How did the prophet Isaiah die?

SHARE

By BibleAsk Team


The death of the prophet Isaiah is not recorded in the Bible, and there is no specific information about how the prophet Isaiah died in biblical texts. Traditionally, it’s believed that Isaiah was martyred during the reign of King Manasseh, who was known for his persecution of prophets and religious figures. However, these accounts are not based on biblical sources but rather on later Jewish and Christian traditions.

Who was Isaiah the Prophet? 

Isaiah was an 8th century BC Israelite prophet and the author of the Hebrew Bible book that bears his name. The Hebrew word for his name means “the Lord is help.” The prophet was the son of Amoz and a shoot of the royal line. He was married and had two sons, Shear-jashub and Maher-shalal-hash-baz (Isaiah 7:3; 8:3). 

He was called to the prophetic office in his early years, toward the close of the reign of King Uzziah (Azariah, 790–739 BC). His ministry lasted about 60 years (Isaiah 1:1). It is possible that he was a priest, because God called him when he was in the temple (Isaiah 6:4). And for his calling, the Lord anointed him with His Spirit (verse 7). 

God’s prophet served the nation during the rule of the kings of Judah: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (Isaiah 1:1). According to chronology, Uzziah died about the year 739 BC and Hezekiah died in 686 BC, succeeded by his son Manasseh.  

How the Prophet Isaiah Died 

The Bible does not mention how God’s prophet died but Hebrews 11 may give us a hint. This chapter, which is called the “hall of faith,” gives a list of Old Testament heroes of faith, and some unspecified martyrs. Hebrews 11:37 states, “They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented.”

Version 1 – Sawn in two

According to tradition the Prophet Isaiah died by being “sawn in two”. A text by the name the “Martyrdom of Isaiah” (non-canonical text) is one of the earliest records of the prophet’s death around 100 AD. Another account is found in the “Ascension of Isaiah” (a pseudepigraphic Judeo-Christian text) where the prophet predicted that the wicked king Manasseh would kill him. And that is what happened. Manasseh seized the prophet and cut him in half with a wooden saw.  

In addition, the Jewish Talmud (oral traditions from rabbis dating back to around 200 AD) gives a similar story. Rabbi Simeon ben Azzai found in Jerusalem a record wherein it was stated that King Manasseh killed Isaiah. King Manasseh said to the prophet “Moses, your master, said, ‘No man may see God and live’ (Exodus 33:20) but you have said ‘I saw the Lord seated upon his throne'”(Isaiah 6:1) and went on to point out other contradictions—as between Deuteronomy 4:7 and Isaiah 40:6; between Exodus 33:23 and 2 Kings 20:6.

Isaiah thought: “I know that he will not accept my explanations; why should I increase his guilt?” He then said the tetragrammaton, a cedar-tree opened, and Isaiah hid in it. King Manasseh ordered the cedar to be sawn in half, and when the saw reached his mouth Isaiah died; thus, was he punished for having said “I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” Talmud Tractate Megillah 15a.  

Version 2 – In a Tree

Another version of this story is given in the Jerusalem Talmud (Yerushalmi, Sanhedrin 10). Here, God’s prophet, fearing King Manasseh, hid himself in a cedar-tree, but his presence was exposed by a portion of his garment. Then, King Manasseh ordered the tree to be sawn in half.

A passage of the Targum to Isaiah quoted by Jolowicz (“Die Himmelfahrt und Vision des Prophets Jesajas,” p. 8) stated that when the prophet ran away from his enemies, he hid in a tree that was sawn in half, the prophet’s blood squirted out.  

Other references

When the Prophet Isaiah died, this legend spread to the Arabs (“Ta’rikh,” ed. De Goeje, i. 644) and to the Christians. Athanasius the bishop of Alexandria (c. 318) wrote, “Isaiah was sawn asunder.” (Athanasius (2018). On the Incarnation. GLH Publishing. p. 59). 

In addition, Tertullian and Justin Martyr mentioned the legend of the prophet’s death in their writings, with later specifying that the saw used to murder the prophet was made of wood (Dialogue with Trypho, 120).

Conclusion

In conclusion, while the Bible does not provide specific details about how the prophet Isaiah died, later Jewish and Christian traditions suggest that he may have been martyred during the reign of King Manasseh, possibly by being sawn in half. These accounts are found in sources such as the Babylonian Talmud and are referenced indirectly in the New Testament book of Hebrews. However, it’s important to recognize that these traditions are not explicitly supported by biblical texts and should be viewed within the context of later religious interpretations and folklore. Therefore, the precise circumstances surrounding Isaiah’s death remain uncertain, and his legacy as a revered prophet endures primarily through his prophetic writings preserved in the Hebrew Bible.

We'd love your feedback, so leave a comment!

If you feel an answer is not 100% Bible based, then leave a comment, and we'll be sure to review it.
Our aim is to share the Word and be true to it.

Leave a Reply

Subscribe
Notify of
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments