Thursday, September 17, 2009

Jesus as the Suffering Son of Man (Video+More on Sunday's Readings)

Sunday, September 20, 2009: Liturgy Reflection from JP Catholic University on Vimeo.

This Sunday we hear Jesus’ passion prediction in Mark 9:31: “The Son of man will be given over the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise”. As I mention in the video there seem to be echoes of Daniel 7 in Jesus’ words. Here I thought I’d give a little more on that since I can’t get into all of the technicalities involved in the short video we do. By the way, I want to thank Nate Sjogren again for putting this together. He's just a Sophmore, but he's really an amazingly talented student. (And he's got the fiery enthusiasm of a new convert--he came into the Catholic Church at this year's Easter Vigil!)

As an aside I should note that, of course, all of our lectionary videos draw extensively from recent scholarship. In fact, I’m often pained that I cannot get into some of the subtleties I’d like to explain. My plan then is to post a little more on the videos here as often I can, giving some more background for what is said. That having been said, let’s look at Jesus’ prediction in Mark 9:31.

The Son of Man as Corporate Symbol and Eschatological Figure

In receiving the kingdom the Son of Man is closely identified with the saints, who, after undergoing the period of eschatological suffering, are vindicated by God. However, I think it is wrong to suggest that the figure is merely to be read as a corporate symbol. [1] For one thing, it seems clear that the Son of Man is some sort of divine figure―e.g., his coming on the clouds is an image reserved for God in Israel’s Scriptures (cf. Deut 33:6; Ps 68:5; 104:3). Moreover, it is well-known that certain figures in the ancient world such as kings were understood as rerepsentatives of their people, i.e., “corporate personalities.”[2]

That the latter phenemonen is going on elsewhere in Daniel 7 is abundantly clear since the imagery of the beasts is said to describe both four kingdoms and four kings (cf. Dan 7:17-18). Since the four beasts are described as both four kings and four kingdoms (cf. Dan 7:17, 23) it stands to reason that “son of man” could likewise be interpreted as both an eschatological figure and the representative of the nation.[3] In fact, not only kings but also priests were known as serving as corporate symbols. Crispin H. T. Fletcher-Louis has taken this in some interesting directions which we cannot explore here.[4] In fact, this is an area I spend a lot of time on in my dissertation project―you’ll have to read it all there! Suffice it to say, the high priest wore both the twelve stones symbolizing the twelve tribes and the divine name (cf. Exod 28).

Jesus’ Passion Prediction and Daniel 7

Aside from Jesus’ use of “son of man” language, as I explain in the video, scholars have caught other allusions to Daniel 7 in Jesus’ passion prediction. Indeed, the language there of Jesus’ being “given over” (παραδίδοται, paradidotai), “into the hands” (εἰς χεῖρας, eis cheiras) to be killed, and rising “after three days” (μετὰ τρεῖς ἡμέρας, meta treis hēmeras) appears to have strong ties to Daniel 7:25, which describes how the saints, who are represented by the “son of man”, “shall be given” (OG.: παραδοθήσεται, paradothēsetai; Theod.: δοθήσεται, dothēsetai)” “into the hand (OG.: ἐν χειρὶ, en cheiri; Theod.: εἰς τὰς χεῖρας, eis tas cheiras) [of the beast] for a time, two times, and half a time.” It seems hard to believe the similarities are simply coincidental.[5]

In fact, as I explain, some scholars even think the frame of “after three days” corresponds to Daniel’s vision.[6] For example, Davies and Allison write, “if the pre-Easter predictions were eschatological in content, there is an intriguing parallel with Dan 7. Just as, in that important text, the saints of the Most High, who are identified with the one like a son of man, are delivered into the hands of their enemy, only to receive the kingdom after a time, the representative and head of the faithful community, will be delivered into the hands of men, only to be resurrected after three days.” [7] Rather, it seems as though Jesus formulated such a prediction using Daniel 7.

In fact, I think that it is abundantly clear that Daniel 7 was understood as describing a figure who represented the saints who suffer during the tribulation―in Matthew 20:28//Mark 10:45 Jesus explains that “the Son of Man came to give his life as a ransom for many.” That’s another passage I’ve spent a lot of time on in my dissertation project. It’s also a passage we will be looking at soon in the Sunday readings. I’ll wait until then to offer further comment.

On the Apostles’ Lack of Understanding

One other interesting note about the Son of Man: the Old Greek version of Daniel describes the “son of man” coming not “to” but “as [ὡς, hōs]” the Ancient of Days.[8] The author of the book of Revelation seems to have been aware of this reading.[9] It would seem then possible that some saw the figure as truly a divine individual. If the apostles were aware of this reading of Daniel―which is of course something we have no way of knowing for sure―it would go a long way to explaining why they are so shocked to hear that “the Son of Man” will be killed. It would also explain why when Jesus applies the term to himself before Caiaphas, he is accused with blasphemy.

[1] See Christopher Rowland, The Open Heaven: A Study of Apocalyptic in Judaism and Early Christianity (New York: Crossroad, 1982), 180: “If the Son of Man figure had merely been a symbol of the Saints of the Most High, we might have expected to find the same kind of identification between the Son of Man and the saints which we find in respect of the beasts and the kings in v. 18, but this is lacking.” See also, Collins, Daniel, 305: “The Ancient One is assumed to exist outside the dream, and there is no more appropriate or familiar language by which he might be described. Accordingly, we are subsequently given no identification of the Ancient of Days by the angel. It is highly significant that the ‘one like a human being’ is not interpreted either. He is associated with ‘the holy ones of the Most High’ insofar as they too are said to receive the kingdom, but there is no one-to-one equation, such as we have with the beasts and the kings.” Collins contrasts Rowland’s argument with the assertion made for the opposite position (i.e., that the Son of Man is merely a corporate image of the righteous) by Maurice Casey, Son of Man: The Interpretation and Influence of Daniel 7 (London: SPCK, 1979), 25: “if the author had viewed him as a real being who would lead or deliver the Saints, he must have mentioned him here.”
[2] See, e.g., H. W. Robinson, “The Hebrew Conception of Corporate Personality,” in Corporate Personality in Ancient Israel (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), 25–26; Joel S. Kaminksy, Corporate Responsibility in the Hebrew Bible (JSOTSup 196; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995), 16, 109.
[3] See Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile, 54-55; Seyoon Kim, “Son of Man” as the Son of God (WUNT 30; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1983), 18.
[4] Crispin H. T. Fletcher-Louis, “The High Priest as Divine Mediator in the Hebrew Bible: Dan 7:13 as a Test Case,” SBLSP (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1997): 161–93; idem., “The Revelation of the Sacral Son of Man: The Genre, History of Religions Context and the Meaning of the Transfiguration,” in Auferstehung–Resurrection. The Fourth Durham-Tübingen-Symposium: Resurrection, Exaltation, and Transformation in Old Testament, Ancient Judaism, and Early Christianity (ed. H. Lichtenberger & F. Avemarie; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2001), 247–298.
[5] Scott McKnight, Jesus and His Death: Historiography, the Historical Jesus and Atonement Theory (Waco: Baylor, 2005), 234, writes: “I continue to be amazed by scholars who refuse to think Daniel 7 could be the context for a suffering Son of Man. Daniel predicts suffering in the following words: ‘He shall speak words against the Most High, shall wear out the holy ones of the Most High, and shall attempt to change the sacred seasons and the law; and they shall be given into his power for a time, two times, and half a time.' The Son of man of Daniel 7 is vindicated precisely because the Son of man, a figure for the saints of the Most High, has suffered.”
[6] See, e.g., J. Schaberg, “Daniel 7, 12 and the New Testament Passion-Resurrection Predictions,” NTS 31 (1985): 208-22, especially 210; Morna Hooker, “Is the Son of Man problem really insoluble?,” in Text and Interpretation (ed. E. Best and R. M. Wilson; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 166.
[7] Davies and Allison, Matthew, 2:661. In addition, see C. Caragounis, The Son of Man: Vision and Interpretation (WUNT 2/38; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1986), 197-201. Moreover, it could also be pointed out that the language of “resurrection” also appears in Daniel 12:1-2.
[8] Some dismiss this as a scribal error (cf. Collins, Daniel, 311). It should be noted, however, that such a view conveniently dismisses one of the major criteria for textual criticism, lectio difficilior potior.
[9] In Revelation 1 we read about the “son of man” who is identified with imagery evocative of the “ancient of days”, i.e., his hair is said to be white as “wool” and “snow” (cf. Rev 1:14 with Dan 7:9). See, e.g., G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 210 who suggests the influence of the Old Greek reading.


Carson Weber said...

This video hasn't appeared in the feed yet at

Brant Pitre said...

Great Job, Michael!
You've really taken the blog to a new level with these videos on the Gospels. I'm a little jealous I don't have my own videographer.

I particularly like the parallel text displays; as a visual person, those are really helpful.

Keep up the good work.

julia maxwell said...

I like your post ,now I must complete my research for my paper.

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