2

The view that the book of Isaiah, as we have it, came from multiple authors has wide support across the spectrum of scholars. Most often, Isaiah is divided into at least three sections: proto-Isaiah (chapters 1-39), deutero-Isaiah (40-55), and trito-Isaiah (56-66).

Proto-Isaiah is generally agreed to come from the actual eighth century BC prophet, Isaiah... with a few caveats. Due to the hyperbolic, quasi-symbolic tone, and the lack of any historical grounding unlike the everything else in Isaiah up to this point, chapters 24-27 are the subject of much debate.

In 2006's The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures (p 438-439), Michael Coogan said 'most scholars identify [Isaiah 24-27] as an early example of the apocalyptic genre', and (cautiously) suggested that the four chapters likely came from 'the early postexilic period, perhaps in the fifth century BCE'.

More recently, in 2014's Isaiah's Kingship Polemic (p 10), William D. Barker instead stated that 'there seems to be a growing trajectory' that calling the passage an 'apocalypse' is 'misleading and must be abandoned'. He also wrote that 'The majority of scholars on Isa. 24-27 either support an eighth or sixth century date or they favour multiple centuries of authorship and redaction'.

These seem to be saying nearly the opposite ideas are the norm within scholarship: Is Isaiah 24-27 an early sort of 'apocalypse', or is that label 'misleading'? Is Isaiah 24-27 'early' (pre-exilic, possibly from Isaiah himself) or 'late' (post-exilic)? Is there any scholarly preference or consensus on these questions, or are Coogan and Barker both overstating their cases?

Namely...

What genre(s) does Isaiah 24-27 belong to? When were the chapters most likely to have been written? If redaction took place, when was redaction essentially complete?

4

While Is.24-27 is still often called the ‘Isaiah apocalypse’ because of its several eschatological motifs, Joseph Blenkinsopp states plainly that much of these chapters has little in common with the apocalyptic genre. Instead he describes them as composed of "a number of loosely connected passages of uneven length, the sequence of which manifests no immediate logical order.”1 As a block the chapters defy categorization, but Blenkinsopp does identify the parts (many of which begin with ‘on that day’): a judgment speech (24:1-13) abruptly transitions to a “joyful liturgy” (24:14-23), followed by three psalms of praise (25:1-5; 25:9-10a; 26:1-6) ) and an apocalyptic psalm of lament (26:-27:1), interspersed with various eschatological scenes.2

Carol Dempsey sees beauty in the passage’s apocalyptic similarities and apparent disunity. She describes these chapters as “material rich in literary form and technique, whose poet used exceptional rhetorical skill to communicate a provocative message.” Still, “the precise genre of these four chapters is yet to be determined”; "recent scholarship ... argues against assigning this block of material to the apocalyptic genre.”

Somewhat coyly, Benjamin D. Sommer annotates these chapters for the Jewish Study Bible under the heading, “Prophesies concerning the end of days, in an apocalyptic style.” While he recognizes the apocalyptic features make the block distinctive, he also sees similarities to parts of the book of Isaiah thought to pre-date apocalyptic literature:

“ ... such as the doctrine of the remnant and a thoroughgoing universalism. Whether these Isaianic features result from Isaiah’s own authorship of these chapters ([in which case] they should be considered protoapocalyptic) or from the influence of Isaiah’s genuine writings on them cannot be determined, but most modern scholars opt for the latter explanation.” [emphasis added]

Sommer treats most of Is.1-33 as dating from the 8th century, but he highlights the likely exceptions, including Is.13, 24-27, and 30:18-26, which he states many scholars date to the Persian period, or later.

Dempsey summarizes the recent scholarship:

“[T]hese four chapters seem to be late additions to Isa.1-39 and seem to have originated sometime during the Persian Period, though clues within the text that would suggest such a dating, or even another date, are few.”

But Blenkinsopp and Dempsey agree that these chapters reflect complex development – “several drafts,” according to Blenkinsopp – a text that “has undergone a process of successive restructuring over a significant period of time,” likely though the Ptolemaic period.
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1 Joseph Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1-39: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary; New York: Doubleday, 2000; p.346.

2 Joseph Blenkinsopp, Isaiah introduction and notes, **The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version*; Michael D. Coogan (ed); Oxford University Press, 2010.

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