The ancient work entitled the ASCENSION OF ISAIAH', a Jewish-Christian apocalypse, has been known for some time. "It was written in Syria about 112-138 CE purporting to describe the content of revealed heavenly mysteries...a pseudonymous apocalypse. Like many examples of the genre (Revelation)...it was written [they think] long after the Old Testament writings but attributed to a well-known figure from Jewish history [Isaiah]." (Knight p. 9) There is no way to prove it was not written by Isaiah, that is just the opinion of scholars. The Prophet Isaiah could have written it and then it was transmitted down through time with glosses and changes, including additions by Christian writers at a later date in its history. The debate will probably never be settled.
It now seems profitable to reassess the Ascension in light of discoveries made since the basic work was done in the early part of the last century. These new discoveries include the Manichaen documents from the Fayyum of Egypt, the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in numerous caves after the initial discovery in Cave l in 1945 from Qumran in Israel, and especially the Nag Hammadi Coptic texts found in 1945 in Egypt. Translated studies of all of these are now available, with assurances of more to come.
"Most Scholars believe that the Vision of Isaiah' portion [the Second Vision in the work] of the Ascension came from Christian circles. In view of the close parallels found in it to common Gnostic motifs, it would seem that one must qualify that statement to read semi-Christian circles' or Christian' Gnostic circles' [why not say the true primitive church?] Once again, it appears that the dividing line between orthodoxy and heresy was exceedingly fine or non-existent prior to the time of Irenaeus [175-195 AD]." (Helmbold p. 227) "The Second Vision constructs a ... drama....[and] concludes with a description of the Beloved's [Jesus] Ascension to the seventh heaven [the highest heaven] and his enthronement at the right hand of God (ll.23-33)." (Knight p. 11) Most LDS are familiar with the doctrines of Telestial, Terrestrial and Celestial heavens. The use of the term Telestial seems to have originated with Joseph Smith, but few LDS realize there is also a doctrine of higher kingdoms: In the D&C: "This earth, in its sanctified and immortal state, will be made like unto crystal and will be a Urim and Thummim to the inhabitants who dwell thereon, whereby all things pertaining to an inferior kingdom, OR ALL KINGDOMS OF A LOWER ORDER, will be manifest to those who dwell on it; and this earth will be Christ's. Then the white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17, will become a Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one, where by things pertaining to a HIGHER ORDER OF KINGDOMS [HIGHER THAN THE CELESTIAL KINGDOM? NOTE THAT KINGDOMS IS PLURAL] will be made known." (D&C 130:9-10) How do you get the white stone? In verse 11. "And a white stone is given to each of those who come into the celestial kingdom, whereon is a NEW NAME WRITTEN, which no man knoweth save he that receive it. The NEW NAME IS THE KEY WORD." Only the LDS members entitled to go to the Temple know anything about the new name. The ancient documents confirm that Joseph Smith correctly and completely restored ancient ceremonies and practices.
"The date of the Vision is put in the second century by Flemming and Duensing, and in the later part of the century by M. Rist. The prevalence of motifs found also in the Nag Hammadi corpus would seem to verify a mid-second century date for the Vision since some of the Nag Hammadi texts containing parallels to the Ascension are dated c. 150 AD, and others are quite likely to be no later than the end of the second century....Since the Gnostic elements in the Ascension are found almost exclusively in the Vision of Isaiah', it would appear that those scholars who regarded the Ascension as a composite are correct." (Helmbold p. 227) As noted above, Knight concludes it was written between 112-138 CE, in Greek. (Knight p. 21)
The Gnostic affinitites [such as in the Nag Hammadi texts] of the Ascension of Isaiah are especially pronounced in the third section of that work (vi. i-xi. 40), a section commonly called The Vision of Isaiah'. "Today it may be profitable to reassess the Ascension of Isaiah in the light of discoveries made since the basic work on the Ascension was done in the early part of [the last] century. These newer discoveries include the [recent] Manichean documents from the Fayyum [of Egypt] the Dead Sea Scrolls [from Israel in 1945], [and the recent Mandean ] and especially the Nag Hammadi Coptic Texts [from Egypt in 1945]." (Helmbold p. 223) See my tapes or CD's on The Manichean, The Dead Sea Scrolls, The Nag Hammadi, and The Mandean discoveries.
A study by Helmbold will be useful as a guide for this approach to the ancient work. He discusses it in three Parts:
The First is a:
METHODOLOGY OF REVELATION
"On the purely mechanical side, it is of interest to note that the dialogue style [question and answer] employed by the author of the Vision of Isaiah' was a favorite literary device....Without being exhaustive, one can cite the following examples of the dialogue style, some of them in the particular form of the question-answer dialogue" (Helmbold, l, p. 223): Helmbold then identified nine documents useful to his purposes. All of these contain interesting parallels to the Gospel. "(1) The Apocryphon of James (l,1), (2) The Apocryphon of John (11,1), (3) The Gospel of Thomas (11,2), (4) The Sophia of Jesus Christ (111,4), (5) The Dialogue of the Savior (111,2), (6) The Apocalypse of Paul (v,2), (7) The First Apoclypse of James (v,3), (8) The Apoclypse of Peter (V11, 3) (9) The Letter of Peter to Philip (V11, 2). Closer examination [of those nine texts] shows that most of [those] works fit the literary genre of apocalypse [prophecy or disclosure, or any remarkable revelation]. Hence it seems likely that the dialogue style should be added to the list of general characteristics of apocalyptic [or revelation]. Thus one more element characteristic of Gnostic apocalypse is found also in the Ascension of Isaiah." (Helmbold p. 223) Which from the standpoint of the LDS viewpoint is a remarkable revelation. There are a number of such dialogue examples in Mormon Literature, see D &C Sec. 77, 129, and 130, which would qualify them as Apocalyptic literature wouldn't they?
Helmbold tells us that "Another stylistic device used in the Ascension is ... REVELATION by means of a VISION (vi.12) [almost the entire Doctrine and Covenants is an example of this] This feature is present in many apocalypses [revelations], and is found in the Nag Hammadi [and other ancient] texts. The outstanding example probably is the Apocryphon of John [see my tape or CD on the SECRET BOOK OF JOHN]. As is common, there is an interpreting angel, in the Ascension (vi.13). In the Apocryphon of John the interpreter is Christ, a heavenly figure. The interpretation of Isaiah's vision is for a select few (vi. 16); the revelation [in the] Apocryphon is to be imparted only to his fellow spirits [and is] unrepeatable doctrine." (Helmbold, l, p. 223) "The Saviour instructs John to pass on these secrets to his fellow disciples, but not TO SELL them for food, drink raiment, or any such things." (Helmbold, 2, p. 53) "Cursed is every one who gives it [the sacred knowledge or ordinances] for a gift [money], or for food or for drink or for clothing or for any other thing of this kind'. And this was given him [John] secretly [by Christ]." (Giversen pp. 107-109) Here and elsewhere in these series the "knowledge" and "ordinances" involved, as gleaned from the ancient documents, will be only briefly discussed or alluded to.
"The time of the revelation is interesting. In the Ascension, Christ stays on earth 545 days after the resurrection (ix.16). In the Apocryphon of James [one of the nine recently recovered documents Helmbold listed] Jesus is about to leave his disciples 550 days after the resurrection. There seems to be a Gnostic tradition that Christ spent eighteen months...on earth after the resurrection. This is attested for the Ophites in Irenaeus, adv. Haer. l, 30. [Irenaeus was the Bishop of Lyons, a native of Smyrna, and may have been taught by Polycarp, c. 70-160, one of the Church Fathers, ordained by John] perhaps he [Irenaeus] studied and taught at Rome 175-195 AD. Jesus, after his resurrection, remains among his disciples for eighteen months, in order to teach the Mysteries [ordinances] to those who are worthy of knowing them." (Doresse p. 40) Nibley treats in detail "The Forty-day Mission of Christ-A forgotten Heritage" (Nibley p. 33) The Book of Mormon (Ether 12:6-7, 3 Nephi 3:11:l, 3 Nephi 10:18-19) which states when he came to the Western Hemisphere, it was nearly 11 months after his resurrection; (3 Nephi 19:l-3, 3 Nephi 23:11-13). These scriptures all attest to a longer period than the usual 40 days ascribed to Christ's presence among the disciples. Some eleven months at least are suggested in these references for the western hemisphere visits. (Brown pp 146-155). So a prolonged period of time up to eighteen months of earthly activity may have actually been the case. "Forty itself being a well-known symbolic number in sacred writings." (Nibley p. 34) "For Luke the designation of 40 days signifies simply that the appearances of Christ after Easter had a certain duration.' ... Acts l.3 indicates occasional appearances over a period of time. Hence it would be impossible and foolish to calculate the exact length of the post-Resurrectional sojourn." (Nibley p. 34) The Book of Mormon opts for at least a year, and the Church Fathers and their successors indicated, up to the end of the second century at least, that it could have been up to eighteen months. "It is often claimed that a full 40 days [or more] were necessary to demonstrate the reality of resurrected flesh." (Nibley p. 35) For the Book of Mormon it required at least a year. And Christ indicated he served elsewhere. Until the recovery of ancient documents, only the Book of Mormon extended the 40 days to a longer period of time for the earthly ministry of Christ after his resurrection.
And then there are the ACTORS in the DRAMA:
II. THE CHIEF ACTORS
Helmbold writes "Some common elements are to be found in the Ascension and Gnostic [the other nine documents he listed] literature in their respective treatments of various personages. First, God is described in the Ascension (vii. 37) as the unnameable, the unfathomable. Similar language is found in the [Nag Hammadi texts] The Gospel of Truth...the Apocryphon of John...and the first Apocalypse of James. (Helmbold p. 224) "The Ascension (viii.18) presents a typical Christian' trinity: PRIMAL MAN, THE BELOVED, THE HOLY SPIRIT. Similar trinities are found in the [Nag Hammadi Texts] the Gospel of the Egyptians...the Apocryphon of John...and the Trimorphic Protennoia...With this, one should compare the FATHER, MOTHER, SON trinity of the Apocryphon of John." (Helmbold l, p. 224) and the same as developed in the Gospel of the Egyptians: "There came forth...three powers...the Father, the Mother, (and) [the] Son." (Bohlig p. 59) Certainly before anything else could happen there had to be the Father, the Mother, and then the Son.
In the "Dramatis Personae" for the Hypostasis of the Archons the Chief Actors are the "Father of truth or father of the entirety: God...[a female element, Mother? is also involved]...The entirety, ...the totality of divine stuff, whether below or above...the children of light... The all-powerful or true man, the Son of God who will come at the end of time to manifest the spirit....Adam, the first man on earth. [Abraham l:3] His wife and female counterpart Eve...the Snake...rulers (archons) of the present darkness and chaos...their arrogant Chief Samael, also called Sakla or Yaldabaoth...thinks he is god." (Bullard pp. 227-228) Thus, in place for the ACTION to come are at least: THE FATHER, THE SON, ADAM, EVE, and SATAN. In the Nag Hammadi Text The Hypostasis of the Archons, there is an interesting ceremony a part of which reads: and then "came in the serpent: What has he told you: "From every tree which is in paradise you shall eat but not from the tree' of the knowledge of evil and good do not eat"?'..The Fleshly women [not mortal yet, just flesh and bones] said: Not only did he say" "do not eat", but "do not touch it for on the day on which you shall eat from it you shall surely die.'... And the Serpent, the instructor, said: You shall not surely die, for he said this to you because he is jealous. Rather your eyes shall be opened and you shall become like gods, knowing evil and good...'" (Foerster p. 47) Most LDS Temple goers are familiar with what goes on from there. A curse is put on the Serpent's spirit, he can never procreate, he will be important (Foerster p. 47) The Ancient document confirms that Joseph got it right.
The reference to the chief actor as being God, or PRIMAL MAN [the FIRST MAN], confirms the identification that God is called Man' as is given in various Pearl of Great Price references (Moses 6:57, 7:35) and Jonas further confirms this stating: in "some systems [Gnostic] one of his secret names is Man'....some positive attributes and metaphors do apply to him: ...[such as] Father, the Good...the supreme and transmundane God, himself often call Man.'" (Jonas p. 268-270). Isn't this is specific verification of unique doctrines in the Pearl of Great Price?
In regard to the Beloved' [in this instance it is Isaiah] "Isaiah saw a glorious angel (7.2, cf. 2 En. l.4) who took him by the hand (7.3) and promised a heavenly journey...[and] promises Isaiah a vision of one greater than me' -me' denotes Isaiah's companion angel--and of the Father of the one who is greater' [and] promises Isaiah a...vision in the seventh heaven, one in which God was attended by the Beloved One [Jesus] as a second divine figure." (Knight p. 68) confirming that at the beginning of the second century there was an ongoing belief of the Father God and His Beloved One' [Son], both as divine figures.
"Second, the Ascension lists Samael as God's adversary, i.e.Satan (vii.9, ll, cf. iii.13) ...In the Apocryphon of John ...we read, This weak archon [ruler] had three names: the first is Yaldabaoth, the second is Saclas, the third is Samael.' In the Hypostasis of the Archons
(see Bullard) ...occurs the following: But their great one is blind...you have erred, Samael', which means the blind God'! The treatise On the Origin of the Universe [world] (see Bethge) ...contains a similar reference." (Helmbold p. 224)
"Third, in the portion of the Ascension called The Testament of Hezekiah' Beliar...[Satan] ...(called king of the world) says I am God' (iv.6). This is exactly the conceit and presumption of Yaldabaoth, the demi-urge or anti-God in many Gnostic texts and systems. In the Nag Hammadi corpus the presumption, in almost the same words, is attested in the Apocyphon of John ...'I am God, and there is no other God but me' ... I am a jealous God and there is no other God but me' [and the same in the Hypostasis of the Archons] ...and perhaps in the Second Apocalypse of James." (Helmbold p. 224) From the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Book of Enoch we find "From the time when the devil fell from glory of the Father and lost his own glory..." (Milik p. 124) In D&C 76:25 Joseph learned that the devil, Lucifer, was in authority in the presence of God...and was thrust down' for rebellion, [along with a third of the hosts who followed him]. (D&C 29:36). "...He [Lucifer] sat upon the clouds and sent his ministers, even angels flaming with fire, ...unto Adam." (Milik p. 124) Who ever taught that the devil, Lucifer, sent ministers to Adam?
The Apocalypse of Adam [from the Nag Hammadi texts] adds three more Actors to the Drama. Adam says "For I saw three men before me, whose appearance I could not recognize...in their nature they surpassed those whom I had seen. They came to me and appeared to me, saying to me: Arise, Adam, out of the sleep of death. And hear about the aeon [eternity] and the seed of that man [Christ] to whom life has come, who came [will come] forth from you and from Eve your consort.' ...But now, my son Seth, will I reveal to you what those men revealed to me, whom I saw before me earlier." (Foerster pp16-17) In this context one should review l Nephi 10. The Mandean Text on Cosmogony confirms that ancients knew about three men who came to Adam. "Three angels of radiance and light shall come into being and be company for Adam." (Foerster p.183). Adam tells his son Seth that these three men "surpassed [in glory] (those whom I) had seen." Referring to the being who had been appearing to Adam saying he was the God of this earth. (Foerster p. 16)
111. THE ACTION
"As its common title indicates, the central act in the Ascension of Isaiah is ascent of the prophet to the seventh heaven. The seven heavens are specifically mentioned (vi. 13, cf.iii.18). The number seven is common enough in the Semitic world, and seven heavens are attested in Judaism as early as the Book of Enoch, and the Testament of Levi [see my various tapes and CD's on Enoch]. Contrasting to this is Paul's statement (11 Cor. 12:2) that he was caught up into the third heaven. The Apocalypse of Paul (perhaps related to but not identical with the treatise in Nag Hammadi Codex V), ...speaks of Paul caught up to the third heaven." (Helmbold 1, p. 224) The LDS would call this third heaven the Celestial Kingdom (D&C 76).
But as noted above, in the D&C 130, there are indications of even higher kingdoms. Outside of Ghosticism "the seven heavens motif is attested in the mystery religions...[they] had for their initiates the ceremonial ...passing through seven gates arranged on ascending steps representing the seven [worlds] ...a successive putting on and off of seven ...garments or animal disguises [skins]. ..there was... widespread religious idea that souls after death had to ascend to the highest heaven in passing through the seven spheres [gates] ...every gate or [world] being watched by an archon [ruler], ...or the boundaries of which were guarded." (Helmbold p. 225) In the Gospel of the Egyptians it mentions three personalities and others "who preside over the entrance into the REST OF ETERNAL LIFE." (Bohlig p. 151) In LDS belief there is the passing through various stages representing worlds or kingdoms, "the angels and the gods are appointed there, by whom they cannot pass; they cannot, therefore inherit my glory" (D & C 132:18), unless they have made all preparations and know all the necessary signs and names and have a "knowledge of the way' i.e., of the [ordinances] sacraments to be performed now, of the names' to be employed later when the ascending spirit meets the powers after leaving the body at death... the secrets of the way' ..the ascent doctrine in its details...the itinerary and adventures of the soul on the occasion lead through the complete order in reversal of the primordial fall." (Jonas l, pp. 171-172) "Now concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection-Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of ALL MEN, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are TAKEN HOME [by an angel] to that God who gave them life. [for a preliminary judgment] ...the spirits of ...[the] righteous are received into a state of peace, which is called paradise, a state of rest.....the spirits of the wicked, yea who are evil-for behold, they have no part nor portion of the Spirit of the Lord...they chose evil works, ...these shall be cast out into outer darkness." (Alma 40:11-13)
An early Christian Group now called the Mandeans [Baptists] kept some of their ceremonies, though somewhat distorted by time, into the last century. They had escaped the destruction and dispersion of the Jews by Titus and the Roman Tenth Legion in 70 AD. By 1928 most of their ancient teachings had been translated into English. There is the "signing of the forehead of the neophyte with water...the crowning...the laying on of hands...the anointing with oil, the offering of the sacrament of bread and water, and the sealing' of the neophyte... concluded by the extension of the right hand [in a grip] known as Kusta (truth', Justice')....usually performed at all ceremonies and has a special sanctity. ...Since the journey of the soul leads through dangerous demonic sphere certain guarantees are required which involve more than those things which accompany the soul, like baptism, the sign, and the name, and good works...nearly all ceremonies, including even the wedding ritual, are in some way associated with a rite which has value for the souls of the dead. " (Foerster pp. 131-133) "The Mandean is never certain that he will attain the next world and fears punishment and imprisonment in the infernal regions or places of detention'". (Foerster p. 133)
"In the Apocryphon of John the ascent motif [how to get into heaven] occurs only in an attenuated form they will bear it (the soul) to eternal rest'". (Helmbold p. 225) The heavenly warders, made up of the Gods and Angels that are set there are represented in many of the texts being mentioned including the Asecnsion of Isaiah "Passage through the seven spheres or heavens is obtained by repeating the secret pass-word or secret name of the warder. In the Ascension (x.24. ff.) the Lord descends through the lowest three heavens by such a method...The Lord revealed to me what the soul must say when ascending into heaven, and how she must answer each of the upper powers." (Helmbold p. 225) The Lord (Jesus) is very explicit about how and why he made his descent onto earth and how he was related to mortals: "Willing did I come forth to reveal the glory to my kindred and my fellow-spirits...by taking on an earthly body (50-51,20-24)." (Gibbons p. p.246-247) So at times, one gets help, evidently from the Lord, what to say and where to say it, of what it is necessary to be said in order to pass into heaven into his REST. "Wherefore we labored diligently among our people, that we might persuade them to come unto Christ, and partake of the goodness of God, that they might ENTER INTO HIS REST." (Jacob l:7, see also 2 Nephi 21:10 etc.) To enter into the REST of Christ is to enter into eternal life in the Celestial Kingdom. The ancients knew what it was all about. But after the firsts centuries it was forgotten or deliberately deleted.
"When [the soul] becomes imbued with knowledge...she ascends to heaven and gives a defence before each power and thus mounts beyond them to the upper Mother and Father of the All [from] WHENCE SHE [the soul] CAME DOWN INTO THIS WORLD." (Helmbold p. 226). Whoever taught that man had a pre-existence and came from that pre-existence [or Spirit World] where man was associated with a Mother and Father in a heavenly world, where man was reared and nurtured there? Is this doctrine taught to LDS Primary Children? (See also l Cor. 15:28). The ancient doctrines of the Nahuatl Reglion of the Mayans, says it nicely quoting from a midwife cooing to a newly born baby: "thou wert made in that place where are the great God and Goddess which are above the heavens...Thy mother and thy father, celestial woman and celestial man, made and reared thee...Thou hast come to this world form afar, poor and weary...our Lord Questzalcoatl, who is the creator, has put in to this dust [body] a precious stone and a rich feather [spirit]." (Sejourne p. 56)
"In the Seventh heaven Isaiah saw Enoch and others stripped of the garment of flesh [their flesh was made new and the old flesh done away with] (ix.9, cf. xi.35). In the Gospel of Truth (Story -1,2;20, 20f) Lord, these souls when they come out of the flesh, where shall they go?'... then you shall come into existence awakening from the heavy sleep [forgetfulness] and from the garment [of animal skins] in the inner part ...of the [world or mortality]. This motif is also found in the Gospel of Thomas (11, 2, Logion 37)." (Helmbold p. 226) then "the soul, being immortal, can remember all that it knew prior to its birth into the life it now lives [mortal life]...Finally it means that at the end, in the ideal state, in the FATHER'S PLACE, the Gnostic enters upon the meaning of true existence in the Father which once they possessed without knowing it...(1) Because man lives in ignorance, (2) Because he has forgotten his true being, and (3) Because he acquires knowledge..." (Story pp. 45-47) "...then shall you behold the Son of the Living (One) and you shall not fear... The vain garment of this flesh I put off, safe and pure, I caused the clean feet of my soul to trample confidently upon it.'" (Helmbold p 226)
"Another episode of the Ascension and Gnostic documents have in
common is the Descent of the Savior...In the Nag Hammadi corpus the Apocryphon of John devotes an entire
Hymn (II, I:30, 11-31, 25), to the descent of the Redeemer into the
world...[some] may see a closer source of the motif in the gospel accounts of the
incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection [of Christ]." (Helmbold p. 226) The descent of the Savior into the world by
taking on an earthly body is found in the Nag Hammadi Great Seth document as
Finally, the battle of Samael's [Satan] angels [followers] with the forces of God in heaven, mentioned in the Ascension (viii.9) recalls the passage in Rev. xii.7 ff. However, the motif recurs in the Gnostic text On the Origin of the World (11,5:103, 15-17)." (Helmbold p. 226) Michael [Adam] will be the Commander of the Lord's forces opposing this final battle with Lucifer. "At the end of the Millennium, Adam as Michael will again lead the righteous in battle against the devil and his armies. Michael and the hosts of heaven will again prevail (D&C 88:111-15) ...Adam's various titles relate to particular phases of his mission. In his premortal roles, he is known as Michael and as the archangel (D&C 29:26)....and in his powerful role as archangel, Adam serves as the captain of the Lord's hosts in battle against the devil and his forces." (Bailey pp. 16-17) "Adam was the name given him [Michael] for mortality." Moses 1:34)
The work by Knight has thus "presented the Ascension of Isaiah as a Jewish-Christian apocalypse ...written in the early second century CE and which reveal much about the nature of Christianity at that time...The difficulties of interpreting the Ascension of Isaiah are compounded by the absence of a reliable edition of the text., although this problem will be solved when [a new] Italian edition appears." (Knight p. 91) For the purposes of the LDS it is sufficient, along with other documents recently recovered, to show that many truths were known to and understood by the Early Christian Church, and then the documents containing these doctrines were lost, hidden away, and went into obscurity until the present.
Then came the Reformation, then the Restoration of All things through Joseph Smith, and then the recovery of ancient documents during the following 170 years showing for the most part, Joseph had restored authentic ancient truths now essentially absent in most of the Christian Churches.
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