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Isaiah 7:8 (NET) reads:

For Syria’s leader is Damascus, and the leader of Damascus is Rezin. Within sixty-five years Ephraim will no longer exist as a nation.

As the IVP OT Commentary points out:

From 735, the date of these events, sixty-five years would stretch to 670 b.c. This has seemed strange to some interpreters since Ephraim suffered significant territorial reduction in 733, and Samaria was destroyed and the people deported by 721. Esarhaddon was near the end of his reign in 670. He had successfully invaded Egypt in 671 and had a number of other campaigns to the west during this time period. So far, however, there is no indication of deportations into or out of Israel during his reign.

The NET translators state:

This statement is problematic for several reasons. It seems to intrude stylistically, interrupting the symmetry of the immediately preceding and following lines. Furthermore, such a long range prophecy lacks punch in the midst of the immediate crisis. After all, even if Israel were destroyed sometime within the next 65 years, a lot could still happen during that time, including the conquest of Judah and the demise of the Davidic family. Finally the significance of the time frame is uncertain. Israel became an Assyrian province within the next 15 years and ceased to exist as a nation. For these reasons many regard the statement as a later insertion, but why a later editor would include the reference to “65 years” remains a mystery. Some try to relate the prophecy to the events alluded to in Ezra 4:2, 10, which refers to how the Assyrian kings Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal settled foreigners in former Israelite territory, perhaps around 670 b.c. However, even if the statement is referring to these events, it lacks rhetorical punch in its immediate context and has the earmarks of a later commentary that has been merged with the text in the process of transmission.

A few related questions:

  • What alternate theories exist for explaining this conundrum (I've already explored the ones mentioned in this post, I am looking for additional theories with scholarly support)?
  • What additional textual evidence (aside from it simply not 'seeming to fit' in this context) exists for this verse/prophecy being an interpolation?
  • How have OT scholars dealt with this text historically (pre-Reformation)?
  • What do early Jewish commentaries say?
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Jerusalem was the capital of Judah, (The scepter tribes). Samaria was the capital of Israel (The birthright tribes of Joseph). The book of Micah will answer your questions and show you the judgement. What happened to Ancient Israel is only a type of what will happen in the "Last End", Dan.8:19, Isa.41:21-22. –  user9586 May 17 at 18:01
Not a scholarly answer: Jeremiah 28:8-9 implies that only prophecies of redemption are necessarily fulfilled and prophecies of destruction may or may not be fulfilled. –  Amichai Jul 17 at 19:12
@Amichai that is an interesting observation, thank you. –  Dan Jul 17 at 19:14

1 Answer 1

Clarke in his commentary recognizes the problems you raised:

"Here are six lines, or three distichs, the order of which seems to have been disturbed by a transposition, occasioned by three of the lines beginning with the same word verosh, "and the head," which three lines ought not to have been separated by any other line intervening; but a copyist, having written the first of them, and casting his eye on the third, might easily proceed to write after the first line beginning with verosh, that which ought to have followed the third line beginning with verosh. Then finding his mistake, to preserve the beauty of his copy, added at the end the distich which should have been in the middle; making that the second distich, which ought to have been the third. For the order as it now stands is preposterous: the destruction of Ephraim is denounced, and then their grandeur is set forth; whereas naturally the representation of the grandeur of Ephraim should precede that of their destruction. And the destruction of Ephraim has no coherence with the grandeur of Syria, simply as such, which it now follows: but it naturally and properly follows the grandeur of Ephraim, joined to that of Syria their ally.

"The arrangement then of the whole sentence seems originally to have been thus:-

Though the head of Syria be Damascus,
And the head of Damascus Retsin
And the head of Ephraim be Samaria;
And the head of Samaria Remaliah's son:
Yet within threescore and five years
Ephraim shall be broken that he be no more a people."

Threescore and five years] It was sixty-five years from the beginning of the reign of Ahaz, when this prophecy was delivered, to the total depopulation of the kingdom of Israel by Esarhaddon, who carried away the remains of the ten tribes which had been left by Tiglath-pileser, and Shalmaneser, and who planted the country with new inhabitants. That the country was not wholly stripped of its inhabitants by Shalmaneser appears from many passages of the history of Josiah, where Israelites are mentioned as still remaining there, 2Ch 34:6, 7, 33; 35:18; 2Ki 23:19, 20. This seems to be the best explanation of the chronological difficulty in this place, which has much embarrassed the commentators: see Usserii Annal. V. T. ad an. 3327, and Sir I. Newton, Chronol. p. 283.

Matthew Henry deals with the sixty five years as follows:

Interpreters are much at a loss how to compute the sixty-five years within which Ephraim shall cease to be a people; for the captivity of the ten tribes was but eleven years after this: and some make it a mistake of the transcriber, and think it should be read within six and five years, just eleven. But it is hard to allow that. Others make it to be sixty-five years from the time that the prophet Amos first foretold the ruin of the kingdom of the ten tribes; and some late interpreters make it to look as far forward as the last desolation of that country by Esarhaddon, which was about sixty-five years after this; then Ephraim was so broken that it was no more a people.

The Jerusalem Bible (1966 ed) attempted to repair the apparent corruption of the verses as follows:

 8a   The capital of Aram is Damascus,
      the head of Damascus, Razon;
 9a   the capital of Ephraim is Samaria,
      the head of Samaria, the son of Remaliah.
 8b   Six or five years
      and a shattered Ephraim shall no longer be a people.
 9b   But if you do not stand by me,
      you will not stand at all."'

They added a footnote to the "Six or five years more" saying:

'six or five' corr.; 'sixty-five' Hebr. Samaria fell in 722.

The translators apparently considered these corrections too speculative because the later edition (New Jerusalem Bible) now has the more literal rendering:

8 for the head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Razon; another sixty-five years, and Ephraim will cease to be a people. 9 The head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. If you will not take your stand on me you will not stand firm.

The New American Bible (1970 ed) rearranges the verses like the 1966 JB, but without any indication in the verse numbering that it's doing so. It starts verse 9 on the "But within sixty years and five". It translates the sixty five years as "within sixty years and five" with the footnote "Within sixty years and five: if the text is correct its reference is unknown."

The revised NAB at the USCCB website retains the rearrangement of verses but moves the start of verse 9 up to "The head of Ephraim is Samaria". The wording is now more literal. The verses are now footnoted as follows:

  • [7:8–9] God had chosen and made a commitment to David’s dynasty and his capital city Jerusalem, not to Rezin and his capital Damascus, nor to the son of Remaliah and his capital Samaria (2 Sm 7:12–16; Ps 2:6; 78:68–72; 132:11–18). Within sixty-five years…nation: this text occurs at the end of v. 8 in the Hebrew. Ahaz would not have been reassured by so distant a promise; the phrase is probably a later addition.

Sorry I can't give a better answer, but your question is now almost two years old and has no answer other than mine, so I don't think a better answer is going to be forthcoming.

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