Isaiah, Ascension of

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ISAIAH, ASCENSION OF , early Christian apocalypse, containing the Jewish apocryphon the Martyrdom of *Isaiah. The aggadah about Isaiah's violent death was already known at the beginnings of Christianity (see Acts 8: 34). Thus the Jewish apocryphon was expounded by Christians as early as in the first century of Christianity. Of the Greek original only a papyrus fragment is extant and parts of Latin, Slavonic, and Coptic translations have been preserved. The whole work exists only in an Ethiopic translation. The apocryphal description of Jesus' birth, life, and resurrection (11:1–21) is a later interpolation lacking in the Latin version and in the three Slavonic versions. In the Christian part of the book Isaiah is described as a seer according to the spirit of apocalyptic literature. His violent death is regarded as revealing the coming of Jesus and the early history of the Church (3:13–31). This passage and the following chapter (4) containing a description of the *Antichrist are very important witnesses for the oldest Christian history and beliefs. The author sees inter alia the degeneration of contemporary Christianity in the small number of Christian prophets, an institution which disappeared in the second century. He is the oldest witness to Peter's martyrdom by Nero (4: 3). At the end of days Beliar (Belial), "the great prince, the king of this world," will descend from heaven in the shape of Nero; he will do many wonders and lead humanity astray, but he will finally be destroyed. This description reflects an Antichrist tradition more or less independent of the New Testament, whose main motifs are taken from Jewish sources.

It is very probable that the description of Isaiah's ascent to the seven heavens was also written by the same Christian author (chapters 6–11). The similarities between this vision and similar visions in Jewish apocalyptic literature and old Jewish mysticism are noteworthy. According to the book, Isaiah also saw the miraculous descent of Jesus from the seventh heaven and his future ascent after his resurrection. This description resembles the similar motifs of the Epistola Apostolorum ("Letter of the Apostles"), a Christian work of the beginning of the second century. The mystical theology of the Christian parts of the Ascension of Isaiah is imbued by Jewish mystical and apocalyptical material, and its opinion about the heavenly nature of Jesus is close to gnostic speculations, although the book is, compared with contemporary Christian products, not heterodox. Later, when orthodox Christian tenets were firmly established, the book was used by Christian sects with gnostic elements and even by Arians.


R.H. Charles, Ascension of Isaiah (1900; repr. with intr. by G.H. Box, 1917); B.P. Grenfell and A.S. Hunt, Amherst Papyri (1902); E. Tisserant, Ascension d'Isaïe (1909); J. Flemming and H. Duensing, in: E. Hennecke and W. Schneemelcher (eds.), Neutestamentliche Apocryphen, 2 (19643), 454–68; M. Meslin, Les Ariens d'Occident (1967), 242–3.

[David Flusser]