Are Isaiah’s Messiah Prophecies Authentic?
Isaiah is considered by Judaism and Christianity to be the greatest of all the prophets making the Book of Isaiah the greatest of all the books of the prophets. The Talmud contains many references and interpretations of Isaiah’s prophecies with Sanhedrin 98 alone making 10 references.
Beginning to end, the Book of Isaiah is chalked full of Messiah prophecies although which ones are messianic sparks a conflict. Undisputed are the three prophecies foretelling the future Messiah would come from the son of Jesse, the throne of David. Of these, one is the first Messiah “Branch” prophecy followed a hundred years later by two Jeremiah “Branch” prophecies and a century after that, Zechariah’s two “Branch” prophecies.
Perhaps the greatest of all offers made by God to a man is the story in Isaiah of King Ahaz who turned it down! The King was given an opportunity to choose any miraculous sign unbounded between Heaven and Hell as proof that Isaiah’s prophecy of protection would come true. Suspicious, Ahaz declined the challenge leading to the famed, yet controversial, prophecy of Isaiah 7:14.
Christianity and Judaism virtually agree Isaiah 7:14 predicts the birth of a son, but they part company about it being a prophecy of the Messiah’s birth. Matthew’s Gospel contains the account when the Archangel Gabriel told Joseph his betrothed virgin wife, Mary, would give birth to a son fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy of ha-almah.
Much more than a single word, the parashah or pericope of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 depicts a man’s manner of torture and suffering who is killed and buried. Moreover, the death and burial among the rich described in Isaiah 53:8-9 is followed by a description of life again in the remaining two verses. The many details in the parashah mirror the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion death, burial and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
Judaism typically treats the Isaiah 52-53 parashah as a prophecy about Israel, but with some very notable exceptions. Prominent Rabbis – Maimonides, Jose the Galilean, Crispin – point to a combined 5 different Messiah prophecies within the parashah of Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12. “The Rabbis” in Sanhedrin 98b reference Isaiah 53:4 identifying one of the names of the Messiah.
Hours before his arrest, Jesus quoted Isaiah 53:12 to his Disciples, “‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’” saying the prophecy written about himself was to be fulfilled. Three years earlier, launching his ministry in the synagogue of his home town, Jesus of Nazareth read from the prophecy of Isaiah 61 saying, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Paramount to all of these prophecies is having confidence that the Book of Isaiah is credible and reliable. Archeology played a major role in that determination with the discoveries of the Qumran Scrolls from 1947-1956 and their restoration.
Most Qumran scrolls were only in fragments, but one scroll was complete – the scroll of Isaiah. For good reason, the scroll has been dubbed “The Great Isaiah Scroll” and is on display in Jerusalem at the Shrine of the Book.
A precept of the science of textual criticism is the shorter the time interval between the original and the existing text, the greater the level of textual purity – the shorter the timeframe, the fewer number of interim handwritten copies where variations are inevitably introduced.
Isaiah’s book was written around 700 BC and the Scroll is dated to between 200-100 BC. When compared to other well-known texts of antiquity, textual purity of the Scroll is of the highest degree especially considering that the some Hebrew scrolls have been known to be used in synagogues for hundreds of years.
Until the Qumran discoveries, the oldest textual content of Isaiah was the Masoretic Aleppo manuscript, the source for the Jewish Tenakh. The Aleppo text was written about 1000 years after the Scroll. Are the expected variances minor or significant?
Surprising to experts, little variation is found between the Scroll and Aleppo texts. One Scroll translator, Jeff A Benner, explains his translation methodology on his website, “The Great Isaiah Scroll and the Masoretic Text.” Focusing on the controversial Isaiah 53, the findings of his analysis:
“The major difference between the Aleppo Codex and the Dead Sea Scrolls is the addition of the vowel pointings (called nikkudot in Hebrew) in the Aleppo Codex to the Hebrew words.”
“Of the 166 words in Isaiah 53, there are only 17 letters in question. Ten of these letters are simply a matter of spelling, which does not affect the sense. Four more letters are minor stylistic changes, such as conjunctions. The three remaining letters comprise the word LIGHT, which is added in verse 11 and which does not affect the meaning greatly. Furthermore, this word is supported by the Septuagint (LXX). Thus, in one chapter of 166 words, there is only one word (three letters) in question after a thousand years of transmission – and this word does not significantly change the meaning of the passage.”
Benner points out the only variation of any significance, a single word, is still consistent with the Septuagint text. About 100 years before the Scroll was written, the Septuagint LXX translation was produced from 285-247 BC. According to Josephus, Egypt ruler Ptolemy Philadelphius required 72 Jewish scribes to be separated and translate Hebrew Scripture to produce a complete Greek translation. The Septuagint is the primary basis of the Christian Bible.
Fred P. Miller is another Scroll text translator with his own website, “The Translation of the Great Isaiah Scroll.” Miller attributes the Scroll text to not being a “translation,” rather a copy that merely reflects dialects of the era similar to updating old English, such used as in the King James Version, to modern English used in the New King James Version. Miller’s finds the results “remarkable”:
“With this fact in mind, (that the Qumran scribes used their own discretion to alter the text to fit their own dialect), then the correspondence between the text of the Great Isaiah Scroll and the Masoretic text of Isaiah is all the more remarkable.”
Science has proven the Book of Isaiah holding its many prophecies genuinely and accurately appear in today’s Jewish and Christian Bibles. The question is not whether the prophecies of Isaiah are legitimate; rather, which are Messiah prophecies and have any been fulfilled?
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