A Multicultural Story
Son of God
“Immaculate conceptions and celestial descents were so currently received among the ancients, that whoever had greatly distinguished himself in the affairs of men was thought to be of supernatural lineage. Gods descended from heaven and were made incarnate in men, and men ascended from earth, and took their seat among the gods …” (Bible Myths, and their Parallels in other Religions, Thomas William Doane).
Son of God had a number of meanings in the Hebrew Bible, but as the scholar Geza Vermes says: “It is universally agreed among experts that in Judaism the phrase is always used metaphorically; it never designates a person who is believed to be simultaneously man and God.”
Romans distinguished between a god, or deus, who was immortal and always has been a god, and a divus, or diva, a human being who had been elevated to divinity. At the death of Caesar, Octavian was divi filius, the “son of the divine one.” The Greeks, however, didn’t distinguish between immortal gods and human gods. Both were called theos, and the Greek equivalent for the Latin for a “son of god,” like Apollo, was the term theou huios.
“These titles of Son of God and savior, etc, meant that the human being you were talking about brought such transcendental gifts to the world that he had to be considered divine. … A person was never elevated into divinity, however, until, like Augustus, they had done something major for the human race. And once they had done something extraordinary, their divinity was then retro-projected back into stories about their conception and birth, as well as into their genealogies and stories about their coming of age. But they are always writing backwards, after the fact. … They absolutely did that with Jesus. … I think people were able to walk carefully between what you and I want to know is literal or metaphorical, parabolic or historical. ” (John Dominic Crossan, www.somareview.com/thefirstchristmas.cfm).
Thus the Gospels’ miraculous and unusual stories were in a sense the expected biography that must accompany any unusual man who had done extraordinary acts.
As the historian and scholar Dr. Hugh Schonfield points out: “… among Gentile believers in Jesus as the true emperor it was not possible to hold him to be inferior in dignity to Caesar. So we find in the Gospels the term Son of God [the Imperial Divi Filius referred to above] conjoined with the Jewish royal title of Messiah. The late Gospel of John, composed not long after the reign of Domitian, who insisted that his governors address him in letters as ‘Our Lord and our God’ … makes Thomas address Jesus as ‘My Lord and my God.’”