Is the “Son of Man” God?
Daniel Boyarin suggests that Daniel 7 (rightly deconstructed) provides us with a first affirmative answer, and then moves on to demonstrate that this affirmation is echoed in other early Jewish texts.
Chapter two of The Jewish Gospels provides his reading of the Son of Man in First Enoch and Fourth Ezra.
The material from First Enoch provides a much stronger basis for arguing that the “son of man” was considered some sort of divinity in early Judaism than Daniel does, in my opinion. This figure is clearly preexistent, one who becomes incarnate at a particular time in order to be messiah, redeemer, savior.
One indication that this figure is divine comes from the statement that his name is known before creation came to be:
Even before the sun and the constellations were created,
Before the stars of heaven were made,
His name was named before the Lord of Spirits. (cited from Boyarin, 78)
In addition to this figure’s preexistence, at the end (in what is perhaps a later addition to the vision), Enoch is revealed to be the son of man.
Boyarin reads the text as a whole, indicating, first, that Enoch on earth was an incarnation of this eternal son of man, and that he is then deified in his ascent into heaven.
Presumably, this means that Enoch will return in order to fill the role on earth of the Son of Man who is the saving messiah.
But this presumption raises a question for me: Is the text that precedes Enoch’s exaltation a description of Enoch before he comes to earth as Enoch? Or is it, instead, a description of the heavenly Enoch after his exaltation to heaven, who will come again as Messiah?
The idea that someone’s name is known from all eternity need not entail their actual existence. Compare Revelation, where people’s names are known and written in the books from all eternity.
Finally, there is the repeated use of “son of man.” This word means “human.” I want to see more from Boyarin about why this figure is called “human being” if he is not, in fact, human being throughout most of the apocalypse?
This ties into another general question I have, both from last time and this: to what extent does the fact that this is apocalyptic literature–literature that depicts earthly realities using heavenly visions, literature that is highly symbolic and stylized–influence how we read these descriptions? If sometimes feel that Boyarin is reading too literally.
In this case, however, most scholars agree with Boyarin that the Son of Man in 1 Enoch is a preexistent deity and not simply an exalted Enoch who comes back as a messiah. Here there is some good fodder for discussing the presence of a preexistent, perhaps even divine, messiah figure as present in non-Christian Judaism.
In the discussions of both 1 Enoch and 4 Ezra, however, I have a larger problem with Boyarin’s work. It’s not that there are not parallels between Jesus as son of man and these early figures. There certainly are. Even important dynamics of their life such as receiving worship are entailed across different texts.
But Boyarin has adopted Richard Bauckham’s heuristic of “divine identity Christology” as a measure for saying “here is a figure who is being described as God.” This is problematic.
Receiving worship does not make someone God. Not even in Judaism. Unless, of course, Solomon was God (1 Chro 29:20).
Controlling the waters of the sea does not make someone God. Not even in Judaism. Unless, of course, Moses is God (Exod 14).
Ruling the world does not make someone God. Not even in Judaism. Unless, of course, Adam is God (Gen 1).
Being called Lord does not make someone God. Not even in Judaism. Unless, of course, David is God (Ps 2).
I agree wholeheartedly with Boyarin that the Jesus tradition is participating in a larger Jewish tradition of exalted son of man figures redeeming, saving, coming as David’s seed, receiving worship, and riding on the clouds.
Where I am not yet convinced is that all of this entails divinity, as such, for an early Jewish audience. There is a whole tangle of unexplored possible implications that swirl around a very different possibility.
Perhaps “son of man” really intends to connote “human one.” Perhaps rather than a divine christology, this is all part of a larger Adam Christology in which the early Jewish people are envisioning human beings, or a Human Being, restored to the primal place of ‘adam: God’s son, ruling the world on God’s behalf.