Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Son of Man and the Wonders of the Lectionary

First of all, I would like to thank Michael for so humbly allowing me to jump into the blogosphere with him and ride on the coattails of his fantastic site! He's been on me for months now to start my own blog, but the fact of the matter is that I am digitally challenged, and with a wife and three little ones (another on the way in June!), I've got no time to become un-challenged and do my own thing. So in a truly Catholic spirit of fraternity, he's allowed me to do some occasional posts with him here. Thanks, Michael, you are truly and dear friend. (Oh, and by the way, congratulations on your engagement to Kimberly. She's a wonderful young woman. Enjoy reading while you still can!)

Anyway, something happened to me yesterday that I wanted to share with anyone interested. It concerns the wonders of the Church's lectionary, which never ceases to amaze me.

Actually, before I tell you about yesterday, let me back up a little further. A few weeks ago, I was in California with Michael doing a conference on Jesus and the End Times: A Catholic View of the Last Days (are we ever going to post summaries of the talk, Michael. I seem to remember someone asking us to?). Anyway, the highlight of the weekend was the four hours or so that Michael and I spent discussing Scripture and theology before the conference even got started. In particular, we spent several hours in an Island's restaurant discussing the book of Daniel and Jesus' eschatology. I had spent the week before reading Daniel over again during morning prayer, and it was heavy on the brain. One of the topics of interest was of course, the infamous "Son of Man" in Daniel 7. Who was this figure? What was the meaning of the terminology? How did Jesus understand it?

In the course of our discussion, Michael showed me something I had not seen before. As is well known, in the Old Testament and ancient Judaism, the terminology of "son of man" can have at least two references. First, it can be simply a generic reference to a "human being" or "mere mortal," as in texts like Num 23:19; Ps 8:4; Sir 17:30, etc. Second, it can be used in a more specific way to refer to the heavenly messianic figure of Daniel's famous vision of the four beasts (Dan 7:14; cf. 1 Enoch and 4 Ezra 13 for Jewish interps). What I had not ever noticed before sitting with Michael was that one of these texts, Psalm 8, is not merely a "generic" reference to "man," but when taken in context, actually has Adamic connection: "When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, what is man that thou art mindful of him, the son of man that that thou dost care for him? Yet thou hast made him little less than God, and dost crown him with glory and honor."

Most people stop here, intrigued by the "little less than God." But it is important to continue reading: "Thou hast given him dominion over the works of thy hands, thou hast put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of teh air, and the fish of the sea..." (Psalm 8:3-8).

Now where does all the imagery in the Psalm come from? Who else was given "dominion" over "the fish of the sea" and "the birds of the air"? Why, Adam, of course! (see Gen 1:28). In light of these parallels, we asked ourselves (while downing two amazing Hawaiian burgers): Is the "Son of Man" in Daniel (and also in the Gospels) also an Adamic figure, and what are the implications of this for Jesus' concept of the Messiah? In particular, Michael was interested in the connections between Adam and David, given the fact that this imagery occurred in a Davidic psalm (Psalm 8). Is David somehow a New Adam?

If this connection is correct, then the implications for understanding Jesus and the Gospels are extremely intriguing. For example, Jesus' declaration: "Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head" (Matt 8:20) is not just some trite proverb about the fact that some people go homeless or that Jesus himself had no permanent home. It is instead a deeply ironic declaration of the humility of the Adamic Messiah. While the birds and beasts of this world have homes, the "Son of Man," the Adamic king of creation, has no place to lay his head. The king has emptied himself such that he is humbled beneath his lowest subjects.

On the other end of the spectrum, take Jesus' declaration that "The Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done" (Matt 16:27). In light of Psalm 8, this is not just some generic apocalyptic prophecy. Instead, Jesus is contrasting the Adamic and Davidic "son of man," who was "a little lower than the angels" (Psa 8:5; cf. Heb 2:7 and LXX), with the messianic Son of Man, who will be head of the angelic army. He is their superior; they are "his angels." And not to mention the fact that Adam is identified with Luke as the "son of God" (Luke 3:38), which I seem to recall being applied to the Davidic king, the "anointed one" on a couple of occasions (2 Sam 7; Psalm 2).

Anyway, I could go on forever about all this, and I'm quite certain Michael has more to say. It's no news to some that scholars have suggested an Adamic dimension to the Son of Man in Daniel 7 (e.g., N. T. Wright and Crispin Fletcher-Louis, if I'm not mistaken). But what I had never seen was someone suggest that the so-called "generic" reference in Psalm 8 is actually Adamic (and Davidic). That is very intriguing...

The reason I thought all of this post-worthy is that yesterday I was teaching my undergraduate Christology class about the meanings of the "Son of Man" in light of the Old Testament. Just after I finished working through Psalm 8 and Daniel 7 with them and explaining all these things, I packed up my books and walked down the hall to the chapel for daily Mass. And guess what the Old Testament readings were for yesterday?

Yep, that's right: the creation of man and woman and their being given "dominion" over the birds and beasts (Gen 1:20-2:4) and David's question about "the son of man" (Psa 8:4-9)! (Daily Roman Missal, Tues, 5th Week in Ordinary Time). There, in the lectionary readings, was the connection that had come to me a few weeks before like a flash of blinding light! I sat there wondering if my students sitting in front of me had remembered what I just been teaching them... Anyway, it just goes to show that while scholars may forget, the Church always remembers. Who knows what other treasures are buried in the typology of the Lectionary? I'll keep you posted... (No pun intended, really).


J. B. Hood said...

Great opening post, Brant.

Welcome to blogging. I have a question for you--I just finished the first two chapters of your book and my head is spinning--it is truly loads of fun, and there are great lines of argument you're laying out...I can't wait to pick it up again.

What do you make of Nehemiah 9:36ish? I noticed this was not in your index, and it seems to be one of the verses which potentially props up NTW's "Exile now" for 1c Jews in Palestine.

Manfred Oeming, "See, we are serving today" (Nehemiah 9:36): Nehemiah 9 as a theological interpretation of the Persian period," in Judah and the Judeans in the Persian period (2006), 571-588, argues that Neh 9:36 should be translated more positively, but I'm skeptical.

Thanks! I've told several people to buy your book...doesn't happen often with published dissertations!

Michael F. Bird said...

Welcome to the blogosphere mate! Great to have you. I really enjoyed meeting you in SBL. Hope your posting is not too in frequent.

On Mt. 8.20, I have always thought of it in terms of Jesus contrasting the nations with himself as the true Israel. Thus the birds are the Gentiles like the Romans who oppress Israel and the foxes are the half-breed Idumeans like Herod's progeny who rule as client kings (e.g. in Luke: "go tell that fox ..."). In effect, Jesus could be saying that everyone has made themselves at home in the land of Israel except Israel! If you wish to join me in my mission and in my way-of-being Israel than you must be willing to join the ranks of the disinherited and dispossessed.

That's my angle for what it's worth.

Anonymous said...

Great, thought-provoking post.

One comment:

"But what I had never seen was someone suggest that the so-called "generic" reference in Psalm 8 is actually Adamic (and Davidic). That is very intriguing..."

Check out what Doug Green says.

"Read in the context of the Psalter, and read in the context of Israel's story, Psalm 8 is less interested in the dignity and worth of humanity in general, and concerned with the dignity and worth, the glory and honor, of the true humanity, Israel, and the true human David (and his descendants). It testifies less to a high general anthropology and more to a high "Israelology" and especially to a high "Davidology.""

~David H

Anonymous said...

Dear J. B.,

Thanks so much for your kind words about the dissertation. As anyone who has written one knows, you sometimes wonder if even your doctoral committee will read the thing! So it's very gratifying for it not only to be published but to have someone read it (and like it!).

As for Neh 9:36, I will go back and revisit it. I think the reason I didn't include it is because it does not explicitly refer to exile but to the returnees of Judea being enslaved ("We are slaves to this day," not, "we are in exile to this day"). This fits Wright's metaphorical conception of "exile," which refers to captivity to Rome in the land, but is less clearly related to the lost tribes of Israel remaining scattered among the Gentiles. However, note the reference to the Assyrian exile in Neh 9:32 as the beginning of this state of slavery... So maybe there is a connection. Thanks for the suggestion! And keep reading, and let me know what you think!

Anonymous said...

Michael (Bird, not Barber),

So good to hear from you! Yes, I remember our SBL conversation fondly, and hope you are doing well.
I am anxiously awaiting being able to obtain a copy of Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission to read (and hopefully review).

Anyway, thanks for the suggestion regarding the Gentiles and Idumeans. I'm not as adept at spotting these covert political references as you obviously are, but I think there's some definite merit there (the fox connection is ingenious). And, as a Gentile myself, I like being compared to "birds of the air" much more than the "dogs under the table"!

I hope my posts won't be too infrequent, either.

Anonymous said...

David H.,

Thanks for the reference to Doug Green's work! That's great stuff, although (not having read the whole article) I would alter his emphasis and go for a both/and rather than either/or.

I wouldn't deny Psalm 8's interest in the dignity and worth of "humanity in general" as opposed to Israel and David, since I would argue that both Israel and David's dignity is rooted in the dignity of Adam. I was trying to suggest that David is not just "the true human" but (in some sense) a New Adam, a priest-king and son of God (cf. Exod 4:22; 19:6; Psalm 2; 2 Samuel 7; Ps 110, etc.) Indeed, in the Bible there is no "general anthropology" apart from an *Adamic* anthropology. I'm currently trying to think through how this applies to everything else in the Bible.

Anonymous said...


I am doing my Ph.D. dissertation at University of Wales on this very topic, the Adamic backgrounds of the Son of Man, focusing on this and other references in the Psalms and other places. One interesting tidbit-a third or fourth century rabbinic tradition says that the consonants of Adam's name (A-D-M) stand for Adam, David, Messiah. There are a ton of these connections once you start looking for them. Now go read Mark 2:23-38 in light of Adam/David backgrounds. Really amazing stuff when you take into account all of the kingly and priestly imagery that runs through Adam motifs, Davidic literature (especially the Psalms) and Son of Man sayings in the NT.

--Andrew Streett

J. B. Hood said...

Brant, thanks for your reply, keep us posted on Nehemiah--glad you spotted Assyria there.

Andrew et al,

One of the crazier interpretations of the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew is found in Chopineau, Etud Theol et Relig 53 (1978), 269-70. He (?) argues that the genealogy's names/title highlighted in 1:1, 1:17 acrostic for Adam: Abraham, David, Mshych. (Can't remember if he mentions it but MDA is in 1:1, Hebrew order.) I'm not convinced, but it might be worth a footnote. Raymond Brown, Birth of the Messiah version 2.0, thought so anyway.

Diane Korzeniewski said...

Very enlightening, even from this beginning Bible enthusiast.

Some months ago I was struck by Mt 8:20 and have remained intrigued by it. This just adds fuel to the fire.

Prayers on a safe delivery for your new baby, Brant and welcome to Catholic blogging!