Intertextuality, Richard Hays and the Son of Man Problem

On Monday of this week I gave a lecture at a Biblical Studies conference at the University of Birmingham entitled “Intertextuality and the Son of Man Problem”. It was an invited (“Keynote”) paper and, as I was asked to speak to the general topic of Intertextuality, the research and writing has helped me clarify my understanding of the Son of Man problem.

Richard Hays, the godfather of New Testament studies on all things intertextual (see his seminal Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul [1989] and his The Conversion of the Imagination [1999] ) has recently published an important book on the use of the Old Testament in the Gospels (Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels [2015]). It is an important book, elegantly written and full of fresh insights into the literary character and theology of the Four Gospels. It will surely be a landmark publication in the history of scholarship for its bold claim that all four canonical Gospels present Jesus as the embodiment of the God of Israel (a view for which I will also argue in volumes 2, 3 and 4 of my Jesus Monotheism).

In my Birmingham paper I adopted a modified version of Hays’ approach to intertextuality to offer some new observations on aspects of the Son of Man problem. I adopt Hays approach to the use of the Israel’s scriptures in the NT to explore the ways Gospel writers would likely have in mind the whole of Daniel 7 when they use the language of Dan 7:13. However, Hays’ approach to Dan and the Gospel’s evocation of Dan 7 needs to be modified in one important respect.

Several commentators have criticised Hays for a lack of attention to the ways in which Israel’s scriptures were being interpreted in the first century Jewish world; in the immediate historical context, that is, of early Christian texts. A particularly incisive criticism of Hays on this point appears, remarkably, in the published doctoral dissertation of one of Hay’s students (Leroy Huizenga, The New Isaac: Tradition and Intertextuality in the Gospel of Matthew [2009]). As Huizenga points out, traditional Jewish interpretations of Old Testament texts often help to explain the distinctive ways in which those texts function in the Gospels. (The fact that Huizenga challenges so clearly his doctoral supervisor on this point is surely a testimony to the greatness of the character of Duke’s George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament).

Hays’ treatment of Daniel 7 in relation to the Gospels provides a valuable illustration of the importance of a modification to Hay’s methodology (along the lines laid out by Huizenga). Hays several times says that “in its original context/setting” the “one like son of man” of Dan 7:13 is symbolic representation of the nation of Israel (Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, pp. 34, 143, 332). This is a well-established interpretation, of course, but no everyone agrees.

In my Birmingham paper I set out the evidence for a well-established and broadly consistent tradition of interpretation of Daniel 7 in Second Temple Judaism, that shows that nobody interpreted Dan 7:13 the way Hays and others think its author originally intended it. Some of the evidence for this tradition of interpretation is well-known (4 Ezra 13 and 1 Enoch 37–71), but one vital witness to it has been all but ignored (the paraphrastic translation of Dan 7 in the Old Greek [OG] dating from c. 100 B.C.E.), and in the last fifteen years a new consensus has concluded that 1 Enoch 37–71 is pre-Christian, not, as some have supposed, from the late first century C.E. So we in fact have evidence for continuous tradition of interpretation of Dan 7 (and, esp. of v. 13) in the Jewish world contemporaneous with the New Testament. These three texts agree that the “one like a son of man” is an individual figure, not a symbol for Israel, and that he has a strongly “divine” character.  They also show that Daniel 7:13 was typically interpreted with a sensitivity to its immediate literary context in a way that suggests that when Jewish readers of the Gospels heard the expression “the Son of Man” they would recall the rest of Dan 7.

There are interesting differences between the three texts, but there is also considerable agreement among them. Furthermore there are Gospel texts that confirm the impression given by these three non-Christian texts: Daniel’s “one like a son of man” is a divine, messianic figure and several passages show the Gospel writers used the expression “Son of Man” with an intertextual consciousness. Among them, John 5:19–30 has a virtual citation of Dan 7:13–14 (at v. 27) and multiple echoes of other parts of Dan 7 and 12 (as J. Frey, B. Reynolds and S. Mihalios have shown). Son of Man passages in Matthew, John and the Book of Revelation all show that the OG was a particularly important version of Daniel for some members of the nascent Christian movement.

In the last forty years it has often been said—against the older views of C20th New Testament scholars—that there was no apocalyptic Son of Man concept. Gospel Son of Man sayings, it has been asserted, do not show that Jesus was identified with a figure of popular Jewish eschatological expectation (“the Son of Man”). I demur. It may well be that expression “the Son of Man” was not used as a title in the first century Jewish world, but the evidence of OG Daniel 7, the new dating of 1 Enoch 37–71, and the considerable conceptual continuities between the OG, 1 Enoch 37–71 and 4 Ezra 13 all show that there was a lively interest in the meaning of Dan 7 in Jesus’ Jewish world. Furthermore Jewish interpreters in the first century CE were consistent in thinking the Dan 7:13 figure was a divine individual or messiah. That interpretation surely guided and inspired the way the expression “Son of Man” is used in the Gospels. Consistency of interpretation—of Daniel’s reception history—may also point to a definite “Son of Man concept” in the first century C.E.

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