The Date of the Ascension of Isaiah (1: R. H. Charles)

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by Neil Godfrey

Earl Doherty discusses the Ascension of Isaiah’s relevance for his case that some early Christians thought of the Christ’s activity occurring entirely in a non-earthly realm. So the date of the document is significant.

I had hoped to include with the following notes from R. H. Charles some discussions on dating found in more recent commentaries, but since that will take too long to prepare all in one hit, I will follow up this post with another post to complete the discussion.

R. H. Charles published in 1900 a translation of the Ascension of Isaiah that included a detailed discussion of the text in its various manuscript forms. This is available online at Cornell University Library archives. In his introduction he includes a discussion of the dates of composition of the “various constituents” of the Ascension (pp. xliv ff).

Charles first addresses the date of the Martyrdom portion. This is the bulk of the first half of the “Ascension of Isaiah” document. In fact, the document is sometimes more comprehensively titled The Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah. Majority scholarly opinion, but not a unanimous opinion, is that the Martyrdom portion originally circulated as a narrative quite independently of the Ascension chapters. (Will discuss some of the arguments in a future post.)

Other sections of the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah discussed by R. H. Charles are The Testament of Hezekiah and The Vision of Isaiah.

I have singled out each of these sections and colour-coded them at the end of this post. The one section we are most interested is the last one, The Vision of Isaiah. This is the second half consisting of chapters 6 to 11, but I have not included a copy of these chapters here.

I will in a future post try to examine minority arguments that hold that the whole document should be seen as a unity, albeit in some cases apart from a few more obvious later insertions such as 11:2-22.

The composite document is dated to the second or third-century c.e. But individual sections themselves (at least two) that are still believed by scholars to have originally circulated independently are dated to the first century. I am addressing the primary documents, so do not cover the later possible sprinklings of Christian terms here and there — nor the major interpolation at 11:2-22 — in this post.

Date of The Martyrdom of Isaiah

For Charles this Martyrdom document should be dated to the first-century c.e.. (I have included his Martyrdom text at the end of this blog post.)

In Charles we read that the martyrdom is quoted by

  1. the Opus Imperfectum
    • The sense and partly the diction of many clauses in i.-ii. i are reproduced in the Opus Imperfectum in Matthaeum Homil. i.“– (See pages 8-9 of Cornells’ pdf rendition of the book for the Latin text reproducing the particular details.)
  2. Ambrose
    • Say: ‘I have lied in all that I have spoken.’ These words and part of verse 8 are quoted . . . in the Commentary of Ambrose on Ps. cxviii” — (See page 40 of the Cornell text for the details of Ambrose quoting 5.4, )
  3. Jerome
    • Jerusalem also he hath called Sodom, &c. Based on Isa. i. 10 : ‘ Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom give ear unto ; the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.’ Cf. Jerome’s Comm. in Ies. i, 1o” — (See page 18 of Cornells’ pdf for Jerome’s comparison with 3.10)
  4. Origen
    • 3.”8-9. These verses are referred to by Origen, In Iesaiam Homil. i. 5” — (See page 17 for the reference to 3.8-9, also xii-xiii, xlvi-xlvii)
  5. Tertullian
    • Cf. also Tertullian, De Patientia, 14 ‘ His patientiae viribus secatur Esaias et de domino non tacet ‘ ; also Scorpiace, 8 ; Ps. — Tertullian, Adv. Marc. iii. 177.” — (This refers to 5.11. See page 41 of Cornell’s pdf.),
  6. and it can hardly be denied by Justin Martyr
    • 5.”11. With a wooden saw. Greek Legend, iii. 16. . . . Hence the passage in Justin Mart. cum Tryph. cxx. 14, 15 . . . .  is all but certainly derived from our text.” — (See page 41 for the Greek text of Justin on 5.11)
  7. It was probably known to the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews (xi. 37)
    • They were stoned, they were sawn asunder . . . .

This brings us, if the last reference is true, to the first century a.d. And this is no doubt the right date; for it is most improbable that works written by Jews in the second century should attain to circulation in the Christian Church. (p. xliv. I highlight these last clauses because I think they constitute a discrete argument of their own for dating the Martyrdom earlier than the first century.)

Date of The Testament of Hezekiah

This vision, or testament, was written between 88-100 A.D.” (p. xliv)

In his commentary on 4.13 (pp. 30-31) Charles sets the ad quem (last possible) date at 100 c.e. Here is his argument (I have deleted Greek text and highlighted certain sections for easier reading.)

We see that two classes of the faithful are discriminated in this verse ; believers who had seen Christ personally and believers who had not. That this distinction was a familiar one in the first century of our era is clear from the New Testament.

Thus in St. John xx. 39, ‘ Because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed : blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed ‘ ; and i Pet. i. 8, ‘ whom not having seen ye love.’ A kindred thought appears in St. Luke x. 23, ‘ Blessed are the eyes which see the things which ye see ; for I say unto you, that many prophets and kings desired to see the things which ye see and saw them not.’

Of the above two classes our text declares that few will be left. We have therefore, here, a guide to the date of this section of the book. Though somewhat vague, it is sufficiently definite to enable us to conclude that the author cannot have written later than 100 a.d. Eusebius (H. E. iii. 3a. 8) holds that with the martyrdom of Simeon, bishop of Jerusalem, the last of those who had seen and heard Christ had passed away. . . . [Greek text snipped] . . . . has been assigned to various years between 102 and 110 a.d. Hence only a few, as our text has it, of those who had been personal followers of Christ could have been living between 90 and 100 A.D. Another passage in Eusebius (H. E. iii. 39. 4, 7) should be adduced here as bearing on the present question. In this passage Papias, who is quoted by Eusebius, claims to have met two men, Aristion and John the Elder, who had been personal followers of our Lord. Papias was bishop of Hierapolis in the first half of the second century. His book . . . .  may be set down to the third or fourth decade in that century ; that his meeting with John and Aristion was in the first we may reasonably infer if we combine this passage of Papias with that quoted above.

Thus we conclude that our text points to 100 A.D. as the terminus ad quem. We have elsewhere seen that the form of the Antichrist myth attested in the text could hardly have arisen earlier than 88 a.d. Hence the composition of the above section goes back to 88-100 a.d.

The earliest possible date for this section is 88 A.D. according to Charles. For a full discussion of this begin reading the Cornell pdf document from page lii. In the following extract I have substituted 50 A.D. for a date that in Charles’ text is 30 A.D. Context suggests to me that 30 is a misprint. The highlighting is mine.

. . . Harnack has rightly recognized that the Antichrist conception in the Ascension is compounded of two ideas: (1) that Nero would return as the Antichrist; (2) that the devil is Antichrist. Now we have seen above, in II. i. (b), that the latter expectation did prevail, most probably before 50 A.D., and certainly before 70 A.D., and also that the former expectation is in all likelihood attested in the Sibylline Oracles, iii. 63-74 (see III. i. above), before 90 a.d., and certainly in Rev. xiii, xvii. 8, IIa, not later than 100 a.d., and possibly as early as 90 A.D. There is thus no real difficulty in the evolution of such a myth as appears in the Ascension before 100 A.D.

Seeing, therefore, that, probably as early as the close of Vespasian’s reign, the materials were at hand for the formation of the myth, we may very reasonably set down 88 a.d. as the earliest probable date for the form of the myth, which is presented in the Ascension of Isaiah. We have found elsewhere . . . that the section in which the form in question occurs cannot be later than 100 A.D. Hence 88-100 is the approximate date for this phase of the Antichrist legend. (pp. lxxi-lxxii)

Date of The Vision of Isaiah (chapters 6:1 – 11:1-40)

G and G2 refer to Greek texts.

The later recension of this vision (G2) was used by Jerome (p. 8 note), a more primitive form of the text by Hieracas (p. 67 note), according to Epiphanius (Haer. lxvii. 3), by the Archontici (Haer. xl. 2). This shows that the book was in circulation towards the close of the third century. But it is much earlier attested by the Actus Petri Vercellenses (p. 77 note). This takes the Vision back to the second century, or at latest to early in the third. The Protevangel of James was apparently acquainted with it (see notes on xi. 4, 8, 1 1), and I do think it is reasonable to explain the agreement between Ignatius, ad Ephes. xix. and xi. 16 (see note), otherwise than that the former is dependent on the latter. Thus the composition of the Vision in its primitive form G belongs to the close of the first century.

When the above parts were stitched together

E and L1 refer to Ethiopic and Latin manuscripts. Emphasis is mine.

When the final editor put these works together in the form in which we now have them, it is impossible to say with any definiteness. Since the Greek papyrus fragment, which supposes the completed work, belongs to the fifth or sixth century, and presents many corruptions and variations from the text presupposed by E L1, the work of editing is thrown back to the third century or earlier. The Latin version, which is found on a fifth or sixth-century palimpsest, and represents a corrupt and traditional form of L1, demands such a date or an earlier one. When we consider also that the probable date of the Ethiopic version is the fifth century, it is probable that the work of editing goes back to early in the third century, or even to the second. (p. xlv)

The Martyrdom of Isaiah document according to R. H. Charles: 1.1-2, 6b-13a; 2.1-3.12; 5.1-14.

1.1 AND it came to pass in the twenty-sixth year of the reign of Hezediah king of Judah that he called Manasseh his son. Now he was his only one.

2. And he called him into the presence of Isaiah the son of Amoz the prophet, and into the presence of Josab the son of Isaiah, in order to deliver unto him the words of righteousness which the king himself had seen: . . . .

6 . . .  And whilst he (Hezekiah) gave commands, Josab the son of Isaiah standing by.

7. Isaiah said to Hezekiah the king, but not in the presence of Manasseh only did he say unto him: `As the Lord liveth, and the Spirit which speaketh in me liveth, all these commands and these words will be made of none effect by Manasseh thy son, and through the agency of his hands I shall depart mid the torture of my body.

8. And Sammael Malchira will serve Manasseh, and execute all his desire, and he will become a follower of Beliar rather than of me:

9. And many in Jerusalem and in Judea he will cause to abandon the true faith, and Beliar will dwell in Manasseh, and by his hands I shall be sawn asunder.’

10. And when Hezekiah heard these words he wept very bitterly, and rent his garments, and placed earth upon his head, and fell on his face.

11. And Isaiah said unto him: `The counsel of Sammael against Manasseh is consummated: nought will avail thee.”

12. And on that day Hezekiah resolved in his heart to slay Manasseh his son.

13. And Isaiah said to Hezekiah: `The Beloved hath made of none effect thy design, and the purpose of thy heart will not be accomplished . . . .



AND it came to pass after that Hezekiah died and Manasseh became king, that he did not remember the commands of Hezekiah his father, but forgat them, and Sammael abode in Manasseh and clung fast to him.

2. And Manasseh forsook the service of the God of his father, and he served Satan and his angels and his powers.

3. And he turned aside the house of his father, which had been before the face of Hezekiah (from) the words of wisdom and from the service of God.

4. And Manasseh turned aside his heart to serve Beliar; for the angel of lawlessness, who is the ruler of this world, is Beliar, whose name is Mantanbuchus. and he delighted in Jerusalem because of Manasseh, and he made him strong in apostatizing (Israel) and in the lawlessness which were spread abroad in Jerusalem.

5. And witchcraft and magic increased and divination and auguration, and fornication, a [and adultery], and the persecution of the righteous by Manasseh and [Belachira, and] Tobia the Canaanite, and John of Anathoth, an by (Zadok) the chief of the works.

6. And the rest of the acts, behold they are written in the book of the Kings of Judah and Israel.

7. And, when Isaiah, the son of Amoz, saw the lawlessness which was being perpetrated in Jerusalem and the worship of Satan and his wantonness, he withdrew from Jerusalem and settled in Bethlehem of Judah.

8. And there also there was much lawlessness, and withdrawing from Bethlehem he settled on a mountain in a desert place.

9. And Micaiah the prophet, and the aged Ananias, and Joel and Habakkuk, and his son Josab, and many of the faithful who believed in the ascension into heaven, withdrew and settled on the mountain.

10. They were all clothed with garments of hair, and they were all prophets. And they had nothing with them but were naked, and they all lamented with a great lamentation because of the going astray of Israel.

11. And these eat nothing save wild herbs which they gathered on the mountains, and having cooked them, they lived thereon together with Isaiah the prophet. And they spent two years of days on the mountains and hills.

12. And after this, whilst they were in the desert, there was a certain man in Samaria named Belchira, of the family of Zedekiah, the son of Chenaan, a false prophet, whose dwelling was in Bethlehem. Now Hezekiah the son of Chanani, who was the brother of his father, and in the days of Ahab, king of Israel, had been the teacher of the 400. prophets of Baal, had himself smitten and reproved Micaiah the son of Amada the prophet.

13. And he, Micaiah, had been reproved by Ahab and cast into prison. (And he was) with Zedekiah the prophet: they were with Ahaziah the son of Ahab, king in Samaria.

14. And Elijah the prophet of Tebon of Gilead was reproving Ahaziah and Samaria, and prophesied regarding Ahaziah that he should die on his bed of sickness, and that Samaria should be delivered into the had of Leba Nasr because he had slain the prophets of God.

15. And when the false prophets, who were with Ahaziah the son of Ahab and their teacher Jalerjas of Mount Joel, had heard-

16. Now he was a brother of Zedekiah – when they persuaded Ahaziah the king of Aguaron and (slew) Micaiah.


AND Belchira recognized and saw the place of Isaiah and the prophets who were with him; for he dwelt in the region of Bethlehem, and was an adherent of Manasseh. And he prophesied falsely in Jerusalem, and many belonging to Jerusalem were confederate with him, and he was a Samaritan.

2. And it came to pass when Alagar Zagar, king of Assyria, had come and captive, and led them away to the mountains of the medes and the rivers of Tazon;

3. This (Belchira), whilst still a youth, had escaped and come to Jerusalem in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah, but he walked not in the ways of his father of Samaria; for he feared Hezekiah.

4. And he was found in the days of Hezekiah speaking words of lawlessness in Jerusalem.

5. And the servants of Hezekiah accused him, and he made his escape to the region of Bethlehem. And they persuaded…

6. And Belchira accused Isaiah and the prophets who were with him, saying: `Isaiah and those who are with him prophesy against Jerusalem and against the cities of Judah that they shall be laid waste and (against the children of Judah and) Benjamin also that they shall go into captivity, and also against thee, O lord the king, that thou shalt go (bound) with hooks and iron chains’:

7. But they prophesy falsely against Israel and Judah.

8. And Isaiah himself hath said: `I see more than Moses the prophet.’

9. But Moses said: `No man can see God and live’; and Isaiah hath said: `I have seen God and behold I live.’

10. Know, therefore, O king, that he is lying. And Jerusalem also he hath called Sodom, and the princes of Judah and Jerusalem he hath declared to be the people of Gomorrah. And he brought many accusations against Isaiah and the prophets before Manasseh.

11. But Beliar dwelt in the heart of Manasseh and in the heart of the princes of Judah and Benjamin and of the eunuchs and of the councillors of the king.

12. And the words of Belchira pleased him [exceedingly], and he sent and seized Isaiah.


ON account of these visions, therefore, Beliar was wroth with Isaiah, and he dwelt in the heart of Manasseh and he sawed him in sunder with a wooden saw.

2. And when Isaiah was being sawn in sunder, Belchira stood up, accusing him, and all the false prophets stood up, laughing and rejoicing because of Isaiah.

3. And Belchira, with the aid of Mechembechus, stood up before Isaiah, [laughing] deriding;

4. And Belchira said to Isaiah: ‘Say, “I have lied in all that I have spoken, and likewise the ways of Manasseh are good and right.

5. And the ways also of Belchira and of his associates are good.”

6. And this he said to him when he began to be sawn in sunder.

7. But Isaiah was (absorbed) in a vision of the Lord, and though his eyes were open, he saw them (not).

8. And Belchira spake thus to Isaiah: “Say what I say unto thee and I will turn their hearts, and I will compel Manasseh and the princes of Judah and the people and all Jerusalem to reverence thee.

9. And Isaiah answered and said: “So far as I have utterance (I say): Damned and accused be thou and all they powers and all thy house.

10. For thou canst not take (from me) aught save the skin of my body.”

11. And they seized and sawed in sunder Isaiah, the son of Amoz, with a wooden saw.

12. And Manasseh and Belchira and the false prophets and the princes and the people [and] all stood looking on.

13. And to the prophets who were with him he said before he had been sawn in sunder: “Go ye to the region of Tyre and Sidon; for for me only hath God mingled the cup.”

14. And when Isaiah was being sawn in sunder, he neither cried aloud nor wept, but his lips spake with the Holy Spirit until he was sawn in twain.


The Testament of Hezekiah according to R. H. Charles, 3.13b – 4.18

(I am not sure where 13b should begin.)

3. 13. For Beliar was in great wrath against Isaiah by reason of the vision, and because of the exposure wherewith he had exposed Sammael, and because through him the going forth of the Beloved from the seventh heaven had been made known, and His transformation and His descent and the likeness into which He should be transformed (that is) the likeness of man, and the persecution wherewith he should be persecuted, and the torturers wherewith the children of Israel should torture Him, and the coming of His twelve disciples, and the teaching, and that He should before the sabbath be crucified upon the tree, and should be crucified together with wicked men, and that He should be buried in the sepulchre,

14. And the twelve who were with Him should be offended because of Him: and the watch of those who watched the sepulchre:

15. And the descent of the angel of the Christian Church, which is in the heavens, whom He will summon in the last days.

16. And that (Gabriel) the angel of the Holy Spirit, and Michael, the chief of the holy angels, on the third day will open the sepulchre:

17. And the Beloved sitting on their shoulders will come forth and send out His twelve disciples;

18. And they will teach all the nations and every tongue of the resurrection of the Beloved, and those who believe in His cross will be saved, and in His ascension into the seventh heaven whence He came:

19. And that many who believe in Him will speak through the Holy Spirit:

20. And many signs and wonders will be wrought in those days.

21. And afterwards, on the eve of His approach, His disciples will forsake the teachings of the Twelve Apostles, and their faith, and their love and their purity.

22. And there will be much contention on the eve of [His advent and] His approach.

23. And in those days many will love office, though devoid of wisdom.

24. And there will be many lawless elders, and shepherds dealing wrongly by their own sheep, and they will ravage (them) owing to their not having holy shepherds.

25. And many will change the honour of the garments of the saints for the garments of the covetous, and there will be much respect of persons in those days and lovers of the honour of this world.

26. And there will be much slander and vainglory at the approach of the Lord, and the Holy Spirit will withdraw from many.

27. And there will not be in those days many prophets, nor those who speak trustworthy words, save one here and there in divers places,

28. On account of the spirit of error and fornication and of vainglory, and of covetousness, which shall be in those, who will be called servants of that One and in those who will receive that One.

29. And there will be great hatred in the shepherds and elders towards each other.

30. For there will be great jealousy in the last days; for every one will say what is pleasing in his own eyes.

31. And they will make of none effect the prophecy of the prophets which were before me, and these my visions also will they make of none effect, in order to speak after the impulse of their own hearts.


AND now Hezekiah and Josab my son, these are the days of the completion of the world.

2. After it is consummated, Beliar the great ruler, the king of this world, will descend, who hath ruled it since it came into being; yea, he will descent from his firmament in the likeness of a man, a lawless king, the slayer of his mother: who himself (even) this king.

3. Will persecute the plant which the Twelve Apostles of the Beloved have planted. Of the Twelve one will be delivered into his hands.

4. This ruler in the form of that king will come and there will come and there will come with him all the powers of this world, and they will hearken unto him in all that he desires.

5. And at his word the sun will rise at night and he will make the moon to appear at the sixth hour.

6. And all that he hath desired he will do in the world: he will do and speak like the Beloved and he will say: “I am God and before me there has been none.”

7. And all the people in the world will believe in him. 8. And they will sacrifice to him and they will serve him saying: “This is God and beside him there is no other.”

9. And the greater number of those who shall have been associated together in order to receive the Beloved, he will turn aside after him.

10. And there will be the power of his miracles in every city and region.

11. And he will set up his image before him in every city.

12. And he shall bear sway three years and seven months and twenty-seven days.

13. And many believers and saints having seen Him for whom they were hoping, who was crucified, Jesus the Lord Christ, [after that I, Isaiah, had seen Him who was crucified and ascended] and those also who were believers in Him – of these few in those days will be left as His servants, while they flee from desert to desert, awaiting the coming of the Beloved.

14. And after (one thousand) three hundred and thirty-two days the Lord will come with His angels and with the armies of the holy ones from the seventh heaven with the glory of the seventh heaven, and He will drag Beliar into Gehenna and also his armies.

15. And He will give rest of the godly whom He shall find in the body in this world, [and the sun will be ashamed]:

16. And to all who because of (their) faith in Him have execrated Beliar and his kings. But the saints will come with the Lord with their garments which are (now) stored up on high in the seventh heaven: with the Lord they will come, whose spirits are clothed, they will descend and be present in the world, and He will strengthen those, who have been found in the body, together with the saints, in the garments of the saints, and the Lord will minister to those who have kept watch in this world.

17. And afterwards they will turn themselves upward in their garments, and their body will be left in the world.

18. Then the voice of the Beloved will in wrath rebuke the things of heaven and the things of earth and the things of earth and the mountains and the hills and the cities and the desert and the forests and the angel of the sun and that of the moon, and all things wherein Beliar manifested himself and acted openly in this world, and there will be [a resurrection and] a judgment in their midst in those days, and the Beloved will cause fire to go forth from Him, and it will consume all the godless, and they will be as though they had not been created.


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4 thoughts on “The Date of the Ascension of Isaiah (1: R. H. Charles)”

  1. Re: Date of the Vision of Isaiah. Keep in mind that G1 & G2 are partly hypothetical documents, deduced from the translations Charles had access to. These were Ethiopic (E), Latin 1 (L1), Slavonic (S) and Latin 2 (L2).

    Following Dillman, he believes there was one original Greek work of Christian composition (G), which he calls the Vision of Isaiah. This has survived only in fragments preserved by Ignatius ad Ephes. xix (ch xi. 16 here), and the writer of the Actus Petri ix. 35, 36, and in part preserved in Epiphanius. From this G two somewhat different rescensions were derived: Greek recension 1 (G1), again preserved in hundreds of fragmentary phrases preserved in the Gk. Legend of Isaiah. Fron G1 then came the Ethiopic translation (E) and Latrin translation 1 (L1). Alternately, there was a wholly hypothetical Greek recension 2 (G2), from which came the Slavonic translation (S) and the second Latin translation (L2).

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