This 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
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.
Ezekiel’s visions of a human form
In chapters 1-2 we read of Ezekiel’s vision of the throne of God. The throne comes down to earth being transported by human-like creatures that turn out to be hybrids of a wild and a domestic animal and an eagle. But we soon see that these hybrid animal-human shapes stand in contrast to the human above them all. Ezekiel catches full view of the figure on the throne and for the first time we read a description of him:
Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.
This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking. (1:26-28)
It may sound like a quibble but when we come to later Jewish apocalypses (in future posts) we will see that it is important to register the fact that Ezekiel does not say he is seeing God himself in the form of a man, but that he is seeing “the glory of God/Yahweh”. God is manifesting his glory in a human form.
This man proceeds to speak to Ezekiel, addressing him as a mere mortal (“son of man”), commissioning him to be his prophet to Israel.
Then we come to Ezekiel 8 and something a bit more interesting happens. Again the Lord/Yahweh comes to Ezekiel and again he sees the same “figure like that of a man”. If before this figure was the “glory of the Lord” here the text reads as if the same figure is the Lord. This human figure took hold of Ezekiel’s hair and carried him away (in vision) to the Jerusalem temple. There that human figure proceeded to take Ezekiel on a tour around the troubled spots of the Temple where various abominations were being practiced.
In the following chapter this human form of God or the Glory of God orders angelic figures to carry out judgment. In chapter 10 the scene continues and this time the human figure is said to be (again) the glory of Yahweh.
The human deity thus has two identities, or at least the two identities appear at times to be indistinguishable — Yahweh and the Glory of Yahweh. He comes down to earth, gets off his throne, speaks with his prophet, and commands his angels.
Daniel, the divine split is clear
Now we come to Daniel 7 and the first of a number of scenes that clearly owe some of their images to Ezekiel.
“As I looked,
“thrones were set in place,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat.
His clothing was as white as snow;
the hair of his head was white like wool.
His throne was flaming with fire,
and its wheels were all ablaze.
A river of fire was flowing,
coming out from before him.
Thousands upon thousands attended him;
ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.
The court was seated,
and the books were opened.
“Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. (The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.)
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Dan. 7:9-13)
Again we have the contrast between animals and the human figure in that the one who appears as the Son of Man in Daniel’s vision follows visions of the downfall and judgment of four wild and savage beasts that represent cruel earthly kingdoms.
The Son of Man figure here is coming in the clouds (as God usually does) towards the high God, the Ancient of Days, who has taken up his seat on one of the thrones. The Son of Man appears to be coming to given the authority to sit on the other throne, presumably beside God. Indeed, the Son of Man is given the same type of transport usually assigned to God so it appears that this is also a divine figure. Some scholars have suggested that Daniel is going so far as to describe what we would think of as two gods. Recall that the human figure has already been established as the glory of God or even God himself in the text of Ezekiel to which Daniel is here and in other ways indebted.
Here, however, the human figure is separated out from the one God where Ezekiel introduced him. This time the human figure acts independently of the high God or Ancient of Days.
It would appear that we are very close to the idea of a celestial Messiah figure as a second divinity.
But then Daniel goes and throws a spanner in the works. Or so it seems. When explaining the meaning of the vision he informs us that this Son of Man figure is symbolic of a collective people.
I approached one of those standing there and asked him the meaning of all this.
“So he told me and gave me the interpretation of these things: ‘The four great beasts are four kings that will rise from the earth. But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever.’ . . . .
the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the holy people of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom.’ . . . .
Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’ (7:16-18, 22, 27)
Thus Daniel makes it clear that the Son of Man here is a corporate symbol. The same book speaks of martyrs in Israel who are refined and shine like stars forever (Dan. 12:3, 10) so some scholars believe Daniel is interpreting this Son of Man as the symbol of the resurrected saints.
Further, if this is the case, it is possible to see this passage in Daniel depicting the apotheosis of those saints. They, represented by the Son of Man, are to come to God in the glory of God and to sit with God.
Daniel’s Son of Man is a personification of Israel, or at least of a purified (remnant of) Israel. A similar idea is found in Isaiah where the Suffering Servant is evidently a personification of suffering Israel (Isa. 53:12).
Next, the book of Enoch. I bypass for now the various arguments for the dates in which the key passages of relevance here were written. I will only mention that there are respectable arguments for chapters 37 to 71 (the Similitudes or Parables) being written in the first century as a reaction to the Fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. If not, there are arguments that the ideas expressed in those passages were certainly circulating around that time.
The Son of Man becomes a fully “historical” individual
The Book of Enoch takes the Son of Man, a corporate symbol in Daniel, and turns him into a clear individual. He becomes identified with the “historical” patriarch Enoch who, we will learn in the course of the Book of Enoch, become an immortal being in heaven.
Early in the Book of Enoch (3:3; 12:3; 15:1) we learn Enoch is a scribe. In the later chapters we discover he has become a heavenly scribe and judge of all mankind (89:70; 92:1)
Written by Enoch, the scribe, all this doctrine of wisdom, praiseworthy to all men, and a judge of all the earth (92:1)
In 89:70 Enoch sees the scribe in a vision and readers presume this is an angel. (In Ezekiel 9 and 10 God was giving judgmental instructions to an angelic scribe.) Tradition has decreed that this angel is indeed Enoch himself, as is apparently clear in chapter 92. Enoch himself becomes the celestial witness of God’s judgement.
And there I saw one who had a head of days [i.e. was old], and his head was white like wool; and with him was a second whose countenance was like the appearance of a man, and his countenance was full of agreeableness, like one of the holy angels. 2. And I asked one of the angels, who went with me, and who showed me all the secrets, concerning this son of man, who he was and whence he was, and why he goes with the Head of days? 3. And he answered and said to me: “This is the Son of man, who has justice, and justice dwells with him, and all the treasures of secrecy he reveals, because the Lord of the spirits has chosen him, and his portion overcomes all things before the Lord of the spirits in rectitude to eternity. 4. And this Son of man, whom thou hast seen, will arouse the kings and mighty from their couches, and the strong from their thrones, and will loosen the bands of the strong, and will break the teeth of the sinners. 5. And he will expel the kings from their thrones and from their kingdoms, because they do not exalt him and praise him, and do not acknowledge humbly whence the kingdom was given to them. 6. And he will expel the countenance of the strong; and shame will fill them: darkness will be their dwelling-place and worms will become their couches, and they will have no hope of rising from their couches, because they do not exalt the name of the Lord of spirits. (46:1ff)
Then the bombshell is dropped and Enoch is told he is the Son of Man:
And he (i.e. the angel) came to me and greeted me with His voice, and said unto me:
‘This is the Son of Man who is born unto righteousness (71:14)
Enoch is identified as the Son of Man who judges the world and delivers Israel. The Son of Man is a heavenly Messianic figure, a Messiah, in the person of Enoch.
The Talmud forbade the worship of Enoch. We may take that as an indication that some Jews had indeed worshiped Enoch. There was apparently a Jewish cult of Enoch, “the holy redeemer of the world”.
Luke 9:19 suggests that there were ideas extant that one of the prophets of old was to rise up, perhaps as the Messiah.
The argument here is a suggestive one. I cannot prove it. I have just hit the highlights in the better known texts here.
Several New Testament scholars in particular insist that Christianity owes nothing of substance to such a tradition and some even deny there was any such tradition of any significance within Second Temple Judaism. Other scholars who specialize in these Jewish texts (and I have not referred to others here, such as the Assumption of Moses) do indeed speak of a strand within Judaism of this period that does lean towards a binitarianism or even ditheism.
The story of Christian origins is given a fresh dimension if we consider the following tradition valid:
- Ezekiel — the glory of Yahweh is a human form who departs the throne — separates himself from the deity proper yet is a manifestation of that deity — and tours the grounds of the Temple;
- Daniel — the son of man is a symbol of redeemed Israel, separate from Yahweh, but who represents the divinization of Israel; the same figurative Son of man is a messianic figure in that he ushers in saving judgment;
- Enoch — the Son of Man is a Messianic figure, a righteous judge, and a “historical” individual who become immortalized in heaven beside the Ancient of Days; he is depicted as judging the sheep of Israel and being led by a ram (traditionally Elijah).
- Gospels — the Son of Man is a human Messianic figure who comes to announce judgement and offer salvation before redeeming Israel by being offered as a Passover lamb sacrifice; his blood, like Isaac’s and the Maccabean martyrs, atones for sins of the nation.
Okay, I have tossed in a few details that I did not cover above in that summary. I have discussed some of them before in posts and will return to explain some more details in future ones.
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