Son of Man: an introduction

Dr Maurice Casey is one of but a handful of Biblical scholars in the world who is fluent in Biblical Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. (Sorry KJV fans but Jesus did not speak English). The term Son of Man is not really normal Greek or natural sounding English, but it is good Aramaic. So what would Aramaic speaking Jews have made of Jesus when he referred to himself as bar nash? What did it mean? Here is a highly informative discussion of the language that Jesus actually spoke. There are a few surprises..


Maurice Casey, Jesus of Nazareth: An independent historian’s account of his life and teaching, page 358 onwards. Casey is Professor of New Testament Languages and Literature at the University of Nottingham, UK.



Categories: Bible, Jesus, New Testament scholarship

8 replies

  1. Slight correction: Bardaisan, literally ‘son of the river Daisan’, was not a Christian writer, as Mr Casey suggests, but a Gnostic Parthian Mystic whose writings would become cornerstones of the later pseudo-Prophet Mani. He was refuted in the writings of St Ephrem the Syrian, the genius of the Aramaic language, may his prayers be with us, who referred to him in his hymns:

    ‘And if he thinks he has said the last thing
    He has reached heathenism,
    O Bar-Daisan,
    Son of the River Daisan,
    Whose mind is liquid like his name!’

  2. Interesting but where is the mention of Daniel 7:13-14 which contains the phrase (in Aramaic also) “son of man”?
    This passage in question is most probably how Jesus and his listeners would have understood the term whenever he used it about himself.
    Considering that in the gospels he says “you’ll see the son of man seated at the right hand of God, coming in the clouds of heaven” (Matt 26:64, Mark 13:26, 14:62, Luke 22:69 and more).

    Jesus calling himself the “son of man” essentially draws us to Dan 7:13-14 which says:
    “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.
    And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”

    This is significant, as Jesus is saying he is that individual that Daniel saw in his vision. This should be completely compatible with Islamic (or at least Quranic) belief, since the Quran says that Jesus is highly honoured in this life and the next (Surah 3:45), as well as a sign for all mankind (Surah 19:21, 21:91), as well as saying that Allah made Jesus’ followers superior to the disbelievers (Surah 3:55). If we are talking about numbers here, it’s easy to see that a combination of Christians and Muslims (who are also supposed to believe in Jesus) shows that the number of people who believe in Jesus outnumbers the number of people who don’t (since Christianity is the largest and most distributed religion in the world, followed closely by Islam).

    We can therefore see the fulfilment of Daniel’s prophecy, that all people’s, nations and languages shall serve him (i.e Jesus, since God has made him the messiah and therefore king/ruler on earth).

    • The son of man of Daniel 7 is obviously Israel itself. The passage itself tells us this – see verses 18 and 27.

      There is no mention of a messiah anywhere in the chapter.

      “one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.”

      Notice that the son of man approaches God (Ancient Days = God). This indicates that the son of man is not God but a separate, inferior being.

      Btw scholars today realise that this book was written in the 2nd century BC and was not by Daniel. So it is not authentic in my view.

      • That’s not how all Jewish scholars have interpreted it. Only after the split between Judaism and Christianity at the end of the 1st century was there more of a push to avoid or re-interpret prophetic passages in the Hebrew Bible/OT.

        The later verses tell us that the people represent the son of man because they are a part of his kingdom. It’s clearly not Israel itself because Israel were not able to fulfil that by themselves, which is why God promised to send an individual who would restore Israel and the house of Jacob, as well as be a light to the gentiles (see Isaiah 49:6). This individual is the messiah whom we find also mentioned in Daniel 9:25-27.

        By the way, I’m not a trinitarian. I didn’t say anywhere that the son of man is God. If God is giving authority to another individual, then they are clearly 2 separate beings.

        Scholars aren’t always correct since new evidence can change a conclusion they’ve made. But I’m aware of what they say. They believe it was written when the Jews were having trouble under certain Greek rulers and anticipated that their city and temple would be destroyed. Yet the Greeks never did destroy the temple nor the city, but the Romans did. Significance here is that when Rome is interpreted as the 4th beast, rather than Greece, all the prophecies fall nearly into place, especially in Daniel 9. This also links with the growing rock in Daniel 2, which becomes a mountain that fills the earth. It represents the kingdom of God in earth that is ruled by the messiah. All these prophecies in Daniel 2, 7, 9 and elsewhere are linked but most scholars ignore these connections.

      • I think your understanding of Daniel of motivated by your theology and bears no relation to the text at all.

      • *fall neatly into place.

  3. Well when you observe the world around you, do you think it’s a coincidence that most people on the planet of different languages and nations believe in the God of Abraham? Do you not see any fulfillments of prophecy taking place here or just random events?

    Is it a coincidence that God mentions in the Bible beginning with Abraham that He will bless him and through him most people in the world will believe in God? And then for prophecies about a time in the future when the believers of Jesus will be superior to the disbelievers until the day of judgement as mentioned in the Quran?

    Is that all a coincidence?
    I’m not forcing my theology into these passages, I’m seeing patterns in our world that seem to neatly match these prophecies.

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