The Three Pillars of the Godhead
By James Scott Trimm
Part 5 The Kabbalistic Godhead Model Among the Ancient Nazarenes
Now before beginning this section it is important to define an important Talmudic term MIN (singular) / MINIM (plural).
The fourth century “Church Father” Jerome writes of the Nazarenes and Ebionites:
What shall I say of the Ebionites who pretend to be Christians?
Today there still exists among the Jews in all the synagogues
of the East a heresy which is called that of the Minæans,
and which is still condemned by the Pharisees; [its followers]
are ordinarily called ‘Nazarenes’; they believe that Christ,
the son of God, was born of the Virgin Mary, and they hold him
to be the one who suffered under Pontius Pilate and ascended
to heaven, and in whom we also believe.”
(Jerome; Letter 75 Jerome to Augustine)
Now Ebionites and Nazarenes were two distinct groups with varying beliefs (the Ebionites split off from the Nazarenes round 70 C.E.) but both of these groups were known by Rabbinic Jews as “Minim” or as Jerome calls them in Latin “Mineans”.
According to the Dictionary of the Targumim, Talmud Babli, Yerushalami and Midrashic Literature Marcus Jastrow defines MIN “…sectarian, infidel… a Jewish infidel, mostly applied to Jew Christians”. Jastrow uses the term “Jew-Christians” to refer to Ebionites and Nazarenes although these groups did not call themselves “Christians”.
Many scholars believe that the term MIN began as an acronym for a Hebrew phrase meaning “Believers in Yeshua the Nazarene”.
Many Powers in Heaven
The Mishna states that the MINIM taught:
“There are many ‘powers’ in heaven”
Mym#b twyw#r hbrh
Clearly the MINIM in this portion of the Mishna were Nazarenes and not Ebionites, since Ebionites clearly rejected the deity of Messiah.
The Mishna counters that man was created alone in order to disprove this teaching of the MINIM. In fact Man was created “male and female” in “our image”/”the image of Elohim” and after being separated into a male and female these two were ECHAD (all of this was discussed in part 1) just as the three K’NUMEH of the Godhead are ECHAD.
In the Gemara to this portion of Mishna (b.San. 38b) the Talmud discusses various proof texts that the MINIM used to support their teaching of “many powers in heaven” and attempts to rebut them:
R. Johanan sad: In all the passages which the Minim have taken
[as grounds] for their heresy, their refutation is found near at hand.
Thus: Let us make man in our image, (Gen. 1:26)
And God created [sing.] man in His own image; (Gen. 1:27)
Come, let us go down and there confound their language, (Gen. 11:7)
And the Lord came down [sing.] to see the city and the tower; (Gen. 11:5)
Because there were revealed [plur.] to him God, (Gen. 35:7)
Unto God who answereth [sing.] me in the day of my distress; (Gen. 35:3)
For what great nation is there that hath God so nigh [plur.] unto it,
as the Lord our God is [unto us] whensoever we call upon Him [sing.]; (Deut. 4:7)
And what one nation in the earth is like thy people, [like] Israel,
whom God went [plur.] to redeem for a people unto himself [sing.], (2Sam. 7:23)
Till thrones were placed and one that was ancient did sit. (Dan. 7:9)
Why were these [plurals] necessary? To teach R. Johanan’s dictum;
viz.: The Holy One, blessed be He, does nothing without consulting
His Heavenly Court (literally “Family”) , for it is written, The matter
is by the decree of the watchers, and the sentence by the word of
the Holy Ones.(Dan. 4:14)
This section of Talmud tells us that the MINIM used Tanak passages in which Elohim was referenced in a plural form as proof texts for their teaching of “many powers in the heavens”. Among their proof texts were Gen. 1:26; 11:7; 35:7; Deut. 4:7; Sam. 7:23 & Dan. 7:9). The Rabbinic Jews dismissed these as examples of Elohim speaking to “His Heavenly Court” (literally “Heavenly Family”) i.e. the “watchers” of Dan. 4:14.
Now I want to examine the first of these (Gen. 1:26) in more detail. This passage appears as a synonymous parallelism as follows:
And Elohim said: “Let us make man in our image,
After our likeness;…
And Elohim created man in His own image,
in the image of Elohim created He him;
male and female created He them.
In context “our image” = “our likeness” = “the image of Elohim” = “male and female”. As we discussed in part one, Paul refers back to this point in Romans 1 to establish that there are invisible attributes in the Godhead made manifest in the creation that when ignored may lead persons into the errors of Homosexuality and Lesbianism. It is not speaking of the “Watchers” but the “male and female” “image of Elohim”.
Even the Rabbinic Jews realized that their explanation of Elohim speaking to the Watchers did not work for many of the MINIM proof texts (including Dan. 7:9) and so the Talmud goes on to address these passages:
Now, that is satisfactory for all [the other verses], but how explain
Till thrones were placed? (Dan. 7:9) One [throne] was for Himself
and one for David [Messiah]. Even as it has been taught:
One was for Himself and one for David: this is R. Akiba’s view.
R. Jose protested to him: Akiba, how long will thou profane the Sh’kinah?
Rather, one [throne] for justice, and the other for mercy.
Did he accept [this answer] from him or not? Come and hear!
For it has been taught: One is for justice and the other for charity;
this is R. Akiba’s view. Said R. Eleazar b. Azariah to him: Akiba,
what hast thou to do with Aggada? Confine thyself to [the study of]
Nega’im and Ohaloth [civil issues]. But one was a throne, the other
a footstool: a throne for a seat and a footstool in support of His feet (Is. 66:1).
Here Rabbi Akiba gets in trouble with the other Rabbis because he ADMITTED that the additional throne was for Messiah! Rabbi Jose said that the “thrones” were for “justice” (GEVURA) and “charity” (CHESED). Of course these are titles of sefirot which are regarded in Kabbalah a typical of the two opposing pillars of the three pillars of the Godhead. Finally the consensus of the Rabbis found that Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Jose were giving to much away in the debate. They argued that “thrones” were plural to refer to the “throne” and the “footstool” of Isaiah 66:1.
It bears mentioning here that Is. 66:1 is also cited in Mt. 5:34-35. Both the Hebrew (DuTillet) version and the Old Syriac (s) Aramaic version of Matthew word the phrase “for it is the throne of Elohim” in the Hebrew and Aramaic with a plural possessive pronoun (in the English translation this possessive pronoun does not appear because it is not used in English grammar).
R. Nahman said: He who is as skilled in refuting the Minim
as is R. Idith, let him do so; but not otherwise. Once a Min
said to R. Idith: It is written, And unto Moses He said,
Come up to the Lord (Ex. 24:1). But surely it should have
stated, Come up unto me! It was Metatron, he replied,
whose name is similar to that of his Master, for it is written,
For my name is in him (Ex. 23:21). But if so, [he retorted,]
we should worship him! The same passage, however,
— replied R. Idith says: Be not rebellious against him,
i.e., exchange Me not for him. But if so, why is it stated:
He will not pardon your transgression? He answered:
By our troth we would not accept him even as a messenger,
for it is written, And he said unto him, If Thy [personal]
presence go not etc. (Ex. 33:15).
In the Targum resolves the issue of YHWH speaking of himself in the third person by naming the speaker in Ex. 20:1 as “the Word (MEMRA) of YHWH”. Here Rabbi Idith resolves the issue by making one of these “Metatron”. According to the Encyclopedia Judaica article on “Metatron” the Karite author Kirkisani had a different reading in his copy of this Talmud passage. His copy had Rabbi Idith saying “This is Metatron, who is the Lesser YHWH”. As we have shown in part 2, Metatron is identified in the Zohar as the Middle Pillar of the Godhead and as the Son of Yah.
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: (Gen. 19:24) 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; (Gen. 4:23) but he should
have said, my wives! But such is the Scriptural idiom
so here too, it is the Scriptural idiom.
The Targum also resolves this issue by paraphrasing one of the occurrences of “YHWH” in Gen. 19:24 as “the Word (MEMRA) of YHWH”. A much lengthier paper could be written on Gen. 19:24 but it is beyond the scope of this article.
It is important to note that the Rabbis seem to stumble all over themselves in dealing with the proof texts presented by the Nazarenes (an this is even their account of the debate). They find themselves admitting that the Nazarene proof texts refer to the “Heavenly Family”; “Elohim and the Messiah”; “Gevura and Chesed”; “Metatron” and “The Lesser YHWH” while attempting to disagree with the Nazarene interpretations. It is also important to note that this debate can be easily dated. Rabbi Akiba who lived in the early second century is one of the debaters.
The Holy Spirit and the Nazarenes
It is also clear that the ancient Nazarenes saw the Holy Spirit as a sort of Heavenly Mother and the Messiah being her “Son” just as he is the Son of the Heavenly Father.
As the fourth century “Church Father” Jerome writes of the Nazarenes:
According to the Gospel written in the Hebrew speech,
which the Nazarenes read, the whole fount of the
Holy Spirit shall descend upon him… Further in the
Gospel which we have just mentioned we find
the following written:
When the Lord ascended from the water,
the whole fount of the Holy Spirit descended
and rested upon him, and said to him, “My Son,
in all the prophets I was waiting for you,
that you might come, and that I might rest in you.
For you are my rest; and you are my firstborn son,
who reigns forever.
(Jerome; Commentary on Is. 11:2)
Note that it is the Holy Spirit here and not the Father that refer to Messiah as “My Son”.
Moreover the third century “Church Father” Origin writes of the Nazarene Gospel according to the Hebrews:
And if any accept the Gospel according to the Hebrews,
where the Saviour himself saith, ‘Even now did my mother
the Holy Spirit take me by one of mine hairs, and carried me
away unto the great mountain Thabor’, he will be perplexed, &c. . . .
Origen on John, ii. 12.
Now are we to believe that the parallels between the Kabbalistic Godhead, Metatron and Memra; the Melchizadek figure of Qumran; Philo’s Triad and Logos and the terminology and concepts in the “New Testament” are just a coincidence?
Philo spoke of a Godhead which was a “Triad” while the Zohar speaks of three Pillars of the Godhead which are “one”. The New Testament speaks of the Father, the Holy Spirt and the Son as all being one Elohim.
Philo identifies one of his Triad members as being the “Son of God”; The Zohar identifies one of its three pillars as the “Son of Yah” and the Messiah is called in the New Testament the “Son of Elohim”.
Philo identifies his “Son of God” as the Logos (Word). Kabbalah identifies the Son of Yah as the Memra (Word). The New Testament identifies the Son of Elohim as the “Word”.
Philo identified the components of his Triad as “powers” while the Mishna ascribes that the Nazarenes identified them as “powers”.
Philo identifies the Logos as the “firstborn son” the Zohar says that Metatron (the Son of Yah) is “the first begotten of all the creatures of Elohim” and the New Testament says that Messiah is “the firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15)
Philo says that one of the members of his Triad is “Wisdom” and that “Wisdom is the Mother of the Word”; In Kabbalah one of the three Pillars of the Godhead is called the Mother and is identified with wisdom. And the Nazarenes saw the Holy Spirit as the Mother of Messiah.
Philo says his Word “is to receive the charge of this sacred company, as the lieutenant of the Great King”. The Zohar says of Metaron that he is “ruler of all he has; because Elohim has committed to him the government over all his hosts.” Similar descriptions of Messiah appear in the New Testament.
The Talmud says that Metatron is “the Lesser YHWH” while in the book of John the Messiah says the Father is “greater” than he.
Philo says the Word was “the model for the formation of man”. The Kabbalah teaches that the Adam Kadamon (the Three Pillars harmonized) was the blueprint for the creation of man and the NT says that Messiah was the image of Elohim from which man was created.
Scholars identify the Melchizadek figure of Qumran with the Metatron of Kabbalah while the New Testament identifies Messiah with Melchizadek (Heb. 7). And the Qumran scrolls identify this Melchizadek with the terms El, Elohim and YHWH and identifies him with the Messiah.
Are all of these things the most amazing coincidence of all time? Or is the Godhead concept of the Kabbalah also found in the Qumran scrolls and the writings of Philo in the first century? Are these the same concepts that also appear in the New Testament and among the ancient Nazarene Jews?
There can be no doubt that the ancient Nazarene Jews maintained a belief in the Three Pillars of the Godhead and the deity of Messiah. It is clear that their belief was very similar to that of Rabbinic Kabbalists, the Qumran Scrolls and the writings of Philo. Thus the Rabbinic concepts of Kabbalah presented in part 2 of this series descend from the same Godhead model expressed by Philo, in the Qumran Scrolls and the New Testament.
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