Thursday, January 7, 2016

Is the Son of Man the Nation of Israel? A Reply to Yahya Snow

Muslim polemicist Yahya Snow has published a response to my recent article regarding the Son of Man (apparently without linking to the article he is addressing). It is curious that Yahya Snow exemplifies the very same attitude that I often observe among the "new atheist" community that I engage with. He can't imagine that someone who is as informed and rational as him could possibly disagree reasonably. Thus, those with whom he disagrees must have been subject to indoctrination, or some other impediment to clear thinking. As I noted previously, he had earlier stated that the reason for my "superficial and misleading spin" on Daniel 7:13-14 was because I "may well have been [my] youth." This time, he has another reason why I don't see things the way he does: Pride. He writes,
"I’d like you to make a concerted and conscious effort to put pride and any other hindrance to objective analysis to one side and reflect on the points in the video as well as the supplementary material in this blog post." 
Being led by emotion and pride in order to defend an idea (Trinity) which is described as idolatry by Jewish rabbis is really playing with fire -- regardless of who you are [...] Please look into it sans pride and the emotional baggage surrounding it.
To Yahya, it is inconceivable that someone could have taken the time to watch his video and read his blog post and yet fail to be persuaded by his argumentation. When I recently suggested a debate on the identity of the angel of the LORD in the Old Testament, Yahya was sure that this must be the reason I don't see things the way he does. He said,
"I'd rather encourage you to reflect further on this issue as opposed to jumping into a debate to defend your personal view on the angel of the Lord. Acting upon the impulse of pride can blind one from seeing the the [sic] truth."
 Now, let's turn to the issue at hand.

Yahya quotes Rabbi Yisroel's paper responding to Christian scholar Dr. Michael Brown's defense of the Messianic credentials of Jesus:
"This is incredible! This is one of the few passages in scripture that come along with a commentary. Scripture itself explains this passage and the “son of man” of Daniel 7:13 is not the Messiah – it is the people of Israel!
The scripture informs us that after Daniel had seen the vision he approaches an angel and asks for a clarification of all that he had seen (7:16). The angel replies that the four beasts represented four kingdoms, and the final dominion will be given to the “holy ones of the most high” (7:18) – a reference to the nation of Israel. The angel elaborates further by telling us that the dominion under all of the heavens is given to “the nation of holy ones of the most high” (7:27) – again a clear reference to the nation of Israel. According to the angel, each of the beasts represents a different kingdom, while the son of man in Daniel’s vision represents Israel. The Christian assertion that this passage refers to the Messiah is plainly refuted by scripture itself."
My previous article did not dispute that verses 18 and 27 of Daniel 7 relate the Son of Man to the nation of Israel. I argued, however, that the Son of Man is best interpreted as an individual who is representative of the nation of Israel. This is not at all inconsistent with the text. As Rabbi Yisroel correctly observes, the four beasts spoken of in Daniel 7 represent four kingdoms. Verse 17 tells us that "These four great beasts are four kings who shall arise out of the earth." Each of the kingdoms, then, is represented by a king. This sort of representation is also seen in Daniel 2:38, where Nebuchadnezzar is identified as the golden head of the statue in his vision. He thereby represents the entire kingdom of Babylon. The Messiah, in Psalm 110:4 is identified as someone who serves in a priestly capacity. The role of a priest was to represent the people of God. The exegesis that I am proposing, therefore, is not at all inconsistent with the text.

Yahya goes on:
"Jonathan you claimed the earliest exegetes believed the Son of Man title was a Messianic reference. This is not accurate as the earliest explanation is above – it’s the explanation within the book of Daniel itself."
And, as I have shown, the commentary supplied within the book of Daniel itself is consistent with a Messianic interpretation. Yahya further writes,
"You also cited the Septuagint, come on Jonathan, what has that got to do with anything here?"
It is relevant because it gives us an insight into the early interpretations of the text. Not only does the Son of Man receive the very highest form of worship and religious service (Greek latreuo), but in the Septuagint, verse 27 clearly refers not to the saints receiving worship but rather the Most High:
"And the kingdom and the power and the greatness of the kings that are under the whole heaven were given to the saints of the Most High; and his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all powers shall serve and obey HIM (kai pasai hai archai AUTO douleusousi kai hypachousontai)."
Even if we stick with the Aramaic (which is slightly more ambiguous than the Greek Septuagint) and take verse 27 to refer to the plural "them" (as some translators render it), the Aramaic word used in verse 27 for "Most High", Elyonin, is in the plural, and literally means "Most Highs" or "Highest Ones". In context, the Most High in verse 27 clearly refers to God.

If Snow's interpretation is so obvious, why do the earliest interpreters (and the Septuagint) affirm my reading and not his? As liberal Biblical scholar John J. Collins writes (Hermeneia – A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible: Daniel, pp. 306-308),
The earliest interpretations and adaptations of the ‘one like a human being,’ Jewish and Christian alike, assume that the phrase refers to an individual and is not a symbol for a collective entity. In the Similitudes of Enoch (1En 46:1), the white-headed ‘head of days’ is accompanied by one ‘whose face had the appearance of a man, and his face [was] full of grace, like one of the holy angels.’ He is explicitly called ‘messiah,’ or anointed one, in 48:10; 52:4, and ‘his name was named’ before creation (48:3). In 4 Ezra 13 the man who rises from the sea and flies with the clouds of heaven is also a messianic figure, but like ‘that Son of Man’ in the Similitudes, he is a preexistent, supernatural figure (13:26; ‘This is he whom the Most High has been keeping for many ages’). The messianic interpretation prevails in rabbinic literature and remains the majority of opinion among the medieval Jewish commentators. The tradition is not entirely uniform. In some circles the two figures in Dan 7:9-14 were taken as two manifestations of God, apparently to the heretical view that they represented two powers in heaven. The collective interpretation is not clearly attested in Jewish circles until the Middle Ages… In summary, the traditional interpretations of the ‘one like a human being’ in the first millennium overwhelmingly favor the understanding of this figure as an individual, not as a collective symbol. The most usual identification was the messiah, but in the earliest adaptations of the vision (the Similitudes, 4 Ezra, the Gospels) the figure in question had a distinctly supernatural character.” [emphasis mine]
Yahya then quotes from an article that was published at the Jewish Encyclopedia website by Emil G. Hirsch:
"Similarly in Aramaic, “son of man” is the usual designation for “man,” and occurs in the inscriptions in Syriac, Mandaic, Talmudic, and other dialects (see Nathanael Schmidt in Cheyne and Black, “Encyc. Bibl.” iv. 4707-4708). In Dan. vii. 13, the passage in which it occurs in Biblical Aramaic, it certainly connotes a “human being.” Many see a Messianic significance in this verse, but in all probability the reference is to an angel with a human appearance, perhaps Michael."
It is rather odd that Yahya would cite Hirsch's interpretation, since this exegesis differs quite starkly from Yahya's own interpretation, namely, that the son of man is the nation of Israel as a whole. Which is it -- is the son of man the nation of Israel, or is it the archangel Michael? Is Yahya prepared to admit that the debate is rather more complicated than he has been prepared to admit? I refer readers back to my previous article for my argumentation for understanding the son of man as no less than a divine figure.

Yahya again quotes Hirsch:
"In the Gospels the title occurs eighty-one times. Most of the recent writers (among them being II. Lietzmann) have come to the conclusion that Jesus, speaking Aramaic, could never have designated himself as the “son of man” in a Messianic, mystic sense, because the Aramaic term never implied this meaning. Greek translators coined the phrase, which then led, under the influence of Dan. vii. 13 and the Logos gospel, to the theological construction of the title which is basic to the Christology of the Church. To this construction reference is made in Abbahu’s controversial saying in Ta’an. 65b. Indeed, examination of many of the passages shows that in the mouth of Jesus the term was an equivalent for the personal pronoun “I.”"
It is interesting that the Aramaic term bar enash. This is a different phraseology from other cases in the Old Testament where the phrase "Son of Man" is employed (such as in Ezekiel), which generally use the word Adam for man. J.P. Holding notes that,
"The combination bar enash and its parallels in Old Babylonian carry the meaning of an heir or successor to royalty, or of a free man of the highest class. A "man" here is not just any man, but as we might say, "THE MAN" as in royalty. Herzfeld notes an example of this usage in the Code of Hammurabi. Daniel was written at a time when this phrase had a specific and known meaning. In the context of Daniel 7:13, in which the one "like a son of man" comes to the Ancient of Days (Almighty God) and is given dominion of the sort that God possesses, the significance of Jesus' "son of man" usage cannot be overstated. It is functionally equivalent to saying that the one like a son of man is rightful heir and successor to the divine throne. "Son of man" is essentially the same as "Son of God" in this context."
It is clear from Jesus' particular usage of the son of man phraseology, as reported in the gospels, that he had the Daniel 7 text in mind. In Mark 14:62 and Matthew 26:64, for instance, he connects it with the vision in Daniel, saying, "But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven." The high priest who was interrogating Jesus knew exactly what he meant, for he tore his robes and accused Jesus of blasphemy.

Finally, Yahya seems to have misunderstood my mentioning of the multiple and independent attestation to Jesus' self-identification as the son of man. He writes,
"You appear to intimate you believe material exclusive to John’s Gospel is not as credible. Jonathan can explain his reasoning behind the comment, perhaps he was just trying to convince the sceptic."
The only point I intended to draw from this is that, since John's gospel is independent of the synoptics, sayings of Jesus which occur in both the synoptics and in John are multiply and independently attested -- which renders them more likely to be authentic, from an historian's point of view. Note that the appearance of a saying in only one gospel, however, does not render that saying unlikely to be authentic. Independent attestation can only be used as a criterion for establishing authenticity, not as a criterion for establishing non-authenticity.

To conclude, I am thankful to Yahya Snow for his helpful critiques of my arguments. If there are any flaws in my argumentation, I would rather someone point them out. My only word of advice to Yahya is that he should not be so quick to jump to the conclusion that someone has not thought through the relevant issues simply because one has come to a conclusion that differs from his own. I hope that in the future, Yahya and I can engage in a moderated debate on some of these topics.


Answering Judaism said...

It amazes me when Muslims use counter missionary arguments, considering the fact that using such would destroy Islam. Strange that Snow is appealing to Contra Brown to deal with your points.

Jesus is Lord said...

Excellent refute of Yahya Snow brother David! The extant that Muslim's apologetics go to try to discredit the Bible is quite disgraceful and shameful but not surprising!

Keith said...

@ bro Jesus Is Lord.
If I'm not mistaken, the refute is done by brother Jonathan.