Legends of Old Testament Characters/Chapter 40



THE Book of the Ascension of Isaiah has reached us only in an Ethiopic version, which was published along with a translation by Archbishop Laurence, Oxford, 1819. Gieseler translated the book, and gave learned prolegomena and notes, Göttingen, 1837; and Gfrörer has included it in his " Prophetæ Pseudepigraphi," Stuttgardt, 1840, pp. 1-55, with the Latin translation. It must have existed in Greek and Latin, for fragments of the Latin apocryphal book remain, and have been published by Cardinal Mai, in "Scriptorum Veterum Nova Collectio;" Romæ, 1824, t. 111. ii. 238 et seq.: and it is very evident from these that they are versions of a Greek original, and not of the Ethiopic.

Whilst Isaiah was speaking to the king Hezekiah, he suddenly stopped, and his soul was borne away by an angel. He traversed the firmament, where he saw the strife of the angels and demons, waged between the earth and the moon. He entered the six heavens and admired their glory; then he penetrated into the seventh heaven, where he saw the Holy Trinity, and there the events of futurity were revealed to him. When he returned to himself, Isaiah related to Hezekiah all that he had seen and heard, except what concerned his son Manasseh.

This is the prophecy of Isaiah concerning Antichrist: "And when that time is passed, Berial, the great angel, the prince of this world, Berial will descend from his place in the form of a man; an impious king, the murderer of his mother, a king of this world.

"And he will pluck up from amongst the twelve apostles the plant that they had planted, and it will fall into his hands.

"And all the powers of the world will do the will of the angel Berial, the impious king.

"At his word, the sun will shine in the darkness of the night, and the moon will appear at the eleventh hour.

"He will do all his pleasures; he will illtreat the Well-Beloved, and will say to him, Lo! I am God, and before me there is none other.

"And all the world will believe in him.

"And sacrifice will be offered to him, and a worship of adoration, saying, He alone is God, and there is none other.

"Then the greater number of those gathered together to receive the Well-Beloved will turn aside to Berial;

"Who by his power will work miracles in the cities and in the country;

"And everywhere shall a table be spread for him.

"His domination shall be for three years seven months and twenty-seven days."[1]

Only when Hezekiah was at the point of death, did Isaiah reveal to him what and how great would be the iniquities of his son. Then the king would have slain Manasseh: "I had rather," said he, "die without posterity, than leave behind me a son who should persecute the saints."

When the prophet saw that Hezekiah loved God more than his own son, he was glad, and he restrained the king, and said, "It is the will of God that he should live."

Manasseh reigned in the room of his father, and was a cruel tyrant. He worshipped idols, and sought to make Isaiah partake in his idolatry. And when he could not succeed, he sawed him asunder with a saw of wood.

"And whilst Isaiah was being cut asunder, Melekira stood up and accused him, and all the lying prophets were present, and they showed great joy, and they mocked him.

"And Belial said to Isaiah: 'Confess that all thou hast said is false, and that the ways of Manasseh are good and just.

"'Confess that the ways of Melekira, and of those that are with him, are good.'

"He spake thus to him, as the saw entered into his flesh.

"But Isaiah was in an ecstasy, and his eyes were open, and he looked upon the spectators of his passion.

"Then said Melekira to Isaiah: 'Confess what I shall say, and I will change the heart of those who persecute thee, and I will make Manasseh, and the heads of Judah, and his people, and all Jerusalem, worship thee.'

"Then Isaiah answered and said: 'Cursed art thou in all that thou sayest, and in all thy power, and in all thy disciples!

"'Thou canst do nothing against me; all thou canst do is to take from me this miserable life.'

"Then they seized the prophet, and they sawed him with a saw of wood, Isaiah, son of Amos.

"And Manasseh and Melekira, and the lying prophets, and the princes of Israel, and all the people, beheld his execution.

"Now, before that the execution was accomplished, he said to the prophets who had followed him: 'Fly to Tyre and Sidon, for the Lord hath given the cup to me alone.'

"And whilst the saw cut into his flesh, Isaiah uttered no complaint and shed no tears; but he ceased not to commune with the Holy Spirit till the saw had cloven him to the middle of his body."[2]

In the Mishna[3] it is related that the Rabbi Simeon Ben Azai found in Jerusalem (2nd cent.) a genealogy, wherein it was written that Manasseh killed Isaiah. Manasseh said to Isaiah, "Moses, thy master, said, There shall no man see God and live.[4] But thou hast said, I saw the Lord seated upon His throne.[5] Moses said, What other nation is there so great, that hath God so nigh unto them?[6] But thou hast said, Seek ye the Lord while He may be found."[7]

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 in two lengthways; and when the saw reached his mouth, he died.

  1. Anabasticon, iv. 2-12.
  2. Anabasticon, v. 1-14.
  3. Tract. Jebammoth, c. 4.
  4. Exod. xxxiii. 20.
  5. Isai. vi. 1.
  6. Deut. iv. 7.
  7. Isai. lv. 6.