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

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by Neil Godfrey

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


Grounds to question the crucifixion as bedrock fact, 2

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Following on from Reasons to Question the Historicity of the Crucifixion . . . .

By examining the supposedly earliest evidence first, and the later evidence later, (sounds silly to even have to spell out such a basic methodology) one can see how a theological idea and image eventually became historicized.

Continuing  . . .  1. The earliest references to the crucifixion present it not as an historical event but as a theological doctrine, a point of faith, a matter of religious belief.

Last post looked at Galatians and 1 Thessalonians. Now for 1 Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 1:13, 17-18, 22-25

Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? . . . . For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. . . . For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

I do not see how it is possible to read a criminal or religious trial and execution into the above references to the crucifixion of Christ, unless by overfamiliarity and divine fiat.

These are among the earliest references to the crucifixion of Jesus, according to the most widely accepted dating (that is, that the Pauline letters were composed from the mid first -century c.e.).

The notion of the crucifixion of Christ at this point is that it is a spiritual power and form of divine wisdom.

It is not as if we have any evidence that there was a real criminal trial and execution over which early disciples of Jesus were confused and embarrassed, and that they later rationalized as some form of “spiritual power” or “wisdom”. Note, it is not the resurrection that infuses spiritual power or wisdom, but the crucifixion. One could understand confused and embarrassed followers pointing to earlier miracles or the subsequent resurrection on which to rationalize and vindicate their faith. But that is not what we find here at all.

The second half of the above is even less consistent with the concept of an historical event.

The reason the Jews rejected the message of the crucifixion was because it was not a public miracle. “The Jews require a sign” — for this reason the crucifixion was “a stumblingblock”. To judge by Paul’s statements here, it is as if there never were any conflict between Jesus and “the Jews” over blasphemous claims or violations of legal codes or envy over Jesus’ abilities to pull in large crowds. As far as Paul is aware, the reason the Jews do not accept Jesus as their Messiah is because the sign of his Messiahship was not a public miracle.

Had there been an historical crucifixion somewhat along the broad outline we read in the decades later canonical gospels, surely the reason the Jews rejected Jesus was because they believed he was a blasphemer or demon-possessed deceiver and spoke against the Temple and taught people to violate of the Mosaic law.

The reason given here for the Greeks rejecting the Messiahship of Jesus is just as problematic if we insist on a gospel like narrative of a crucifixion.

Paul’s reason for the Greeks rejecting Jesus was because they could not see any philosophical wisdom in a crucifixion. Note that there is no hint in Paul’s mind that a crucifixion might actually indicate criminality of the victim.

Paul is saying that Jews and Greeks do not accept the crucifixion because it was either not a public miracle or it was not a philosophical tenet. That speaks volumes for what the message of the crucifixion was and was not. It was a theological concept claiming to be a miraculous power and secret wisdom for those who were called by God to understand. It was not an historical event involving a trial over violation of civil or religious laws.

If we insist on arguing that Paul’s view was a rationalization and attempt to deny a real historical event, then we are in danger of arguing from mere assumption and in defiance of the earliest evidence.

(I understand that sometimes later evidence can point to earlier events, but it must also be consistent with the earlier evidence. Mere assumption and hypotheses pulled out of imaginative airs cannot replace material evidence.)

1 Corinthians 2:1-2

And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

Paul’s message about the crucifixion was “the testimony of God”. It was not the testimony of men or other apostles or eyewitnesses or official reports or the grapevine. It was not the testimony of a Jesus in a vision. It was “the testimony of God”.

This testimony of God was “Jesus Christ and him crucified”. Jesus Christ, and him crucified, was not from eyewitness or second or third hand historical testimony. It was a message from God.

1 Corinthians 2:7-8

But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Here Paul returns to the message or testimony of God, and the wisdom of God which he earlier explained was “Christ crucified”.

Had the princes of this world known the wisdom of God they would not have crucified Christ. Princes of the world. Not the governor Pilate of the Jews. Not King Herod or the Jewish Sanhedrin of the Jews. Pauline letters elsewhere speak of struggling against higher powers in spiritual warfare. Daniel (and apocalyptic Second Temple authors) understood Princes of this world to be angelic powers.

Of course one can interpret this to mean that the angelic powers directed Pilate to crucify Jesus. But that is to read the earlier evidence through the theology and narrative of the later evidence.

Let’s see first of all how much understanding we can gain of Paul’s message by examining it one archaeological layer at a time and slowly working our way up.