The Gospel of John as a form of Jewish Messianism? (Part 2)

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by Neil Godfrey

To continue from the first part first part of this post:

The Double Bind

For the similar quandary on the question of Jesus as the Messiah in Pauline scholarship Reynolds directs readers to a section of Novenson’s Christ Among the Messiahs; coincidentally the section he cites has been set out in an earlier post here: Christ among the Messiahs — Part 1.

Thus, on the question of Jesus as the Messiah, Johannine scholarship finds itself in an interesting place not unlike that of Pauline scholarship. Johannine scholars, since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, have recognized the Palestinian Jewish nature of the Gospel of John, but by and large, they have understood John’s Christology as a corrected, theologized, or Christianized version of Jewish messianology. Meanwhile, scholarship on Jewish messianism has acknowledged the diversity of early Jewish messianic expectation, but at the same time, the Fourth Gospel is almost never referenced as an example of this expectation. This situation appears counterintuitive, but there may be ways to move beyond the apparent impasse.

Jewish “High Christology” Preceded Christianity

The first instance of a move “beyond the apparent impasse” that Benjamin Reynolds discusses is the argument of Daniel Boyarin. For Boyarin, the “high christology” we find in the Gospel of John is all part of the same set of ideas that had been expressed in the Jewish works of the Parables of Enoch, 4 Ezra 13 (and 2 Baruch). In these Jewish texts we read of a messianic figure who

  • is preexistent
  • judges the wicked
  • is the Servant of the Lord
  • is seated on the Lord of Spirit’s throne

But let’s read Boyarin’s own words:

The proposal being advanced in this paper is that at least since Daniel and almost surely earlier, there had been a tradition within Israel that saw God as doubled in the form of an old man and a younger human-like figure, sharing the divine throne (or sharing, rather, two equal thrones). Although not necessary for the present argument, my guess is that this doubling of the godhead within much of Israel’s tradition goes back to the original El/Y’ merger. The vision of Daniel 7 . . . represents this tradition . . . .

After introducing the Similitudes of Enoch and 4 Ezra 13 into the discussion as further evidence of this Jewish concept of a “second anthropomorphic divine figure” who is associated with the Messiah, Boyarin is persuaded that such Jewish literature should be seen as the backdrop for the divinity of Jesus:

It is this view of God, given full rein in Enoch, that explains the development of High Christology as fully explicable within Jewish religious history, with the enormous innovation on the part of the Gospels being only the insistence that the divine man is already here as a historical human being and not as a prophecy for the future. Apocalypse now! This provides, in my view, a much more appropriate historical explanatory model than one that depends on visionary experiences of Jesus on the Throne allegedly ungrounded in prior speculation, as per the view of, e.g. Larry Hurtado and others who advance similar views.

Ouch! I have been one of those who has been prepared to accept those “similar views”.

What Enoch can Teach us About Jesus“*

[I]n the Similitudes of Enoch, a Jewish writer of sometime in the first century CE, makes extensive use of the term “Son of Man” to refer to a particular divine human, redeemer figure eventually incarnated in the figure of Enoch, thus exhibiting many of the elements that make up the Christ story.

In previous work, I have demonstrated (to my own satisfaction) that Daniel’s “One Like a Son of Man” must be understood as a second, younger, divine figure sitting on a second throne in heaven alongside the Ancient of Days. Emerton’s remark is as compelling now as it was forty years ago:

“The act of coming with clouds suggests a theophany of Yahwe himself. If Dan. vii.13 does not refer to a divine being, then it is the only exception out of about seventy passages in the OT.”

I think that these correct observations obviate any need to search for a Primal Man or Anthropos figure here; there is no Primal Man but a God who appears in the shape of a man, as the Lord is wont to do in the Hebrew Bible.

. . . .

1 Enoch’s “Son of Man” is the descendent in the tradition of Daniel’s “One Like a Son of Man.” In the Similitudes of Enoch chapter 46 we are provided with the following vision of Enoch the visionary speaker:

There I saw one who had a head of days, and his head was like white wool. And with him was another, whose face was like the appearance of a man; and his face was full of graciousness like one of the holy angels. And I asked the angel of peace, who went with me and showed me all the hidden things, about that son of man—who he was and whence he was (and) why he went with the Head of Days. And he answered me and said to me, “This is the son of man who has righteousness …”

We see that in the Enoch text, just as in Daniel and in almost the same wording, there are two divine figures, one again who is ancient and one who has the appearance of a man, the appearance of a “son of man,” a young man or so it seems in contrast to the Ancient One. Enoch feels a necessity to understand this appearance. It is clear that he knows exactly who the “Head of Days” is but wonders who is that Son of Man. There is dramatic irony here. Although Enoch does not know the Son of Man, we know precisely what Son of Man we are talking about, the one who comes, in Daniel, with the Ancient of Days of the snowy beard and two thrones as well. By the end of The Similitudes of Enoch . . . Enoch will have become that Son of Man, much as Jesus does in the Gospels.

Boyarin suspects a widespread Son of Man speculation and expectation at the end of the Second Temple period:

There was, I reckon, a very widespread development of the figure originally known as one like a human being and still appearing as such in the Similitudes but clearly in transition into the so-entitled Son of Man, with the Gospel representing another, typologically “later” moment in the development of this form of redeemer myth. Son of Man speculation and expectation seems, then, to have been a widespread form of Jewish belief at the end of the Second Temple period. This is especially cogent since the Similitudes as opposed to the earlier parts of Enoch, seem not to have been the product of an isolated sect but part of a more general Jewish world of thought and writing. Jesus’ God-man Messiahship was just what Jews—perhaps not “the” Jews—expected, even if many did not think he fit the bill (and many others outside of Palestine, at least, never heard of him).

In 1Enoch, this figure, derived from Daniel 7’s “One Like a Son of Man” is a part of God, or even, a second or junior divinity, a Son, alongside of the “Ancient of Days” whom we might begin to think of as the Father. In that same Jewish text from about the time of Mark we meet the Son of Man as the Messiah. Although the designation appears elsewhere also (chap. 52), here I will concentrate on 1Enoch 48, a remarkable chapter chock full of similarity to the Gospel ideas about Jesus. I’ll begin by presenting this riveting passage (chap. 48) in its entirety:

48:1 In that place I saw the spring of righteousness, and it was inexhaustible,
and many springs of wisdom surrounded it.
And all the thirsty drank from them and were filled with wisdom;
and their dwelling places were with the righteous and the holy and the
2 And in that hour that son of man was named in the presence of the Lord of
and his name, before the Head of Days.
3 Even before the sun and the constellations were created,
before the stars of heaven were made,
his name was named before the Lord of Spirits.
4 He will be a staff for the righteous,
that they may lean on him and not fall;
And he will be the light of the nations,
and he will be a hope for those who grieve in their hearts.
5 All who dwell on the earth will fall down and worship before him,
and they will glorify and bless and sing hymns to the name of the Lord of
6 For this reason he was chosen and hidden in his presence before the world
was created and forever.
7 And the wisdom of the Lord of Spirits has revealed him to the holy and the
for he has preserved the portion of the righteous.
For they have hated and despised this age of unrighteousness;
Indeed, all its deeds and its ways they have hated in the name of the Lord of
Spirits.For in his name they are saved,
and he is the vindicator of their lives.
8 In those days, downcast will be the faces of the kings of the earth,
and the strong who possess the earth, because of the deeds of their hands.
For on the day of their tribulation and distress they will not save themselves;
9 and into the hands of my chosen ones I shall throw them.
As straw in the fire and as lead in the water,
thus they will burn before the face of the holy,
and they will sink before the face of the righteous;
and no trace of them will be found.
10 And on the day of their distress there will be rest on the earth,
and before them they will fall and not rise,
and there will be no one to take them with his hand and raise them.
For they have denied the Lord of Spirits and his Anointed One.
Blessed be the name of the Lord of Spirits.

We see in the above poem

  1. the doctrine of the pre-existence of the Son of Man; the name of the Son of Man was assigned before the creation of the world
  2. the Son of Man will be worshiped on earth
  3. He is named the Anointed One, i.e. the Messiah, Christ

It seems quite clear, therefore, that many of the religious ideas that were held about the Christ that was identified as Jesus were already present in the Judaism from which both the Enoch circle and the circles around Jesus emerged.

Then there is chapter 69 of the Similitudes portraying the final judgment:

26 And they had great joy,
and they blessed and glorified and exalted,
because the name of that son of man had been revealed to them.
27 And he sat on the throne of glory
and the whole judgment was given to the son of man,
and he will make sinners vanish and perish from the face of the earth.
28 And those who led the world astray will be bound in chains,
and in the assembly place of their destruction they will be confined;
and all their works will vanish from the race of the earth,
29 And from then on there will be nothing that is corruptible;
for that son of man has appeared,
And he has sat down on the throne of his glory,
and all evil will vanish from his presence.
And the word of the son of man will go forth
And will prevail in the presence of the Lord of Spirits.

The Son of Man sits on the Throne of Glory.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the Son of Man is in fact a second person, as it were, of God. And all of the functions assigned to the divine One Like a Son of Man in Daniel 7 are given to this Son of Man, who is also called, as we have seen, the Christ.

And Enoch Was with God: The Apotheosis of Enoch*

Throughout the main body of the Similitudes it is clear that Enoch is not the Son of Man. Enoch is the one who sees the Son of Man and has his functions described to him. But with chapters 70 and 71 Enoch does actually become the Son of Man. “He is, therefore, divinized.” Genesis has a brief statement that Enoch vanished from among mankind and here in the final chapters of the Similitudes we have an expansion of that idea: Enoch is taken from the world of men by becoming the divine Son of Man.

As Moshe Idel, the world-renowned scholar of Kabbalah has remarked, “various important developments in the history of Jewish mysticism [are to be explained as] an ongoing competition and synthesis between two main vectors: the apotheotic and the theophanic. The former represents the impulses of a few elite individuals to transcend the human mortal situation through a process of theosis, by ascending on high, to be transformed into a more lasting entity, an angel or God. In contrast to this upward aspiration is the theophanic vector, which stands for the revelation of the divine in a direct manner or via mediating hierarchies.” It is my contention here that this competition is being worked out in the pages of the Enochic Similitudes, and, moreover, that a crucial synthesis is taking place, a synthesis of apotheiotic and theophanic traditions that is key to the religious background of the Gospels as well. . . .

. . . Enoch has been exalted and been fused with the Son of Man, the pre-existent divine redeemer and heavenly Messiah whom we have met above.

I realize that there have been various suggestions for the date of the Similitudes and I am accepting here for sake of argument that Boyarin is correct in pointing out that scholarship has come to the first century CE as their date of composition. The different cases for various datings will have to belong to a later post.

Meanwhile, what does the story of Enoch mean for the common assumption that Jews would never contemplate the idea of a man becoming a god?

Continuing. . . .

  • Headings are copied word for word from Boyarin’s essay.

Boyarin, Daniel. 2013. “Enoch, Ezra, and the Jewishness of ‘High Christology.’” In Fourth Ezra and Second Baruch: Reconstruction After the Fall, edited by Matthias Henze and Gabriele Boccaccini, 337–61. Boston: Brill.

Reynolds, Benjamin. 2018. “The Gospel of John’s Christology as Evidence for Early Jewish Messianic Expectations: Challenges and Possibilities.” In Reading the Gospel of Johns Christology as Jewish Messianism, edited by Benjamin Reynolds and Gabriele Boccaccini, 106:13–42. Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity. Leiden ; Boston: Brill.


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12 thoughts on “The Gospel of John as a form of Jewish Messianism? (Part 2)”

  1. This seems good as far as it goes. But is it true that Ezra, Baruch, Enoch, are not in most Christian bibles? And in part because many scholars held that these books were on – or even outside – the outlying margins of even Jewish thought? They were not, for example, in the Torah. Possibly some are not even in the larger Tanakh.

    Most scholars hold that here were many “intertestimental” writings in the time between the Torah or Old Testament, and the New Testament. Many of these were widely regarded as not truly Jewish; in particular because they showed Greek influence. Like the “apocrypha” found in Catholic but not Protestant bibles.

    So were books like Baruch, Baruch 2, 1) “Jewish” or 2) pagan, heresies? Maybe the resolution if that, is to say “a little of both.”

    Here to be sure, I’m not so familiar with with the Jewish canonical status of such books as Enoch. So I welcome clarifying comments and corrections.

    1. The 1 Enoch books are among the Dead Sea Scrolls. They were not preserved by the rabbinical movement (starting circa 200 CE), but nothing was preserved but the Masoretic text. (This included Daniel, which is partly in Aramaic). That a text is only in Greek tells us nothing; most Jews in 1st c were not even in Palestine but in Egypt, ‘Babylon’, everywhere. It isn’t really clear whether e.g. Philo knew anything but Greek or saw any reason to. The apotheosis of Hebrew was introduced by the rabbinical movement two centuries after Jesus.

  2. 1 Enoch certainly holds a lot of relevance for understanding the origins of Jesus worship.

    A significant case has been made that Matthew used 1 Enoch, which would be significant for multiple reasons, not the least of which would be proving that 1 Enoch was written before the Gospels. I forget the paper making this case, I’l try to look it up when I’m at home.

    Interestingly Enoch became increasingly worshiped alongside Jesus for some time, eventually evolving into a second-god figure known as Metatron. But, it seems that in the 2nd and 3rd centuries as Christianity rose the worship of Enoch/Metatron fell out of favor among Jews due to its similarities with Christianity.

    Regarding Daniel, it seems that Daniel has been highly influenced by Persian Zoroastrianism. I’m reading some studies now that compare text of Daniel to some Zoroastrian stories, showing that Daniel has borrowed from them, but has misunderstood the context of the Zoroastrian accounts and thus ends up basically misapplying some Zoroastrian concepts, namely some Zoroastrian numerology.

    It’s noted that this happened during a time when Zoroastrian influence was high in the Roman world, as there was a period when apparently Persian mysticism was all the rage in the empire.

    But anyway, the evolution of Enoch itself very interesting. Enoch began as the scribe of the heaven, essentially a person who was allowed to view and record the goings on in the heavens. He became like a messenger of God and the angels. Then over time he evolved to take on more and more godly qualities himself. Then in later writings he becomes Metatron, a supreme arch-angel. There are a lot of similarities and influences between the evolution of Enoch/Metatron and Melchizedek. Both are essentially figures that were originally described as humans but came to be worshiped as gods / second-gods / heavenly messiahs / supreme arch-angels.

    I basically consider Jesus to be a figure like Enoch and Melchizedek, and to have evolved in much the same way that they did. But clearly in the period from the 1st century BCE to 2nd century CE we have multiple examples of Jewish worship of divine heavenly figures who are described as eternal beings whose identity has been hidden and they are being revealed and these figures are judges of the end of days. This is true of Enoch, Jesus and Melchizedek. Interestingly Melchizedek in the Qumran writings is now the earliest one to be described in such a way.

    What I wonder is if there were different factions that were essentially re-developing these ideas due to factional splits, i.e. if the worship of Jesus and Enoch are splits from the worship of Melchizedek, essentially taking on a similar role to Melchizedek but maybe being worshiped by groups that, for some reason, were in conflict and so developed different individuals to take on this role.

    Now there are some differences between these three as well.

    Melchizedek was originally the first high priest. He was being worshiped as an eternal heavenly high-war priest. Melchizedek had developed into a figure who was seen as the general of the armies of heaven, who was going to defeat Satan and his hordes in a heavenly battle.

    Enoch was originally the scribe of heaven, who learned of the secrets of the heavenly beings. Enoch was said to know the future because he knew the plans of the heavenly rulers. In 1 Enoch, as described in the OP, it is revealed that Enoch himself was the secret hidden final judge of the world. The reason for Enoch taking on this role is that Enoch knows the secrets of the heavens, he is viewed as a supreme judge because he knows all.

    Now we have Jesus/Joshua. The worship of Joshua could have evolved from the passages in Zachariah that describe Joshua confronting Satan, putting him in a context similar to that of Melchizedek. This is certainly what the letter to the Hebrews suggests, which positions Jesus as a successor to Melchizedek.

    As for Jesus being a “son of God”, I’m not so sure that this was a universal part of Jesus worship. The letters from James, Jude, and 1 Peter don’t say anything about Jesus being a son of God. Jesus being a “son of God” may have been a Pauline invention.

    What is common across all material that describes Jesus is that he is a judge of the end times, like Melchizedek and Enoch. Maybe Jesus being a son of god was a universal view, but it isn’t attested to in all writings about Jesus. I suspect that it is a Pauline invention. I suspect that being the son of god is a Pauline invention and that the crucifixion is a Pauline invention.

    As for the connection between Jesus as the “son of Man”, the first time this association takes place is in Mark. None of the pre-Gospel works describe Jesus as a “son of man”. But it is known that Daniel was a very popular work in the 1st century among Jews and was referenced a lot, so I suspect that this is why the author of Mark used it, but I don’t think that there was an association between Jesus and “son of Man” prior to Mark, so I think Jesus as “son of Man” is a Markan invention.

    What I am not sure of is if the author of Mark got this idea purely from Daniel or if he got it from 1 Enoch. I would say that the story of Mark and how son of Man used in Mark leads me in the directing of thinking that Mark knew 1 Enoch and was building on how son of Man was used in that story.

    1. If Enoch was not accepted into the Jewish canon, to me that suggests that Jews felt it had an alien side to it. Which to me in turn, suggests a fractional cult in Judaism. Or even a partly non-Jewish origin.

      1. Certainly it wouldn’t have been a mainstream text. But just because it wasn’t mainstream doesn’t mean it wasn’t Jewish. I don’t know how many texts of Jewish authorship didn’t make it into canon.

        This has some quick high level explanations: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/creating-the-jewish-canon/

        “Books like Enoch and Jubilees, which demand Judaism adhere to a solar calendar, fundamentally clash with the rabbinic vision of a Judaism based on a joint lunar-solar calendar.”

        1. In addition, any undue concentration on any sacred figure other than God, would of course threaten Jewish monotheism. So no Book of Enoch in the canon; the part of Judaism regarded as canonical or sacred, for some definitive, Judaism.

          So where did Enoch come from? His being credited from around the Flood, like Noah, opens up ANE influences.

          If Enoch was a scribe? Then the great literary center was Egypt. Where scribes were numerous; where Moses was said to have lived, and been influenced.

          Scribes were influential in book culture; in Egypt there was a god of writing. And the “word” is sacred in John. Word connoting both the logic, laws of the universe, but also the defining written characterization thereof. Where we again find scribes.

          So yes, literate priests are indicated; whether temple Jewish. Or more likely, Jews accepting non canonical influences, including possible foreign cross cultural influences.

          In that case, Greeks and what they said about the word or Logos, seem relevant to John and his “Word ” As well as what Egyptians said about such things as angels, scribes, and disembodied words.

          So in the Jewish sphere? We might look at literate jews, possibly hellenized or coptic or seleucid. Or Judaized Greeks. As originators of Enoch. And then possibly Christianity.

          Would the authors be priests? Even Jewish priests, being literate, knowing the basic principles of writing, would probably have been exposed to foreign ideas. Which travel well in writing.

          1. Again, it is a mistake to read later rabbinic concepts of monotheism back into Second Temple Judaisms. That’s plural because there were clearly many different beliefs and speculations and writings among Jews of that time. If the Jewish god was a merging of the Canannite Baal and El as is thought among highly regarded scholars, then we have right there the ultimate origin of an idea found even in the canonical literature of a divine figure as both an “ancient of days” and a far more energetic warrior figure riding storm clouds. There are tensions and ambiguities in the canonical texts that are difficult to understand if they were written by someone who had the later rabbinic understanding of monotheism. Throughout canonical and extra canonical writings we see confusion between God and his Angel, sometimes it is clear that God sends his Angel but other times it appears the Angel is himself God. Rabbis worked out a range of ingenious and very strained arguments to rationalize this and other similar oddities in their scriptures with their idea of a single god-head figure.

      2. It is too easy and a mistake to read rabbinical Judaism back into the Judaism of the Second Temple era, certainly it is a mistake to assume that anything like the later rabbinical Judaism was the predominant form of Second Temple Judaism.

        There are many hints throughout the canonical writings of evolution and conflicts over ideas about God, the nature of God, angels, human origins, etc. There is evidence in mass of literature that these debates were suppressed by the eventual victors, rabbinic Judaism of late antiquity.

    2. The Book of Daniel is usually dated between 167 and 164 BC as the text is aware of Antíokhos ho Epiphanḗs’ Egyptian campaigns but goes completely awry about his death and later events, so what do you mean by:

      It’s noted that this happened during a time when Zoroastrian influence was high in the Roman world, as there was a period when apparently Persian mysticism was all the rage in the empire.

      It would be a century before the Empire arrived in Jerusalem and the influence of Mazdayasna on Jewish religion goes back to the fifth century BC if not before.

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