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5924The Targums and the "Son of Man" title

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  • John Ronning
    Feb 3, 2011
      w.r.t. "backgrounds" to study of John's Gospel, scholars obviously have to
      decide whether a particular area of study promises to be fruitful in
      illuminating the text under discussion. However, I doubt that anyone would
      affirm that OT background can be overlooked in the study of any NT book. The
      point I would make in connection with this is that the Targums should be studied
      not just as "one potential background among many possible," but as
      (interpretive) translations of the OT, therefore automatically of interest. No
      one needs to justify looking at the LXX translation as part of OT background
      studies, but there seems to be a strange double standard when it comes to the

      E.g. Keener, in rejecting the Targums as a background for the Logos title,
      treats the Word theology in the Targums as an isolated strand of early Jewish
      thought, therefore unlikely to be of general interest (p. 350). Surely the
      opposite is the case, since the Targums were for the purpose of being recited in
      the synagogue, i.e. they are for the common people; they were the Aramaic LXX
      plus interpretive notes (as far as we know, the entire Pentateuch and portions
      of the prophets were read on Sabbaths, other books like Song of Solomon were
      read on feast days).

      To be fair, Keener joins this statement with the observation that since the
      extant Targums are all post-John, we can't be sure of how the Word theology
      might have been used in the first century. To an extent I would agree, but if we
      investigate the extant Targums and see passage after passage in John illuminated
      by such an examination, then we do approach probability and perhaps certainty,
      though it would take considerable study to get to that point (thus, my book). To
      fail to undertake such a study is in my view a "head in the sand" approach. Of
      course, since scholars are busy, they might rely on others who say that such a
      study is a waste of time--many like to quote Barrett: "Memra is a blind alley in
      the study of John's logos doctrine" (also on p. 350 of Keener). Whether Barrett
      himself went down this alley to see if it was blind I don't know, but since he
      was such a Greek specialist I wonder if he was biased.

      In 1 Cor 15:45, Paul quotes Gen 2:7, "The first man, Adam, became a living
      soul." Sometimes in the Targums Adam is called )dm qdmy). (MacNamara remarks
      that this corresponds to Hebrew adam harishon, common in ranninic lit.). None of
      the extant Targums use this at Gen 2:7 but Neofiti uses it in the following
      verse. Some translators of the Aramaic Bible series translate this as "first
      man," others translate it as "first Adam." Interesting that Paul's phrase "the
      first man, Adam" looks like a conflation of these two possibilities.

      Paul goes on to say that "the last Adam [became] a life-giving Spirit." One
      answer that has been given to the question, why is Jesus only called "the Son of
      Man" in the Gospels and Acts, not in any of the epistles?, is that in calling
      Jesus the last Adam, it amounts to the same thing as calling him the Son of Man;
      the reason he doesn't use the phrase "Son of Man" is that in the Gospels the
      title is meant to be obscure, to avoid a direct claim to be the Messiah, but
      Paul means to explain, not obscure. This interpretation depends in part on
      assuming that "the Son of Man" depends on Ps 8:4, as one might suspect from
      Hebrews 2. The obstacle to this has been the belief that no saying in the
      Gospels can be traced to Psalm 8. In fact, however, the first use of this title
      both in Matthew and John can be read as depending in part on Psalm 8. Matt 8:20:
      "The foxes have holes" etc. can be seen as an ironic allusion to Psalm 8,
      according to which man/son of man is given dominion over the beasts of the field
      [e.g. foxes] and birds of the air. Jesus, the true Adam, doesn't even have a
      fixed place to lie down, whereas the creatures under his dominion do. This was
      pointed out, by the way, in the ABD article on the Son of Man, which also
      pointed out that in Daniel 7, one like a son of man is given dominion over
      kingdoms depicted as animals, with characteristics of beasts of the field and
      birds of the air - an eschatological version of Psalm 8 (with relevance to some
      Gospel Son of Man sayings alluding to Dan 7:13).

      Likewise the first use of the title in John: angels ascending and descending
      upon the Son of Man, besides the obvious allusion to Genesis 28, depicts the Son
      of Man as "lower than the angels" a la Psalm 8. I point out in chapter 4 of my
      book that all of the Son of Man sayings in John, except possibly 5:27, can be
      categorized according to how Hebrews 2 adapts Psalm 8 to Jesus: (1) his
      temporary descent to a place "lower than the angels" (1:51; 3:13; 6:62); (2) his
      glorification or lifting up (3:14; 8:12; 12:23, 34; 13:31); (3) "bringing many
      sons to glory" i.e. spiritual progenitor of his people as Adam was the physical
      progenitor (9:35; 6:27, 53).

      Of interest in all of this is that Tg. Neofiti, besides calling Adam "the first
      man/Adam," also calls him "the son of man" (bar nasha, used generically for
      "man") (Gen 1:27; 2:18). Neof. Gen 1:27 is particularly interesting in light of
      John 1:14: "The Word of the Lord created the son of man." If this reading were
      current in the first century, then it is possible that another clue to the
      meaning of the Son of Man title as "the last Adam" is the Targum use of "the son
      of man" for "the first Adam."

      Is this information not at least as relevant as the use of "the son of man" in
      the Ethiopic version of the Book of Enoch?

      A generic use of "the son of man" in the Palestinian Targums Gen 40:23 is also
      of interest to johannine studies. The Targums are evidently trying to answer the
      question, why Joseph was stuck in prison for two more years after foretelling
      the future of Pharaoh's cup-bearer and baker. The answer that they give is that
      Joseph forgot the lesson of Jeremiah 17 (this anachronism is solved in Neofiti
      by saying that the passage is also in "the Book of the Wars"). In asking the
      cup-bearer to remember him to Pharaoh, Joseph trusted in flesh that tastes the
      cup of death, and forgot the Scripture that says "Cursed is the son of man who
      trusts in the flesh . . . but blessed is the man who trusts in the name of the
      Word of the Lord, and makes the Word of the Lord his trust."

      The quotes are from Jer 17:5, 7. The reason I quoted this from Pal. Tgs. Gen
      40:23 rather than from the Targum of Jeremiah is that the latter (as is true of
      Targum Jonathan generally) does not use the expression "name of the Word of the
      Lord," the expression I suggest is meant in John 1:12 - "those who believe in
      his (the Word's) name."

      We can easily imagine Jewish Christians being charged with the same offense:
      "You trust in Jesus, you are trusting in a son of man, in flesh that tasted the
      cup of death, therefore you are under God's curse." John gives his answer at the
      end of chapter 2, read in light of Jer 17 as quoted in Pal. Tgs. Gen 40:23:
      v. 23; "during the feast, many believed in his name, beholding the signs which
      he was doing." Why does such faith not put them in the category of those who are
      cursed acc. to Jer 17:5, for trusting in the son of man, in flesh etc.? Because
      they are actually in the category of those who are blessed acc. to Jer 17:7,
      because they trust in the name of the Word of the Lord (who became the Son of
      Man; yes he tasted death, but overcame it).

      John goes on to say that Jesus himself observed Jer 17:5: he himself did not put
      his trust in men (v. 24). Not only that, John goes on to say that Jesus knew all
      men, and knew what was in man which is what Jer 17:9-10 says about the Lord:
      "The heart is deceitful . . . who can know it? I the Lord search the heart, I
      test the mind, to give to each man according to his ways" (also paraphrased by
      Jesus in Rev 2:23).

      John Ronning

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