Interpreting the Prophets

By James Luther Mays; Paul J. Achtemeier | Go to book overview

5
The Unity of
the Book of Isaiah

R. E. CLEMENTS

The connection between the prophecies of lsaiah and the subsequent
destruction of Jerusalem provides the essential clue to understanding
the unity of this prophetic book.

The Book of lsaiah comes to us as a single literary whole, comprising sixty-six chapters, and this given datum of the form of the book must be regarded as a feature requiring explanation. It establishes a basis for the interpretation of the individual sayings and units of which it is made up and provides a literary context which must inevitably affect the interpretation of the several parts of the whole. Furthermore modern critical scholarship has become accustomed to the working principle that the long process of formation of such an ancient literary text reflects a number of levels of interpretation. The examination of features relating to the editorial structure of the book carries with it a number of important considerations and expectations regarding the situations to which its sayings were related and, not least, to the delicate task of establishing some reasonably convincing chronology of the origin of its various component parts. At times we may assume that the literary order of the collection of prophetic sayings points to varying stages in the chronological order of their inclusion in the overall collection. At other times, however, it appears probable that the order has been determined by editorial considerations in which certain literary and theological interests must be postulated in order to account for the positioning of the material. It is several years since Georg Fohrer drew attention to the importance of this factor in accounting for the distinctive structure of Isaiah 1, which has been put together in order to provide a general thematic introduction to the book.1 It is largely built up from authentic Isaianic sayings, but these must certainly have appeared originally in different parts of the collection where their historical setting would have been more clearly apparent. As it is, their

1. Georg Fohrer, “Jesaja 1 als Zusammenfassung der Verkündigung Jesajas,” TAW 74 (1962)
251-80; see Studien zur alttestomentlichen Prorphetie, BZAW 99 (Berlin: Alfred Töpelmann,
1967), pp. 148-66.

-50-

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