Review: Who is This Son of Man? (Part II)

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!

Read part I of the review.

The first essay (out of the final four) is by Darrell Bock and it focuses upon the use of Daniel 7 in the trial of Jesus, specifically on how it is used in conjunction with Psalm 110. Bock first looks at Jesus’ use of Psalm 110.1 in Mark 12.35-37 and deals with the claim that the argument of Jesus can only make sense if using the LXX version of Psalm 110 (thus leading to the conclusion that this passage in Mark is only a post-Easter creation of the Christian community and not a genuine question of Jesus). Bock rightly points out, though, that the use of Psalm 110 in Mark 12 by Jesus still makes complete sense whichever language Jesus read and spoke it in. Why? Because even when read in a Semitic language, the dilemma is still raised as to why would David give such honor to a descendant of his. Thus, Jesus’ argument is simply querying as to why they call the Messiah the “Son of David” when David shows him great honor (in calling him “Lord”).

Bock then takes a look at the evidence for whether Jesus spoke of himself as an apocalyptic Son of Man and after noting how well-attested the apocalyptic Son of Man is (in Q, L, M, and Mark), he says: “If the criterion of multiple attestation means anything or has any useful purpose, the idea that Jesus spoke of himself in these terms should not be doubted.” After this, Bock discusses the implications for Jesus’ self-understanding in relation to his use of Daniel 7.

The following chapter is contributed by Benjamin Reynolds. He attempts to rectify the scholarly oversight of silence regarding the Johannine Son of Man (interestingly, the title of this book, “Who is this Son of Man?” derives from John 12.34). The reason why the Gospel of John is largely overlooked when it comes to the Son of Man problem is because it doesn’t carry the same sort of “historical credentials” as the other Gospels do. Yet, as Reynolds points out, the use of “son of man” in John should not be neglected just because the sayings attributed to Jesus in John may very well be fictional. Reynolds also says that John should be less neglected when one takes into consideration that there has been a recent trend in scholarship concerning the historicity of the Gospel of John (though, personally, I wouldn’t really say a handful of writings from the past decade or so is a “trend”).

After giving a brief overview on the status quaestionis regarding the Johannine Son of Man, Reynolds examines three significant themes often linked to it and the passages they occur in: (1) his ascent and descent; (2) his lifting up; and (3) his glorification. Reynolds also then looks at the “misfit” Johannine Son of Man sayings that are sometimes glossed over due to the fact that they don’t fit nicely with the themes that the other sayings present. He then finishes with a comparison between the Synoptic Son of Man and the Johannine Son of Man, and that their similarities should “at least force us to pause before completely excluding these sayings from the discussion of this puzzling expression of the historical Jesus.”

Darrell Hannah then contributes an essay on the elect Son of Man in the Parables of Enoch (a.k.a. 1 Enoch 37-71). For those unaware, in the Parables of Enoch there is a figure, known as the Elect One (or Righteous One), who is depicted as the eschatological judge, sits on the throne of God, and receives homage (but not worship according to Hannah, see page 148). While there is no absolute certainty regarding the dating of Parables, there is a general consensus that places it in the mid-to-late first century CE.

One point that I would probably disagree with the author is whether the Elect One is the recipient of worship. He says:

The Elect son of man is an exalted figure, who enjoys certain privileges which elsewhere in Second Temple Judaism are reserved for the Deity. He occupies the divine throne and acts as the eschatological Judge. …

Despite all this and despite claims to the contrary, the Parables never unambiguously depict the Elect son of man as a recipient of worship. …

Five verbs are used to describe their actions vis-a-vis the Elect son of man – falling on their knees, bowing down, hoping, pleading and asking for mercy – all of which convey supplication, but none needs to be understood in terms of worship. To be sure, the Elect son of man is exalted, he receives homage, at least at the Eschaton, but to conclude that he was given cultic veneration by the group behind the Parables goes beyond the evidence. (148)

While the Elect son of man may not have been given cultic veneration by the group behind the writing, I don’t think that necessarily entails that they were not depicting him as being worshiped. Also, I would have appreciated it if Hannah had of clarified as to exactly what he would expect the text to say in order for us to conclude that the Elect son of man was being worshiped in Parables. Because, to me, that the Elect son of man is being worshiped seems pretty self-evident.

Hannah then goes on to discuss the pre-existence of the Elect son of man in Parables. I would largely agree with him here in that he asserts that an ontological pre-existence is being affirmed in Parables instead of an ideal pre-existence. This is then followed with a look at the surprise ending of Parables in which Enoch is revealed to be that Elect son of man (70.3-71.17). Hannah thinks that this pericope was a later interpolation and that the catalyst for it being interpolated was the belief about Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation. This was perhaps my favorite essay of the volume (with Bock’s contribution coming in a close second).

The final chapter in this volume is a concluding chapter by Larry Hurtado in which he offers some final thoughts on the son of man debate and the essays in this volume. Interestingly, Hurtado does think that Jesus used the phrase bar enasha as his preferred self-designation, but he does not agree with Bock that this usage arose from Jesus’ self-understanding that derived from Daniel 7.13.

All in all, this book was a fantastic read. It doesn’t cover every single issue regarding the Son of Man debate, but it does cover some very important aspects and some neglected ones as well. This volume is quite expensive for most people to be able to purchase a copy for their own personal library, but you can always ask your college or local library to pick up a volume! For those interested in early Christianity, Christology, historical Jesus studies, etc, then you would be doing yourself a great service to read this volume.

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