Tag Archives: Son of Man

The Evolution of the Son of Man, the Human & Divine Messiah

Throne3This post outlines the way Jewish ideas about God appear to have developed until they found a new form in the Christian Messiah, the heavenly Son of Man. I base it on a range of scholarly articles and books (including Black, Boyarin, Erho, Fossum, Knibb, Rowland, Wolfson) but will not reference each detail in this overview.

In the beginning God

Let’s start with the visions of God on his throne in 1 Kings 22:19-22 and Isaiah 6:1-8.

In the Kings passage the prophet Micaiah tells king Ahab of a vision he had of the Yahweh sitting on his throne in heaven. In this vision God commissioned an evil spirit to go and inspire false prophets to tell lies and lure the wicked king to his doom. The significant detail for our purposes here, though, is that Yahweh himself ordered the commissioning of the prophets through a lower angel. One angel from among the multitudes of angels volunteered to carry out God’s request.

So God clearly acts from above and without equal.

The second passage tells us of Isaiah’s vision of God on this throne, but this time the throne is in the Temple — on earth. This time God is accompanied by a presumably higher order of angel called seraphim. Again God is high above and has no equal. A seraphim approaches Isaiah to place a burning hot coal he has taken from the altar of the temple on his lips and prepare him for God’s call. God then commissions Isaiah to take his message of judgment to Israel.

So far we have seen God act exactly as we would expect him to act given our clear monotheistic understanding of how God is supposed to be.

Now we come to Ezekiel and suddenly something seems to go slightly askew.

read more »

Taking Oral Tradition For Granted: Bultmann (2)

henautThis post continues on directly from Taking Oral Tradition For Granted: Bultmann (1).

Barry W. Henaut is arguing that scholars have taken for granted the assumption that the Gospels drew upon oral traditions about Jesus, or sources like Q that drew upon oral traditions, for their narratives. This is not to say that Henaut argued against the historical Jesus. Not at all. I assume Henaut does not doubt the historicity of Jesus or that there were oral traditions circulating about him after his death. What he is arguing is something quite independent of (though not irrelevant to) the question of Jesus’ historicity.

He is arguing that the evidence that the Gospel narratives were derived creatively from other literary sources is stronger than the evidence that they were based on oral traditions that could be traced back to Jesus.

This post continues Henaut’s discussion of Bultmann’s view of oral tradition.

Double Attestation and Orality (continued)

Here is how Bultmann reconstructs the “Confession of Faith in Jesus” passage. Keep in mind that the saying in Mark is believed to be derived from a source that is quite independent of the one in Luke which is said to be derived from Q. What scholars/Bultmann have believed we are reading here is a double independent witness (Mark and Q) to the existence of an oral tradition about a saying of Jesus.

Because Jesus speaks of “the Son of Man” in the third person it appears that he does not consider himself to be that Son of Man. But we know early Christians did believe he was the Son of Man. Therefore, it is argued, this saying derives from Jesus.

Mark 8:38

Q 12:8-9
If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; but whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God.

Later the Gospel of Matthew will change the saying so that Jesus says, “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess” so that the words of Jesus are brought into line with Christian belief that Jesus was that Son of Man.

Henaut is uncomfortable with this argument:

Bultmann has again overstated his case in assigning this logion to Jesus. The phrases [I] and [the Son of Man] need not imply a distinction of person — they are more likely in synonymous parallelism with a change of wording. (p. 36)

We see similar arguments from a number of other scholars who interpret the “Son of Man” in this context not as a Christological title derived from the Book of Daniel, but an originally Aramaic idiomatic circumlocution for “a human/person/man”. The similarity lies in seeing understanding “I” and “son of man” as being an instance of synonymous parallelism. (I think this is adding further complexity to the argument by introducing layers of other constructs, including imagined historical scenarios and lines of communication through many decades before it was put in writing, to make the saying work. Far simpler, in my mind, to imagine the author drawing upon the literary antecedent of Daniel.)

We can even witness a contemporary illustration of how such parallelism works by looking at the sayings of a follower of Jesus that were left on this blog. Like Jesus, dbg speaks modestly of himself, David Gowler, in the third person. 🙂  read more »

The First Signs of Christianity: Couchoud continued

Couchoud thought that John the Baptist epitomized and popularized the Jewish hopes for a coming Judge from Heaven — as shown in my previous post in this series (the entire series is archived here).

Christianity was born of the travail of the days of John. The Baptist gave it two talismans with which to bind souls:

  1. the advent of the Heavenly Man in a universal cataclysm,
  2. and the rite of baptism which allowed the initiates to await, without apprehension, the Coming of the Judge.

(p. 31, my formatting)

At first the teaching spread like wildfire but without John’s name attached to it as its IP owner.

Before long the teaching became enriched with various kinds of additions. First among these additions were new names for the Heavenly Man: Lord, Christ, Jesus.

Lord as a title was derived from Psalm 110:1

The Lord said unto my Lord,

Sit thou at my right hand,

Until I make thine enemies thy footstool.

To whom could this have been addressed? Surely not to the Messiah, the Son of David, waited for by the Pharisees. David would not have called his son “my Lord.” It must have been to the Son of Man who, according to the Revelation of Enoch, was placed on the throne of his glory by God Himself. (p. 31)

Since David as an inspired prophet makes it clear that the Son of Man is enthroned at the right hand of God and calls him Lord. So believers could also call the Son of Man their Lord.

(Note that the title “Son of Man” was used as a Greek expression, too. Think of Christianity as moulded very largely by Greek speakers.)

Christ, Christos, “is a somewhat barbarous translation of the Hebrew word which means consecrated by unction, Messiah.” read more »

Earl Doherty’s forerunner? Paul-Louis Couchoud and the birth of Christ

In his review of Maurice Goguel‘s attack on Jesus mythicism Earl Doherty writes (with my emphasis):

It was at the opening of the 20th century that the first serious presentations of the Jesus Myth theory appeared. The earliest efforts by such as Robertson, Drews, Jensen and Smith were, from a modern point of view, less than perfect, lacking a comprehensive explanation for all aspects of the issue. Pre-Christian cults, astral religions, obscure parallels with foreign cultures, even the epic of Gilgamesh, went into a somewhat hodge-podge mix; many of them didn’t seem to know quite what to do with Paul. It wasn’t until the 1920s that Paul-Louis Couchoud in France offered a more coherent scenario, identifying Christ in the eyes of Paul as a spiritual being. (While not relying upon him, I would trace my type of thinking back to Couchoud, rather than the more recent G. A. Wells who, in my opinion, misread Paul’s understanding of Christ.)

More recently on this blog Earl Doherty stated in relation to this 1920’s French mythicist (again my emphasis):

Prior to Wells, the mythicist whose views were closest to my own was Paul-Louis Couchoud who wrote in the 1920s, though I took my own fresh run at the question and drew very little from Couchoud himself.

I have recently acquired a two volume English translation of Couchoud’s work titled The Creation of Christ: An Outline of the Beginnings of Christianity, translated by C. Bradlaugh Bonner and published 1939.

Today I did a very rough and dirty bodgie job of scanning the introductory chapters of this book and making them word-searchable. But if you are not a fuss-pot for perfection and are curious about how Couchoud opens his argument I share here the opening pages of this two volume work.  read more »

Divinities appearing like men and men appearing like gods

This post begins a collection of quotations from ancient Jewish literature illustrating the a form of Jewish thought not so familiar with those of us whose knowledge has rarely extended beyond the canonical literature. Divine figures bearing the name of God appeared in human form on chariot thrones, and holy men of old like Adam, Abel, Abraham and Jacob were said to be divine and even archangels themselves. The notes are taken from Alan F. Segal’s Paul the Convert, but many of the quotations themselves are copied from online or other sources.

The human form of God was an important idea in Jewish merkabah mysticism. An “angel of the Lord” in the form of a man yet who represented or bore the “name of God” was said to have led Israel through the wilderness (Exodus 23:21); and a human figure appeared seated on the divine throne in Ezekiel 1, Daniel 7 and Exodus 24. All of these figures appear to be mediator figures who embody the sacred name of God (YHWH) himself.

This figure, elaborated on by Jewish tradition, would become a central metaphor for Christ in Christianity. (p. 41) read more »

Mark’s Ambiguity Fools Some Scholars

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How quaint to debate whether Jesus originally meant “an ordinary man” or the titular “THE Son of Man” when in Mark’s Gospel he says: “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath”, or, “The son of man is lord of the Sabbath”.

Mark’s Gospel is a work of ambiguities. Especially in the first part of his Gospel the central theme is the very ambiguity of Jesus himself: to the human characters in the Gospel he is a mere man, to the spirit characters and readers of the Gospel he is The Holy One of God. He astonishes innocent bystanders and disciples alike with his God powers of twice subduing the forces of watery chaos, speaking with authority and commanding demons, and performing all sorts of miracles.

So when Mark has Jesus say that “the sabbath was made for man and not man for the sabbath”, the natural literal meaning of “son of man” in this context is, “man” and nothing more. But at the same time the reader of the Gospel knows more about Jesus than any of the characters ever do. For them Jesus is THE Son of Man. read more »

When a nobody Jesus became spirit possessed

Mark, the earliest of our canonical gospels, does not simply omit the details about Jesus before his baptism, but indirectly informs readers that nothing like the birth and boyhood stories we read in the gospels of Matthew and Luke could possibly have happened. Mark is clear: Jesus was a nobody until the day he was baptized by John.

He did not spend is youth travelling to the British Isles. He did not astonish his family or neighbours by turning clay birds into living sparrows or miraculously extending timber beams to help his father’s carpentry business. His birth was not marked by angelic visits to shepherds in the countryside or rich foreign elites paying his parents a visit. No one knew about angels or pious elderly folk at the Temple making public pronouncements about his destiny. He at no time as a boy demonstrated to the learned men of the cloth any astonishing wisdom. He was just an ordinary bloke like everyone else.

That’s why Mark says his mother and family thought he needed to be taken off and given a good lie down after he started becoming a bit of a public spectacle. Mark 3:21, 31-32

And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself. . . .

There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him. And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee.

Mark 3:21, 31-32

And it’s why all those who had lived with him and known him all his life thought it a bit over the top that he should start talking and acting as if he was somehow any different from them:

And he went out from thence, and came into his own country; . . . .

And when the sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us?

And they were offended at him.

Mark 6:1-3

And it is also why no-one seems to have bothered to collect “traditions” or details about anything remarkable in his pre-baptism life from former neighbours and relatives. (The birth narratives in Matthew and Luke are clearly imaginative adaptions of pre-existing biblical and extra-biblical stories.)

So Who Is This Really?

But of course this raises another question about the nature of Jesus in the gospels, or at least in the earliest gospel. The question of “Who Is This?” permeates Mark’s gospel.

Jesus’ is introduced in Mark’s gospel in a secret scene known only to God and the readers. No other characters in the story know anything about the Holy Spirit falling into Jesus (not “upon” him, as in Matthew) and driving him into the wilderness, and certainly none hears the voice from heaven pronouncing his identity. The only characters in Mark’s gospel who know who Jesus really is are God and the demons. Only Jesus (and the reader) sees the heavens parting and only Jesus hears the voice (Mark 1:9-11).

His public entrance comes only after the curtain falls on John’s opening act. From then on people begin to ask, Who and what is this? People begin to talk about him far and wide.

And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, What thing is this? what new doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him. And immediately his fame spread abroad throughout all the region round about Galilee.

Mark 1:27-28

And ditto throughout chapters 2, 3, 5, 6 . . . .

Some say he his Elijah, and some John the Baptist. Following a chapter by Norman R. Petersen in Randal Argall’s For a later generation : the transformation of tradition in Israel, early Judaism, and early Christianity, “Elijah, the Son of God, and Jesus: Some Issues in the Anthropology of Characterization in Mark“, anyone familiar with the popular literature and mythical memes of the day would be reminded here of divine beings coming down to act among mortals by appearing in the bodies of known people. read more »

Intimations of the Death and Resurrection of the Son of Man in Daniel

I owe most of the following either to John Ashton in his second edition of Understanding the Fourth Gospel or to someone he cites in there (unfortunately cannot recall which):

Firstly, the original Aramaic expression for what is generally today translated as Son of Man really means nothing more than a man-like figure or one like a man. Secondly, that original Aramaic meaning is by Christian times irrelevant since by the time of the Christian writings and Jewish apocalyptic writings of the same era, it had come to mean what it is translated as today: Son of Man.

Before the Son of Man appears

Prior to the entrance of Daniel’s Son of Man is the well-know fourth beast (the Syrian/Seleucid empire of Antiochus Epiphanes — not Rome!)

Daniel 7:19-21, 23-25

Then I would know the truth of the fourth beast, which was diverse from all the others, exceeding dreadful, whose teeth were of iron, and his nails of brass; which devoured, brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with his feet; . . . that horn that had eyes, and a mouth that spake very great things, whose look was more stout than his fellows. I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them; . . . .

Thus he said, The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces. . . . And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out [persecute] the saints of the most High. . . and they shall be given into his hand . . . .

The fourth beast was terrifying particularly for making war against the saints, the people of God, and martyring them.

A series of beast-like creatures had appeared. The first was “like a lion”. This eventually became “like a man”. (Dan. 7:4). The next was “like a bear”, and the third “like a leopard”. Presumably these could, technically, have been translated originally as “Son of Lion, Son of Bear, Son of Leopard, just as the successor to the fourth beast was translated “Son of Man”. I say technically, and do not suggest this translation by any means. But this makes a significant point about the original meaning of the Aramaic “man-like figure”.

If the four beasts are 4 kingdoms (Dan. 7:17), is the Son of Man any different?

The original meaning of the Son of Man

When the Most High brings low the fourth beast, Daniel is told that at that time,

the kingdom and dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High . . . . (Daniel 7:27)

This verse is the angelic interpretation of the vision Daniel had seen of the one “like a Man” replacing the fourth beast:

I watched till the beast was slain, and its body destroyed and given to the burning flame . . . . I was watching in the night visions, and behold, one like the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought him near before him, then to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom . . . . (Daniel 7: 11-13)

It is thus not difficult to interpret the original meaning of the Son of Man as a symbolic reference to the Jews or the saints once liberated from the power of the Syrian empire, particularly from Antiochus Epiphanes.

But there’s (almost certainly) more

Place this interpretation beside that other Second Temple exegesis about the offering of Isaac at the time of the Maccabean martyrdoms: see Jesus displaces Isaac and the full set of my notes from Levenson at this archive.

From Levenson, we know we have are clear evidence of speculation about a resurrection of Isaac from his sacrifice among certain Jewish circles. We can also see in the original meaning of the Son of Man in Daniel that this figure could well represent the saints rising victorious to claim the kingdom after having suffered martyrdom at the hands of the fourth beast.

As the man-like figure became reinterpreted to refer to a singular heavenly being, one like the Son of Man, do not early Christian beliefs that the Son of Man was to be delivered up and crucified and rise again suggest the strong possibility that the original interpretation of this figure in Daniel, as one representing the persecuted yet ultimately victorious saints, also carried over with the personification of the term?

And not only the Christians

As John Ashton remarks, it is really difficult to know if the Son of Man figure in Daniel is meant to be seen as an evanescent dream like waif figure, or a real angelic being. Are the beast-like creatures really mere visions or is Daniel watching heavenly creatures act out what is to happen on earth?

If the latter, then it seems that the Son of Man was seen as a literal spiritual being who was to be identified with Christ.

But this sort of speculation and evolution of interpretations of Daniel was part and parcel of strands of Jewish thinking generally at the turn of the era. Christians had a complex Jewish heritage to draw on for their theological creations.

This is topic of the next post, Jesus in the Gospel of John — and Jewish Apocalyptic