My name is Mark and my Seminary roommate- up until he fell in love and got married to the world's most beautiful woman- was named Dan. When we got formal, I'd call him 'Daniel' and he'd call me 'Mark.' So, today's blog is in honor of Dan the Man and his lovely wife Helen of Troy, "the face that launched a thousand late night conversations."
Last week, I described some of the significant developments in Jewish theology that became evident around the 2nd century BCE. With texts written from the middle of a national crisis, which was also a crisis of faith, the language of God's faithfulness became increasingly a language of hope which would be fulfilled in some sort of cosmic re-ordering of the world.
George W. E. Nickelsburg says that it is questionable whether the kind of apocalyptic thinking that we see in the latter half of Daniel (chapters 7-12) is widespread among Judaism in the 1st century. You may recall that the Sadducees, for example, did not believe in the afterlife. In that sense, they were the traditionalists, defending the older way of thinking.
Two places where apocalyptic expectations were very strong were the Qumran community (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found) and the early church. It's very important to understand the rise of apocalyptic expectation in the latter half of Daniel because both the language and rising apocalyptic thinking of Daniel are very heavy influences in the Gospels (three of them, anyway, Mark, Matthew, and Luke) and in Revelation.
Son of Man
Two phrases that Daniel introduces are key to seeing how, by the time the gospel of Mark is written, this apocalyptic theology was well entrenched. The first is the phrase "a son of man coming with the clouds..." (see Daniel 7:13). The title “Son of Man” appears periodically in the Hebrew Bible, but its precise meaning is a little slippery. By and large, it seems to refer to a human, which is why the New Revised Standard Version translates the Aramaic term as “human being” and puts the literal words “son of man” in a footnote. But, Hebrew Bible scholars are not all agreed on what Son of Man means, since it seems that when it is used, the writers assume that the readers know the referent and do not spell it out for idiots like me who happen not to know what they’re talking about.
In Daniel’s text, the “Son of Man” appears ‘with the clouds,’ as a sign of redemption. It COULD be- bear in mind, I’m no Daniel expert- but it COULD be that the tension is quite deliberate: Daniel uses a term that typically emphasizes human origin, to describe a redemptive figure. The dual reference to a human/divine, weak/strong, lamb/lion, crucified/resurrected and exalted figure of a redeemer is rather common in the New Testament.
Abomination that Desolates
The second phrase that is introduced in Daniel and used later as a key phrase in Mark is "an abomination that desolates," (9:27, 11:31, 12:11). In Daniel, this seems to be referring to that sacrilegious act when Antiochus Epiphanes set up an image of Zeus and sacrificed a pig in the holy place of the temple around 168 BCE. We don’t have to assume that Daniel is foreseeing some other great abomination, in order to understand the severity of this text. What A.E. did was horrendous, especially for a people who took the word ‘holy’ seriously. He should have been zapped dead on the spot, but it didn’t happen. (That alone made many people go, "Hmm... is God with us or not?") Daniel’s visions assure his wearied and despondent people that God's justice and redemption will happen, even if for now and the near future it appears unlikely.
The Gospel of Mark
Mark inherits, uses, and re-defines these terms from Daniel (see the definition of intertextuality from last week). “The Son of Man” is, in Mark’s gospel, the primary way that Jesus speaks of himself. “The abomination that desolates” appears in Mark’s 13th chapter, which we will study tomorrow. But, it is important to understand that, when Mark was written (69-70 CE), the situation was quite different from when Daniel was written (169 BCE). The empire of Greece has been displaced by the empire of Rome. The temple had been rebuilt into one of the architectural wonders of the world, worship had been restored, and a strong system of management had been developed around the temple (hence the often-repeated phrases ‘chief priests, scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, Sanhedrin, guards, etc.’). Significantly, Rome was established as the temple’s protector. In fact, there was an image- a golden eagle- perched on the temple gate as a constant reminder that the worship of YHWH was under Rome’s watch.
What? Rome had an image on the temple gate? (See the 2nd of the 10 Commandments to grasp just how awfully ironical this gesture had to appear to Torah-loving Jews.) Yes! And that is the point of tension where we will pick up tomorrow. Stay tuned!