Second Oxford Lecture on the Development of Christology

by Crispin H. T. Fletcher-Louis


If you have already dones some undergraduate work on the Son of Man and you now feel confused that is probably a good thing: it means you have read widely and thoroughly, because there is a great deal of uncertainty, diversity of opinion and perhaps confusion, within the secondary literature. What I want to do here is offer some sign posts through the jungle.

The sources for historical inquiry:
1. The New Testament: only the Synoptics (+ Acts 7:53). Normally divided into three different categories: present authority, present suffering and future (glory). 2. Daniel 7:13.
3. The Similitudes of Enoch (EthEn 37-71) – sprawling and difficulty of date.
4. 4 Ezra 13.
5. Various other possible texts: e.g., 11QMelchizedek, Ezekiel the Tragedian, 1Enoch 14.
6. Different kind of data – recently become important – Aramaic passages which use the phrase bar (e)nash(a) – Casey, Lindars & Vermes.

From the New Testament point of view a fundamental problem which has driven a centuryÕs SM scholarship is the obvious difference between the (future) glorious SM and the present and suffering SM with whom is Jesus identified. How do we reconcile passages which speak of the Son of Man coming on clouds of Glory, lighting up the sky from one end to the other, with those where the expression refers to Jesus during his ministry and his suffering on the cross? For 50 years or so the strategy has been to play off one category against another in the tradition history of the gospels: either all the ÒapocalypticÓ sayings are original and the others are later accretions or vice versa. (Alternatively we now have the view, as advocated by Tom Wright, which blurs the distinction between the categories by collapsing all the ÒapocalypticÓ sayings into a purely earthly, Jesus as true Israel, sleight of hand).

It is this central problem which I want to try and tackle.

Because one can become very confused by the secondary literature, it is as well to have a quick overview of the HISTORY OF INTERPRETATION.

Very broadly speaking the history of interpretation can be divided into two time periods and two camps. First, there are those in older, particularly German, scholarship who assumed that Dan 7:13, the Similitudes, 4 Ezra 13 and one or two other texts speak of a heavenly angelic man. By Òheavenly, angelic manÓ this approach, it should be noted, does not adopt the kind of interpretative framework the texts we looked at last week would suggest: the framework is much more dualistic with a rigid division between heavenly and earthly worlds. On this view, then the process by which Jesus becomes identified with the SM is a long and protracted one. Today this view is particularly well represented by J.J. Collins (see also Rowland 1982). Besides being the older, Germanic view, this angelic SM approach tends also to be adopted more readily by OT scholarship with respect to Daniel 7 (and Similitudes) than New Testament scholarship. Old Testament scholars recognise in Daniel 7 the reuse of an ancient Near Eastern Chaoskampf motif with the one like a son of man taking up the role of the divine warrior Baal.

The second approach, which has its long history in English-speaking scholarship (Manson, Moule, Caird, Dunn, Wright, cf. Casey) plays down as much as possible any heavenly, angelic referent in Jewish SM material. On this view the Danielic one like a son of man is purely a symbol or righteous representative of Israel. This view rises to prominence, and gains confidence over the older German view in the Ô70s and Ô80s with the realisation that the Similitudes were not part of the Qumran Enochic corpus. – The Jewish apocalyptic SM, so it has been argued, can be discarded.

Within the last 30 years there as been a splinter group from the English ÒschoolÓ with B. Lindars and M. Casey both taking up G. Vermes suggestion that at the level of the historical Jesus the phrase in the gospels was little more than some form of self-referential circumlocution (ÒIÓ, Òsomeone like meÓ etc.).

1. Dualisms: both the older German school, now represented by Collins and the English school are guilty of imposing an unnecessary dualism on the texts– either SM is a purely heavenly figure, or he is the earthly Israel/earthly Jesus.

The kind of material we looked at last week demonstrates that this kind of dualism is unwarranted on strictly historical grounds.

2. Now both groups, traditions or camps, have to assume some degree of development within the gospel tradition. For neither can all the gospel SM sayings fit perfectly in the life of the historical Jesus. I say this, not out of some historical Jesus fundamentalism but to highlight how the cost of a dualistic interpretative framework means sacrificing historiographical parsimony. Applying OccamÕs razor means getting rid of the dualisms and, in so doing allowing, both human and angelic/divine elements with the SM tradition (Jewish and Christian) to be held together without tension.

3. I also suspect that a good deal of the difficulty felt within modern discussion is due to the problem of fitting the SM figure into a Messianic pattern which is normally assumed to be essentially Davidic. There are certainly such messianic contours to the SM in the Similitudes and, to a greater extent, in 4 Ezra 13, but the historical SM would have done well to consider how priestly and cultic realities illuminate his characterisation.

With these reflections on the history of interpretation we turn to a brief discussion of the relevant primary sources.

Here I summarise the argument of my LUKE-ACTS 205-211 and ÒThe High Priest as Divine Mediator in the Hebrew BibleÓ in SBLSP 1997.

There are good reasons to see the one like a son man here as angelic/heavenly/divine: 1. Baal imagery; 2. use of cloud as means of transport; 3. similarity in phraseology to that used of angels in 8.15, 10.16, 18; 4. Old Greek translation which has one like a son of man coming AS the ancient of Days etc.. Equally, there are good reasons to have the one like a son of man as a human figure: 1. Aramaic expression emphasises human frailty; 2. parallelism in vision and interpretation between man figure and the elect in v. 18-27; 3. echoes of creation account climaxing with ÒManÓ; 4. analogy with the beasts who represent kings/kingdoms, would imply son represents Israel or her leader.

The angelomorphic humanity tradition means we do not have to play of one set of data against another. There are many candidates within that tradition (king, high priest, Adam, Moses, Enoch, Melchizedek etc.) who would fit both sides of the job description.

There is also the distinct possibility, for which I have marshalled a preliminary assessment of the evidence in my ÒHigh Priest as Divine MediatorÓ, that the individual angelomorphic human in mind in this passage is the High Priest. In this case there is a reuse of the ancient Near East and Biblical ChaoskampfÊ tradition within the context of the cult, the New Year festivals and the Day of Atonement in particular: the human figure comes to the Ancient of Days carried by clouds just as the high priest on the Day of Atonement enters the Holy of Holies surrounded by clouds of incense. This reading makes good sense of the literary structure of Daniel 2-7 and chapter 7 itself; parallels with the Enochic ascent in 1Enoch 14 and may shed important light on a debate between the Sadducees and the Pharisees regarding the use of incense by the high priest at Yom Kippur.

At any rate in Daniel 7 the SM is neither simply angel or symbol for Israel, he is both.

The characterisation of the SM in the similitudes is complex and difficult to disentangle. But a similar phenonemon to that in Daniel 7:13 is very clear. Here there is a deliberate fusion of both human and angelic characteristics in the one figure.

Humanity: 46:1 – human features; 2. he is referred to as chosen one and righteous one, picking up language in OT, esp. 2nd Isaiah, of the righteous; 3. referred to as Òanointed oneÓ; 4. he is identified with Enoch, explicitly in ch. 71 and implicitly throughout.

Divinity: 46:1 recalls Ezek 1.26; 2. compared to angels in 46:1; 3. sits on throne in heaven; 4. including in some instances GodÕs throne; 5. primary agent of judgement – acts as divine warrior, recipient of worship; 6. has a hidden, pre-mundane existence; 7. possesses divine Name.

The difficulty interpreters have had in combining these parts of the picture in one individual (a difficulty parallel to the interpretation of Daniel 7 and gospel SM passages) is focused on the identification of the SM with Enoch in chapter 71. Whilst this has frequently been explained away in one way or another, we should now follow the important study by J.C. Vanderkam (Righteous One, Messiah, Chosen One, and Son of Man in 1Enoch 37-71Ó in Charlesworth ed. THE MESSIAH 1992, pp. 161-191) who has demonstrated it is anticipated at a number of points throughout the parables. It is best to see as the Son of Man as the heavenly persona, heavenly self of Enoch throughout.

This is important because it provides a good parallel to a similar relationship between Jesus and the Son of Man in Luke 12:8-9 – synchronicity between Jesus on earth and SM in heaven before the angels.

The fact that the SM is IN THE ESCHATOLOGICAL FUTURE to be worshipped in heaven (48:5; 62:6-9) is of inestimable significance for early christology.

So, once again we find that heavenly and earthly, human and divine belong together. (Much the same should be said about 4Ezra 13).

Gospel sayings now generally fit into this pattern: by the first century A.D. there was a well established belief that, as Daniel 7:13 predicted, there would come a SM figure who as both human and heavenly. In one tradition at least, he was identified with the historical figure of Enoch. It is possible that in the early stages of the tradition that he has a strongly priestly characterisation.

We havenÕt time to go through all the synoptic SM passages, but the following points emerge from our discussion: 1. There is no need to explain SM sayings on the basis of the misunderstanding of some Aramaic idiom.

2. The main difference between the gospel SM and that of contemporary Judaism is the emphasis on suffering (Mark 8ff etc.). This takes us back to the point that Chris and I made at the end of last week’s course: the principle area of discontinuity between christology and Jewish theology is ethical – not doctrine in the narrow sense. That ethical novelty (which obviously has enormous doctrinal ramifications) is seen most sharply in the belief that the SM had to suffer and die. – not exactly what you would expect of a suprahuman divine being (viz. e.g. the Similitudes SM).

In response Chris raised the specific possibility that some of the SM sayings relating to the future – e.g. SM coming on clouds (Mk 13.26; 14:64) are actually fulfilled at Jesus’ crucifixion.

Crispin H.T. Fletcher-Louis

(c) 1998
Reproduction beyond fair use only on permission of the author.

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