Stuckenbruck uses the Ascension of Isaiah to examine the origin of the worship of Jesus. The Ascension used both early Christian ideas, as well as historic and contemporary Jewish ideas, to build a binitarian theology out of a monotheistic framework. Stuckenbruck examines how “worship” is perceived in the Ascension in order to gauge its relationship with monotheism. This is significant, since, according to Larry Hurtado, it was only in Christian cultus that the departure of Christian theology from Jewish monotheism became clear. In the Ascension, however, worship is also closely linked to a cosmological hierarchy. This hierarchy probably had Jewish angelomorphic antecedents, and, if that was the case, then the honorifics of figures other than God in the Ascension does not immediately depart from monotheism. 


Worship in the Ascension of Isaiah

– Worship of God

In the Ascension God is situated above the seventh heaven and the worship of each of the seven levels is directed towards him. These layers of heaven have its antecedents in the Jewish notion of divine inaccessibility, with mediatorial beings standing in increasing rank between humanity and God. However, the “righteous ones,” the faithful dead, are themselves placed above the angels, beyond the seventh heaven. Since worship is also directed to other beings besides God, it seems that in the Ascension monotheism is spatially conceived. God is over all, so any worship is ultimately directed towards him, even if he is not the immediate receiver of the worship.


– Worship of Angels

Whether angels are worshipped or not in the Ascension is difficult to determine. Considering first only the angels of the lower heavens seems that their purpose is to direct worship towards God, and Isaiah’s two attempts to worship angels are refused. But by considering why Isaiah may have been tempted to worship angels Stuckenbruck sees traces of angelic veneration. If one understands Isaiah’s actions in the second heaven to be worship directed towards the one seated on the throne within the context that the worship of the angels themselves seem to be directed towards this enthroned figure as well, then it seems that there is an element of angelic veneration. Isaiah’s worship is rebuked only because he, as a righteous one, will have a superior place in the seventh heaven, and so he should not venerate that which is inferior to him. Still, in the Ascension angelic veneration is limited, inspired by the glory of appearance and activity which they have received from God, and when it does occur is not seen to be conflict with the worship of God.


In contrast, in the seventh heaven Isaiah is instructed to worship the “angel of the Holy Spirit.” Here, the “angel of the Holy Spirit” is considered to be analogous, but superior to, the other angels. Yet the text itself shows some confusion in also identifying Michael “the chief of the holy angels.” The textual tradition which seems to alternately conflate and distinguish between the two is complicated, and Stuckenbruck believes that some of the confusion may come from later textual additions. The Holy Spirit is understood as the inspiration for Scripture and prophecy. Further, Isaiah is commanded to worship the Holy Spirit in a fashion analogous to the command to worship Christ. The Holy Spirit is also described as ascending with Christ and as Christ sits on the right hand of God the Holy Spirit sits on the left. Stuckenbruck does not think this is a particularly Trinitarian image since standing on the left is a subordinate position in the Ascension. The Holy Spirit is likewise usually subsumed under Christological themes in the Ascension and the Holy Spirit is described as standing to the left of Christ as a “second angel.” Even considering this weak positioning, the Ascension is the earliest evidence for worship of the Holy Spirit alongside God and Christ.


– Worship of Christ

In the Ascension after the angel refuses Isaiah’s wish to call him “my Lord” Isaiah begins to refer to Christ as “my Lord.” That the refusal mechanism, used in Jewish literature to draw worship to God alone, is used to direct Isaiah’s worship to Christ indicates how thoroughly the author has integrated the worship of Christ into a monotheistic framework. The title “Lord” in the Ascension has double significance in the Ascension. Christ is both “Lord” and the “Lord of all the praise” of the angels in heaven. Taking this into consideration Stuckenbruck believes that the understanding of angelology in the Ascension is broad. While some angels can not be worshipped, others, such as the Holy Spirit, can. And while Christ is designated as above the angels he also performs angelic functions. While Christ is never described as being an angel, the angelology of Jewish literature clearly impacted the Christology in the Ascension. Most distinctive about this Christology is transformation of Christ as he descends through the levels of heaven, disguising himself as an angel in the first through fifth heavens. When Christ ascends heaven in the human form he took from earth the angels in each level lament their previous inability to recognize him. After the ascent Christ is enthroned in his human form and sheds his angelological descriptions.



In comparison with Jewish antecedents Stuckenbruck asks if the motif of worship/veneration of beings other than God is compatible with the monotheistic cosmology. The limited veneration of angels in the Ascension seems compatible with contemporary Jewish ideas, since it does not impact soteriology and any veneration seems to be based upon their derived glory from God. This is paralleled in Tobit which praises angels, but carefully places this praise in a monotheistic framework. Finding Jewish antecedents which parallel the worship of Christ in the Ascension is far more difficult. A divine agent who acts performs divine functions can be found, but there is no command to worship this divine agent. The closest Stuckenbruck can find is 1 Enoch where the language of worship is used to underscore the mediatorial role of the Son of Man. The Ascension develops this idea of the divine agent being worshipped and thus is able to also apply it to Pneumatology. Non-Christian Jews would have understood “three powers” in heaven to be blasphemous, but by developing Christology and Pneumatology within this setting the author of the Ascension was able to develop the cultic worship of Christ and the Holy Spirit within a monotheistic framework.