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Dogmen- und Theologiegeschichte


Müller, Mogens


The Expression ›Son of Man‹ and the Development of Christology. A History of Interpretation.


London-Oakville: Equinox 2008. XV, 518 S. gr.8° = Copenhagen International Seminar. Geb. £ 60,00. ISBN 978-1-84553-335-9.


William Horbury

Studies in the history of interpretation were a notable feature of M.’s monograph Der Ausdruck Menschensohn in den Evangelien. Voraussetzungen und Bedeutung (1984). Then D. Burkett in his The Son of Man Debate. A History and Evaluation (1999) gave a relatively brief survey of research from patristic times onwards. Now M.’s substantial new history of interpretation stands in striking contrast with Burkett’s work. It is much fuller, but it also differs in design and outlook.
Burkett’s book was thematically arranged, and the chapters dealt with types of interpretation and particular questions. M., by contrast, traces the history chronologically; some special subjects are treated separately, but overall a clear time line is followed, from Christian origins to the present. Readers can therefore now readily see the varying interpretations which circulated contemporaneously at a given time.
Also, however — and for M. this is specially important — the interpretations of the Son of man can now be related to the christologies of their times. This dimension of the history was not explored by Burkett. M.’s unsurprising but still often illuminating contention is that interpretation has been conditioned by christology. The gospel expression Son of man has received its significance ›from the actual christological thinking of each epoch‹ (417). A related and also dis­tinctive feature of M.’s work is his keen awareness of conflict between philology and doctrine, especially from the sixteenth century on­wards.
M.’s own preferred solution to the exegetical problem presented by the gospel expression is circumlocutional. Following especially R. Leivestad, he rejects the view that any concept of a Son of man was current at the time of Jesus. He argues that the formation of the gospel tradition is the context in which special meaning for the expression first emerges. He notes that this point is widely accepted in recent work. This acceptance is helped, he suggests, by the current christological climate. Christology, he emphasizes, is now commonly viewed less as an extension of Jesus’s self-consciousness (although M. himself does not rule out, in principle, continuities between the historical Jesus and Christian belief) than as the outcome of early Christian interpretation. Yet M.’s main concern in this book is not to argue for his solution, but to present the whole history of interpretation in the context of the history of christology.
Christology is here broadly understood so as to include, together with the doctrinal discussions of the earlier and later church, the various quests of the historical Jesus and names like Kant, Herder, Renan, Nietzsche, and Ernst Bloch. It is typical of the range of the book that Bloch, for example, is presented together with notes of his own commentators and congeners in Marxian interpretation of ›the Son of man‹, including among many others Huey P. Newton, the theoretician of the Black Panthers.
M.’s laudable concision allows the inclusion of five informative chapters, about a quarter of the book, on the early church, the Middle Ages, and the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He acknowledges his debt for many patristic and mediaeval references to two unpublished dissertations, both of 1972, by C. Weist (Wien) and W. Bracht (München). A reader can only salute with awe and gratitude M.’s own vast work of research and synthesis. For the quotations in this English presentation he has made his own English translation of a great many Greek, Latin and German passages. Reading is lightened by the dry humour which he occasion­ally allows to be overheard; thus, in Karl Barth’s interpretation, ›in an astonishing way, there seems to be no friction between biblical scholarship and dogmatics‹ (272).
The book is stimulating as well as encyclopaedic. Questions raised include the perennial problem of weighing the liberty of the individual vis-à-vis the trend. Is christological conditioning wholly determinative? As the scrupulous detail of the book allows one to see, a single particular interpretation of ›the Son of man‹ can find its place within different total estimates of Jesus. Thus a circumlocutional view was found congenial by scholars with such differing christologies as G. Vermes and C. H. Dodd (in his last book, The Founder of Christianity). In this case the single christological de­-velopment which could have affected both interpreters would probably be identified by M. as the general recognition of the church’s christological creativity, noted above; but it seems, perhaps encouragingly, that a view of the Son-of-man problem is not a sure index of christology in the sense of an estimate of Jesus.
Then, the book is a survey not simply of scholars, but also of the way in which various sources from time to time became central in discussion. As already seen in Der Ausdruck Menschensohn, M. provides valuable special studies of the history of research in this connection on Daniel, I Enoch and II Esdras (IV Ezra), and on interpretations of these apocalypses against the background of Babylonian, Syrian and Iranian mythology. Study of the Son of man in the Fourth Gospel and in Gnostic texts is likewise surveyed separately. Rabbinic literature and the Targums are rather less to the fore, although of course noted especially in connection with the two ›Aramaic stages‹ of interpretation. Discussion of Septuagintal material is sporadically reflected, notably in connection with Ps 80 (79). The space given here to all these sources reflects their (often past) prominence in debate. By contrast, does the concentration on the gospel tradition itself which M. picks out as a major trend in recent study tend to view the gospels too much in isolation?
This massive history is therefore stirring as well as outstan­d­ingly learned and judicious. It should surely now be the first resource for serious study of the question. M. must be warmly congratulated on carrying his project through.