The Solution to the ‘Son of Man’ Problem
LNTS 343; London: T&T Clark, 2007.
Available Amazon.com (US) and Continuum (UK)
My thanks to T&T Clark/Continuum for a review copy!
Maurice Casey is a foremost expert on the relation of Aramaic to the Gospels and the dizzying debates surrounding the ‘Son of Man’ title. This volume is a significant publication that summarizes and expounds further Casey’s Aramaic approach to the Son of Man problem.
In chapter one, ‘The State of Play’ Casey gives a historical survey of how ho huios tou anthropou has been translated and interpreted from the Patristic period down through to the current scholarly setting. He notes the frequent attempt to link the phrase to Dan. 7.13, its christological use as an affirmation of Jesus as human in the early church, the development of the Menschensohnbegriff (son of man concept) especially in Germany climaxing in the notion of a primordial myth, and sometimes even as a referent to Jesus as a Son of Adam. He sets this in contrast to semitic approaches to the phrase beginning with Hugo Grotius, that identified the underlying Aramaic as idiomatic for ‘man’.
In chapter two Casey provides a study of 53 Aramaic texts drawn from inscriptions, rabbinic literature, Syriac texts, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Casey argues that Aramaic was a relatively stable language and that the ‘son of man’ idiom was a general statement for ‘man’ and could be used in a definite or indefinite state. He emphasizes that the generality of a given saying may vary considerably as bar (e)nash(a) sayings can refer to the speaker, a group of people including the speaker, or to someone else based on the context. This is a welcomed corrective to Vermes.
In chapter three, Casey sets his sights on criticizing the ‘Son of Man’ concept (Menschensohnbegriff) and he engages in a study of Daniel 7, 1 Enoch, and 4 Ezra 13 towards that end. He argues that the Son of Man in Dan. 7.13 is not a Messiah but is a symbol for the Saints of the Most High and what is genuinely interesting is that he surveys the Syrian Christian tradition which located Daniel 7 against the backdrop of the Hasmonean struggle against the Seleucid dynasty. Casey also argues for an Aramaic tradition underlying 1 Enoch and that the ‘son of man’ in 1 Enoch refers to Enoch himself and not to a Messiah. He similarly argues, based on textual considerations, that the term ‘Son of Man’ is not used in 4 Ezra.
In chapter four, an Aramaic reconstruction of six authentic sayings is given (Mk. 2.27-28; 9.11-13; 10.45; 14.21; Mt. 11.19/Lk. 7.34; Mt. 12.32/Lk. 12.10 with Mk. 3.28-28). Casey argues that these sayings have a Sitz im Leben in the life of Jesus and they only make sense when the original verses are reconstructed in Aramaic and this provides an ‘overwhelming argument’ for his particular perspective on the Son of Man materials. The following chapters contain Casey’s reconstruction and examination of several units including Mk. 2.1-12 (chapter five), Mt 8.19-20/Lk 9.57-58 (chapter six), Lk. 12.8-9/Mt. 10.32-33 and Mk. 8.38 (chapter seven), Lk. 22.48 (chapter eight), the passion predictions (chapter nine), and some eschatological dominical sayings (chapter ten) with attention paid to their significance for the Son of Man debate and the historical Jesus.
Chapter eleven covers the evolution of the Aramaic bar (e)nash(a) into the Greek ho huios tou anthropou. Casey examines the translation process of authentic sayings, the midrashic creation of new sayings, and the rewriting of authentic sayings in order to create new Son of Man sayings. The Greek expression was given to bar (e)nash(a) for sayings that refer predominantly to Jesus. The Greek word for ‘son’ huios was a natural translation of bar or ben. In regards to the definite articles in the Greek, the first definite article ho makes reference to Jesus emphatic while the second definite article tou is more or less generic. This creative outburst resulted in the invention of a christological title to show how Jesus himself was indicated in the original Aramaic idiom. This titular sense was enhanced by Mark’s appeal to Dan. 7.13 to create two parousia sayings in Mk. 13.26 and 14.62. Casey’s burden is to show that an idiomatic usage of bar (e)nash(a) would not necessarily lead to a translation of ho anthropos or ho huios anthropou. I tend to think, following Bauckham and Hurtado, that the double articular Greek construction, inelegant as it is, was given to emphasize the particular emphasis that Jesus attached to the Aramaic phrase. I would also ask, however, if Mark can cite the anarthrous hos huios anthropou on Dan. 7.13 LXX to create a Christological title, then why cannot someone earlier in the tradition or even Jesus do the same based on the Aramaic? Nothing necessitates a Marcan provenance for the connection of the Son of Man (in Greek or Aramaic) with Daniel 7.
Casey goes over the Johannine Son of Man sayings in chapter twelve. He concludes that the Son of May sayings in the Gospel of John are essentially taken over from the Synoptics and incorporated into the author’s midrashic use of Scripture. ‘Son of Man’ is a title that discloses the humanity of Jesus and none of the sayings are based on an underlying Aramaic source.
In his conclusion Casey emphasizes once more the apparent problem of the Son of Man debate is caused by ‘a massive degree of ignorance compounded by ideological bias’ (314) and he then proceeds to summarize the various chapters of the book.
Along with Mogens Müller’s book, Casey’s volume is among the first ports of call for anyone wrestling with the Son of Man problem. It caps a life time of study on the subject and show cases Casey’s impressive command of all the relevant primary and secondary literature (thankfully all Aramaic and German quotes are translated). I suspect that scholarship has finally taken notice, at least in part, to what Casey, Lindars, and Vermes (as well as those before them from Grotius to Wellhausen) have been saying: the Aramaic idiom needs to be factored into any solution to the Son of Man problem. There are discernible strengths to this volume particularly in Casey’s penetrating critique of the Menschensohnbegriff and I found his chapter on the formulation of the passion predictions to be highly illuminating.
There are three major criticisms I have with this book. First, Casey often derides those who write about the Son of Man from the Christian tradition (German Lutherans are a preferred target). I do not for a minute deny that presuppositions and theologically informed views have influenced these scholars, however, Casey nowhere acknowledges his own presuppositions and how they influence him. The implied author of this book (i.e. Casey’s representation of himself) is that of an objective and secular critic who has come to liberate us from the shackles of theologically loaded interpretations of the Son of Man. But I suggest that the existence of such an ideal objective and impartial author is just as mythical as the existence as the ‘primordial son of man’ known to occasionally haunt the lecture rooms of German universities. Casey’s dislike for orthodox Christianity is easily documented (see his responses to S.E. Porter, N.T. Wright in various articles and his monograph on John’s Gospel) and one wonders if this atheological aesthetic has impacted some of his conclusions (i.e. he likes to make sure nothing supports orthodox christology!). This leads to my next second point, that Casey has not definitively refuted a link between the idiom bar (e)nash(a) and the kebar enash in Dan. 7.13. Let me preface that by saying that not every Son of Man reference in the Gospels is necessarily a quote or allusion to Dan. 7.13, and they may simply be an expression of an Aramaic idiom as Casey rightly notes (e.g. Mk. 2.10). What is more, the authenticity of several texts (e.g. Mk. 13.26, 14.62) are complex in their own right and although I do not subscribe to Casey’s view that they are secondary formulations that refer to Jesus’ parousia, I recognize the validity of the tradition-historical questions that he raises. What is more, ‘Son of Man’ is not a technical title for ‘Messiah’. Nonetheless, Casey objects to combining the Aramaic idiom with the human figure of Dan. 7.13 on the grounds that, the ‘one like a son of man’ is an ‘abstract symbol of the Saints of the Most High’ (p. 30). He also rejects the messianic interpretation attached to the Son of Man expression as well. In response: (1) The symbolism of Daniel 7 uses metaphors that are plastic and oscillate between being inclusive and exclusive. For instance, the beasts clearly symbolize the four pagan kingdoms (e.g. 7.23), but they also symbolize the four kings (7.17). So a beast can symbolize both a kingdom and an individual king. Can we say the same about the ‘one like a son of man’ who is the heavenly counterpart of the four beasts and the little arrogant horn? He clearly symbolizes the ‘Saints of the Most High’ but given the royal description and royal role that he executes can we see here an implied reference to a Jewish king? Casey is forced to regard the beasts as a symbol (a king) for a symbol (kingdoms) and then deny that the symbols can be individual despite the fact that an individual interpretation is given in 7.17! (2) The fact is that there arose a tradition of messianic exegesis of Daniel 7 in 4Q246, 1 Enoch, the Gospels, and 4 Ezra which indicates that a messianic interpretation of Dan. 7.13 is both primitive and possible at the time of Jesus. Third, Casey’s Aramaic reconstructions are suggestive of semitic sources underlying the Gospels in certain places and he probably bring us as close to the words of Jesus as we can go. However, he occasionally gives the impression that he is providing us with the actual words of Jesus as he often makes a point why Jesus preferred one word over another. This is perhaps true for one or two short proverbial sayings (like maybe Mk. 10.45), but what Casey has really done is reconstructed a possible Aramaic tradition lying beneath the Greek text of the Gospels. That tradition is likely to be a paraphrase, summary, digest and gist of what Jesus said depending on what one makes of the oral tradition. For the most part (and I allow some exceptions) the Jesus tradition, regardless of what language we find it in, contains the ipsissima vox not the ipsissima verba of Jesus.
Perhaps the greatest contribution of Casey’s volume is a healthy reminder that all scholars of the Greek New Testament would do well if they also master the semitic languages of Palestine, the Hebrew Bible, and the eastern church.