Sunday, January 17, 2010

Authenticity of Jesus' Use of Ps 110 Before Caiaphas

In all three Synoptics Jesus explicitly links imagery from Daniel’s vision of the one like a son of man with language derived from Psalm 110:1. In all three places this occurs at the climactic moment of his so-called “trial” where he explicitly reveals his messianic identity:

“Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ 62 And Jesus said, ‘I am; and you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven’” (Mark 14:61–62; cf. Matt 26:63–64 and Luke 22:69).
Many scholars see this passage as a creation of the early church due to the fact that Psalm 110 was the principle text associated with the church’s emerging Christology.[1] Yet, despite the psalm’s popularity in early Christianity, such a conclusion is unwarranted. Let’s look at the evidence.

First, since both the Davidic psalms and Daniel 7 were interpreted eschatologically in ancient Judaism, there is no reason to suppose Jesus, understanding himself as the messiah, could not have seen these texts as referring to himself.

Second and more devastating to the view which sees the conflation as a product of the early church’s theology is the fact that that one rabbinic source specifically links the two passages:

“And in one place in the Writings it is written, ‘The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand’ [Ps 110:1],’ and it is also written: ‘Behold, one came with the clouds of heaven, as a son of man’ [Dan 7:13] (Midr. Ps. 2.9 [on 2:7]; cf. 18.29 [on 18:36]).[2]
If non-Christian Jewish rabbis could tie the two passages together there is no reason to insist Jesus could not have.

Moreover, scholars have also pointed out that the depiction of the “son of man” sitting next to God on a “throne of glory” in the Similitudes (1 En. 45:3; 55:4; 62:5) also seems indebted to a combination of imagery from Daniel 7 and Psalm 110.[3]

Suffice it to say, there is no reason to believe Jesus could not have spoken thus. Indeed, texts which we have seen are likely authentic demonstrate that Jesus similarly combined other passages (cf. e.g., Matt 11:5//Luke 7:22; Matt 21:13//Mark 11:17//Luke 19:46).[4]

[1] More than any other passage, this psalm is used by writers of New Testament books to explain Jesus’ identity and role (cf. e.g., Acts 2:34–35; Rom 8:34; 1 Cor 15:25; Eph 1:20; Col 3:1; Heb 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12). In particular the language here finds a close similarities with those attributed to the earliest Christian martyr, Stephen, in Acts 7:56: “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.” However, an interpretation which sees the statement made by Jesus as a re-working of Stephen’s speech, it should be pointed out that Stephen’s language lacks the Semitic flavor of Jesus’ words (i.e., the reverential circumlocution for God, “the Power” / τῆς δυνάμεως). This would seem to make it more difficult to see Stephen’s saying as more ancient than Mark 14:62 and par.
[2] Cited from Evans, Jesus and His Contemporaries, 419.
[3] That 1 Enoch links Psalm 110 to the eschatological figure is recognized by many. See, e.g., Theisohn, Der auserwählte Richter, 98; Witherington, Christology of Jesus, 260–61; Hengel, Studien zur Christologie, 334–35; Lee, From Messiah to Preexistent Son, 206. In addition, Schaper (Eschatology in the Greek Psalter, 101–7) has made a compelling case that the LXX exhibits an eschatological reading of the MT, a view recently endorsed by Lee (From Messiah to Preexistent Son, 207). See also James L. Mays, The Lord Reigns: A Theological Handbook to the Psalms (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1994), 94–98; 119–27. Luz (Matthäus, 3:89) also raises another possibility that merits consideration: “Da Ps 110 für das Urchristentum, insbesondere für die Interpretation der Erhöhung Jesu und sein ‘Sitzen zur Rechten Gottes’ seit sehr früher Zeit außerordentlich wichtig war und als einziger christologischer Text aus der Bibel bis in die altkirchlichen Credo-Formulierungen nachwirkte, ist es denkbar―aber nicht beweisbar―, daß alte messianische Auslegungen im jüdischen Überlieferungsprozeß unterdrückt wurden, weil Ps 110 im Christentum eine so große Rolle spielte.” See also Lee, From Messiah to Preexistent Son, 206, who also favors this option: “. . . after the return from the exile, when there was a new temple under the religious and political leadership of the Aaronide priests―without the ark of the covenant and without any king in Jerusalem―the original meaning of Ps 110 (i.e., the king ruling with the honour and authority given by God) would have been lost with time. In later times the Jews would have been left with only two possibilities: a figurative application of the psalm either to a historical person such as Abraham and Hezekiah, or to an eschatological-messianic figure. The evidence from Second Temple Judaism and the New Testament period suggests that the latter possibility was the most likely. If this is correct, the argument that anti-Christian polemic led to non-messianic interpretations in rabbinic sources, especially those in the Tannaitic period, gains force.”
[4] Other charges also leveled against the historicity of this episode have also been dealt with by others, most effectively by Bock, Blasphemy and exaltation in Judaism and the Final Examination of Jesus, 209–33. For example, some have made the claim that the passage cannot be historical because the charge of blasphemy depends upon Christological implications of Jesus claim which were produced by the early Church, e.g., “the Messiah” is linked with “Son of God” language. See, e.g., Maurice Casey, From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991), 54. However, as Betz has demonstrated, the language here also closely mirrors 2 Samuel 7 and 4Q174. See Otto Betz, “Die Frage nach dem messianischen Bewusstsein Jesu,” NovT 6 (1963) 20–48; Davies and Allison, Matthew, 3:531.


Randy said...

Professor Barber,

Have you seen recently in a news article they found evidence that maybe the Bible might be older then they thought?

God Bless,

Brian Small said...

Scholars merely assert that Jesus could not have said this. They have no proof to assert anything either way. You either believe the accounts or you don't.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Pitre:

I am one of the attendees of the Riverside Bible Conference you spoke at on January 22 - 23, 2010.

The subject of Jesus's words before Caiaphas was part of a very short discussion I had with you at that conference.

As at best a lay amateur in biblical scholarship, it seems to me that the recent work of many scholars from many different areas of study involving biblical and second temple Judaism all point to these words of Jesus being authentic and entirely commensurate with the Judaism of his day - regardless of what the Historical Jesus industry might say.

For example, Robin Griffith - Jones ("The Gospel of Paul") essentially says that Jesus, Paul, and the early Christians were deeply involved in Merkavah mysticism, at least with respect to the idea of ascent to the chariot throne and the cosmic temple of which the earthly temple was a copy.

Rachel Elior (The Three Temples) - while presenting rather unconventional views about the non-existence of the Essenes - also argues for the mystical service of the "Sons of Zadok" in the heavenly temple (cf. Book of Hebrews) as an alternative to the corrupted services of the Jerusalem temple.

These views are all echoed and wonderfully summarized in a paper written by April D. DeConick, "What is Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism?"

Add to these the classic work of Gershom Scholem and the ruminations of more recent and popular authors, such as Chilton in his "Rabbi Jesus," we seem to get a growing consensus that the Daniel 7:13 language of Jesus before Caiaphas fits well into the first century cultural milieu.

If we accept that conclusion, then the argument for Jesus authentically connecting the messianic Psalm 110 and the apocalyptic Dan 7:13 is that their connection in Jesus's response to Caiaphas is the BEST EXPLANATION for the Sanhedrin handing Jesus over to Pilate (outside of the completely cynical view that the Sanhedrin acted arbitrarily and solely for political reasons).

It seems to me (as an amateur) that had Jesus acknowledged ONLY his messianic claim, Caiaphas could not have convinced the Sanhedrin to hand Jesus - a fellow Jew - over to Pilate.

But, Jesus went beyond the messianic claim - in one of the Gospels, I believe Jesus responds to Caiaphas with, "The words are yours; and you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven," meaning (I take it) that "You ask if I am your understanding of the messiah, but I am more...I am the Image of God that sits on the chariot throne."

It was this clear reference to the throne chariot rider of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Enoch that made Caiaphas tear his robes and declare that blasphemy had been committed in his very presence. So, handing Jesus over to Pilate would not have been a problem.

The connection of Psalm 110 and Daniel 7:13 in Jesus's response is the BEST EXPLANATION for the Sanhedrin handing Jesus over to Pilate.

Marcelo D'Asero