by Charles L. Souvay
Transcribed by W.G. Kofron
With thanks to St. Mary's Church, Akron, Ohio
This article is reprinted here with the kind permission of Kevin Knight, who has undertaken a project to transcribe an online version of the 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia.
While this article is taken from a volume written before the modern biblical translations, the archaic spellings have been updated. For example, Isaias is rendered Isaiah, Osee becomes Hosea, Ozias becomes Uzziah, Ezechias becomes Hezekiah, Achaz becomes Ahaz.
Among the writers whom the Hebrew Bible styles the Latter Prophets foremost stands "Isaiah, the holy prophet . . . the great prophet, and faithful in the sight of God" (Sirach 48:23-25).
The name Isaiah signifies "Yahweh is salvation."
It assumes two different forms in the Hebrew Bible: for in the text of the Book of Isaiah and in the historical writings of the Old Testament, for example in II Kings 19:2;
II Chr 26:22; 32:20,32, it is read Yeshá`yahu, whereas the collection of the Prophet's utterances is entitled Yeshá`yah, in Greek `Esaías, and in Latin usually Isaiah, but
sometimes Isaias or Esaias.
Four other persons of the same name are mentioned in the Old Testament (Ezra 8:7,19; Neh 11:7; I Chr 26:25); while the names Jesaia (I Chr 25:15), Jeseias (I Chr 3:21; 25:3) may be regarded as mere variants.
From the Prophet himself (1:1; 2:1) we learn that he was the son of Amos.
Owing to the similarity between Latin and Greek forms of this name and that of the Shepherd-Prophet of Thecue, some Fathers mistook the Prophet Amos for the father of Isaiah.
Saint Jerome in the preface to his Commentary on Amos (PL XXV 989) points out this error.
Of Isaiah's ancestry we know nothing; but several passages of his prophecies (3:1-17,24; 4:1; 8:2; 31:16) lead us to believe that he belonged to one of the best
families of Jerusalem.
A Jewish tradition recorded in the Talmud (Tr. Megilla 10b.) held him to be a nephew of King Amasias.
As to the exact time of the Prophet's birth we lack definite data; yet he is believed to have been about twenty years of age when he began his public ministry.
He was a citizen, perhaps a native, of Jerusalem.
His writings give unmistakable signs of high culture.
From his prophecies (7 and 8) we learn that he married a woman whom he styles "the prophetess" and that he had two sons, She`arYashub and
Nothing whatever indicates that he was twice married as some fancy on the gratuitous and indefensible supposition that the `almah of 7:14, was his wife.
The prophetical ministry of Isaiah lasted wellnigh half a century, from the closing year of Uzziah, King of Juda, possibly up to that of Manasses.
This period was one of great prophetical activity.
Israel and Juda indeed were in sore need of guidance.
After the death of Jeroboam II revolution followed upon revolution and the northern kingdom had sunk rapidly into an abject vassalage to the Assyrians.
The petty nations of the West, however, recovering from the severe blows received in the beginning of the eighth century, were again manifesting aspirations of independence.
Soon Theglathphalasar III marched his armies towards Syria; heavy tributes were levied and utter ruin threatened on those who would show any hesitation to pay.
In 725 Hosea, the last King of Samaria, fell miserably under the onslaught of Salmanasar IV, and three years later Samaria succumbed to the hands of the Assyrians.
In the meantime the Kingdom of Juda hardly fared better.
A long period of peace had enervated characters, and the young, inexperienced, and unprincipled Achaz was no match for the Syro-Israelite coalition which confronted him.
Panic-stricken he, in spite of the remonstrances of Isaiah, resolved to appeal to Theglathphalasar.
The help of Assyria was secured, but the independence of Juda was thereby practically forfeited.
In order to explain clearly the political situation to which so many allusions are made in Isaiah's writings there is here subjoined a brief chronological sketch of the period: 745, Theglathphalasar III, king of Assyria; Azarias (A. V. Uzziah), of Juda; Manahem (A. V. Menahem) of Samaria; and Sua of Egypt; 740, death of Azarias; Joatham (A. V. Jotham), king of Juda; capture of Arphad (A. V. Arpad) by Theglathphalasar III (Is 10:9); 738, campaign of Theglathphalasar against Syria; capture of Calano (A. V.
Calno) and Emath (A. V. Hamath); heavy tribute imposed upon Manahem (II Kings 15:19-20); victorious wars of Joatham against the Ammonites (II Chr 27:4-6); 736, Manahem succeeded by Phaceia (A. V. Pekahiah); 735, Joatham succeeded by Achaz (II Kings 16:1); Phaceia replaced by Phacee (A. V. Pekah), son of Remelia (A. V. Remaliah), one of his captains; Jerusalem besieged by Phacee in alliance with Rasin (A. V. Rezin), king of Syria (II Kings 16:5; Is 7:1-2); 734, Theglathphalasar, replying to Achaz' request for aid, marches against Syria and Israel, takes several cities of North and East Israel (II Kings 15:29), and banishes their inhabitants; the Assyrian allies devastate part of the territory of Juda and Jerusalem; Phacee slain during a revolution in Samaria and succeeded by Hosea (A. V. Hoshea); 733, unsuccessful expeditions of Achaz against Edom (II Chr 28:17) and the Philistines (20); 732, campaign of Theglathphalasar against Damascus; Rasin besieged in his capital, captured, and slain; Ahaz goes to Damascus to pay homage to the Assyrian ruler (II Kings 16:10-19); 727, death of Ahaz; accession of Ezechias (II Kings 28:1); in Assyria Salmanasar IV succeeds Theglathphalasar III, 726, campaign of Salmanasar against Hosea (II Kings 17:3); 725, Hosea makes alliance with Sua, king of Egypt (II Kings 17:4); second campaign of Salmanasar IV, resulting in the capture and deportation of Hosea (II Kings 17:4); beginning of the siege of Samaria; 722, Sargon succeeds Salmanasar IV in Assyria; capture of Samaria by Sargon; 720, defeat of Egyptian army at Raphia by Sargon; 717, Charcamis, the Hittite stronghold on the Euphrates, falls into the hands of
Sargon (Is 10:8); 713, sickness of Ezechias (II Kings 20:1-11; Is 38); embassy from Merodach Baladan to Hezekiah (II Kings 20:12-13; Is 39); 711, invasion of Western Palestine by Sargon; siege and capture of Azotus (A. V. Ashdod; Is 20); 709, Sargon defeats Merodach Baladan, seizes Babylon, and assumes title of king of Babylon; 705, death of Sargon; accession of Sennacherib; 701, expedition of Sennacherib against Egypt; defeat of latter at Elteqeh; capture of Accaron (A. V. Ekron); siege of
Lachis; Hezekiah's embasy; the conditions laid down by Sennacherib being found too hard the king of Juda prepares to resist the Assyrians; destruction of part of the Assyrian army; hurried retreat of the rest (II Kings 18; Is 36 & 37); 698, Ezechias is succeeded by his son Manasses.
The wars of the ninth century and the peaceful security following them produced their effects in the latter part of the next century.
Cities sprang up; new pursuits, although affording opportunities of easy wealth, brought about also an increase of poverty.
The contrast between class and class became daily more marked, and the poor were oppressed by the rich with the connivance of the judges.
A social state founded on iniquity is doomed.
But as Israel's social corruption was greater than Juda's, Israel was expected to succumb first.
Greater likewise was her religious corruption.
Not only did idolatrous worship prevail there to the end, but we know from Hosea what gross abuses and shameful practices obtained in Samaria and throughout the
kingdom, whereas the religion of the people of Juda on the whole seems to have been a little better.
We know, however, as regards these, that at the very time of Isaias certain forms of idolatrous worship, like that of Nohestan and of Moloch, probably that also of Tammur and of the "host of heaven," were going on in the open or in secret.
Commentators are at variance as to when Isaias was called to the prophetical office.
Some think that previous to the vision related in 6:1, he had received communications from heaven.
Saint Jerome in his commentary on the passage holds that chapters 1-5 ought to be attributed to the last years of King Uzziah, then chapter 6 would commence a new series
begun in the year of the death of that prince (740 B.C.; PL XXIV 91; cf. Saint Gregory Nazianzen, Orat ix; PG XXXV 820).
It is more commonly held, however, that chapter 6 refers to the first calling of the Prophet; Saint Jerome himself, in a letter to Pope Damasus seems to adopt this view (P
L XXII 371; cf. Hesychius "In Is." PG XCIII 1372), and Saint John Chrysostom, commenting upon Is 6:5, very aptly contrasts the promptness of the Prophet with the tergiversations of Moses and Jeremiah.
On the other hand, since no prophecies appear to be later than 701 B.C., it is doubtful if Isaias saw the reign of Manasses at all; still a very
old and widespread tradition, echoed by the Mishna (Tr. Yebamoth 49b; cf. Sanhedr. 103b), has it that the Prophet survived Hezekiah and was slain in the persecution of Manasses (II Kings 21:16).
This prince had him convicted of blasphemy, because he had dared say: "I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne" (6:1), a pretension in conflict with God's own assertion in Ex 33:20: "Man shall not see me and live."
He was accused, moreover, of having predicted the ruin of Jerusalem and called the holy city and the people of Juda by the accursed names of Sodom and Gomorrah. According to the Ascension of Isaiah, the Prophet's martyrdom consisted in being sawed asunder.
Tradition shows this to have been unhesitatingly believed.
The Targum on II Kings 21:6, admits it; it is preserved in two treatises of the Talmud (Yebamoth 49b; Sanhedr. 103b); Saint Justin (Dial. c. Tryph. 120), and many of the Fathers adopted it, taking as unmistakable allusions to Isaiah those words of Heb 11:37, "they (the ancients) were cut asunder" (cf. Tertullian, De patient, xiv; PL I 1270; Orig. "In Is." Hom. I 5, PG XIII 223; "In Matt." x 18 PG XIII 882; "In Matt." Ser. 28, PG XIII 1637; "Epist. ad Jul. Afr." ix PG XI 65; Saint Jerome, "In Is." lvii 1 PL XXIV 546-548; etc.).
However, little trust should be put in the strange details mentioned in the De Vit. Prophet. of pseudo-Epiphanius (PG XLIII 397, 419).
The date of the Prophet's demise is not known.
The Roman Martyrology commemorates Isaiah on 6 July.
His tomb is believed to have been in Paneas in Northern Palestine, whence his relics were taken to Constantinople in A.D. 442.
The literary activity of Isaiah is attested by the canonical book which bears his name; moreover allusion is made in II Chr 26:22, to "Acts of Uzziah first and last . . . written by Isaiah, the son of Amos, the prophet."
Another passage of the same book informs us that "the rest of the acts of Hezekiah and his mercies, are written in the Vision of Isaiah, son of Amos, the prophet," in the Book of the Kings of Juda and Israel.
Such at least is the reading of the Massoretic Bible, but its text here, if we may judge from the variants of the Greek and Saint Jerome, is somewhat corrupt.
Most commentators who believe the passage to be authentic think that the writer refers to Is 36-39.
We must finally mention the Ascension of Isaiah, at one time attributed to the Prophet, but never admitted into the Canon.