Friday, June 4, 2010

"And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, "How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, declared, `The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I put thy enemies under thy feet.' David himself calls him Lord; so how is he his son?" And the great throng heard him gladly."

- Mark 12: 35-37


  1. At the time of Christ, it was very well thought of that the Messiah would come from the line of David. Building from reflections upon the eschatological visions of the Book of Daniel, the non-canonical Book of Enoch, and other sources, the Messiah, who by the time of Christ had aquired the title “son of man” (a title mostly used with negative connotations in the Jewish Scriptures such as Psa 146:3 Put not your trust in … in the SON OF MAN, in whom there is no help.) would be anointed from God and he would restore the Davidic kingdom. The modern mind thinks of “son” in terms of biological descendancy and it does not go much further than that. Though Jesus did not speak in the temple in Greek, the Greek term employed here to render “son of David” is huios which carries with it a much deeper understanding than a genetic descendent.

    For the ancient mind, everything had a metaphysical relationship to everything else. Things related ontologically to other things and different philosophies dealt with this in different ways. The Greek Platonic and Neo-Platonic metaphysics were readily used by Greek Jews of the time of Jesus because these philosophical systems most closely reflected Jewish metaphysics. Philo of Alexandria, a contemporary of Jesus, is a good example of this tendancy. Huios is more so about relationship than about geneology. Huios carries with it the understanding of an individual who represents, carries on, and enacts all that which his father is. It denotes the likeness and representation in metaphysical and subordinate manner of a thing to its begetter. Biological descendancy is not necessary and this is why the term huios can be used when speaking about adopted children. “Like father like the son” is a proverb equivalent to the concept. In object orientated programing the relationship between parent classes and child classes is an equivalent concept.

    Knowing this, when Jesus says that the scribes are teaching that the messiah is the son of David, what Jesus is saying is that the scribes are teaching that the messiah will be an individual who carries with him King David’s authority and who will rule in King David’s name, and carry on the Davidic Kingdom , not simply that the messiah will be a direct descendant of King David. The messiah will be an anointed one of God who will do and be what King David was and politically establish a Jewish Kingdom ruled for and by Jews for the benefit of Jews and the subjugation of non-Jews. Though the Messiah does great things even quantifiably greater than King David, King David remains as the archetype and originator of the Messianic Kingdom. In this sense the messiah is a huios of David.

    Jesus’ question then to his listeners is how can the messiah be subordinate to King David if the psalmist writes in Psalm that “YHWH says to (my) Adoni…” where my refers to King David. The messiah is in fact greater than King David, even though he is descended from King David. The messiah is a child of David but not the huios of David and is not re-establishing the Davidic Kingdom as a caring on of that kingdom but rather will establish a kingdom that is qualitatively greater than King David’s not simply quantitatively greater. King David was king of the Jews, but his Adoni is a King of King, a Lord of Lords.

  2. Here we can see Jesus poking at the scribes for their actually rather racist thinking. They wanted the Messiah to come and put the Jews back on the top of the pile. Jesus is rather here challenging His listeners that the Messiah is greater and will establish a Kingdom that is over all peoples – not simply a Jewish kingdom that turns all non-Jews into vassals of a great Jewish Empire.

    The Gospel of Mark has the people respond favorably and with gladness to this exegesis that the Messiah should be greater than that which they had been expecting.

    This is why the Gospel of Mark, which has a strong theme of the universality of Christ’s message, uses the term “Son of Man” as a title for Jesus rather than the “Son of David” which the Gospel of Matthew uses, to indicate that the Messiah is the messiah of all of humanity – no one gets left out, He has come for all and all will be brought into His kingdom. This should not be surprising as the Gospel of Mark is the compilation of St. Peter’s preaching and the universality of the kingdom is a strong theme in his writings as well as his own life having been personally instructed by Christ to preach the Good News to Jew and Gentile without partiality.