(Isa. 33-34) Why is there a break in the Isaiah manuscript at this point?

CLAIM: For years, critical scholars claimed that there is a division in authorship for the book of Isaiah. As we have already argued (see “Authorship of Isaiah”), no such division is warranted. However, the Isaiah scroll of Qumran has a considerable space between Isaiah chapters 33 and 34. Does this support the concept of dual authorship? What is the significance of this gap in the manuscript evidence?

RESPONSE: This manuscript break can be seen online at the Israel Museum. If the viewer clicks the picture and drags the viewer over the scroll, a clear break can be seen at the end of chapter 33. This doesn’t support the notion of dual authorship for the book of Isaiah, because critical scholars claimed that the change of authorship occurred at chapter 40—not chapter 34. Thus the predictions of critical scholars were false in their belief that “second” Isaiah took over the pen at chapter 40. It is unfair to claim that the chapter break can now occur at chapter 34, when no one held this before the discovery. Moreover, a simple chapter break doesn’t prove dual authorship. Other explanations have been offered that are more likely.

Brownlee was the first scholar to notice this break between chapters 33 and 34, and he was just a graduate student at the time. He concluded that this was due to a literary device called chiasm. A famous chiasm is JFK’s statement: “It’s not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” The themes are switched to mirror each other. Brownlee discovered a chiasm to the entire structure of Isaiah’s book. That is, he saw that the themes of Isaiah mirrored each other:

Literary Chiasm in Isaiah

Chapters 1-5 Ruin and Restoration

Chapters 34-35

Chapters 6-8

Biographical and Historical Narratives Chapters 36-38
Chapters 9-12 Agents of Divine Blessing and Judgment

Chapters 40-45

Chapters 13-23

Oracles versus Foreign Nations Chapters 46-48
Chapters 24-27 Universal Redemption and Deliverance of Israel

Chapters 49-55

Chapters 28-31

Ethical Sermons Chapters 56-59
Chapters 32-33 Restoration of the Nation

Chapters 60-66


If you notice, at the very center of this chiasm, there is the break between chapters 33 and 34. Brownlee believed that this could explain why there was a break between manuscripts exactly here. This is a far better explanation than the specious and speculative notion that Isaiah should be broken into multiple authors.