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UNSOLVED PROBLEMS 



THE PROBLEM OF ISAIAH 

For some years I have been occupied with the problem of the signifi- 
cance of Isaiah the son of Amos in the development of the religion of 
Israel. Probably more attention has been paid to Isaiah, especially by 
English-speaking scholars, than to any other prophet in the Old Testa- 
ment, yet I cannot find any adequate attempt at a methodical investiga- 
tion of the complex problems presented by the oracles attributed to this 
prophet. The reason for this is possibly the fact that the most of 
Isaiah study as, indeed, the most of the study of the prophets generally, 
is even yet conducted in the commentary form, chapter by chapter and 
verse by verse. But commentaries give only a piecemeal view of a 
prophet's significance. The time is rapidly approaching when the 
conventional commentary must give place to the monograph in which 
the raw material of the commentary can be worked up into a living 
picture of the prophet and his work. Almost thirty years ago Hack- 
mann wrote such a monograph {Zukunftserwarlung des Jesaia, 1893) 
and it still remains the most instructive study of Isaiah's religious 
significance. But it is time for Hackmann's work to be brought down 
to date. 

What are some of the problems which such a monograph should 
discuss ? 

I. There are two very divergent schools of criticism in the inter- 
pretation of Isaiah. One of these, earlier championed by Wellhausen 
and Robertson Smith and later by Stade and Marti, to mention the 
more outstanding names, would emphasize the historical and ethical 
features in Isaiah's life and work. The rival school charges this inter- 
pretation with being an attempt to modernize Isaiah; he is not to be 
regarded as a modern preacher but is still an ancient naW. His sig- 
nificance does not he so much in his high ethical conceptions; these he 
shares with his predecessors. His significance Ues rather in the fact 
that he is the founder of eschatology. He is hunself an "exstatiker." 
Duhm is the great protagonist of this view of Isaiah, though he is sup- 
ported to a certain extent by the religions geschichtliche Schttle as repre- 
sented by Gunkel, Gressmann, and Hans Schmidt. Which of these 
interpretations is the more accurate? Isaiah study at this point is 

307 



3o8 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

strikingly prallel to the study of the Gospels. The Quest of the historical 
Jesus has its Old Testament counterpart in the Quest of the historical 
Isaiah. 

2. Again it is the fashion among scholars, or rather it is a critical 
dogma, for it is more fixed than a fashion, to hold that Isaiah was abso- 
lutely opposed to the ceremonial and would do away with the entire 
system. Superficially there is strong evidence for this. Nothing could be 
expressed more absolutely than the repudiation of the ritual in i : 10-17. 
Yet the same scholars who advocate this view insist with equal 
emphasis upon the nationaUst character of Isaiah's religion. That is, he 
is supposed to be thinking rather of the citizen than of the individual 
soul, of the obligations of the Israelite rather than of the man. Religion 
with Isaiah is therefore still quite objective. It is in reality a religion of 
the state. But if this is so, how can such a reUgion be expressed other- 
wise than in some sort of a ceremonial system, especially in ancient 
times ? Furthermore it is a curious fact to which too little attention 
has been paid that when Isaiah describes the most important experience 
of his life he does it in terms of the cult. His inaugural vision is a temple 
vision and his consecration is a purification. If he so despised the 
ritual as is commonly supposed, would he have pictured his own call under 
the symbolism of the ceremonial system ? Have we, then, in Isaiah an 
extreme radical with respect to organized reUgion and the forms in 
which organized religion has always been embodied, or must we qualify 
the inferences usually drawn from his attack upon the ritual. 

3. Closely connected with this problem is the problem of his con- 
ception of the Remnant. It is true that we are on diffirnlt ground here. 
The evidence is scanty and perplexing. Yet the subject is so important 
that it deserves a far more careful discussion than is usually given to 
it. For example, even in the thurd edition of Duhm's great commentary 
(1914) and in his Israel's Propheten (1916) one misses any clear analysis 
of the idea of the Remnant. Is it more nearly related to the state con- 
ception of reUgion or to the individualistic conception of religion ? Is 
the Remnant the germ of the idea of a supernatural messianic state, or 
is it the germ of the idea of a church historically developing and distinct 
from the state? The Wellhausen-Smith interpretation connected the 
Remnant with the band of Isaiah's disciples (chap. 8) and thus arrived 
at the conception of a historical Remnant ethically prepared for the 
future and gradually differentiating themselves from the state. This 
is in keeping with their historical and ethical interpretation of Isaiah, but 
is this identification justifiable ? If it is, we have at this pomt a doctrine 
closely related to individualism in religion and the conception of Isaiah's 



UNSOLVED PROBLEMS 309 

religion as a purely state religion would have to be qualified and Isaiah 
would become the precursor of that development which led to Jeremiah's 
profound views of the inwardness of religion. 

4. The same question again emerges in connection with Isaiah's 
doctrine of faith. Is Isaiah's conception of faith a simple adhesion to 
Jahweh's voice through the prophet and to signs and wonders which 
guarantee that word, as it would seem to be in chapter 7, or is it that 
experience of inward peace and trust in God which we associate with 
the idea of faith, as it would seem to be in 8: 16-18 ? In the latter case 
the nationalistic theory of Isaiah's religion would again have to be 
modified by a more individualistic theory. 

5. Closely related to the same problems is the question of Isaiah's 
quietism as seen in his constant warning against all foreign alliances, 
and compare 30:15. Was this quietism founded on his belief in the 
supernatural, in a deliverance through miraculous intervention, or is it 
more related to a profounder view of faith and a more spiritual view of 
the Remnant ? 

6. What inferences does Isaiah draw from the localizing conception 
of religion apparently expressed in 8:16-18? Does he think, because 
Jahweh dwells in Mount Zion, therefore it is sacrosanct, inviolate? 
Have we, then, already in Isaiah the deuteronomic doctrine of the 
centralization of the cultus and the inviolabihty of Zion ? In that case 
how is the attitude of Isaiah in the anti-Assyrian prophecies, for example, 
to be differentiated from the attitude of Jeremiah's opponents in Jer. 7 ? 
Is Isaiah to be made responsible, even "unconsciously" responsible 
(compare Duhm), for a dogma which gave Jeremiah so much trouble? 

7. Finally, is the conception of a Davidic Messiah an original creation 
of Isaiah as Duhm would still have us believe, or is it an inheritance of 
Isaiah that came to him out of the popular mythology as Gressmann 
maintains, or is it a product of later ages incorporated into a collection 
of Isaiah's oracles as Stade and Marti insist ? These questions remain 
unsettled. No general consensus upon them has as yet been obtained. 
Yet until this is done the outhne of Israel's religious development must 
remain uncertain at some of the most important points and the final 
appraisal of the life-work of this remarkable man, who has exercised 
so great an influence upon Jewish and Christian thought, must be 
deferred. 

Kemper Fulleeton 
The Oberlin Gkaduate School op Theology