The background to the following post is The Gospel of John as a form of Jewish Messianism? (Part 2). It presumes some awareness of how in some Jewish quarters Daniel 7’s Son of Man was being interpreted in a way that led to controversial Jewish texts like the Similitudes of Enoch and the Gospel of John.
In my view Jesus was entirely unnecessary for the formation of Mark’s Christology, as he is the fulfillment, not the provocation of that Christology. — Boyarin, 354
Before the Gospel of Mark was written, even possibly before the figure of Jesus was existed in anyone’s mind, there were Jews who interpreted Daniel 7 to claim that the Messiah, the Christ, would be divine human and known as the Son of Man. Again on the basis ultimately of Daniel 7 those Jewish sectarians believed that the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of Man, would be a divine human with the “Father God” (“Ancient of Days”) having granted him total sovereignty on earth. The author of the Gospel of Mark was one of those who embraced this belief about the messianic prophecies. He chose to fit Jesus into that divine Son of Man messiah or christ template in his gospel.
(This notion of Christ was not the same as the one advanced by Paul. Paul never spoke of the messiah as a Danielic Son of Man figure. Perhaps the author of the gospel acquired the Danielic view of the Christ after Paul had done his work.)
Jesus, in the Gospel of Mark, is the about the Messiah as a divine human (which is not to deny a Markan contribution to the development of such ideas). This article, in its present form, is intended as an answer to the question of “how the ‘Son of Man’ . . . came to appear on Jesus’ lips in Mark’s Gospel, or for that matter in the tradition as a whole.” My simple answer is that the “Son of Man” was on Jesus’ lips, because he was a first-century, Palestinian Jew, and “Son of Man” was the name that these Jews used for their expected divine-human (Christological!) redeemer. (354)
What evidence for this view can be found in the Gospel of Mark?
5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question thus in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your pallet and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins“—he said to the paralytic—
Boyarin argues that Mark 2:10 is meant to recall Daniel 7:14.
philological grounds, it would be excluded here. If Jesus is not identifying himself by a known title, then his claim to be the one (the only one) who has authority to remit sins would be unrelenting personal arrogance and indeed blasphemy. For this point, see Μ. Hooker, The Son of Man in Mark: A Study of the Background of the Terms “Son of Man” and Its Use in St Mark’s Gospel (Montreal: McGill University Press, 1967), 84.—22 See too, “In claiming this divine prerogative Jesus classes himself as the Son of Man into the category of the divine, and his superhuman act of healing is the sign for this claim. So already in 1927 O. Procksch suggested that here ‘the Son of Man’ stands for the Son of God,” S. Kim, “The ‘Son of Man’ as the Son of God” (WUNT 30; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1983), 2.—24 J. Marcus, Mark 1—8: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 530. See too Kim, “The ‘’Son of Man’,” 90.
But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” This verse is the crux. Once we have excluded the possibility of “the Son of Man” being simply, another way of saying “I,” then I think it must be conceded that it is a title, here.20 The Son of Man has authority (obviously delegated by God) to do God’s work of the forgiving of sins on earth. From where could such a claim be derived if not from Daniel 7:14, in which we read that the One Like a Son of Man has been given, “authority, glory, kingship;” indeed an “authority that is eternal that will not pass away”? The term that we conventionally translate as “authority” in its New Testament contexts, έξουσία, is, of course, exactly the same term which translates Aramaic שלטן (compare Strong’s #7985) in the Septuagint, so what Jesus is claiming for the Son of Man is exactly that which has been granted to the (One Like a) Son of Man in Daniel. Given the meaning of the Aramaic Vorlage in Daniel, “authority” strikes me as a rather weak rendering; “sovereignty” would be much better. Sovereignty would surely explain why the Son of Man has the power to remit sins on earth. According to this tradition, then, there may be no question; this Jesus claims to be the Son of Man to whom divine authority on earth, “under the heavens” (Daniel 7:27) has been delegated. In contrast to most interpreters, I would argue, moreover, that this One to whom authority has been delegated, as a divine figure, is a redeemer king, as the Daniel passage clearly states, and thus ripe for identification with the Davidic Messiah, if not always clearly so identified.22 I thus here directly disagree with Yarbro Collins’s assumption that the title “Son of Man” conceals as much as it reveals or that we cannot understand that the audience of Mark already understood the epithet. I find much more compelling in this instance the statement of Joel Marcus:
This conclusion [that the “Son of Man” in the Similitudes is pre-Christian] is supported by the way in which Jesus, in the Gospels, generally treats the Son of Man as a known quantity, never bothering to explain the term, and the way in which certain of this figure’s characteristics, such as his identity with the Messiah or his prerogative of judging, are taken for granted. With apologies to Voltaire, we may say that if the Enochic Son of Man had not existed, it would have been necessary to invent him to explain the Son of Man sayings in the Gospels.24
I would only shift the terms of the last phrase to indicate that what this means is that the usage of the Son of Man in the Gospels joins with the evidence of such usage from the Similitudes to lead us to consider this term used in this way (and more importantly the concept of a second divinity implied by it) as the common coin — which I emphasize does riot mean universal or uncontested — of Judaism already before Jesus. (359 f)
For an explanation of the relevance of the Similitudes of Enoch refer to the earlier post, The Gospel of John as a form of Jewish Messianism? (Part 2).
If we follow through on the above interpretation of the Son of Man having the Danielic sovereignty to enable him to forgive sins then it is “entirely plausible that he would claim sovereignty over the Sabbath as well” — as we read subsequently in the same chapter.
23 One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 And he said to them, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; 28 so [ώστε] the Son of man is lord even of the sabbath.”
[T]he Markan Jesus is making precisely the same kind of claim on the basis of the authority delegated to the Son of Man in Daniel as he does in 2:10. (361)
On the basis of Genesis 1 it has been countered that the sabbath is not “under the heavens” — and Daniel 7:27 proclaims the power of the Son of Man is given over all that is “under the heavens”. Daniel 7 is clear: the power given the Son of Man by the Ancient of Days is over all that is “under the heaven”.
I wish to suggest that this objection is entirely answered by the statement that the Sabbath was made for the human being; consequently the Son of Man, having-been given dominion in the human realm, is the Lord of the Sabbath. It is actually a necessary part of the argument that the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath, for if the Sabbath is (as one might very well claim on the basis of Genesis 1) in heaven, then the claim that the Son of Man who only has sovereignty on earth can abrogate its provisions would be very weak. Given the absence of verse 27 in both synoptic parallels, moreover, it might very well be a secondary addition in the Markan tradition, precisely to answer such an objection, while Matthew and Luke carry forward an earlier Markan tradition in which the Son of Man is declared Lord of the Sabbath without the Sabbath for Man logion. I think that this explanation of the connection between verses 27 and 28 answers many interpretative conundrums that arise when 27 is read as a weak sort of humanistic statement. We can now understand precisely what the entailment implied by ώστε is. It is precisely because the Sabbath was created for the human and is therefore part of the human world that the Son of Man has sovereignty over it; it is not in heaven. In my view, this passage can only be understood if this manner, for, otherwise it leads us into interpretations, hardly plausible, that would have Jesus claiming that any human being can abrogate the Sabbath at will or that he can abrogate the Sabbath because of his human nature and not because of his commission as ruler of the sublunar world. What may have been a traditional Jewish saying to justify breaking the Sabbath to preserve life is, in the Markan Jesus’ hands, the justification for a messianic abrogation of the Sabbath. (361)
Finally, Boyarin draws attention to the comparison in the gospel between Jesus’ and David’s actions. That comparison may be interpreted as evidence that the Son of Man redeemer of Daniel 7:13-14 was further understood to be a messianic King, and hence son of David. Just as David had the authority to violate a particular law when he and his followers were in need, so “the new Davidic, the Son of Man with respect to his disciples.”
I will post separately on Boyarin’s case against Geza Vermes’ argument that “Son of Man” in the Gospel of Mark was a mere circumlocution for “I”, the speaker.
Boyarin, Daniel. 2010. “The Sovereignty of the Son of Man: Reading Mark 2.” In The Interface of Orality and Writing: Speaking, Seeing, Writing in the Shaping of New Genres, edited by Annette Weissenrieder and Robert B. Coote, 353–62. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.
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