Anthony Rogers – But Judaism is Anti-Trinitarian!!! (Refuting an Old Canard)

Anthony Rogers, Pastor och Teolog i Presbyterianska kyrkan, en person jag har stor respekt för, presenterar argument som motbevisar myten om att Judaismen är Unitariansk Monoteism. Däremot är treenighetsläran djupt inbäddad i Biblisk Judaism.

Is it True that Judaism has Historically and Uniformly Stood for a Rejection of the Doctrine of the Trinity in Favor of Unitarianism?

Alan Segal

This is from a book called The Incarnation. There are a number of editors, Davis, Kendall and O’Collins. And also in the book there are articles written by a number of different people.

One of the articles was written by Alan Segal, an orthodox Jew, well-known for his book Two Powers in Heaven1. What Alan Segal was asked to do in this essay on the incarnation, he doesn’t believe in the incarnation, he was asked to contribute a chapter on the Jewish background for the Christian idea of the incarnation. Leading up to his discussion of things in Judaism that are fertile ground for eventual incarnational thinking, he mentions that it is a matter of fact that you do find evidence of trinitarian thinking. For example, he says:

“… it is at least possible to find a clear precedent [in Judaism – AR2] of hypostases within the Hebrew Godhead.” (Alan Segal, “The Incarnation: The Jewish Milieu,” p. 116)

So, remember, he’s going to talk about the incarnation. Before he gets to that, he says this much is clear before we even talk about the incarnation. There is a clear precedent in Judaism of hypostases within the Hebrew Godhead. The word hypostases is a technical way to referring to personal subjects, persons within the Hebrew Godhead. This is a Jew, an orthodox Jew, somebody who has an otherwise ax to grind against Christianity. He doesn’t believe that Christianity is true. He even has a book on Paul called The Apostolate, and Apostasy of Saul the Pharisee.3 He’s no friend of Christianity.

Daniel Boyarin

Here is another orthodox Jew, Daniel Boyarin, he is actually a Talmudic scholar and one of the most astute writers I’ve ever read. He is an incredibly well-informed individual. His writings are quite dense. This book itself is pretty simple, but it’s called The Jewish Gospels, The Story of the Jewish Christ. Here’s what Boyarin says, again, not a Christian, and in fact an orthodox Jew. He says:

“The ideas of Trinity and incarnation, or certainly the germs of those ideas, were already present among Jewish believers well before Jesus came on the scene to incarnate in himself, as it were, those theological notions and take up his messianic calling.” (p. xiii)

Here is Boyarin again. This is in an article that appeared in the Harvard Theological Review, called The Gospel of the Memra, he said, speaking with a view to the Memra, the Logos, found throughout Jewish literature, the wisdom literature, the Targums and so forth, he says:

“Although the official rabbinic theology [which comes later, so it’s after the time of the second Temple period, but still early, like second century after Christ to fifth century or so. – AR] suppressed all talk of the Memra or Logos by naming it the heresy of “Two Powers in heaven,” both before the Rabbis [who constructed the Talmuds, Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds – AR] and contemporaneously with them there was A MULTITUDE OF JEWS, in both Palestine and the Diaspora, who held onto this version of monotheistic theology.” (Daniel Boyarin, the Gospel of the Memra, p. 254)

Notice, Boyarin doesn’t sloppily conflate monotheism with unitarianism. Boyarin here says that Jews prior to the Rabbis, who constructed the Talmud, and even contemporaneously with them there were many who still believed this, held onto a version of monotheistic theology that included a belief in the Logos or the Memra, a second divine person. And it’s not just Boyarin.

Peter Schäfer

Here is Peter Schäfer, I don’t like his language, there’s other things I don’t like in Schäfer, but in his book Two Gods in Heaven, he says:

“There is no doubt that the Christianity of the New Testament and the early Church fathers of the first centuries CE adopted Jewish monotheism – however, it was not ‘pure’ monotheism matured to eternal perfection but rather the ‘monotheism’ that had developed in the postexilic period in the later canonical literature of the Hebrew Bible and noncanonical writings, the so-called apocrypha and pseudopigrapha.”

What he’s saying here is that some people call pure monotheism unitarianism. He’s saying the Christians of the New Testament adopted Jewish monotheism, but it wasn’t that it was rather the monotheism that one can see developed in the postexilic period and in the later canonical literature of the Hebrew Bible and noncanonical writings. He goes on:

“The New Testament took up these traditions that existed in Judaism, and did not reinvent but instead expanded and deepened them. The elevation of Jesus of Nazareth as the first-born before all creation, the God incarnate, Son of God, Son of Man, the Messiah: all these basic Christological premises are not pagan or other kinds of aberrations; they are rooted in Second Temple Judaism, regardless of their specifically Christian character.” (pp. 4-5)

Elliot Wolfson

Here is Elliot Wolfson, another Jewish person, a scholar of Judaism, now speaking mostly of medieval Judaism, and this is just fascinating because the idea is that the Rabbis that came along after the time of Christ, had and ax to grind and wanted to suppress all this, but what scholars like Elliot Wolfson point out is that these beliefs in more than one person was so firmly entrenched in Judaism that even with all their valiant efforts, the Rabbis, the Babylonian Rabbis, and the Palestinian Rabbis who constructed the Talmuds, even they couldn’t suppress this. Jews continued to hold on to this later traditions. Here’s a quote from him. He says:

“It may be said that the Jewish mystics recovered the mythical dimension of a Biblical motif regarding the appearance of God in the guise of the highest of angels, called ‘angel of the Lord’…, ‘angel of God’…, or ‘angel of the Presence’… which sometimes appeared in the form of a man. Evidence for the continuity of the exegetical tradition of an exalted angel that is in effect the manifestation of God is to be found in a wide variety of later sources.” (p. 225)

So, now you have Jews before the time of Christ, contemporary with the time of Christ, during the construction of the Talmuds and now even still until the medieval period. You have Jews still believing these things.

Daniel Abrams

Here is another article on the Harvard Theological Review, this one not by Boyarin, but by Daniel Abrams. It’s called The Boundaries of Divine Ontology: The Inclusion and Exclusion of Metatron in the Godhead. Metatron was a name that was given by some Jews to refer to the figure called The Angel of the Lord and the sources on this… there’s all kinds of stuff going on, but notice what he says here. He says:

“In a tradition from the Sar-Torah material from the Hekhalot texts… [These are Jewish texts – AR] Metatron is described as ‘Metatron, Lord God of Israel, God of the heavens and the earth.’ In the Book of Illumination written by the first known kabbalist in Castile, R. Ya’acov ben Ya’acov ha-Kohen, Metatron is called… logos. [Word – AR]” (Daniel Abrams, “The Boundaries of Divine Ontology: The Inclusion and Exclusion of Metatron in the Godhead, “ p. 296, fn17).

Here is another quote from Abrams:

“This approach to the pardes account in general and the role of Metatron in particular can be found in the works of some kabbalists, beginning in the early thirteenth century. Although it may seem that we are reading a rabbinic text [the second to fifth century – AR] through the lenses of the kabbalistic worldview [Medieval Jews], the understanding of the continuous or organic being of the divine, which extends from the simple unity of the Godhead to a hypostatic manifestation predates much of the Talmud.” (Daniel Abrams, “The Boundaries of Divine Ontology: The Inclusion and Exclusion of Metatron in the Godhead,” p. 296-297)

Pardes, it is an account of certain Jews, including Rabbi Akiba who see paradise and in that account Rabbi Akiba identifies the second divine person in the vision, as God and in the Talmud he has to be rebuked for all this. And Rabbi Akiba was one of the most, the greatest Rabbi of the ancient period.

So he’s saying, what you see in some of these later medieval Jews is not so much a departure from what was being advocated by the talmudists, but rather is something that preceded the Talmudic Rabbis. And what is it that precede this idea that there is a continuous organic relationship between these members of the Godhead, the manifestation identified as The Angel of the Lord. Here’s another passage. It says:

“In the passage from Nahmanides’ [Nahmanides was another famous medieval Rabbi just like Maimonides was called Rambam, Nahmanides was called Ramban. – AR] commentary to the Torah discussed by Pines, Nahmanides explicitly takes issue with Maimonides (and with the tenth-century sage Sa’adia Ga’on by inference), and seeks to characterize the fundamental difference between his tradition and Maimonides’ Aristotelian worldview.

He’s saying that Nahmanides took issue with Maimonides because he had imbibed too much of Aristotelian philosophy. He goes on to say:

The difference [between Nahmanides and Maimonides – AR] centers around the inclusion or exclusion of the divine manifestation within the Godhead. Nahmanides posits an organic or continuous relationship between God’s being and that of the angel [I.e.The Angel of the LORD – AR] – that is, they are both immanent in the same divine substance.” (Daniel Abrams, “The Boundaries of Divine Ontology: The Inclusion and Exclusion of Metatron in the Godhead.” p. 297)

This sounds exactly like Nicea. What is it doing in Jewish sources as those of Nahmanides, who’s Jewish bone-fide can’t be questioned.

Moshe Idel

Here is Moshe Idel, another Jewish scholar, in his book Ben: Sonship and Jewish Mysticism, look what he says. He says:

“There can be little doubt however that early Jewish theologoumena related to such a [hypostatic, supernal] [This is what he talks about in context – AR] son existed, as the books dealing with Enoch – in particular the Ethiopian one – and Philo’s views … concerning the Logos as Son or firstborn convincingly demonstrate, and likewise there can be little doubt that they informed the main developments in a great variety of the nascent Christologies. In the course of time, due to the ascent in Christianity of both the centrality and cruciality of sonship understood in diverse forms of incarnation, it seems that Jewish authors belonging to rabbinic circles attenuated and in some cases even obliterated the role of sons as cosmic mediators. Nevertheless, some of these earlier traditions apparently survived in traditional Jewish writings that were subsequently transmitted by rabbinic Judaism. Yet there is no reason to assume that only the literary corpora adopted by rabbinic Judaism mediated the late antiquity views of theophoric sonship to the more extensive corpora written in the Middle Ages, or that sonship survived only in the written documents …” (pp. 49-50)

I just quoted one scholar after another, most of them Jewish, pointing out that belief in a plurality divine persons in the Godhead preceded, coincided with, followed even into the medieval period in Judaism. This is NOT something out of court. It was firmly entrenched in Judaism, so firmly entrenched, first of all that during the Second Temple period, as Boyarin says, it was popular Judaism. This is what the vast majority of Jews believed. Only after the time of Christ, when it became dangerous to continue to affirm this, it played into the hands of Christianity, only then do you begin to see a reaction against this, and even with this herculean effort on the part of the Talmudic Rabbis, it continued to persist in certain Jewish circles. On top of that I could quote person after person showing not only that Jews believed in a plurality of divine persons, on the basis on the Biblical texts, but even in some cases believed that one of those divine persons was going to come into the world and was in fact going to be the Messiah.

Jacob Neusner

Here is Jacob Neusner, one of the most prolific authors certainly in our time, he’s certainly in the running, I don’t know who’s written the most books in the history, but Neusner, last I knew had written over like 800 books. Don’t believe me, go check it out. Neusner was a prolific author and a Jew.

Jacob Neusner in his book Judaisms already tips his hand there showing you that Judaism has not been monolithic. Judaisms and their Messiah at the turn of the Christian era. Note what he says about the messianic expectations of earlier times. He says:

“… earlier systems [of Judaism] resorted to the myth [and he defines myth not so much as something false but as the idea of certain people, whether it is believed or not, he’s saying these people believed it – AR] of the Messiah as savior and redeemer of Israel, a supernatural figure… even a God-man facing the crucial historical questions of Israel’s life and resolving them: the Christ as king of the world, of the ages, of death itself.” (p. 275)

So Neusner says that earlier Jews believed that the Messiah would be a God-man.

Moshe Idel

Here is Moshe Idel again in his book Messianic Mystics. He says:

“In some instances, the Messiah has been conceived also as the representative of the divine into this world. The very fact that the phrase meshiyah YHWH [Notice – Messiah Jehovah – AR] recurs in the sources shows a special connection between him and God. This nexus could sometimes be stronger and richer, as it later became in Christian theology, in the ecstatic Kabbalah and Sabbateanism, or, less evidently, in some other cases in Jewish sources, though such a view is found also in the rabbinic literature, where the Messiah is described as on of the three entities designated by the Tetragrammaton. [The Divine Name – AR]” (p. 41)

One of the three entities designated by the tetragrammaton.

Here is John Collins, in his book The Scepter and the Star, talking about Messianism in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls, with respect to what they reveal, he says:

“We shall find [in the course of this study – AR] four basic messianic paradigms (king, priest, prophet, and heavenly Messiah), and they were not equally widespread. [That is all these different expectations of the Messiah – AR] (Admittedly, the ‘heavenly Messiah’ paradigm is somewhat different from the others, since it is not defined by function, and can overlap with the other paradigms.)” (p. 18)

So, in other words, you find in the literature an expectation of a Messiah who’s portrayed in a kingly way or in a priestly way or in a prophetic way, and also in a heavenly way. And it’s not always clear what relationship all these have to each-other. He says but it’s certainly the case when we’re talking about a heavenly Messiah, it doesn’t have to be viewed as a discrete thing, the kingly Messiah, the priestly Messiah or prophetic Messiah, may well just be the heavenly Messiah. In other words, he’s viewed as a heavenly person who’s come into the world as king or prophet or all three. He goes on to say on pages 19-20:

“There were other paradigms of messianism besides the Davidic one, and some elements of these were found to be applicable to the Christian Messiah. We shall find also texts that envisage exaltation and enthronement in heaven, and texts that apply certain attributes of divinity to a messianic figure.” (pp. 19-29)


2AR – Anthony Rogers