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Historical fact in Ascension of Isaiah ‒ Part 3: Vespasian and Titus are responsible for Jesus' crucifixion in 9: 14

Historical fact in Ascension of Isaiah ‒ Part 3: Vespasian and Titus are responsible for Jesus

Introduction

In this third part of the Ascension of Isaiah series, I touch upon a single verse, 9:14, which mentions Jesus’ crucifixion. It is a verse that has survived in both Latin and in Ethiopian, but not in Greek. In Latin it reads as follows1:

  • In manuscript L2 (‘Latin 2’):
    Et princeps mundi illius extendet manum suam in filium ⎾dei⏋, [et occidet illum] et suspendet illum in ligno et occidet nesciens, qui sit.
  • In manuscript S (‘Latin translation of the Slavonic version’):
    Et princeps mundi illius propter filium ejus extendet manus suas in eum et suspendent illum in ligno, et occidet eum nesciens qui sit.

I don’t have the Ethiopian version in my possession and if I did I wouldn’t be able to translate it. I can, however, quote M.A. Knibb on this verse2: ‘Eth “by the hand of his son” ’, which clarifies that the Ethiopian version has an equivalent of ‘propter filium ejus’ in the Latin S-manuscript. I, therefore, base my translation below on ‘S’.
It also seems clear that the mundus in ‘mundi illius’ (‘of that world’) is the Latin equivalent of the Greek κόσμος, which is a frequently used code word for the Roman empire in the New Testament and in other early Christian writings.

Translations

  • M.A. Knibb, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha volume 2, p. 170, based on a collation of five Ethiopian manuscripts:
    And the god of that world will stretch out [his hand against the Son], and they will lay their hands upon him and hang him upon a tree, not knowing who he is.
  • My translation, based on ‘S’:
    And the emperor of that world, by the hand of his son, stretches out his hands against him, and they hang him on the wood, and he kills him not knowing who he is.

Discussion

The ‘princeps mundi illius’ seems to be a fairly recognizable description of the Roman emperor, and the most obvious father-son relationship in this context is the relationship between Vespasian and his son Titus. As the Roman emperors were divinized, Knibb’s ‘god of that world’ and my ‘emperor of that world’ are one and the same. By emphasizing Vespasian’s primary role in Jesus’ execution, the Roman emperor and Jesus are shown to be antagonists in a play for rival imperial claims. It is by the hands of his son Titus that Vespasian, who had returned to Rome to become emperor prior to the siege and capture of Jerusalem, arrested Jesus and had him crucified.
The Ethiopian manuscripts do not mention Jesus’ death at the hands of the Romans, the Slavonic manuscript does. Interestingly, another fragment of Ascension (11:20-21) also refers to Jesus’ crucifixion but this time, rather than being killed by the Flavians, a different scenario plays out: (20) In Jerusalem, I saw how they crucified him on a tree, (21) and likewise (how) after the third day he rose and remained (many) days.

The Flavians crucified Jesus not knowing that he was the messiah. How could they, Jesus hadn’t yet become the messiah, he was one of the rebel leaders in besieged Jerusalem. Jesus only became the messiah once he was proclaimed victorious over the Romans by surviving his execution at the hands of his enemies.
The true nature of this verse may be revealed by naming the protagonists and applying the translation emphases suggested above:
And Vespasian, the emperor of the Roman empire, by the hand of his son Titus, stretches out his hands against Jesus, and they hang him on the wood, not knowing who he is.


1. R.H. Charles, The Ascension of Isaiah, 1900, p. 121.

2. in J.H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha volume 2, p. 170.