A response to 1.2.3

The 'Son of God'

[It would still be helpful to have a specific response to the issue of John 17:3 since this is a topic very often brought up by Muslims. But some verses from the context of this verse are discussed on this page and this should be a good starting point.]

Mr. Al-Kadhi quotes Mr. Tom Harpur in the preface to his book:

"The most significant development since 1986 in this regard has been the discovery of the title "Son of God" in one of the Qumran papyri (Dead Sea Scrolls) used in relation to a person other than Jesus.....this simply reinforces the argument made there that to be called the Son of God in a Jewish setting in the first century is not by any means the same as being identical with God Himself. (Tom Harpur, For Christ's Sake, pp. xii.)
But this is nothing new, there are dozens of places in the Bible itself where this title is refering to somebody other than Jesus. And the Bible has been known for a lot longer than since 1986. Mr. Al-Kadhi relies on supremely ignorant sources. For a thorough treatment looking at the use of "Son of God" in the Bible, please read the article "Jesus as the Son of God."

Indeed, had Mr. Al-Kadhi read his own book, he could have discoverd Mr. Harpur's ignorance and avoided this blunder, since he himself lists several such passages in section, titled as "How many 'Sons' does God have?" Seemingly he can do without practicing what he preaches in his exhortation against blind faith.

In the rest of this reply, we looked at how Mr. Harpur could have reached his conclusions. His process goes like this : by noticing that the title "Son of God" was used of someone other than Jesus, he concludes that this is not the same as identifying the Son of God with God. But we need look more carefully at what that means. What is not mentioned (or mentioned explicitly) is that out of the whole corpus recovered from the 11 Caves at Qumran, only one sentence has that title of a person in the text called 4Q246 or 4QAramaic Apocalypse, more commonly (and lamented by many scholars to be unfortunately) called the "Son of God" text. Unfortunately, the identity of this person is not clear to us due to the fragmentary nature of the text. Yet, the scarcity of this title is very important, as much as who it refers to. For example, why wasn't the Teacher ever referenced with the title of 'son of God', who certainly looked to be righteous enough (at least in the eyes of the Qurmranians)? Neither the Messiahs of Aaron and Judah? Who then is this "Son of God"?

Why did the Jews react so negatively to Jesus' use of that title? 4Q246 can actually help us here. This text consist of two surviving columns. Half of the first column is torn away; the second is intact. In the translation of Garcia Martinez, what remains of the first column reads :

  1. [...] settled upon him and he fell before the throne 
  2. [...] eternal king. You are angry and your years 
  3. [...] they will see you, and all shall come for ever.
  4. [...] great, oppression will come upon the earth
  5. [...] and great slaughter in the city
  6. [...] king of Assyria and Egypt
  7. [...] and he will be great over the earth
  8. [...] they will do, and all will serve
  9. [...] great will he be called and he will be designated by his name.
The well-preserved second column reads :
  1. He will be called son of God, and they will 
     call him son of the Most High. Like the sparks
  2. of a vision, so will their kingdom be; 
     they will rule several years over
  3. the earth and crush everything; a people 
     will crush another people, and a city another city.
  4. [blank] Until the people of God arises and 
     makes everyone rest from the sword.
  5. His kingdom will be an eternal kingdom, 
     and all his paths in truth and uprigh[tness].
  6. The earth (will be) in truth and all will make peace. 
     The sword will cease in the earth,
  7. and all the cities will pay him homage. 
     He is a great God among the gods (?).
  8. He will make war with him; he will place the 
     peoples in his hand and cast away everyone before him.
  9. His kingdom will be an eternal kingdom, 
     and all the abysses.
The obvious question is, Who is this "Son of God"? This person is certainly not an ordinary man. Garcia Martinez described the contents of this fragment when it was published in 1983 :
The text tells us that someone (a seer?) falls down in front of a king's throne and addresses him. He describes to him the evils to come, among which references to Assyria and Egypt play an important role. Even more important will be the apparition of a mysterious person to whom will be given the titles of "son of God" and "son of the Most High," a person who "will be great upon the earth" and whom "all will serve." His appearance will be followed by tribulations, but these will be as fleeting as a spark and will only last "until the people of God arises." The outcome will be the end of war, an eternal kingdom in which all will make peace, cities will be conquered, because the great God will be with him (with his people?) and he will make all his enemies subject to him." (Florentino Garcia Martinez and Julio Trebolle Barrera, The People of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Their Writings, Beliefs and Practices, tr. Wilfred G.E. Watson, Leiden, 1995, p. 175)
Garcia Martinez believes that this "Son of God" is a heavenly figure based on the close parallel with the "Son of Man" in Daniel 7: "His kingdom will be an eternal kingdom" of II 5 (Daniel 7:27), "His kingdom will be an eternal kingdom" of II 9 (Daniel 7:14). This Son of God "will be an agent to bring eschatological salvation, judge all the earth, conquer all the kings through God's power and rule the whole universe." (Florentino Garcia Martinez and Julio Trebolle Barrera, The People of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Their Writings, Beliefs and Practices, tr. Wilfred G.E. Watson, Leiden, 1995, p. 176)

What is awkward with this interpretation is that in II 1-2, where Garcia Martinez translates "He will be called son of God, and they will call him son of the Most High. Like the sparks of a vision, so will their kingdom be ..." Garcia Martinez interprets (rather strangely) to be the shortness of the tribulation. The more natural interpretation will be the kingdoms that are like the sparks of a vision, ie. fleetingly short. The question is, who is the "their" in that line of text? Perhaps along this interpretation, one might be able to force the interpretation that the shortness refers to the kingdoms of Assyria and Egypt.

Another problem with this view is that the "Son of God" does not bring peace or redemption. Instead, he is preceded by tribulation and followed by war and violence. Milik thought that this passage is history disguised as prophecy, that the "Son of God" was one of the Greek kings who oppressed the Jews during the Hasmonean period and who claimed to be divine, while the Israeli scholar David Flusser thought him to be the Anti-Christ.

Cook comments :

Probably Milik and especially Flusser were closer to the truth than Fitzmyer and Garcia-Martinez. The key is to notice that, after the "Son of God" is introduced, the text goes on to talk about "their kingdom." Who are "they"? There must be more than one ruler. Probably the "king of Assyria and Egypt" is the first ruler, and the Son of God, his son or successor, a king who claims divine honors, the second ruler. The fragmentary end of the first column must originally have read like this:

[His son] shall be called great, and by his name he shall be designated.

-- that is, the son shall have the same name as his father. But "their kingdom" shall be as brief as a meteor's flash....

Milik thinks that this could refer to the infamous Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164 B.C.), whose name means "God made manifest" and who claimed to be the manifestation on earth of Zeus. He prohibited some of the central elements of Judaism, attempted to destroy all copies of the Torah and required offerings to Zeus. He also erected a statue of Zeus in the Temple and sacrificed a pig there, thus igniting the Maccabean revolt in 167 B.C. ("the people of God shall arise"). The nine year old boy, Antiochus V Eupator ("designated by his name"?), succeeded him and reigned only from 164 to 162 B.C. (kingdom "like the sparks of a vision"?). He and his general Lysias, undertook a campaign against Judas Maccabaeus (1 Mac 6:28-54, 2 Mac 13:1-2, Antiquities XII 366-383) and destroyed the walls of the Temple before withdrawing.

Scholars are quick to point to the similarities of 4Q246 with Luke 1:32-33 concerning the annunciation of Jesus' birth :

You [Mary] will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." (Luke 1:31-33)
This parallel is significant. Luke 1:31-33 and 4Q246 could refer to the same person, in which case Mr. Harpur's conclusion is unjustified. If 4Q246 refers to a (supremely) bad person, then Jesus' claim to that same title will remind the hearers of a great blasphemy. And if 4Q246 refers to a heavenly being, then the hearers will also associate Jesus with a divine nature. Others have identified this person as the Messiah, in which case, one cannot prove anything until we know who this Messiah is. No other person has this title indeed. So, unless Mr. Harpur can prove that this person is just an ordinary human being, his conclusion is unjustified. This is indeed Fitzmyer's conclusions, but his arguments based purely on the technicality that the title "mashiah" does not appear in the text is unconvincing.

Cook comments on this connection :

But, as we have seen, 4Q246 probably does not refer to a Messiah, or even to a good person. Though the Qumran text and the Luke passage have some expressions in common, the latter speaks about Jesus' birth as a fulfillment of the promise made to David's descendant: "I will be his father, and he will be my son" (2 Sam 7:14). In 4Q246 there is no trace of the Davidic connection, and the appearance of the "Son of the Most High" is the occasion for suffering, not joy. Therefore it is unlikely that there is any direct connection between the text. (Edward M. Cook, Solving the Mysterious of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 1994, p. 170)
In explaining the Jews' anger at Jesus' claim to be the "Son of God", Christians had explained them by citing the Roman emperors' claim to the title "son of God" (divi filius or theou huious). However, we now know of precedents of this claim in a Jewish context. Cook explains :
Qumran can help us here. It is true that in this period someone by virtue of his royal office or great piety, might, in a moment of high exaltation, be recognized as specially favored by God, and accordingly called God's "son". But that momentary acclamation never become a fixed title or intrinsic name of the person so complimented. "The son of God" never become merely a synonym of the Messiah or the man of God. It is always used sparingly and figuratively. In fact, apart from 4Q246, no one, including the Teacher of Righteousness, is described by this title. Although God may be addressed as "Father" in the psalms of the sect, no member of the sect is called his son.

Indeed, 4Q246 shows us how blasphemous the title Son of God was thought to be. It clearly implies that part of the gentile ruler's wickedness was in claiming that designation as a fixed prerogative. Although someone could be called "a" son of God, no one could be "the" son of God. (The Aramaic phrase must be translated "the", not "a" Son of God.). The Qumran evidently saw this claim as an assertion of equality with God.

All of this throws light on the use of the term "Son of God" in the New Testament. According to John 3:16, Jesus is God's "only son." Jesus' continual reference to himself as "the Son" prompted his opponents to accuse him of blasphemy (John 10:33,36). The high priest's question in Mark 14:61, "Are you the Christ, the son of the Blessed One?" makes sense against this background. He did not mean, "Are you claiming to be the Messiah, by royal status a son of God?" He meant, "Are you that messianic claimant who is reputed to call himself 'the' Son of God?" When Jesus responded, "I am," the priest considered this to be blasphemy worthy of death (Mark 16:64). Claiming to be the Messiah was not blasphemy. Claiming to be the Son of God was. Text 4Q246, in its negative portrayal of "the Son of God" typifies the mindset behind that attitude. (Edward M. Cook, Solving the Mysterious of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 1994, pp. 172-173)

Thus, if Milik et. al. are correct, Mr. Harpur (and Mr. Al-Kadhi) cannot find any ammunition in this text to support his conclusions. On the other hand, if Garcia Martinez is correct, then the title "Son of God" refers to a divine being, and Jesus' claim to be the Son of God likewise will be a claim to divinity, and is likewise a blasphemy. But since the text itself does not say anything more, we are unable to see how Mr. Harpurs' conclusion is drawn from the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Qumran manuscripts, by the scarcity of this title, testifies that this title is definitely reserved for some special person (either supremely good, or bad). From this, we understand how Jesus' claim is considered a blasphemy.

The title of "Son of Man"

Although we find no text among the Qumran manuscripts bearing the title of "Son of Man" which Jesus often used of Himself, the previous discussion of the "Son of God" text sheds some light too. As seen before, the "Son of God" in 4Q246 gives the same description as that of Daniel's "Son of Man," (Daniel 7) thus effectively equating the two titles. In the light of this usage, Jesus' use of this title would be a claim to divinity.

Further details are found in Jesus as the Son of God.

The Rebuttal to "What Did Jesus Really Say?"
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