Daily Archives: June 27, 2011

The Son Of David

It's really striking to me that the phrase “son of David” only shows up in two parts of Mark's narrative. Once when Jesus heals Bartimaeus (Mk 10.46-52) and the second time when Jesus rebukes the “son of David” title, at least as a title for the messiah (Mk 12.35-37). Jesus has no qualms about being the “son of man” (Mk 14.62). But the son of David? Heavens to Mergatroyd!

This is more than likely a misuse of Psalm 110 (the psalm was written to David, not by him*). But aside from that digression, these are the only two times that the title “son of David” is used in Mark so there might be a relationship between the two pericopae. And they appear relatively close in the narrative (i.e. one doesn't occur in Mark 2 and the second at Mark 13). The one person to call Jesus “son of David” is a blind man. Is the author of Mark saying that those who call the messiah a son of David are blind? What are we to make of Romans 1.3: γενομενο[ς] εκ σπερματος δαυιδ κατα σαρκα :: born from the seed of David according to the flesh? Paul most certainly believed that Jesus was a “son of David”.

Or did he?

Look how virulently anti-Marcionite these first few lines of Romans are:

2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures
3 regarding his Son, who as to his human nature (i.e. κατα σαρκα) was a descendant of David,
4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God

We should note that Romans has the longest introduction out of all of the authentic Pauline letters:

* Galatians 1.1-2 Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers with me. To the churches in Galatia…

* 1 Corinthians 1.1-2 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes. To the church of God in Corinth…

* 2 Corinthians 1.1-2 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother. To the church of God in Corinth…

* Phillipians 1.1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus. To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi…

* Philemon 1.1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother. To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker…

* 1 Thessalonians 1.1 Paul, Silas, and Timothy. To the church of the Thessalonians…

Even the contested Pauline letters have shorter intros than the one in Romans:

* Colossians 1.1-2 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother. To God’s holy people in Colossae…

* Ephesians 1.1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God. To God’s holy people in Ephesus…

* 2 Thessalonians 1.1 Paul, Silas and Timothy. To the church of the Thessalonians…

All of these introductions are only like one sentence long until it gets to the addressing phrase (i.e. to the churches in Galatia…). Romans, on the other hand, goes on this relatively long sidebar about the Jewish nature of Jesus and the gospel. To make the Roman letter's introduction match those of the other authentic Pauline letters, it should read like this: “1Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God […] 7To all in Rome who are loved by God…

Certainly, this long-ish digression about the Jewish nature of the Jesus religion wouldn't have been in Marcion's canon. Marcion didn't believe that Jesus was a descendant of anyone, nor did he believe that he had come “in the flesh”. Marcion also did not believe that Jesus had been predicted in Jewish scripture (I actually don't think the authentic Paul even believed this) nor that he was “declared” to be the son of god, which implies some sort of adoptionist Christology. I'm willing to bet that Marcion's version of Romans had something like the intro I've just propopsed here; it would match the intro of all of the other letters. And it is also telling that Marcion actually seems like the first Christian witness to Romans. The only other long intro of a similar length that we see in Romans is in one of the pseduo-Pauline letters – Titus (also, I might add, not in Marcion's canon).

So I don’t think Paul wrote this long intro to Romans. The language is not Pauline (the only other time that “Paul” uses the phrase Holy Scripture is in the pseudo-Pauline letter 2 Timothy [3.15]). The long digression doesn’t match other Pauline introductions, and Paul never appeals to the prophets in predicting Jesus’ advent (Paul mostly talks about prophets in relation to apostles. Meaning contemporary prophets) or otherwise goes out of his way to stress the Jewishness of the Jesus religion.

Anyway, in Matthew Jesus is presented repeatedly as being the “son of David”. It might be seen as a subtle correction of Mark's disavowal.

Like I wrote before, this healing pericope is the only time that Mark actually gives the person that Jesus heals a name. And he more than likely named him for a reason. Since the reason for Mark naming Bartimaeus appears prior in the narrative to Jesus rebuking the “son of David” title, again, it might mean that all of this was planned. A deliberate connection between the two pericopes. It could be further evidence that Mark is along the trajectory towards Marcionism; Jesus and the new religion are a novelty and shouldn't be mixed with the old (hence Mark's wineskins pericope). Mark might be subtly saying to his readers that they should stop thinking of Christianity in terms of Judaism and think of it on its own terms. A new age has begun; Jews and Judaism have been abandoned by their god (again, Mark 12.1-10, Mark 13). Thinking of the messiah as being a “son of David” is thinking of things in terms of the old ways.

The teachers of the law (who are “blind”) are the only ones who say that the messiah is the son of David. And we know that the law (in Christianity) is no longer valid.

[*] It seems as though our earliest witness to this Psalm are Christians. Psalm 110 was not found in the oldest collection of biblical works – the Dead Sea Scrolls. Even though the DSS group seemed to have a particular reverence for Melchitsedek. Psalm 110 also seems to merge the two positions of High Priest and King, which first enters the scene of the Jewish nationality with the Maccabean priest-kings. Considering that the DSS group had a not so veiled hatred of the Maccabean usurpers, it could be concluded that Psalm 110 was written by Maccabean sympathizers to legitimate their merging of the two once disparate offices. Which is why this particular Psalm would be written to David and not by him; the Maccabean leadership are implying that David was both priest and king to give credence to their claim to being both priest and king. It would also be why this Psalm was not included among the ones in the DSS – it was written by their political enemies.


Posted by on June 27, 2011 in marcion, paul, son of david

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