The Son of God Text, Lawrence Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1994.


Coin of Alexander Balas

Coin of Alexander Balas. By Classical Numismatic Group, Inc., CC BY-SA 3.0,

The biblical Book of Daniel has often been the subject of later additions and adaptations. The Septuagint Daniel, for instance, contains several additions found in Greek Bibles that were not part of the Hebrew original. Scholars have identified a variety of Qumran texts as pseudo-Danielic because they resemble the biblical book in both style and content. In the manuscripts found at Qumran, these materials and the canonical Book of Daniel are each preserved separately, without any hint of overlap or confusion. Yet these texts cannot be understood without referring back to the biblical Daniel.

Perhaps the most significant of these manuscripts is the Son of God text that contains in it an Aramaic expression translated as “son of God.” As we will see, the meaning of this term is highly debatable. Although originally designated as Pseudo-Daniel D, the text is now generally known as the Aramaic Apocalypse. The manuscript has been dated to the first century B.C.E. and must be assigned to the pre-Qumranic stage of Second Temple Jewish literature.

In the case of this text, it is probable that the entire Son of God passage is based on the elusive text of Daniel 7-13–14- “As I looked on, in the night vision, one like a human being came with the clouds of heaven…. Dominion, glory and kingship were given to him; all peoples and nations of every language must serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship, one that shall not be destroyed.” In this passage, Daniel sees a vision of an apocalyptic redeemer, who is assigned everlasting rule.

After a break in the manuscript, the Aramaic Apocalypse mentions a king. Thereafter, someone, understood by scholars to be the prophet Daniel in the broken text, falls before the throne of the king, presumably the ruler of Babylonia. Apparently the king has had a dream that is to be interpreted here in an apocalyptic manner. The speaker then says to the king-

You have been angry from eternity and your years (have been spent) [in fear. I will interpret (?)] your vision and all that is to come to pass unto eternity. (ARAMAIC APOCALYPSE I 2–3)

In this passage, we encounter the classic form of Danielic apocalyptic visions. Here, following the biblical model, the prophet becomes a conduit of revelation for a king. The text then proceeds to give its vision of the war to come-

[Because of the g]reat [kings (there will be)] great distress on the earth, [there will be war among the peoples] and a great slaughter in the cities. [The kings will arise and do battle,] the king of Assyria and Egypt. [Then there will arise the final king and he] will be great upon the earth. [The nations will] make [peace with him] and all will serve [him]. (ARAMAIC APOCALYPSE I 4–9)

Here the text foretells a great war between the kings of the northern and southern empires, a scenario greatly resembling the expected eschatological battle. Then, in describing the “final king,” the text mentions the son of God-

The [son of the] G[reat Master] shall he be called, and by His name he will be called. He will be said (to be) the son of God, and they will call him the son of the Most High. (ARAMAIC APOCALYPSE I 9–II 1)

The foregoing passage is clearly the key to the entire document. It seems to speak of a figure, arising in connection with the final messianic battle, who will be called the son of God. Not surprisingly, this text has given rise to a number of interpretations. Of course, it is impossible to determine the precise meaning of this phrase outside the context of the entire passage. But for the moment, let us posit several primary possibilities- First, the term “son of God” could in fact designate a messianic figure, evidence that at that time some Jews expected a messiah who would be called the son of God. If this were the case, then the designation, found later in Christianity, appears to have derived from the messianism of a particular Jewish group whose approach is represented in this document.

We can find a close parallel to the passage in two verses from the New Testament (Luke 1-32–33), wherein the angel Gabriel, speaking about the newborn Jesus, proclaims, “He will be great and will be called the son of the Most High … and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” This parallel lends support to the claim that in pre-Christian times some Jews considered “son of God” a designation for the messiah. However, it is irresponsible to conclude from this evidence that the analogy points to some particularly strong link between the Qumran sectarians, who included this earlier text in their collection, and the Christian faith, which emerged only later.

Alternatively, we might argue that the passage describes a boastful ruler of the entire world, who will arise and declare himself the son of God, only to be later defeated. If so, we would expect to find further on in the text a description of the messianic war but no designation of the messiah as the son of God. Scholars have suggested two candidates for this ruler- Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175–164 B.C.E.), villain of the Maccabean revolt, or his son Alexander Balas (152–145 B.C.E.).

Another theory, one much less likely, is that the text is referring to a kind of anti-Christ, a Belial-like figure who heads the lot of evildoers, the Sons of Darkness. If this were the case, the text would first describe this figure’s dominion and then would describe the rule by the leader of the lot of good, the Sons of Light, a figure such as Michael, Melchizedek, or the like.

Let us now examine the next passage in the text. It describes the period of the reign of kings, most probably those of Assyria and Egypt-

Like the comets which are seen, thus shall their rule be. They shall rule for years upon the earth and shall trample everything. Nation shall trample nation and city (shall trample) city, until there arises the people of God, and all will (then) rest from the sword. (ARAMAIC APOCALYPSE II 1–4)

Here is where the confusion starts. The text seems to say that the people of God will arise and usher in a period of world peace. If we identify the people collectively as the redeemer, a notion that in fact can be found in certain Second Temple period texts, then “son of God” must refer to the boastful king, not to a messianic figure. On the other hand, if we assume that the text does not really follow a logical order, then we can still identify the son of God as a messianic figure in whose time the people of God arise to bring peace to the earth.

There follows, in the remaining preserved portion of this text, a description of the End of Days and the role of the redeemer-

His kingship shall be eternal kingship and all his rule shall be in truth. He will judg[e] the earth with truth and will entirely make peace. The sword shall cease from the earth, and all the cities shall bow down to him. The great God will be his strength and will make war for him. The nations He will give into his hand, and all of them He will cast (down) before him. His dominion shall be an eternal dominion and all of the boundaries … (ARAMAIC APOCALYPSE II 5–9)

Here the text breaks off; we know nothing more of its contents. This last passage clearly describes the End of Days. But who will usher it in? Will it be the son of God understood as a messianic figure, or will it be the people of God—Israel—here described in the singular, who will collectively play that role? Because it is difficult to maintain that the son of God can be at the same time both the boastful king and the ruler presiding over the redeemed world, we must conclude that the term “son of God,” refers to a messianic agent.

Taken in its entirety, this passage fits well into the context of the pseudo-Danielic literature and in the apocalyptic context of Second Temple Judaism. The description of the messianic era conforms precisely to the vision embraced by virtually all Jews both then and throughout the ages- the ultimate reign of the messiah in an everlasting period of truth and righteousness. In this respect, it conforms to the restorative trend in Jewish messianism, although the battles it anticipates take their cue from utopian, cataclysmic ideas. The son of God imagery, indeed new to Jewish texts of that period, finds its source in the Hebrew Bible, wherein the Jewish people is identified as the firstborn son of God. Since the New Testament uses this imagery, we can assume that it was current among some Second Temple period Jews. Read this way, the text does not contradict the basic premise that the scrolls are Jewish texts that, for the most part, share the common Jewish beliefs of the Hellenistic period.

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