Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

The “Heavenly” and “Earthly” Yahweh:
A Trinitarian Interpretation of Genesis 19:24

Part II

By Anthony Rogers

[Continued from Part I]

Confirmation from Early non-Christian Jewish Sources

The fact that there were faithful Jews who understood and received what God revealed about Himself in texts like Genesis 19:24 before, during and after the rise of Christianity can be found in certain inter-testamental literature and other early and later writings that bear upon Jewish belief.

Partially because the Old Testament does not always or merely speak of God's attribute of Wisdom in impersonal terms, but personifies it in passages like the following, which says that Wisdom was with God in the beginning and that by Wisdom God created everything:

The LORD possessed me [Wisdom] at the beginning of His way, before His works of old. From everlasting I was established, from the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills I was brought forth; while He had not yet made the earth and the fields, nor the first dust of the world. When He established the heavens, I was there, when He inscribed a circle on the face of the deep, when He made firm the skies above, when the springs of the deep became fixed, when He set for the sea its boundary so that the water would not transgress His command, when He marked out the foundations of the earth; then I was beside Him, as a master workman; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him, rejoicing in the world, His earth, and having my delight in the sons of men. Now therefore, O sons, listen to me, for blessed are they who keep my ways. Heed instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at my doorposts. For he who finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD. But he who sins against me injures himself; all those who hate me love death. (Proverbs 8:22-36)

as well as because God’s Word is not only spoken of as an attribute of God but is personified,

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath [lit. "Spirit"] of His mouth their host. (Psalm 33:6)

Until what he had said came to pass, the word of the Lord tested him. (Psalm 105:19)

He sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions. (Psalm 107:20)

Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven. (Psalm 119:89)

He sends forth His command to the earth; His word runs very swiftly. (Psalm 147:15)

So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)

and, more than that, treated as a full-blown hypostasis or person, the subject of divine theophanies or appearances of God,

And they heard the voice of Jehovah God walking in the garden (ASV, Genesis 3:8)

After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; your reward shall be very great.” Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.” Then behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them “ And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:1-6)

the Jews, in good midrashic form, often explained other divine theophanies, such as appearances of the Angel of the Lord, as involving God's Word or Wisdom. As we will see, this is also how they explained Genesis 18-19, inclusive of 19:24.

The Book of Wisdom

For example, throughout the Jewish apocryphal book of Wisdom, also called the Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom is spoken of as if it were a second divine person with God. Wisdom lives with God (8:3), sits beside His throne (9:4), and has existed with Him from the beginning (9:9). Moreover, Wisdom is the breath of God’s power, a pure and radiant stream of His glory, a reflection of eternal light, and a perfect mirror of His goodness and activity (7:24-28). As such, Wisdom is holy (7:22), all-powerful and all-knowing (7:23, 9:11), gave shape to everything (7:22), has the authority to forgive sins (1:6), is the source of virtue and all good things (7:11-12), is the one who qualifies men to be friends and prophets of God (7:27), opens the mouths of the dumb (10:21), and is to be loved and obeyed (6:18) and honored (6:21) and more highly esteemed than anything else (7:7-10). In short, Wisdom is everything that God is and does everything that God does and is to be honored just as God is honored.

Divine Wisdom is the supreme good, the source of all truth, virtue and happiness... But while, like the author of the Book of Proverbs and Jesus Sirach, he [the author of the Book of Wisdom] starts from the assertion, that this Wisdom is first of all present with God, it becomes in his conception almost an independent person beside God. His utterances indeed do not seem to really exceed what we already read in Prov. viii.-ix. But what is there more a poetic personification becomes with him a philosophic theory. Wisdom is according to him a breath … of God’s power, a pure effluence … from the glory of the Almighty, the brightness … from the glory of the Almighty, the brightness … of the everlasting light. It is most intrinsically united with God …, is initiated into the knowledge of God …, and a chooser of His works, i.e. chooses among the works, of which God has conceived the idea, which shall be carried into execution (viii. 3, 4: comp. Grimm on the passage), is assessor on God’s throne (ix.4: …), understands the works of God, and was present when He created the world, knows what is well-pleasing in His eyes and right according to His commandments (ix. 9). Wisdom is thus not only represented as the special possession of God, but as an assistant of God, originating from His own nature. Together therewith “the almighty word of God” … is also personified in a manner which approaches hypostatic union (xviii. 15 sq.).1

Moreover, as the parallelism of the following passage indicates, Wisdom is even identified as or equated with the Word of God,

God of my ancestors, merciful Lord, by your Word you created everything. By your Wisdom you made us humans to rule all creation, to govern the world with holiness and righteousness, to administer justice with integrity. Give me the Wisdom that sits beside your throne; give me a place among your children. (TEV, Wisdom, 9:1-4; emphasis mine)

and with the Angel/Messenger of the Lord:

For when peaceful stillness compassed everything and the night [of Passover] in its swift course was half spent, your all-powerful Word from heaven's royal throne bounded, a fierce warrior, into the doomed land, bearing the sharp sword of your inexorable decree. And as he alighted, he filled every place with death; he still reached to heaven, while he stood upon the earth. (NAB, Wisdom, 18:14-16; emphasis mine)

In the Old Testament, it was the Angel of the LORD who slew the firstborn of the Egyptians on Passover night (Exodus 11-12 cf. 2 Samuel 24:12-17), and the description of God's Word above is also drawn from the description of the Angel of the Lord as given in Joshua 5, Numbers 22, and 1 Chronicles 21.

The special relevance of all this to Genesis 19:24, where the Hebrew text says Yahweh on earth rained down the fire from Yahweh in heaven, is found in the following statement from the Book of Wisdom:

Wisdom rescued [Lot] a righteous man while ungodly people were dying. He escaped the flames that destroyed the Five Cities. You can still see the evidence of their wickedness. The land there is barren and smoking. The plants bear fruit that never ripens, and a pillar of salt stands as a monument to one who did not believe. The people of those cities ignored Wisdom and could not tell right from wrong. (10:6-8)

This shows that the Jewish author of the pre-Christian book of Wisdom, who here attributes the activities in Sodom to Wisdom, recognized that a distinction is drawn between Yahweh on earth and Yahweh in heaven in the account of Sodom and Gomorrah and the other cities of the plain, thus attributing the ruination of Sodom to the Divine Word, Wisdom or Messenger of God.

The Targums

When we turn to the Jewish Targums, which were interpretive translations in Aramaic of the Hebrew Old Testament, we find much the same as above, for not only do the Targumim treat God’s Word [Aramaic: Memra] as an actual hypostasis distinct from God,

And they heard the voice of the Memra of the Lord God walking in the garden in the evening of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from before the Lord God among the trees of the garden. (Targum Onkelos, Genesis 3)

And the Memra of the Lord God called to Adam, and said to him, Behold, the world which I have created is manifest before Me; and how thinkest thou that the place in the midst whereof thou art, is not revealed before Me? Where is the commandment which I taught thee? (Fragmentary Targum, Genesis 3)

And the Lord said, This is the sign of the covenant which I appoint (give) between My Word, and between you, and between every living soul that is with you unto perpetual generations. I have set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of the covenant between My Word and between the earth. And it shall be that when clouding I becloud the earth, the bow shall be seen in the cloud, and I will remember the covenant which is between My Word, and between You, and between every living soul of all flesh; and there shall not be again the waters of a deluge to destroy all flesh. And the bow shall be in the cloud, and I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between the Memra of the Lord and between every living soul of all flesh that is upon the earth. And the Lord said, This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between My Word and between all flesh which is upon the earth. (Targum Onkelos, Genesis 9)

After these things the word (pithgama) of the Lord came to Abram in prophecy, saying, Fear not, Abram: My Word shall be thy strength, and thy exceeding great reward … And he believed in the Memra of the Lord (Memra da Yeya), and He reckoned it to him unto justification. (Targum Onkelos, Genesis 15)

And the Word came from the presence of the Lord to Abimelek in a dream of the night, and said to him, … (Targum Onkelos, Genesis 20)

And Israel saw the power of the mighty hand by which the Lord had wrought the miracles in Mizraim; and the people feared before the Lord, and believed in the Name of the Memra of the Lord, and in the prophecies of Mosheh His servant. (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, Exodus 14)

And the Memra of the Lord spake all the excellency of these words saying: … (Fragmentary Targum, Exodus 20)

And I will appoint My Word with thee there, and will speak with thee from above the mercy‑seat, between the two kerubaia that are over the ark of the testament, concerning all that I may command thee for the sons of Israel. (Targum Pseudo Jonathan, Exodus 25:22 )

It was when the ark went forward. Mosheh stood, with hands (outstretched) in prayer, and said, Arise now, O Memra of the Lord, in the power of Thy might, and let the adversaries of Thy people be scattered, and make Thine enemies flee before Thee. But when the ark rested, Mosheh lifted his hands in prayer, and said, O Memra of the Lord, turn from the strength of Thy anger, and return unto us in the goodness of Thy mercy, and bless the myriads and multiply the thousands of the children of Israel. (Fragmentary Targum, Numbers 10:35)

Be strong and of good courage, fear not, nor be broken before them; for the Memra of the Lord thy God will be the leader before thee, He will not forsake thee, nor be far off from thee. And Mosheh called Jehoshua, and said to him before the eyes of all Israel, Be strong and of good courage; for thou art to go in with this people to the land which the Lord hath sworn to their fathers to give it to them, and thou shalt cause them to inherit. But the Lord, He is the leader before thee; His Word shall be thy helper, for He will not forsake thee, nor be far from thee; fear not, nor be dismayed. (Targum Onqelos, Deuteronomy 31)

And the Memra of the Lord will deliver them up before you, and you shall do to them according to all the commandment that I have commanded you. Be strong, then, and of good courage, fear not, nor be dismayed before them; for the Shekinah of the Lord your God will be the Leader of you, He will not forsake nor be far from you. And Mosheh called Jehoshua from among the people, and said to him: Be thou strong, and of good courage; for thou art appointed to go with this people to the land which the Memra of the Lord sware to your fathers to give them, and thou art to divide it among them. And the Shekinah of the Memra of the Lord will go before thee, and His Word will be thy helper; He will not forsake nor be far from thee; fear not, nor be dismayed. (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, Deuteronomy 31)

Who hath directed the Holy Spirit in the mouth of all the prophets? Is it not the Lord? He maketh known the words of His will to the righteous, the servants of His Word. (Targum Jonathan on the Prophets, Isaiah 40)

… thou shalt rejoice in the Memra of the Lord, thou shalt glory in the Holy One of Israel. (Targum Jonathan on the Prophets, Isaiah 41)

But they also identify the Word as fully divine, the agent of creation, providence and redemption:

And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, "If the Memra of YHWH will be my support, and will keep me in the way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the Memra of YHWH be my God. (Targum Neofiti, Genesis 28)

And the Memra of the Lord said to Mosheh, He who spake to the world, Be, and it was; and who will speak to it, Be, and it will be. And he said, Thus shalt thou speak to the sons of Israel, EHEYEH hath sent me unto you. (Fragmentary Targum, Exodus 3)

And I will set the Shekinah of My Glory among you, and my Word shall not abhor you, but the Glory of My Shekinah shall dwell among you, and My Word shall be to you for a redeeming God, and you shall be unto My Name for a holy people. (Targum Pseudo Jonathan, Leviticus 26)

But the custom of (other) nations is to carry their gods upon their shoulders, that they may seem to be nigh them; but they cannot hear with their ears, (be they nigh or) be they afar off; but the Memra of the Lord sitteth upon His throne high and lifted up, and heareth our prayer what time we pray before Him and make our petitions. (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, Deuteronomy 4)

This day you have made the Memra of the LORD your God to be King over you so that he may be for you a savior God, [promising] to walk in ways that are right before him.” (Targum Neofiti, Deuteronomy 26)

There is no God like the God of Israel, whose Shekinah in the skies is thy help, and whose power is in the heaven of heavens. The habitation of Eloha is from eternity, and the world was made by His Word; and He will drive out thy enemies from before thee, and will say, Destroy. (Targum Onqelos, Deuteronomy 33)

As in the book of Wisdom, so also in the Targum’s, the above insight about God’s living, personal, and divine Word is brought to bear upon the distinction found in the Hebrew text of Genesis 19:24.

While the Targum of Onkelos has the following, which accentuates the distinction in its own way:

“And the Lord rained upon Sedom and upon Amorah sulphur and fire from before the Lord from the heavens, and destroyed those cities and all the plain, and all the dwellers in the cities and the herbage of the earth.”

Other Targums make the same point by speaking of the first person called Yahweh as “the Word of the Lord” and the second person simply as “the Lord”:

And the Memra of the Lord had caused showers of favour to descend upon Sedom and Amorah, to the intent that they might work repentance, but they did it not: so that they said, Wickedness is not manifest before the Lord. Behold, then, there are now sent down upon them sulphur and fire from before the Word of the Lord from Heaven. And He overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and the herbage of the earth. (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, Genesis 19)

And the Memra of the Lord Himself had made to descend upon the people of Sedom and Amorah showers of favour, that they might work repentance from their wicked works. But when they saw showers of favour, they said, So, our wicked works are not manifest before Him. He [i.e. the Word] turned (then), and caused to descend upon them bitumen and fire from before the Lord from the heavens. (Fragmentary Targum, Genesis 19)

Following Rabbi Moses ben Maimonides (i.e. Rambam), many scholars, because of the obvious implications of viewing the Word as both fully divine on the one hand and yet personally distinct from God on the other, which is just another way of saying that the Word was with God and the Word was God, a disquieting notion for unitarians to be sure, have asserted that the “Word” of the Targums is merely a circumlocution for God, a way of speaking that aims to preserve God’s transcendence and that avoids anthropomorphism. However, there are problems with this explanation, aside from the fact that the theology of Maimonides, a medieval rabbi living in Islamic Spain, was, in many ways – including the above way of understanding God’s transcendence as precluding His immanent involvement in and with the world – influenced not so much by the Scriptures as he was by Muslim theology and philosophy.2

In the first place, it is not always clearly the case that the Targums employ the concept of the Memra in order to avoid any talk of God also being immanent (and not just transcendent) or to avoid possible confusion that could arise over the use of anthropomorphic language in the Hebrew text. For, as John Ronning points out, the Targums do not consistently avoid rendering anthropomorphic or anthropopathic language in a rather literal way, to which it might be added that the same can be said regarding divine immanence; hence, the reason there are debates over whether or not the Targumim had such an end in view:

There is some dispute about whether the Targums have avoidance of anthropomorphisms as a goal, not only because the Targums do not consistently avoid anthropomorphisms, but also because some language that has been interpreted as anti-anthropomorphic is also used of kings or people in general, meaning we may be dealing with language of respect or idiomatic renderings.3

Secondly, to the extent that the Targums do avoid such language, as Ronning goes on to affirm is often enough even if not always the case, attempts to mitigate what the Targumim say about the Memra are actually late and self-contradictory and don’t do justice to the data, which data conveys that the Memra is not merely another way of referring to God that is employed in order to avoid suggesting God’s intimate involvement with the world, but rather is precisely the means by which it was understood that He is or can be both transcendent over the world and immanent in the world, i.e. through His Memra or Word:

… Among Jewish scholars, as Hayward has put it, “since the time of Maimonides, it had been the custom to understand Memra, along with certain other Targumic terms like Shekhinta’ [sic] (presence) and Yeqara’ [sic] (Glory), as a means of avoiding anthropomorphisms in speaking of God, and thus defending a notion of his incorporeality. Nahmandies, however, disagreed with Maimonides on this issue, although he held that the words had a secret and mystical meaning which would be revealed only to those versed in the Kabbalah. Nonetheless, the idea that Memra was simply a means of speaking about God in a reverent manner befitting His omnipotence and otherness was not unknown from the time of the middle ages onward.” The consensus of scholarship since the 1920’s has been like Maimonides' view. Thus, “Die folgerung, die sich aus vorstehenden Darlegungen in Bezug aus den Johannischen Logos ergibt, kann nicht zweifelhaft sein: ist der Ausdruck ‘Memra Adonais’ ein inhaltsloser, rein formelhafter Ersatz fur das Tetragram gewesen…” Here is Raymond Brown representing the standard view: “Targum Onkelos speaks of the Memra of Yahweh. This is not a personification, but the use of Memra serves as a buffer for divine transcendence.”

It seems not to have occurred to any who hold this view that it is fundamentally incoherent and self-contradictory. Surely this position collapses logically upon itself, for if the Memra is just a name that simply enables avoiding asserting that God himself has created, appeared, supported, saved, and thus preserves his absolute transcendence, then who, after all, did the actual creating, appearing, supporting, saving? Either God himself, in which case, one has hardly “protected” him from contact with the material world, or there is some other divine entity, in which case, the Memra is not just a name. Indeed, as pointed out by Burton Mack, the very purpose for which Sophia/Logos developed within Judaism was precisely to enable “a theology of the transcendence of God.” The currently accepted and dominant view ascribes to the use of the Memra only the counterfeit coinage of a linguistic simulation of a theology of the transcendence of God, without the theology itself. Rather than assuming that the usage is meaningless, it seems superior on general hermeneutic grounds to assume that it means something. It follows then that the strongest use of Memra is that it is not a mere name, but an actual divine entity, or mediator.4

Philo Judaeus

The teachings of this early strain of Judaism regarding God’s Wisdom or Word that found its way into the Targums is also part of the background for Philo's well known teachings about the Word [Greek: Logos], although Philo’s doctrine of the Logos was, to be sure, sullied in some ways by the intrusion of foreign elements from Greek philosophy.5 Nevertheless, in spite of certain definite inequities in his understanding, Philo remains a potent witness to the currency among Alexandrian Jews at the time of Christ of a version of Logos theology.

Drawing an analogy to a workman who first conceives the plan for a city in his own mind before he builds it, Philo says that God’s plan with respect to the world first existed in the Divine Reason or Logos who made and localized these ideas before they had any external existence:

As therefore the city, when previously shadowed out in the mind of the man of architectural skill had no external place, but was stamped solely in the mind of the workman, so in the same manner neither can the world which existed in ideas have had any other local position except the divine reason [i.e. divine logos] which made them; for what other place could there be for his powers which should be able to receive and contain, I do not say all, but even any single one of them whatever, in its simple form?6

As the origin of God’s architectural plan for the world, it is evident that God’s Reason or Logos preexisted and was involved in the creation of all things. Elsewhere Philo makes this point explicit by speaking of God’s Word as eternal and ascribing to the Logos the creation of man and even saying that it was in the image of the Logos that man was made:

… the great Moses has not named the species of the rational soul by a title resembling that of any created being, but has pronounced it an image of the divine and invisible being, making it a coin as it were of sterling metal, stamped and impressed with the seal of God, the impression of which is the eternal Word. For, says Moses, “God breathed into man's face the breath of Life,” so that it follows of necessity, that he that received the breath must be fashioned after the model of him who sent it forth. On which account it is said too, that “Man was made after the image of God,” and not after the image of any created being. It follows, therefore, since the soul of man has been fashioned in accordance with the archetypal Word of the great cause of all things, ….7 (emphasis mine)

The Logos is not only the one who planned and made all things, he is also the self-sufficient, self-contained, independent agent who sustains and preserves everything:

And it is the nature of unity not to be capable of either addition or subtraction, inasmuch as it is the image of the only complete God; for all other things are intrinsically and by their own nature loose; and if there is any where any thing consolidated, that has been bound by the Word of God, for this Word is glue and a chain, filling all things with its essence. And the Word, which connects together and fastens every thing, is peculiarly full itself of itself, having no need whatever of any thing beyond.8

In another statement Philo says the Word is the mediator between God and the world, serving as God’s ambassador to creation on the one hand, and as the one who intercedes for creation with God on the other, a surety and pledge to both sides:

And the Father who created the universe has given to his archangelic and most ancient Word a pre-eminent gift, to stand on the confines of both, and separated that which had been created from the Creator. And this same Word is continually a suppliant to the immortal God on behalf of the mortal race, which is exposed to affliction and misery; and is also the ambassador, sent by the Ruler of all, to the subject race. And the Word rejoices in the gift, and, exulting in it, announces it and boasts of it, saying, “And I stood in the midst, between the Lord and You;” neither being uncreated as God, nor yet created as you, but being in the midst between these two extremities, like a hostage, as it were, to both parties: a hostage to the Creator, as a pledge and security that the whole race would never fly off and revolt entirely, choosing disorder rather than order; and to the creature, to lead it to entertain a confident hope that the merciful God would not overlook his own work. For I will proclaim peaceful intelligence to the creation from him who has determined to destroy wars, namely God, who is ever the guardian of peace.9

In light of Philo’s teaching that the Logos is the eternal designer and maker of all things, as well as the earlier statement that man, made by and after the image of the divine Word, was not made after the image of any created thing, when he says immediately above that the Logos is neither uncreated (as God) nor created (as you), he appears to be trying to say what he has said numerous times elsewhere in his writings, i.e. that the Logos was eternally begotten from the Father.

So according to Philo, the Logos is the divine, eternal, self-sufficient designer, creator, sustainer, and mediator of all things, and a heavenly high priest who ministers to God in the heavens.

Even as in the Wisdom literature, Philo identifies the Logos with Wisdom10 as well as by other titles such as Son and Firstborn.11 A concatenation of these and other titles used by Philo for the Logos, such as “the Name of God”, can be found in various places in his writings.12

It is of immediate interest, then, that Philo directly assimilates all of this to Genesis 19:24, for not only does he say the divine and eternal Word/Wisdom/Angel/Son/Ambassador/Mediator appeared to Abraham in Genesis 18, but he also says:

… and with respect to which [i.e. the Logos/Word] it is said, "The sun went forth upon the earth, and Lot entered into Segor, and the Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire." For the Word of God, when it reaches to our earthly constitution, assists and protects those who are akin to virtue, or whose inclinations lead them to virtue; so that it provides them with a complete refuge and salvation, but upon their enemies it sends irremediable overthrow and destruction.13

Philo does not give the slightest scintilla or shred of evidence in his writings, neither is there any evidence outside of the writings of Philo, that his belief in the distinct existence and deity of the Word/Logos was deemed heretical by his first century Jewish contemporaries. Given what we would expect had Philo’s views been assailed, the above cannot be written off as a fallacious argument from silence.

What is immediately striking is that there is no real indication in the writings of Philo and Paul that they felt their beliefs, which resemble the ‘two powers’ belief in rabbinic literature, were controversial. In dealing with Philo, Segal persuasively argues that Philo and the rabbis drew upon common traditions regarding the powers, names, and attributes of God. However, in contrast to the rabbis [who produced the Talmud], Philo’s identification of the Logos as ‘a second God’ and even ‘God’, and his association of the Logos with the ‘two powers’ of God, is conspicuously positive. It is also surely significant that Philo nowhere seeks to defend these beliefs against a charge of heresy. The fact that Philo gives no indication that he was departing from an already-existing Jewish ‘orthodoxy,’ or that his teaching on the Logos was met with objections, suggests that his views were not objectionable to his contemporaries. Although this is admittedly a form of argument from silence, it is not without force, since research into the sociology of knowledge indicates that when objections are raised against one’s belief system, that belief system or worldview must be defended or legitimated.14

The importance of the witness of Philo to belief in the Logos, at least in its Alexandrian form, is pointed up by the fact that he was from a prominent Jewish family and was a leader of the Jews in Alexandria, a fact that also speaks against the idea that Philo’s view was deemed a heretical novelty by his contemporaries.

Justin Martyr

The teaching of the early church father Justin Martyr on the Angel/Logos, whom he taught became incarnate in Christ, also evinces knowledge of Jewish teaching on this subject, and thus serves as a relevant witness. Scholar Jarl Fossum, retired professor at the University of Michigan, comments:

When Justin Martyr refers the OT theophanies and the names of the divine attributes to the Son, he shows influence from a type of Judaism like that of Philo, though less philosophical. The apologist repeatedly states that the Son in his capacity as the earthly manifestation of the deity and as carrying out the divine commandments upon earth is God’s ‘Angel’, the Messenger of God, and ‘it is apparent that Justin identifies the angel of the Lord (Malh’ak Yahve) with God – and finally with Christ. Now it was an old tradition that it was not God himself but the Angel of YHWH who led the people out of Egypt and through the desert to the Promised Land, and Justin actually expressly identifies the Angel of the Exodus with the Son.15 (Emphasis mine)

This is hardly surprising given that Justin was born and raised in Syria Palestine at the turn of the first century,16 and could describe himself as a Samaritan.17 After all, there is independent evidence that the Samaritans also identified the Angel of the Lord as deity, attributing to Him Divine works. For example, in a Samaritan catechism called the Malef, it says the following about the creation of man:

How did the creation of our Father Adam come to pass? The Angel of Yahweh formed him from the dust of the earth and made him in our image and likeness. The Name, that is to be praised, breathed into him the breath of life, and he became a soul, gifted with speech and perfect in form.18 (Emphasis mine)

Supporting evidence from Justin’s writings proving that he identified the OT theophanies or appearances of God to the patriarchs and prophets of old as the Angel of Yahweh can be found in numerous places, the following among them:

Now the Word of God is His Son, as we have before said. And He is called Angel and Apostle; for He declares whatever we ought to know, and is sent forth to declare whatever is revealed; as our Lord Himself says, “He that hearteth Me, heareth Him that sent Me.” From the writings of Moses also this will be manifest; for thus it is written in them, “And the Angel of God spake to Moses, in a flame of fire out of the bush, and said, I am that I am, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of thy fathers; go down into Egypt, and bring forth My people.” … so much is written for the sake of proving that Jesus the Christ is the Son of God and His Apostle, being of old the Word, and appearing sometimes in the form of fire, and sometimes in the likeness of angels; but now, by the will of God, having become man for the human race, He endured all the sufferings which the devils instigated the senseless Jews to inflict upon Him; who, though they have it expressly affirmed in the writings of Moses, “And the angel of God spake to Moses in a flame of fire in a bush, and said, I am that I am, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” yet maintain that He who said this was the Father and Creator of the universe. Whence also the Spirit of prophecy rebukes them, and says, “Israel doth not know Me, my people have not understood Me. And again, Jesus, as we have already shown, while He was with them, said, “No one knoweth the Father, but the Son; nor the Son but the Father and those to whom the Son will reveal Him.” The Jews, accordingly, being throughout of opinion that it was the Father of the universe who spake to Moses, though He who spake to him was indeed the Son of God, who is called both Angel and Apostle, are justly charged, both by the Spirit of prophecy and by Christ Himself, with knowing neither the Father nor the Son. For they who affirm that the Son is the Father are proved neither to have become acquainted with the Father, nor to know that the Father of the universe has a Son; who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God. And of old He appeared in the shape of fire and in the likeness of an angel to Moses and to the other prophets; but now in the times of your reign, having, as we before said, become Man by a virgin, according to the counsel of the Father, for the salvation of those who believe on Him, He endured both to be set at nought and to suffer, that by dying and rising again He might conquer death.19

In another passage from his writings, Justin identifies the Angel of Yahweh of the Old Testament using the same basic terminology found in the Jewish Targums, calling Him not only “the Word”, as in the quote above, but also “the Glory”, which is frequently mentioned and closely associated with the Shekinah in the Targums. He also identifies Him with the personified Wisdom of the Wisdom literature, saying that the Holy Spirit has called Him by many names in the Scriptures, “now the Glory of the Lord, now the Son, again Wisdom, again an Angel, then God, and then Lord and Logos; and on another occasion He calls Himself Captain, when He appeared in human form to Joshua the son of Nave (Nun).”20 The above observations are strengthened all the more when it is considered that Justin may not have been familiar with the Gospel of John; hence, his Logos theology may not have been informed or directly influenced by the teachings of the blessed apostle.21

It is most significant, then, that Justin, in the record of his dialogue with Trypho and his companions, interprets Genesis 18 as the appearance of God along with two angels, all three of whom were sent by “the Maker and Father of all things”:

Moses, then, the blessed and faithful servant of God, declares that He who appeared to Abraham under the oak in Mamre is God, sent with the two angels in His company to judge Sodom by Another who remains ever in the supercelestial places, invisible to all men, holding personal intercourse with none, whom we believe to be Maker and Father of all things; for he speaks thus: 'God appeared to him under the oak in Mamre, as he sat at his tent-door at noontide. And lifting up his eyes, he saw, and behold, three men stood before him; and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the door of his tent; and he bowed himself toward the ground, and said ...' 'Abraham went up early in the morning to the place where he stood before the Lord and he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrha, and toward the adjacent country, and beheld, and, lo, a flame went up from the earth, like the smoke of a furnace.'

After arguing the point with Trypho, noting along the way that the divine person who appeared to Abraham is “also called an Angel, because He announces to men whatsoever the Maker of all things — above whom there is no other God — wishes to announce to them”, Justin concludes his argument on this score:

And now have you not perceived, my friends, that one of the three, who is both God and Lord, and ministers to Him who is in the heavens, is Lord of the two angels? For when [the angels] proceeded to Sodom, He remained behind, and communed with Abraham in the words recorded by Moses; and when He departed after the conversation, Abraham went back to his place. And when he came [to Sodom], the two angels no longer conversed with Lot, but Himself, as the Scripture makes evident; and He is the Lord who received commission from the Lord who [remains] in the heavens, i.e., the Maker of all things, to inflict upon Sodom and Gomorrha the [judgments] which the Scripture describes in these terms: 'The Lord rained down upon Sodom and Gomorrha sulphur and fire from the Lord out of heaven.'22

Of further interest is the fact that one of Trypho’s companions quickly concedes the basic point to Justin, saying,

It must therefore necessarily be said that one of the two angels who went to Sodom, and is named by Moses in the Scripture Lord, is different from Him who also is God and appeared to Abraham.23

Fossum provides the following commentary:

Now it is interesting that one of Trypho’s companions is in sympathy with the conviction of Justin that Gen ch. 19 knows an angelic Lord as the ruinator of the ungodly towns. Responding to Justin’s quotation of v. 24, the Jew says: ‘It must of necessity be admitted that one of the two angels who went down to Sodom and whom Moses in the Scripture calls “Lord” is different from Him who is also God and appeared to Abraham.’ That Justin is not simply attributing his own view to the other party is shown by the fact that the Jew’s resolution is not congruent with the opinion of Justin. The Jew actually maintains that the ‘Lord’ who spoke to Abraham was God himself and not the second Lord, while he is willing to discern the latter in one of the two angels. This is defensible on the ground that Lot is said to have addressed the angel who asked him to flee up into the mountains as ‘Lord’.

There can be no doubt, however, that the Jew’s statement, made in reply to a quotation of Gen 19:24, reveals a concern cognate to that of Justin. The angel bears the same name as God himself, for the Hebrew text reads ’dny, the consonants of the Qere of the Tetragrammaton, and the LXX has ‘Kyrios’, the same word as that used to translate the proper Name of God. Moreover, in response to Lot’s request of being allowed to take his refuge in a village near by, the ‘Lord’ concedes and says: ‘I am not going to destroy the town you mention […] I shall not be able to do anything before you have come thither.’ Thus the Jew agrees with Justin’s fundamental opinion that an angelic ‘Lord’ was the executioner of the punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah.24

In responding to this episode in Justin’s Dialogue, Alan Segal refers to Trypho’s unnamed companion as a “herodox Jew”, though there is no evidence that Trypho’s companion expressed a view that was considered heterodox or outside the bounds of acceptable Jewish teaching at the time. In fact, to continue the quote of Fossum above,

There is definite evidence that Jews could hold this view. Abba Hilfi ben Samkai, a Palestinian Amora of the second generation, is reported to have spoken as follows in the name of R. Judah: ‘“And the Lord caused to rain, etc.” refers to Gabriel; “from the Lord out of heaven” to the Holy One, blessed be He.’ This interpretation is similar to that of Justin, though the name of the angelic ‘Lord’ is, if course, different. According to Abba Hilfi, the angelic YHWH who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah was the archangel Gabriel.25

It is for reasons such as this that scholars can speak of “the authenticity of Justin’s information and its richness of detail”26 regarding early Jewish beliefs. Indeed, Justin himself opted for the view found in the Wisdom literature and Philo that is also found in the Targums and Samaritan literature. (As for Abba Hilfi's view that this angelic "Lord" can be reduced to the level of Gabriel, a created angel, it has already been dealt with in principle in part 1 and will be summarily dealt with again below.)

The Talmud

It is just because of the pliability of such teachings to Christianity that one will not find any reference to “the Word” of the early Targums in the Talmud,27 as Alfred Edersheim, a Jewish convert to Christianity, Biblical scholar, and recognized authority on early Judaism, points out:

… in the Talmudical writings, we find mention not only of the Shem, of ‘Name,’ but also of the ‘Shekhinah,’ God as manifest and present, which is sometimes also presented as the Ruach ha Qodesh, of Holy Spirit. But in the Targumim we meet yet another expression, which, strange to say, never occurs in the Talmud. It is that of the Memra, Logos, or ‘Word.’ Not that the term is exclusively applied to the Divine Logos. But it stands out as perhaps the most remarkable fact in this literature, that God-not as in His permanent manifestation, or manifest Presence-but as revealing Himself, is designated Memra.28 (Italics of transliterated words, original; all other emphasis, mine)

This provides an insight into the project of the crafters of the Talmud for whom this teaching, under a different name, came to be rejected as heresy.

Although the Memra of the Jewish Targums is not directly mentioned in the Talmud, the underlying issue that it gives expression to, i.e. that God is complex in His unity, as well as the primary Old Testament mode of expressing this idea, i.e. the Angel of Yahweh (denominated Metatron in the Talmud), and in its discussion of the Son of Man, all of which are subsumed under the category of the heresy of “two powers”, does come up for discussion. As the late Jewish scholar Alan Segal, former Ingebort Rennert Professor of Jewish Studies at Barnard College, demonstrated in his seminal and now standard treatment of this subject, the “two powers” teaching, which the Rabbi’s put into the mouth of the minim, i.e. heretics, and then put down as heresy, show that some ancient Jews did wrestle with many arguments from the Old Testament put forward as evidence for a distinction of persons in the Godhead, and that it was in terms of this pre-Christian and/or non-Christian category of heresy that the Rabbis judged the later Christian movement.

… “Two powers” in heaven was a very early category of heresy, earlier than Jesus, if Philo is a trustworthy witness, and one of the basic categories by which the Rabbis perceived the new phenomenon of Christianity.29

As significant as Segal’s thesis is for showing that some Jews prior to and independently of Christianity arrived at the belief that there is more than one divine person in the Godhead, Daniel Boyarin, Professor of Talmudic Culture, Departments of Near Eastern Studies and Rhetoric, University of California (Berkeley), on the basis of evidence such as that presented above from the inter-testamental wisdom literature, the Targums, Philo, Justin Martyr and a critical analysis of the Talmud, etc., points out that this view, i.e. the view of a second divine person in the Godhead, though it was combated by the later Rabbi’s, as Segal rightly and capably demonstrated, contra Segal this teaching was not adjudged heretical or contrary to belief in one God by Jews prior to the period of Rabbinic “orthodoxy” or even by all Jews during the time the Rabbis compiled the Talmud:

Although the official rabbinic theology suppressed all talk of the Memra or Logos by naming it the heresy of “Two Powers in heaven,” both before the Rabbis and contemporaneously with them there was A MULTITUDE OF JEWS, in both Palestine and the Diaspora, who held onto this version of monotheistic theology.30 (Emphasis mine)

Accordingly, as Boyarin argues, whereas Segal’s work, which Boyarin is indebted to and which he seeks to build upon,31 represents a watershed in showing that there is copious evidence that this belief stretches back at least to the time of the second temple period, and, thus, that it was originally a Jewish rather than a Christian view, he confuses the issue by not consistently recognizing that it was only later that this view came to be regarded as heresy by anything like an official body representative of “orthodox” Judaism.32 In other words, it is not the heresy of two powers but the theology of two powers in heaven that predates and is contemporaneous with Christianity. The condemnation, which came centuries after “Two Powers” belief appears in the historical record, is post-Christian and takes place within non-Christian Jewish circles rather than simply between non-Christian Jews and Jewish Christians. The Rabbis were, then, trying to get rid of or deal with a teaching that had long been a part of the thinking of many Jews, a teaching that had become dangerous given the claims of Christ and the witness of the apostles and the early church.

An example of the ‘Two Powers’ controversy within rabbinic circles may be briefly examined here to illustrate the point before coming to one of the many other examples brought up in the Talmud in connection with the doctrine of ‘Two Powers’, one that has direct bearing on Genesis 19:24.

Rav Nahman said: A person who knows how to answer the minim as Rav Idi, let him answer, and if not, let him not answer.

A certain min said to Ravi Idi: “It is written, ‘And to Moses he said, come up unto the LORD [Exod. 24:1].’ It should have said, ‘Come up to me’!”

He [Rav Idi] said to him: “This was Metatron, whose name is like the name of his master, as it is written, ‘for My name is in him’ [Exod. 23:21].”

“But if so, we should worship him!”

“It is written, ‘Do not rebel against him’ [Exod. 23:21] — Do not confuse him with me!”

“If so, then why does it say ‘He will not forgive your sins’”?

“We have sworn that we would not even receive him as a guide, for it is written ‘If Your face goes not [do not bring us up from here]’ [Exod. 33:15].” (Babylonian Talmud, 38b)

The following analysis from Boyarin provides trenchant insights on what is going on here:

God has been addressing the Jewish people as a whole (in Exodus chapter 23), informing them that he will send his angel before them and instructing them how to behave with respect to this angel. He then turns to Moses and tells him to come up to YKWK (the Tetragrammaton), implying quite strongly that “YKWK” of whom he speaks is not the same “YKWK” who is the speaker of the verse: Two YKWKs. This is, in fact, precisely the sort of argument that a Justin Martyr would have produce from Scripture to argue for a “second person” (the Logos). And so the minim conclude that there is a second power in heaven. Rav Idi, in refuting them, turns back to the previous chapter and remarks that verse 21 there explicitly says that “My name is in him [that is in the angel].” Metatron, that angel, therefore, could be called by the name “YKWK,” and it is to him that Moses is being instructed to ascend. What this amounts to is claiming that there are not two divine powers in heaven but only God and an angel whom he has named as God as well.

At this point, the min responds by saying that if Metatron is indeed called by the ineffable name, then we ought to worship him as well; in other words, that Rav Idi’s own answer can be turned against him. To this, Rav Idi retorts that the verse also says “Do not rebel against him,” which by a typical midrashic sleight of hand can be read as “Do not substitute him,” that is, even though Metatron is called by God’s name, do not pray to him. Al tamer bo [Do not rebel against him] has been read as Al tamireni bo: Don’t substitute him for me. The very verse in which Israel is enjoined to obey the second YKWK has been turned by a pun into its exact opposite. The min says if that is what is meant, then why does it continue in the verse and say that he, Metatron, will not forgive sins? The min is arguing that if the people are being warned not to rebel against Metatron, because he is as powerful as God, then it makes sense to tell them that he will not forgive their sins if they do rebel, but if he is not God at all, then it is otiose to tell them that he will not forgive sins. Only if he has the power to redeem sins does it make sense to declare that he will not rebel [sic; forgive?] their sins if they rebel against him. (Of course, the rabbinic reading is: Don’t confuse him with me for he cannot redeem sins but only I can. The “heretical” reading, I’m afraid, is much stronger and more adequate to the language) …

I would suggest, moreover, that, in typical midrashic fashion, another verse lies underneath this comment of the min. Joshua 24:19 reads: “It will be very difficult for you [lit. you will not be able to] worship YKWK, for He is a holy God; He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your sins and your iniquities.” In other words, the logic would run: if there it remarks of YKWK that he will not forgive sins and iniquities, then if the same language is being used here, ought it not indicate that the divine figure being spoken of has the same attributes as YKWK? Moreover, if there the context is one of worshipping YKWK, then here too worship of Metatron, the second Lord or lesser Yahu [as the Talmud calls him – AR], would seem to be implicated as well. The comparison is rendered even stronger when we notice that exactly the same context is involved in both the Exodus and the Joshua verse, namely the expulsion of the Canaanites from the land of Israel and the warnings to the people of Israel to be worthy of this benefit and to worship YKWK, or their sin will not be forgiven at all. It certainly seems as if this verse in Exodus can be read as equating Metatron to YKWK and therefore demanding worship for both figures.

To this answer comes that “we” the Jews, through our leader Moses, already have declared that we do not even want him, Metatron, to be our guide in the desert, as the cited verse says: “If your face goes before us not.” In other words, the angelic regent was of such non importance that, far from considering him worthy of being worshipped, Moses would not even accept him as a guide.

In this, as in many other cases of such hermeneutical encounters, the min certainly seems to have the upper hand to begin with, for there are many scriptural texts that plausibly can be read as supporting the notion of an angelic vice-regent with many of the powers of God, or even the notion of a virtual second God. Indeed, more than anything else, this very scriptural background may have given the greatest impetus to the various second-God theologies of Jews, including Logos, Memra, Sophia, Metatron, Son of Man, Son of God, and Christ. Rav Idi, the clever Midrashist, exploits all the tricks in his bag in order to discredit the min’s quite straightforward interpretation of the verses in question: “Behold I send before you an angel, to watch over you on the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Be careful before him and obedient to him. Do not disobey him, for he will not forgive your sins, for My name is in him.” Although, to be sure, the second of these two verses presents difficulties, at the very least it would seem that this — fairly straightforward — translation does imply that this angel has the power to command and to remit sins (which he will not employ), as God has delegated to him something of divine power. Just as in the Joshua verse, we are told that God … “is a jealous God; He will not forgive your sins and your iniquities,” so here, Metatron is such a divine being too. The min quite reasonably suggests that one ought to pray to such a divine being, Metatron, on Rav Idi’ showing.

In order to escape this seeming ineluctable conclusion, Rav Idi proposes to read the verse as if saying, “Be careful before him and obedient to him. Do not confuse him with me, for he will not forgive your sins, for my name is in him.” Aside from the fact that this translation renders the verse considerably less coherent in its logic, it also makes this angel seem absolutely insignificant, hardly worthy of mention, to which Rav Idi answers (and this is his brilliant move) that indeed that is so. The Israelites have already registered their rejection of any interest in this insignificant angel when they insisted that God Himself must go before them and no other, thus dramatizing the rejection of the Son of Man theology, a rejection that the Rabbis themselves perform.33

Several things ought to be underscored here about this toweringly honest appraisal of this portion of the Talmud. In the first place, we may note just how often the point(s) and overall argument of the min in this dispute are spoken of by Boyarin as “plausible,” “reasonable,” “straightforward,” “ineluctable” and “much stronger and more adequate to the language” then that of Rav Idi, whose argumentation by contrast is characterized as “clever,” “midrashic sleight of hand” from someone who has “exploited all the tricks in his bag,” all of which, we might add, even extends to Rav Idi’s so-called “brilliant move” at the end. Second is the observation that “there are many scriptural texts that plausibly can be read as supporting” the notion of ‘Two Powers’ in heaven, as the significant number of disputed passages in the Talmud itself also bears witness. Third is the fact that this “very scriptural” background could very well be the single greatest reason why many Jews came to believe in a second person in the Godhead, which they expressed in various ways – Wisdom, Memra, Logos, Christ, etc.34

With this example of the ‘Two Powers’ controversy in mind, we may now proceed to look at another very telling portion of the Talmud that comes immediately after the discussion analyzed above.

A Min once said to R. Ishmael b. Jose: It is written, Then the Lord caused to rain upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord: but from him should have been written! A certain fuller said, Leave him to me, I will answer him. [He then proceeded],' It is written, And Lamech said to his wives, Ada and Zillah, Hear my voice, ye wives of Lamech; but he should have said, my wives! But such is the Scriptural idiom — so here too, it is the Scriptural idiom.35

As Segal points out, “this is a strange argument in the mouth of a rabbi,”36 and indeed it is, and not just for a Rabbi, for as already has been pointed out, God is not speaking in Genesis 19:24. Furthermore, this passage does not say that Lamech did anything or that he received anything from Lamech, and that for the very good reason that such language presupposes a distinction between individuals, one of whom is the sender, the other of whom is the receiver. As Segal points out elsewhere, in contrast to the sorts of answers given by other Rabbi’s when ‘two powers’ verses are brought up, where appeal is made to the immediate context or to intricacies of style, this fuller is allowed “a more naïve argument.”37

In Genesis Rabbah, two additional answers are provided to the one above, both of which show acknowledgment of a distinction of persons in the passage, assigning the first instance of the name YHWH to a principal angel (or to God’s heavenly court).

Abba Hilfi, the son of Samkai, said in the name of R. Judah: THEN THE LORD CAUSED TO RAIN, etc. refers to Gabriel; FROM THE LORD (OUT OF HEAVEN, to the Holy One, blessed be He). R. Leazar said: Wherever ‘And the Lord’ occurs, it means, He and His heavenly court. R. Isaac said: Both in the Torah [Pentateuch], in the Prophets, and in the writings we find a commoner mentioning his name twice in one verse. In the Torah: And Lamech said unto his wives: Adah and Zillah hear my voice; this is not followed by ‘my wives’, but by Ye wives of Lamech (Gen. IV, 23). In the Prophets: And the King said unto them: Take with you the servants of your lord, and cause Solomon my son to ride upon my own mule, etc. (Est. VIII, 8). Yet you wonder that the Holy one, blessed be He, mentions His name twice in one verse.38 (Emphasis original)

Apparently R. Leazar, R. Judah, and Abba Hilfi did not recognize the viability of R. Ishmael’s or R. Isaac’s explanation. Perhaps they, too, thought it was “strange” and “naïve”. If so, the present writer is constrained to agree, adding that calling Gabriel, a created being, Yahweh, is no less strange.

In any event, all of this shows that these issues were alive and well and vociferously debated in Rabbinic circles, and that the Talmudic Rabbi's, for all their efforts to suppress the Word of the Targums, could neither fully dispense with the fact that a distinction is drawn in such passages as Genesis 19:24, or with the fact that one called an "angel", which simply means "messenger", could be said to bear the Divine Name, divine attributes and the prerogatives of deity, such as forgiving sins. 

General Confirmation from Later Jewish Sources

There is even evidence that this general view – i.e. the view that the Angel/Messenger of the Biblical text, whether by that name or one of its many cognomens in Jewish thought (Memra, Logos, Wisdom, etc.), constituted a second divine person in the Godhead – survived the Talmudic attempt to stamp it out and in one form or another continued to exert its influence in certain Jewish circles, which shows the tenacity of this traditional teaching of ancient Judaism. Since this ranges well beyond what is necessary to the present thesis, which is directed specifically to those early sources that bring up the Angel/Word/Son in connection with Genesis 19:24, only a few brief remarks will be made to buttress the over-arching or general point that the Angel of the LORD, whom, as we have seen, many earlier Jews viewed as the agent of Sodom’s destruction, was still or came once again to be viewed by some as a hypostasis of the Godhead.

Jewish scholar Dr. Daniel Abrams, who recently received the Gershom Scholem Prize from The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities and who lectures on Jewish Mysticism at Bar Ilan University, has capably shown that the very same Word, Memra, Logos, Wisdom, Angel, Messenger, Son, or “second power” mentioned in pre-Christian and early Jewish sources continued to appear in some Jewish circles into and through the Middle Ages, and in these circles the “ontological boundaries” between God and the Angel are often blurred and the Great Angel of Yahweh is simply identified with God. Some select quotes from Abrams' article, “The Boundaries of Divine Ontology,”39 follow:

“Due to the elevated status of the angelic Metatron in certain early traditions, Metatron was appropriated and his nature redefined in medieval texts in the articulation of a complex Godhead which contained multiple powers.”40

“In a tradition from the Sar-Torah material of the Hekhalot texts … 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.”41

“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 through the lenses of the kabbalistic worldview, 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.”42

“In the passage from Nahmanides’ 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. The difference 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–that is, they are both immanent in the same divine substance.”43

Another Jewish scholar, Moshe Idel, the Max Cooper Professor of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in his book Ben,44 a winner of the National Jewish Book Awards, has also brought forth an impressive body of evidence that various Jewish groups in the Middle Ages identified the Angel of Yahweh as the divine Son. Again, certain choice quotes follow:

“There can be little doubt however that early Jewish theologoumena related to such a [hypostatic, supernal] 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 son ship 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 son ship to the more extensive corpora written in the Middle Ages, or that son ship survived only in the written documents …”45

“An explanation of a verse from Exod. 23:21, and its adoption in the Talmudic passage … served as one of the anchors for the return of older material dealing with the Great Angel as son of God, into the Judaism of the Middle Ages.”46

For a third and final scholar, Elliot Wolfson, the Abraham Lieberman Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University, in his book Through a Speculum That Shines47, has written:

“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’ (mal’akh YHWH), ‘angel of God’ …, or ‘angel of the Presence’ (mal’akh ha-panim) 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.”48

While more could be said, this clearly overturns the overused and wrongheaded appeal that anti-trinitarians often make to the teachings of later adherents of Talmudic Judaism who were reacting to this early strain of Jewish thinking due to its obvious consanguinity with the teaching of the New Testament. The appeal of anti-Trinitarians to “the” Jews is wrong then on two scores: 1) a wide diversity of pre-Christian Jews believed in the pluri-tarian nature of God, and specific evidence exists showing they understood Genesis 19:24 in terms of this understanding, trumping any and all appeals to later, unitarian Jews in order to discount the Trinity, and showing that Christians are not guilty of reading the Trinity back into Old Testament passages or of borrowing the notion from other quarters; and 2) some non-Christian Jews during the Talmudic, Medieval, and Modern periods have also continued to hold to some version of this belief, rendering even the appeal to contemporary unitarian Jews a case of special pleading and question begging.

The following articles are recommended for further reading on Jewish belief relevant to the Trinity:


And so without a doubt, Genesis 19:24 clearly refers to two divine persons, a fact that is well established on the basis of the Old Testament text itself, in terms of the grammar of the verse, the broader context of Genesis 18-19, and later prophetic commentary, all of which is consistent with a large amount of Jewish interpretation before, during and after the time of Christ, as demonstrated by the book of Wisdom, the Targums, Philo, Justin Martyr, and even, in their own way, later Rabbinic writings like the Talmud, Genesis Rabbah, etc.

Those who would argue against this thesis must either show that no distinction is in view in Genesis 19:24 between two persons identified by the tetragrammaton, or provide a defensible explanation of the distinction that does not support a plurality of persons within the deity. In light of the foregoing, neither of the above projects would seem possible, for a distinction is clearly drawn in Genesis 19:24, and it is drawn precisely between one person on earth called Yahweh and another person in heaven who is also called Yahweh, the former of whom rains down fire from the other.

Lord willing, part three will begin to look at the evidence from the New Testament to see that this interpretation is finally resolved in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s true, eternal, and living Word, Wisdom, and Messenger.

Continue to Part IIIa.



1 Emil Shurer, D.D., M.A., A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, Vol. III, (Hendrickson Publishers, [1890], 2008), p. 232

2 E.g., see the entries on “Maimonides” in the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy (here), the Jewish Encyclopedia (here), and see especially the final paragraph of Joseph Telushkin’s brief bio of Maimonides here.

3 John Ronning, The Jewish Targums and John’s Logos Theology (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), p. 16

4 Daniel Boyarin, “The Gospel of the Memra: Jewish Binitarianism and the Prologue to John,” Harvard Theological Review, 94:3, 2001, p. 254-255

5 The point here is not that Philo derived the seminal idea of the Logos from Greek Philosophy, but that his understanding of the Logos, derived from his Jewish faith, was colored and in some ways truncated by his proclivity for middle-platonic notions.

6 Philo, On the Creation, V. 20

7 Philo, Concerning Noah’s Work as a Planter, V. 18-20

8 Philo, Who is the Heir of Divine Things?, 187-188

9 Philo, Who Is the Heir of Divine Things, 205-206

10 Philo, On Drunkenness, 31

11 Philo, On the Confusion of Tongues, 63; Philo, On Husbandry, 51

12 e.g. Philo, On the Confusion of Tongues, 146; Philo, Allegorical Interpretation, 43, 45; etc.

13 Philo, On Dreams, I. 85-86

14 James McGrath and Jerry Truex, “‘Two Powers’ and Early Jewish and Christian Monotheism,” Journal of Biblical Studies, 4.1, 2004, p. 47-48

15 Jarl Fossum, “Kyrios Jesus As the Angel of the Lord in Jude 5-7,” New Testament Studies, vol. 33, 1987, p. 228

16 Justin, First Apology, 1.1

17 Justin, Dialogue 120.6

18 E. C. Baguley, ed. and trans., A Critical Edition, with Translation, of the Hebrew Text of the Malef (Ph. D. dissertation of the University of Leeds, 1962). As cited in Jarl Fossum, “Gen 1, 26 and 2,7 in Judaism, Samaritanism, and Gnosticism”, Journal for the Study of Judaism, Vol. XVI, no.2, 1985, p. 221

19 Justin Martyr, The First Apology, LXIII. For other examples from the writings of Justin Martyr, see: Dialogue, 58, 59, 60, 61, 76, 86, 116, 126, 127, 128

20 Justin, Dialogue, 61

21 Helmut Koester, Introduction to the New Testament: History and literature of Early Christianity. 2nd ed. Walter de Gruyter, 2000, Vol. 2, p. 344

22 Justin, Dialogue, LVI. (see also CXXVIII)

23 Ibid, LVI

24 Fossum, “Kyrios”, pp. 228-229

25 Ibid, p. 229

26 Boyarin, Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006), p. 41

27 It would seem no mere coincidence that the suppression of the Targumic Word, the rejection of the LXX, and the standardization of the MT all took place around the same time.

28 Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Hendrickson Publishers, [ ], 1993), p. 32. Another source states, “In the pre-Christian Targums, there is a name for the Word of God, Memra, which recurs hundreds of times. But from the Talmud it has wholly disappeared. Evidently, to go on using it when Christians could point to its realization in a definite historical personage, would have been in the highest degree dangerous to Pharisaic orthodoxy,” Eliakim and Robert S. Little, The Living Age, vol. 197 (Boston: Littell and Co., 1893), p. 456. As the Jewish Encyclopedia also candidly admits, “In the ancient Church liturgy, adopted from the Synagogue, it is especially interesting to notice how often the term ‘Logos,’ in the sense of ‘the Word by which God made the world, or made His Law or Himself known to man,’ was changed into ‘Christ’ (see "Apostolic Constitutions," vii. 25-26, 34-38, et al.). Possibly on account of the Christian dogma, rabbinic theology, outside of the Targum literature, made little use of the term ‘Memra.’” (see here)

29 Segal, Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports About Christianity and Gnosticism (Leiden: Brill, 1977), p. ix

30 Boyarin, The Gospel of the Memra, p. 254

31 Boyarin, Border Lines, p. 298, fn20

32 At times, Segal himself appears to be aware of this distinction: “Preliminary indications are, therefore, that many parts of the Jewish community in various places and periods used the traditions which the rabbis claim is an heretical conception of the deity,” Segal, Two Powers, p. 43; and “The doctrine of the logos is relevant in two further ways to Philo’s conception of creation. First, Philo maintains that the logos was God’s partner in creation. To this effect he calls the logos, ‘The Beginning,’ ‘The Ruler of the Angels,’ and significantly, ‘the Name of God.’ But because the logos is an emanation of God, Philo can also talk about him as God’s offspring, or the first-born son of God … This provides us with a good example of a predecessor to the unstated argument which the tannaim would eventually call heresy, the same argument which was supplied by the amoraim,” ibid., p. 173.

34 Interestingly enough, the very interpretation of this verse that the Rabbi’s are combating, i.e. Memra/Logos theology, is exactly the interpretation given to it by Philo before them: “For God, like a shepherd and a king, governs (as if they were a flock of sheep) the earth, and the water, and the air, and the fire, and all the plants, and living creatures that are in them, whether mortal or divine; and he regulates the nature of the heaven, and the periodical revolutions of the sun and moon, and the variations and harmonious movements of the other stars, ruling them according to law and justice; appointing, as their immediate superintendent, his own right reason, his first-born son, who is to receive the charge of this sacred company, as the lieutenant of the great king; for it is said somewhere, "Behold, I am he! I will send my messenger before thy face, who shall keep thee in the Road."[Exodus 23:20.], On Husbandry, 51

35 Sanhedrin 38b

36 Segal, Rebecca’s Children: Judaism and Christianity in the Roman World (Harvard University Press, 1986) p. 160

37 Segal, Two Powers, p. 119

38 Genesis Rabbah 51.2

39 "The Boundaries of Divine Ontology: The Inclusion and Exclusion of Metatron in the Godhead," Harvard Theological Review, 87:3 (1994) 291-321

40 Ibid., p. 294

41 Ibid., p. 296, fn 17

42 Ibid., p. 296-7

43 Ibid., p. 297

44 Idel, Ben: Sonship and Jewish Mysticism, Kogod Library of Judaic Studies, Vol. 5 (New York, NY: Continuum, 2007)

45 Ibid., pp. 49-50

46 Ibid., p. 113

47 Wolfson, Through A Speculum That Shines: Vision and Imagination in Medieval Jewish Mysticism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994)

48 Ibid., p. 255

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