Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Jesus, the Merkavah, and Martyrdom in Early Christian Tradition

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Jesus, the Merkavah, and Martyrdom in Early Christian Tradition

Article excerpt

Proquest Information and Learning: Foreign text ommited.)

Scholars have identified Dan 7:14 as a merkavah vision, a vision of God's throne, and as a source text for an early Jewish form of mysticism called merkavah mysticism.1

9 As I watched, thrones were set in place, and an Ancient of Days took his throne, his clothing white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels were burning fire. 10 A stream of fire issued and flowed out from his presence. A thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand stood attending him. The court sat in judgment and the books were opened. 11 I watched then because of the noise of the arrogant words that the horn was speaking. And as I watched, the beast was put to death, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. 13 As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a son of man coming on the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed. (Dan 7:9-14)2

While early Christian literature does not refer to Dan 7:9-14 as often as it does to Ps 110:1, the most quoted passage from the Jewish Bible in the NT, there are several uses that demonstrate its importance for the mystical interests of early Christians.3 This vision of Dan 7 has several elements that reappear in the Acts of the Apostles, Revelation, and the early-third-century text The Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas. These texts all share an interest in captive visionaries, enthroned figures, empowered beings who are standing, and threatening circumstances. As a group, they demonstrate how a merkavah vision became associated with martyrdom.

I. Daniel 7

The vision in Dan 7:9-14 is the second half of a lengthy vision that begins in 7:2. The visionary, Daniel, is described in this second-century B.C.E. text as an exilic Jew (Dan 1:3-7) who lived as a captive under the administration of the Babylonians and the Persians (Dan 5:30-31) and found his life under threat (Dan 6:1-28). The vision in Dan 7:2-8 begins with a sequence of four beasts, the fourth of which is terrifying and destructive. After Daniel's description of the fourth beast, the vision of Dan 7:9-14 follows. Here a figure identified as an "Ancient of Days" with white hair takes his dazzling throne in a court scene involving thousands of attendants. Judgment follows; the destruction of the fourth beast is announced; and the three other beasts find their lives prolonged for "a season and a time." As the vision continues Daniel sees an unnamed figure called "one like a son of man," who, after coming with the clouds of heaven, is presented before the "Ancient of Days" and is given everlasting dominion over all peoples.

Scholarly debate has focused on the unnamed figure called the "one like a son of man" referred to in Dan 7:13-14. Interpreters are divided over whether this figure is symbolic or an individual, usually a heavenly being.4 The history of interpretation behind this passage shows how both options have been popular.5 Early Christian interpreters identified Jesus as the "one like a son of man," and several identified Jesus as the "one like a son of man" who is "standing." Christians were not alone in arguing for a specific identity for this anonymous figure. Other Jewish groups had their candidates: Enoch, Metatron, Seth, Abel, and Michael.6 2 Ezra 13 is one of the very few texts to refer to the "one like a son of man" of Dan 7:13-14 without identifying the figure.

II. Acts 7

The vision attributed to Stephen in Acts 7:54-60 includes several characteristics that illustrate its probable use of Dan 7. …

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