08 March 2012

Isaiah (ספר ישעיה‎)

The Five Books of
Moses (Torah)
The Eight Books of
the Prophets (Neviim)
The Eleven Books of
the Writings (Kesuvim)

1.    Genesis
6.    Joshua
14. Psalms
2.    Exodus
7.    Judges
15. Proverbs
3.    Leviticus
8.    Samuel
16. Job
4.    Numbers
9.    Kings
17. Song of Songs
5.    Deuteronomy
10. Isaiah
18. Ruth

11. Jeremiah
19. Lamentations
12. Ezekiel
20. Ecclesiastes
13. The Twelve (minor prophets) Trei-Assar (1. Hosea, 2. Joel, 3. Amos, 4. Obadiah, 5. Jonah, 6. Micah, 7. Nahum, 8. Habakkuk, 9. Zephaniah, 10. Haggai, 11. Zechariah and 12. Malachi)
21. Esther
22. Daniel
23. Ezra/Nehemia
24. Chronicles

The next book in the Hebrew Bible is the Book of Isaiah as opposed to Chronicles in the Christian Old Testament. The Book of Chronicles appears last in the Hebrew Bible as the eleventh book under Kesuvim (Books of Writings). This is surprising considering the fact that there is a great deal of similarity between Kings and Chronicles. 

In Hebrew, the name of Isaiah is “yesha’yahu, or yesha’yah  (ספר ישעיה‎) meaning: “Yahweh saves.” (Schultz, 2007). The book has 66 chapters and 1292 verses. When compared to the nine books we saw earlier, the Book of Isaiah is an admixture of beautiful passages in prose and verse. The authorship of Isaiah is attributed to three different Isaiahs (Isaiah I, II and III), with the first 39 chapters accounted for Isaiah I, the next 40-55 chapters to Isaiah II and the remaining (chapters 56-66) to Isaiah III (Reference). This story of different people appearing with the same name is not unique to Jewish tradition. To cite an example from other literary traditions, the Tamils for instance recognize at least four different poetesses by name Avvaiyār to have appeared from 100 A.D. to 1400 A.D. The sudden change in style, references to events that did not occur in Isaiah’s own time and the differences in historical information are the basis for this attribution, if not to three different persons, at least three different periods. The second Isaiah appeared during the sixth century B.C., at a time when the world produced great sages like Buddha and Mahavira in India, Confucius and Lao Tzu in China, and possibly also Zoroaster in Persia.

For the first time in the Hebrew Bible, we see Yahweh who was till then was a jealous God, becoming a monotheistic God by declaring that there is none besides me (44: 6). We also see Yahweh, who was till then regarded as the saviour of the Jews, becoming a universal God in the Book of Isaiah (46:9). When we read the Qur’an, we also see a similar beginning of Allah restricting his area of operation to Arabs (6:92; 42:7), only to become a God of the universe later (6: 45). 

(1) Parallels from the Quran

As I said earlier in this series on the Hebrew Bible, the closest a scripture can come close to the contents of Quran is the Hebrew Bible. Unlike the Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism & Sikhism which are based on the concept of samsāra (multiple resurrection), all Semitic religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam (including Zoroastrianism and Bahai faith) believe in one time ‘single’ Resurrection (what they call the “Judgment Day”). All Semitic scriptures (Quran, Bible, Avesta) abound with information on what will happen to the earth and to its inhabitants, and the celestial bodies like the sun, moon and stars on this Last Day when the world is expected to come to an end.  Many of the descriptions of this event I read in the Book of Isaiah are strikingly similar to those found in the Quran. Here are some of the parallels:


Wail, for the day of the Lord is near;
It will come like destruction from the Almighty.
Because of this, all hands will go limp,
every man's heart will melt.
Terror will seize them,
pain and anguish will grip them;
They will writhe like a woman in labor.
They will look aghast at each other,
their faces aflame. (13:6-8)

So when the trumpet is blown,
there shall be no ties of relationship between them on that day,
nor shall they ask of each other.
Then as for him whose good deeds are preponderant,
these are the successful.
And as for him whose good deeds are light,
these are they who shall have lost their souls, ….
(Quran 23: 101-104)

On the Day of Judgment: The fate of celestial bodies
For the stars of heaven
and the constellations thereof
shall not give their light:
The sun shall be darkened in his going forth,
And the moon shall not cause her light to shine.
(13: 10)

When the sun is covered, and when the stars darken,
And when the mountains are made to pass away, 
(81: 1-3)
He asks: When is the day of resurrection?
So when the sight becomes dazed,
And the moon becomes dark,
And the sun and the moon are brought together, … 
(75: 6-9)
On the Day of Judgment: Earth will be shaken

The earth is broken asunder,
The earth is split through,
The earth is shaken violently.
The earth reels to and fro like a drunkard
And it totters like a shack,
For its transgression is heavy upon it,
And it will fall, never to rise again.
So it will happen in that day,
That the LORD will punish the host of heaven on high,
And the kings of the earth on earth.
(34: 19-21)

When the earth will be shaken with a might, 
And the earth will throw up all her burdens, 
And man will cry out: “What is the matter with her?” 
On that Day it will relate all her news, 
for your Lord will have commanded her (to do so).  
(99: 1-5)
Nothing can stop it from happening.
It will lower some, and raise others.
The earth will be shaken up.
The mountains will be wiped out.
As if they never existed.
(56: 2-6)
On the Day of Judgment: Heaven will be rolled up

And all the host of heaven will wear away,
And the sky will be rolled up like a scroll (34: 4)
"As the new heavens and the new earth
that I make will endure before me," declares the LORD,
And (remember) the Day when
We shall roll up the heaven like a scroll rolled up for books,
As We began the first creation, We shall repeat it,
(it is) a promise binding upon Us.
Truly, We shall do it. (21:104)

While all the above references are with regard to the signs regarding the approach of the Day of Judgment or on the events predicted to happen on that Day, the following parallel I have picked up between Isaiah and Quran is a portrayal of disagreement between God and unbelievers. The one from Quran is one of the well known verses that Muslims often cite in support of Islam's position towards other religions in a world of religious pluralism. I am presenting the Tamil translations also here for easy comprehension.

Bible (Book: Isaiah)
Quran (Chapter: Unbelievers)

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
  neither are your ways my ways,”
            declares the LORD.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
  so are my ways higher than your ways
  and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
  (55: 8-9)
Say: “O disbelievers!
I worship not that which ye worship;
Nor worship ye that which I worship.
And I shall not worship that which ye worship.
Nor will ye worship that which I worship.
Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion”
(109: 1-6)

என் நினைவுகள்
உங்கள் நினைவுகள் அல்ல;
உங்கள் வழிகள்
என் வழிகளும் அல்ல -
என்று கர்த்தர் சொல்லுகிறார்.
பூமியைப்பார்க்கிலும் வானங்கள்
எப்படி உயர்ந்திருக்கிறதோ,
அப்படியே உங்கள் வழிகளைப்பார்க்கிலும்
என் வழிகளும்,
உங்கள் நினைவுகளைப்பார்க்கிலும்
என் நினைவுகளும் உயர்ந்திருக்கிறது.
(நபியே!) நீர் சொல்வீராக: காஃபிர்களே!
நீங்கள் வணங்குபவற்றை
நான் வணங்கமாட்டேன்.
இன்னும், நான் வணங்குகிறவனை
நீங்கள் வணங்குகிறவர்களல்லர்.
அன்றியும், நீங்கள் வணங்குபவற்றை
நான் வணங்குபவனல்லன்.
மேலும், நான் வணங்குபவனை
நீங்கள் வணங்குபவர்கள் அல்லர்.
உங்களுக்கு உங்களுடைய மார்க்கம்;
எனக்கு என்னுடைய மார்க்கம்.”

(2) No god besides me (First and the Last)

Is the Lord of Jews, as presented in their Hebrew Bible, only for the Jews or the entire world? No doubt Yahweh is accounted for the creation of the universe and all the life forms on earth, but we see Him establish an understanding only with Jews, ignoring the rest of humanity. The Lord gets angry when Jews ignore his commandments and start worshiping the gods of other communities. When it comes to idol worship, His anger and disappointment is only against the Jews and does not even bother if people of other communities continue to worship their gods. 

Karen Armstrong (1994) in her famous book “History of God” describes in great detail the evolution of monotheism in the Semitic world and while doing so illustrates how Yahweh, unlike other local deities, was the first god to ensure protection and help to his people of the covenant even outside their home range. For the first time in the religious history, a community's Lord accompanied the people wherever they went. The result of the covenant was that the Jews were not required to change their faith and align to foreign gods in places where they went. Though Yahweh is regarded the monotheistic creator God, it is only in Isaiah that we first see a clear mention of this. Till then He was a ‘jealous God’ (Exodus 20:5). For the first time we see Yahweh declaring “There is no God besides me” (44:6). So too declares that Quran “There is no god but He” (Quran 3:2) and many other scriptures of monotheistic religions. One of the important attributes of monotheistic deity, who has no parallels or competitors, is this attribute being the First and the Last or the Beginning and the End. This appears at least thrice in the Book of Isaiah:

I, the Lord, am the first, and with the last. I am He. (41:4)
I am the first and I am the last and there is no god besides Me. (44: 6)
I am He, I am the first, I am also the last. (48: 12)

The other place in the Christian Bible where this statement occurs at least in equal number of times is the last book of Revelation (1:8, 21:6; 22:13). If we are to consider the one in Rev 1:11 as authentic (occurs only in KJV and not in ASV), then four times. The divine attribute of being the First and the Last appears in many other religious literatures. Given below are some of the prominent ones:

Hebrew: (~ 600 B.C.)
אֲנִ֤י רִאשֹׁון֙ וַאֲנִ֣י אַחֲרֹ֔ון
’ani  ri’shōn  wa’ ani ’aharōn
I am the first and I am the last
(Isaiah 44:6)
Greek: (~ 100 A.D.)
ἐγώ ὁ Α καί ὁ Ω, ὁ πρῶτος καί ὁ ἔσχατος
ego Alpha et Omega primus et novissimus
I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last,
(Revelation 22:13)

Sanskrit: (200 B.C. – 200 A.D.)
अहमादिश्च मध्यं भूतानामन्त एव |
aham ādiś ca madhyaḿ ca bhūtānām anta eva ca
I am the beginning, middle and end of all beings
(Gita 10:20)
Arabic: (~ 700 A.D.)
هو الأول والآخر
huwa al-awwalu waal-akhiru
He is the First and the Last
(Quran 57:3)

Tamil: (~ 700–1000 A.D.)
ஆதிக்கண் தெய்வமும் அந்தமுமாமே
ādikkan theyvamum antamumāme
God is the Beginning and End of all
(Tirumandiram 1570)
Gurmukhi: (~ 1500 A.D.)
ਊਪਰਿ ਆਦਿ ਅੰਤਿ ਤਿਹੁ ਲੋਇ
oopar aad ant tihu lo-ay
The Lord is beyond the beginning and the end
(Guru Granth Sahib, p. 930)

As Swami Vivekananda said, "In Essentials all religions are same, they differ only in Non-essentials. The wise appreciate the Essentials, the base dispute over the Non-essentials".

(3) Prophecy of Jesus

Shridi Sai Baba is said to have prophesied the advent of a Sai Baba after him. At least so claimed, Godman Sathya Sai Baba. He declared that he is the second of the Triple Incarnation of Shridi Sai Baba, the third one yet to come being Prema Sai Baba (Sathyasai.com). Hindus believe that the advent of Kalki Avatar has been prophesied in the sacred texts like Vishnu Purana, Bhagavata Purana, Agni Purana, Padma Purana, Bhavishya Purana, Kalki Purana etc. The Buddhists look forward to the advent of Maitreya Buddha and the Zoroastrians look forward to the arrival of Saoshyant. Such predictions are called prophecies in the Semitic world. More often than not, the interpretation of such prophesies is not accepted by the believers of the former faith. Let us look at the controversies on two of the prophecies of the Semitic world. The Jews do not accept the interpretation of verse on the birth of Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14) as a reference to Jesus Christ, nor do they agree to the interpretation of the advent of a prophet in Deuteronomy (18:18) as a reference to Mohammed. The Christians also do not agree that the word ‘Paraclete’ used by John in 14:16 is a reference prophet Muhammad of Islam.

The Book of Isaiah is one of the most quoted books in Bible for its alleged prophecies on Jesus Christ. Jesus seems to have said: “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39). And the followers of Christ researched the Hebrew Bible for every possible reference to Jesus Christ in it. The Quran says “Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered prophet, whom they find written in what they have of the Torah and the Gospel”. And the Muslims therefore searched throughout the old and new Testaments for all possible references to their prophet.

We will look at the Muslims’ claims of such prophecies at a later date and let me now focus on the alleged mention of Jesus in the Book of Isaiah. The first book in the New Testament has this verse: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" (Mathew 1:23). The word “Immanuel” here means "God with us." Apostle Mathew was obviously referring to the following verse from the Book of Isaiah:

יד לָכֵן יִתֵּן אֲדֹנָי הוּא, לָכֶם--אוֹת:הִנֵּה הָעַלְמָה, הָרָה וְיֹלֶדֶת בֵּן, וְקָרָאת שְׁמוֹ, עִמָּנוּ אֵל.
Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign:
A maiden is with child and she will bear a son,
And will call his name Immanuel.

This early Christian interpretation as a prophecy of Jesus as Messiah has proved to be a point of contention between Jews and Christians. Jewish scholars emphasize that the Hebrew word ‘almāh be more aptly translated as "young woman” and not as a “virgin”.  In all other places where this word appears in the Bible (Proverbs, 30:18-20), the word ‘almāh means ‘young woman’ and not ‘virgin’ (*). Next week, in my presentation on Jeremiah, I will be writing more on the subject of prophecy.

(4) Similar verses

I would like to also some of the exciting parallels I noticed in the Bible. All the following verses, including the one in Isaiah, are styled the same way and they all employ the parables of animals.  

“The ox knows his owner, and the ass his master's crib:
  But Israel does not know, my people do not understand”
  (Isaiah, 1:3)

“Even the stork in the sky knows her seasons;
  And the turtledove and swift the thrush
  Observe the time of their migration;
  But My people do not know the ordinance of the Lord.”
 (Jeremiah 8: 7)

“Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests,
  But the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
  (Mathew 8:20; Luke 9:58)

Of all the teachings of prophets who appeared in the Semitic world, that of Jesus Christ undoubtedly has a flavor of mystics of the east.  Jesus clearly warned those who wanted to follow him of the consequences they may have to face. They were supposed to bid farewell to their family and worldly commitments before even thinking of following him (Luke 9: 61). If you decide to follow the path of Jesus, it will be a path of hardship and sacrifice (Charan Singh, 2003). Even foxes and birds will have abodes to live in, but there is no guarantee that people of the New Covenant will find a place to rest. In other words, a person who loves the world cannot be a follower of Jesus because the requirements for these two pursuits in life are incompatible. 

"If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1John 2:15)

Yes, for Jesus no one can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13). There is an interesting verse attributed Kabir describing this situation of divided loyalty:

I saw an ant carrying a grain of rice
And then she spied a lentil along the way.
She was puzzled how to carry both.
Kabir says she cannot –
She must take one and leave the other.
A devotee must choose between the Lord and the world.
(Kabir, the Great Mystic. Page 251)

  • Armstrong, K. 1993. A History of God. Mandarin. 511 pages
  • Charan Singh, 2003. Light on Saint Mathew: A commentary on the Gospel. Radha Soami Satsang Beas. Page 95
  • Schultz, J. 2007. Commentary to Book of Isaiah. Bible-Commentaries.Com 1/405

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