Carrier on The Ascension of Isaiah from OHJ

There survives a strange early Christian text hardly anyone knows about called the Ascension of Isaiah. Like the book of Daniel, it is a forgery, purporting to derive somehow from the ancient prophet Isaiah, recounting his mystical ascent into the heavens, where he saw and learned in advance the secret things of the Christian gospel. The original version of this text doesn't survive. We have later redactions, complete with a kind of'pocket' gospel tacked in. Though extant manuscripts date from the fifth to the twelfth century, all the evidence we have for this text and within it indicates it was originally composed sometime in the first or second century ce. [1]

The earliest version in fact was probably composed around the very same time as the earliest canonical Gospels were being written.[2] It thus includes some very early Christian belief, almost as early as anything in the New Testament.

 In this text, Isaiah goes into a trance before all the king's court and says he was taken up into the heavens, where at each stage he sees and hears particular things, and the angel lifting him up tells him various secrets. I have here removed all the extraneous material (a lot of which is repetitive) and quote just the features of the story I want to draw attention to:

The Vision That Isaiah ben Amoz Saw

 [6.l| In the twentieth year of the reign of Hezekiah. king of Judah. Isaiah the son of Amoz came to Hezekiah. . . . [6.10] And there while Isaiah was speaking by the Holy Spirit in the hearing of all ... he saw a vision. [6.13] And the angel who was sent to make him behold that vision came neither from the firmament, nor from the angels of glory of this world, but from the seventh heaven. . .. [6.15] And the vision which the holy Isaiah saw was not from this world but from the world which is hidden from the flesh. [6.16] And after Isaiah had seen this vision, he narrated it to Hezekiah. and to Josab his son and to the other prophets who had come. [7.1].. . saying:

[7.2] 1 saw a sublime angel .. . [7.3] and he took hold of me . . . [7.9] and we ascended to the firmament. i and he. and there I saw Sammael [i.e., Satan] and his hosts, and a great struggle was taking place there, and the angels of Satan were envious of one another. [7.10] And as it is above, so is it also on the earth, for the likeness of that which is in the firmament is also on the earth.... [7.13] And after this the angel brought me up above the firmament, into the first heaven. . .. [and so on repetitively all the way to the sixth heaven, seeing ever more glorious beings at each level].. . [8.18] and all the angels [in the sixth heaven] cried out to the primal Father, and his Beloved the Christ, and the Holy Spirit, all with one voice....

[8.25] And the angel who conducted me saw what I was thinking and said. 'If you rejoice already in this light of the sixth heaven, how much more will you rejoice when in the seventh heaven you see that light where God and his Beloved are . . . who in your world will be called "Son". [8.26] Not yet is he revealed, who shall enter this corrupted world, nor the garments, thrones, and crowns which are laid up for the righteous, those who believe in that Lord who shall one day descend in your form,'

[9.1] And he conveyed me into the air of the seventh heaven . .. [9.5] And the angel said unto me. 'He who gave permission for you to be here is your Lord. God, the Lord Christ, who will be called 'Jesus' on earth, but his name you cannot hear until you have ascended out of your body. .. . [9.12] And this Beloved will descend in the form in which you will soon see him descend—that is to say, in the last days, the Lord, who will be called Christ, will descend into the world. [9.13] . . . And after he has descended and become like you in appearance, they will think that he is flesh and a man. [9.14] And the god of that world will stretch forth his hand against the Son. and they will lay hands on him and crucify him on a tree, without knowing who he is. [9.15] So his descent, as you will see. is hidden from the heavens so that it remains unperceived who he is. [9.16] And when he has made spoil of the angel of death, he will arise on the third day and will remain in that world five hundred and forty-five days [i.e., one and a half years]. [9.17] And then many of the righteous will ascend with him.'...

[9.26] And then the angel said to me, "Here are prepared heavenly garments that many from that world receive, if they believe in the words of that one who, as I have told you. shall be named, and if they observe those words and trust them, and believe in his cross'. .. .

[9.27] And I saw someone standing by, whose glory surpassed that of all . .. [9.29] and all the angels drew near and worshipped him and gave praise.... [9.31] Then the angel who conducted me said to me, 'Worship this one', and I did. [9.32] And the angel said unto me. 'This is the Lord of All Glory whom you have seen'....

[10,7] And 1 heard the words of the Most High, the Father of my Lord, as he spoke to my Lord Christ who shall be called Jesus. [10.8] 'Go and descend through all the heavens, descend to the firmament and to that world, even to the angel in the realm of the dead, but to Hell you shall not go. [10.9] And you shall become like the form of all who are in the five heavens. [10.10] And with carefulness you shall resemble the form of the angels of the firmament and the angels also who are in the realm of the dead. [10.11] And none of the angels of this world shall know that you. along with me. are the Lord of the seven heavens and of their angels. [10.12] And they will not know that you are mine until with the voice of Heaven I have summoned their angels and their lights, and my mighty voice is made to resound to the sixth heaven, that you may judge and destroy the prince and his angels and the gods of this world, and the world which is ruled by them. [10.13] For they have denied me and said, "We are alone, and there is none beside us". [10.14] And afterwards you will ascend from the angels of death to your place, and this time you will not be transformed in each heaven, but in glory you will ascend and sit on My right hand. [10.15] And the princes and powers of this world will worship you.' .. .

[10.17] Then 1 saw that my Lord went forth from the seventh heaven to the sixth heaven [the angel then tells Isaiah to watch how Jesus transforms as he descends] .. . [10.19] And when the angels who are in the sixth heaven saw him they praised and extolled him. for he had not yet been transformed into the form of the angels there. . . . [10.20] But then I saw how he descended into the fifth heaven, and there took the appearance of the angels there, and they did not praise him. for his appearance was like theirs.. . . [and likewise the fourth heaven; and the third heaven, where he now must also give a password to the doorkeepers to enter through the gate of that heaven; and likewise the second heaven; and then the first] .. . [10.29] And then he descended into the firmament where the prince of this world dwells, and he gave the password . . . and his form was like theirs, and they did not praise him there, but struggled with one another in envy, for there the power of evil rules, and the envying of trivial things. [10.30] And 1 beheld, when he descended to the angels of the air and he was like one of them. [10.31] Then he gave no password, for they were plundering and doing violence to one another.

[11.1] After this, I beheld, and the angel who talked with me and conducted me said unto me. 'Understand. Isaiah, son of Amoz. because for this purpose have 1 been sent from God'....

At this point several paragraphs have been inserted summarizing a lost non-canonical Gospel bearing some similarities with the New Testament Gospels, with a birth to Joseph and a virgin Mary, and a great deal else. That 'pocket gospel' is overly elaborate and completely unlike the rest of the text, either in style or content (e.g. evincing an oddly sudden zeal for specific details), and it does not correspond at all to what (in chaps. 9 and 10) Isaiah was told he would later see (in chaps. 10 and 11). This pocket gospel is also missing from several manuscripts—in fact, it is missing from all manuscripts that lack chaps. 1-5 as well, thus signifying an earlier state of the text.[3] With that pocket gospel removed, the text continues:

[11.23] And then I saw him and he was in the firmament but he had not changed to their form, and all the angels of the firmament and Satan saw him. and they worshipped him. [11.24] And great sorrow was occasioned there, while they said. "How did our Lord descend in our midst, and we perceived not the glory which was upon him?" . .. [And this Lord continues ascending thus through the first five heavens, and then the sixth] [11.32] And I saw how he ascended into the seventh heaven, and all the righteous and all the angels praised Him. And then I saw how he sat down on the right hand of God. ... [11.37] Both the end of this world [11.38] and all of this vision will be consummated in the last generations.

[11.39] And then Isaiah made him swear that he would not tell this to the people of Israel, nor permit any man to write dow n these words. [11.40] 'As far as you understand from the king what is said in the prophets, so far shall you read and thats all'.

That Isaiah refused to allow this prophecy to be written down begs the question of how the reader is supposed to have come upon a text of it. But I'll set that aside.

 Key to understanding this text is the evidence that it's been tampered with. Even apart from the manuscript evidence confirming this, the text itself confirms it. In the first part we're told that high above in the firmament of this world there are copies of all the things on earth, and there the 'rulers of this world' fight over who will control the earth below. As I'll demonstrate in Chapter 5 (Elements 34-38) this was a popular belief, and one accepted by Paul and the author of the anonymous Epistle to the Hebrews—both in the New Testament. And with this in mind God commands his Son (here a preexistent divine being called Lord Christ, and soon to be dubbed Lord Jesus Christ) to descend 'to the firmament and to that world, even to the angel in the realm of the dead' (10.8) and to take 'the form of the angels of the firmament and the angels also who are in the realm of the dead' (10.10) so 'none of the angels of this world shall know' who he is (10.11), and thus (Isaiah's guiding angel explains) 'they will think that he is flesh and a man' (9.13, a line not present in all versions, see below), in a 'form' like Isaiah's (8.26, likewise not present in all versions), and then 'the god of that world will stretch forth his hand against the Son, and they will lay hands on him and crucify him on a tree, without knowing who he is' (9.14). And then 'he will arise on the third day and will remain in that world' for one and a half years (9.16)thus fulfilling the predictions of Daniel (see Chapter 4, Element 7). although in no way conforming to any account in the New Testament (even in Acts 1.3 Jesus sticks around after his resur-rection barely more than a month).[4] Indeed, that Jesus hung around after his resurrection for a whole year and a half would have sounded patently absurd even then, begging the question: what is really being said here?

 Notice that up to this point in the story nothing is ever said about Jesus visiting earth or being killed by Jews or Romans—or conducting a ministry for that matter (of any sort at all).[5] The 'they' who will think he is a man and not know who he is and kill him are only ever said to be Satan and his angels. No other subject is mentioned for that pronoun, nor is any other implied. God clearly intends Jesus to do nothing more than go to the firmament, and for no other reason than to be killed by Satan and his sky demons, then rise from the dead and conduct affairs there for over a year (doing what, it's not said), and then ascend to heaven. In other words, instead of conducting a ministry on earth, Jesus is commanded to go straight to the firmament and die, and rise from the dead, and then remain where he had died for a year and a half (9.16; cf. 10.12-14; although the duration is omitted from some versions), and then ascend to the heavens. The 'tree' on which he is crucified (9.14) is thus implied to be one of the 'copies' of trees that we're told are in the firmament (7.10).[6] Certainly no mention is made here of this happening in or anywhere near Jerusalem.

 Likewise, it's only said 'none of the angels of this world shall know' who he is (10.11), not 'none of the Jews' or 'none of the authorities in Israel' or any such thing (which is essentially just what Paul himself says in 1 Cor. 2.6-10). The text also does not identify any further stage of descending from the firmament to earth before entering the realm of the dead (not even in chap. 11—the redactors made no effort to connect their later insertion of a completely out-of-place 'gospel' narrative to the sequential 'descent-by-stages' storyline of the previous chapters). In 10.30 it's implied Jesus descends to a lower part of the firmament (where he finds he needs no password to get in), but he is still then among 'the angels of the air'. He goes no further. Back in 10.8 it was said he shall descend 'even to the angel in the realm of the dead' (though specifically not to Hell), but as we'll see in Chapter 5 (e.g. in Plutarch's account in On the Face That Appears in the Orb of the Moon), many theologians of this period regarded the 'realm of the dead' to be up in the sky, not in an underworld (see Chapter 5: Element 37), and there is no indication here that anything else was meant.

In fact, of his killers God specifically says, 'they will not know that you are mine until with the voice of Heaven I have summoned their angels and their lights, and my mighty voice is made to resound to the sixth heaven' (10.12). in other words the truth will be revealed to Christ's murderers by God's resounding voice that will be heard across all the seven levels of heaven, which of course is not what happens in the New Testament Gospels (no divine voice is heard across the world revealing Jesus's true identity, least of all to those who killed him), yet here 'they' become aware of who he is almost right away (11.23). What can only be meant here are the demons and demon princes who kill him in the firmament (as 11.23 says), since they are the only ones who can be expected to hear this voice, along with 'their angels and lights', their subordinates (since men don't have 'angels and lights' under them to summon). Nor did the killers of Jesus ever 'know' Jesus was a divine being, yet here we are told they did: once God told them. This cannot mean the Jews and Romans. It can only mean Satan and his angelic princes. Therefore, 10.12 clearly says those are his killers, not the humans interpolated into the story in chap. 11. At any rate, before the final chapter, no one else but these demons is ever mentioned as being at all involved in this event, and no mention is ever made of Jesus going anywhere else but to the firmament to die.

Only in the final chapter is the story suddenly changed and elaborated with all manner of details that are never even a component of God's original orders (as described in chap. 10), nor in the angel's account of God's plan to Isaiah (in chap. 9), nor even plausibly concordant with them—both in terms of plot and literary style, 11.2-22 clearly do not derive from the same author as the rest of chaps. 6 through 11 (as many experts conclude). That this is confirmed in manuscript evidence only makes it all the more conclusive. This eleventh chapter thus appears to have been redacted to "include" a complete earthly 'gospel' story, as if it were what was being referred to in chaps. 9 and 10, when that hardly makes sense—the two accounts don't fit each other at all.

In line with this, two other key phrases also appear to have been interpolated: 'they will think that he is flesh and a man' (9.13) and he shall 'descend in your form' (8.26) are both missing from the Latin version. Although the Latin text is frequently abbreviated, that is unlikely to explain the coincidental omission of these specific phrases, the only statements outside the pocket gospel that refer to Jesus becoming like a man. Nevertheless, those statements would still be compatible with a celestial event (as human sorcerers could fly into the air and be met with there, and earliest Christian belief certainly held that Jesus had assumed the form of a man), so we needn't rule them out.

But if we conclude that the original text of the Ascension of Isaiah did not include most of the material currently found in chap. 11, but that the original text ended instead in a manner consistent with what is said in chaps. 9 and 10 (and indeed the repetitive nature of the text up to that point entails we should expect the conclusion to conform closely and repetitively to what chaps. 9 and 10 say will happen), then we should first look to the manuscripts that omit this pocket gospel to see if there are any clues to what originally was there. This is what we see (translating from the Latin text):

[11.1] After this, the angel said to me. "Understand. Isaiah, son of Amoz. because for this purpose have I been sent from God. that everything be revealed to you. For before you no one ever saw. nor after you will anyone be able to see. what you have seen and heard'. [11.2] And I saw one like a son of man, dwelling among men, and in the world, and they did not know him. |11.23] And I saw him ascend into the firmament but he did not change himself into another form, and all the angels above the firmament saw him. and they worshipped him.

This new version of 11.2 describes a kind of earthly sojourn, but in an absurdly brief fashion. This actually looks like a rewrite of the Jewish scripture of Bar. 3.38, where God himself was 'seen on earth and conversed with men', which would sooner suggest a revelatory experience was going to be described. Hence it's notable how this Ascension text transforms Baruch: it does not have Jesus converse with men or seen by men. but has him only among men yet completely unknown to them. Ascension Isaiah 11.2 also rewrites Dan. 7.13, saying that what Isaiah saw was 'one like a son of man; the one who in Daniel appears among the clouds and will receive an eternal kingdom over the whole universe (Dan. 7.14).

But there is still something missing—and it's not the gospel that was later inserted. I suspect this version of 11.2 is closer to the original, but that it was followed by a more detailed explanation of what this meant and what happened (all as anticipated in chaps. 9 and 10). That is now missing. Instead, in this version of the text, Jesus descends to the firmament (10.29), then to the lower air (10.30), and then is suddenly in 'the world among men' (11.2). where he at last takes the form of a man, but no one knows him there. He then suddenly rises into the firmament in 11.23, in his original form, and is only then seen—by angels. Notably missing is what happened in between. Where is his execution, for example? Something has been removed. Not only are we missing the original story (of Satan and his angels killing him, as we're told to expect in 9.14), but we also expect to hear an account of'God's resounding voice' across the heavens, since Isaiah had heard he would see that, too (10.12), likewise an account of'many of the righteous' ascending with Jesus (9.17; or in the Latin, being sent by Jesus) and Jesus hanging around for over a year (9.16, although this detail seems to have been abbreviated out of the Latin). Notably, none of these things are in the pocket gospel that was later inserted either. So that clearly was not what was removed from the original.[7] What had to have been in the original is the original gospel foretold in chaps. 9 and 10. But that is not what is in any manuscript of the Ascension of Isaiah in chaps. 10 and 11 now. Whatever was originally in the text at this point is lost to history (though possibly not entirely: see Chapter 8, §6).

Further evidence lies in the fact that in this version of the text (which is the same in the Latin and in the Slavonic), it is the angels 'above' the firmament who first see Jesus in 11.23-24, with no mention of the angels in the firmament—whereas all other manuscripts have Satan and his angels see him in the firmament (as we should expect). That has to be a mistranslation, since 'above the firmament' defines the 'first heaven', yet even in this text the angels in the first heaven will worship him in 11.25-26, so the text as written is confusing two different orders of angels. This also does not correspond to what God says Isaiah will see (in 10.11-15 and 10.29-31). And of course it makes no sense to skip over Satan and his angels at this point, as if suddenly they didn't exist (when we're told in 10.11 to expect a description of their surprise at this point).

It would appear the redactor who produced this version of the text was trying to erase an account of Satan's reaction, and likewise that of the warring angels of the air and the firmament. He has likewise removed the account of God's celestial voice summoning the stars, and what Jesus did in the year and a half (or whatever period) before he ascended and was recognized (as we were told to expect in 10.12-15). Also deleted is any mention of the men Jesus was supposed to bring with him (9.17; or in the Latin, his 'sending' of'heralds' throughout the earth). Undeniably, a lot has been removed—-probably because it could not be gelled with the historiciz-ing account embraced by later Christians who were preserving this text. A Jesus who is killed by Satan in the sky and then only appears to men in revelations (as the citation of Bar. 3.38 implies was going to happen) had to be erased. One redactor just deleted it and tinkered a little with the then-adjoining verses (the text that appears in the Latin and the Slavonic), while another just replaced it with a more desirable and orthodox gospel (which is the text that appears everywhere else).

Given widespread evidence of Christian fabricating and tampering with texts, this should not be surprising (see Chapter 4, Element 44; and Chapter 7, §7). But even if we imagine that the prior probability of either version of the eleventh chapter of the Ascension of Isaiah being authentic is as low as one in a thousand (an a fortiori rate of interpolation in Christian texts: see note in Chapter 11, §8), the evidence is so overwhelmingly improbable on the assumption of authenticity (a million to one at best) that we can be certain what we have in that chapter now is not what was in the original. The original text cannot have been either (a) the elaborate pocket gospel, which fails to correspond with the preceding material in too many ways to be even remotely likely, or (b) the version that lacks that (but has in its place a completely different 11.2 and a revised 11.23), which not only flubs the sequence of events (by deleting Jesus' expected glorious appearance to the angels of the firmament), and is implausibly brief (given the verbosity of the rest of the text), but also fails to contain any of the events that previous chapters told us would be recounted here.[8]

Whether you share that conclusion or not, what is undeniable is that this text provides all the elements of a plausible theory: the narrative goes out of its way to explain that the firmament contains copies of everything on earth (which implies this fact is relevant to the subsequent narrative somehow, just as we shall see the same remark is in Hebrews: see Chapter 11, §5); it indisputably places Satan and his demons, the only 'princes and authorities and rulers and powers' of which it speaks, in outer space (yet still 'in this world', distinctly below the first heaven, and thus in the recognized realm of flesh and corruption: see Element 35); and for two whole chapters it belabors exclusively and at length the role and actions of these (and only these) 'powers' in the crucifixion of Jesus on an unidentified 'tree'. If we didn't have Chapter 11 (and certainly if this were also the only document describing Christian belief), we would conclude nothing else but that this Jesus Christ was being described as a preexistent divine being descending below the moon to be killed by sky demons in outer space. Because it then says nothing else.

We have even more reason than that to be suspicious here. For the initial story told of Jesus in the Ascension of Isaiah sounds a lot like a story of another descending-and-ascending, dying-and-rising god, originating over a thousand years before the Christian era. In the Descent of Inanna, we are given a similarly repetitious account of a goddess (Inanna, variously otherwise known as Ishtar or Astarte), the very 'Queen of Heaven' (and daughter of God), who descends 'from the great above'. Thus 'abandoning heaven' she descends from outer space all the way past earth into the realm of the dead below it, fully intending to be killed there and then resurrected three days later. Just like in the Ascension of Isaiah, the narrative relates her plans in advance to ensure this, and then relates how it happens exactly to plan. And like the 'Jesus' figure in the the Ascension of Isaiah, Inanna is crucified (nailed up), and notably not on earth, but in a non-earthly realm (the sub-world, in accordance with Sumerian lore of the time), and not by people, but by demons—and their godly overlords, who happen to be the gods of death, yet another coincidence with the Ascension (and like the narrative that ends up in the Gospels, Inanna is also humiliated and condemned to death in a kind of kangaroo court). Most importantly, just as Jesus must descend through seven levels of heaven, shedding layers of his glory at each stage and thereby humbling his appearance (which the Ascension of Isaiah repeatedly equates with garments), so Inanna descends through seven levels of the underworld, shedding layers of her regalia at each stage and thereby being humbled in her appearance—until at last she is naked (the most mortal and vulnerable state of all), and that's when she is killed.

This is an extremely unlikely coincidence, particularly given the highly repetitious nature of both texts. It cannot be believed that the author of the Ascension just 'by coincidence' ended up telling almost the very same story, right down to its characteristic repetitions, seven-stage descent and disrobing, crucifixion by demons, and resurrection. Inanna, like Jesus, was also God's child; and like the Ascension, in the Descent her plans are explained before being described. There are many differences in these two tales, certainly. For instance Inanna escapes the realm of the dead by trading places with her (apparently haughty) husband, Tammuz, who is dragged into hell by its demons. But the skeletal structure of the story in the Ascension clearly derives from this pre-Christian religion—whether by circuitous route or not. We know the Jews were long familiar with this sacred story of Inanna's descent. Jeremiah 7.18 and 44.15-26 complain of the prevalence of Inanna-cult among Palestinian Jews, even in the heart of Jerusalem itself, and Ezek. 8.14 explicitly mentions women in Jerusalem weeping for the fate of Tammuz (which would be his dragging into hell at the behest of the resurrected Inanna), which ceremony is also known to have preceded a rejoicing at his own resurrection.[9] Clearly the tale has instead been co-opted and 'improved' by folding into it particularly Jewish and more 'modern' religious notions. For instance, Jesus acts at the behest of the God Most High to ultimately overthrow Satan, and the descent is accomplished through levels of Heaven rather than levels of Hell. But that the story was changed to suit new and different sensibilities and purposes is precisely how religious syncretism works.

Insufficient evidence survives to ascertain whether this is the route from which Christianity itself derived, but with this text the evidence is undeniable that Christianity had merged its own myth with this pre-Christian dying-and-rising god concept very early and very thoroughly. Because the Ascension of Isaiah itself is unmistakably influenced by, and in outline derived from, the Inanna descent myth, whether directly or indirectly. And yet that myth already contains two elements supposedly distinctive of Jesus Christ as a dying-and-rising god: the humiliation, trial and crucifixion of the worshiped divinity, and the resurrection in three days. And this is definitely what happens in their respective stories. After she is stripped naked and judgment is pronounced against her, Inanna is 'turned into a corpse' and 'the corpse was hung from a nail' and 'after three days and three nights' her assistants ask for her corpse and resurrect her, and 'Inanna arose' according to her plan, because she knew her father 'will surely bring me back to life', exactly as transpires.[10] Indeed, there is a third parallel: Inanna's resurrection is secured by a ritual involving the divine 'food of life' and the divine 'water of life'. The Eucharist is only a few steps away. If all those elements are removed from Christianity, it's hard to think what could possibly remain that makes Jesus' historicity at all likely. If the Jesus of the Gospels wasn't humiliated, tried and crucified, if he didn't originate the Eucharist (which is just another resurrection-securing ritual of food and drink), then the depth of mythmaking that very rapidly surrounded him is truly extreme—and if it can be that extreme, why would we balk at the idea that the rest is myth, too?

In one of the earliest Christian texts we have, the apostle Paul says God's plan of Christ's death-defeating sacrifice was a 'secret' kept 'hidden' (1 Cor. 2.7) and only recently known by 'revelation' (1 Cor. 2.10), such that 'none of the rulers of this world knew; for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory' (1 Cor. 2.8). This looks like a direct paraphrase of an early version of the Ascension of Isaiah, wherein Jesus is also the 'Lord of Glory', his descent and divine plan is also 'hidden' and the 'rulers of this world' are indeed the ones who crucify him, in ignorance of that hidden plan (see the Ascension of Isaiah 9.15; 9.32; 10.12, 15). It even has an angel predict his resurrection on the third day (9.16), and the Latin/ Slavonic contains a verse (in 11.34) that Paul actually cites as scripture, in the very same place (1 Cor. 2.9).[11]

So is Paul here referring to the demonic execution of Jesus in outer space? That would certainly explain why he would say this cannot have been seen by anyone, but is known only by revelation (1 Cor. 2.9-10; cf. Rom. 16.25-26). That this makes particular sense—in fact, more sense than what's usually assumed—is what I shall argue in Chapter 11. Here my aim is not to argue that this theory is true, but to explain what this theory is.

 

Notes

1. The final redaction of this appears to unite two separate texts (the 'Martyrdom of Isaiah' and the actual 'Ascension of Isaiah'), the latter being the text of which 1 am speaking here, which consists of chaps. 6-11 of the united whole. For this I have excerpted and adapted the translation provided in Willis Barnstone, The Other Bible (San Francisco. CA: Harper Collins. 1984). pp. 517-31. For scholarly analysis see Jonathan Knight. The Ascension of Isaiah (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press. 1995). and Disciples of the Beloved One: The Christology, Social Setting and Theological Context of the Ascension of Isaiah (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), with additional collation, translation and commentary in Corpus christianorum: series apocryphorum. 7 and 8 (1995). However, contrary to the assumptions of Knight, there is no way the 'Martyrdom' was originally a part of the Ascension': even though the former came to comprise chaps. 1-5 of the now-combined text, it ends with Isaiah's death and refers 'back' to the "Ascension" tale as if it had been written before it (in Ascension of Isaiah 3): then suddenly a completely new story begins in chap. 6, with a new introduction, and no mention or awareness of the preceding material (much less that Isaiah had just died in the previous chapter). Knight's only arguments for unity are that the unified text is more elaborate (yet that could be from subsequent embellishment, exactly as happened to the epistles of Ignatius, or simply because the Latin translation was briefer) and he can explain why the "pocket gospel' was deleted (in the Latin and Slavonic) by supposing an anti-Docetic motive (but he has no actual evidence of either that motive or that the material was deleted rather than added). The one argument is logically invalid, and the other is a speculation and not an argument—but it is also illogical: an anti-Docetist would have fixed the account, not deleted the whole thing, and in fact what the pocket gospel is replaced with in the manuscripts lacking it is even more Docetic than what was removed. All the other evidence is against Knight (see following notes, and even his own observations in Disciples. 68-69).

2. That the Ascension' text cannot date later than the early second century is evidenced by the fact that the text of the "Martyrdom' assumes the legend of "Nero's return' is still an imagined threat (in Asc. Is. 4. so that must have been written within decades of his death), and is unaware of any other emperor having persecuted Christians, two facts that place it nearer the same time as the book of Revelation (with which it has a lot else in common besides that: see Chapter 7. §3). and since the "Martyrdom' refers back to the Ascension' (see previous note), the latter must have been written even earlier. See Knight. Ascension, pp. 9-10: Disciples, pp. 33-34 and 205-208: and F. Crawford Burkitt. Jewish and Christian Apocalypses (London: H. Milford. 1914). p. 46. Knight's argument that the "Martyrdom" seems aware of the pocket gospel in the Ascension' (Asc. Is. 3.13-18 parallels 11.2-22) would at best only confirm that the interpolation of that pocket gospel occurred sometime in between (or was actually produced by the author of the "Martyrdom").

3. Both Latin (L2) and Slavonic (S) manuscripts not only omit the "Martyrdom" (and thus only know of a text of Asc, Is. that begins at chap. 6) but also omit 11.3-22. the whole pocket gospel (see Corpus christianorum: series apocryphorum, 7 [Ascensio Isaiae]. pp. 231 and 315). replacing it with a new version of 11.2 (which I will discuss shortly).

4. Irenaeus, Against All Heresies 1.3.2 reports that Christians who claimed the Gospels were allegories for celestial events also claimed Jesus continued speaking to his disciples for a year-and-a-half after his resurrection, which must mean that Jesus continued appearing in revelations for that span of time.

5. My perspective on this document has been inspired by the analysis in Earl Doherty, Jesus: Neither God nor Man (The Case for a Mythical Jesus) (Ottawa: Age of Reason, 2009), pp. 119-26, which is well worth reading, even if I don't always concur with it.

6. Although to be more precise it is the things on earth that are the 'copies' of their 'truer' versions in the heavens (Element 38).

7. Even Knight agrees something from 'the lost Greek original' is missing from all extant manuscripts at this point (Disciples, p. 69).

8. The defects of the inserted gospel are even greater than the defects of the version that fails to mention what we expect (and which not only fails to explain what happens after 11,2 but flubs 11.23). and thus the one is even less probable on a theory of authenticity than the other. Yet in either case the likelihood of having the text in the given state we have, if what we have is an unaltered text, is in my opinion no better than a million to one against. With a prior probability of a thousand to one the other way, that gets us odds of a thousand to one in favor of my conclusion—that the text in both traditions is missing what it originally contained. Using the odds form of Bayes's Theorem (see Chapter 12, §1): P(Missing|e) / P(Missing|not e) = 1/1000 x 1,000,000/1 = 1000/1.

9. That Tammuz himself was also believed to have been resurrected is attested by Origen. Selecta in Ezechielem, in J.-P. Migne. Patrologiae cursus completus: series graeca 13.800: see also Apostolic Constitutions 5.12 and further discussion and sources in Carrier. Not the Impossible Faith, pp. 17-18 (with n. 1. p. 45). Possibly this cult of Inanna and Tammuz was an early form of the seasonal exchange of dying-and-rising known for other pairs of gods, such as Castor and Pollux. See Element 31 in Chapter 5.

10. Translation and background: Samuel Noah Kramer, History Begins at Sumer; Thirty-Nine Firsts in Man's Recorded History (Philadelphia. PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 3rd rev. edn, 1981), pp. 154-67 (quoted excerpts from p. 162, lines 1-3; p. 160, line 3; and p. 163, lines 10-12 and 15-22). See also Pirjo Lapinkivi, The Neo-Assyrian Myth of Istar's Descent and Resurrection (Helsinki: Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, 2010).

11. This same scriptural quotation (verbatim or nearly) appeared in other apocalypses as well, yet (as in the Asc. Is.) not as a citation of scripture but simply what an angel says (see Corpus christianorum: series apocryphorum 8 [Ascensio Isaiae]. pp. 590-92). Paul thus is not only using a lost Apocalypse for his information about Jesus in 1 Corinthians 2 (and thus for his crucifixion), but he assumes his fellow Christians are intimately familiar with that Apocalypse as well, and revered it as scripture (see Element 9 in Chapter 4). We can rightly wonder what relationship that Apocalypse had to the Ascension of Isaiah. May it have been an earlier redaction of it?

 

 

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