One of the themes that emerges in a scholarly study of the New Testament is how the idea of Jesus is multi-faceted and not without precedence. This is not to say that Jesus Christ is not special or significant. Such statements are not in the purview of critical discourse, after all. Instead, I’m drawing your attention to just the opposite point. What makes Jesus interesting, in part, is that his characteristics are not unique.
We’ve talked about how the “Son of God” is not a unique title. It’s been used by historical figures like Octavian in his description of Julius Caesar. (Augustus and his successors would also become associated with the title, DIVI FILIUS.) And this is to say nothing of Hercules and other mythic figures that were considered Sons of God. Similarly, Genesis 6 actually talks about the sons of God to discuss a mythic past with warriors and heroes.
The inflection of “Son of Man” as a designation of humanity is of course familiar to our own disposition. It’s more apocalyptic valence is present in readings the prophetic visions of Daniel 7, but what it means for us historically remains hidden until later Christian and Jewish interpreter it in Messianic terms. The way I see it, this haunting discussion of humanity gets us thinking about not only what the world could be, but also what we might be. Here I like New Testament scholar Jacqueline M. Hidalgo’s reading of apocalypses (Gk. unveiling) as “a playful futurity with the present and the past.”
To this point, I stumbled upon a YouTube mashup of scene highlights from Disney’s animated film Hercules scored by the Phil Collins anthem from Disney’s Tarzan called “Son of Man.” A user by the name of Nelsy3fk is responsible for the thought-provoking pairing. Both Hercules and Tarzan are sons of men. And both are figures who function to remind us of our humanity, with the device of their heightened abilities as a vehicle. The drama of these narratives are in their being out of place. Hercules is a sort of God among humans. Tarzan is a sort of human among “lower” animals. What is amazing to me is how the lyrics of the song are not only fitting to the mythologies behind both figures, but also to Jesus and presumably human beings. In Greek literary terms, this song appeals to pathos or deep human emotion.
Oh, the power to be strong
And the wisdom to be wise
All these things will
Come to you in time
On this journey that you’re making
There’ll be answers that you’ll seek
And it’s you who’ll climb the mountain
It’s you who’ll reach the peak.
And Daniel Lynwood Smith highlights how titles like “savior,” “messiah,” and “King of the Jews,” one should also remember that these were titles ascribed to others in the Second Temple Period (and even prior). So the honorifics and superlatives are not distinctive in and of themselves. Contextually speaking, Jesus is not even the only wonder-working figure in the land of the Jews in the Second Temple Period.
One sign prophet with whom scholars compare Jesus is a wonder-worker named Honi the Circle-Drawer. He was a Jewish teacher from the 1st c. BCE. During a long drought in the land of the Jews, Honi (or Onias in Greek) drew a circle around himself and told God he would not leave until God brought rain. Eventually God did. Anyway, Honi’s teachings and promises of better times to come were not conducive to order in the eyes of some of the Jewish establishment, and her found himself cross with competing factions of Hasmoneans (advised by competing schools of thought). This led to his death. Hanina Ben Dosa was another wonder-worker active in Galilee in the latter part of the 1st c. CE. He was known for his imparting of wisdom and his ability to heal people among other things. So according Jewish literature of the Early Roman Period, we know Jesus is situated in the middle of a region and timeline with other wonder-workers.
Daniel Lynwood Smith has prepared us for this in his discussion of sign prophets. Were one to read more about the aforementioned figures in relation to the Old Testament, you would likely notice some similarities to Elijah and other figures. In Chapter 6, you will meet another Jesus, Jesus son of Ananias. In your interactive notebook, I’d like you to draw a Venn Diagram comparing and contrasting Jesus, Son of Mary (given what you’ve studied) and Jesus, Son of Ananias.
Also make sure to define the following terms:
- Sunedrion (“council” or transliterated in the Bible as Sanhedrin, p. 99),