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As a Reformed Christian, I take a Christological reading of Daniel 7:13–14:

Daniel 7:13-14 (ESV)

13 “I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
    there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
    and was presented before him.
14 And to him was given dominion
    and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
    should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
    which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
    that shall not be destroyed.

I'm interested in Jewish interpretations of this text. Is it still understood to be Messianic? In particular, who is the "son of man" and why the differential of this person from the Ancient of Days?

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  • @GoneQuiet Daniel Block, in the introduction to his commentary on Ezekiel, says that in contrast to the ben adam construction of Ezekiel, this one in Daniel is "the semantically related Aram. bar enas, 'son of man,' which intentionally identifies a heavenly figure with humans in Dan. 7:13." So yes, Aramaic.
    – Kazark
    May 21, 2012 at 20:00
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    From middle of 2:4 until end of 7 is Aramaic. "bar enash" is the same as the Hebrew "ben adam", meaning, "human being". May 23, 2012 at 12:48
  • It is probably too late now but it seems to me that this question should have been migrated to Judaism.SE.
    – Ruminator
    May 15, 2018 at 10:31
  • @Ruminator Questions about the "interpretation of a specific Bible passage" are on-topic.
    – user2672
    May 17, 2018 at 6:26
  • @Keelan If he wants to know how to interpret it, fine. If he wants to know how Jews interpret it then he should ask it either on Judaism.se or Christianity.se. Hermeneutics is concerned with exegeting the text not with opinions.
    – Ruminator
    May 17, 2018 at 6:32

5 Answers 5

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The Rabbinic interpretation is:

  1. Messianic
  2. "Ancient of Days" is a name of God
  3. "son of man" is a mistranslation

The Biblical Hebrew term "ben adam" or its Aramaic equivalent "bar enosh" is used for a mortal, fallible human being. Used commonly by God when addressing mortals to remind them of their place in the general scheme of things. (And used commonly in modern Hebrew to indicate that someone is a regular chap, he's a "ben adam". 'Don't be so hard-nosed, be a "ben adam"!')

The everlasting dominion given to the "ben adam" (by inference the Seleuicids were not that) is the House of David that will be re-established, and this time permanently, as promised by previous prophets. The messiah is a human king, who gets married and hopefully has righteous kids, one of whom continues the line after his death.

As time went by and the House of David looked less and less likely to return, the concept of messiah took on ever more mystical overtones and lent itself to speculative excesses. In light of the bad experiences with various claimants to the title over the generations, the Rabbis now take a dim view of any speculation concerning the nature of the messiah and his estimated time of arrival. Among non-religious Jews today, particularly those on the left of the political spectrum in Israel, "messianic" is an epithet used to infer that someone on the other side of the spectrum is backward, dangerous, reactionary, etc.

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  • Do you have a source reflecting this being the Jewish view rather than your personal view? Thanks.
    – Ruminator
    May 15, 2018 at 10:29
  • I think he might be a Jew, so maybe the questioners should be more specific if he means ancient Hebrew and ancient Jews because technically if you are a Jew you can just state your own view Jan 13, 2019 at 18:32
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It may sound strange to current Jews but it really doesn't matter what how unbelieving jews see this or any other text that clearly demonstrates their Messiah, Jesus, has already come and sits at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven... Not even the destruction of their Temple 40 years after the resurrection and ceasing of all contact with God & the prophets has unhardened the hearts.

This was prophesied. The Jews would reject the Christ and only a Remnant would believe... the rest are hardened Rom 9-11. Then, after the full number of gentiles comes, they will turn to Jesus Christ.

As with scriptures like "the Lord said to my Lord.. sit at my right hand" The figure, a son of man, can only be Deity as he is given glory, eternal Sovereign authority, and is Worshiped. If you try and rebut that, you may want to consider He is "Coming on the clouds from heaven".

"he has blinded the eyes of the unbelievers so they cannot see". "they are destroyed because they refuse to love the truth and so be saved" "to this day a veil covers their eyes when the scriptures are read so they cannot see... Only in Christ is it taken away". So again, how they interpret has become a demonstration of blindness that reveals nothing in regards to scholarship.

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  • Hi John and welcome to this site. Please scroll down and click on "Tour" to get a good idea of what this site is about. The question posed has to do with what the Jews thought of the passage. We would like thoughtful, supported answers to the questions. Can you edit your response so it more directly answers the question from a Jewish interpretation?
    – Steve
    May 12, 2019 at 3:49
  • What a crappy messiah you christians have, he failed every prophecy. No peace on earth, no one true knowledge of God, not all Jews are in the land of Israel. Jun 12, 2023 at 23:06
  • @gustavoanalytics-_He failed every prophecy_(?) Hardly: see Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, et al. Even the Jewish scholars of the first century sought Jesus at Bethlehem (Matthew 2:4,5, Micah 5:2) Not only did Jesus fulfill prophecies, He made accurate prophecies Himself. (Matthew 23-24, Acts 1:4,5) Notice that Christians do not contend that "all" prophecies have been fulfilled...there are TWO COMINGS anticipated. Jesus will not fail to let any "jot or tittle" fail in the Law, Prophets, and Writings.
    – ray grant
    Aug 24, 2023 at 22:08
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Three Questions Three questions were asked, and the second one will be dealt with first. In particular, who is the 'Son of Man'?

Intertestament Judaism had several books that are extant today, which dealt with Messianic expectations, as well as other topics. One of these, 2 Esdras 13:3,

"sees something like the figure of a man come up out of the heart of the sea...this man flew with the clouds of heaven" (v.3)He defeats the hostile cosmic powers and delivers captives through a series of actions which precede the confirmation of his reign. (J.J. Scott, Jr., Backgrounds, p.311)

Some see a similarity between this and Daniel 7. Another Jewish book, 1 Enoch depicts the Son of Man at length, in the section on "Similitudes and Parables." Some examples are:

The Son of Man was given a name, in the Presence of the Lord of the Spirits, the Before-Time [Head of days], even before the creation...He will become a staff for the righteous ones...He is a light of the gentiles, and will become a hope of those who are sick in their hearts. (48:2ff)

The righteous and elect ones shall be saved on that day...The Lord of the spirits will abide over them; they shall eat and rest and rise with that Son of Man forever and ever. (62:13-14)

J.J. Scott summarized the Enoch rendition of the Son of Man: "It is evident that the Enochic Son of Man is preexistent, heavenly, and majestic, He possesses dominion and will judge all humankind and angels." (Backgrounds, p. 313.)

But not all Jews shared the same concepts. Ancient Judaism, like the multitude of modern Protestant denominations, was diverse in its interpretations and teachings. Rabbinical schools differed, as well as sects, and apocalyptic cultists at the time of Christ.

Other Jews So what did other Jews believe about the Son of Man? There was a Jewish carpenter (mason) from Nazareth who shared some of the beliefs of the cultural writings, AND He had the audacity to apply them to Himself. He self-described Himself over 80 times as "the Son of Man"! This was Jesus. And it was recorded that this title was synonymous with "Messiah" and "Son of God." (John 5:22-27, 12:34)

The Jewish rabbis, scribes, and rulers of that time preferred a militaristic Messiah to free them from the Roman occupation of their land, and strongly opposed Jesus' use of "Son of Man." They considered it "blasphemy" (Mark 14:61-64, Mt. 26:63-65). [Although Pontius Pilate detected "envy as the reason for opposition.]

Today, there seem to be traces of dealing with the title of "Son of Man" as a synecdoche: a collective representation of Israel as a whole. Instead of recognizing a personality, they consider Israel as a whole to be represented. The treatment of the "Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 is treated this way too. [Check with your local synagogue, for confirmation; see J.J. Scott, p.315]

Third Question Why the differential of this Person from the Ancient of Days? All throughout the ministry of Jesus, there was an expression of His reliance upon "the Father." He only did what He saw the Father do. He was to ask the Father to give the Church the Holy Spirit. He submitted to the cross because of the will of the Father. (John 15:26, chapter 17)

So it is appropriate that Jesus (Son of Man) is pictured as having to approach "The Ancient of Days" in order to receive His kingdom. This is recognized as a title of God (the Father). As far as the Incarnation goes, subservience examples are okay...without demeaning Jesus's triune deity.

First Question Is it still understood to be Messianic (according to Jewish interpretations)? It must be kept in mind that, while it may be considered Messianic, there are a multitude of ideas about what kind of Messiah is described! Pre-Christian era...First century Church era...Middle ages...modern times...they all have different Jewish expectations of Messiah (Son of Man).

So while many, or even most, consider this passage to be Messianic, it wouldn't be the Christian Messiah they anticipate. Jewry, as a whole, still rejects Jesus to be the Son of Man. (Orthodox, Reformed, Conservative; but see "Jews for Jesus" for many who do believe.)

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One Jewish interpretation is the son of man is symbolic of the saints, just as the beasts are symbolic.

Daniel 7:16-18 16 I came near unto one of them that stood by, and asked him the truth of all this. So he told me, and made me know the interpretation of the things.

17 These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth.

18 But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever.

So here the angel interprets the beasts as 4 kings. And seems to imply that the Son of man are the saints who recieves the kingdom .

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    That is a helpful comment but in order to be a useful answer you would have to show that this is an established Jewish view which would require a Jewish source. The view of Jews is the question rather than "what do the scriptures say".
    – Ruminator
    May 15, 2018 at 10:27
  • Yes, can you include any kind of source for this? That would be extremely helpful.
    – Jesse
    Feb 8, 2023 at 0:05
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It is not "ben enosh" (which is Hebrew), it is the Aramaic כְּבַר אֱנָשׁ k'var enash, "[something] like a man (human)." The allegory of this passage is that though other nations will rise, they will all fall. In the end Israel and the messiah (who ushers in an age of universal knowledge of G-d and global peace) will come to help all of that happen.

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    Ms. Sophie - can you provide us any references to midrash, Talmud, or Scripture? For example, how do you see the rise and fall of Gentile nations in this passage (through the appearance of something like the "Son of Man"?). Thanks! Also, please peruse our website tour if and when you have a moment.
    – Joseph
    Feb 6, 2016 at 17:36
  • Keep in mind that midrash and talmud are both subjective, contextual references, which may be divorced from Scriptural writings and their intent. Dec 16, 2017 at 15:21
  • “[something] like a man (human).” — So, then, he’s not just a man? Aug 19, 2023 at 4:11

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