In the previous three parts of this Ascension of Isaiah series, I discussed historical clues in three passages of this work. However, it is possible to identify many more about 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 names to identify 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 that connects Jesus’ activities and execution to the war between the Jews and 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 in 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 addition makes it clear they are referring to Nero.
- 4:4-6 stages a (Roman) ruler with the face of a (Roman) emperor. This similarity in physical appearance may point to father and son. So in other words, the person referred to here is Titus, the Roman commander-in-chief during the siege of Jerusalem and son of emperor Vespasian. Titus is present with ‘all the powers’ or ‘all the powerful’, describing his army or his generals. Verse 5 describes the effect of the burning of Jerusalem at its capture on the appearance of sun and moon, 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 foretells 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 speaks of the irreconcilability of Isaiah (the Essenes) on the one hand 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 experience (‘as if he were dead’) and survival of Jesus, reminiscent of 4 Baruch 9:8-14.
- 7:9-12 talks about internal dissension and civil war in Rome. Rome is presented as an unstable realm.
- In 9:14 Jesus is crucified by the Flavians, suggesting that Jesus was crucified during the war. See part 3 of this series.
- 10:12-15 is steeped in deep anti-Roman hostility, and offers the prospect of the arrogant Roman leaders to be judged and their empire nullified. In the end the Roman emperors will worship the Jewish messiah.
- 11:20-21 refers to Jesus’ crucifixion and subsequent rising, 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’ activities, execution and survival are part of this war.
Above I have only given a superficial overview. Closer scrutiny will certainly uncover more clues and more specific details.