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Monday, 8 September 2014

The Son of Man, the Parables of Enoch, and New Testament Christology

In J.D.G. Dunn's monumental study Christology in the Making,1 he argued that incarnational Christology (that is, a Christology which views Christ as a pre-existent divine being who assumed humanity) can be found in the New Testament only in the Gospel of John. One of the premises that led him to this conclusion was his assessment that there was no precedent in Judaism for such a Christology.

Some scholars prior to Dunn had believed the title 'Son of Man', used by Jesus as a self-referent in all four Gospels, already conveyed the idea of a pre-existent divine being.2 This they regarded as derived either directly from Daniel 7:13 or from an apocalyptic Jewish text known as the Parables of Enoch (sometimes known as the Similitudes of Enoch). This text comprises chapters 37-71 of the work known today as 1 Enoch or Ethiopic Enoch. Dunn denies that a pre-existent heavenly individual is a plausible interpretation of the "one like a son of man" in Daniel 7:13, but he does acknowledge that "it would almost certainly seem to be the case that in the Similitudes the Son of Man is thought of as pre-existent. Note particularly 48.2-6 and 62.6-7."3 He is referring to personal pre-existence here: "a pre-existent heavenly individual."

The passages from the Parables of Enoch referred to by Dunn read as follows (R.H. Charles' translation):
48:2 And at that hour that Son of Man was named In the presence of the Lord of Spirits, And his name before the Head of Days. 3 Yea, before the sun and the signs were created, Before the stars of the heaven were made, His name was named before the Lord of Spirits. 4 He shall be a staff to the righteous whereon to stay themselves and not fall, And he shall be the light of the Gentiles, And the hope of those who are troubled of heart. 5 All who dwell on earth shall fall down and worship before him, And will praise and bless and celebrate with song the Lord of Spirits. 6 And for this reason hath he been chosen and hidden before Him, Before the creation of the world and for evermore.
62:6 And the kings and the mighty and all who possess the earth shall bless and glorify and extol him who rules over all, who was hidden. 7 For from the beginning the Son of Man was hidden, And the Most High preserved him in the presence of His might, And revealed him to the elect.
Now, not all exegetes have shared Dunn's view that the Son of Man in the Parables is depicted as a pre-existent heavenly being. For instance, VanderKam,4 following the earlier analysis of Manson,5 regards the Parables as describing the Son of Man only as a predestined being. However, the predestination view has been ably criticized by Collins,6 Knibband Reynolds. Given that 1 Enoch 48:2-3 refers specifically to the name of the Messianic Son of Man, we may note the oft-quoted statement of eminent Jewish scholar E. Urbach that "there are no grounds...for a distinction between the pre-existence of [the Messiah's] name and the pre-existence of his personality."

If Dunn acknowledged that the Son of Man in the Parables of Enoch is a pre-existent heavenly individual, why did he insist that this view of the Son of Man could not have influenced the historical Jesus or the Gospel writers? The reason is simply that he dates the Parables to the post-70 AD period. On this basis he reasons that "so far as 1 Enoch is concerned the Son of Man as a pre-existent heavenly individual cannot be traced back within Jewish (non-Christian) circles to a pre-70 date."10

Soon after Dunn published his study, Holladay noted:
"It is far more crucial for him to determine whether the Son of Man was ever conceived in pre-Christian Judaism as a heavenly (pre-existent) figure who would appear as a Messianic figure to redeem the people of God. Since the clearest expression of this occurs in the Similitudes of Enoch, their date becomes crucial."11
After cautiously allowing the possibility of a late date for the Similitudes (Parables), Holladay went on to say,
Dunn errs on the side of chronological overprecision, so much so that if any genuine conceptual or historical analogue were to be found prior to the Christian formulation of the doctrine of the incarnation, the whole thesis would collapse.12
In the ensuing three decades since Dunn wrote, Holladay's warning has been vindicated. The consensus about the date of the Parables of Enoch has changed. Hence Charlesworth writes, "Dating the Parables of Enoch to the time of Herod the Great and the Herodians has become conclusive."13 Walck notes that dating the Parables around the time of Herod (late first century BC or early first century AD) "was confirmed by a broad consensus of scholars at the Third Enoch Seminar in Camaldoli, Italy in June 2005."14

In other words, Dunn's view that the Son of Man as a pre-existent heavenly individual appears too late in Judaism to have influenced Jesus and the early church can no longer be maintained. This truly represents a paradigm shift in early Christian studies, as the name of a recent collection of essays implies: Parables of Enoch: A Paradigm Shift.15 

The implication of the new consensus on the date of the Parables is stated by Walck: 
"This widely accepted consensus means that the Parables of Enoch are pre-Christian and need to be considered for possible influence on the writings of the New Testament."16
Of course, if the Parables are pre-Christian then their importance for New Testament scholarship does not require any direct influence of the Parables upon the New Testament writers (though this possibility needs to be explored, and Walck himself thinks Matthew shows literary dependence on the Parables17 ). It simply means that the view of the Son of Man reflected in the Parables already existed in Judaism when Jesus used the term as a self-referent and thus provides important tradition-historical background for interpreting Jesus' (and the Gospel writers') use of this term. The importance is only heightened if Charlesworth is correct that the Parables were written in Galilee.18 

Gathercole's case that Jesus' "I have come..." and "The Son of man came..." statements in the Synoptic Gospels imply pre-existence is strengthened by the early date of the Parables (in his monograph on the subject he claimed only that the Parables are "roughly contemporary with the Synoptic Gospels."19 ) Reynolds contends that Jesus' sayings about the descent of the Son of Man in John (3:13 cf. 6:62) are to be interpreted as paralleling the pre-existence of the Son of Man in the Parables.20 Boyarin argues that the Parables of Enoch provide a precedent for the early church's 'high Christology': 
All of the elements of Christology are essentially in place then in the Similitudes. We have a pre-existent heavenly figure, identified as well with Wisdom, who is the Son of Man. We have an earthly life, a human sage exalted into heaven at the end of an earthly career, enthroned in heaven at the right side of the Ancient of Days as the pre-existing and forever reigning Son of Man.21
Boyarin proceeds to argue on this basis that the only great innovation of the Gospels is to declare that this Son of Man has already come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. "The insistence in the Gospels that Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man is thus critical and probative of high Christology as essential to the Gospels." 22 Similarly, Talbert wrote concerning the Christology of Revelation,
Of all the particular sources of the idea of a second figure associated with the throne of God, 1 En. 37-71 is the closest to Revelation. Here, the pre-existence of the Elect One/Son of man/Messiah is assumed; a human, Enoch, is identified with this heavenly one; he sits on the throne of glory; he functions for God at the last judgment; he dwells with God's people forever thereafter. An auditor would have sensed that Revelation was speaking about Christ in these terms.23
The dust has yet to settle from this paradigm shift concerning the date of the Parables of Enoch, and it remains to be seen what enduring effect it might have upon New Testament scholarship. Certainly, "the origin and meaning of the 'Son of Man' in the Jesus traditions remains a question that deserves focus and more development,"24 and the idea that a pre-existence Christology could only have arisen in a late, Gentile setting has received a significant challenge.


1 Dunn, J.D.G. (1980). Christology in the Making: A New Testament Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation. London: SCM Press.
2 See, for example, Marshall, I.H. (1966). The Synoptic Son of Man Sayings in Recent Discussion. New Testament Studies 12(4): 327-351, esp. pp. 328, 332.
3 Dunn, op. cit., p. 75.
4 VanderKam, J.C. Righteous One, Messiah, Chosen One, and Son of Man in 1 Enoch 37-71. In J.H. Charlesworth (Ed.), The Messiah: Developments in Earliest Judaism and Christianity (169-191). Minneapolis: Fortress.
5 Manson, T.W. (1949-50). The Son of Man in Daniel, Enoch, and the Gospels. Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 23: 171-193.
6 Collins, J.J. (1992). The Son of Man in First-Century Judaism. New Testament Studies 38(3): 448-466. See pp. 454-455.
7 Knibb, M.A. (1995). Messianism in the Pseudepigrapha in the Light of the Scrolls. Dead Sea Discoveries 2(2): 165-184. See pp. 171-172.
8 Reynolds, B.E. (2013). The Enochic Son of Man and the Apocalyptic Background of the Son of Man Sayings in John’s Gospel. In D.L. Bock & J.H. Charlesworth (Eds.), Parables of Enoch: A Paradigm Shift. (294-314). London: T&T Clark, p. 300.
9 Urbach, E.E. (1987). The Sages, Their Concepts and Beliefs, Vol. 1. Harvard University Press, p. 685.
10 Dunn, op. cit., p. 78.
11 Holladay, C.R. (1983). New Testament Christology: Some Considerations of Method. Novum Testamentum, 25(3): 257-278. p. 273.
12 Holladay, op. cit., p. 275.
13 Charlesworth, J.H. (2007). Can We Discern the Composition Date of the Parables of Enoch? In G. Boccaccini (Ed.), Enoch and the Messiah Son of Man: Revisiting the Book of Parables (450-469), p. 467.
14 Walck, L.W. (2011). The Son of Man in the Parables of Enoch and in Matthew. London: T&T Clark, p. 23.
15 Bock, D.L. & Charlesworth, J.H.(Eds.). (2013). Parables of Enoch: A Paradigm Shift. London: T&T Clark.
16 Walck, op. cit., p. 251.
17 Walck, op. cit., p. 251. Note that Dunn still maintains the Son of Man traditions in the Parables of Enoch have not influenced the Gospel of Mark at least (Dunn, J.D.G. (2013). The Son of Man in Mark. In D.L. Bock & J.H. Charlesworth (Eds.), Parables of Enoch: A Paradigm Shift. (18-34). London: T&T Clark)
18 Charlesworth, J.H. (Ed.) (2013). Parables of Enoch: A Paradigm Shift. London: T&T Clark, p. xiii.
19 Gathercole, S.J. (2006). The Pre-existent Son: Recovering the Christologies of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 268.
20 Reynolds, op. cit., p. 305f.
21 Boyarin, 
D. (2013). Enoch, Ezra, and the Jewishness of 'High Christology'. In M. Henze & G. Boccaccini (Eds.), Fourth Ezra and Second Baruch: Reconstruction after the Fall (337-362). Leiden: BRILL, p. 348.
22 Boyarin, op. cit., p. 353.
23 Talbert, C.H. (1999). The Christology of the Apocalypse. In M.A. Powell and D.R. Bauer (Eds.), Who do you say that I am? Essays on Christology. (165-184). Westminster John Knox Press, p. 178. At the time of his writing, Talbert noted that a consensus had formed dating the Parables of Enoch to the first part of the first century C.E. He does not claim literary dependence of Revelation on the Parables of Enoch, but only a similar type of thought.
24 Bock & Charlesworth, op. cit., p. 365.

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