Ascension of Isaiah

Ascension of Isaiah

The book Ascension of Isaiah is one of the Pseudepigrapha.[1] Theories as to the date of its composition place it in a range from the late 1st century AD to the second half of the 2nd century AD. As for its authorship, it is believed almost universally to be a compilation of several texts completed by an unknown Christian scribe.



The content is two-and-a-half fold:

  • The first part of the book (chapters 1-5), generally referred to as the Martyrdom of Isaiah, recounts and expands on the events of 2 Kings chapter 21. Isaiah warns the dying Hezekiah that his heir, Manasseh, will not follow the same path. When Manasseh takes over, and Isaiah's warning proves true, Isaiah and a group of fellow prophets head into the desert, and a demon named Beliar inspires a false prophet named Belkira to accuse Isaiah of treason. The king consequently condemns Isaiah to death, and although Isaiah hides in a tree, he is found, and Belkira leads the execution.
    • Into the middle of this (3:13-4:22) is a Christian apocalypse called the Testament of Hezekiah, describing a vision of the coming of Jesus, the subsequent corruption of the Christian church, the rule of Beliar, and the second coming. All of which is phrased in such a way that it is clearly a code for the persecution of the Church by Nero, and the belief that Nero was an Antichrist.
  • The second part of the book (chapters 6-11) is referred to as the Vision of Isaiah and describes an angel-assisted journey, prior to the events of the first part of the book, by Isaiah through the Seven Heavens. In its surviving form it is clearly written from a Christian perspective, concentrating on Jesus' death and his resurrection, and especially the ascension of Jesus. The birth of Jesus is curiously described as being preceded by Jesus descending through each of the heavens, disguising himself as an angel appropriate to each as he goes.

Elements of the Ascension of Isaiah are paralleled in other Jewish and Christian writings. The method of Isaiah's death (sawn in half by Manasseh) is agreed upon by both the Babylonian Talmud and Jerusalem Talmud, and is probably alluded to by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews (11:37). The demon Beliar appears in quite a number of apocryphal works, including the Book of Jubilees, the Book of Enoch, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and the Sibylline Books. Finally, Isaiah's journey through the Seven Heavens parallels that of Enoch's in the Second Book of Enoch.

The first section of the text is also notable for its hostility toward the Samaritans, a Jewish sect that claim to be Jews left behind during the Babylonian exile disowned by the remainder.


According to the theory of R. H. Charles[2], the text incorporates three distinct sections, each once a separate work that is a single compilation here. Of these, one, the first, appears to have been written by a Jewish author, and the other two by Christians. According to this author, The Martyrdom consists of: i. 1-2a, 6b-13a; ii. 1-iii. 12; v. 1b-14. (2) Ch. iii. 13b-iv. 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. vi. 1-xi. 40, ch. xi. 2-22 being thus an integral part of this section. (4) Editorial additions are: ch. i. 2b-6a, 13b; ii. 9; iii. 13a; iv. 1a, 19-22; v. 1a, 15-16; xi. 41-43.

E. Norelli suggests on the contrary that the whole text, even if written in different times, is the expression of a docetic Christian prophetic group related with the group attacked by Ignatius of Antioch in his letters to the Smyrnaeans and to the Trallians[3]. According with this scholar chapters 6-11 (the Vision) are older than chapters 1-5 (which represent a later pessimistic introduction to the original Vision), the date of composition is the end of 1 century AD, and the narrative of Mary's pregnancy (AI 11:2-5) is independent from the Gospel of Matthew[4].

Manuscript tradition

The text exists as a whole in three Ethiopic manuscripts of around the 15th-18th centuries, but fragments have also survived in Greek, Coptic, Latin, and Old Slavonic. All three component texts appear to have been in Greek, and it is possible that the "Martyrdom of Isaiah" derives from a Hebrew or Aramaic original. Comparison of the various translations suggests that two different recensions of the Greek original must have existed; one on which the Ethiopic and one of the Latin versions was based, and the other on which the Slavonic and the other Latin version was based. Fragments of both Greek versions have survived. The work's current title is derived from the title used in the Ethiopic manuscripts ('Ergata Īsāyèyās – "The Ascension of Isaiah"). In antiquity, Epiphanius also referred to it by this title (in Greek: Τὸ Αναβατικὸν Ἡσαΐου), as did Jerome (in Latin: Ascensio Isaiæ).

See also


  • Jonathan Knight (1995), The Ascension of Isaiah
  • Enrico Norelli (1995), Ascensio Isaiae: Commentarius (Corpus Christianorum. Series Apocryphorum)
  • Enrico Norelli (1994), L'Ascensione di Isaia. Studi su un apocrifo al crocevia dei cristianesimi.


  1. ^ Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.
  2. ^ Knight, p. 26.
  3. ^ Norelli 1994, pag. 271
  4. ^ Norelli 1994, pag. 140

External links

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