Isaiah, Martyrdom of

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ISAIAH, MARTYRDOM OF , one of the source documents discerned by scholars in the Ascension of Isaiah (see *Isaiah, Ascension of), relating Isaiah's persecution and eventual martyr's death at the hands of *Manasseh, king of Judah. From the first publication in 1819 of the Ethiopic version with Latin translation (the most important text) by R. Laurence, the martyrdom legend was recognized as of Jewish origin. Gesenius in 1821 first distinguished two parts (1–5, 6–11) and the two most important divisions of the material were those of A. Dillmann (Ascensio Isaiae, aethiopice et latine, 1877) and R.H. Charles (Ascension of Isaiah, 1900). Dillmann considers that the material falls into (1) a Jewish martyrdom of Isaiah (2:1–3:12 + 5:2–14); (2) a Christian ascension of Isaiah (6:1–11:1 + 23–40); (3) Christian editorial reworkings of these two (ch. 1, except 1, 3, 4 and 11:42–43); (4) a final Christian editing which added the apocalypse (3:13–5:1) and certain other passages. Charles concluded that the work is composed of three documents: (1) martyrdom of Isaiah (1:1, 2, 6–13; 2:1–8, 10–3:12; 5:1–14 – substantially identical with Dillmann's first document); (2) testament of Hezekiah (3:13–4:18); and (3) vision of Isaiah (6:1–11:14). Both the latter are Christian. Charles' hypothesis has been widely accepted, although C.C. Torrey, for example (The Apocryphal Literature (1945), 133–5) queries the existence of the martyrdom as a separate work.

In view of the obviously composite nature of the Ascension and the wide circulation of the story of the martyrdom in Jewish sources (e.g., Yev. 49b; Sanh. 103b; tj, Sanh. 10:2, 28c; pr 84:14, cf. Ginzberg, Legends (1928), 373ff.), it seems likely that the work is of Jewish origin. It is probably to be connected with the traditions about the deaths of prophets (Mart. Isa. 5:12 and parallels; Jub. 1:12; cf. ii Chron. 24:19, i En. 89:51–53, 4Qp–Hosb 2:4–6; et al.) and with a type of hagiographic literature of which the Vitae Prophetarum is an example. Eissfeldt relates it to the martyrdom legends of the period of Antiochus Epiphanes, such as those of Eleazar and of the mother and her seven sons (ii Macc. 6:18–7:42). Flusser (iej, 3 (1953), 30–47) interprets the work as a typological representation of the story of the Qumran Teacher of Righteousness. This interpretation is carried to great extremes by M. Philonenko (Pseudépigraphes de l'Ancien Testament et manuscrits de la Mer Morte (1967), 1–10). Certainly notable is the use of the name Beliar (2:4 et al.) along with Satan (e.g., 2:2) and Sammael (1:8). The name Belchira (with variants) for the false prophet, Isaiah's opponent, remains without conclusive explanation. The book may supply important information about the life and mores of apocalyptic seers, and is an example of little-known Jewish hagiographic writing. The transmission of the work is complex and is dealt with by Charles, E. Tisserant (Ascension d'Isais, 1909), and others. As well as the Ethiopic text, there are fragments or versions in Greek, Slavonic (Vaillant, in Revue des Etudes Slaves, 42 (1963), 109–21), Latin, and Coptic (Lacau, in Le Muséon, 59 (1946), 453–67).


Beer, in: Apokryphen und Pseudepigraphen…, ed. by E. Kautzsch, 2 (1900), 119–27; Charles, Apocrypha, 2 (1913), 155–62; Rist, in: idb, 2 (1962), 744ff., s.v.Isaiah, Ascension of (contains bibliography); E. Hennecke and W. Schneemelcher, Neutestamentliche Apocryphen, 2 (19643), 454–65; O. Eissfeldt, The Old Testament, an Introduction (1965), 609f. (contains bibliography).

[Michael E. Stone]