Q&A: Dating of Amos and Isaiah

Dating of Amos and Isaiah

Question

How did the experience of the Babylonian exile effect the shape of prophetic books? Specifically, how was the message of Amos altered by the addition of Amos 9:11-15? And how was the message of Isaiah affected by the addition of the salvation oracles of Isaiah 40-55, which most scholars agree were added by an anonymous poet/prophet during the Babylonian exile?

Answer

Our view is that Amos reached its final form by 722 BC, and that Isaiah reached its final form after 681 BC (when Sennacherib died), and before or near the time of Isaiah's death. Thus, the final redactions of both works preceded the Babylonian exile.

Amos 9:11-15 is an essential part of the literary structure of the book of Amos:
  • Title (1:1)
  • God's people judged with the nations (1:2-3:8)
  • Announcements against God's people (3:9-6:14)
  • Visions against God's people (7:1-9:10)
  • God's people blessed above the nations (9:11-15)
As you can see from this outline, 9:11-15 are essential to the balance and message of the book, setting the offer of God's blessing for his people (9:11-15) against his judgment of them (1:2-3:8). Also, because the purpose of prophecy was not simply to foretell the future but to motivate people to action, 9:11-15 are important to the work as a whole. These verses complete the covenant balance (offering blessings for obedience, curses for disobedience) by offering God's blessing if the people will heed the negative oracles (1:2-9:10) by repenting of their sin. It is not inconceivable that Amos could have been written without 9:11-15, but we believe that inclusion in the original makes better literary sense, and that there are no complelling arguments suggesting that it was not in the original.

Regarding Isaiah, we do not subscribe to a deutero- or trito-Isaianic theory, but affirm essential Isaianic authorship of the entire work (i.e. that it was written or approved by Isaiah). Again, we appeal in part to the literary structure and purpose of the book, and to its historical development during Isaiah's ministry, to support this view. Our assessment is that the book as a whole demonstrates itself to have been written to Judahites in order to give them hope that the nation would be restored after the troubles with Babylon. The hope was to stem from the evidence of Isaiah's prior accurate ministry regarding Israel during the Assyrian crises. As we see the book, it possesses the following order:
  • Title (1:1)
  • Overview of Isaiah's ministry (1:2-6:13)
  • Isaiah's response to the Assyrian crises (7:1-39:8)
  • Isaiah's response to the Babylonian crises, including future exile (40:1-66:24)
Now, it may well be that chapters 1-6, 7-39, 40-55, and 56-66 were all written at different times, and even that different writers contributed to these parts. But we do not find any complelling reason to think that Isaiah himself did not at least approve the content of the whole work. Isaiah's prophecies in were not all uttered at one time or place -- nor were even those in 40-66 -- and this fact alone may be sufficient to explain the noticeable differences found in 1-39, 40-55 and 56-66. It appears to us that Isaiah's ministry regarding Israel (7:1-39:8) had been completed, and its prophecies fulfilled, by the time of his ministry regarding Judah (40:1-66:24). Isaiah 7:1-39:8 provides historical testimony to the legitimacy of Isaiah's prophetic ministry in order to convince the Judahites to pay attention to his prophecies concerning their own coming difficulties (cf. 2 Kgs. 20:12-18) with Babylon (40:1-66:24).

Additionally, we affirm the inspiration and accuracy of all Scripture. The New Testament attributes both Isaiah 40-55 (e.g. Matt. 3:3; 8:17; 12:18-21; John 12:38) and Isaiah 56-66 (e.g. Rom. 10:20-21) to Isaiah himself, and we accept its statements as true. We do not believe that there is sufficient evidence to refute its claims.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.