This post is long and technical and only for those who are serious about what we can learn from the Ascension of Isaiah about early beliefs about Jesus. Richard Carrier and before him Earl Doherty drew upon scholarship about the different manuscripts to conclude that the original text had Jesus crucified in the lower heaven by demons. Roger Parvus, however, has argued a different interpretation from what we can glean from the different manuscript traditions (in particular the Ethiopic with its lengthy account beginning with Jesus’ birth to Mary and the second Latin, L2, with its “absurdly brief” account of Jesus dwelling with men, full stop) and I have copied his argument below. For the original posts in context see parts 7 and 8 at Roger Parvus: A Simonian Origin for Christianity.
As for my own views, I am withholding judgement until I collect a few more publications, in particular the ten articles or essays that Enrico Norelli published as “addendums” to his commentary: Norelli, Enrico. 1995. Ascensio Isaiae: commentarius. Turnhout: Brepols. (If anyone can help me gain access to those ten essays – I understand they are all in Italian – please please do contact me!)
What follows are copies of one small section of A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 7: The Source of Simon/Paul’s Gospel and the full text of A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 8: The Source of Simon/Paul’s Gospel (continued) — all written by Roger Parvus, not me.
But where, according to the Vision, did the hanging upon a tree occur? The Son will “descend into the world” (according to 9:13, in some versions of E) and “will be in the world” (per 10:7, in L2), but in no uncontroversial section of the extant text does it explicitly say which part of the world. I am inclined to think the location was understood to be on earth, not in its sublunary heaven. For one thing, 9:13 goes on to say that the Son “will become like you [Isaiah] in form, and they will think he is flesh and a man.” Earth is the home of men of flesh and so it is presumably there that the Son could expect to fool the rulers of the world into thinking he was a man.
I realize one could object that the Son’s persecutors appear to be the spirit rulers of the world and that their home was thought to be in the firmament. But it was also commonly accepted that their rule extended to earth and below it, and that they could exercise their power through human instruments. That is what we see right in the Martyrdom of Isaiah. Beliar kills Isaiah through King Manasseh:
Because of these visions, therefore, Beliar was angry with Isaiah, and he dwelt in the heart of Manasseh, and he cut Isaiah in half with a saw… Beliar did this to Isaiah through Belkira and through Manasseh, for Sammael was very angry with Isaiah from the days of Hezekiah, king of Judah, because of the things he had seen concerning the Beloved, and because of the destruction of Sammael which he had seen through the Lord, while Hezekiah his father was king. And he did as Satan wished. (Asc. Is. 5:1 & 15-16)
True, as already mentioned, parts of the Martyrdom were written after the Vision. But it is nevertheless still a quite early writing, likely dating to the end of the first century. It does not quote or allude to any New Testament writings. But it does clearly allude to the Vision and so may provide us with an indication of how that writing was understood by at least one first century Christian community. If the Martyrdom portrays the rulers of the world attacking Isaiah through a human instrument, this may very well have been the way the prophesied attack on the Son of the Vision was understood too, for he was to become like Isaiah in form (Asc. Is. 9:13) and trick them into thinking he was flesh and a man.
Another consideration that leads me to think the Son’s death in the Vision occurred on earth is the way Irenaeus speaks of Simon of Samaria. One would think, based on what Irenaeus says, that Simon knew the Vision of Isaiah and claimed to be the Son described in it. And in his account the location of the Son’s death is specified as Judaea:
For since the angels ruled the world ill because each one of them coveted the principal power for himself, he [Simon] had come to amend matters, and had 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, my bolding).
In the Panarion of Epiphanius the reason why Simon made himself like the powers is spelled out. Simon is quoted as saying:
In each heaven I changed my form, in order that I might not be perceived by my angelic powers… (2, 2)
It seems to me that in the first passage Irenaeus is relaying an early claim made by Simon, and he is relaying it in the words that Simon or his followers used, not those of Irenaeus. The one “who suffered in Judaea” is not an expression that Irenaeus uses anywhere else to describe Christ. And the claims attributed to Simon in the passage look primitive.
- He doesn’t claim to be the Son who taught and preached in Galilee and Judaea;
- or who worked great signs and wonders among the Jews;
- or who gathered together a band of disciples.
- He doesn’t say he was the Christ who came to lay down his life to atone for the sins of mankind.
The limited claims attributed to him in the passage are reminiscent of the information about the Son in the Vision of Isaiah. Assuming that was Simon’s source, the place where the Son’s suffering was believed to have occurred is specified as Judaea.