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Basic Worldview:
104 Why Christianity?

History of Judaism Study

Introduction, Purpose, Definitions and Terminology
Timelines: Jewish and Gentile Writings and Thought
Eliminating Potential Sources of Complex Monotheism
Was Jewish Complex Monotheism Borrowed from the Greeks?
The Hebrew Bible Teaches Complex Monotheism - Part 1
The Hebrew Bible Teaches Complex Monotheism - Part 2
Complex Monotheism after the Close of the Hebrew Bible
Philo Affirms Complex Monotheism in Pre-rabbinic Judaism
Criteria of Biblical Monotheism, Christianity & Pre-Rabbinic Judaism
New Testament Christianity as a Sect of Judaism
When Was Complex Monotheism First Rejected?
Simple & Complex Monotheism before the Rabbinic Period
What Separates Biblical Judaism & New Testament Christianity?
God's Sovereign Choice of Abraham & His Offspring
Summary, Conclusions, and Implications

The Hebrew Bible Teaches Complex Monotheism Long Before Greek Philosophical Religion - Part 1

In order to further determine whether Complex Monotheism or Simple Monotheism represents the original understanding of Judaism, we must determine which view was present in biblical Judaism prior to the onset of ideas bearing similarity to either view within Greek thought. Due to the amount of material to be covered, this section will be divided into two portions.

As we begin this endeavor, our History of Religions and Religious Texts Chart will be useful.

According to our chart, the Hebrew Bible dates to between 1500 and 400 BC. Greek mythological religion is known to us from sources dating to between 900 and 700 BC. And Greek philosophical religion began in the late 5th century and early 4th century BC.

History of Religions and Religious Texts Chart:

1. The Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament)
Judaism of the Biblical Period: circa 2000-400 BC.
Traditional Date: all books: circa 1500-400 BC; Pentateuch: 1500-1300 BC
Scholarly Date: J material: circa 950 BC; E material: circa 850 BC; P material: 400’s BC; D material: 500’s BC.

3. Greek Mythological Religion
Known to us from sources dating from around 900-700 BC

6. Greek Philosophical Religious Thought
Beginning in the late 5th century and early 4th century BC

As we can see, all of the material contained in the Hebrew Bible was written before the onset of Greek philosophical religions including the various schools of Platonic thought. In order to determine whether Complex Monotheism or Simple Monotheism is the original Jewish view and which is a product of blending with Greek philosophy, we simply need to determine which view is expressed in the Hebrew Bible. And the earlier that we find it in the Hebrew Bible, the more definitive the conclusion.

Earlier in this study we took a more in-depth look at developments within Greek religious thought. At that point, we established the critical fact that any semblance of Complex Monotheistic ideas is not present in Greek religious thought prior to the end of the 5th century BC. It was only after the end of the 5th century BC, that Greek religious thinking can be characterized by the great philosophical schools. And prior to the development of Greek philosophy in the late 5th and early 4th centuries BC, Greek religious thought was not monotheistic at all, nor was its polytheism “complex” in nature. In other words, the gods of the Greek pantheon did not exhibit complex natures allowing them to simultaneously exist in multiple bodies in various locations.

This historical information helps our investigation of original Jewish religious thought. Simply put, whatever similarities there might be between Greek philosophy and Complex Monotheism only appear in Greek religious thought after the close of the Hebrew Bible. Therefore, the religious ideas contained in the Hebrew Bible can be said to be free of influence from Greek philosophical theology. Whatever, point of view the Hebrew Bible exhibits regarding the proper conception of God cannot be the result of blending with Greek culture.

As we proceed we will focus on the main theological differences between Simple Monotheism and Complex Monotheism. These differences included questions about the corporeality of God and about the plurality of God’s personhood.

In his book, Sommer provides an assessment of the concept of God offered in the Hebrew Bible. Throughout his work, Sommer provides evidence showing that the one, true God of Biblical Judaism (2000-400 BC and afterwards) was an embodied (corporeal) God who existed as more than one, simultaneously-present, persons (selves) each in their own body. The quotes below will attest to Biblical Judaism’s commitment to both the corporeality and multiplicity of personhood of the one, true God (YHWH.)

The quotes below Sommer explains that the corporeality and multiplicity of the one, true God are taught in Biblical Judaism (circa 2000-400 BC) and afterward. 

What I propose to show in this book is that the startling or bizarre idea in the Hebrew Bible is something else entirely: not that God has a body – that is the standard notion of ancient Israelite theology – but rather that God has many bodies located in sundry places in the world that God created. The bulk of this book is devoted to two tasks: first, demonstrating that in parts of the Hebrew Bible the one God has more than one body (and also, we shall see, more than one personality); and second, exploring the implications of this fact for a religion based on the Hebrew Bible. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 1

My first goal is to describe a hitherto unnoticed debate within the Hebrew Bible about God’s nature. In doing so, I hope to uncover a lost biblical perception of God, according to which God’s body and self have a mysterious fluidity and multiplicity (Chapter 2). – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 10

In the previous chapter, we examined a peculiar understanding of divine selfhood according to which a deity can produce many small-scale manifestations that enjoy some degree of independence without becoming separate deities. This view can be found not only in Mesopotamian and Canaanite religions but also in ancient Israelite texts, some from the Bible itself and some recovered recently by archaeologists. Hints regarding Yhwh’s fragmentation into a number of geographic manifestations are known from ancient Hebrew inscriptions and a few scattered verses in the Hebrew Bible. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 38

Some biblical authors, embracing a theological intuition common throughout the ancient Near East, maintained that God differs radically from human beings because God’s body and self are completely unbounded. For these thinkers, who include the J and E authors of the Pentateuch, God has many bodies, and God’s person finds expression in more than one self, even as the underlying unity of the being called Yhwh endures… – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 124-126

Beginning with the next set of quotes, Sommer presents biblical passages which teach that the one, true God is more than one simultaneously-existing person. It is critical to keep in mind that Sommer is discussing biblical teaching of divine multiplicity of personhood (Complex Monotheism) from the oldest portions of the Hebrew Bible. Some scholars refer to these portions of the Pentateuch as J and E texts. The important point is that these biblical passages come from the oldest parts of the Bible which cover the earliest part of human and Jewish history. This again confirms that Complex Monotheism was taught in Biblical Judaism before the emergence of monotheism in Greek philosophy. Therefore, Complex Monotheism has an authentic origin in the Hebrew Bible that is not the result of Greek thought.

Even stronger examples of the fluidity of divine selfhood in ancient Israel come from elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible. The most prominent evidence comes from texts ascribed to J and E strands of the Pentateuch. In many passages, the word (mal’akh – literally “messenger, but usually translated as “angel”) means a small-scale manifestation of God’s own presence, and the distinction between the messenger and God is murky. This mal’akh is something very similar to an avatar in Indian religions, and one wonders whether “avatar” might not be a better translation of the term when used this way, rather than “angel.” The mal’akh in these cases is not a being separate from Yhwh whom Yhwh sent on a mission; rather, it is a part of the deity that can act on its own. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 40

The tent of meeting found in the E strand of the Pentateuch, which is one of the fluidity traditions…For E, Yhwh can have multiple bodies, and therefore no single location can claim a monopoly on the sacred…a number of JE stories that touch on similar themes and help flesh out the fluidity traditions’ attitudes toward sacred space. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 109

In the following quotes, Sommer points to God’s visit with Abraham in Genesis 18-19 as an example of early biblical teaching attesting to the one, true God’s multiplicity of personhood.

Genesis 18, a J text, provides one of the most revealing cases. At the outset of that chapter, we read, “Yhwh manifested Himself to Abraham amidst the trees of Mamre while Abraham was sitting at the entrance of his tent, at the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and saw three men coming toward him” (Genesis 18.1-2). The juxtaposition of these two sentences (which are from a single Pentateuchal source) implies that Yhwh appears in the form of three men, or, at least in the form of one of the three men. 8 Abraham, however, does not realize that his visitors are not human. He directs his attention especially to one of these men, whom he addresses in the singular, using the obsequious courtesy normal in the ancient Near East: “My Lord, if you find me acceptable, please do not pass by your servant” (18.3). All three men subsequently speak in 18.9; in 18.10 one visitor, still not identified explicitly, predicts or promises to return months later, at which time Abraham will have a son. Thus this visitor speaks prophetically, which is to say, in God’s voice, though whether this is because the visitor is God or merely represents God is not made clear. (The alternation between singular and plural continues throughout this passage.) Finally, in 18.13 the narrator stops being coy and simply refers to one of the visitors as Yhwh. Two of the visitors leave, and the one who remains with Abraham is now clearly identified as Yhwh (18.22); Abraham’s knowledge is now parallel to the reader’s, for in the discussion that follows it is clear that Abraham now knows who the remaining Visitor is. The other two beings are subsequently refer to as angels (19.1) It is clear that Yhwh appears in bodily form to Abraham in this passage; what is less clear is whether all three bodies were Yhwh’s throughout, or whether all three were Yhwh’s at the outset of the chapter but only one of them is by its end, or whether the other two were merely servants (perhaps human, perhaps divine) who, for no clear reason, were accompanying Yhwh. In any event, the being who certainly was Yhwh was less than the deity’s full manifestation. The visitor was not recognizable as God to Abraham at the outset, and he (He?) acts with a humility unbecoming a deity as h/He stands waiting before Abraham (at least according to what even traditionalist scholars regard as the original text of verse 22). Further, even though the visitor is clearly identified as Yhwh by the middle of the chapter and refers to God in the first person while speaking, h/He announces h/His intention to “come down” from heaven to observe Sodom and Gomorrah in verse 21 – even though H/he is already down on earth at this point. This visitor clearly is and is not identical with Yhwh; more precisely, He is Yhwh, but is not all of Yhwh or the only manifestation of Yhwh; rather, He is an avatar, a “descent” of the heavenly God who does not encompass all of that God’s substance. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 40-41

Endnote 8: Most commentators avoid acknowledging this, but as Greenstein, “God of Israel,” 57, points out, “Although most exegetes both classical and modern day shy away from acknowledging that the Lord himself is one of Abraham’s three visitors, only such a reading accounts for the repeated sudden addresses of God to Abraham (e.g., vv. 13, 17, 20) and the fact that without assuming that the Lord is a member of the trio, the third visitor disappears without a trace (while the two travel to Sodom, cf. 18:16 and 19:1). Assume that God is one of the three, and there are no gaping holes in the plot and the verses make sense in their present sequence.” – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 199

The remarks Sommer makes at the close of the first quote above are of particular importance to our study. In the final sentences of the quote (from page 40-41 of his book,) Sommer points out that Genesis 19 distinguishes the person of YHWH that is visiting Abraham in Genesis 18 from another person who is also identified as YHWH. Below is the portion of Genesis 18-19 that Sommer is discussing.

In the first section of the text, we can see that YHWH explains to Abraham that his intention is to go down to Sodom and Gomorrah to see if they are as sinful as he has heard (v.20-21.) After conversing further with Abraham (v.22-32,) YHWH departs for Sodom and Gomorrah just as he told Abraham in verses 20-21. Genesis 19 immediately begins after Genesis 18:33’s statement that YHWH began to head toward Sodom and Gomorrah.

Genesis 18:20 And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous; 21 I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know. 22 And the men turned their faces from thence, and went toward Sodom: but Abraham stood yet before the LORD. 23 And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?...26 And the LORD said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes…30 And he said unto him, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak: Peradventure there shall thirty be found there. And he said, I will not do it, if I find thirty there. 31 And he said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord: Peradventure there shall be twenty found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for twenty’s sake. 32 And he said, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten’s sake. 33 And the LORD went his way, as soon as he had left communing with Abraham: and Abraham returned unto his place. 19:1 And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom.

Genesis 19:1-20 continues to chronicle these events and provides the account of Lot’s family and the two angels who were with YHWH when he visited Abraham. After Lot and his family escape the cities, verse 24 reports on YHWH’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah just as YHWH told Abraham in Genesis 18.

Genesis 19:23 The sun was risen upon the earth when Lot entered into Zoar. 24 Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven; 25 And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.

It is important to note, that Genesis 19:24 depicts two figures who are both identified as YHWH. One of these figures is the person who visited Abraham. This person of YHWH is on earth somewhere near Sodom and Gomorrah just as Genesis 18 stated. However, Genesis 19:24 mentions another person who is also identified as YHWH who is in heaven. According to this passage, there are two persons who are identified as YHWH, one is on earth, the other is in heaven. This is exactly what Sommer describes above in his discussion of Genesis 18-19.

Furthermore, the presence of YHWH in two figures (one on earth and one in heaven) is also detailed in other biblical texts. Like Genesis 18-19, Psalm 20 depicts God as being present in heaven and on earth at the same time.

Multiplicity of Divine Embodiment in Ancient Israel – I need not pause to demonstrate that Israelites believed Yhwh dwelt in heaven. Many biblical verses confirm that this notion typifies ancient Israelite theologies. However, I hope to show that some Israelites believed that Yhwh, like the deities of Mesopotamia and Canaan, could also be present in more than one specific location on earth – as well as on a throne in heaven – at any given time. Thus a biblical text can speak in a single breath of God being present both on earth and in heaven. Psalm 20 asks God to send help from the sanctuary at Zion (verse 3), where the supplicant offers a gift (verse 4), but this text goes on to describe God as responding to the plea from a palace in heaven (verse 7). This psalm is not sloppy or vague in the way it imagines God; rather, the psalmist, following a pattern of thought found elsewhere in the ancient Near East, believes that God could be physically present in an earthly location and a heavenly one as well. If a deity can be present in many particular locations on earth at once, of course the deity can also be present in a heavenly body at the same time as well. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 44

Other texts also present this same concept of YHWH being simultaneously present in particular locations in heaven and on earth.

Texts that display the Zion Sabaoth theology often refer to God as (“Yhwh of hosts [ = Sabaoth, seba’ot], who sits on the cherubim”). Sometimes they use the abbreviated title (“Yhwh of hosts” [ = Sabaoth, seba’ot]), and more rarely, we find just the words “the one who sits enthroned on the cherubim.” These phrases appear especially in texts that emphasize God’s protecting presence in the temple on Mount Zion (e.g., Psalm 27.2-6, 46.8, 48.9 [note the references to the temple or hosue of God and its courtyards]; Isaiah 8.18, 18.7). Some of these texts associate Yhwh’s presence with the ark, which serves as a footstool or perhaps in some instances a container for God. A good example bringing together many of these themes is found in Psalm 99…Third, at least some of the Zion-Sabaoth texts acknowledge that God can be literally present in more than one place. Some of them openly assert that God is located both in a heavenly palace and in the Jerusalem temple. Thus Psalm 76 begins by telling us that Yhwh “is in His sheltered spot, Shalem [a poetic form of the name Jerusalem], and His dwelling place is in Zion” (verse 3). But it goes on to locate Yhwh in heaven, when God promulgates justice (verse 9). Similarly, God is found both in the temple and in heaven in Psalm 14.2,7 and 20.3,7. These texts exemplify the fluidity model discussed in Chapters 1-2. There is no reason to see a contradiction in these texts or to view their language as metaphorical. For them, God is unbounded by the law of the conservation of matter, so that the bodies of Yhwh can reside in both heaven and Zion. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 85-86…98

The next relevant passage to our chronicling of Complex Monotheism within the Hebrew Bible is Genesis 32. Below Sommer discusses biblical accounts of Jacob’s encounter with an angel that are found in both Genesis 32 and Hosea 12. These biblical texts both discuss the same event in which God appears and interacts bodily as an angelic figure and is identified as YHWH both by the Jewish patriarch Jacob as well as by the third-party authors who wrote the text. (The English word “angel” is translated from the Hebrew word “malakh.”) As Hosea explains, ancient Jews understood the angel of YHWH as a manifestation of YHWH himself.

A similar phenomenon occurs in the famous J narrative in Genesis 32 in which Jacob wrestles with a being initially described simply as a “man” (32.25). One soon senses that this man is in fact some sort of otherworldly being, because he cannot remain on earth once the sun rises and because his name is a secret. (It is perfectly normal to find a text referring to an angel as an [man] in the Hebrew Bible; see Genesis 18.2, 19.1, Judges 13.16; Zechariah 1.8, 11; Daniel 9.21.) Jacob names the place of this encounter Peniel (“face of God”), saying “I have seen ‘elohim face to face, yet my life was saved” (32.31). The word ‘elohim can refer both to a lower ranking divine being (or angel) and to the God also known as Yhwh, and it is not clear which meaning the text intends here. Hosea 12.4-6, interestingly takes it to mean both as it summarizes this story in poetic parallelism: “In his might he wrestled ‘elohim, He wrestled an angel (mal’akh) and prevailed….It was Yhwh, the God of hosts; Yhwh was His name.” One might initially suggest that in the first of these lines the word ‘elohim means the plural noun “divine beings” and not the singular noun “God,” but the text goes on immediately to identify the ‘elohim: “It was Yhwh…” (12.6). In other words, in Hosea 12 the being who wrestled with Jacob was not a mal’akh who also could be called an ‘elohim; rather, it was the God Yhwh, who can also be termed a mal’akh. The reason for the apparent confusion between God and angel in these verses from Hosea is simply that both passages, Hosea 12 and Genesis 32, reflect a belief that the selves of an angel and the God Yhwh could overlap or that a small-scale manifestation or fragment of Yhwh can be termed a mal’akh. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 41

In his books, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Jewish-Christian author and scholar of Near Eastern languages, Dr. Michael Brown provides the encounter between Jacob and God as it is recorded in the Targum. We can see that this Aramaic translation attests that Jews in the first century AD shared Hosea’s idenfication of the angel of YHWH with YHWH based on Jacob’s encounter in Genesis 32.

Jacob, who wrestled with the angel of the LORD, said that he had seen God face to face (Gen. 32:30). The Targum changed this to, “I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.” The exact same change is made in Judges 13:22. – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 29-30

Elsewhere Sommer explains that this angelic figure that appeared to Jacob is both God and yet somehow distinct from God. Passages like these, which refer to this angelic figure (the angel or “malakh” of YHWH) attest to Complex Monotheism (one God who is manifest as more than one person) within Biblical Judaism. In these texts that we have been examining, the angel of YHWH is YHWH and yet he is also distinct from YHWH. Thus, showing the idea that YHWH is more than one person (1. the angel of YHWH and 2. the YHWH that the angel of YHWH is distinguished from.)

At first glance the relationship between Yhwh and angels in these passages appears baffling. Yet these passages can be readily understood as examples of the fluidity of divine selfhood so common in the ancient Near East. Yhwh could be present in a body (or perhaps several bodies) resembling that of a human, but this was not Yhwh’s only body. Angels, in some passages, were part of God, though not all of God. They may have acted separately from Yhwh; after all, the divine being in Genesis 32 was unable to tarry on earth once the sun rose, which is not the case for Yhwh Himself in other passages, such as Genesis 3 or 18. But to some degree, they overlapped with God and could even be referred to as Yhwh. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 43-44

Endnote 16: Cf. Greenberg, Understanding, 70, according to whom the term mal’akh Yhwh “here, as everywhere, refers to a visible manifestation of Yhwh, essentially indistinguishable from Yhwh himself…except that here the manifestation is not anthropomorphic but fiery. There is, then, no special difficulty in the shift from ‘angel’ to Yhwh in verses 2 and 4.” – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 200

This conception of an angel as something other than a messenger in these texts has long been recognized by biblical scholars. Richard Elliot Friedman explains the theology behind these passages especially clearly: “These texts indicate that angels are…conceived of here as expressions of God’s presence….God, in this conception, can…make Himself known to humans by a sort of emanation from the Godhead that is visible to human eyes. It is a hypostasis, a concrete expression of the divine presence….In some ways an angel is an identifiable thing itself, and in some ways it is merely a representation of divine presence in human affairs.” 25 The expression of God’s presence known as the mal’akh is accessible precisely because it does not encompass God’s entirety. “The angel,” James Kugel writes, “is not some lesser order of divine being; it is God Himself, but God unrecognized, God intruding into ordinary reality.” Similarly, S. A. Meier has pointed out that the ancient Greek and Latin translations of these biblical passages sometimes include the word “angel” where the standard text preserved in Jewish tradition (the Masoretic text, or MT) merely reads “Yhwh.” Sometimes the translations drop “angel” where it is present in the MT. These textual variations strengthen the impression that the boundary between angel and Yhwh was regarded in the texts underlying the translations as indistinct. 28 – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 43

As Sommer explains below, this same person of YHWH (the angel of YHWH) is the one who also appeared to and commissioned Moses in Exodus 3.

A further example of this understanding of mal’akh as a humble and incomplete manifestation of Yhwh is found in another JE passage, Exodus 3-4. There we are initially told that a mal’akh appeared to Moses (3.2), but in the remainder of the chapter, it is Yhwh Himself who converses with the shepherd-turned-prophet. The famous fire in this passage, which burned in the bush without burning the bush, is nothing other than a small-scale manifestation of God. 16 This humble manifestation resembles the larger one that would take place at the same mountain not long thereafter, when the Israelites received law at Sinai. (The letter bet in the words, [Exodus 3.2], is the bet essentiae: These words should thus be translated, “Yhwh’s small-scale manifestation appeared to him as [or: in the form of] a flame of fire from the midst of the bush.] – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 41-42

Throughout the Exodus account, the angel (“malakh”) of YHWH is continually depicted as YHWH God and yet also as distinct from YHWH God.

An especially revealing case occurs in the J text found in Exodus 33.1-3, which immediately follows the story of the Golden Calf. God, still incensed at the people, announces that He will not accompany the people on the journey, lest He destroy them on the way. Rather, His mal’akh will accompany them. But this mal’akh is not quite independent of God; God uses the first person to describe its activities, not the third (“I shall expel”). The accompanying angel in this passage is the same one JE mentioned in Exodus 23.20-3. There, the people were told they must obey the angel who travels with them because the angel incorporates a manifestation of God’s presence or a hypostasized manifestation of God known as God’s shem (“Name”): “I will now send an angel in front of you…Take care with him and obey him…for My Name is within him”, Exodus 23.20-21). As we shall see in the subsequent chapter, by stating that His name is in the angel Yhwh indicates that the angel carries something of Yhwh’s own essence or self; it is not an entirely separate entity. But it clearly is not fully identical with Yhwh either; after all, the point of the mal’akh in this case is that God will not travel with the people lest the full presence and anger of God destroy them. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 42

In his works, Brown recites observations made by Jewish biblical scholar Nahum Sarna on the same subject Sommer discusses in the quote above.

Nahum M. Sarna – Nahum Mattathias Sarna (March 27, 1923–June 23, 2005) (Hebrew: נחום סרנה) was a modern Biblical scholar who is best known for the study of Genesis and Exodus represented in his Understanding Genesis (1966) and in his contributions to the first two volumes of the JPS Torah Commentary (1989/91). He was also part of the translation team for the Kethuvim section of the Jewish Publication Society's translation of the Bible, known as Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures (The New JPS Translation according to the Traditional Hebrew Text)… He was a lecturer at Gratz College in Philadelphia from 1951 to 1957, a librarian and then associate professor of Bible at the Jewish Theological Seminary, respectively, from 1957 to 1963, and from 1963 to 1965. – wikipedia.org

19. According to the Jewish biblical scholar Nahum Sarna, “From several texts it is clear that the demarcation between God and his angel is often blurred [citing examples from Gen. 16:7-9, 11; 22:11-12, 15-18; Exod. 3:2, 4; Judg. 6:11-23]. At the Exodus from Egypt it is now God (Exod. 13:21), now his angel (14:9) who goes ahead of the Israelite camp.” 45, Footnote 45: Nahum Sarna, Genesis, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 383 (Excursus 10, Angelology). – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 27

Below Sommer explains that the biblical presentation of YHWH as one God who existed as more than one person continues after the Pentateuch.

Evidence of this sort of angel is not limited to the Pentateuch. In the story of the commissioning of Gideon, a mal’akh appears to Gideon from underneath a tree and speaks to him (Judges 6.11-13), but as the story progresses, we are told simply “Yhwh turned to face him and said…” (verse 14). Like Abraham in Genesis 18, Gideon at first does not realize that his visitor is divine. As James Kugel observes Gideon “is certainly unaware that this is “the angel of the LORD,” or else he would do what everyone else does in such circumstances, bow down in reverential awe. Instead, he fixes on the stranger’s pious greeting in order to give him a somewhat impious retort [which can be paraphrased:] “Oh yeah? If the LORD is with us, where is He now?” Then the angel turns to him and says, “Go in this strength of yours and save Israel yourself from the Midianites – am I not the one who is sending you?” Certainly this should have tipped him off: who could this “I” be if not God Himself? Yet it is only after the next exchange, when he is told, “But I will be with you and you will defeat the Midianites to a man,” that Gideon begins to suspect that the visitor is not an ordinary human. Even so, he is still not sure: he wants proof, a sign…It is only after the flame magically consumes the offering and the angel himself disappears that Gideon’s moment of confusion may truly be said to be over.” The reader may share some of Gideon’s confusion. The text variously identifies the speaker as Yhwh (verses 14, 16) and Yhwh’s mal’akh (12, 20, 21). Indeed, Gideon’s visitor sometimes speaks in the first person of God (verses 14, 16) and sometimes in the third (verse 12). One might want to argue that Yhwh was located in heaven and spoke through a lower ranking divine being sent to earth with a message, but it is specifically Yhwh who turns His face toward Gideon in verse 14. At the same time, we are told (verse 22) that Gideon saw Yhwh’s mal’akh, and even though it was Yhwh who turned to face Gideon, it was the mal’akh who left the place (verse 21). The text seems self-contradictory only if one insists that an angel is a being separate from Yhwh. On the other hand, if one can understand angel as a small-scale manifestation of God or even a being with whom Yhwh’s self overlaps, the text coheres perfectly well. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 42-43

Below Sommer reviews the evidences for Complex Monotheism within the Hebrew Bible. Again we should note how many of these passages are from the earliest portions of the Bible demonstrating the presence of Complex Monotheistic conceptions of God in Biblical Judaism itself long before Greek philosophy exhibits monotheism.

We have seen that several lines of evidence from both biblical and extra-biblical sources show that the conception of fluid divine selfhood found in Canaan and Mesopotamia was also known among Yhwhistic Israelites. This evidence comes from several sets of material: J and E texts, a narrative about a hero from the tribe of Manasseh (Judges 6), an eighth-century poem from northern Israel (Hosea 12.4-5), and eighth-century inscriptions from Kuntillet Ajrud. These texts, of course, do not speak of Yhwh overlapping with another deity altogether (as Ea overlapping with Marduk, for example in Enuma Elish). That form of fluidity was impossible in the monotheistic worldview of these texts, which never mention a deity other than Yhwh and Yhwh’s various manifestations. But these texts do speak of Yhwh as fragmenting into local manifestations, and they do depict emanations of Yhwh’s presence into mal’akhim who were part of God but not all of God. Several of these texts tend to locate the fluidity tradition in the patriarchal narratives and thus to connect it either with the earliest period of Israelite history or with the realm of family piety, which the Bible often portrays through narratives describing the patriarchs. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 54-57

As was the case with the fluid identity, these texts tend to associate multiple embodiment with an early period of Israelite history and/or with the realm of family piety, expressed with reference to the eras of the patriarchs and of Moses. It is of considerable import that these conceptions of the divine – fluidity of self and multiplicity of embodiment – appear in the same sets of texts. Indeed, the two conceptions come together in Genesis 31.11-13 and 48.15-16…At the end of his life, Jacob again identifies the deity who saved him at Bethel as a mal’akh: “[Jacob] blessed Joseph and said: The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac were steadfast, The one who shepherded me from the beginning of my life until today, The mal’akh who saved me from all misfortune – May He bless these lads.” (Genesis 48.15-16) By now, it is no surprise to see that the parallelism of these poetic lines (God…//God…//The mal’akh…) demonstrates that Jacob equates God with a mal’akh; this is just another example of the phenomenon of the small-scale manifestation of God discussed earlier. Of greater importance is the plausible suggestion of several scholars that the mal’akh Jacob mentions here is the same one he referred to in Genesis 31.13 and 35.4 (the only mal’akh associated with Jacob)….Here, the ideas of multiple embodiment and fluid selfhood show themselves to be one and the same….These verses confirm my thesis that these two perceptions of divinity parallel and reinforce each other. In fact, they are simply two instances of a single theological intuition. The same equation also occurs in Hosea 12.4-6. We saw earlier that Hosea 12.4 provides another example of the mal’akh who is a small-scale manifestation of Yhwh;…Like the verses in Genesis, this passage attests to the nexus of the two notions that have concerned us: multiplicity of divine embodiment and fluidity of divine selfhood. These twin conceptions seem to have been especially at home in northern Israel….The evidence is not exclusively northern, to be sure:…the JE texts in the form we know from the Pentateuch are almost certainly from Jerusalem. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 54-57

The quote below is excerpted from our Trinity Study. In it we discuss many of the same passages that Sommer has been presenting in his chronicling of Complex Monotheism within the Hebrew Bible. We include these remarks here alongside Sommer’s presentation in order to demonstrate the exceeding number of biblical passages that depict YHWH existing as more than one person at the same time.

We saw from Genesis 16, Genesis 22, Exodus 3, Exodus 14, Numbers 22, Judges 6, Judges 13, Zechariah 3, and Zechariah 12 that the figure known as the angel of YHWH is identified as YHWH. We also saw how seeing the angel of YHWH was regarded as seeing YHWH…In addition, from Genesis 21, Genesis 22, Numbers 22, Judges 5, Judges 6, Judges 13, 2 Samuel 24/1 Chronicles 21, 2 Kings 19/2 Chronicles 32/Isaiah 37, Zechariah 1, and Zechariah 3 we saw a distinction made between a figure known as YHWH and the figure known as the angel of YHWH. In some of those passages, YHWH and the angel of YHWH are depicted simultaneously, indicating that God does not simply switch back and forth between different forms. In other passages, YHWH and the angel of YHWH are seen interacting and speaking to and about one another. They express their own conscious distinction from one another.”

(For a more in-depth examination of passages from the Hebrew Bible which display Complex Monotheism please see our Trinity Study.)

We will continue our examination of the evidence of Complex Monotheism within the Hebrew Bible in the section below.