Some Notes on Isaiah as historiographer

Koot van Wyk

I do not agree with Franz Delitzsche’s Higher Critical descriptions of the historiography of the Old Testament but I do agree with his observation and sensing that there is a link between 1 Kings’ “prophetic history” style and that of Isaiah who also used a “prophetic history” style plus of course pure prophetic style (Delitzsch Isaiah Vol. 1, 1886: 5). In my research, Isaiah actually evolved from professor of history, that is the royal court historiographer, to prophetic history (compiling the Book of Kings [contra Delitzsch who claim that Ezra did]) to pure passages and chapters on prophecy. Ezra was a preserver of what was already written by Isaiah and not a compiler and editor of past histories of Israel. It was not in the protocol of Israelite historiography to invent or adjust tradition but to treasure it and preserve it. He could not add or delete ad hoc anything. He was just a scribe and not a prophet from the Lord. Moses was a prophet and Ezra could not add or delete. Isaiah was a prophet and the same. He was not and could only carefully serve as Xerox to the canon. That is the role of Ezra.

There are idioms in Isaiah that are also found in the exact form in the Book of Kings. Of course, Isaiah could not have written all of 2 Kings since some data are after his time. But, someone wrote and continued in the same style as Isaiah to complete the work. Such “template compositions” were known in history whereby a second hand wrote similar to a previous hand.

Before Isaiah was called to the function of prophet he served as professor in History at the Royal court of the King of Uzziah and wrote a history of the acts of Uzziah. When he was called to the function of prophet, he “retired” from that active historiography and spent time in the archives to write a “prophetic history” of the Book of Kings until his death. Chronicles is very annalistic, says Franz Delitzsch (op. cit. supra). Even if it is annalistic, it is still “prophetic history” and Isaiah’s hand as first main Editor can be seen in it.

He also described and recorded his prophecies and the Book of Isaiah has annalistic history as in Chapter 36-38, prophetic history and pure prophecies.

The scholar S. R. Driver in his 1893 commentary on Isaiah page 2 also mention the two other books that Isaiah wrote and which is lost now as 2 Chronicles 26:22 and 2 Chronicles 32:32 indicate. Personally, I cannot see how Isaiah could have had access to the archives of the Kings of Israel in the Royal palace or compound, unless he was well-trained as a scribe and had enough nobility to go in and out for the writings he did. Writing a history of the acts of Uzziah, would make me opt for the position of a senior teacher in history at the Royal court, teaching the kings’ children and in charge of an ongoing protocol of historiography of the Kings of Israel. An archivist if you please. The minute detail that he had access to indicated that Isaiah was well-read and well-updated all the times.

Scholars’ inability to find synchronization with the Assyrian cuneiform sources and Isaiah lies not with the miscalculated data of Isaiah but with misinterpreted data Isaiah by modern science and the refusal to see Sennacherib coming twice to Jerusalem instead of only one time.

The internal evidence of Isaiah do not support only one campaign of Sennacherib to Israel, because one was peaceful with tributes paid and one was warlike with suffering of losses.

The classical Third Campaign of Sennacherib cuneiform material is the one in 701 BCE and not 702 BCE as Stefan Timm misconstrued by canceling some cuneiform texts as “faulty calculations”. Again a case of modern misinterpretation of the ancient sources. They had two systems of calculation, not only one. The Babylonian one did not recognize Sargon II’s first year when he usurped the throne. The Assyrian one did include that year as well. Thus, what is 11th year in Assyrian sources will be 9th year in Babylonian sources. That is not an error. Scholars overlooked this very important aspect in their dealing with the cuneiform sources.