This post continues our exploration of the different nuances of the term “Son of God”. In Post 1, we looked at the comparison between Christ and Adam.
A Divine Figure
The gods pronounced their blessing and went, the gods went to their tents, the Council of El to their divine homes.
–Kirta in Stories from Ancient Canaan, ed. and tr. Michael Coogan
But Baal has no house like the other gods’, no court like Asherah’s sons’
–Baal in Stories from Ancient Canaan, ed. and tr. Michael Coogan
And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.
When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of man, He set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God / angels of God
-Deuteronomy 32:8, LXX
Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the Lord.
When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.
The term “son of God” had predominantly divine connotations in the ancient Mediterranean, referring to gods and demi-gods (heroes). Many cultures had pantheons in which a father god governed the cosmos by means of a divine council, composed of members of his own family. In psycho-cultural terms, this is understandable as a projection of the world of men. In these cultures, businesses were largely family affairs (with domestic slaves being considered a part of the household), and monarchical government was dynastic. Even in places and times with more democratic or oligarchical structures, family was important: for most of the Roman Republic, the patrician cluster of families ran the state, sons succeeding fathers in vying for the most prestigious positions in the cursus honorum. Thus we see the children of Anu making up the divine council in the Mesopotamian pantheon; the seventy sons of El in Canaan; the children of Ra in Egypt; and the offspring of Zeus in Greece (before that in the cosmogony, the titans, children of Gaia and Ouranos, led by Kronos).
The Hebrew worldview of the Old Testament period corresponded with this model, but with its own take on things. Sharing the seventy sons motif with the Canaanites, the biblical narrative outlines seventy Gentile nations, each allotted to the administration of a son of God (Genesis 10-11; Deuteronomy 32). This use of the number seventy as a symbol of the nations, is picked up in the Gospels as a sign that Jesus’ mission will advance beyond Israel, a central theme in Luke-Acts, and a development of Isaiah’s message.
A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.
After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come.
Israel was Yahweh’s portion among the list on nations: number seventy-one, one might say. For this reason, Israel was forbidden to enter into alliance with the sons of God. This was further strengthened by the fact that many of them were under judgment for disloyalty to Yahweh in the form of maladministration of the nations and accepting worship that belonged to Yahweh alone.
God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.
How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah.
Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.
Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.
They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course.
I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.
But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.
Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations.
The identification of Jesus as the Son of God marked him out as divine. But he was THE Son of God, not A son of God, which meant that he was not quite like the others. This nuance, the subject of the next post in this series was important because it pertained to His authority over the nation of Israel and the distinction between Him and the spiritual beings with which the Gentiles were familiar. The Apostles brought the Christian message to a world that was largely supernatural in its outlook, and polytheistic in its belief-structure. In our post-Enlightenment world, it become necessary to re-acquaint ourselves with this worldview in order to properly understand the context of the Bible.