My readers are probably aware of the difference between the term משיח (Mashiach /Messiah), which is used in the Hebrew Bible in reference to an actual ruling king or priest, and the concept of “Messianism”, which originally derives from that noun but refers to images, symbols or concepts of an eschatological savior. It is a well-known fact that the very title “Mashiach”, and the custom of “anointing”, originated in the world of the Israelite monarchy: in the original context, only one of the thirty-nine occurrences of the word “mashiach” (משיח) in the Hebrew canon refers to an expected eschatological savior. If we ask how this transformation happened, an answer would be that, mainly, it took place through the genre of “apocalypse”. The apocalypses turn out to be the main carrier of eschatological ideas and messianic concepts in the Second Temple period. In apocalyptic writings, the original biblical texts about ‘anointed ones’ were placed in an eschatological framework and therefore transformed into eschatological messianic texts. Consequently, this genre became the center of the whole process of rethinking and reinterpretation of the Bible in the Second Temple period.
At the head of this apocalyptic movement, stands the biblical Apocalypse of Daniel, with Daniel’s famous vision of “One like a Son of Man” in chapter 7. This chapter describes a vision in which the prophet sees four great beasts coming up out of the sea, each one different from the others. The ‘Ancient of Days’ appears in this vision in all his glory. Then, after the fourth beast is destroyed, there appears on the scene ‘One like a Son of man’ who is conveyed on the clouds into God’s heavenly Council, where he stands in the divine presence. We read a beautiful account of this royal audience: I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like a son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of Days… And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed ….
The Apocalypse of Daniel clearly marks the end of the biblically oriented period and at the same time stands at the beginning of a new apocalyptic period, with a totally new view of history and a new messianic paradigm. “The ‘One like a Son of Man’ who comes with the clouds of heaven in Dan. 7:13, gave rise to a different kind of messianic expectation, which emphasized the heavenly, transcendent character of the savior figure.” In the following centuries, this kind of transcendent deliverer will play an increasingly important role in Jewish eschatology and the mysterious figure called ‘Son of Man’ will appear in different apocalyptic writings.
The earliest Jewish evidence for the interpretation and re-use of Daniel 7:13-14 is found in the Similitudes of Enoch, the second sub-book of the First Book of Enoch (I Enoch 37-71). “This book provides us with our most explicit evidence that the Son of Man as a divine-human Redeemer arose by Jesus’ time from reading the book of Daniel.” In a number of places throughout the Similitudes, the expression ‘Son of Man’ or simply ‘Man’ is used (46:1-6; 48:2-7; 62:5-9,14; 63:11; 69:26-29; 70:1; 71:17). The clearest allusions are in 1 Enoch 46:1: “At that place, I saw the to One whom belongs the time before time. And his head was white like wool, and there was with him another individual, whose face was like that of a human being,” and in I Enoch 47:3: “In those days, I saw him – the Antecedent of Time, while he was sitting upon the throne of his glory, and the books of the living one were open before him.” Enoch then asks his angelic guide “regarding the One who was born of human beings”: “Who is this, and from whence is he who is going as the prototype of the Before-Time?” The angel responds: “This is the Son of Man, to whom belongs righteousness, and with whom righteousness dwells.” The figure of the Son of Man is presented here as a heavenly being. Although he looks human, he is a supernatural angelic being standing in a very special relationship to God Himself. The Lord of Spirits has chosen him (46:3; 48:6) and kept him to carry out in his name, a work which is yet to be revealed. God’s choice of him was made “before the creation of the world and for evermore”; “His name was named before the Lord of the Spirits“ before the sun and the stars were made (compare with later rabbinic tradition, where the name of messiah is listed among the things that preceded the creation of the world); in the purposes of God he was concealed, hidden from the beginning and “his glory is for ever and ever”. In general, the book speaks about a heavenly Son of Man and shows little connection with the idea of messiah.
Daniel 7 is also reflected in 4 Ezra, a Jewish apocalypse from the end of the 1st century CE. “… And I looked, and behold, this wind made something like the figure of a man come up out of the heart of the sea. And I looked, and behold, that man flew with the clouds of heaven …“ “The clouds of heaven” is a clear allusion to Daniel 7. In the interpretation, the ‘man’ of the vision is identified as “he whom the Most High has been keeping for many ages, who will himself deliver his creation…“ Intriguingly, in this text, written at approximately the same time as the Gospel of Mark, the Man of the vision is already identified with Messiah: “Behold, the days are coming when the Most High will deliver those who dwell on the earth… then my son will be revealed, whom you saw as a man coming up from the sea… But he will stand on the top of Mount Zion… And he, my Son, will reprove the assembled nations for their ungodliness… and he will destroy them… Therefore when he destroys the multitude of the nations that are gathered together, he will defend the people who remain…”
Now, after this brief review, we can return to the Gospels and face our main question: Why did Jesus call Himself Son of Man, and not Messiah? We will try to answer this question in our next post.
 Dan 7:13,14
 John J. Collins The Scepter and the Star: the Messiah of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient literature (The Anchor Bible reference library, 1995), p.175
 1 Enoch is a collection of Jewish apocalyptic texts dating from the last three centuries before the Common Era.
Daniel Boyarin, The Jewish Gospels: the story of the Jewish Christ, The new Press, NY, 2012,
 1 Enoch 48:3-6
 It has to be noted though that he is also twice called Messiah here (48:10 and 52:4)
 4 Ezra 13:3
 4 Ezra 13:26
 4 Ezra 13:27,29,35-37,49-50.