Almost as if it were a response to Matthew Quartey’s recent lament on this website, on Sabbath, April 3, Bernard Taylor launched a five-session series on “The Three Books of Isaiah in their Contexts and Ours” at the Roy Branson Legacy Sabbath School. Here is the lineup:
April 3: Preview and their Contexts
April 10: I Isaiah (Chapters 1-39) — Before the Babylonian Exile
April 17: II Isaiah (Chapters 40-55) — During the Babylonian Exile
April 24: III Isaiah (Chapters 56-66) — After the Babylonian Exile
May 1: Review and Our Contexts
The Theologian-in-Residence at the Loma Linda University Church for many years, Taylor now serves as Research Professor in the university’s School of Religion. He is one of the world’s foremost scholars of the Old Testament, especially its first translation into Koine Greek about 250 years before the time of Jesus which we know as the Septuagint.
He is the very first person in about 2,250 years to have authored an Analytical Lexicon to the Septuagint which was published in 2009 by Hendrickson Publishers. It parses every Greek word in the Septuagint, which is itself a translation of a Hebrew term, in English. It’s first edition is currently for sale at Amazon for $809.67. Fortunately, one can purchase its current “Expanded Edition” for $42.54.
Matthew Quartey did not insist that we all pledge allegiance to the widely held view that Isaiah is three books rather than one. He wanted us to consider this possibility because it is so frequently asserted. He also wanted us to read Isaiah as if it were three books at least once to see if doing it this different way increases our understanding of it. He regretted that 20 million SDAs around the world studied Isaiah for 13 weeks without taking the “three-book-thesis” seriously when so many other well-informed people do.
I regret this, too. This is why some time ago I invited Bernard Taylor to do this series in this format. Happily, he agreed! Clearly, though, his views and mine are our own and not necessarily the views of any of the people in the organizations with whom we have worked.
In some ways it matters little whether Isaiah is like one book with three chapters or like three different books, or like one play with three acts or like three different plays, or like one symphony with three movements or like three different symphonies.
Yet there is something that does matter and it matters a lot. It is that we notice that Isaiah consists of three big chunks of material and that each one made its own distinctive contribution to those who lived so long ago and can make to our own lives today.
Some people insist that Isaiah is one book. It is easy for me to respect this position when it is based on an examination of the evidence but difficult when it expresses an unwillingness even to consider the matter. Others concede that it is three books but remind us that this will not cause us to lose faith in the Bible if we have a realistic understanding of how it is divinely inspired. I belong to a third group of people who react to the “three-book-thesis” with joy and gladness because, at least for us, it makes Isaiah much more interesting, understandable, and relevant to our own circumstances.
In addition to information about how to participate in different ways on Zoom, Facebook, and YouTube, six videos are at bransonlegacysabbathschool.com which one can view in preparation for Taylor’s sessions. They do not all take the same position. They include strong cases for and against the “three-book-thesis” as well as some which concentrate more on themes. Enjoy!
David Larson is Professor of Religion at Loma Linda University Health.
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