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Son of Man

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

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In Contrast to Deity.

The rendering for the Hebrew "ben adam," applied to mankind in general, as opposed to and distinct from non-human relationship; expressing also the larger, unlimited implications of humanity as differentiated from limited (e.g., national) forms and aspects of human life. Thus, contrasted with the "sons of God" ("bene Elohim") are the "daughters of man" ("benot ha-adam"), women taken by the former, non-human or super-human, beings as wives (Genesis 6:2 et seq.). As expressing difference from God, the term occurs in the blessing of Balaam: "God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent" (Numbers 23:19). Similarly, David appealing to Saul puts Yhwh over and against the children of men (1 Samuel 26:19). The punishment of God, also, is contrasted with that of the "children of men," the former being much more severe, as appears from the promise solemnly given to David (2 Samuel 7:14). God alone knows the heart of the "children of man" (2 Chronicles 6:29 et seq.). In the prayer in which this thought is expressed, "man" is used in distinction to the "people of Israel"; indeed, "children of men" appears to mark a contrast to "children of Israel" in the Song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32:8, R. V.).

"Son of man" is a common term in the Psalms, used to accentuate the difference between God and human beings. As in Psalms 8:4 (A. V. 5), the phrase implies "mortality," "impotence," "transientness,"as against the omnipotence and eternality of God. Yhwh looks down from His throne in heaven upon the "children," or "sons," of "man" (Psalms 11:4, 33:13). The faithful fail among them (Psalms 12:2 [A. V. 1]); the seed of Yhwh's enemies will not abide among the "children of men" (Psalms 21:10). "Children of men" is thus equivalent to "mankind" (Psalms 36:8 [A. V. 7], 66:5).

"Sons of men," or "children of men," designates also the slanderers and evil-doers in contrast to the righteous, that is, Israel (Psalms 57:5 [A. V. 4], 58:2 [A. V. 1]). It occurs most frequently, however, as a synonym for "mankind," "the human race" (Ps. xc. 3, 107:8, 115:16, 145:12); it has this sense also in the passage in which wisdom is said to delight with the "sons of men" (Proverbs 8:31). Job(16:21) employs the expression in the passionate plea for his rights while he is contending against God and against his neighbors. But Bildad insists that the "son of man," who is a mere worm, can not be justified with God (Job 25:4-6). In the same spirit the prophet (Isaiah 51:12) censures Israel for being afraid of "the son of man which shall be made as grass" when Yhwh is their Comforter; but in Isaiah 56:2-3 the Sabbath is extolled as making the "son of man" (e., any man, regardless of birth) blessed; indeed, God has His eyes "open upon all the ways of the sons of men: to give every one according to his ways" (Jeremiah 32:19).

The meaning of the term as employed in these passages admits of no doubt; it connotes in most cases the mortality of man, his dependence upon God, while in only a few it serves to differentiate the rest of the human race from Israel.

In Ezekiel, Daniel, and Enoch.

In Ezekiel the term occurs in Yhwh's communications as the prevailing form of address to the prophet (2:1; 3:1,4,10,17; 4:1 et al.; in all about 90 times). It has been held that it conveyed the special idea that a wide chasm stood between God, the speaker, and the prophet so addressed, but that it implied at the same time that Ezekiel was considered to be the ideal man. This view must be abandoned as unwarranted. The term "ben adam" is merely a cumbersome but solemn and formal substitute for the personal pronoun, such substitution being due, perhaps, to the influence of Assyro-Babylonian usage (see Delitzsch, "Wörterbuch," s. "Amelu"; comp. "zir amiluti" in the Babylonian myth concerning Adapa).

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." 4:4707-4708). In Daniel 7:13, 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.

"Son of man" is found in the Book of ENOCH, but never in the original discourses. It occurs, however, in the Noachian interpolations (60:10, 71:14), in which it has clearly no other meaning than "man," if, indeed, Charles' explanation ("Book of Enoch," p. 16), that the interpolator misused the term, as he does all other technical terms, is untenable. In that part of the Book of Enoch known as the "Similitudes" it is met with in the technical sense of a supernatural Messiah and judge of the world (46:2, 48:2, 70:27); universal dominion and preexistence are predicated of him (48:2, 67:6). He sits on God's throne (45:3, 51:3), which is His own throne. Though Charles does not admit it, these passages betray Christian redaction and emendation.

Among Jews the term "son of man" was not used as the specific title of the Messiah. The New Testament expression ὅ ὑιὸς τοῦ ἀνθρόπου is a translation of the Aramaic "bar nasha," and as such could have been understood only as the substitute for a personal pronoun, or as emphasizing the human qualities of those to whom it is applied. That the term does not appear in any of the epistles ascribed to Paul is significant. Psalm 8:5-7 is quoted in Ḥeb. 2:6 as referring to Jesus, but outside the Gospels, Acts 7:56 is the only verse in the New Testament in which the title is employed; and here it may be a free translation of the Aramaic for "a man," or it may have been adopted from Luke 22:69.

In the New Testament.

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 Daniel 7:13 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 thepassages shows that in the mouth of Jesus the term was an equivalent for the personal pronoun "I."

E. G. H.
Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Son of Man'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​s/son-of-man.html. 1901.
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