Review: Who is this Son of Man? (Part I)

Title: ‘Who is this Son of Man?’ – The Latest Scholarship on a Puzzling Expression of the Historical Jesus

Editors: Larry Hurtado and Paul Owen

Bibliographic Info: 191 pp.

Publisher: T & T Clark, 2011.

ISBN: 9780567521194

Buy it at Amazon

With thanks to T & T Clark for the review copy!

The first part of this review shall be on the first four essays (by Lukaszewski, Owen, Shepherd, and Williams), each of which specifically focuses on tackling the work of Maurice Casey on the Aramaic behind ο υιος του ανθρωπου. While Casey was not the first to connect ο υιος του ανθρωπου with an underlying Aramaic phrase (I believe the first to do so was Uloth in 1862), he has especially provided a substantial number of contributions to this debate which have stabilized the idea of an underlying Aramaic idiom.

While some scholars who have contributed to this debate over the years (e.g. Vermes) see the underlying Aramaic idiom as a circumlocution for the person speaking (i.e. a roundabout way of saying “I”), others (e.g. Casey) see the Aramaic as more of a general statement, that is to say, it is essentially a generic term for “man.” Thus, only the “son of man” sayings of Jesus which reflect a general statement can possibly be authentic. This view leads to the notion that the “son of man” sayings linked to Daniel 7.13 were in fact secondary creations of the Christian community, nullifying any notion that Jesus spoke of himself as an apocalyptic Son of Man.

Albert Lukaszewski is the author of the first chapter and provides us with a review of scholarship concerning the Aramaic behind ο υιος του ανθρωπου. He covers a broad range of contributors to this debate, from Wellhausen to Casey. Lukaszewski remarks that before any attempt is made to revert the phrase back into a hypothetical source language, one must answer the question of “why must it not be Greek in origin?” A commonly held perception that is used to answer to this question is that Aramaic was the language of choice of Palestinian Jews, whereas Greek was mainly used by the aristocracy and that Hebrew “was a literary language, not a living one” (sort of like how Latin is today). Lukaszwewski takes issue with these claims and believes that “the likelihood of Jesus being conversant with and even teaching in Greek is quite high.”

Paul Owen contributes the next chapter. He starts off by dealing with Casey’s claim on the stability off the Aramaic language. This is important because we simply don’t possess a great deal of Aramaic literature from the first century CE, and so if the language can be shown to be quite stable then Casey is justified in utilizing Aramaic texts that are centuries removed from Christ in order to determine how Jesus used the Aramaic phrase. One problem Owen has with this is that the Aramaic emphatic singular for “man” is not found in any extant Aramaic text from the time of Christ. Owen also finds fault with Casey’s interpretation of the Danielic Son of Man, his reasoning for dismissing the authenticity of some of the Son of Man sayings, as well as his reasoning for dismissing a messianic interpretation of Daniel 7 in 1 Enoch 37-71, 4 Ezra 13, and Ezekiel the Tragedian 68-89.

The third essay is by David Shepherd. Like the previous two essays, Shepherd draws attention to Casey’s evidence and argumentation regarding the Aramaic of Jesus’ time. Particularly, Shepherd deals with whether the singular emphatic form of bar nash(a) can be reconstructed as a normal way of generically referring to a man. He does this by examining the various extant literature that was written in Middle Aramaic (200 BCE – 200 CE), primarily the Targum Onkelos and Targum Jonathan. From the data examined, Shepherd concludes that until further evidence is found, the idea that the Aramaic was a generic expression referring to ‘a man’ during the time of Jesus is “utterly bereft of relevant evidence.”

This is followed by an essay by P.J. Williams, which is the last one which directly deals with the work of Maurice Casey. Williams tackles it from the angle of showing that the Greek articular form (ο υιος του ανθρωπου) is not a mis-translation.  This is achieved by showing that there are a few ways in which one could indicate particularity in Aramaic. In other words, Williams is suggesting that if Jesus had wanted a reference to “son of man” to be definite, there were multiple means at his disposal that would have denoted this.

These first four essays presents a detailed examination of the proposed Aramaic behind the Greek ο υιος του ανθρωπου, through a sustained interaction with the important work of Maurice Casey. It would have been perfected, though, if Casey had been able to provide a rejoinder to the arguments put forth in these essays.

Where do I stand on this issue? Well, similarly to Dunn, I think it is quite possible that Jesus utilized the Aramaic expression in a circumlocutional way of speaking about himself, but also employed it as an individualized way of interpreting Daniel 7.13. This is to say, Jesus used the Aramaic bar (e)nash(a) in a general and probably self-referential way, but also introduced the novel idea of deliberately alluding to the Danielic bar enash as a way of expressing his own hope for his vindication by God. Furthermore, it is possible that Jesus’ reference to Daniel, while being an allusion to the vindication that he would undergo by being exalted and enthroned by ascending to heaven, was later turned into a coming from heaven.

Read part II here.

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