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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
Ascension of Isaiah
Apocryphal book, consisting of three different parts, which seem originally to have existed separately; one is of Jewish, two are of Christian, origin. The common name of the book, "Ascension of Isaiah," properly covers only ch. -, where Isaiah's journey through the seven heavens is described; Epiphanius calls this part Τὸ Αναβατικὸν ησαΐου; Jerome calls it "Ascensio Isaiæ"; elsewhere it is named "Ορασις ησαΐου ("Visio Isaiæ"). In ch. - two parts are to be distinguished: (1) the Martyrdom of Isaiah (Jewish), referred to by Origen under the name 'Απόκρυφον 'ησαΐου; (2) a Christian apocalypse, probably the same as the Διαθήκη 'Εζεκίου mentioned by Cedrenus. In the Ethiopic version the whole work bears the title "'Ergata Īsāyèyās" (The Ascension of Isaiah), and in modern times this name has been generally used; whereas the single constituents are: (1) Martyrdom of Isaiah; (2) Testament of Hezekiah (?); (3) Vision of Isaiah.
It is generally supposed that the various parts of this book were originally written in Greek. This theory is undoubtedly correct as to the two Christian parts, and it seems to hold true in the case of the Martyrdom also; though the latter may have had a Hebrew or Aramaic prototype. Now there are different parts or fragments of the Ascension in Greek, Latin, and Slavonic, and an Ethiopic version of the entire work. The relations among these fragments and parts are very complicated, though the problems involved seem to have been solved by Charles in his introduction to his edition and translation of the Ascension. According to him the history of the text may be constructed as follows:
The Vision of Isaiah (ch. -) was edited in two different Greek recensions, G1 and G2. From G2 a Latin (L2) and a Slavonic (S) translation were made. G1 was united with the independent Greek (G) texts of the Martyrdom and of the Testament, and the whole of this composite work was done into Ethiopic (E); parts of it are extant in a Latin version (L1). The Greek original of G1 is lost; a considerable portion of it, however, may be restored from a Greek "Legend of Isaiah," based on this recension. Finally, there is another Greek fragment, containing parts of the Martyrdom and of the Testament. Charles terms it G2, with the understanding that it is no deliberate and separate recension like the G2 of the Vision (ch. -), but that the differences between EL1 and this Greek fragment are "due to the errors and variations incidental to the process of transmission." Following is an outline of the contents of the entire work:
Ch. 1:1-3:12.—Introduction and First Part of the Martyrdom of Isaiah:
Isaiah predicts, in the presence of Hezekiah, his own death through Manasseh; after Hezekiah's death. Isaiah, on account of Manasseh's evil doings, flees into the desert with several other prophets; then, accused by Balkira, a Samaritan, he is seized by Manasseh, in whose heart Beliar (Belial) reigns.
Ch. 3:13-5:1a.—The So-Called Testament of Hezekiah:
A Christian apocalypse, introduced here by the Christian redactor of the whole work in order to explain Beliar's anger against Isaiah, caused by the last-named's prediction of the destruction of Sammael (Satan), the redemption of the world by Jesus, the persecution of the Church by Nero, and the final judgment.
Ch. 5:1b-14.—Conclusion of the Martyrdom of Isaiah:
In the presence of Balkira and of other false prophets, Isaiah, refusing to recant, is sawn asunder by means of a wooden saw.
Ch. -—Vision of Isaiah:
In the twentieth year of Hezekiah Isaiah has a vision, which hetells before the king and his assembly. Isaiah is taken by an angel through the seven heavens; in the seventh he beholds the departed righteous, among them Abel and Enoch, and finally God Himself. Then he sees the whole history of Jesus. In ch. 11:41-43, an editorial addition, he is told that "on account of these visions and prophecies Sammael (Satan) sawed in sunder Isaiah the son of Amos, the prophet, by the hand of Manasseh."
Composition and Date.
The most important critical inquiries into the structure of this book are those of Dillmann and Charles. Dillmann's conclusions, accepted by many leading scholars, are as follows: (1) The Martyrdom is contained in ch. 2:1-3:12, 5:2-14. (2) The Vision (Christian) is contained in ch. 6:1-11:1,23-40. (3) They were united by a Christian redactor, who added ch. (except verses 3 and 4a) and 11:42-43. (4) Later additions are: ch. 1:3-4a; 3:13-5:1; 5:15-16; 11:2-22,41. These results were somewhat modified by Charles, who gives the following analysis: (1) The Martyrdom consists of: 1:1-2a, 6b-13a; 2:1-3:12; 5:1b-14. (2) Ch. 3:13b-4:18 are to be counted as a separate work, added by the first editor of the entire work, probably before the "Greek Legend" and the Latin translation were written. (3) The Vision comprises ch. 6:1-11:40, ch. 11:2-22 being thus an integral part of this section. (4) Editorial additions are: ch. 1:2b-6a, 13b; 2:9; 3:13a; 4:1a, 19-22; 5:1a, 15-16; 11:41-43. With regard to ch. Dillmann's view seems preferable, while Charles's arguments concerning the Testament of Hezekiah are very convincing.
From internal evidence, as well as from quotations in writings of the second and following centuries, it is safe to conclude that the three parts of the book were written during the first century C. E.
There are three main features in this book which are paralleled in the Jewish literature: the legend of Isaiah, the Beliar myth, and the idea of the seven heavens. (1) The legend of Isaiah's death under Manasseh, based on 2 Kings 21:16, is attested twice in the Babylonian Talmud and also in the Jerusalem Talmud (in a targum of Isaiah). In the Babylonian Talmud it is further reported that Isaiah took refuge in a cedar-tree and that Manasseh had the cedar sawn in two; this form of the legend may explain why in the Ethiopic Ascension Isaiah is sawn in sunder by means of a "wooden" saw. (2) Beliar is, in post-Biblical times, identified with Satan. He occurs several times in apocryphal books; for example, the Book of Jubilees, the Ethiopic Book of Enoch, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and the Sibylline Books. In Sibyllines 3:63 he is said to have come from Samaria, which recalls Beliar's association with Balkira the "Samaritan" in causing Isaiah's death. The Beliar myth shows unmistakable traces of the old Babylonian dragon saga, and is probably a Jewish transformation of the latter (see Charles, "The Ascension of Isaiah," pp. et seq.). (3) The story of Isaiah's journey through the seven heavens was doubtlessly influenced by the Enoch legend, and its appearance in the Slavonic Book of Enoch tends to confirm this view. The idea of the seven heavens is well known in Jewish theology; Charles has discussed it at length in his edition of the "Secrets of Enoch." Even in the third century, it is told of the Rabbi Joshua b. Levi that he traveled through heaven and hell (Ab. 6:2b, ed. Strack). In the "Etudes Evangeliques," pp. 65-96 (Paris, 1903) J. Halévy has treated of the parellels between the martyrdom of Isaiah and temptation of Jesus.
Editions: Laurence, Ascensio Isaiæ Vatis . . . cum Versione Latina Anglicanaque, Oxford, 1819; Dillmann, Ascensio Isaiæ Aethiopice et Latine, Leipsic, 1877; Charles, The Ascension of Isaiah, London, 1900 (in which all the Greek and Latin fragments are published, together with a Latin translation by Bonwetsch of the Slavonic version of ch. -).
Translations: Laurence and Dillmann, in works cited above; Laurence's Latin translation was reprinted by Gfrörer in Prophetæ Veteres Pseudepigraphi (1840), and given in German by Jolowicz, Die Himmelfahrt und Vision des Propheten Jesaja (1854). Basset translated Dillmann's Ethiopic text into French in Les Apocryphes Ethiopiens (3:1894). Beer published a German translation of ch. 2:1-3:12, 5:2-14. Charles gives an English translation with a copious commentary in his Ascension (see above).
- For bibliography see Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., 3:283-285;
- Charles, The Ascension of Isaiah;
- Schürer, in Theologische Literaturzeitung, 1901, cols. 169-171.
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Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Ascension of Isaiah'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/a/ascension-of-isaiah.html. 1901.