Ascension of Isaiah (2)
Ascension Of Isaiah The earliest notice of an apocryphal work attributed to Isaiah is found in Justin Martyr's Dial. cum Tryph. c. 120, where Isaiah is mentioned as ὅν πρίονι ξυλίνῳ ἐπρίσατε. The quotation is not, indeed, a direct one, but its peculiar wording points to the first part of the Ascension as its source, as the Jewish traditions concerning the death of Isaiah do not say that he was sawn asunder with a wooden saw, but that, when Isaiah was pressed by his enemies, a cedar-tree "opened and swallowed him," and that this tree was sawn through, and Isaiah perished in this manner. The tradition, according to the treatise Yebamoth (Talm. Bab.), fol. 49, col. 2, runs thus: " It is related that rabbi Simeonhben-Azai found in Jerusalem a genealogy wherein it was written that Manasseh had killed Isaiah. Manasseh said to Isaiah, Moses, thy master, said, There shall no man see God and live (Ex 33:20). But thou hast said, I saw the Lord seated upon his throne (Isa 6:1). Moses said, What other nation is there so great that hath God so nigh unto them (De 4:7)? But thou hast said, Seek ye the Lord while he may be found (Isa 4:6). Isaiah thought, If I excuse myself, I shall only increase his guilt and not save myself;' so he answered not a word, but pronounced the incommunicable name, and a cedar-tree opened and he disappeared within it. Then Manasseh' ordered, and they took the cedar and sawed it lengthways; and when the saw reached his mouth he died." In 'Tertullian (De Patientia, c. 14) we read: "His patientise viribus secatur Esaias et de Domino non tacet" - evidently referring to v, 14 of the Ascension. The Apostolic Constitutions mention an ἀπόκρυφον ῾Ησαϊvου. The existence of this work is made certain by the two citations in Origen, Comm. in Matthew 13:57, and Epist. ad African. c. 9. In the latter place he says, Σαφὲς δ᾿ ὅτι αἱ παραδόσεις λέγουσι πεπρίσθαι ῾Ησαϊvαν τὸν προφήτην· καὶ ἐν τινι ἀποκρύφῳ τοῦτο φέρεται κ.τ.λ. Epiphanius, when speaking of the ἀρχοντικοί, says their heresy was partly taken from the ἀναβατικὸν ῾Ησαϊvου. Until the 5th century the work was known, then it disappeared. In 1819 Richard Laurence, of Oxford, discovered an Ethiopic MS. in the Bodleian Library, which he published, with translations into Latin and English, under the title Ergata Isaijas Nabi. Laurence's book has of late been superseded by the excellent work of Dillmann, Ascensio Isaice Ethiopice et Latine. Cum Prolegomenis, Adnotationibus Criticis et Exegeticis, Additis Versionum Latinarum Reliquiis edita (Lipsiam, 1877).
The work as it now exists was, according to Dillmann, originally two works-one, the Ascension proper, was written by a Christian; the other, by a Jew, excepting what was added by a later editor. Dillmann analyzes the books as follows: (1) 2:1 to 3:12 and 5:2-14 are Jewish, not showing the least trace of Christian influence; (2) 6:1 and 11:1, 23-40, the proper Ascension, is the work of a Christian. That this once circulated as a separate book is probable from the fact that the old Latin translation, published by Angelo Mai (in Scriptorum Veterium Nova Collectio [Rome, 1824], ii, 238 sq.), contains' this part only. (3) These two parts were united by a Christian editor, who added ch. i (except ver. 3, 4a) and 11:42, 43. (4) This was again revised by another Christian hand, which added iii, 13-v, 1 and 11:2-22, together with 1:3, 4a,: 5:15, 16; 11:41. That the whole work as such was also extant in the Western Church is seen from the second Latin translation, found by Gieseler (Vetus Translatio Lat. Visionis Isaice [Gottingen, 1832]), where different parts of the whole work are quoted.
As to the time of the composition of the Ascension no certain date can be given, although there is no doubt that it existed in the 3d century, and we may presume that it was composed towards the end of the 2d century. For the literature and other information, see Dillmann's Prolegomena; also Baring - Gould, Legends of the Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 373 sq.; Langen, Das Judenthum in Palestina zur Zeit Christi, p. 157 sq.; Bissel, The Apocrypha (N. Y. 1880), p. 669 sq.; Schodde, in the Lutheran Quarterly (Gettysburg, Oct. 1878), where an English translation of the Ascensio is given'; Harnack's review of Dillmann's edition in Schilrer's Theolog. Literaturzeitung, 1878, col. 75 sq. (B. P.)