In the previous three parts of this Ascension of Isaiah series I discussed historical hints in three passages of this work. However, we can discern many more historical clues to the political and military situation in Palestine in the second half of the first century CE.
Below I have listed the most obvious historical passages (in apocalyptic disguise) with some rudimentary comments.
- 1:7 – 2:6 seems to discuss the collaboration of the Jewish leaders with the Romans. Satan, Sammael and Beliar are code words for leaders of the Roman empire.
- 2:7-3:1 discusses the last resistance of the Essenes/Zealots in the aftermath of the war against the Romans in the years 70-73 CE. See part 1 of this series.
- 3:20 mentions ‘there will be many signs and miracles in those days’, which is a chronological indicator which connects Jesus’ activity and execution to the war of the Jews against the Romans. See part 2 of this series.
- 3:21-31 depicts the deplorable situation of Judaism ‘in the last days’, the period preceding the war. The Essenes – the saints of verse 25 – seem to be opposed to the Romans and their collaborators.
- 4:1-3 refers to a (Roman) ruler, ‘a murderer of his mother’. This explanatory addition makes clear that Nero is discussed.
- 4:4-6 stages a (Roman) ruler with the face of a (Roman) emperor. These similar faces may refer to a shared physiognomy of father and son. Titus, the Roman commander-in-chief at the siege of Jerusalem and son of the emperor Vespasian, is depicted here. Titus is present with ‘all the powers’ or ‘all the powerful’, describing his army or his generals. Verse 5 describes phenomena in sun and moon caused by the burning of Jerusalem at its capture, reminiscent of the Synoptic Apocalypse (Mark 13:24 and parallels).
- 4:7-11 describes the Roman imperial cult and the practice of erecting statues for the Roman emperors.
- 4:12 gives the duration of the war of the Jews against the Romans: 3 years, seven months and twenty-seven days.
- 4:14 tells that the messiah (called ‘Lord’ here) will arrive after the war. This chronological sequence of a) war and b) arrival of the messiah is in line with the Synoptic Apocalypse, Revelation chapter 11 and Didache chapter 16.
- Chapter 5 describes the irreconcilability of Isaiah (the Essenes) on one side and Manasseh (the Jewish leaders) and Belkira (the Romans) on the other.
- Although 6:10-17 is obscure, it seems to describe the near-death (‘as if he were dead’) and survival of Jesus, reminiscent of 4 Baruch 9:8-14.
- 7:9-12 describes internal dissension and civil war in Rome. Rome is presented as an instable realm.
- In 9:14 Jesus is crucified by the Flavians, which hints to Jesus being crucified during the war. See part 3 of this series.
- 10:12-15 breathes deep anti-Roman hostility, and the prospect that the arrogant Roman leaders will be judged and their empire nullified. In the end the Roman emperors will worship the Jewish messiah.
- 11:20-21 mentions Jesus’ crucifixion and subsequent rising (no death involved), pointing to his survival.
All in all the historical clues to the war of the Jews against the Romans in this highly important text are numerous. Jesus’ activity, execution and survival are placed during that war.
Above I have only given a superficial overview. Closer scrutiny will certainly uncover more clues and more specific details.