Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Mark D. Roberts on early Christology

MARK D. ROBERTS has been putting up some thoughtful posts on early Christology at his Beliefnet blog. I list them below with some comments:

Echoes of Wisdom and the Divinity of Jesus: Part 1

Echoes of Wisdom and the Divinity of Jesus (Part 2)

Echoes of Wisdom and the Divinity of Jesus: Part 3

I was disappointed not to hear more about Philo of Alexandria's Logos theology (cf., e.g., here) or the Enochian wisdom tradition (notably in the Similitudes, 1 Enoch 42). Maybe a fourth essay is warranted.

Jesus as the Son of God

This piece takes the evidence in directions that I don't think are entirely warranted, notably here:
If Jesus had openly proclaimed himself as Son of God, his contemporaries would not have thought of this as a claim to divinity. They might have understood only that Jesus was touting his own righteousness. More likely, they would have heard a claim to be the promised Messiah, the human being who would lead Israel to throw the Romans out of God's land once and for all.
There is plenty of evidence that the phrase "son of God" could mean an angel or a divine being (cf. Job 1, Deuteronomy 32:8). And the assertion earlier in the essay that the Israelite kings were not divinized is debatable. Note that Solomon was enthroned on the throne of YHWH as king according to 1 Chronicles 29:23 and that the king is arguably addressed as God or a god in royal rites in Isaiah 9:5 (Evv 9:6) and Psalm 45:7 (evv. 45:6).

Jesus and the Perplexing Son of Man

The Son of Man in the Judaism of Jesus

The treatment of the Son of Man is good, apart from the discussion of "the one like a son of man" in Daniel 7:13:
While still dreaming, Daniel approached one of the divine attendants, asking for the interpretation of the dream. He learned that the four beasts represent four kingdoms that shall dominate the earth. But when the Ancient One finally executes judgment upon the all four beasts, the saints will be exonerated. In fact,
The kingship and dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the holy ones of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them (Dan 7:27).
Therefore, the "one like a son of man" represents the faithful people of God who endure oppression and ultimately share in God's rule over the earth.
The problem here is that the vision in chapter 7 comes in three parts: the allegorical vision of the four beasts in vv. 1-8 a second vision of the heavenly throne room consisting of God and his angels (who are evidently watching the first vision) in vv. 9-16; and the angel's interpretation of the allegorical vision in vv. 17-27. The difficulty with Dr. Roberts's interpretation is that the one like a son of man comes in the second part of the vision. He is a figure in the heavenly throne room, which is "real," that is, not part of the allegory. The kingdom of God will be given to the Jewish people ("the people of the holy ones of the Most High" in v. 27), but the one like a son of man is not an allegorical representation of them. He is a heavenly figure in his own right, perhaps the angel Michael or Gabriel (who appear elsewhere in Daniel) or - my best guess - the glorified patriarch Enoch.

Daniel 7 is arguably based on Enoch's ascent vision in the Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 14), along with Ezekiel chapter 1. In Enoch's vision he ascends on the clouds and is brought before the throne of God, and it seems likely to me that Daniel had him in mind here. Confirming this, the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71) explicitly says in chapter 71 that Enoch is the Danielic Son of Man.

(I am currently teaching a course on the book of Daniel and these matters are near and dear to my heart. For more details on the reading of Daniel 7 given in the paragraph before the preceding one, see the magisterial Hermeneia commentary on Daniel by John Collins.)

With the caveats above, Dr. Roberts's summary of the state of the question regarding early Christology is good and worth a read. Incidentally, with him, I don't have any problem with the idea that Jesus spoke of the Son of Man with Daniel's exalted "one like a son of man" in mind, perhaps even referring to himself. But many historical Jesus scholars, perhaps most, think that this is a post-Jesus stratum of the tradition.