Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Son of Man, Servant of the Lord, and Messiah

I've always wondered if the Servant passages of Isaiah 42-55 were read messianically in pre-Christian Judaism. I know of at least two possible places:

(1) Zech 3.8 which speaks of "my servant, the branch". And "branch" has davidic/messianic connotations as is evident from Isa. 11.1 ("out of the stump of Jesse ... a Branch will bear fruit")and Jer. 23.5; 33.15 ("righteous Branch").

(2) The Targum of Isaiah also adds a messianic reference to Isaiah 53 (I don't have it on hand so you'll have to believe me).

Of course, the Zech. 3.8 passage could be said to be rather oblique if not tenuous, and the Targum of Isaiah may date no earlier than the 4th century AD. Is there any first century (BC or AD) evidence for a messianic reading of the Isaianic Servant? I believe there is in 1 Enoch. Let me show you my argument:

(a) The mysterious "Son of Man" figure in 1 Enoch is clearly a takeover from Daniel 7, however, given his function in 1 Enoch 46, 48 he takes on the messianic roles of establishing righteousness, defeats worldly kings, and rules on Yahweh's behalf. I contend that the Enochic Son of Man is essentially a variation of a messianic theme.

(b) The Son of Man is called a "light of the gentiles" in 1 Enoch 48.4, which is a clear echo of Isa. 42.6 and 49.6. In fact, like the Servant of Isaiah and Daniel's Son of Man, the Enochic Son of Man is the representative par excellence of Israel.

(c) Therefore, one can posit a pre-Christian "messianic" reading of Isaiah's Servant via the Enochic Son of Man!

(d) The implication being that the early Christian reading of the Servant of Isaiah was hardly unprecedented and was probably rooted in Jewish messianic expectation.

(e) The centre of gravity to my argument is that the "light to the gentiles" passage in 1 Enoch 38 pre-dates Christian exegesis of Isaiah and is not a later Christian interpolation into the text.

Any thoughts?


Sean du Toit said...

Thanks for this. What's the dating and provenance of 1 Enoch? This would influence the argument.

Matthew Montonini said...

Hello, Mike. Interesting points. The passage I'm working on, 2 Cor 6.1-2, might add to your argument, albeit indirectly. It seems to me that Paul's message of reconciliation is seen in light of the Servant's work in Isaiah 49, as Jesus (2 Cor 5.14ff) proves to be the Servant par excellence, while Paul finds creedence for his ministry to the Gentiles (Isa 49.6 cf. Gal 1.16; Rom 9.24).