Jesus crucified by demons (not on earth): The Ascension of Isaiah in brief

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by Neil Godfrey

Earl Doherty has argued that the New Testament epistles, unlike the Gospels, portray Jesus as a heavenly being who was crucified by demons in heavenly places, and that it was this event that was revealed to early Christian apostles such as Paul by visionary or mystical spiritual experiences or insights into their readings of Jewish scriptures. They described the gospel that they preached as a “mystery” that had been revealed to them by the Spirit of God in what they believed were “the last days”. The crucifixion of Jesus was not an earthly event enacted by human agencies. The New Testament books and other extra-canonical writings give ample evidence for their being a wide variety of “Christianities” in the two or three centuries, but the canonical Gospel narratives and the book of Acts have so completely dominated our understanding of Christian origins that we have failed to see just how “riotously diverse” Christianity was before and even after the Gospels were written. Our canonical gospels — the orthodox narrative of Jesus — and the book of Acts were not widely known among Christian communities until the mid to later half of the second century. We know this from the testimonies of various ancient texts.

Doherty’s arguments are extensive and founded on a wide spectrum of evidence both within the New Testament writings and beyond. But there is one ancient document that appears to describe the very scenario that Doherty believes is found in writings such as the epistles of Paul and other New Testament letter-writers, in particular the Epistle to the Hebrews. This apocryphal text is The Ascension of Isaiah, which in its present form is a relatively late second-century Christian document. I will discuss some details of the dating of this document in a future post, but can make it clear now that scholarly introductions to translations of this text generally acknowledge that the current complete text was made up by stitching together at least two originally separate texts, and that along the way various Christian copyists or editors have added their own Christian messages into the original.

The original layer may not have been Christian at all, but Jewish sectarian. It is not impossible that the author of the New Testament’s Epistle to the Hebrews knew of one of the original Jewish documents that became the basis of the later Ascension. Hebrews speaks of a prophet being sawn in half, and the Ascension of Isaiah is the only other text we know of that testifies to this happening to a prophet. Even apart from that possibility, the earlier (quite likely) pre-Christian text was composed in the latter part of the first century.

But to cut to the chase. Here are the highlights of one of the pre-orthodox-Christian passages of what became known as The Ascension of Isaiah. (Many of us I know have read this in full from the online versions or in other books. This is for those who find ploughing through the lengthy compressed text and rambling details, especially with scholarly commentaries, hard going.)

We begin with chapter 6 since chapters 1 to 5 are widely acknowledged originally to have been a separate document. The quotations are taken from the Knibb’s translation at http://www.pseudepigrapha.com/pseudepigrapha/AscensionOfIsaiah.html. Future posts that cover some of the details of how scholars have identified various sections as later Christian interpolations will be based on Knibb’s commentary, and the discussions in E. Hennecke’s New Testament Apocrypha and H.F.D. Sparks’ The Apocryphal Old Testament. Doherty’s own commentary underlies most of what I present here.

Keep in mind New Testament passages like:

None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. — 1 Corinthians 2:8

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. — 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 (is Paul describing one or two separate visions here?)

The setting: everybody, even the king, comes to hear Isaiah

Chapter 6 begins with Isaiah at Gilgal and before an audience of King Hezekiah, all his counsellors and eunuchs and forty other prophets who have come from “the neighbouring districts, the mountains and the countryside” to hear him.

Isaiah began to speak to the king (preaching a sermon about righteousness etc, apparently) with all the others listening in. Then suddenly there was the sound of a door opening and a heavenly voice, that of the Holy Spirit, interrupted. All stopped to listen and then they all got on their knees and began to worship (6:6-8).

And when Isaiah spoke with Hezekiah the words of righteousness and faith, they all heard a door being opened and the voice of the Spirit.

And the king summoned all the prophets and all the people who were to be found there, and they came. . . .

And when they all heard the voice of the Holy Spirit, they all worshiped on their knees

The Trance begins: Isaiah’s mind is taken out of his body

Isaiah began to speak to this Spirit Voice, but as he did so he lulled off into silence. His mind was taken up from his body and he no longer saw anyone around him. His own body continued to breathe, his eyes opened, but his mouth silent. This way he was shown through a vision by an angel that had been sent from the seventh heaven.

The general people, unrighteous lot that they were, did not really believe he was taken up out of his body. (6:11-15)

11. His eyes indeed were open, but his mouth was silent, and the mind in his body was taken up from him.

12. But his breath was (still) in him, for he was seeing a vision.

13. And the angel who was sent to show him (the vision) was not of this firmament, nor was he from the angels of glory of this world, but he came from the seventh heaven.

14. And the people who were standing by, apart from the circle of prophets, did [not] think that the holy Isaiah had been taken up.

15. And the vision which he saw was not from this world, but from the world which is hidden from the flesh.

After returning to his bodily senses Isaiah told the king and a few of the most righteous of the audience what he had seen. (6:16-17)

16. And after Isaiah had seen this vision he recounted it to Hezekiah, and to Josab his son, and to the other prophets who had come.

17. But the officials, and the eunuchs, and the people did not hear, apart from Samnas the secretary, and Jehoiakim, and Asaph the recorder, for they (were) doers of righteousness, and the fragrance of the Spirit was in them; but the people did not hear, for Micah and Josab his son had sent them out when the wisdom of this world was taken from him as if he were dead.

The Ascent begins; first stop, the demons in the air

Isaiah describes how he was taken by a most glorious angel (too glorious to describe) who would not reveal his name, but who nonetheless spoke with a kind voice. The angel explains their itinerary: they are to ascend to the seventh heaven where they will see the Father himself. After this, Isaiah would be taken back down to earth to return to his body.

So the journey begins. Isaiah is lifted from the earth and “taken into the firmament” above. There Isaiah saw Satan (Sammael) and all his demons busily envying one another, quarreling and fighting. Just like on earth, says Isaiah. “As above, so below.”

Isaiah asks his angel guide what is going on here, to which the angel replies that this is the normal state of affairs among Satan and his hosts ever since the world began. It will continue, he says, until “the one who comes” comes and destroys them. Isaiah is told that he will also see that “one who comes” on his journey. (7:1-12)

7. The vision which Isaiah saw he told to Hezekiah, and to Josab his son, and to Micah, and to the other prophets;

2. it was as follows. . . . I saw a glorious angel; his glory was not like the glory of the angels which I always used to see, but he had great glory, and an office, such that I cannot describe the glory of this angel.

3. And I saw when he took hold of me by my hand, and I said to him, “Who are you? And what is your name? And where are you taking me up?” . . . .

4. And he said to me, “When I have taken you up through (all) the stages and have shown you the vision on account of which I was sent, then you will understand who I am; but my name you will not know,

5. for you have to return into this body. . . . ”

6. And I rejoiced because he spoke to me with kindness.

7. And he said to me, “Do you rejoice because I have spoken kindly to you?” And he said, “You will see one greater than me, how he will speak kindly and gently with you;

8. and the Father of the one who is greater you will also see, because for this purpose I was sent from the seventh heaven, that I might make all this clear to you.”

9. And we went up into the firmament, I and he, and there I saw Sammael and his hosts; and there was a great struggle in it, {and the words of Satan, and they were envying one another}

10. And as above, so also on earth, for the likeness of what (is) in the firmament is here on earth.

11. And I said to the angel, “What is this envying?”

12. And he said to me, “So it has been ever since this world existed until now, and this struggle (will last) until the one comes whom you are to see, and he will destroy him.

I have posted on various ancient views of where demons were thought by various Jews and non-Jews to live in ancient times, and this scenario comports with the views expressed by Apuleius, Plutarch and Philo in this and linked posts. (There were other views, too, such as those found in the Book of Enoch.)

But here we see a Jewish text very likely from the late first century speaking of “one to come” from the Father to destroy Satan and the demons in “the firmament” above the earth. Doherty discusses this and other passages here in more depth, such as what this text reveals about the nature of the firmament in relation to earth, air, and the other heavens, but I will keep this post at the outline sketch level. Suffice to say here that in the ensuing verses we read that each heaven is as far above (or even farther than) the last one visited as the firmament where the demons dwell is above the earth — see 7:28 below.

Up through heavens 1 to 3, then 4 and 5 . . .

After having passed through this realm of the demons Isaiah is taken up into the first heaven. Then the second, and then the third. (The third heaven was as far as Paul said he ever got – 2 Cor. 12:2.) In each level Isaiah sees angelic beings of increasing praise-powers. On asking who they are praising he is told by his angel guide they are praising the great one in the seventh heaven — and “his Beloved”.

In each heaven there is a throne with angels to his left and to his right. Those on the right are always offering more wonderful praises than those on the left.

When he reaches the third heaven he notices that none of the angels there are talking about his earth at all. It’s as if they are unaware of it. But his angel assures him that though this third heaven is too holy to mention earthly affairs, all that happens on earth is still being registered by all concerned.

Next he visits the fourth and fifth heavens, and these are extra glorious of course. (7:13-37)

13 And after this he took me up above the firmament; this is the [first] heaven.

14 There I saw a throne in the middle, and on the right and on the left of it there were angels.

15 And [the angels on the left] were not like the angels who stood on the right, but those who stood on the right had more glory, and they all sang praises with one voice. And the throne was in the middle, and it they praised, . . . .

16 And I asked the angel who led me and said to him, “To whom is this praise directed?”

17 And he said to me, “To the praise of [the One who sits in] the seventh heaven, the One who rests in the holy world, and to his Beloved, from where I was sent to you. To there it is directed.”

18 And again, he took me up into the second heaven, and the height of that heaven is like that from heaven to earth and to the firmament. . . .

20 And there was great glory in the second heaven, and their praise was not like the praise of those who (were) in the first heaven. . . .

24 And he took me up into the third heaven, and in the same way I saw those who (were) on the right and on the left, and there also (there was) a throne in the middle and one who sat (on it), but no mention of this world was made there. . . .

26 And he answered me, saying, “Nothing is named because of its weakness, but nothing is hidden which is done there.” . . . .

28 And again he took me up into the fourth heaven, and the height from the third to the fourth heaven was greater than (from) earth to the firmament. . . .

32 And he took me up into the fifth heaven. . . .

36 but their praise was more glorious than that of the fourth heaven. . . .

Entering the 6th and 7th heavens

Then there is a change when Isaiah reaches the heaven adjacent to the seventh. All the angels are equal and no longer divided between left and right positions around a throne according to their degrees of glory. Isaiah wishes he could stay there but is told he has to return to his body waiting down below.  There are several references here to Jesus and Christ, and some scholars consider these to be later Christian insertions, so I will omit these here. Perhaps I can return to a further analysis of these and related details in the Ascension in a future post. (8:1-9:6)

8.1  And again, he took me up into the air of the sixth heaven, and I saw a splendor such as I had not seen in the five heavens as I went up; . . . .

6 . . . . and I said to him, “Why (are there) not corresponding groups of angels?”

7 And he said to me, “From the sixth heaven and upwards there are no longer those on the left, nor is there a throne placed in the middle, but [they are directed] by the power of the seventh heaven, where the One who is not named dwells, and his Chosen One, whose name is unknown, and no heaven can learn his name;

. . . . . 9. 6 And he took me up into the seventh heaven, and there I saw a wonderful light, and also angels without number.

The Beloved Son is crucified by demons (not on earth)

Isaiah sees the souls of all the past righteous saints waiting to be clothed with their rewards of nice clothes and crowns to wear and thrones to sit upon. His angel tells him that they will have to wait till the Beloved one descends and conquers the demons and powers of death below and returns again. In this section there are some apparent insertions by Docetic Christians who did not believe that Jesus was real flesh but only appeared as such. These passages clash with the rest of this narrative that is focussed on this Beloved from God changing his appearance to look like lesser heavenly angels, not humans. (He is never said to visit earth until we read the clear later Christian insertions that add a chapter about Mary, Joseph, Bethlehem, etc.)

This section speaks of a “world” but when we see the context of chapter 10 it is clear that this is the world of the demonic powers and not the physical earth. There it is said that this world will be destroyed, and obviously it was not the physical earth that was destroyed. (9:1 7-18)

9. And he led me into the air of the seventh heaven, and moreover I heard a voice saying, “How far is he who dwells among aliens to go up?” And I was afraid and was trembling.

2 And he said to me when I was trembling, “Behold! From there another voice which was sent out has come, and it says, ‘The holy Isaiah is permitted to come up here, for his robe is here.’ ” . . . .

7 And there I saw all the righteous from the time of Adam onwards.

8 And there I saw the holy Abel and all the righteous.

7 And there I saw Enoch and all who (were) with him, stripped of (their) robes of the flesh; and I saw them in their robes of above, and they were like the angels who stand there in great glory.

10 But they were not sitting on their thrones, nor were their crowns of glory on them.

11 And I asked the angel who (was) with me, “How is it that they have received these robes, but are not on (their) thrones nor in (their) crowns?”

12 And he said to me, “They do not receive the crowns and thrones of glory—nevertheless, they do see and know whose (will be) the thrones and whose the crowns—until the Beloved descends in the form in which you will see him descend.

13 The Lord will indeed descend into the world in the last days, (he) who is to be called Christ after he has descended and become like you in form, and they will think that he is flesh and a man. [This verse is not found in some of the manuscripts (Latin/Slavonic) indicating it was a later Christian insertion.]

14 And the god of that world will stretch out [his hand against the Son], and they will lay their hands upon him andhang him upon a tree, not knowing who he is.

15 And thus his descent, as you will see, will be concealed even from the heavens so that it will not be known who he is.

16 And when he has plundered the angel of death, he will rise on the third day and will remain in that world for five hundred and forty-five days. [545 days appears to be a gnostic (Valentinian) Christian insertion.]

17 And then many of the righteous will ascend with him, whose spirits do not receive (their) robes until the Lord Christ ascends and they ascend with him.

18 Then indeed they will receive their robes and their thrones and their crowns, when he has ascended into the seventh heaven.”

God’s command to his Beloved to descend to the world of the demons

In the seventh heaven Isaiah hears God deliver the command to his Beloved to descend to the demons and even further below the earth, to Sheol, the place of the dead. No stopover on earth is described.

God explains that as his Beloved descends he will remain unrecognized. No other angel or demon will recognize him because as he reaches the lower heavens he will change his appearance into a less glorious one so as not to be conspicuous.

There this being is to overcome the powers of Satan and destroy the world of the demons.

Having descended to Sheol he will return again to the seventh heaven the way he came — through the firmament and the various heavens. But there will be this difference. He will no longer change his appearance in order not to be recognized. He will rise in glory, and as he passes through the firmament and heavens the demons and angels will all be amazed and worship him. (10:7-16)

7 And I heard the voice of the Most High, the Father of my Lord, as he said to my Lord Christ, who will be called Jesus,

8 “Go out and descend through all the heavens. You shall descend through the firmament and through that world as far as the angel who (is) in Sheol, but you shall not go as far as Perdition.

9 And you shall make your likeness like that of all who (are) in the five heavens,

10 and you shall take care to make your form like that of the angels of the firmament and also (like that) of the angels who (are) in Sheol.

11 And none of the angels of that world shall know that you (are) Lord with me of the seven heavens and of their angels. And they shall not know that you (are) with me

12 when with the voice of the heavens I summon you, and their angels and their lights, and when I lift up (my voice) to the sixth heaven, that you may judge and destroy the princes and the angels and the gods of that world, and the world which is ruled by them,

13 for they have denied me and said, ‘We alone are, and there is no one besides us.’

14 And afterwards you shall ascend from the gods of death to your place, and you shall not be transformed in each of the heavens, but in glory you shall ascend and sit at my right hand,

15 and then the princes and the powers of that world will worship you.”

16 This command I heard the Great Glory giving to my Lord.

The Beloved Lord descends from God to Sheol

The next section describes the Son embarking on his mission: (10:23-31)

23 And again I saw when he descended into the third heaven, that he made his form like that of the angels who (were) in the third heaven.

24 And those who kept the gate of the (third) heaven demanded the password, and the Lord gave (it) to them in order that he should not be recognized; and when they saw him, they did not praise him or glorify him, for his form (was) like their form.

25 And again I saw when he descended into the second heaven, that there again he gave the password, for those who kept the gates demanded (it), and the Lord gave (it).

26 And I saw when he made his form like that of the angels who (were) in the second heaven, that they saw him, but did not praise him, for his form (was) like their form.

27 And again I saw when he descended into the first heaven, that there he gave the password to those who kept the gates. And he made his form like that of the angels who (were) on the left of that throne, and they did not praise him or glorify him, for his form (was) like their form.

28 And as for me, no one questioned me because of the angel who led me.

29 And again he descended into the firmament where the prince of this world dwells, and he gave the password to those who (were) on the left, and his form (was) like theirs, and they did not praise him there; but in envy they were fighting one another, for there is there a power of evil and envying about trifles.

30 And I saw when he descended and made himself like the angels of the air, that he was like one of them.

31 And he did not give the password, for they were plundering and doing violence to one another.

The Son returns in glory

1 AFTER this I saw, and the angel who spoke with me, who conducted me, said unto me: “Understand, Isaiah son of Amoz; for for this purpose have I been sent from God.”

There is a large section, 11:2-22 (see the last paragraph of Knibb’s online translation), that is generally acknowledged as a later Christian insertion. It includes details of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, Mary’s pregnancy, and so forth, and in clashes with the details and theme of the rest of the document. The following extract picks up from after that passage and depicts the rise of the Son back to his former glory. (11:23-32)

23 And I saw him, and he was in the firmament, but was not transformed into their form. And all the angels of the firmament, and Satan, saw him and worshiped.

24 And there was much sorrow there as they said, “How did our Lord descend upon us, and we did not notice the glory which was upon him, which we (now) see was upon him from the sixth heaven?

25 And he ascended into the second heaven, and he was not transformed, but all the angels who (were) on the right and on the left, and the throne in the middle,

26 worshiped him, and praised him, and said, “How did our Lord, remain hidden from us as he descended, and we did not notice?”

27 And in the same way he ascended into the third (heaven), and in the same way they praised him and spoke.

28 And in the fourth heaven and also in the fifth they spoke in exactly the same way.

29 But there was one glory, and from it he was not transformed.

30 And I saw when he ascended into the sixth heaven, that they worshiped him and praised him;

31 but in all the heavens the praise grew louder.

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 that he sat down at the right hand of that Great Glory, whose glory I told you I could not behold.

The Last Days — and end of Isaiah, too

The rest of this chapter has the author say through Isaiah that all of this vision will be fulfilled “in the last days”. Then we read of Satan “through king Manasseh” sawing Isaiah in half. Unlike in the passage above describing the crucifixion, the demon here is said to kill Isaiah by proxy. (11:37-38, 41)

37 “And the end of this world

38 and all this vision will be brought about in the last generation.” . . . .

41 Because of these visions and prophecies Sammael Satan sawed Isaiah the son of Amoz, the prophet, in half by the hand of Manasseh.

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40 thoughts on “Jesus crucified by demons (not on earth): The Ascension of Isaiah in brief”

  1. In my opinion it is a mistake to see the Ethiopic version as being the earliest form of the text. The form represented by the Latin and Slavonic versions (L2 and S in RH Charle’s “The Ascension of Isaiah”) should be considered the earliest. One reason Charles chose to use the Ethiopic for his English translation is because of what he calls the “thorough inadequacy” (p. xxiv) with which the earthly life of the Son is treated in L2/ S. Apart from the Son’s getting crucified on earth, L2/S says nothing about his earthly life. There is not even a passing mention that he preached, or taught, or worked miracles.

    In L2/S the Son clearly takes on the appearance of a man in the world: “he will be in your form” (“in specie vestra erit” 9:13). And he will appear “like a Son of man” (“similem filii hominis” 11:1). And so when the princes of that world crucify him they will do so ”not knowing who he is.” (“nesciens qui sit” 9:14). As I see it the person responsible for the Ethiopic version probably removed these words at the same time he added the earthly life of Jesus section (11:2-22). The intent behind the modification would have been to remove docetism from the text. The added earthly life of the Son was to be a real earthly life, not just the appearance of one.

    I realize that this movement away from a docetic Son to a non-docetic one goes counter to Earl’s theory. Earl would like to postpone the origin of docetism until the second century CE. He claims, for instance, that “We see no sign of Docetism in the first century.” (p. 300 of “Jesus, Neither God Nor Man). But he can only do this by discounting what the early record tells us about Simon of Samaria. According to Irenaeus, Simon claimed to have “descended, transformed and made like the powers and authorities and angels, so that among men he appeared as a man, though he was not a man, and he seemed to suffer in Judaea, though he did not suffer.” (“Against Heresies” 1, 23). And subsequent Simonians continued in that same path. Satornilus, for example: “The Savior he assumed to be unbegotten, incorporeal, and without form, but appeared in semblance as a man.” (AH, 1,24). And it should be noted that this Simonian doctrine harmonizes well with the early hymn in Philippians 2: “Who, being in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to cling to, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Phil. 2:6-8).

  2. Roger, Doherty doesn’t consider the Ethiopian version as the earliest. He examines the Slavonic/L2 versions. I agree with you on most of your other comments though, especially your point on “in your [Isaiah’s] form”. I actually think it provides powerful evidence AGAINST Doherty’s theories, as I explain when I look at the Ascension of Isaiah on page 4 of my review of Doherty’s book “Jesus: Neither Man Nor God”, here:

    As I note in my review, the form of the Beloved is EXPLICITLY given at each step: in the firmament, the Beloved has the form of firmament creatures. In the air, the Beloved has the form of the creatures of the air. Where does the Beloved take on the form of a man? There aren’t too many places left.

    Neil, I recommend that you look at the Slavonic/L2 versions. Doherty’s comment about 9.13 not being in the earlier versions is misleading. I took it the way you did — that Doherty was saying the **whole** of 9.13 was missing from Slav/L2. However, that is not the case. A form of 9.13 DOES exist in Slav/L2. Though the “they will think that he is flesh and a man” is not there, they do contain “in your form”. (Andrew Criddle helped confirm this for me.) But, given that the Vision of Isaiah section **explicitly** tells us the forms in every non-earthly location, where would “in your form” be located?

    I’d suggest checking for yourself whether Doherty is right or I am right about whether the Slav/L2 versions contains a version of 9.13, and that version includes “in your form” in both Slav/L2, and then let me know what you think the ramifications might be.

    1. The different manuscripts can be compared online at http://www.tau.ac.il/~hacohen/AscJes/AscJesp%2038.html

      As I said in my post I hope to discuss certain textual and recension questions in a future post, and I was conscious of not producing a “scholar’s edition” of my extracts in this post at this stage.

      (You seem to often assume that anyone who finds plausibility in something Doherty argues must have only taken Doherty’s word for it and not looked into the evidence or reasoning, including contrary views, for themselves.)

      1. The different manuscripts can be compared online at http://www.tau.ac.il/~hacohen/AscJes/AscJesp%2038.html

        Yes, though the passage in question — 9.13 — actually finishes on the next page. The critical part is “in specie vestra”, which is at the top of both pages, and is clearly in both the Slavonic and L2 texts. So it is wrong to rule through 9.13 entirely, as you have done above.

        As I said in my post I hope to discuss certain textual and recension questions in a future post, and I was conscious of not producing a “scholar’s edition” of my extracts in this post at this stage.

        Why not check if Doherty is right or I am right? It will literally take you 10 seconds. Click on the link above, click to the next page, look at the top and you will see. And if Doherty is wrong, why not discuss the implications here?

        You seem to often assume that anyone who finds plausibility in something Doherty argues must have only taken Doherty’s word for it and not looked into the evidence or reasoning, including contrary views, for themselves.

        I think “in your form” being in the text is strong evidence against Doherty. Why not investigate my point for yourself? Do the Slavonic and L2 texts at 9.13 contain “in your form” in them which you ruled through in your blog post above? It will take you or anyone else 10 seconds to confirm this. If so, we can then go on to discuss the implications.

        Would anyone else like to verify what I’ve written above? As I said, it literally takes 10 seconds. And if I am right, is it worth discussing the ramifications of Doherty being wrong here, given that he explicitly gives the form of the Beloved in the locations above the earth, and none of them are in Isaiah’s form?

      2. The button to get to the next page of the text in the link above is at the bottom of the page. It took me 7 seconds to locate “in specie vestra” at the top of that next page.

    2. GakuseiDon, I want to acknowledge that I am a fan of Earl’s website and his books. I have learned a lot from his work. He convinced me years ago that the Son in the Pauline letters was not the Jesus of the Gospels. But his theory that the Son’s crucifixion was believed to have occurred somewhere other than earth is something I’ve never been able to embrace. And I don’t see it in the L2/S version of “The Ascension of Isaiah.” I see no indication in that text that the Son in his circuit skipped earth. His Father tells him that when he returns from making the rounds his adorers will include “all the elemental spirits of the heavens and of earth and of the lower regions” (“omnia initia coelorum et terrae et infernorum” 10:15. The Latin “initia” here probably translates the Greek word ‘stoicheion’ = the elemental or rudimental angels referred to in Galatians and Colossians). If the elemental angels of the earth will be part of the adoration fest, why should we think the Son skipped over earth when he decended?

      1. Roger, thanks for your comments, that’s interesting. Doherty could be wrong on some things, but right over all; and vice versa of course. I think it can only be to the good to work out which is which.

  3. Oops! In my post above, I wrote “The critical part is “in specie vestra”, which is at the top of both pages, and is clearly in both the Slavonic and L2 texts. So it is wrong to rule through 9.13 entirely, as you have done above.”

    It should be: “The critical part is “in specie vestra”, which is at the top of both **columns**, and clearly in both the Slavonic and L2 texts. So it is wrong to rule through 9.13 entirely, as you have done above.”

  4. As I said, GDon, I hope to discuss such textual details in a future post. I am still sifting through some of the translations and at the moment do not see references to those words as are included in translations of chapter 8, your citation of them in your review notwithstanding.

    As for your section 4 of your review, you would gain more credibility if you did not advance as if some sort of authority a quote by Dr Jeffrey Gibson on Doherty’s argument. Everyone who has seen Gibson at work in this area knows he has never read, and has even as good as stated directly that he does not intend to read, Doherty’s book (either of them.) You claim to be reviewing Doherty’s latest book, but in your presentation (that is really an argument for your own views with very little critique of Doherty) you veer off on discussions about what he says on his website and what Carrier says in a review of an earlier book by Doherty. This conveys the impression you are not seriously addressing Doherty’s latest book at all, and make no allowance for any modifications in his own views or how he expresses them.

    Your strongest critique of Doherty seems to be applied to a passage where Doherty introduces (p. 19) an argument that he says “will be argued . . . in detail in Part Four”. So rather than address the details of his argument in Part Four you take him to task here as if this statement is itself his argument. And again, it is plain to all who have read Doherty that you misrepresent what he says about the “world of myth” and popular non-philosophical views.

    But that doesn’t matter so much because those who have in the past found your criticisms of Doherty most persuasive are those who have themselves not read Doherty, and probably have no intention of doing so.

    1. As I said, GDon, I hope to discuss such textual details in a future post. I am still sifting through some of the translations and at the moment do not see references to those words as are included in translations of chapter 8, your citation of them in your review notwithstanding.

      Neil, I am talking about 9.13, and whether it contains “in your form”. It will take you literally 7 seconds to confirm if Doherty is right or wrong. Seven seconds! And if he is wrong, then I think the ramifications are dire for his theory, since Asc. Isa. explicits gives the forms at each level. But for a start, can you at least confirm whether Doherty is right or wrong, please?

      1. GDon, your demand for a reply to your particular question is mischievous. You know very well Doherty is literate and can read and also that he himself nowhere says those words are not part of the text. Your attempt to conflate Doherty’s position with my overgeneralization that I have already explained does nothing to establish your credibility as a critical reviewer of his book in which you feel some need to draw on the critical opinions of others who have never even read Doherty’s book, etc etc as I said in my previous comment.

        1. GDon, your demand for a reply to your particular question is mischievous. You know very well Doherty is literate and can read and also that he himself nowhere says those words are not part of the text.

          Neil, Doherty says TWICE that “in your form” was not in 9.13 in the Slavonic/L2 texts. Let me give the quotes, and you can check his book to confirm for yourself. This is from Page 121 of his book. First, Doherty gives 9.13 as you produced it above:

          13 The Lord will indeed descend into the world in the last days, (he) who is to be called Christ after he has descended and become like you in form, and they will think that he is flesh and a man

          Then (still on Page 121), Doherty writes:

          “The text to this point is different in the Latin/Slavonic manuscripts, where it is rearranged and somewhat simplified, and the line “he who is to be called Christ” to “they will think that he is flesh and a man” is not included.”

          On Page 122, Doherty writes:

          “At this point we can consider the earlier phrase in verse 13, noted above, which is not present in the Latin/Slavonic manuscripts: (he) who is to be called Christ after he has descended and become like you in form, and they will think that he is flesh and a man.”

          But in fact Doherty is wrong in this. Clearly “in your form” IS in verse 13, and you can confirm this for yourself with the very link you gave. Would you mind confirming everything above please? Esp since you believe I am being “mischievous”?

  5. Gday all,

    Don –
    Well, he could have taken on “[Isaiah’s] form” in the Air where he was crucified by Satan – why not? He could take on the form of a man, the likeness of a man, and be crucified like a man – but in the Air (a fleshly realm). Being “in the form of a man” could just indicate an Above/Below pair – Jesus is crucified “in the form of a man” Above, and Paul, Below, says : “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I that live, but Christ living in me.”

    I’m not saying that’s what the document actually says – but I think your single, isolated, treasured phrase “in your form” is hardly the slam-dunk you make it out to be.


  6. A good example of Don seizing on whatever technicality he can. My statement, “he who is to be called Christ after he has descended and become like you in form and they will think that he is flesh and a man,” is indeed NOT present in the Latin/Slavonic manuscripts. Or anything like it. The latter lack the reference to Christ, as well as the key phrase about flesh and a man, which was my focus in that passage (JNGNM, p.122). Don’s ringing accusation “Doherty is wrong!” is thus a misleading overstatement. Yes, one phrase imbedded in that Ethiopic verse is present in the Latin/Slavonic, and perhaps should have had more specific attention. Nevertheless, it can be encompassed in my remarks directed at the phrase “they will think he is flesh and a man,” something I dealt with in a thread on FRDB a few weeks ago. Namely, that the Ethiopic phrase is a later insertion “to reflect a docetic milieu,” similar to the nearby line about remaining in the world for 545 days.

    It is important to realize that while I would maintain that the Latin/Slavonic versions represent earlier states of the text than the Ethiopic (that’s the key consideration here), I am hardly saying that the former represent in all respects the “original” text, an unfounded assumption which Don is relying on to make the most of his “like you in form.” We have no clear way of knowing how much later editing is also present in the Latin/Slavonic texts, which are themselves based on an earlier Greek text of uncertain relationship to the one behind the Ethiopic.

    I hardly think that this single uncertain phrase is the giant-killer of all the other indicators in the Ascension of a heavenly death for the Son which Don would like it to be.

    Earl Doherty

    1. Unbelievable. Let’s just confirm the evidence from the texts that we do have, please? Let’s break it down into “Yes/No” questions:

      1. Earl’s analysis was that 9.13 in S/L didn’t contain “in your form”. Yes/No?
      2. Examining S/L, we find “in your form”. Yes/No?

      Answer to the first question is “Yes”. Heck, I’ve quoted your own words, Earl!
      Answer to the second question is “Yes”. It takes seven seconds to confirm this, from the link that Neil himself provided above.

      Can someone at least confirm this much, please? Preferably someone who is sympathetic to Earl’s overall theories, so we can then focus on the implications rather than taking shots at the messenger?

      On the implications: I don’t regard this as a ‘slam dunk’ as Kapyong put it, but it is ‘clear cut’. That is, **in the texts that we do have** the form of the Beloved is **explicitly** given at each level, including at the firmament and in the air. Kapyong suggests that the Beloved took on the form of a man in the air at some point after the Beloved took on the form of the creatures of the air, though this later transformation is not in the text.

      Is that your opinion as well, Earl?

      1. What’s your problem, GDon? Doherty said quite plainly in response:

        Yes, one phrase imbedded in that Ethiopic verse is present in the Latin/Slavonic, and perhaps should have had more specific attention.

        So what’s unbelievable to you? It is this sort of way you try to set up Doherty to gratuitously accuse him that is one reason I am left with little interest in taking time to bother discussing things with you.

        I have just gone back to FRBD and read more of Doherty’s response to the part 1 of your four part review of his book. I was struck to see the same complaints he made of your part one were very similar to those I noticed in your part 4. So you cite Jeffrey Gibson at least twice for views on Doherty! This leaves you with absolutely zilch credibility in my books. You know Gibson refuses viscerally to even read Doherty’s book.

        After all the publicity you had advanced about your review I had expected something that was going to grapple in depth with Doherty’s new work. Instead I find lengthy passages giving your own views and snippets of outworn — and repeatedly answered — snipes at his other book and webpages! You launch into an attack on his summary of a point of view and totally omit to address his detailed argument for that view.

        And now you want to overturn the whole interpretation of the Ascension of Isaiah on the basis of 3 words whose context and meaning will obviously require some discussion and thought while ignoring the clear thrust and emphases of what is clear in that document.

        1. So what’s unbelievable to you?

          That I am directly addressing your blog post, and you and Earl are dragging in things not related to my point. Even if my whole review is rubbish, so what? Does it change the validity of my points on THIS page? I think I made a mistake by insisting you recognize that Doherty was wrong, though that was partly a reaction to your “mischievous” comment. That probably got your back up. Apologies about that.

          And now you want to overturn the whole interpretation of the Ascension of Isaiah on the basis of 3 words whose context and meaning will obviously require some discussion and thought while ignoring the clear thrust and emphases of what is clear in that document.

          Seriously: yes, I do. IMHO it turns the Ascension of Isaiah into a text that is evidence AGAINST Doherty’s theory.

          Anyway, the first step was to confirm that “in your form” IS in fact in the Slavonic/Latin texts. Only then can the ramifications be discussed. Since I see above that you have confirmed the first step, if you plan to discuss the ramifications in depth at a later stage then fair enough. Let me know and I will join in.

          1. No, GDon, as when you and McGrath chuckled thinking I was accusing you and he of some sort of “conspiracy” it meant nothing to me because you seem to be confined to another world that simply does not relate to anything I am attempting to express or engage with.

            I was the one clearly at fault and embarrassed over my own carelessness in consulting something before my last response to you. That’s where my embarrassment lies.

            But if you really wish to engage in a serious discussion you will go a long way towards that if you retract your implication that Earl Doherty — and I — have not acknowledged the plain words in a text. If you read my comments like that then it tells me nothing has changed and we are simply not communicating.

  7. Hi Neil. It seems to me that everything below the 1st heaven is ultimately connected to the material world.

    The firmament is where the fixed stars are, and it exists specifically for earth and its inhabitants. Likewise, the “air” is again part of the earthly creation, only that the air and the firmament are what is above the earth. Likewise, Sheol is for the souls of deceased humans from the earth.

    Therefore, as the vision describes Christ descending down through the firmament, the air and as far as sheol (10:8) it presupposes an ascension through the material cosmos.

    Furthermore, the passage which states that Satan “stretched out his hand” (9:14) doesn’t say that Christ was killed in the firmament. Let us remember that in both orthodox and Gnostic cosmology Satan (or the demiurge) was considered god of this world, god of this age etc. As angels of the air and firmament they are ultimately spiritual rulers of the earth, as is stated in the Pauline Epistles which state that before Christ mankind was prisoner to elemental spirits who gave the law (Galatians 4:3). Hence Satan could have stretched out his hand from the firmament and had Jesus crucified upon the earth, as the earth was under Satan’s dominion.

    Furthermore, if we remove passages 1-22 from chapter 11 we are left without a reference to Christ descending into Sheol, which therefore fails to correspond with the summary of what was to come in the vision as given earlier.

    There is also the passage at 10:13 which reads “For they have denied Me and said: “We alone are and there is none beside us.”” This is referring to Satan and the angels of the firmament, yet is a perfect match with what the church fathers tell us that Gnostics claimed that Yahweh had erroneously stated about himself. I mention this because I have to wonder whether the concept of Satan as ruler of the earth is derived from the concept of the demiurge. As far as I am aware there is no precedent prior to Christian material of this feature being ascribed to Satan, whether in the Tanakh or in the intertestimental literature.

    I have to wonder whether the feature of Christ disguising himself in the Ascension could be related to the messianic secret in Mark. Jesus had to disguise the fact that he was possessed by Christ (as Mark is adoptionist), otherwise Satan would never have crucified him.

    1. Some of your comments I have addressed in subsequent posts. In particular, http://vridar.org/2011/03/12/ascension-of-isaiah-as-a-mystic-visionary-salvation-myth/ — Other posts, beginning at http://vridar.org/2011/02/12/the-date-of-the-ascension-of-isaiah-1/ , address questions of interpolation and date. There are serious problems if we include 11:2-22 as original.

      At the same time, I agree that there appear to be good reasons for questions about the details of the crucifixion of Jesus in the original. I agree that everything from the moon on down was part of the material realm (not so sure about the stars, though — they were not generally thought to be subject to change, mutability, and therefore were beyond the corruptible material world). What does seem clear from the surely original passages in the Ascension is that the demons were directly responsible for killing the Son. This agrees with what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:8.

      I agree with you to the extent that I would not be surprised if the Ascension originally did allow for the Son to making an appearance on earth where he was crucified on a tree. But such an appearance was but a “passing through” — there was no birth or earthly career such as we find in the canonical gospels.

      Questions! Scholars who pooh-pooh Doherty’s and Carrier’s and others’ readings of the Ascension as support for mythicism are really bending the text into shapes they want and are not being as honest with it as they should be.

  8. I think the key here is whether 9:14 includes the word “occidet”(or “occident”) in the original L2 MS or not. The critical notes and footnotes in Charles seem to imply an emendation here, and I notice Neil’s version above to not include the verb, which means ‘slay, kill.’ Charles says ‘slay’ is an emendation he made “following the guidance” of L2, but it is unclear what that guidance will have been, if it is clear the slightly earlier phrase in the verse mentioning “occidet” is, as he says, an obvious interpolation into L2. I think the issue is important not only because some investigators here want “in specie vestra” to be the equivalent of “incarnatus est,” but because if the Son is indeed slain (killed) he is more than merely ‘in the form of’ a man, but mortal to the extent that he can enter Sheol in the prescribed manner of experiencing death.

    The problem is of course that his instructions from the Father do not include being hung on a tree, so the chances are “suspendet ab ligno”is an early addition put into the mouth of the angel rather than futz with the actual words of the Nameless One—most unwise!

    These threads, reviews, etc are fascinating. Somewhere someone pointed out that angelic beings in the OT are often in human form and are many times mistaken for human beings, travelling incognito as it were. That could easily be the case here, if Hall is right about the community of Asc. Is. being a kind of school for prophets, steeped in the OT. If the firmament and air are part of this world, then taking on the form of an angel of the air could be a form resembling humans such that they were indistinguishable from them (witness the ‘young man’s at the tomb in GMark).

    Someone asked, “Why would the princeps mundi have singled out this one for bad treatment if he is already disguised as one of them and they did not know who he was?” I guess the only logical answer is that he did not give the password (character).

    1. Thanks for the comment. Unfortunately I need to revise so much of my previous readings on the Asc. Isa. and I am still working my way through the Italian and French publications of Norelli. My own input on discussions at the level of detail you present here has to be put on hold for now.

  9. I see taking on the form of air as, then or later, translated to assuming the form of a bird. And, we should expect Mythical inversion to be occurring due to the cosmological model changing (allowing for reflections of earthly forms in the firmament). So, when the text mentions as far as Sheol, but not as far as perdition, that may indicate the heavenly Sheol, perhaps below the moon, with Perdition somewhere below.

  10. I have been wondering a long time why the name of Messiah became Yeshua (transliterated Aramaic to Greek to English as “Jesus”). Which is why I found this blog so interesting because in the Ascension of Isaiah, the subject Isaiah names messiah Yeshua.

    But did you know that the actual Isaiah, in the Biblical Book of Isaiah, actually named the coming Messiah to be “Yeshua”? I just found this perusing the interpretation of the Great Isaiah scroll! How come no one has ever mentioned this before? This would be very important to know, right?!

    Isaiah 49:6 Isaiah names Yeshua
    From: https://ao.net/~fmoeller/nazer2.htm#49:6

    Isaiah 49:6 And he said, Is it a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the “preserved of Israel:” I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be “my salvation” unto the end of the earth.
    vayo’amer naqal mihayothka liy ‘eved le-haqiym ‘eth shivtey Ya’aqov u-netsurey yisrael, u-nethatiyka le’or goyim le-hayoth yeshu’a-tiy ‘ad qetsah ha-‘arets

    This remarkable passage is obviously messianic. Especially since the one spoken of is to be the “light of the Gentiles” and salvation is to the ends of the earth. What is not obvious is the Hebrew use of words in this verse. The return of the “preserved” of Israel is another of Isaiah’s use of the Nazarene words in messianic contexts of which this is one. Preserved of Israel is notsrey yisrael. This would be rendered “Nazarenes of Israel” or as the more common modern Jewish usage, “Christians of Israel.”

    The Hebrew here literally says :”I give you as a light to the Gentiles to be my yeshua’ to the end of the earth.” The Hebrew form is the name of Jesus or Yeshua. The coincidence is startling when this verse is read in Hebrew. “Is your being my servant to establish the tribes of Jacob and restore the Israeli Nazarenes a light thing, when I have also given you as a light of the Gentiles to be my Jesus to the ends of the earth.” Make what you will of this verse but that is what it says.

    1. I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles

      The Intertextuality of the Markan text and Isaiah was been recognized by many scholars. The Book of Isaiah anticipates that emissaries will preach the word of God to the Gentiles and that a savior figure will restore the Jews that were disenfranchised by the Assyrian captivity and who still continue to live among the Gentiles in regions like Galilee. The LXX text of 8:23 begins with a notable addition that God will pour forth the light of His salvation first upon Galilee.

    2. I added the following section to RationalWiki (edit and redact how you wish):

      “Book of Isaiah § Intertextuality of the Markan text and Isaiah”. rationalwiki.org.

      Per Isaiah 49:6 which states “thou mayest be my salvation [i.e. Jesus] unto the end of the earth”, which would likely be used by the Markan author as an intertextual prophecy foretelling Jesus (whose name means Yahweh’s salvation).

      • r.g.price, If possible, could you opine on the Markan intertextuallity noted on the tables per “§. Isaiah and Christian Origins.” (~p.22) in Sawyer, John F. A. (1996). The Fifth Gospel: Isaiah in the History of Christianity. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-56596-7.

  11. Given that Isaiah names the coming Messiah as “Jeshua” in Isaiah 49:6 and 8, and that Paul equates himself to that “Jeshua” in his letters to the Corinthians at 2 Corinthians 6:2, would that not lend support to the theory that the Gospel of Mark canonizes Paul as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s coming Messiah, namely, “Jesus Christ”?

    2 Corinthians 6:2
    “Working together with him, then, we (“Paul, et, al.) appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says,

    (Isaiah 49:8) “In a favorable time I listened to you,
    and in a day of salvation (“Yeshua” or “Jesus”) I have helped you.”

    Behold (!!), NOW is the favorable time; behold, NOW is the day of salvation (Hebrew quote from Isaiah = “Yeshua” or “Jesus”). We (Paul, et., al.) put no obstacle in anyone’s way,”

    Does it not also lend support to the theory discussed in this blog that Paul and Simon are associated? Simon Magus would be the polemical version of Paul as described by his opponents, whereas, the authentic Paul is described by himself in his letters, as the coming “Jesus “Christ”, a simple servant despising the shame of the tree (the tree of knowledge that brought death and shame to Adam, according to scripture) and now sitting at the right hand of God with Paul.

    Colossians 3:1
    If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

      1. Has anyone expounded on the possibility that the tree (or stake or pole) that shamed and killed the body of Christ was not an earthly, Roman one, but the mythical tree in the garden of Eden? How many times does Paul teach that Adam is Christ, Christ is in us, and we are crucified with Christ?

        Is this not the smoking gun that we all look for?

        In other words, the crucified Christ of Paul’s Gospel is the Adam in us all who continues to be shamed and killed in our body.

        Therefore, Isaiah’s suffering servant could be in us all but only known by a select few, to include Isaiah; who expounded the coming “Yeshua” to the Gentiles in the agency of Messiah, fulfilled by Paul who explicitly claims to have Christ living on earth in himself, through himself (Galatians 2:20), who then subsequently is canonized (but hidden) by Mark in his Gospel.

        If anyone knows of any scholars who have have analyzed this possibility please let me know. Specifically, if Paul’s Christ crucified is associated with Adam who was shamed and killed in association with a tree in the Biblical creation myth then that presents a paradigm in understanding who or what is “Christ Jesus”.

        1. Not only did Paul explicitly state that Christ on earth lived through and in him (Galatians 2:20), he exhorts the Galatians to return to that time of “blessedness” when they thought of Paul “as Jesus Christ”.

          (Galatians 4:14). “you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. What then has become of your blessedness?”

          It seems there is a connection between the mythical Adam who died by a tree; Isaiah who names the “light to the Gentiles” as a “Day of Yeshua”; and Paul, who not only writes that Isaiah’s “Day of Jesus” is “Now”, but also identifies Adam with Christ who dies and lives within Paul, and who encourages his disciples to think of himself “as Jesus Christ”. Subsequently, Mark writes about “Jesus Christ” allegedly canonizing Paul’s Gospel in a mythical narrative. Then later come the protoorthodox who literalize the Gospel myths not knowing that they represent the Christ Jesus dying and living in Paul and us all.

          These are all connected.

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