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The Son of Man as Divine

Another bit from my ch. 2 of How Jesus Became God.  It’s just a draft.  I’m interested in feedback if you think there are problems or ambiguities in what I say.  It’s a very brief treatment, I know….

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There are other figures – apart from God himself – who are sometimes described as divine in ancient Jewish sources, both in the Bible and in later writings from near the time of Jesus and his followers.   The first is modeled  on a figure found in an enigmatic passage of Scripture, Daniel 7, a figure that came to be known as “the Son of Man.”

The Son of Man

For my purposes here I do not need to provide a thorough summary or analysis of the vision that led to the Son of Man speculations in later times.   The ostensible setting of the book of Daniel is in the sixth century BCE – although scholars are convinced that the book was not actually written then, but centuries later in the second century BCE.   In this book Daniel is portrayed as a Judean captive who has been taken into exile into Babylon, the world empire that destroyed his homeland in 586 BCE.   In chapter 7 Daniel describes a wild vision in which he sees four beasts arising out of the sea, one after the other.  Each is awe-inspiring and truly terrible, and they wreak havoc on the earth.  And then as he looks he sees “one like a son of man” coming on the “clouds of heaven.”  Here is a figure that is not beastly, but is in human form; and rather than coming from the turbulent sea of chaos he arrives from the realm of God.   The beasts who had caused such destruction on earth are judged and removed from power, and the kingdom of the earth is delivered over to the one like a son of man.

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Jesus as the Messiah
The Divine Realm in Antiquity

33

Comments

  1. Avatar
    David Chumney  March 25, 2013

    Since you invited feedback, here are two things.

    You cite, “all evil shall disappear before his face” as 1 En 69.79, but according to OTP, vol. 1, it’s 69.29.

    In terms of substance, when you talk about the figure who “came to be known as ‘the Son of Man'” in the third paragraph, would it be helpful to your readers to anticipate at that point the discussion that follows by providing the other titles that are subsequently used in this portion of 1 En to identify this figure (Elect One and messiah)?

    One final comment. In 1981, C. D. Osburn (one of my seminary professors who like you is a text critic) told us in class about seeing a copy of the Greek (?) text of 1 En that had belonged to R. H. Charles. In the margin of one of the passages referring to the Son of Man, Charles had drawn a Latin cross in red ink. In class, Osburn suggested that Charles saw the passage in question as a pre-christian antecedent of christological language found in the NT. My memory isn’t entirely clear, but Osburn may have told us that he had found and purchased that volume in a bookstore in the UK.

    As others have noted in response to previous posts, please continue this discussion; it’s fascinating!

    P.S. Sorry to see UNC’s defeat.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  March 25, 2013

      Yes, Carroll nmay have said that. Today most scholars think the Similitudes were indeed pre-Christian.

      UNC, yes, deep sigh….

  2. Avatar
    toddfrederick  March 25, 2013

    Ok, will try to keep this short…but I am confused. We have Jesus, who, at some point, becomes God, but not actually God almighty but who is also the Son of God, and as we are told in John 1 the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and that Jesus (as the Word…Logos) existed before the creation itself as did the Son of Man from what I read above. Then there is the Son of man who seems to be another being altogether, who is also divine and who will also rule at the end times. Jesus is then somehow made or exalted to God, but is also the Son of God, and, it seems that there are times that Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man yet says that the Son of Man will come to earth to judge before the reign of God in God’s Kingdom over which Jesus is will rule as King…total confusion…for me…and your chapter did not clarify this…for me. I just don’t know who’s who on this issue.

    Any way to clarify it?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  March 25, 2013

      so what you have to keep straight is the difference between what *Jesus* himself said and thought (that the son of man, someone else, was coming) and what the Gospels said about him (that he was the son of man, the son of God, the Word, etc.)

      • Avatar
        toddfrederick  March 25, 2013

        T ain’t easy. 😀

      • Avatar
        pdahl  March 26, 2013

        Bart,

        Along these lines, how can the average layperson — like me — hope to discern with any reliability what Jesus actually said (or some reasonable semblance thereof) versus what subsequent Gospel writers simply placed on Jesus’s lips in advancing their own communities’ particular beliefs about Jesus? I know from your blog and from elsewhere how the Synoptics differ greatly from John, in terms of the Jesus they portray, and I suspect that some of the quotes purported by all four Gospel writers to be actual statements of Jesus himself may just be their own midrashic restatements of Old Testament quotations. Lastly, I’m well aware of the Jesus Seminar’s criteria in this regard, and have scrutinized The Five Gospels from cover to cover. What I cannot assess, however, is their objectivity in the quest.

        Any thoughts on these issues? Thanks for any response.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  March 26, 2013

          Well, they aren’t objective! But then again, no one else is either. But I’d say their “findings” do not represent the majority opinion among scholars. For more representative views read Geza Vermes, E. P. Sanders, Dale Allison, Paula Fredriksen, John Meier — or maybe start with my book on Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet. We all differ from one another in lots of ways, but I’d say we represent on the whole the mainstream of criticial scholarship.

          • Avatar
            pdahl  March 27, 2013

            Thanks, Bart, that’s very helpful. I’ll follow up on your suggestions. As for “objectivity,” I’ve appreciated your candor about this on the blog. What we in the scientific realm typically refer to as advocacy science seems to me more or less equivalent to what those in the theological realm call Christian apologetics. In both cases, proponents are using their powers of reason in support of their own confirmation bias — that is, finding evidence to support what they already believe — rather than using their powers of reason to let the evidence take them where it will (i.e., to something resembling objective truth). Although we can usually spot this tendency a mile away in our own fields, it’s almost impossible when trying to evaluate what we read in others. So, again, I appreciate your sharing your expertise regarding what Jesus may have actually said, or not.

      • Avatar
        jbjbjbjbjb  September 23, 2015

        Bart – would it also be fair to say that your usage of “God” can at times be more synonymous with “divine” than for a lot of folks (in Christological contexts)? I have frequently heard you readily concede that this or that NT author thought “Jesus was God”, but it takes some rather attentive listening to realise that by this you do not mean that the authors considered Jesus to be Yahweh, or The One True God Almighty, or whatever. Am I on track here?

        • Bart
          Bart  September 25, 2015

          Yes, many Christians thought that Jesus was God, and that God the Father was God, and that there was only one God!

          • Avatar
            jbjbjbjbjb  September 27, 2015

            Thanks. However, I think you are careful to remind the conservative community that “God” did not mean, and certainly did not mean, Yahweh, or “the one true God”. So my point was that since we all want to be careful not to put modern ideas of monotheism (I think you referenced Macdonald’s work on Deuteronomy at one point, sorry if I got that wrong) onto the Jewish community of the time, that although “God” sounds like a reasonable translation of the Greek discussions, I wonder if you credit the modern reader, especially the modern lay reader, with too much contextual knowledge of the divine realm in the first century. For a modern lay reader, we hear “God” and we hear exactly the same thing as “Yahweh” or “The One True God” or “Almighty God”.

          • Bart
            Bart  September 28, 2015

            Interesting point. I’ll probably need to say something about this on the blog.

          • Avatar
            jbjbjbjbjb  September 27, 2015

            Sorry, typo:…. the conservative community that “God” did not mean, and certainly did not mean FOR PAUL, Yahweh, or “the one true God”….

  3. Avatar
    RichardToothman  March 25, 2013

    It’s very interesting that you mention the book of Enoch. I have always struggled with the fact that the book was not included in the cannon even though it is referenced by Jude which is included in the cannon. If the cannon we have today is suppose to be fully inspired then wouldn’t one deduce that if Enoch is referenced it should have it’s place in the Bible?

  4. Avatar
    Mikail78  March 25, 2013

    Bart, as a KU alum and fan, I send my condolences to you abut UNC. I seriously mean that. I’m not trying to rub it in. Is it possible that one of these days, you could take Roy Williams out to lunch and tell him that when the opposing team is making a run, he needs to call a timeout? 🙂 This is one of the few things I didn’t like about him when he coached the Jayhawks.

    Anyway, I’m sure UNC will be back strong next year.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  March 25, 2013

      Yes, we’ll be good next year. But *damn* I wanted to be in the sweet 16. Drawing an 8 seed was a real travesty, from this end of reality.

  5. Avatar
    hwl  March 25, 2013

    How does the belief of a man from time immemorial ago is still alive, fit with Jewish beliefs about afterlife and human mortality?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  March 25, 2013

      Depends on which Jewish beliefs we’re talking about. Some Jews thought Enoch, Elijah, and Moses were still alive up in heaven, for example.

  6. Avatar
    hwl  March 25, 2013

    From the NT, it is clear that belief in Jesus as the crucified messiah was a major point of conflict between Christian and non-Christian Jews. Is there any evidence prior to the composition of John’s gospel, that there was conflict between these two groups regarding the worship of a being other than God himself?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  March 25, 2013

      Well, some people have thought so; a big advocate that the major issue in Xty that divided it from Judaism was veneration of jesus is Larry Hurtado, in two rather important books.

    • Avatar
      Scott F  March 26, 2013

      Perhaps Paul’s “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews” hints at the conflict as early as the 50’s

  7. Avatar
    Adam0685  March 25, 2013

    My only questions were: (1) How are “angelic being” and “divine being” being defined in this context? Both the same thing? You probably define these terms elsewhere in the book so not future comment may be necessary… (2) Did the original author(s)/editors of Daniel think the one like the “Son of Man” was divine? Or maybe just a human? Or is your main point that later Christians interpreted it this way AFTER they concluded Jesus was divine.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  March 25, 2013

      Yes, it depends entirely how one defines things. If a “divine” being is a god-like being who is superhuman, than angels qualify I would say. I think Daniel meant the one like a son of man to represent the nation of Israel itself (just as the beasts each represent a nation). Others have argued that the figure represents a powerful angel like Michael.

      • Avatar
        Adam0685  March 25, 2013

        What is a superhuman though? Was Jesus a superhuman before his death? After his death? when the gospels speak of Jesus walking through walls, not dying again, etc. is that superhuman? if so, do the gospels think Jesus is divine since divine = superhuman?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  March 26, 2013

          do you mean historically was Jesus…? No and no, in my opinion. But yes, walking through walls is not something humans can do so if someone does it, he is superhuman

          • Avatar
            Adam0685  March 26, 2013

            I don’t mean was he that historically or in reality. I mean how he was portrayed or considered to be by some early Christians — the “Jesus of faith” rather than the “Jesus of history.” I ask those questions just to better understand what is meant by “divine” and whether the synoptic gospels consider him somehow divine.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  March 27, 2013

            I think they do, *in some sense* (as I will keep insisting in my book). The question is: in *what* sense.

  8. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  March 25, 2013

    This explanation about the Book of Daniel is quite helpful. The “son of man” and the “son of God” terms seem strange to us today as you originally described in your earlier blogs on Christology about the “five ways.” I think you are slowly educating us to the fact that, during ancient times, there was thought to be considerable interaction between the divine and the human realms and that that “interaction” seems quite strange to us today. You are also educating us with regard to there being different levels of divinity in ancient times. Moreover, it was in this context that divinity was ascribed to Jesus in the first chapter of the Gospel of John and this “divinity” might have meant something different in ancient times than it means today.

    When I was baptized as an adolescent, I had to say that I agreed that Jesus is “the son of God.” I now realize that I had no clue what I was saying then and still find that assertion confusing and unclear although we say it all of the time just like we say all the time that the Bible is “the Word of God.”

  9. Avatar
    Ron  March 25, 2013

    Well, don’t forget the “Ancient of Days” (Dan. 7:9ff) and the thousands that stand before or around Him, described elsewhere as the “congregation/assembly of the gods” (Ps. 82:1; 89:6-7; etc). The “Ancient of Days” is the Immortal One, the “Heavenly Father” of Jesus, who is described as vested in white snow. The “Son of Man” was/is Jesus, the son of earthly parents, Joseph and Mary, as well as the son of his “Heavenly Father,” who in his physical life died and was reborn into the same body, and then later was crucified – his corporeal body no longer in service. The subtle body that appeared to his disciples is the immortal spirit composed of pure light that has eyes like a flame of fire. He can travel at the speed of light, move through concrete objects, and so forth. John of Patmos had the same vision (Rev. 1).

    In describing the Heavenly Father-Son relationship, what is generally overlooked by interpreters of this vision is that there are indeed others who have or will reach a similar state of Exaltation, where Oneness is realized, who have died and are reborn, who have overcome death by the slaying of the Sea Monster, who are thus granted to sit amongst each other on a divine throne (Rev. 2:27; 3:21; 21:7). The vision comprises other exalted beings, not simply a single Ruler with a rod of iron. They are all priests of the order of Melchizedek. They all have power to rebirth themselves, and not just once, as an only-begotten Son, but many times, according to appointed times within a greater Cycle.

    As we are now within one of these lesser cycles, it will appear that there is only one Messiah who has fulfilled all the requirements or stages that an Exalted One must endure, who has and will re-appear as “Lord of lords, King of kings.” He is really the only one (at this time) who can allow, i.e., open the door, admittance to the “Holy City.”

  10. Avatar
    nazam44  March 27, 2013

    1) What was the traditional orthodox Jewish understanding of this notion of the Son of Man in Daniel 7?

    2) Is the account in Mark 14:62-63 reliable from a historical perspective? Why would the Jews accuse Jesus of blasphemy for associating himself with the Son of Man in Daniel 7?

    3) How do we understand the usage of the word used for “serve” in Daniel 7:14? Can it only be used in a sense denoting worship to God?

    Thank you,

    Nazam

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  March 27, 2013

      I”m not sure what rabbinic interpretations were like, but often the one like of son of man was taken to be Israel or an angel. No, I don’t see how the trial can be authentic: no one there was taking notes. And yes, I think “serve” is used in the sense of worship.

  11. Avatar
    jbjbjbjbjb  December 15, 2015

    “Interesting point. I’ll probably need to say something about this on the blog.”
    That’d be great!
    Thanks,
    J

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