"One like a son of man" in Daniel 7 as High Priest.

I recently re-read Crispin Fletcher-Louis' article, "The High Priest as Divine Mediator in the Hebrew Bible: Dan 7:13 as a Test Case" (from the SBL 1997 Seminar Papers). It is a fabulous article and I confess that I was persuaded when I first read it and remain persuaded.

The mysterious figure of the 'one like a son of man' in Dan 7 has long been the centre of much scholarly debate. Who is this caped crusader? Is it Sarge? No. Is it Rosemary the telephone operator? No. (OK - I'll cut the Hong Kong Phooey reference there). But there remains no agreement as to whether he is an angel (and, if so, which one), a symbol for the nation of Israel, a Davidic king, a prophet (Daniel himself?), and so on and so forth.

Crispin wades into this debate with a suggested solution which, I suspect, represents the best of all worlds.

He proposes that the 'son of man' coming on the clouds before the Ancient of Days represents the High Priest coming into the Holiest Place on the Day of Atonement surrounded by clouds of incense. Here is why this might just be right (and this is no more than a super-brief, no-details sketch):

1. The son of man character in the vision clearly represents the nation of Israel (7:18, 22, 27). Whilst the Davidic King could certainly play such a role, the book of Daniel has no interest in the Davidic King. Daniel's interests are much more temple-focused. The High Priest also represented the nation before Yhwh (thus he wears the breastplate with the 12 stones and the names of the 12 tribes when he approached Yhwh). He is thus equiped to play out this role.

2. The High Priest, argues Crispin, played a role in the Israelite cult in which he represented Israel before God but he also represented God himself. He is a figure at once human and divine. The son of man in Daniel is much the same. He is clearly a human figure approaching God and yet he comes in clouds (something only God does in the Hebrew Bible).

3. The High Priest played a role in relation to Yhwh in the temple cult akin to Baal's role in relation to El in the ANE Chaoskampf tradition. This could explain the allusions to the Chaoskampf tradition in Dan 7 (sorry - yuo'll have to read about that elsewhere - space is short).

4. Dan 7-12 was written (so most scholars think) in 2nd C BCE during the Antiochene crisis. This explains Daniels focus on the temple, its desecration and restoration. It would also make a High Priest who could offer an atoneing sacrifice thereby delivering Israel a plausible candidate for the son of man character. (Also, a priest who had kingly dominion would make sense in this context in a way that it would not have done at an earlier period).

5. The Temple was the zone where heaven and earth met - where the wall bewteen the spiritual and the physical dimensions of reality was thin. A temple context for the son of man coming in the clouds resolves the scholarly debates about whether the location of the vision is heaven or earth. A = we don't have to choose.

6. A temple context also might explain some of the weird creatures (although I'm not committed to this idea). They are ritually unclean mixtures of animals representing pagan nations. That's possible.

7. Dan 7 also has clear alusions to Genesis (with Adam's dominion over the animals). Adam plays a high priestly role in creation (a claim that has been argued by more than a few people and I don't have time to do so now - my family are waiting for me to cook a meal) and the High Priest plays out an Adamic role in the temple. This Adam-Priest link makes the son of man = Adam = High Priest link make sense.

8. The Dan 7-Enoch links strengthen this idea as Enoch is arguably presented as an ideal High Priest.

9. Crispin argues that the High Priest was an angelomorphic figure in Israelite thinking and this would allow us to give some weight to the suggestion that the character seems in some ways like an angel.

OK - the family are really complaining now so I must go. But I will conclude with this: if Crispin is right then in Daniel 7 we have a representation of a High Priest - an angelic figure who represents God, the people of Israel, Adam, etc, etc. It also means that when Jesus reappropriates Dan 7 as a reference to himself he may, against the majority view of scholars, have seen himself in a High Priestly role. That's a topic for another day (Crispin has written on this topic too and it won't surprise you to learn that I think he has some really interesting stuff to say about it also).


Anonymous said…
Well, this is interesting; never come across this before.

Reminds me a bit of the identification of the servant in the Servant Songs in Deutero-Isaiah.

Is it just Israel, or an individual or both?

To go off at a tangent, don't you just love the "ha-rabim" of Isaiah 53:11 being "THE" MANY -- the whole multitude whom Christ accounts as righteous?

Finally, what did you make for dinner?!
Rod said…
Hey Robin,

I enjoyed your post on Daniel 7 alot.

I am wondering how the Son of Man title in Daniel has a relationship to Ezekiel being called son of man. It would make sense since Ezekiel uses a lot of temple imagery and is said to be the son of a priest.
Robin Parry said…

good question. One for Crispin I think (you can find him through St Mary's. Here's a link http://www.stmaryslondon.com/Publisher/Article.aspx?id=45273)

James Goetz said…
I've been criticized for my simplistic view, but I focus on Jesus identifying himself as the messianic "son of man" in Daniel 7 (Matthew 24:30, 26:64; Mark 13:26, 14:62).
Robin Parry said…

Jesus is indeed the one in whom this text is fulfilled. But the Q is when Jesus calims to be the Danielic son of man what is he claiming? In part that depends on what the Danielic son of man is all about. On Crispin's reading this is a High Priestly figure so just possibly it may indicate that Jesus conceived of his role (in part) in Priestly terms (against the majority view that he did not)

James Goetz said…

Daniel 7:14 always jumps out as me a as the messianic king, which I suppose is primary. But I'll take a closer look at the argument for a messianic priest.
James Goetz said…
Robin, I've been chewing on this. Daniel 7:13 describes the Messianic Priest entering into the presence of God while 7:14 describes the Messianic King ruling all peoples and nations. Likewise, the son of man in Daniel 7 is the Messianic Priest and King.
Robin Parry said…
indeed. And the suggestion was that in the post-exilic era such an idea would make more sense (priests inheriting the kingdom). And for later Christians Jesus as king and priest fits perfectly. The thesis is plausible (to me) but not clinched. Dan 7 is highly controversial.
James Goetz said…
Robin, I think Daniel 7 could portray a Messianic Priest and King regardless if it originated in exile or in post-exile while I’m undecided about the date of origin of this chapter. Overall, I see Daniel is a mix of exilic and post-exilic language while Daniel possibly originated in exile and was edited in post-exile.
Unknown said…
Interestingly enough both Jesus and Rabbi Aqiba (until he was forced to abandon such in order to not be expelled) take this "one like the son of man" as referring to Jesus who will, along with the Ancient of Days, sit in on the throneS spoken of in verse nine. The Jesus-oriented accounts of this figure are false intepretations of these texts. It was Elisha ben Abbuyah who understood that the Jesus connection was a total distraction to what was revealed in
Daniel Seven. There really are "two powers/authorities" On High. NOT, mind you two distinct beings and NOT, hypostasized intantiations as promoted by Daniel Boyarin and his term "binitarian." Rather, otheING-OTHERing; unity-in-duality-duality-in-unity. Because of his apostasy (he was NOT excommunicated as was Eliezer) this intriguing notion of the character of the unity of God never got the hearing which it so desparately deserves, especially today. Refer to my "The Secret Diary of Ben Zoma." JWM
Unknown said…
know what i think. i think it is the son of the son whom is the father
Joel said…
Jesus is the Father...do you except him to be in you fully? if you do then you'll be the Son of man. the Son is always on earth...the Father is always in Heaven,and the Holyspirit connects us both by residing in us. the Holytrinity. thats why its says one like the Son of man...who was Jesus...but now will be someone else...and that someone else will sit on the right hand side of power when he returns after he dies...the Power being Jesus,the Father of our spirit. peace.

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