Who was “The Son of Man” in Daniel 7 (Manuscript)

Derek Ouellette —  September 10, 2010 — 3 Comments

Reported in Daniel 7 is the story of a dream (nightmare?) Daniel had of four evil beasts the last of which had a wicked little horn with quite the dirty mouth on him. Verse 9 picks up with the Ancient of Days who takes his thrown and destroys the beasts. The text of interest for this [musing] post is Daniel 7:13-14:

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples nations and men of every language worshiped him, His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”

Now in the interpretation given to Daniel, each beast represents a nation which will persecute and abuse the people of God. The last horn on the fourth beast is a king of the fourth nation who persecutes the people of God until “the Ancient of Day’s came and pronounced judgment in favor of the saints of the Most High” (Daniel 7:22). In other words, the Ancient of Days vindicated the people of God.

The narrative concludes with:

Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom and all rulers will worship and obey him. (Daniel 7:27)

Did you notice what was missing in the interpretation of the dream? There is no direct interpretation of the “son of man”. Everything else in the dream is interpreted except this key figure.

Christians tend to look on this passage as obvious, “the Son of Man is a prophetic reference to Christ”. Well, yah, maybe. But what I am interested in exploring is this: who did the first century Jews say that the “son of man” in Daniel 7:13-14 was?

The hypothesis I put forth is that when a Jew from the Second Temple period read Daniel 7 (a popular passage at that time?), they would have understood and interpreted this figure as being representative of the nation of Israel. The reasoning goes something like this:

1. The four beasts in the dream are individual creatures who each represents a pagan nation. So it is in keeping with the text if the individual here, the “son of man”, also represents a nation.

2. Israel’s special status with God rooted in the call of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was understood in the theology of Second Temple Judaism as being rooted in God’s creation of a new humanity (which began with Abraham and continued on through Israel – in theory). It’s possible that there are overtones in Daniel 7 of Genesis 3 where the enemy, the pagan nations in this instance, are embodied as animal-like creatures. It follows then that Israel here is presented as God’s true humanity.

3. It is possible that the passage of the “son of man” (Daniel 7:13-14), does find an interpretation within the text itself, particularly in Daniel 7:27. Consider this parallel:

Son of Man (Daniel 7:13-14) People of the Most High (Daniel 7:27)
The son of man “was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” “Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His Kingdom will be an everlasting Kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him. ”

Now, if this interpretation is true then perhaps this text can be understood as another representative text (such as Isaiah 41-53, or Ezekiel 37) in which the O.T. depicts a role which is intended for Israel but which Israel cannot fulfill because of her rebellion (climaxed and proved in the Exile). Therefore a representative of Israel, a true Israelite and a true human – the Messiah, is the only one who can fulfill that role.

Thoughts?

Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • Josh

    Really cool post.
    Looks like your manuscript is shaping up to be some solid stuff Derek! (Not surprised (: )

    I think this goes well with the idea that the Messiah fulfills the position of national Israel as the NT writer implies in Matt 2:15 when he quotes “out of Egypt I called my son” from Hosea 11:1. The idea of Christ being the “second Adam” or “last Adam” as well as the “last Israel” is throughout the NT. Christ fulfills what Adam as individual and Israel as a people failed at – namely being a faithful covenant partner.

    I think this all ties together really well! Great job man.

  • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

    Thanks Josh,

    “Shaping up”? Well, maybe a little. But I’ve reached the part in the manuscript where I am trying to develop the theological role Christ played in his Jewish context. So the major “representative” motif which you mention is what this section is all about. The difficult part is choose what material to keep out! And want angle to take!

  • http://www.biblelandstudies.com Duane Patterson

    I would think that the interpretation given in Daniel 7:27 would be the correction interpretatioon or the one like a son of man (not “The Son of Man”) You should read “Jesus the Jew” by Geza Vermes and his chapter on Son of Man. One like a son of man infers something other than a man.