Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Pre-Christian Messianic Interpretation of Daniel 7

That Daniel 7.9-14 was interpreted messianically is evident from 1 Enoch and 4 Ezra. However, both of these documents (in their final form) clearly post-date 70 A.D. Is there any evidence for a pre-Christian messianic reading of Daniel 7? There probably is in the "Son of God" text from Qumran, 4Q246 2.1-10! The text reads:

"He will be called the Son of God, they will call him the son of the Most High. But like the meteors that you saw in your vision, so will be their kingdom. They will reign only a few years over the land, while people trample people and nation trample nation until the people of God arise; then all will have rest from warfare. Their kingdom will be an eternal kingdom, and all their paths will be righteous. They will judge the land justly, and all nations will make peace. Warfare will cease from teh land, and all the nations shall do obeisance to them. The great God will be their help. He Himself will fight for them, putting peoples into their power, overthrowing them all before them. God's rule will be an eternal rule and all the depth of [the earth are His]. (Trans. Wise, Abegg, Cook)".

Is this "Son of God" a self-divinized king like Antiochus Epiphanes IV, Israel, an angelic figure, or a Jewish monarch? What is interesting is that John Collins (Sceptre and the Star, pp. 163-69) opts for a messianic meaning and he says the text as indebted heavily to Daniel 7. He notes the points of comparison: (1) 2.5 with "its kingdom is an everlasting kingdom" = Dan. 3.33; 7.27; and (2) 2.9 with "his sovereignty will be an everlasting sovereignty" = Dan. 4:31; 7:14. In addition, there is, like Daniel 7, an intimate relationship between the Son of God figure and the people of God. The Son of God figure is followed by reference to transient human kingdoms and the conflict between peoples which is once more reminiscient of Daniel 7. Other texts in Qumran also given "Son" or "Son of God" a messianic meaning, e.g. 4Q174, 4Q252. Collins concludes: "The Son of God text suggests that the messianic interpretation of Daniel 7 had begun already in the Hasmonean period" (p. 167).


Matt said...

Prof. Bird: I wrote my MA thesis on this topic at Acadia Div. College. Now, I realize most MA theses aren't worth the paper they're printed on (and mine is no exception), but, here, just for fun, is my abstract:

J.D.G. Dunn has proposed that the “one like a son of man” of Dan 7.13 was not interpreted as an individual or a messiah in pre-Christian Judaism (JSPSup 26, pp. 198-210). While his proposal may rightly serve to check claims that the pre-Christian period bears witness to an individualistic and messianic interpretation of Dan 7.13 as explicit as that found in the gospels [or the Similitudes et al], Dunn does not elaborate as to how such an individualistic interpretation could have arose. This thesis argues that the literature of early Judaism includes texts with imagery similar to or dependent on Daniel 7; many of these texts [e.g., 4Q246, Ezek. Trag., OG Dan 7.13 h/t Danny Zacharias] refer to individuals (or suggest an indiv. interpretation) and this may be suggestive of a milieu that facilitated later individualistic and, in some cases, messianic interpretations of Daniel 7, including the “son of man.”

Two important articles to consider (in addition to Collins) are W. Horbury, "Messianic Associations of the Son of Man" JTS 36 (Apr. 1985): 34-55; and G. G. Xeravits, King, Priest, Prophet: Positive Eschatological Protagonists of the Qumran Library (STDJ 47; Leiden: Brill, 2003), 86.

Thanks for the blog. I'm a regular reader.

Matt Walsh

Chris Brown said...

hi mike,

in relation to this subject, i was wondering if you can give a synopsis to the book "The One Who Is to Come" by Joseph A. Fitzmyer? I saw that you were reading it and wanted to know if you had any thoughts on it?


chris brown

James F. McGrath said...

Since the evidence from the strictly pre-Christian period is (at the very least) somewhat ambiguous, I suppose the other way to try to answer this question would be to ask whether it is plausible to posit the influence of Jewish Christianity on works like 1 Enoch and 4 Ezra. This would have to have occurred very early, since the Gospel of Matthew parallels (and most would say reflects knowledge of) the imagery of the Similitudes. To the extent that this doesn't seem plausible, the appearance of these ideas in multiple works in the second half of the first century might suggest that the idea existed earlier. Perhaps the easiest solution, however, is to suggest that there was one influential work that interpreted Daniel in this way - most likely the Similitudes of Enoch - and that this influenced (whether directly or indirectly) the subsequent literary works of the Gospel of Matthew and 4 Ezra.

James Crossley said...

Does 1 Enoch *clearly* post date 70?

Geoff Hudson said...

'until the people of God arise' looks forward to the time when Israel will dominate all other nations, presumably led by their two Messiahs. By then any self-declared son of God or son of the Most High would have been given his come-uppance. Despite the attempts of some scholars, even the messianic Jesus doesn't fit this violent picture.

Interestingly, 'John the Baptist', whose dad was obliged to reveal his name 'John' to us, is described as a 'prophet of the Most High (Lk.1.76). Yet, strangely soon in the story, he gets his come-uppance, and disappears from the scene. So may be the earliest Christians were not at all messianic in the Jewish sense, but were peaceful prophet types, like those Essenes. And what was 'John's' real name?

Michael F. Bird said...

I said "in their final form" they do not pre-date 70 AD. I think in their tradition-history that they are definitely pre-70 AD esp. the similitudes of Enoch.

James Crossley said...

Well then it depends what you mean by 'final form'. If the Similitudes is pre-70 then shouldn't the rest follow? Or do you mean as collected together as one document (and that in itself holds problems of its own). Or do you mean (say) a Ge'ez version? I'm not giving any personal opinion away here but you could say it was pre-70 for all reasonable purposes couldn't you? Anyway, you only need the Similitudes so hey.