greatness of thy way; yet saidst thou not, There is no hope: thou hast found the life of thine hand; therefore thou wast not grieved.
And of whom hast thou been afraid or feared, that thou hast lied, and hast not remembered me, nor laid it to thy heart? have not I held my peace even of old, and thou fearest me not? (Isaiah 57:3-11)
He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast, and is satisfied: yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire:
And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my god.
They have not known nor understood: for he hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand.
And none considereth in his heart, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, I have burned part of it in the fire; yea, also I have baked bread upon the coals thereof; I have roasted flesh, and eaten it: and shall I make the residue thereof an abomination? shall I fall down to the stock of a tree?
He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand? (Isaiah 44:16-20)
See other such passages: Isaiah 40:19-23; 41:6-7; 41:23; 42:17; 45:16; 45:20-21; 46:6-13; 65:7; 66:17.
Do these passages not tell us that Isaiah 40-66 was written before the Babylonian Captivity?
It is said the style of 1-39 and 40-66 is different. But there are similarities. The term "the Holy One of Israel" referring to God is used many times in Isaiah but rarely outside the book of Isaiah: it is used 15 times in 1-39 and 14 times in 40-66 but only 6 times throughout the rest if the Old Testament and one of those 6 times is when referring to the words of Isaiah (2 Kings 19:22). (To check this use Biblegateway.com)
There are similarities of expression found in both 1-39 and 40-66. For instance, compare:
1:20 and 40:5, 58:14;
14:27 and 43:13;
35:10 and 51:11;
11:12 and 56:8;
34:8 and 61:2;
11:6-9 and 65:25;
35:6 and 41:18;
11:2 and 61:1;
35:8 and 40:3;
1:11 and 1:14 with 43:24;
28:5 and 63:3.
The above 7 points I have summarised mostly from Gleason Archer's book "A Survey of Old Testament Introduction". The lack of flow, and poor writing, is all mine, my aim being to try to be brief; the ideas are mainly his. I recommend the book to all. Finally,
- There are very few foreign loan words in the Hebrew of either 1-39 or 40-66. In Daniel and Ezra there are whole passages in Aramaic because it was the lingua franca both in the time of Daniel and in the time of Ezra. In the book of Esther there are a lot of Persian loan words; in Ezra there are Persian, and some Persian in Chronicles both 1 and 2. There are foreign loan words in Nehemiah. But the only Persian loan word in the book of Isaiah is the name "Cyrus". There are a few loan words from Egyptian, and a few from Assyrian (Assyrian Akkadian), which was the lingua franca in northern Mesopotamia until it was replaced by Aramaic roughly during the period 750 to 650 BC. There are no Greek loan words and only one Persian. According to Robert Wilson, Isaiah is notable for the purity of its Hebrew. I am no expert in 40 plus languages, and confess I rely on Robert D. Wilson. If any of the book of Isaiah had been written during the Babylonian Captivity, and especially if it had been written in Babylon, then there should be plenty foreign loan words. If any of 40-66 had been edited during the Greek period (after 330 BC) in the land of Judaea then there should surely still be loan words from the Greek. But there are no loan words from the Greek. And there are no foreign loan words of Persian origin except the name "Cyrus". These facts alone should surely spell the death of the idea of multiple anonymous writers over several centuries from 550 BC to 150 BC, redacted in the Greek period.
(For more info on the progress of languages in the period then there is the work "Empires of the Word [not world!]- a language history of the world" by Nicholas Ostler, who is I think neither a "loony fundamentalist atheist" nor a "loony fundamentalist Christian", like some of the people on here, so he has no axe to grind either way.)
For more on this then see the free online article by google searching for:
“Foreign Words in the Old Testament as evidence of historicity” by Robert D.
In my view, all of the above points 1 to 8 are accumulative evidence that the whole of chapters 44-66, along with the word "Cyrus" in 44:28 and 45:1, was written at the same time as 1-39, before the Babylonian Captivity, which started about 605 BC. There is no good reason to doubt it was all written by the Prophet Isaiah whose prophetic ministry had started by 739 BC when King Uzziah died (Isaiah 6:1) and who died after the death of King Hezekiah, in the sole reign of King Manasseh which began 686 BC.
I thank all those who have read this so far, and ask you a few closing questions. Modern scholars argue that the book of Isaiah is a collection of writings by various anonymous writers whose writings have been added over the centuries following the time of Isaiah. Isaiah wrote some of the book, but the writings of others were added by redactors/editors sometime before the Great Isaiah Scroll was written about 125 BC. My question is,
"What value would such a scroll have, and why would the Jews of old have had any reverence for their holy writings, if such a cavalier attitude existed towards their prophetic writings"?
Who would care at all for these writings if that was how they were produced?
Would anyone? Of course not. And yet many Jews cared a great deal about their religion and their Scriptures. For instance, Josephus relates that when the Romans came to besiege Jerusalem the Romans learned that on the Sabbath day they could build the siegeworks for the overthrow of Jerusalem without being attacked by the Jews. On the Sabbath day the Jews would only fight the Romans if the Romans were trying to kill them. So the Romans used each Sabbath day to build the siegeworks and do all sorts of things which greatly helped them to conquer Jerusalem! The Jews felt they could not try to stop the Romans doing this because it was the Sabbath day... a poor interpretation of their own scriptures, but, hey, they took those Scriptures seriously, and revered them. Why would they have revered them so much if those same scriptures were messed about with so much as modern scholars say they were? and brought to a final form by such careless production processes as modern scholars claim? Many died because they had such a reverence for their scriptures. Were they gullible fools? Is everyone a gullible fool except the modern scholar? Of whom is Isaiah writing? when he says
Woe to them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight. (Isaiah 5:21)
Or when he writes
Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that you have kindled. This shall you have of my hand: you shall lie down in sorrow. (Isaiah 50:11)
whom is the LORD warning?
My next question is if the book of Isaiah came about in the way that modern scholars say that it did, with redactors adding portions such as passages about Cyrus after the event it pretends to predict then "Where are all the other books of prophecy"? There is the prophesies of the book of Daniel and Isaiah, there's some in Jeremiah and one in Micah saying where the Saviour would be born, but, when it comes to detailed accurate prophesies, there are not so many. It's child's play to "predict things" after the event. Why are there so few prophesies in the Old Testament compared to what there could have been?
Finally, prophesying Cyrus by name is integral to the book of Isaiah, and though his name is given only twice (44:28, 45:1) he is referred to several more times, though not by name (41:2-4; 41:22-29; 45:2-4; 45:13; 46:11; 48:14-15). The purpose for this prediction of Cyrus is given in chapter 48. It was not done just to impress: the prediction was given so that the Jews would not return to Baal or Molech or to their idols, but they would return to the Lord their God. And so it proved, they never again returned to idols. When Cyrus issued his decree for them to return the Jews knew that the prophets of Baal and Molech had never predicted these things, but Isaiah, the prophet of the LORD God of their forefathers, had. When Cyrus issued his decree then they knew that they had been punished, by being taken into captivity to Babylon, not because they had failed to worship Baal and Molech sufficiently well, but because they had rebelled against the LORD God of their forefathers.
So the reason for speaking of Cyrus 150 years before he captured Babylon was gracious and kind on God's part. God punished the Jews for their sin, but God brought them to repentance and restoration. God sent them into captivity and God brought them back from captivity, and the prediction of Cyrus by name proved that it was the God of Isaiah, the LORD God of their forefathers who had done everything. It was, then, in God's kindness that he predicted Cyrus by name.
Despite all their rebellion He will have mercy on them still, and in order to be able to have mercy he must show them he is God and make them willing to obey him and go back to Judaea and the land that God had chosen for them.
It was to bring them to see He is the true God because He alone can predict the future.
"Cyrus" is in 44:28 and 45:1 because God is gracious and kind towards his people.
But that is not the half of it: the Jews were not very mistreated while in Babylonian "captivity". Many of them prospered quite nicely thank you very much in Babylon. When Cyrus gave the decree for as many of them as wanted to go back and rebuild Jerusalem then the Jews needed some encouragement to leave their financially secure lives and go. They were being asked to leave their comfort zones and obey God. They needed encouragement to believe in the God of the Scriptures: and to see the name "Cyrus" in the 150 year old book of Isaiah would surely have encouraged some of them to comply with the decree and go back to Judaea.
It was always in the plan of God that when the Messiah came he would be rejected by the religious leaders of the people who had the Scriptures of God, who in matters of religion were the best informed, who had the Old Testament Scriptures and had studied them: that we all might know that religious head-knowledge is not enough.