1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Isaiah, Ascension of

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ISAIAH, ASCENSION OF, an apocryphal book of the Old Testament. The Ascension of Isaiah is a composite work of very great interest. In its present form it is probably not older than the latter half of the 2nd century of our era. Its various constituents, however, and of these there were three—the Martyrdom of Isaiah, the Testament of Hezekiah and the Vision of Isaiah—circulated independently as early as the 1st century. The first of these was of Jewish origin, and is of less interest than the other two, which were the work of Christian writers. The Vision of Isaiah is important for the knowledge it affords us of 1st-century beliefs in certain circles as to the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Seven Heavens, &c. The long lost Testament of Hezekiah, which is, in the opinion of R. H. Charles, to be identified with iii. 13b–iv. 18, of our present work, is unquestionably of great value owing to the insight it gives us into the history of the Christian Church at the close of the 1st century. Its descriptions of the worldliness and lawlessness which prevailed among the elders and pastors, i.e. the bishops and priests, of the wide-spread covetousness and vainglory as well as the growing heresies among Christians generally, agree with similar accounts in 2 Peter, 2 Timothy and Clement of Rome.

Various Titles.—Origen in his commentary on Matt. xiii. 57 (Lommatzsch iii. 4, 9) calls it Apocryph of IsaiahἈπόκρυφον Ἡσαίου, Epiphanius (Haer. xl. 2) terms it the Ascension of Isaiahτὸ ἀναβατικὸν Ὴσαίου, and similarly Jerome—Ascensio Isaiae. It was also known as the Vision of Isaiah and finally as the Testament of Hezekiah (see Charles, The Ascension of Isaiah, pp. xii.-xv.).

The Greek Original and the Versions.—The book was written in Greek, though not improbably the middle portion, the Testament of Hezekiah, was originally composed in Semitic. The Greek in its original form, which we may denote by G, is lost. It has, however, been in part preserved to us in two of its recensions, G1 and G2. From G1 the Ethiopic Version and the first Latin Version (consisting of ii. 14–iii. 13, vii. 1-19) were translated, and of this recension the actual Greek has survived in a multitude of phrases in the Greek Legend. G2 denotes the Greek text from which the Slavonic and the second Latin Version (consisting of vi.-xi.) were translated. Of this recension ii. 4–iv. 2 have been discovered by Grenfell and Hunt.[1] For complete details see Charles, op. cit. pp. xviii.-xxxiii.; also Flemming in Hennecke’s NTliche Apok.

Latin Version.—The first Latin Version (L1) is fragmentary (=ii. 14–iii. 13, vii. 1-19). It was discovered and edited by Mai in 1828 (Script. vet. nova collectio III. ii. 238), and reprinted by Dillmann in his edition of 1877, and subsequently in a more correct form by Charles in his edition of 1900. The second version (L2), which consists of vi.-xi., was first printed at Venice in 1522, by Gieseler in 1832, Dillmann in 1877 and Charles in 1900.

Ethiopic Version.—There are three MSS. This version is on the whole a faithful reproduction of G1. These were used by Dillmann and subsequently by Charles in their editions.

Different Elements in the Book.—The compositeness of this work is universally recognized. Dillmann’s analysis is as follows. (i.) Martyrdom of Isaiah, of Jewish origin; ii. 1–iii. 12, v. 2-14. (ii.) The Vision of Isaiah, of Christian origin, vi. 1–xi. 1, 23-40. (iii.) The above two constituents were put together by a Christian writer, who prefixed i. 1, 2, 4b-13 and appended xi. 42, 43. (iv.) Finally a later Christian editor incorporated the two sections iii. 13–v. 1 and xi. 2-22, and added i. 3, 4a, v. 15, 16, xi. 41.

This analysis has on the whole been accepted by Harnack, Schürer, Deane and Beer. These scholars have been influenced by Gebhardt’s statement that in the Greek Legend there is not a trace of iii. 13–v. 1, xi. 2-22, and that accordingly these sections were absent from the text when the Greek Legend was composed. But this statement is wrong, for at least five phrases or clauses in the Greek Legend are derived from the sections in question. Hence R. H. Charles has examined (op. cit. pp. xxxviii.-xlvii.) the problem de novo, and arrived at the following conclusions. The book is highly composite, and arbitrariness and disorder are found in every section. There are three original documents at its base, (i.) The Martyrdom of Isaiah = i. 1, 2a, 6b-13a, ii. 1-8, 10–iii. 12, v. 1b-14. This is but an imperfect survival of the original work. Part of the original work omitted by the final editor of our book is preserved in the Opus imperfectum, which goes back not to our text, but to the original Martyrdom, (ii.) The Testament of Hezekiah = iii. 13b–iv. 18. This work is mutilated and without beginning or end. (iii.) The Vision of Isaiah = vi.-xi. 1-40. The archetype of this section existed independently in Greek; for the second Latin and the Slavonic Versions presuppose an independent circulation of their Greek archetype in western and Slavonic countries. This archetype differs in many respects from the form in which it was republished by the editor of the entire work.

We may, in short, put this complex matter as follows: The conditions of the problem are sufficiently satisfied by supposing a single editor, who had three works at his disposal, the Martyrdom of Isaiah, of Jewish origin, and the Testament of Hezekiah and the Vision of Isaiah, of Christian origin. These he reduced or enlarged as it suited his purpose, and put them together as they stand in our text. Some of the editorial additions are obvious, as i. 2b-6a, 13a, ii. 9, iii. 13a, iv. 1a, 19–v. 1a, 15, 16, xi. 41-43.

Dates of the Various Constituents of the Ascension.—(a) The Martyrdom is quoted by the Opus Imperfectum, Ambrose, Jerome, Origen, Tertullian and by Justin Martyr. It was probably known to the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Thus we are brought back to the 1st century A.D. if the last reference is trustworthy. And this is no doubt the right date, for works written by Jews in the 2nd century would not be likely to become current in the Christian Church. (b) The Testament of Hezekiah was written between A.D. 88–100. The grounds for this date will be found in Charles, op. cit. pp. lxxi.-lxxii. and 30-31. (c) The Vision of Isaiah. The later recension of this Vision was used by Jerome, and a more primitive form of the text by the Archontici according to Epiphanius. It is still earlier attested by the Actus Petri Vercellenses. Since the Protevangel of James was apparently acquainted with it, and likewise Ignatius (ad. Ephes. xix.), the composition of the primitive form of the Vision goes back to the close of the 1st century.

The work of combining and editing these three independent writings may go back to early in the 3rd or even to the 2nd century.

Literature.Editions of the Ethiopic Text: Laurence, Ascensio Isaiae vatis (1819); Dillmann, Ascensio Isaiae Aethiopice et Latine, cum prolegomenis, adnotationibus criticis et exegeticis, additis versionum Latinarum reliquiis edita (1877); Charles, Ascension of Isaiah, translated from the Ethiopic Version, which, together with the new Greek Fragment, the Latin Versions and the Latin translation of the Slavonic, is here published in full, edited with Introduction, Notes and Indices (1900); Flemming, in Hennecke’s NTliche Apok. 292-305; NTliche Apok.-Handbuch, 323-331. This translation is made from Charles’s text, and his analysis of the text is in the main accepted by this scholar. Translations: In addition to the translations given in the preceding editions, Basset, Les Apocryphes éthiopiens, iii. “L’Ascension d’Isaïe” (1894); Beer, Apok. und Pseud. (1900) ii. 124-127. The latter is a German rendering of ii.-iii. 1-12, v. 2-14, of Dillmann’s text. Critical Inquiries: Stokes, art. “Isaiah, Ascension of,” in Smith’s Dict. of Christian Biography (1882), iii. 298-301; Robinson, “The Ascension of Isaiah” in Hastings’ Bible Dict. ii. 499-501. For complete bibliography see Schürer,3 Gesch. des jüd. Volks, iii. 280-285; Charles, op. cit.  (R. H. C.) 

  1. Published by them in the Amherst Papyri, an account of the Greek papyri in the collection of Lord Amherst (1900), and by Charles in his edition.