Isaiah meaning | Isaiah etymology

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Isaiah in Biblical Hebrew
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The name Isaiah in the Bible

There are seven men endowed with the name Isaiah or Isaiahu in the Bible, but for some reason, the English translations only call the famous prophet Isaiah, and the rest Jeshaiah. This is probably to force a distinction between the famous prophet and his less laureated namesakes but since the original texts don't do that, translations shouldn't do that either. A similar fraudulent distinction exists between the name of the prophet Hosea and his namesakes commonly known as Hoshea.

Also note that the forms ישעיה (Isaiah) and ישעיהו (Isaiahu) are really quite the same name. Most Biblical names that end with יה (yah) also exist with the ending יהו (yahu) and the difference does not at all change the meaning.

The famous prophet Isaiah

The major prophet, son of Amoz, is mentioned sixteen times in his own book (Isaiah 1:1 — Isaiah 39:8), thirteen times in the book of Second Kings (2 Kings 19-20) and three times in Chronicles (2 Chronicles 26 and 32), and is consistently called ישעיהו (Isaiahu). Isaiah is referred to an additional 23 times in the New Testament; in the Gospels (15 times), Acts (3 times), and in Paul's letter to the Romans (5 times). In Greek his name is spelled Ησαιας; Esaias.

According to Isaiah 1:1, Isaiah worked predominantly in Jerusalem during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah approximately 740 to 680 BC. The book of Isaiah, however, is almost certainly a compilation of kindred but distinct texts written by several authors over the course of a few centuries.

Though contested by some, popular Scripture Theory tends to divide Isaiah into First Isaiah (Isaiah 1-39, from the eighth century BC), Second Isaiah (Isaiah 40-55, from the sixth century BC) and Third Isaiah (Isaiah 56-66, from the fifth century BC), but this may be a "crude oversimplification" (says The Oxford Companion to the Bible). "The literary and theological unity of the whole book is unmistakable [...]. Each passage must be handled on its own, though both as a product of its age and in the context of the Isaian corpus as a whole."

The question is: what passages are that?

Certain that Deutero Isaiah was a Babylonian exile, Karen Armstrong declares in The Great Transformation that his "exuberant prophecies were punctuated by four extraordinary poems about a man of sorrows, who called himself Yahweh's servant. We have no idea who the servant was. Was he, perhaps, the exiled king of Judah? Or did he symbolize the whole community of deportees? Many scholars believe that these poems were not the work of Second Isaiah, and some have even suggested that the servant was the prophet himself [...]. Others regards the servant as the archetypal exilic hero [...]."

Contrary to the confusion of modern scholars, the authors of the New Testament lavishly draw from Isaiah and apply large portions of the Hymns of the Suffering Servant directly to Jesus Christ (Matthew 8:17, Luke 2:32, Acts 8:32, Romans 11:26, 2 Corinthians 6:2, Revelations 1:16).

Perhaps modern criticism has Isaiah turning in his grave; perhaps there are a dozen flopping about their resting place. It appears that the history of Biblical texts is largely carried by a literary tradition contra to that of our own, in which a produced text may not be amended. In the Hebrew tradition, it appears that an original author didn't mean his texts to reflect his own words, but rather God's, and God's voice continued sounding when the original author had long perished. The Hymns of the Suffering Servant are archetypal indeed, and their application to Jesus serves predominantly to show that He too reflected the Isaian tone of God's voice. The New Testament writers didn't simply cite Isaiah, they added a few chapters and edited their work to fit the whole.

Or as the T&T Clark Handbook of the Old Testament states, "How can these theories be evaluated? The key lies in the text's redactional history: As the book of Deutero-Isaiah grew, various interpretations were assigned to the Suffering Servant, each of which was then incorporated into the text: It therefore appears that the autobiographical interpretation of the Suffering Servant songs is the oldest, but it was later applied to Cyrus and finally to the people of Israel. Accepting this understanding means not having to choose between false alternatives. It also explains why a clear and unambiguous identification of the servant is apparently neither possible nor intended."

Other men named Isaiah(u) or Jeshaiah(u) in the Bible

As stated above, the names Isaiah and Jeshaiah appear in the Bible also ending on a ו (waw). This is common for names that end with יה, and we're not sure how much difference there was in the pronunciation of them (probably very little).

The men named ישעיה (Isaiah) are:

  • A son of Hananiah, a son of Zerubbabel, who headed the second and great wave of return from the exile in Babylon (1 Chronicles 3:21)
  • A son of Athaliah of the family of Elam, seventy members of which were also counted among the returnees (Ezra 8:7).
  • One of the Merarite temple servants, which Ezra acquired from Iddo, the leader at Casiphia, to reinvigorate the cult of YHWH after the return (Ezra 8:19).
  • A descendant of Benjamin, whose great-great-great-great-great-grandson Sallu was among the returnees who repeopled Jerusalem (Nehemiah 11:7).

The men named ישעיהו (Isaiahu) are:

  • The prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 1:1).
  • One of the six sons of Jeduthun, who prophesied and thanked the Lord in the services instigated by king David and his army commanders (1 Chronicles 25:3). When secondary duties were assigned, this Isaiahu (Jeshaiahu) caught the eighth lot (1 Chronicles 25:15).
  • One of the descendants of Eliezer, son of Aaron, who held charge over the temple treasuries and gifts that David and his commanders had dedicated (1 Chronicles 26:25).

Etymology of the name Isaiah(u)

The name Isaiah(u) consists of two parts: The final part is יה or יהו, both abbreviated forms of יהוה; YHWH or Yahweh.

The first part of the name Isaiah comes from the root-verb ישע (yasha'), meaning to be saved or delivered:

Abarim Publications Theological Dictionary

Isaiah meaning

For a meaning of the name Isaiah, NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads Yahweh Is Salvation, Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names has Salvation Of The Lord.

A remarkable feature of the name Isaiah is that it consists of the same two elements as the name Joshua (יהושע). The name Joshua is the Hebrew form of the Greek name Jesus, and most probably the name by which Jesus the Nazarene was known by His contemporaries.

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