Friday, May 23, 2014

Blomberg on Isaiah

This is a sequel to my prior post:
Despite claims to the contrary, some who argue for a composite Isaiah do so not because they ca't believe that God could inspire a prophet to name an important king more than 150 years before his reign. They simply observe that detail after detail in the later chapters of Isaiah is written in the past or present tenses. In other words, they are not even couched as predictions but as circumstances in which the author of these chapters has lived. This observation, though, is complicated by the fact that the Hebrew perfect tense often can be used to refer to future events. Still, the most natural or "literal"reading of texts like these leads to the conclusion that their author is writing in the sixth century BC, in which case it cannot be the prophet Isaiah. C. Blomberg, Can We Still Believe the Bible, 161-62.
Unfortunately, Blomberg drastically understates the evidence for traditional authorship:
1. Visionary Revelation
Isaiah was a seer. A visionary:
The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah(Isa 1:1). 
The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem (Isa 2:1). 
The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw (Isa 13:1). 
A stern vision is told to me; the traitor betrays, and the destroyer destroys. Go up, O Elam; lay siege, O Media; all the sighing she has caused I bring to an end (Isa 21:2).

If God gave Isaiah a literal preview of the future, then how would we expect Isaiah to recount his experience? (I'd add that visionary revelation can include auditions as well as images.) What's the difference between describing what you see and what you foresee? If you can actually see into the future, you are observing the future as if it is present. If Isaiah literally foresaw the Jews in exile or literally foresaw the Jews returning from exile, would he express that in future terms or present terms? Although the event is future, the perception of the event is present. He's like a time-traveler who's transported forward. Like an immersive simulation. In his inspired imagination, the observer is simultaneous with event. An eyewitness to the future. 
2. Argument from Prophecy
The testimony of the book itself certainly insists on the reality of supernatural prophecy that focusses on the future. The whole case for the sovereignty of God in Isa 40-48 is built around the Lord's ability to say beforehand what he is going to do and the challenge to the idols to do the same. Therefore, the future focus that is spread throughout this section cannot be easily neutralized. A. Hill & J. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament (Zondervan, 3rd ed., 2009), 521-22. 
To claim that these are not prophecies at all, but  history written to appear as prophecy, does not appear to do justice to the polemic that Isa 40-66 is conducting. If those to whom this section of Isaiah was originally addressed knew that it was not prophecy, then the polemic against the idols' inability to predict becomes vapid and impotent. G. Beale, The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism (Crossway 2008), 151.
3. Palestinian Setting
There is virtually no evidence that the writer of this section had any familiarity with the situation and life in Babylon. When the prophetic texts do address the situation of the exiles (42:22; 51:14), they bear no resemblance to those texts that describe the life of the Jews exiled in Babylon (Jer 29; Ezekiel). To the contrary, mention is made of Jerusalem, the mountains of Palestine, and trees native to Palestine such as cedars, cypress, and oak, but not to Babylon (Isa 41:19; 44:14). Other passages such as 40:9 indicate that Judean cities were still in existence, and 62:6 speaks of the walls of Jerusalem standing, a fact incompatible with an exilic cultural setting for these oracles. E. Merrill, M. Rooker, M. Grisanti, The World and the Word (B&H 2011), 370. 
For example: (a) 40:12-31 does not say that the people are in exile, so the so-called complaints of the exiles in 40:27 could have arisen from any number of reasons and from almost any geographical location. There simply is no objective evidence that these people were in Babylon. (b) Since Judah and other nations had trade and political relationships with Babylon, it most likely that people throughout the ancient Near Eastern world had general information about Babylonian life and their religious practices; thus prophecies about the future defeat of Babylon (43:14; 46:1-47:15) do not require the conclusion that the audience was living in Babylon (any more than chaps 13-14 require the audience to be living in Babylon). Although isaiah spoke in detail about Egyptian life, religion, and culture in chaps 19 and 30-31, commentators do not put the author and his audience in Egypt. 
(e) Prophecies about what will happen in the future to Babylon, to the exiles, to those who return from exile, and the eternal kingdom of God do not require the audience to be in any one setting, for these prophecies could be given anywhere. The context of a future prophecy does not determine the present location of the audience. Ezekiel could talk about what was happening in Jerusalem in 8:1-18, but his audience was in exile, not in Jerusalem. Later he could talk about the eschatological situation in Jerusalem (chaps 40-48), but he was still talking to an audience in exile.   
These chapters (a) seemed to show relatively little knowledge about Babylonian culture; (b) mentioned trees that grew in Palestine rather than Babylon; (c) described making idols out of trees not available in Babylon and never referring to the popular Babylonian palm tree; (d) talked about enemies coming from the north and east, a sign that the people were in Judah; (e) conceived of Ur as the "ends of the earth" in 41:9, an unlikely statement if the people were living next door in Babylon; (f) spoke about people being taken "from here" (meaning Jerusalem) in 52:5; and (g) described those exiled by Assyria. Barstad argues for a setting in Judah, concluding that there was little Akkadian linguistic influence on Isaiah's writing…J. Motyer maintains that chaps 40-55 are Babylonian in orientation but not in setting. G. Smith, Isaiah 40-66 (B&H 2009), 43-44,46.
4. Literary Priority
John Walton has argued that since the exilic Book of Kings used the complete book of Isaiah as a source, that implies the preexilic date for Isaiah. Cf. "New Observations on the Date of Isaiah," JETS 28 (1985), 129-32.
5. Anonymity
It should be observed in this connection that an almost invariable rule followed by the ancient Heberws in regard to prophetic writings was that the name of the prophet was essential for the acceptance of any prophetic utterance…The Hebrews regarded the identity of the prophet as of utmost importance if his message was to be received as an authoritative declaration of a true spokesman of the Lord. G. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Moody, 3rd. ed. 1994), 388.

1 comment:

  1. Just curious, but does Walton hold to single authorship of Isaiah?