Does the “one like a son of man” in Dan 7:13 refer to a an individual or a corporate body of righteous ones — the “saints of the Most High” in Dan 7:18, as Maurice Casey claims? How did Jesus and/or the gospel evangelists use the term “Son of Man”?
First Daniel. I don’t agree with Casey that the “one like a son of man” is a corporate figure. I was convinced years ago by John Collins that it’s an individual, probably the archangel Michael. The same holds for the Similitudes and IV Ezra: the Son of Man is an angelic individual, and this time the messiah. As Collins notes, a collective interpretation isn’t clearly attested in Jewish sources until the time of Ibn Ezra (The Scepter and the Star, p 187). In Daniel, the Similitudes and IV Ezra, the Son of Man figure is a heavenly counterpart to the righteous on earth, yet distinct from them. In my view, it relies on incredibly strained readings to identify one with the other.
What about the gospel traditions? In some places Jesus is portrayed as in Daniel — an angelic Son of Man who will come in glory on the clouds leading more angels (Mk 8:38/Mt 16:27/Lk 9:26, Mk 14:62/Mt 26:64/Lk 22:67b-69; Mt 13:41,25:31). But in other places the usage is less heavenly, more murky, and refers to a generic/corporate entity, no doubt under the influence of traditions like Ps 8:4 and 144:3 (cf. Job 25:6). Jesus and his followers were itinerant human beings in need of food and shelter (Mt 8:20/Lk 9:58). As Scot McKnight sees it, Jesus found in Psalms 8/144 and Daniel 7 equally important scripts for his mission: a prototype for humiliation and opposition after which God, as the Ancient of Days, would vindicate those who suffered in the tribulation (Jesus and His Death, pp 191-194). The result is a collective spin on Daniel’s individual figure.
Dale Allison lists strong arguments in support of this idea — that Jesus thought he and his disciples in equal measure fulfilled what was expected of Daniel’s Son of Man figure (Millenarian Prophet, pp 65-66; though note that Allison, like McKnight, also seems to think the collective understanding traces back to Daniel itself). They include:
* The collective understanding helps explain why the term Son of Man never became a Christological title outside the Jesus tradition.
* The collective interpretation explains the Son of Man passages which are used in a generic sense, even when lacking apocalyptic context, like Mt 8:20/Lk 9:58 (as seen above). In such passages, as in the psalms, “Son of Man” means “human beings”.
* If Jesus interpreted the Son of Man as the saints of the latter days, then we can understand why he is closely associated with the Son of Man and yet the two don’t seem quite identical in places like Lk 12:8-9.
* I Thess 4:15-17 is closely related to Mk 8:38-9:1/Mt 16:27-28/Lk 9:2627 and Mk 13:24-27/Mt 24:29-31/Lk 21:25-28. In the synoptics the Son of Man comes on the clouds; in I Thessalonians the Lord Jesus and the saints do, but the saints don’t wait for Jesus to come to earth — they join him on the clouds. This makes sense if Jesus and/or the early tradition envisaged the coming of the Son of Man as equivalent to the coming of the saints.
* Mt 19:28/Lk 22:28-30 probably alludes to Dan 7:9, and puts a collectivity on the thrones, meaning the disciples will have the role of the “one like a son of man” ruling in the kingdom. (Others would argue that Dan 7:18,27 do the same thing, but I don’t think the conclusion is warranted. However much the “holy ones of the Most High” were to share in the rule of God’s kingdom, they were still firmly distinct from the “one like a son of man”. Simply put, there’s no generic use of the term attested in Daniel that allows us to assume a collective understanding.)
* There’s a pervasive correspondence between the Son of Man predictions and Jesus’ demands of his disciples. Discipleship is basically synonymous with sacrifice and suffering on the cross (argued at length by T.W. Manson).
Many (if not all) of the above texts stand a good chance of being authentic, and I suspect that the historical Jesus identified “the Son of Man” with the faithful remnant who would save through humiliation, suffering, and sacrifice in the tribulation period, and in the end be vindicated by God. It was a short step for the evangelists to conflate this usage with Christ the heavenly redeemer who would come again in judgment, returning to an angelic emphasis. So we’re stuck with a gospel tradition in which Daniel’s individual usage (the angelic) is almost inseparable from Jesus’ collective usage (the saintly).
UPDATE: Also see Michael Bird’s review of Casey’s The Solution to the ‘Son of Man’ Problem, as well as Casey’s response to the review. As others (James Crossley, Antonio Jerez) have pointed out below in comments, Casey’s Aramaic approach deserves full attention and may the subject of a sequel blogpost.