Continuing from Ascension of Isaiah: Continuing Questions. . . .
. . .
In points 6, 7 and 8 of section III of James Barlow’s Commentary on the Vision of Isaiah we enter into detailed discussions of how to assess the priority of different manuscript lines based on comparing particular differences of wording across the manuscripts. Barlow is challenging Charles’s conclusions: Charles argues that the manuscript line that leads to the Ethiopic text with the full pocket gospel is closer, overall, to the original Greek Asc. Isa. that is now lost; Barlow argues the reverse, that the manuscript line closer overall to the original Asc. Isa. is the one without the pocket gospel. The details are available in the linked article.
My thought on the entire debate may be considered dismissive or unfairly biased by some, but I suspect that no conclusion on the originality of the pocket gospel can be derived from the detailed discussions addressed by either Charles or Barlow. Charles at one point writes that it is “no doubt true in a few cases” that there are more original passages in the manuscript without the pocket gospel. That is, a lot of corruption in both manuscript lines has crept in since the original Greek Asc. Isa.
In other words, even if the shorter manuscripts without the pocket gospel contain a good number of passages that may be assessed as closer to the original Greek Asc. Isa. than the manuscripts containing the pocket gospel, it is not valid to conclude on that basis that the pocket gospel or much else in the manuscripts containing the pocket gospel is all a later development and that the pocket gospel is also a late interpolation.
Obviously there is room for disagreement with that viewpoint. In response to Charles’ words (p. xxii),
If SL2, in other words G2, represent faithfully the text as it stood in the archetype G, then it is clear that in such passages the fuller text of E or G1 is the work of the editor of G1. This is no doubt true in a few cases.
But if this logic is insurmountable, only wouldn’t it be true in ‘every’ case?
To which I would respond, No.
Longer or shorter?
On the other hand, some sections of the longer Ethiopic text look more original according to Charles. In the following text columns I have set out Charles says the longer text found in E is closer to what was in the original Asc. Isa. while the shorter L2/S manuscripts are abridgements of an original. Which column looks more original to you?
|25. And again I saw when He descended into the second heaven, and again He gave the password there ; those who kept the gate proceeded to demand and the Lord to give.||25 . . . into the second heaven,|
|26. And I saw when He made Himself like unto the form of the angels in the second heaven, and they saw Him and they did not praise Him ; for His form was like unto their form.||26.|
|27. And again I saw when He descended into the first heaven, and there also He gave the password to those who kept the gate, and He made- Himself like unto the form of the angels who were on the left of that throne, and they neither praised nor lauded Him ; for His form was like unto their form.||27. . . . into the first heaven, . . . and they neither praised nor lauded Him ; for His form was like unto their form.|
|28. But as for me no one asked me on account of the angel who conducted me.||28.|
|29. And again He descended into the firmament where dwelleth the ruler of this world, and He gave the password to those on the left, and His form was like theirs, and they did not praise Him there ; but they were envying one another and fighting ; for here there is a power of evil and envying about trifles.||29. And again He descended into the firmament . . . , and He gave the password . . . and His form was like theirs, and they did not praise Him there ; . . .|
. . .
|27. And in like manner He ascended into the third heaven, and they praised and said in like manner.||27. And in like manner He ascended into the third heaven, . . .|
|28. And in the fourth heaven and in the fifth also they said precisely after the same manner.||28. And in the fourth heaven and in the fifth . . .|
|29. But there was one glory, and from it He did not change Himself.||29.|
|30. And I saw when He ascended into the sixth heaven, and they worshipped and glorified Him.||30. . . . into the sixth heaven, . . .|
Charles argues for the longer text being original:
On the other hand, we cannot suppose that the short summaries which S L2 offer of x. 25-28 and xi. 27-30 are original, and that the fuller text in E is an expansion of these; for the text of E observes a due proportion which is wanting in S L2. Here undoubtedly the editor [behind 2/L2] abridges the [original] text of G.
To which Barlow replies:
But the supposed exclusion has to do with the giving of passwords at the gate of each heaven during the Beloved’s descent, whereas L2 only presents the necessity of stating this for terrain bossed by the princeps mundi, the firmament and the air. The ‘change’ may be due to the editor of L1, who has introduced phrases for the sake of appearance (‘due proportion,’ in Charles’ anachronistic literary criteriology).
(Barlow, III, 8)
I suppose we enter the realm of aesthetics here and that may be a hard one to argue “objectively”. My personal taste is for literary completeness with cogency. If words find a natural and coherent place in a text then they are more likely to be original to that text than words that appear to be disjointed, incomplete, etc.
Compare earlier (III, 6) where Barlow reverses Charles’s argument:
Repeatedly what Charles considers to be “additions” to L2, compared to L1, by an editor or reductions to the text of L1 by the editor of L2 turn out to be the elimination of stylistic or thematically irrelevant redundancies or ‘additions’ that turn out just as easily to have been reductions by the editor of G1, as a close examination of ch. vii—which Charles cites as containing the decisive textual indices—has provided.
at once a unifying device and a focus of development in the narrative . . .
What we find, then, in biblical narrative is an elaborately integrated system of repetitions, some dependent on the actual recurrence of individual phonemes, words, or short phrases . . .
But Alter continually compares these repetition devices with those found in other literature. They are not a special preserve of the Bible but they are especially pronounced in the Bible, and I would suggest, in literature that emulates biblical narratives such as certain pseudepigrapha like the Asc. Isa.
The uses of repetition, then, that we have been reviewing are to an appreciable degree shared by the Bible with other kinds of narrative literature. What most distinguishes repetition in biblical narrative is the explicitness and formality with which it is generally employed, qualities that, to return to our initial difficulty, support an unusual proportion of verbatim restatement. In order to appreciate the artfulness of this kind of repetition, a modern reader has to cultivate the complementary opposite of the habits of perception he or she most frequently puts to use in reading. . . .
Alter would warn against being too quick to dismiss repetitions “irrelevant redundancies”. There is something to be said for “appearances” and “due proportion” in the kind of literature we have here.
Barlow’s argument covers much more material than I have addressed here and it is available in complete form in the earlier post.
Like the son of man
In the shorter manuscripts (L2/S) we read of Isaiah “seeing one like a son of man”, as per Revelation 1:13 and 14:14. The Latin phrase vide simile filii hominis can also mean “one who looks like a man”, Barlow points out. . . .
which fits in nicely with the interpretation of verses mentioning the transformation of the Beloved into an angelomorphic, humanlike appearance prior to entrance into Sheol.
(Barlow, III, 9)
As a title, although it appears in the canonical gospels, it is not used by Paul. Charles suggests it was not used as a messianic title “from the close of the first century A.D.” (implying, I believe, from after the canonical gospels) because of its debatable implications in theological disputes over the nature of Christ. Charles infers that the phrase may well have been found in the original Greek Asc. Isa. (and thus has been preserved in the shorter version), and that it is not implausible that an editor for theological reasons somewhere along the line has removed it from those manuscripts leading towards the fuller text that includes the pocket gospel.
What no eye has seen or ear heard
And this angel said unto me : Isaiah, son of Amoz, . . . thou hast seen what no child of flesh has seen.
Compare 1 Corinthians 2:9
. . . What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard . . .
Sadly, we don’t see that biblical passage in the longer Ethiopic text in association with the vision Isaiah has been given. It does appear in the shorter L2/S versions, however. If the pocket gospel was part of Isaiah’s original vision then why was this line not included if it had been part of the original text? Charles sees no reason an editor might have for removing it. Rather, he is sure that if the line had been in an earlier Greek manuscript before him the editor would certainly have copied and preserved it.
The line is only found in the shorter versions of L2/S, however. Barlow does see the line as part of the original document. Contrary to Charles, he finds “plenty of intratextual reasons” an editor might remove it:
More than once all of our manuscripts have Isaiah seeing what no man has seen before, making it untrue to say that no ear has heard the heavenly praises or seen the divine beings and crowns and thrones etc., for Isaiah has already. What God has prepared “for those who love Him” has thus been seen and heard by Isaiah: the statement was in all probability deleted by the editor of G1 because it presents a prima facie contradiction to the sum total of eventualities presented in the vision thus far. The verse as it stands nevertheless says ‘you have seen what no man has seen, and no one has seen or can imagine it’.
I think there is room to doubt this argument. Telling Isaiah he has seen what no man has seen is hardly a contradiction because Isaiah as a man has seen such things. Perhaps other arguments would support the view that Paul was quoting the Asc. Isa. in 1 Cor. 2:9.
From this point, James Barlow undertakes a detailed commentary on R. H. Charles’s discussion of the Vision of Isaiah (6-11).
Alter, Robert. 1981. The Art of Biblical Narrative. New York: Basic Books.
Barlow, James. n.d. Commentary on the Vision of Isaiah.
Charles, R. H. (Robert Henry). 1900. The Ascension of Isaiah : Translated from the Ethiopic Version, Which, Together with the New Greek Fragment, the Latin Versions and the Latin Translation of the Slavonic, Is Here Published in Full. London: London : A. and C. Black. http://archive.org/details/cu31924014590529.
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