Monday, April 28, 2008

Book Review: The Solution to the "Son of Man" Problem

Maurice Casey
The Solution to the ‘Son of Man’ Problem
LNTS 343; London: T&T Clark, 2007.
Available (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.


Danny Zacharias said...

Thanks for this Mike. This is a book that I need to look at when I have time to work further on my OG-Dan 7:13 in Matthew paper.

I'm always amazed when a scholar says that an author could not have understood a text a certain way because that is not what it means — just because he believes the SoM in Dan is a collective symbol, that doesn't therefore mean that every early reader read it the same way.

Brant Pitre said...

Thanks for the review, Mike!
Great job!
I have to say that I find least convincing not only the arguments that the son of man in Dan 7 is not messianic (you already know my thoughts on that one! Dan 7:17 is the key!), but to suggest that he is not a Messiah in 1 Enoch and 4 Ezra is in my opinion, simply absurd. Whatever "underlying traditions" a scholar may want to create in their imaginations is one thing, but the actual TEXTS as they are extant explicitly identify the figure as "Messiah." And these are the earliest extant interpretations of Dan 7 (outside the Gospels). Once you throw the Gospels into the mix and remember Dan 7:17, the messianic interpretation is a slam dunk. Anyway, thanks for a great review, although I can't say Casey's conclusions are surprising.

steph said...

There's a bit of representation here but as it's only on a blog...

but Danny, if you read the book, you'll find he doesn't say that!

Danny Zacharias said...

Thanks for the correction Steph.

steph said...

I should have typed "mis" representation ... never mind.

Antonio Jerez said...

I´ll definitely get hold of Casey´s book as soon as possible. But it is sad to see that he claims that the "one like a son of man" in Daniel 7:13 is just a symbol for the saints of the most high. I don´t see why this kind of reasoning can still go on (NT Wright also does it) when it should be obvious in light of Daniel 8:15-17 that we are dealing with an angel. In Daniel 8:15 the angel who looks like a man is Gabriel, but the angel in 7:13 is probably Michael.
And I tend to agree with Joseph Fitzmyer who argues that "there is no evidence in the book of Daniel itself for a messianic interpretation of the term, despite the way it will be interpreted in later Jewish litterature. See his recent book on jewish messianism "The one who is to come"

Antonio Jerez said...

have I missed something? But in what way does Daniel 7:13 in combination with 7:17 show that 7:13 refers to the Messiah?

Antonio Jerez said...

And Michael,
don´t miss James Crossley´s rapid response to your review on his blog. Hopefully some answers are forthcoming.

Antonio Jerez said...

could you please give me an indication about in which publications or articles Casey engages with N T Wright. So far I have only been able to find the article in JSNT nr 69 1998 - "Where Wright is Wrong". I think Casey managed to get a few good punches on Wright there, although you may disagree.
But I may agree with you that Casey goes over the top a bit in his book on GJohn. He obviously has no warm feelings for that evangelist.

MELO said...

Thanks for the very enlightening review. I agree with you most o two points: (1) In your criticism of M.Casey's bias against Orthodox Christianity, he should admit his own strong inclination towards secular objectivism. (2) In your judgment that the "bar (e)nasha" or ben (ha)adam term is a fluid term which oscillates between collective and individual meanings, especially when it was used in visionary and symbolic (including apocalyptic) contexts. The term (especially in the Gospels) cannot just be an ordinary term for "a human being." Jesus of Nazareth is unanimously portrayed in the gospel and extrabiblical sources as a religious man, a pious Jew, i.e., one who definitely has a THEOLOGY. If he didn't, then his death on the Cross and his healing & teaching ministry and proclamation of the Kingdom/Reign of God would not mean anything. we can never remove theology (if not christology) from the historical Jesus. My own view on the solution to the Son of Man Problem is that one should allow the term to be dynamic as well as symbolic. I have done some considerable work on the Son of Man myself in my 300 page Master's thesis, especially on the collective interpretation of the Son of (the) Man in the sayings of Jesus. and the interpretation that best captures the fluidity of the term, I believe, is the corporate term. The Son of (the) Man is Jesus AND his messianic community. The Corporate Theory takes into consideration the best features of the two major interpretations, i.e., the Aramaic theory and the Concept Theory, and allows for a generic indefinite understanding as well as a messianic interpretation, albeit a democratized version of the individual messianic signification. M.Casey, in his documents and affirms (in his 1976 article) that the original corporate interpretation co-exists alongside the individual/messianic interpretation even until the NT period/Rabbinic Literature. Moreover, it is apparent in the ministry of Jesus that they regard themselves as a theocratic and anti-monarchic Jewish renewal movement closely associated with the Baptist Movement. In other words, if Jesus has a n implicit Christology, it would be that he understood himself as the Messiah but not exclusively. Just as Scot McKnight and Dale Allison, I argue for Jesus' Son of Man as a term that reflects his "corporate/inclusive messianism."

MELO said...

correction, among many other typo errors: M.Casey documents and affirms (in his 1976 article) that the original corporate interpretation co-exists alongside the individual/messianic interpretation even until the NT period/Rabbinic Literature.


'The son of man of Dnil7.13'has no connection of the 'Son of Man' of the Gospels.

Alexander81 said...

Overall, I agree with your review, Bird. I still have to finish the book of Casey, though. I am reading for my Master's Thesis on the Identity of the "Son of Man" in the gospels.

Melo, I would be interested in reading your Master's thesis on the 'Son of Man'.

MELO said...

I'd be glad to have you read it, Alexander; that is, if you are still interested. It has been published as a book (monograph) with the same title.

I also recommend D.Burkett's the Son of Man Debate as an essential reading on the history of interpretation of the SoM sayings in the gospels. I relied on him heavily, esp. on the first part of my thesis. On the 2nd part, on the corporate interpretation, the major proponent was T.W.Manson. And then came, Morna Hooker and Lloyd Gaston among others. A most probable modern scholar who proposes the corporate interpretation is Dale Allison (in his 1998) book.