"Son of man" is the translation of one Hebrew and one Aramaic phrase used in the Hebrew Bible. In Hebrew, the term is ben-adam, while in Aramaic its equivalent bar-adam is used. In post-biblical literature, the similar terms bar-anosh and bar-nasha also appear.
The Hebrew expression "son of man" (בן–אדם i.e. ben-'adam) appears one hundred and seven times in the Hebrew Bible. This is the most common Hebrew construction for the singular, appearing 93 times in the Book of Ezekiel alone and 14 times elsewhere. In thirty two cases, the phrase appears in intermediate plural form "sons of men". As generally interpreted by Jews, "son of man" denotes mankind generally in contrast to deity or godhead, with special reference to their weakness and frailty.
- לא אישׁ אל ויכזב ובן־אדם ויתנחם ההוא אמר ולא יעשׂה ודבר ולא יקימנה
- God is not a man (איש : ['iysh]) that He should lie, nor is He a mortal (בן–אדם : [ben-'adam]) that He should repent. Would He say and not do, speak and not fulfill?
In the Book of Job, we see son of man used a total of three times (all of which fall within poetry):
- 18 ארץ אל־תכסי דמי ואל־יהי מקום לזעקתי׃
- 19 גם־עתה הנה־בשׁמים עדי ושׂהדי במרומים׃
- 20 מליצי רעי אל־אלוה דלפה עיני׃
- 21 ויוכח לגבר עם־אלוה ובן־אדם לרעהו׃
- 22 כי־שׁנות מספר יאתיו וארח לא־אשׁוב אהלך׃
- 18 "O earth! do not cover my blood, and let there be no place for my cry.
- 19 Even now, behold my Witness is in heaven and He Who testifies for me is on high.
- 20 My intercessors, my friends, to God my eye pours out tears.
- 21 Would that a man (גבר : [gabar]) could reason with God as a man (בן–אדם : [ben-'adam]) with his fellow.
- 22 For numbered years will come, and I will go on a way from which I will not return."
- 1 ויען בלדד השׁחי ויאמר׃
- 2 המשׁל ופחד עמו עשׂה לום במרומיו׃
- 3 הישׁ מספר לגדודיו וע��־מי לא־יקום אורהו׃
- 4 ומה־יצדק אנושׁ עם־אל ומה־יזכה ילוד אשׁה׃
- 5 הן עד־ירח ולא יאהיל וכוכבים לא־זכו בעיניו׃
- 6 אף כי־אנושׁ רמה ובן אדם תולעה׃
- 1 Now Bildad the Shuhite answered and said,
- 2"Dominion and fear are with Him; He makes peace in His heights.
- 3 Have His troops a number, and on whom does His light not shine?
- 4 How then can man be just with God, and how can one born of woman be clean?
- 5 Behold, He removes the moon and it will not shine, and the stars are not pure in His eyes.
- 6 How much less,man (אנוש : ['enowsh]), who is a worm, and the son of man (בן–אדם : [ben-'adam]), who is a maggot!"
- 6 אם־חטאת מה־תפעל־בו ורבו פשׁעיך מה־תעשׂה־לו׃
- 7 אם־צדקת מה־תתן־לו או מה־מידך יקח׃
- 8 לאישׁ־כמוך רשׁעך ולבן־אדם צדקתך׃
- 6 If you sinned, what do you do to Him, and if your transgressions are many, what do you do to Him?
- 7 If you are righteous, what do you give Him? Or what does He take from your hand?
- 8 Your wickedness [affects] a man (איש : ['iysh]) like yourself, and your righteousness a son of man (בן–אדם : [ben-'adam]).
Within the Book of Psalms, we find the same classical forms employed within Numbers and Job wherewith son of man is used in parallel with man to describe humanity as a whole.
- 5 מה־אנושׁ כי־תזכרנו ובן־אדם כי תפקדנו׃ 6 ותחסרהו מעט מאלהים וכבוד והדר תעטרהו׃
- 5 what is man (אנוש : ['enosh]) that You should remember him, and the son of man (בן–אדם : [ben-'adam]) that You should be mindful of him?
- 6 Yet You have made him slightly less than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and majesty.
- 15 אלהים צבאות שׁוב־נא הבט משׁמים וראה ופקד גפן זאת׃ 16 וכנה אשׁר־נטעה ימינך ועל־בן אמצתה לך׃ 17 שׂרפה באשׁ כסוחה מגערת פניך יאבדו׃ 18 תהי־ידך על־אישׁ ימינך על־בן־אדם אמצת לך׃ 19 ולא־נ��וג ממך תחינו ובשׁמך נקרא׃
- 15 O God of Hosts, return now; look from heaven and see, and be mindful of this vine,
- 16 And of the foundation that Your right hand has planted and over the son You have strengthened for Yourself.
- 17 Burned with fire [and] cut off; from the rebuke of Your countenance they perish.
- 18 May Your hand be upon the man (איש : ['iysh]) of Your right hand, upon the son of man (בן–אדם : [ben-'adam]) whom You strengthened for Yourself.
- 19 And let us not withdraw from You; grant us life, and we shall call out in Your name.
- 3 יהוה מה־אדם ותדעהו בן־אנושׁ ותחשׁבהו׃ 4 אדם להבל דמה ימיו כצל עובר׃
- 3 O Lord, what is man (אדם : ['adam]) that You should know him, the son of man (בן–אנוש : [ben-'enosh]), that You should consider him?
- 4 Man (אדם : ['adam]) is like a breath; his days are as a fleeting shadow.
Psalm 146:1-4Psalms 146:
- 4 הללו־יה הללי נפשׁי את־יהוה׃ 1 אהללה יהוה בחיי אזמרה לאלהי בעודי׃ 2 אל־תבטחו בנדיבים בבן־אדם ׀ שׁאין לו תשׁועה׃ 3 תצא רוחו ישׁב לאדמתו ביום ההוא אבדו עשׁתנתיו׃
- 1 Hallelujah! My soul, praise the Lord.
- 2 I shall praise the Lord in my life; I shall sing to the Lord as long as I exist.
- 3 Do not trust in princes, in the son of men (בן–אדם : [ben-'adam]), who has no salvation.
- 4 His spirit leaves, he returns to his soil; on that day, his thoughts are lost.
- 11 ופדויי יהוה ישׁובון ובאו ציון ברנה ושׂמחת עולם על־ראשׁם שׂשׂון ס ושׂמחה ישׂיגון נסו יגון ואנחה׃ 12 אנכי אנכי הוא מנחמכם מי־את ותיראי מאנושׁ ימות ומבן־אדם חציר ינתן׃
13 ותשׁכח יהוה עשׂך נוטה שׁמים ויסד ארץ ותפחד תמיד כל־היום מפני חמת המציק כאשׁר כונן להשׁחית ואיה חמת המציק׃
- 11 And the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and they shall come to Zion with song, and [with] everlasting joy on their heads; gladness and joy shall overtake them; sorrow and sighing shall flee. 12 I, yea I am He Who consoles you; who are you that you fear man (מאנושׁ : [enosh]) who will die and the son of man (ומבן־אדם : [ben-'adam]), who shall be made [as] grass? 13 And you forgot the Lord your Maker, Who spread out the heavens and founded the earth, and you fear constantly the whole day because of the wrath of the oppressor when he prepared to destroy. Now where is the wrath of the oppressor?
- ה אמר יהוה שׁמרו משׁפט ועשׂו צדקה כי־קרובה ישׁועתי לבוא וצדקתי להגלות׃ 2 אשׁרי אנושׁ יעשׂה־זאת ובן־אדם יחזיק בה שׁמר שׁבת מחללו ושׁמר ס
- 1 So says the Lord, "Keep justice and practice righteousness, for My salvation is near to come, and My benevolence to be revealed." 2 Fortunate is the man (אנושׁ : 'enosh) who will do this and the person (ובן־אדם : [uben-'adam]) who will hold fast to it, he who keeps the Shabbath from profaning it and guards his hand from doing any evil.
Jeremiah 49:18 (בן־אדם : [ben-'adam])
- 18 Like the overturning of Sodom and Gemorrah and her neighbors, said the Lord, no man shall dwell there, and no man shall sojourn there.
Jeremiah 49:33 (בן־אדם : [ben-'adam])
- 33 And Hazor shall become a habitat of jackals, desolate to eternity; neither shall any man dwell there nor shall any man sojourn therein.
Jeremiah 50:40 (בן־אדם : [ben-'adam])
- 40 Like God's overturning Sodom and Gemorrah and her neighbors, says the Lord, no man shall dwell there, and no man shall sojourn therein.
Jeremiah 51:43 (בן־אדם : [ben-'adam])
- 43 Her cities became desolate, a dry land and a desert, a land where no man dwells, neither does any man pass through them.
The Book of Ezekiel is unique within the tradition of the Tanakh, in that as the story unfolds, the phrase son of man is used approximately 94 times by a divine being to refer to the author. For example:
- 1 And He said to me; "Son of man (בן־אדם : [ben-'adam]), stand on your feet, and I shall speak with you."
- 2 Now the spirit entered me when He spoke to me, and it stood me on my feet, and I heard what was being spoken to me.
- 3 And He said to me; "Son of man (בן־אדם : [ben-'adam]), I am sending you to the children of Israel, to rebellious nations, which rebelled against Me; they and their fathers rebelled against Me to this very day.
- 4 And the sons, who are brazen-faced and hard-hearted-I send you to them, and you shall say to them, 'So said the Lord God.'
- 5 And they, whether they listen or whether they forbear-for they are a rebellious house-they shall know that a prophet was in their midst.
- 6 And you, son of man (בן־אדם : [ben-'adam]), fear them not, and fear not their words, for they are obstinate and thorny with you, and you sit on eglantines; fear not their words, neither be dismayed by them, for they are a rebellious house.
- 7 And you shall speak My words to them; whether they listen or they forbear, for they are rebellious.
- 8 But you, son of man (בן־אדם : [ben-'adam]), hearken to what I speak to you; do not be rebellious like the rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you."
- 9 And I saw, and behold, a hand stretched out to me, and behold, in it was a scroll of a book.
- 10 And it spread it out before me, and it was inscribed before and behind, and there was written upon it lamentations and murmuring and woe.
Son of man here appears to be a title referring to the humanity of the author, much how the word "human" may suffice in English. It is not a respectful appellation, but a humbling one (in some cases, an arguably abject one), and this use is a consistent pattern throughout Ezekiel.
All uses of son of man within Ezekiel are:
- 13 חזה הוית בחזוי ליליא וארו עם־ענני שׁמיא כבר אנשׁ אתה הוה ועד־עתיק יומיא מטה וקדמוהי הקרבוהי׃ 14 ולה יהיב שׁלטן ויקר ומלכו וכל עממיא אמיא ולשׁניא לה יפלחון שׁלטנה שׁלטן עלם די־לא יעדה ומלכותה פ
- 13 I saw in the visions of the night, and behold with the clouds of the heaven, one like a man (כבר אנש [kibar 'anash]) was coming, and he came up to the Ancient of Days and was brought before Him.
- 14 And He gave him dominion and glory and a kingdom, and all peoples, nations, and tongues shall serve him; his dominion is an eternal dominion, which will not be removed, and his kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.
- 16 ואשׁמע קול־אדם בין אולי ויקרא ויאמר גבריאל הבן להלז את־המראה׃ 17 ויבא אצל עמדי ובבאו נבעתי ואפלה על־פני ויאמר אלי הבן בן־אדם כי לעת־קץ החזון׃ 18 ובדברו עמי נרדמתי על־פני ארצה ויגע־בי ויעמידני על־עמדי׃
- 16And I heard the voice of a man (קול–אדם) in the midst of the Ulai, and he called and said, "Gabriel, enable this one to understand the vision."
- 17And he came beside the palace where I was standing, and when he came, I became frightened, and I fell upon my face. Then he said to me, "Understand, son of man (בן–אדם), that the vision refers to the time of the end."
- 18Now, when he spoke to me, I fell into a sound sleep upon my face to the ground, and he touched me and stood me up where I had been standing.
Within the context of Daniel passages, the use of son of man is explained by Rashi to denote: "one like a man was coming" - that is the king Messiah. It has been argued that "there came with the clouds of the sky 'one like a son of man'" describes one "like a human being". The passage in Daniel 7:13 occurs in Biblical Aramaic.
The most common post-biblical use is similar to that of the English word "human". For example:
Story of Haninah ben Dosa
Similarly, there are two stories of how Haninah ben Dosa was bitten by a lizard while praying ("Babylonian Gemara" and "Jerusalem Talmud"):
Y. Ber 5. 1/26 (9a)
כד הוות נכית לבר נשא אין בר נשא קדים למיא חברברא מיית ואין חברברא קדטם למיא בר נשא מיית
When it bites the son of man (בר נשא : [bar nasha']), if the son of man (בר נשא : [bar nasha']) reaches the water first, then snake dies; and if the snake reaches the water first, the son of man (בר נשא : [bar nasha']) dies.: 113
"Ḥanina never permitted anything to turn him from his devotions. Once, while thus engaged, a lizard bit him, but he did not interrupt his prayers. To his disciples' anxious inquiries he answered that he had been so preoccupied in prayer as not even to feel the bite. When the people found the reptile, dead, they exclaimed, "Woe to the man whom a lizard bites, and woe to the lizard that bites R. Ḥanina b. Dosa!" His wonderful escape is accounted for by the assertion that the result of a lizard's bite depends upon which reaches water first, the man or the lizard; if the former, the latter dies; if the latter, the former dies. In Ḥanina's case a spring miraculously opened under his very feet (Yer. Ber. v. 9a). The Babylonian Gemara (Ber. 33a) has a different version of this miracle."
The most common apocryphal use is also similar to that of the English word "human". For example:
1QapGen. XXI.13: MT שיא (Gen. 13.16)
ואשגה זרעך כעפר ארשא די לא ישכח בר אנוש לממדיה
And I will multiply your seed like the dirt of the earth which no son of man (בר אנוש : [bar 'anowsh]) can count. [The text is Aramaic.]: 112
In the Hebrew of Genesis 13:16, the word translated as בר אנוש (son of man) was איש (man).
- As generally interpreted by Jews, "son of man" denotes mankind generally in contrast to deity or godhead, with special reference to the human weakness and frailty (Job 25:6; Psalms 8:4; Psalms 144:3; Psalms 146:3; Isaiah 51:12, etc.)
- The term "ben adam" is but a formal substitute for the personal pronoun or maybe a title given to the prophet Ezekiel, probably to remind him of his human weakness.
"Among Jews the term "son of man" was not used as the specific title of the Messiah. The New Testament expression ὅ ὑιὸς τοῦ ἀνθρόπου is a translation of the Aramaic "bar nasha," and as such could have been understood only as the substitute for a personal pronoun, or as emphasizing the human qualities of those to whom it is applied. That the term does not appear in any of the epistles ascribed to Paul is significant. In the [Christian] Gospels the title occurs eighty-one times. Most (..) have come to the conclusion that Jesus, speaking Aramaic, could never have designated himself as the "son of man" in a Messianic, mystic sense, because the Aramaic term never implied this meaning."
- Berger, David; Wyschogrod, Michael (1978). Jews and "Jewish Christianity". [New York]: KTAV Publ. House. ISBN 0-87068-675-5.
- Singer, Tovia (2010). Let's Get Biblical. RNBN Publishers; 2nd edition (2010). ISBN 978-0615348391.
- Singer, Tovia (2010). Let's Get Biblical - In depth Study Guide. Outreach Judaism (1998). ASIN B0006RBS3K.
- Kaplan, Aryeh (1985). The real Messiah? a Jewish response to missionaries (New ed.). New York: National Conference of Synagogue Youth. ISBN 978-1879016118. The real Messiah (pdf)
- The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: Q-Z by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Jan 31, 1995) ISBN 0802837840 page 574
- "Son of Man". Jewish Encyclopedia. JewishEncyclopedia.com. Retrieved 19 August 2013.
- Rashi: "God is not a man that He should lie": He has already promised them to bring them to and give them possession of the land of the seven nations, and you expect to kill them in the desert? [See Mid. Tanchuma Mass’ei 7, Num. Rabbah 23:8] "Would He say…": Heb. הַהוּא. This is in the form of a question. And the Targum [Onkelos] renders "who later relent". They reconsider and change their minds.
- Singer, Tovia. "Monotheism". Retrieved 19 August 2013.
- Spiro, Ken (Rabbi, Masters Degree in History). "Seeds of Christianity". Judaism online. Simpletoremember.com. Retrieved 19 August 2013.
- Rashi: 6 "Yet You have made him slightly less than the angels, etc.": Heb. מאלהים, which is an expression of angels, for You gave power to Joshua to still the sun and to dry up the Jordan, and to Moses to split the waters of the Sea of Reeds and to ascend to the heavens, and to Elijah to resurrect the dead.
- Rashi: 18 "May Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand": Deliver Your blows upon the manviz. Esauwho is destined to receive retribution from Your right hand. -- "upon the son of man": whom You strengthened for Yourself that his habitation should be the fat places of the earth. 19 *"And let us not withdraw from You": Do not cause us to withdraw from You. -- "grant us life": from the exile, and we shall mention Your goodness and Your might, and then we shall call out in Your name.
- Rashi: 11 "And the redeemed of the Lord shall return": This is an expression of prayer, and it is connected to “Awaken, awaken.” 12 "who are you": the daughter of the righteous like you and full of merits, why should you fear man, whose end is to die? 13 "And you forgot the Lord your Maker": and you did not rely on Him. "the oppressor": The rulers of the heathens (the nations of the world [Parshandatha, K’li Paz]) who subjugate you. "when he prepared": Prepared himself. "Now where is the wrath of the oppressor": Tomorrow comes and he is not here.
- Mindel, Nissan. "The Prophet Ezekiel". Chabad-Lubavitch Media Center. Retrieved 19 August 2013.
- Rashi: 1 "And He said to me: “Son of man, etc.”": He calls Ezekiel “son of man” because he saw the Celestial Chariot while walking among [the denizens of Malbim ed.] the heavenly heights and involving himself with it like the angels, as if to say “There is no one here of woman born but this one.” (So did a man explain this to my rabbi, and he [thus] pleased him. I hold, however, that He called him “son of man” only so that he should not become haughty from having become familiar with the Celestial Chariot and with workings of the heavenly beings.This [latter remark] does not appear in other editions. 2 "what was being spoken to me": Heb. מִדַבֵּר. What was being spoken with me. And it is respectful to write מִדַבֵּר when referring to [the One in] Heaven, for if one says מְדַבֵּר, the implication is [that He speaks] like a man who speaks to his fellow, turning to him face to face; but if one says מִדַבֵּר, it means that the Shechinah, in His eminence, is soliloquizing, and His messengers will overhear; porpariliz in Old French, intimate words. 3 "to rebellious nations": Two tribes are called two nations. 4 "And the sons": Since He says, “their fathers rebelled against Me,” and these sons of theirs are brazen-faced. 6 "obstinate": Heb. סָרָבִים, a term for disobedience, like סָרְבָנִים (Menachem p. 129), but Dunash (p. 77) interpreted it as a word for thorns [like the next word, סלונים. Consequently] there are two words [for thorns]. -- "and thorny": Heb. וְסַלוֹנִים, a word for thorns, and so (below 28:24) “a pricking briar (סִלוֹן) and a piercing thorn.” -- "and you sit on eglantines": Heb. עַקְרַבִּים. The people whom you reprove will weary you and provoke you [making you feel] as if you were sitting on eglantines, which prick you on all sides. עַקְרַבִּים are eglantiers in French, eglantines. Another interpretation: literally scorpions [the usual meaning of עַקְרַבִּים] and so did Jonathan render: “and among people whose deeds are like scorpions, you dwell.” 8 "open your mouth and eat": This is figurative. Bend your ear and hearken, and it will please you as if you are hungrily eating food. -- "what I give you": What is the giving? It is the scroll of the book. 10 "and woe": The woe of the wicked in the world to come.
- Rashi: 13 "one like a man was coming": That is the King Messiah. -- "and… up to the Ancient of Days": Who was sitting in judgment and judging the nations. -- "came": arrived, reached. 14 "And He gave him dominion": And to that man He gave dominion over the nations, for the heathens he likens to beasts, and Israel he likens to a man because they are humble and innocent. -- "which will not be removed": [as translated,] will not be removed.
- Rashi: 17 "to the time of the end.": For many days this vision will come about.
- Maurice Casey (1999). Aramaic Sources of Mark's Gospel. Cambridge University Press. p. 112. ISBN 9781139425872. Retrieved 6 July 2014.
- "CHANINA BEN DOSA - Influence of His Prayers". Jewish Encyclopedia. JewishEncyclopedia.com. Retrieved 19 August 2013.