Since 1971, biblical scholar, Walter Wink, has been engaged in research on "the son of the man" sayings found in both the Hebrew and New Testament scriptures. His purpose in studying these sayings has been to gain a clearer idea of what it really means to become more human in an ever increasing dehumanized world where violence, domination, killing, terrorism and massive global human suffering have reached intolerable levels.
As Wink notes in the Preface of his latest book, The Human Being: Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of the Man, "the son of the man" is the expression that Jesus used almost exclusively to describe himself. In Hebrew, this enigmatic phrase simply means "a human being." "Son of man" or "human being" phrases appear 108 times in the Hebrew scriptures and 93 times in the New Testament.
Jesus alone uses the phrase some 53 times in the gospels to refer to himself, which Wink argues is an allusion to the prophet Ezekiel and Ezekiel's vision in which God, who "seemed like a human form," calls Ezekiel "son of man/human being." The phrase is also an allusion to the creation story in Genesis which depicts human beings to be made in the image of God. The logic of Wink's arguement follows.
The book is refreshing, moving, clear, intelligible and well organized throughout. Perhaps one of the most important comments that can be made about this text is that it provides the reader with a perspective on Jesus which is not only believable, but meaningful. Without sacrificing the importance of Jesus, Wink presents us with an emerging Christology from below that he grounds in Jesus' own self understanding as gleaned largely through the Gospel accounts of his life, teaching and ministry.
Wink masterfully develops his thought by mining the Hebrew and New Testament scriptures taking as his central theme and starting point the numerous "son of the man/human being" sayings throughout the scriptures. As noted above, he begins with Ezekiel and moves on to Genesis which was written after Ezekiel. He continues on with Daniel, the Gospels and concludes with pertinent extra biblical texts of the first century CE. In the end we are left with an image of Jesus as one who fully realized his humanity and thus the goal of life as God intended.
Using a historical critical method and a critique of domination as his critical lens, Wink recovers emphases within the scriptures that have been lost in the Christian tradition, due to the tradition's tendency to accommodate and interpret the gospels in light of structures of domination. As Wink aptly illustrates, the fundamental thrust of Jesus' teaching and ministry was to confront and condemn all forms of domination. Accordingly, for Wink, the critique of domination provides the essential criterion for determining what was revelatory in Jesus' life and message as this apprears in the "son of the man" sayings.
The fundamental thesis of the book is that by recovering the archetypal meaning of "the son of the man," Jesus, the human being - the son and mediator of the truly Human One, becomes a catalyst for human transformation by teaching us what it means to be more fully human. Through careful and creative exegesis, Wink offers a provocative first century portrait of Jesus that systematically peels away the multiple layers of dogmatic assertions about Jesus and illuminates the earthly, human Jesus who truly was "one like us."
This book is a wonderful scholarly addition to the study of Jesus. Likewise, it smoothly integrates theology, philosophy and psychology. Wink is simultaneously provocative, humorous, realistic and humble throughout. He is both a feminist and a liberationist in his critical approach to theology and the scriptures.
I recommend this text to all students of theology and anyone else who is interested in becoming more authentically human in light of their Christian commitment to God, through Jesus - the fully human, human being.