Did the early followers of Jesus in their claim of divine status for Jesus go beyond early Jewish assumptions about the end-time redeemer? Did their beliefs move from Jewish to Christian?
That’s the question Daniel Boyarin tackles in the first chapter of his new book The Jewish Gospels. In this chapter, Boyarin discusses the question of the title “Son of Man”. Not surprisingly I suppose, his view goes against the grain of most contemporary scholarship. Boyarin argues that Son of Man should not be a thought a reference to Jesus humanity (as is commonly thought) but to his deity. The difference is perhaps best illustrated by the new CEB translation in which the standard translation of the phrase is ” the human one”. Boyarin says,
In this chapter, I will show that almost the opposite is the case in the Gospel of Mark: “Son of God” referred to the king of Israel, the earthly king of David’s seat, while “Son of Man” referred to a heavenly figure and not to a human being at all. The title “Son of Man” denoted Jesus as a part of God, while the title “Son of God” indicated his status as King Messiah (26).
To make this assertion stick, Boyarin first shows that the title “Son of God” is another way to say Messiah, the Davidic king. This term in its Hebrew context does not refer to a divine being but to an earthly and actual king. “When Mark in the very beginning of his Gospel writes, ‘The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,”‘the Son of God means the human Messiah, using the old title for the king of the House of David” (30).
The bulk of his argument however is on the Hebrew and, more specifically, Danielic background of the title “Son of Man”. Boyarin summarizes the vision from Daniel 7 this way,
He is a divine figure. He is in human form. He may very well be portrayed as a younger-appearing divinity than the Ancient of Days. He will be enthroned on high. He is given power and dominion, even sovereignty on earth.
These traditions between the time of Daniel and the New Testament had been merged with Jewish expectations of a Davidic king, and consequently, the idea of a divine-human Messiah was born, according to Boyarin. Furthermore, this figure, says Boyarin, was named “Son of Man” alluding to his origins in the divine figure named “one like the Son of Man/a human being” in Daniel: “a God who looks like a human being (literally Son of Man) has become the name for that God, who is now called ‘Son of Man,’ a reference to his human-appearing divinity” (33). Quoting Leo Baeck, Boyarin summarizes, “Whenever in later works ‘that Son of Man,’ ‘this Son of Man, or the Son of Man’ is mentioned, it is the quotation from Daniel that is speaking” (34). Thus, “we end up with a doubled godhead and a human-divine combination as the expected Redeemer” (34). What is important for Boyarin is that this is not a Christian development. The New Testament is echoing a widespread Second Temple belief: “The connections between the older pre-Jesus ideas of the Messiah/Christ and those that Jesus would claim for himself are thus very intimate indeed” (34).