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Isaiah ( ; Greek: , Ēsaiās ; , Ash'iyā' , ; "Yahweh is salvation"; (US), (UK)) is the main figure in the Biblical Book of Isaiah, and is traditionally considered to be its author. He was a prophet in the 8th-century BC Kingdom of Judah. Part of his message was: "The land will be completely laid waste and totally plundered. The LORD has spoken this word." (Isaiah 24:3). Isaiah therefore warns the people of Israel to turn back to Yahweh.

Judaism considers the Book of Isaiah a part of its canon; he is the first listed (although not the earliest) of the neviim akharonim, the later prophets. Christianity regards Isaiah as a saint and as prophet.

He prophesied during the reigns of Uzziah (or Azariah), Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (1:1), the kings of Judah. Uzziah reigned fifty-two years in the middle of the 8th century BC, and Isaiah must have begun his career a few years before Uzziah's death, probably in the 740s BC. He lived till the fourteenth year of Hezekiah (who died 698 BC), and may have been contemporary for some years with Manasseh. Thus Isaiah may have prophesied for the long period of at least forty-four years.

In early youth Isaiah must have been moved by the invasion of Israel by the Assyrian monarch Tiglath-Pileser III ( ); and again, twenty years later, when he had already entered on his office, by the invasion of Tiglath-Pileser and his career of conquest. Ahaz, king of Judah, at this crisis refused to co-operate with the kings of Israel and Syriamarker in opposition to the Assyrians, and was on that account attacked and defeated by Rezin of Damascusmarker and Pekah of Israel ( ; ). Ahaz, thus humbled, sided with Assyria, and sought the aid of Tiglath-Pileser against Israel and Syria. The consequence was that Rezin and Pekah were conquered and many of the people carried captive to Assyria ( , ; ).

Soon after this Shalmaneser V determined wholly to subdue the kingdom of Israel, Samariamarker was taken and destroyed (722 BC). So long as Ahaz reigned, the kingdom of Judah was unmolested by the Assyrian power; but on his accession to the throne, Hezekiah, who was encouraged to rebel "against the king of Assyria" ( ), entered into an alliance with the king of Egyptmarker ( ). This led the king of Assyria to threaten the king of Judah, and at length to invade the land. Sennacherib (701 BC) led a powerful army into Judah. Hezekiah was reduced to despair, and submitted to the Assyrians ( ). But after a brief interval war broke out again, and again Sennacherib led an army into Judah, one detachment of which threatened Jerusalem ( ; ). Isaiah on that occasion encouraged Hezekiah to resist the Assyrians ( ), whereupon Sennacherib sent a threatening letter to Hezekiah, which he "spread before the lord" ( ).

According to the account in Kings (and its derivative account in Chronicles) the judgment of God now fell on the Assyrian army. "Like Xerxes in Greece, Sennacherib never recovered from the shock of the disaster in Judah. He made no more expeditions against either southern Palestine or Egypt."

The remaining years of Hezekiah's reign were peaceful ( ). Isaiah probably lived to its close, and possibly into the reign of Manasseh, but the time and manner of his death are not specified in either the Bible or recorded history. There is a tradition (reported in both the Martyrdom of Isaiah and the Lives of the Prophets) that he suffered martyrdom by Manasseh due to pagan reaction. Both Jewish and Christian traditions state that he was killed by being sawed in half with a wooden saw. Some interpreters believe that this is what is referred to in the New Testament verse , which states that some prophets were "sawn in two".

Rabbinic literature

According to the Rabbinic literature, Isaiah was a descendant of Judah and Tamar (Sotah 10b). His father was a prophet and the brother of King Amaziah (Talmud tractate Megillah 15a).

Three “Isaiah”s

Modern scholarship sees “Isaiah” as “a long, inspired tradition” including the prophet of Jerusalem (“First Isaiah”) and continuing through his disciples including “Second Isaiah” and “Third Isaiah”.
  • First Isaiah: Preached between 740 and 687 BC. A city person who insisted upon faith and was fearless in opposing leaders.
  • Second Isaiah: A master of sound and music with sweeping visions of mountains collapsing and valleys lifted up.
  • Third Isaiah: Most influenced by earlier Isaiahs. Dreamed of new heavens and new earth.


  1. New Bible Dictionary, Second Edition, Tyndale Press, Wheaton, IL, USA 1987.
  2. entry "Isaiah"
  3. JPS Hebrew English Tanakh, Jewish Publication Society, 2000
  4. Isaiah at Jewish Encyclopedia

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