An article published in Israel Today gives a very interesting perspective on the book of Isaiah. The article reads in part:
People often maintain that the Old Testament, in contrast to the New Testament, is defined by a Debit and Credit system of laws. But that is simply not true.
One example of this is the book of Isaiah. Modern theologians have invented the Deutero-Isaiah theory, which claims that the second part of Isaiah was written later than the first by another author. Their works were later compiled together under the name of the first author, the “real” Isaiah.
However, anyone who really looks at Isaiah in context will see clearly that there were not two of them who supposedly contradicted each other, but rather there was one writer who prophesied regarding two different periods of time.
In chapters 1 to 39, Isaiah prophecies about the destruction of the Temple (70 AD) and the banishment of the Jews from Israel (135 AD). Then from chapter 40 to the end, Isaiah prophecies about the end of the Jewish Diaspora when modern- day Zionism begins, fulfilled by the founding of the State of Israel.
The last statement of this article reveals the problem some people have in interpreting a biblical text. To say that Isaiah 1-39 contains prophecies about the banishment of Israel in 135 AD and that Isaiah 40-66 speaks about the Zionist movement of the last two centuries is a clear evidence of infusing the text with ideas that were never present in the mind of the original writer.
The correct interpretation of a biblical text is a difficult enterprise. The task of explaining the meaning of a text requires at least three very important hermeneutical principles:
1. The interpreter must make an attempt at understanding what the original writer meant to communicate to his primary audience.
2. The interpreter must discover what the primary audience or the recipients of the message understood the original writer to be communicating to them.
3. The interpreter must understand the simple meaning of the message that is actually conveyed by the words of the text.
As humans, we come to a biblical text with our set of biases and presuppositions that are mediated through our religious experiences and personal history. Thus, our cultural background, our religious experience, and our prior knowledge influence what we read and how we understand the biblical text.
The statement above does not meet the three criteria for a good interpretation of the biblical text and reflect the kind of bias that brings into the text an interpretation that was never intended by the writer or writers of the book of Isaiah.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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