In the second part of his address, Daniel Boyarin spoke about the significance of the “Son of Man” terminology in Mark’s Gospel.
Here are my notes from the second part of the Boyarin address.
Jesus calls himself the Son of Man – what does this term mean?
In Hebrew and Aramaic Son of Man just means human being. What would it mean for someone to walk around calling himself “The Human being”? It is a strange linguistic usage. That bothered me for years.
The Book of Daniel chapter 7
9 As I watched,
thrones were set in place,
and an Ancient One took his throne;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames,
and its wheels were burning fire.
10 A stream of fire issued
and flowed out from his presence.
A thousand thousand served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.
The court sat in judgement,
and the books were opened.
11I watched then because of the noise of the arrogant words that the horn was speaking. And as I watched, the beast was put to death, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 12As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. 13As I watched in the night visions,
I saw one like a human being
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
and was presented before him.
14 To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
that shall never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:9-14)
We are told Daniel saw a vision in which there were thrones – plural. On one throne An Ancient of Days was seated with white hair like snow. Then there was brought before the Ancient of Days “one like a son of man”, a divine figure looking like a human being.
We know he was divine because he came on the clouds of heaven – 70 times in the Hebrew Bible a figure comes on the clouds of heaven, every time it is a figure for God.
The old God gives authority/dominion to the younger figure which will continue from then on through all of history. That figure like a son of man turns in the course of tradition into a figure known as “THE Son of man.” This happens in Jewish tradition, in the Book of Enoch and in Four Ezra. When Jesus calls himself “The Son of Man” he is asserting he is that divine human redeemer otherwise known as the Messiah.
I had a conversation with a protestant NT scholar who said it would be impossible for Jesus to refer to himself that way because it would be blasphemy. I said, “Not if it was true.” If Jesus sincerely believed he was The Son of Man, he would not have hesitated to call himself “The Son of Man”.
The basic theological ideas we take to be distinctive of Gospel Christianity were in fact part and parcel of the Judaism of the time. Christianity as a separate religion did not come into existence until around the 4th Century.
A lot of times Christians ask me “Why did the Jews not accept Jesus?” I reply, “Who do you think accepted Jesus?” At the beginning it was Jews who accepted Jesus.
from The Jewish Gospels
The Gospel of Mark and the Similitudes of Enoch are independent witnesses to a Jewish pattern of religion at their shared time. Texts are not religions (any more than a map is a territory), but they are evidence of the religion, tips of icebergs that suggest massive religious developments and formations below the surface, or, perhaps better put, aboveground nodes on a rhizomic system underground that suggest the shape of the rhizomes. The territory was surely as bumpy and variegated as an earthly territory would be; as Carsten Colpe has put it, “The differences in the functions of the son of Man may be explained by the differences between the groups which expected Him and the times in which they did so.”
The great innovation of the Gospels is only this: to declare that the Son of Man is here already, that he walks among us. As opposed to Enoch, who will be in those last days the Messiah Son of Man, Jesus already is. As opposed to the Son of Man flying on the clouds, who is a vision for the future, Jesus has come, declare the Gospels and the believers. The last days are here right now, proclaims the Gospels. All of the ideas about Christ are old; the new is Jesus. There is nothing in the doctrine of the Christ that is new save the declaration of this man as the Son of Man. This is, of course, an enormous declaration, a huge innovation in itself and one that has had fateful historical consequences. (pp. 100,101)