Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Vision of Isaiah as a mythicist text

The Vision of Isaiah is part of a larger work called the Ascension of Isaiah. The AoI is Christian work from probably the 2nd C. It has a story of Jesus descending through the heavens to be crucified. Unfortunately it is a highly variant work with many interpolations and differences. I discuss the MSS issue below.

Doherty claims it is evidence for a mythicist Jesus who descended only as far as the firmament (and Sheol) but NOT to Earth. GakuseiDon points out certain features that suggest there WAS an earthly component. Here is what I found.

Isaiah's Ascent

On the way up, we get this description of what is about to happen -

"(7):9. And we ascended to the firmament, I and he, and there I saw Satan and his hosts, and there was great fighting therein and the angels of Satan were envying one another. 10. And as above so on the earth also; for the likeness of that which is in the firmament is here on the earth. 11. And I said unto the angel "what is this envying?" 12. And he said unto me: "So has it been since this world was made until now, and this war (will continue) till He [Jesus], whom thou shalt see will come and destroy him [Satan].""

Note that here a pair of corresponding Platonic planes is specifically mentioned (As Above So On the Earth) : Firmament - Earth. On Earth we find a "likeness" of what is in the firmament.

It is made clear to Isaiah while in the firmament, that Satan (who is there in the firmament) will be "destroyed" by Jesus - apparently in the firmament.

No mention of Earth in Jesus' work. Clearly Jesus will be acting in the firmament.

The Crucifixion described

The crucifixion (and descent to Sheol) is described Ch.9 :

"(9):14. And the god of that world [Satan] will stretch forth his hand against the Son, and they will hang Him upon a tree and kill him, and will slay Him not knowing who He is. 15. And thus His descent, as you will see, will be hidden even from the heavens, so that it will not be known who He is. 16. And when He hath plundered the angel of death, He will ascend on the third day 17. And then many of the righteous will ascend with Him, whose spirits do not receive their garments till the Lord Christ ascend and they ascend with Him."

We see that Satan will unknowingly crucify Jesus in the firmament, Jesus will then descend to Sheol to plunder the angel of death and bring back the (spirits of the) righteous.

No mention of any earthly visit there.

The Commission from God.

Christ is commissioned to travel through all the heavens and Sheol :

"(10):8 Go forth and descend through all the heavens, and thou wilt descent to the firmament and that world: to the angel in Sheol thou wilt descend, but to Haguel thou wilt not go."

No mention of Earth in the list of travels.

And he shall take the various likenesses of the heavens, the firmament, and Sheol :

"(10):9. And thou wilt become like unto the likeness of all who are in the five heavens. 10. And thou wilt be careful to become like the form of the angels of the firmament and the angels also who are in Sheol."

No mention of Earth in the list of likenesses.

But his identity will be secret from angels and heavens

"(10):11. And none of the angels of that world shall know that Thou art with Me of the seven heavens and of their angels. 12. And they shall not know that Thou art with Me, till with a loud voice I have called (to) the heavens, and their angels and their lights, (even) unto the sixth heaven, in order that you mayest judge and destroy the princes and angels and gods of that world, and the world that is dominated by them:"

No mention of Earth in the list of secrets.

Also note that the task Jesus has to do (once he is called) is to destroy the princes etc. (i.e. Satan and cohorts) of that world - i.e. the firmament. No mention of any earthly task.

Afterwards he will ascend from the Gods of death through the heavens :

"14. And afterwards from the angels of death Thou wilt ascend to Thy place. And Thou wilt not be transformed in each heaven, but in glory wilt Thou ascend and sit on My right hand."

No mention of Earth in the ascent phase.

The Descent.

We see the descent through all the heavens, in which Jesus takes on the likeness or form of each of the various heavens on the way, finally descending from the lowest heaven, through the firmament, to the Air beneath - where he was made like the angels of the Air :

"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. 30. And I saw when He descended and made Himself like unto the angels of the air, and He was like one of them. 31. And He gave no password; for one was plundering and doing violence to another."

(Around that point an interpolation breaks in (Slav and Lat2 omit it), we will pick up the story again at (11):23 with the ascent phase beginning. )

It's quite clear - Satan will crucify Jesus, not on earth, but in the firmament. Then Jesus will descend to Sheol for 3 days, and return with many of the righteous (i.e. presumably their souls.)

There is no earthly part to this story at all.

Finally - the Ascent.

We see the ascent phase begin - Christ has returned from the Air to the firmament but now his identity is open and Satan is sorrowful that they did not percieve it on the way down :

"(11):23. And I saw [Him], and He was in the firmament, but He had not changed Himself into their form, and all the angels of the firmament and the Satans saw Him and they worshipped. 24. And there was much sorrow there, while they said: "How did our Lord descend in our midst, and we perceived not the glory, which we see has been upon Him from the sixth heaven?""

No mention of Earth anywhere at the bottom of the ascent - the lowest we heard of was the Air.

The ascent finishes up through the heavens again - nothing earthly.

Critical MSS Variations.

There are two main families of MSS being considered here :
  • the main Ethiopic MSS family
  • the Slavonic and Latin2 MSS (very similar.)

The Ethiopic MSS family has certain additions and expansions, compared to the Slav. and Lat2 MSS as follows -

1. The whole of (11):2-22 (a nativity story) is not found in Slav and Lat2, and is clearly an addition that adds a simple Jesus earthly incarnation episode.

2. Then, in Chapter 9, there is crucial passage, which GakuseiDon has cited as evidence against a mythical interpretation

"[12... 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 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 is a man.]"

This section clearly seems to have replaced a shorter passage in MSS Slav and Lat2 :

"when he descends and is like you in form"
Added by edit :
I was mistaken in suggesting this passage is not present in MSS Slav and L2. GakuseiDon is correct that "in your form" is found in all the MSS and argues against the mythicist view. This makes my essay here in error, and argues for an earthly visit after all.

This addition serves to add an earthly layer, to a mythicist original. Even then to "think that he is" flesh and a man still implies he isn't actually so - it's hardly evidence for earthly descent of Jesus.

3. A further historicist interpolation can be found with "into the world" above - not found in most of the Ethiopic MSS. Another addition that serves to add a worldly connection where none was present before.

4. There are two more historicist changes discussed below as well.

So we can see several examples where the Ethiopic MSS have passages which are added to or longer than the Slav and Lat2 MSS. Several of these passages serve to specifically add an earthly layer to the story.

It is much more likely that passages are ADDED, not subtracted, so this seems clear evidence that an early version of this book had NO such rearthly references.

(Otherwise it would mean some editor has REMOVED several earthly bits - and who would do that except a mythicist?)

Either way - this is evidence that one MSS tradition was mythicist in form - with NO descent to Earth. Like Doherty says.

Where is Jesus made like a man ?

GakuseiDon points out that when the descent is initially prophesied - it is said that Jesus will descend to resemble [Isaiah's] form and likeness - i.e. that he WILL descend as far as Earth and take on the form of a man, so therefore somewhere in the descent he must make it to earth.

"(8):9. And that thou mayest see the Lord of all those heavens and these thrones. 10. Undergoing (successive) transformation until He resembles your form and likeness.

26. ...for those who trust in that Lord who will descend in your form."

Quote: Originally Posted by GakuseiDon

"If Jesus isn't in the form of a man when he descends into the air, then tell me: where is Jesus actually made into the form of a man?"

He isn't !

Added by edit:
Presumably on earth after all. I was mistaken about MSS Slave and L2.]

It turns out that BOTH those earthly bits are also missing from the Slav. and Lat2 MSS tradition. There is NO such expectation of an earthly form in that MSS tradition.

In other words - all the passages that GakuseiDon points to as referring to an earthly part, are only found in one MSS tradition. There is another MSS tradition which does NOT have these earthly parts.


At least one of the MSS traditions is a mythical descent of Jesus down thru the heavens to the firmament, (and the Air); followed by crucifixion in the firmament, a 3 day descent to Sheol, and his re-ascent back to heaven. (The only earthly parts are missing from one MSS tradition entirely suggesting they have been ADDED by someone editor who disagreed with the mythicist version.)

Earth is not mentioned, the journey clearly did not include earth.

Doherty is right - this IS (at least in one MSS tradition) an example of a mythicist text in which Jesus descends NOT to earth but to the firmament.

Added by edit :
It appears Doherty and I were mistaken on this issue.

This diagram shows how I interpret the journey according to the Vision :



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Hi Kapyong, this is GakuseiDon. The above deleted comment from "LiberalXian" was mine. That's a very old account I used on some fundamentalist boards. Not sure why it's popped up here. :(

    Anyway, I saw this site from the reference in your JREF forum thread "The Air beneath the Moon Part 1". I browsed through your pages here, and I hope you don't mind me commenting here.

    I discuss the Vision of Isaiah text in Part 3 of my review of Doherty's "Jesus Neither God Nor Man" here:

    If I am reading your comments on this page correctly, you are suggesting that the Beloved descending "in your [Isaiah's] form" is not in the Slavonic/L2 texts. Doherty made a similar claim in JNGNM, but he was wrong. It is in 9.13 of S/L2.

    The reason this is significant is that VoI explicitly gives the forms of the Beloved in each level, including the form of creatures of the air, and in none of them is he given the form of a man.

    In fact, when I pointed out to Doherty on FRDB in 2011 on the implication of "in your form" being in Slavonic/L2, Doherty admitted that it implied "a reference to human form and probably a reference to earth."

    I give the link to my discussion with Doherty on FRDB in my review, but not sure it still works since the recent FRDB reorganization. But it might be worth reviewing your conclusions of the value of VoI as a mythicist text, if in fact the S/L2 versions appear to support a descent to earth.

    1. Thanks GakuseiDon, I'll look into that, you may be right :-)

    2. Checking Charlesworth's Pseudepigrapha, note 'o' page 170 in my edition, it seems you are correct in that S/L2 has "like your form".
      I was mistaken, I'll have to edit my posting.

  3. Thanks Kapyong, I appreciate that.

    From emails traded with Richard Carrier, I know he also sees VoI as an important text to support the mythicist view. So it will be interesting to see how he uses it in his book when it comes out next year. It might have to be me changing my review next time!