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Owen on “the Son of Man”

March 10, 2011

(I offer here a guest-post from Dr. Paul Owen, the co-editor of the newly-published volume, Who is This Son of Man?.  Owen comments here on his own contribution to the volume:  “Problems with Casey’s ‘Solution’.”)

I’m very excited about this new volume, and believe it carries the scholarly discussion of this topic forward considerably.  My own chapter is focused on the work of Maurice Casey, with particular reference to his book, The Solution to the ‘Son of Man’ Problem (London:  T&T Clark, 2007).  I discuss his appeal to the stability of the Aramaic language as a defense for his uncritical use of texts ranging over a thousand-year period to support his hypothesis about the use of bar enash(a).  I also defend the 2001 JSNT article which I co-wrote with David Shepherd from criticisms raised in Casey’s 2002 rebuttal in the same journal.  He has criticized us for mis-stating the issues involved in the breakdown between the absolute and emphatic states in Aramaic, and for using antiquated secondary sources in our own research.  I also show how in fact, the problem with Casey’s thesis is not that it is based on too little evidence, but that it actually contradicts the use of bar enash(a) in texts from the relevant time period.  And I demonstrate that his hypothesis falls to the ground in light of Daniel 7:13, Sefire 3.14-17, 1QapGen 21.13, and 11QTgJob 9.9 and 26.2-3, none of which texts is adequately accounted for in Casey’s discussion.

The rest of my essay includes an extended discussion of Daniel 7:13, in
which I argue that the text does indeed refer to a specific individual
who functions as God’s agent in divine judgment.  I argue that it is
most unlikely that the early church so quickly misunderstood the meaning
of the expression, as Casey proposes.  I argue for the authenticity of
many of the “son of man” sayings which Casey rejects.  And I examine the
dozen or so “son of man” sayings which Casey takes to be authentic, and
show that his reconstructed reading of the sayings is highly suspect.
Finally I have a brief discussion of 1 Enoch 37-71, 4 Ezra 13, and
Ezekiel the Tragedian 68-89, showing that they all interpret Daniel 7:13
as speaking of an individual who functions as God’s chief agent, and
they all appear unaware of the corporate “Israel” reading of the text
that Casey proposes.

All in all, my essay manages to cover a wide array of issues, and I hope
it offers something positive to our ongoing conversation regarding this
most allusive feature of the historical Jesus’ idiolect.   (Dr. Paul Owen, Montreat College)

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6 Comments
  1. Kenneth Greifer permalink

    I am an amateur with an alternative translation of Daniel 7:13. So far nobody likes my idea, but maybe you will be willing to consider it.

    Maybe it says “I saw in visions of night, and behold, a people of clouds of heaven. Like a son of man, it is coming…” The vision is later explained by an angel as being about the people being given the kingdom, so maybe Daniel saw a vision of the people made up of clouds of heaven being given the kingdom. The other visions were of strange beasts, so maybe this was also a strange vision.

    Kenneth Greifer

    • It’s not a matter of “liking” or not “liking” your translation; it’s purely a matter of whether it’s a correct reading of the text. You’re proposing that the Hebrew consontants usually read as “im” be read as “am“. In principle, these two consonants can represent either word. It’s the sentence that determines things. And your sentence doesn’t make as much sense as the standard alternative. Moreover, the ancient Greek translations go against your proposal, obviously taking the Hebrew consonants as “im”, translating it as “epi” or “meta

      • Kenneth Greifer permalink

        Isn’t the usual translation a little messed up because it says “I saw in visions of night, and, behold, with clouds of heaven one like a son of man is coming…”, but it doesn’t really say “one” but “he”. Wouldn’t it be better to translate as “I saw in visions of night, and, behold, with clouds of heaven, like a son of man he is coming? Then of course you’d have to wonder who “he” is since it does not say.

        The Greek translation is from hundreds of years later and really depends on what the translator(s) thought it said. If they were wrong, then it could have said “a people” instead of “with”. At least as “a people” it fits the prophecy that the kingdom would be given to the people, the saints. Of course, a man in the vision could also represent them.

        I am not saying my explanation is the only one that makes sense, but that it is a possible alternative.

        Kenneth Greifer

      • I’m not gonna get drawn into the intricacies of how one might vocalize and translate the consonants in Dan 7:13-14. The main point relevant to the focus of the book under discussion is how this passage was understood and used in the first century CE. It’s pretty clear that it was seen as referring to two figures: God (“the ancient of days”) and another figure “one like a son of man”. The main point I’d emphasize is that there is no example known to me in second-temple Jewish texts where the latter figure is referred to as “the son of man” (i.e., articular/emphatic singular form of this expression used as a title).
        Oh, and by the way, it’s commonly recognized that Daniel was likely composed in the 2nd century BCE, and the Greek translations of the OT may have commenced as early as the 3rd century BCE. So, the translation of Daniel into Greek may well have happened pretty darn near to the time when it was produced.

  2. Paul Owen permalink

    Hi Matthew. Though Daniel 7:13 is the most obvious reference (and the one I focus on), it is interesting that there are also two other occurrences of “son of man” terminology in the Hebrew Bible. In Psalm 8:4(5) the “son of man” (ben adam) is crowned with glory and honor and given universal dominion. In Isaiah 52:14, the servant who makes atonement for sinners is described as one whose form is marred beyond any of the other “sons of mankind” (bene adam). Jesus’ reference to himself as the “son of man” is open-ended enough to point to any of these texts, and the son of man passages in the synoptics speak of the son of man’s suffering, earthly activities, and future glory. My view is compatible with Larry’s in the sense that the “son of man” expression points to his being the “son of man” in whom God’s purposes are now being enacted, without requiring a direct quote from any particular biblical proof-text.

  3. (Directed to Paul Owen): Thank you for this. I have wondered about why the Fathers would misunderstand the term as quickly as Casey suggests (although I suppose his argument is that it is because they only used Greek). Can I take it from your description here that your position is slightly different to that of Hurtado – seeing more importance in Daniel 7 as a background to Jesus’ use of the term?

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