The “Deutero-Isaiah” theory is the claim that parts of Isaiah were written later than others. Specifically this theory claims that there were three individual authors, whose works were later compiled together under the name of the first author, the “real” Isaiah (known as Proto-Isaiah by adherents to the theory). The problem this presents for LDS is one of authorship dating: according to this theory, Proto Isaiah was written about the time traditionally ascribed to the book: namely ca. 700 BC. Deutero-Isaiah (“Second Isaiah”) was allegedly written around 545 BC, and Trito-Isaiah (“Third Isaiah”) around 500 BC. The big problem, of course, is that the Brass Plates of Laban quote from sections of Isaiah that this theory ascribes to Deutero-Isaiah, so how could the Nephites have these writings if they weren’t written until after they left Jerusalem?
Why do scholars-and I hasten to point out that the Deutero-Isaiah theory is today accepted almost without question by most Jewish and Christian scholars-believe that there must have been more than one author? As the introduction to the Anchor Bible volume on Deutero-Isaiah relates it:
Some doubt concerning the unity of the Book of Isaiah was first expressed in the twelfth century by Rabbi ibn Ezra [a famous Talmudic scholar]. In modern scholarship the theory that Isa xl-lxvi were written later than the prophecies of Isaiah of Jerusalem (Isa i-xxxix) was proposed by two German scholars, Eichhorn in 1783 and Döderlein in 1789. The anonymous author was called Deutero-Isaiah (often in English Second Isaiah). Bernhard Duhm suggested in 1892 that Isa lvi-lxvi is still later than Second Isaiah; and this second anonymous author was called Trito-Isaiah (often in English Third Isaiah). The distinction between First Isaiah and Second Isaiah is so widely accepted in modern scholarship that the argument against it need not be examined at length. The distinction between Second Isaiah and Third Isaiah is almost as widely accepted…
The distinction between First Isaiah and Second Isaiah has been made on the basis of vocabulary, style, and thought. The most striking feature of Second Isaiah is the two occurrences of the name of Cyrus (xliv 28, slv 1). That Isaiah of Jerusalem (First Isaiah) could use the name of a king, in a language unknown to him, who ruled in a kingdom which did not exist in the eighth century BC, taxes probability too far. It is not a question of placing limits to the vision of prophecy but of the limits of intelligibility; even if the name were by hypothesis meaningful to the prophet, it could not be meaningful to his readers or listeners. Yet Cyrus is introduced without any explanation of his identity, or of why he should be an anchor of hope to the Israelites whom the prophet addresses. If the prophecy is to be attributed to Isaiah of Jerusalem, then these passages must be regarded as later expansions. “But if they are so regarded, other questions remain unanswered. The reader of Second Isaiah becomes convinced that the work has a style and vocabulary of its own. In an unpublished dissertation at the University of Chicago, Mrs. Judith Reinken has made a vocabulary study according to modern statistical methods which simply does not support the thesis of different authorship; nor does it support the thesis of unity of authorship. This is to say that the vocabulary alone is not decisive. Nor is the style alone any more decisive.
What is decisive-for chapters xl-lxvi as a whole, postponing for the moment the consideration of a Third Isaiah-is that the work moves in a different world of discourse from that of First Isaiah…
There is no period of Israelite history known to us which offers a suitable background in which such a community could exist except the period between the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 587 BC and the surrender of Babylon to Cyrus of Persia in 539 BC.1 [emphasis added]
Summary of Proto-, Deutero- and Trito-Isaiah (so called) according to the most widely accepted pattern:
“Proto-Isaiah”: Chapters 1-39 (sometimes represented by the Greek letter Pi: P)
“Deutero-Isaiah”: Chapters 40-55 (sometimes represented by the Greek letter Delta: D)
“Trito-Isaiah”: Chapters 56-66 (sometimes represented by the Greek letter Tau: T)
SUMMARY OF BOOK OF MORMON QUOTES FROM ISAIAH
1 Nephi 20 – Isaiah 48 (D)
1 Nephi 21 – Isaiah 49 (D)
2 Nephi 7 – Isaiah 50 (D)
2 Nephi 8 – Isaiah 51 (D)
2 Nephi 12 – Isaiah 2 (P)
2 Nephi 13 – Isaiah 3 (P)
2 Nephi 14 – Isaiah 4 (P)
2 Nephi 15 – Isaiah 5 (P)
2 Nephi 16 – Isaiah 6 (P)
2 Nephi 17 – Isaiah 7 (P)
2 Nephi 18 – Isaiah 8 (P)
2 Nephi 19 – Isaiah 9 (P)
2 Nephi 20 – Isaiah 10 (P)
2 Nephi 21 – Isaiah 11 (P)
2 Nephi 22 – Isaiah 12 (P)
2 Nephi 23 – Isaiah 13 (P)
2 Nephi 24 – Isaiah 14 (P)
Mosiah 14 – Isaiah 53
3 Nephi 17:18-20 – Isaiah 52:8-10 (D)
If you accept the Book of Mormon as true, there is no Deutero-Isaiah “problem.” However, I feel that the Book of Mormon can not only withstand the challenge, but the issue can actually be used to illuminate the nature of Isaiah and shed light on why this is such a profound book. When the Deutero-Isaiah theory first became current, there was a lot of emphasis on the difference in vocabulary and word patterns between the various parts of Isaiah. However, as McKenzie points out above, this is no longer an issue. (Besides the study he refers to, there have been word pattern studies done by computer analysis of the Hebrew text at BYU that show no significant differences between the various parts of Isaiah.)
There are two issues: the insertion of Cyrus’s name, and the totally different historical context of the latter part of Isaiah. As McKenzie points out, it’s not enough of a defence simply to say, “well, you know those ‘higher critics,’ they don’t accept prophecy anyway-they just can’t swallow the reality of prophecy,” but the issue is that that’s not the way God works. There are plenty of examples of specific prophecy in the Old Testament (i.e., Isaiah 7:8, where Isaiah prophesies that within 65 years Ephraim will be destroyed-note that this is in “Proto-Isaiah” and its authorship is not questioned), but prophecies have to make sense to the people to whom they are addressed, and as McKenzie says, the name “Cyrus” and the concept of the Persian Empire wouldn’t have made sense to Isaiah’s contemporaries. Furthermore, it is the nature of apocalyptic scripture to lay things out in a vision which is symbolic in nature (cf. Daniel’s vision of the idol with clay feet, and John’s symbolism of angels and beasts).
First of all, we can dispense with the argument that Joseph Smith simply put in scriptures at random without thinking about when they were written. There is another example of an Old Testament reference in the Book of Mormon, and that is Malachi 3-4 (see 3 Nephi 24-25). Malachi was written after Lehi left Jerusalem-no one disputes that-so the Nephites couldn’t possibly have had it with him in the Brass Plates. Jesus in fact directed the Nephites to include Malachi 3-4 with their scriptures, and he dictated the scripture to them. He also dictated to them a message which we also have in another form: Matthew 5-7 (3 Nephi 12-14). This all makes sense. So what do we do with references to later chapters in Isaiah?
The “higher critics” have made an error, it turns out, and it does have to do with misunderstanding the nature of Isaiah’s prophecies. Avraham Gileadi wrote a book called The Apocalyptic Book of Isaiah2 and he points out that the references to specific events, people and places are not meant to be taken historically except insofar as they’re used as types of future events. So references to Assyria, for instance, mean that Assyria stands for something, and it’s that “something” which we, in the latter days, have to understand refer to events in our day. Same with Babylon, Egypt, the Davidic King, the Suffering Servant, and so on.
Gileadi believes in the essential unity of Isaiah, and his work has been highly praised by well-known, respected–and non-LDS–scholars. The dust jacket of his The Literary Message of Isaiahquotes David Noel Freedman, a co-general author of The Anchor Bible, as considering Gileadi “eminently qualified” and “far in advance of others” in the work of analyzing Isaiah, and describes this specific book as “a major breakthrough in the investigation of a book of such complexity and importance as the Book of Isaiah.” More praise from R. K. Harrison, of Wycliffe College, Toronto, who wrote and co-edited a number of well-known commentaries, texts and Bible dictionaries,3 who considered Gileadi’s scholarship “impeccable” and “at the cutting edge of all studies undertaken in the Book of Isaiah…Dr. Gileadi’s work will render obsolete almost all the speculations of Isaiah scholars over the last one hundred years… enabling scholarship to proceed along an entirely new line…opening new avenues of approach for other scholars to follow.” Remember all this effusive praise the next time an anti-Mormon says LDS scholars aren’t taken seriously by mainstream scholars! It’s my personal opinion that what appears to have happened is this: when the Jews returned from exile in Babylon, they read what Isaiah wrote, and because there were references to Babylon, assumed that he was talking about events in their day. While this might technically have been correct, they missed the point that Isaiah’s prophecies were primarily concerned with the latter days. In editing the book as they passed it down, they substituted the name “Cyrus,” which by that point did make sense to them, as he was an historical figure, for what was there originally. We don’t know, of course, what “Cyrus” might have replaced, but from the context it appears as if it was a messianic type meant to refer to the 2nd coming of Christ.
Later Jewish commentators took it for granted that Isaiah concerned itself with the latter days (although they may have been a bit fuzzy as to when the latter days were actually to occur). Two well-known examples:
For Hezekiah did what was right and held fast to the paths of David, as ordered by the illustrious prophet Isaiah, who saw the truth in visions. In his lifetime he turned back the sun and prolonged the life of the king. By his powerful spirit he looked into the future and consoled the mourners of Zion; He foretold what should be till the end of time, hidden things yet to be fulfilled. (Sirach 48:22-25)4
Sirach is saying two interesting things here, one directly and one indirectly. The direct thing is that Isaiah’s prophecies are about the future (his future), and did not therefore refer to something that had already happened in his past (like the return from Babylonian Exile). The other thing he implies, by referring to visions of the future, is that the parts of Isaiah where these are recorded–chapters 40 through 65–are a fundamental part of Isaiah’s writings. If they are truly prophetic visions that do not refer (only) to the Babylonian Exile and return therefrom, there is no need to assume that they were written after Isaiah’s time.
The second example is the Dead Sea Scrolls. Two of the best known texts of Isaiah found at Qumran are the Great Isaiah Scroll and the St. Mark’s Isaiah Scroll. The former is in the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem (and is referred to as 1QIsb) and the latter is in St. Mark’s Monastery in Israel (and is referred to as 1QIsa). Both of these texts are over 2000 years old, having been dated to around 200 BC, and yet the difference between the Qumran Isaiah texts and the Hebrew text upon which our modern Bibles (i.e. the King James Version) is based are almost non-existent. This indicates that the tradition of treating Isaiah as a single book dates back at least to 200 BC. Keep in mind that this was only about 300 years after the return from Babylon, so the minor changes (such as the insertion of the name of Cyrus for the messianic reference-if that’s what happened) must have happened shortly after the Jews returned from Babylon in the middle of the 5th century BC.
Another argument against the Deutero-Isaiah theory is that it is not consistent. Take, for instance, the reference to Isaiah’s son in Isaiah 7:3 (Proto-Isaiah): Shear-Jashub. The names Isaiah used were highly symbolic, and this son’s name means “a remnant shall return.” As this clearly refers to (among other things) to the Jews returning from Babylon, why isn’t it considered part of Deutero-Isaiah? The answer, of course, is that Isaiah spoke in apocalyptic terms, and this fits into the same apocalyptic pattern as chapters 40-66.
As Gileadi explains,
An Entity Synthesis. A common error of scholars is to interpret prophecies about figures or entities featured in the Book of Isaiah on the basis of historical facts. The only valid basis for interpreting such prophecies, however, is not to read into them historical data, but simply to view the book’s entities as they appear in the text; what matters is not the historical facts surrounding Isaianic entities, but the way they are characterized in the book. The characterization of Isaianic entities, which centres on three pairs of major figures, is generally a blend of things historical and things not historical, and consequently its intention is not to depict entities as purely historical.
With regard to Assyria, for example, it is significant that the Book of Isaiah deals with an Assyrian Invasion (see 5:25-29; 7:17-20; 8:7-8, etc.) but not with an Assyrian Exile, although both were major events of Isaiah’s day. For the theme of Israel’s Exile, where apparent in the Book of Isaiah, occurs throughout as a presupposition, being nowhere explicitly predicted. Moreover, whereas the Assyrian Invasion of Israel represented a historical precedent, thus qualifying it as a type for the last days, an Assyrian Exile did not; Israel had been removed from its Land before, in Egypt. The characterization of Assyria, however, is not merely selective in its use of historical facts, but adds things ahistorical, things having no historical basis at all: Assyria, a major world power of Isaiah’s time, is depicted as overthrown in battle ‘in my own land’ (14:25), ‘as in the day of Midian’ (9:4; 10:26; cf. Judges 7:15- 8:13), ‘fought in mortal combat’ (30:32) and defeated with ‘a sword not of men’ (31:8). The Isaianic ‘Assyria,’ therefore, is not a purely historical Assyria, although it bears some of that nation’s typological traits. It is an entity that is synthesized to serve a higher, eschatological purpose, an entity whose activities as a world power of the last days resemble, in many respects, those of its historical type.” He goes on to outline a similar paradigm for Egypt, Babylon and Zion, as being Isaianic types with eschatological (last days) meaning.
To overthrow an existing theory, one needs to show that the existing theory’s facts are not proven, and one needs to propose a new theory with sufficient factual backing that the new one can replace the old. Here we have a case where the premier non-LDS commentary on “Second” Isaiah–the Anchor Bible–admits that there is insufficient evidence from wordprint analysis that Isaiah was written by anything other than a single author, and we have a new model, proposed by Avraham Gileadi, which shows that Isaiah contains a far more profound and sophisticated literary paradigm, if we accept that it is a unitary work. No wonder this new unitary theory, which just happens to get around a traditional objection to the Book of Mormon, is gaining ground.
1. John L. McKenzie, Second Isaiah: Anchor Bible, vol. 20 (Garden City NY: Doubleday, 1968), xvxviii.
2. Avraham Gileadi, The Apocalyptic Book of Isaiah (Provo, Utah: Hebraeus, 1982), 194.
3. Examples of well-known works by Harrison include The New International Commentary on the Old Testament Series, multiple volumes, edited by Hamilton and Harrison, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998); The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, edited by Unger and Harrison (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1995).
4. “Sirach” is part of the Apocrypha, sometimes also known as “Ecclesiasticus.” It was written by Yeshua ben-Sira (English: Jesus [grand]son of Sirach), around 200-175 BC–long after the return from the Babylonian exile. My version is from The New American Bible (Iowa Falls, Iowa: World Bible Publishers, 1991). This is also known as the “Unified Translation.”