Isaiah son of Amoz was a prophet during one of the most turbulent periods in Judah’s history. Early in his career, which lasted approximately 40 years (740–700 B.C.E.), the kingdom of Judah became a vassal of Assyria, a rapidly expanding power in the Levant. Around 735 B.C.E., the nations of Aram and Israel threatened to invade Jerusalem, the capital city of Judah, if King Ahaz did not join their anti-Assyrian coalition. Later, Assyria invaded Judah to suppress a rebellion by King Hezekiah in 701 B.C.E. As a prophet, Isaiah delivered messages from Yahweh about these events to political leaders and social elites in Jerusalem.
Did you know…?
- Isaiah was an important prophet in ancient Judah from about 740 to 700 B.C.E. He appears in the biblical books of Isaiah and 2 Kings.
- Many of Isaiah’s prophecies concern the expansion of the Assyrian Empire and its threat to Judah.
- Isaiah had two children whose names reinforced his prophecies: Shear-jashub (“A Remnant will return,”
Isa 7:3) and Maher-shalal-hash-baz (“Spoil speeds, prey hastens,” Isa 8:3). Another child named Immanuel (“God is with us,” Isa 7:14) may also have been Isaiah’s.
- The mother of one of Isaiah’s children was a prophet herself (
- As depicted in the Hebrew Bible, Isaiah was consulted on political matters by the kings Ahaz and Hezekiah of Judah.
- Scholars continue to debate whether Isaiah was primarily a prophet of judgment or of hope.
- A noncanonical text called The Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah contains legends about Isaiah’s death.
- The biblical book of Isaiah has been very influential in Judaism and Christianity. It also inspires peace and justice activists from different traditions.
Why does Isaiah speak of both doom and deliverance?
According to the books of Isaiah and 2 Kings, the prophet Isaiah was a well-known figure in Jerusalem, consulted by the kings of Judah. He may have been affiliated with the temple, where he received an early commissioning vision (
Readers have long noticed opposing tendencies within the prophecies attributed to Isaiah. In some passages, he denounces Judah’s social and religious practices and threatens Jerusalem with destruction (for example,
Until recently, most scholars viewed him as a prophet of doom and argued that texts depicting the deliverance of Jerusalem were written sometime in the next century, perhaps to celebrate the city’s survival of the Assyrian invasion in 701 B.C.E., before Babylon sacked the city in 587 B.C.E. A different view holds the reverse: that Isaiah mostly prophesied deliverance for his nation, like other prophets from the ancient Near East, whereas threatening texts were written in hindsight to reflect the later destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E. Still other scholars have suggested that the prophecies of judgment and salvation are both original, written by the historical prophet. Isaiah’s message may have varied, depending on which political crisis he was addressing, or the unresolved tension between these themes may have been an important part of his message.
What is Isaiah’s legacy?
Whatever one concludes about the historical prophet Isaiah, he inspired a dynamic tradition that grew over several centuries into the biblical book that bears his name. The religious and cultural influence of this book can be felt even today.
Isaiah’s prophecies are among the earliest responses to Judah’s encounter with imperial power, which would continue over several centuries. The claim that Assyria was Yahweh’s instrument for punishing Judah (
The book of Isaiah has been a foundational text in the history of both Judaism and Christianity. There were at least 21 copies of Isaiah among the Dead Sea Scrolls, along with six copies of commentaries on Isaiah. It is among the texts from the Hebrew Bible most frequently quoted or alluded to in the New Testament, especially in association with the birth, life, and death of Jesus (
In Judaism, more synagogue readings come from Isaiah than any other biblical book outside of the Torah, although the majority of them are from Isaiah 40-66, which was written after the time of the historical prophet. The figure of Isaiah is less prominent in Islam. He is never mentioned in the Qur’an, but he does appear in later collections of stories about prophets. Texts from Isaiah have also inspired activists from many traditions to work toward the establishment of social justice and world peace (for example,