Biblical Studies Isaiah
Marvin A. Sweeney, Kevin Tolley
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 March 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 May 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0058


The book of Isaiah is the first of the major prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible, although rabbinic tradition sometimes places it third, following Jeremiah and Ezekiel, because of its thematic content (b. Baba Batra 14b–15a). It presents the vision of the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz, who lived in Jerusalem during the late 8th century BCE in the reigns of the Judean kings Uzziah (r. 783–742 BCE), Jotham (r. 742–735 BCE), Ahaz (r. 735–715 BCE), and Hezekiah (r. 715–687/6 BCE), a period of Assyrian aggression. Isaiah interpreted the theological significance of the contemporary Assyrian invasions of Israel and Judah as an act of YHWH to bring divine judgement upon the two biblical kingdoms, although he also anticipated the restoration of Judah and Israel once the punishment was complete. Modern scholarship identifies Isaiah 40–55 as the work of an anonymous prophet (or prophetic school), known simply as Second or Deutero-Isaiah, who spoke at the close of the Babylonian exile concerning the restoration of the exiles of Judah to Jerusalem when King Cyrus of Persia ascended to the throne of Babylon (c. 545–539 BCE). (Expansions from Second Isaiah and the Isaiah school may also be present in Isaiah 1–39.) Isaiah 56–66 is generally identified as the work of anonymous prophets, known collectively as Third or Trito-Isaiah, from the early Persian period of Judean restoration (c. 520–400 BCE). The book of Isaiah plays an important role in both Judaism and Christianity. In Judaism, Isaiah is the most widely read book among the Haftarot, the synagogue lectionary cycle of prophetic texts that are read following the Torah portions of the Jewish worship service. In Christianity, Isaiah is one of the most widely quoted books in the New Testament, where it plays an important role in defining Christian views of Jesus as the Messiah. The scholarship dictates that sources on this subject be separated into commentaries, textual studies, and critical/theological studies; certain sections of Isaiah are represented under two or three of these categories.

Introductory Works

Literary-critical and historical-critical introductions to the study of Isaiah appear in Blenkinsopp 1996 and Petersen 2002. Heschel 1962 and von Rad 1965 provide distinctive theological assessments of the prophets’ works, and Sweeney 2005 provides a literary-theological analysis of the book as a whole. These are different types of introductions; whereas Blenkinsopp 1996 and Petersen 2002 focus on literary-historical formation, Heschel 1962 and von Rad 1965 focus on analysis of the theological message of each work; Sweeney 2005 focuses on literary function and theological message.

  • Blenkinsopp, Joseph. A History of Prophecy in Israel. Rev. ed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996.

    Foundational historical-critical introductions to First, Second, and Third Isaiah in relation to the history of Israel/Judah and the ancient Near Eastern world, with attention to the social provenance of the prophets. Especially valuable for bibliographies.

  • Heschel, Abraham Joshua. The Prophets. New York: Harper and Row, 1962.

    A phenomenological introduction to First and Second Isaiah that focuses on the themes of human apprehension of God and divine pathos in relation to each.

  • Hobbins, John. “A Brief Introduction to the Book of Isaiah.”

    Introduces the debate surrounding the authorship of Isaiah.

  • Petersen, David L. The Prophetic Literature: An Introduction. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002.

    A standard historical-critical introduction to the book of Isaiah, which takes up the questions of First, Second, and Third Isaiah, but addresses the formation of the book of Isaiah as whole. Includes discussion of oracle types and social background.

  • Sweeney, Marvin A. The Prophetic Literature. Interpreting Biblical Texts. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005.

    A literary-critical and theological assessment to the book of Isaiah as a whole, which is attentive to its historical background but focuses on a reading of the final literary form of the book to discern its distinctive theological viewpoints.

  • von Rad, Gerhard. Old Testament Theology. Vol. 2, The Theology of Israel’s Prophetic Traditions. Translated by David M. G. Stalker. New York: Harper and Row, 1965.

    Provides a tradition-historical and theological assessment of First, Second, and Third Isaiah that focuses on the Davidic/Zion traditions that informed the theological message of each.

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