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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


Introduction: the Purpose of this Study

In our other articles we address various aspects of Jewish and Christian theology from other vantage points. In the Christianity and Judaism section of our Why Christianity study, we present major biblical arguments that New Testament teachings are the legitimate form of Judaism and that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah expected in the Old Testament. In our Rabbinical Studies series, we presented the work of Jewish-Christian scholar and author Dr. Michael Brown chronicling correspondence between rabbinic traditions and New Testament teaching on important theological and messianic issues. In our Trinity Study, we examined and exegeted key passages throughout the Hebrew Bible, which depict the Jewish God YHWH as one God who has revealed himself as more than one simultaneously-existing, divine Person.

The purpose of this study is to take a more in-depth look at a few of the major theological issues that separate modern Judaism and Christianity. Our investigation will focus on historical data related to the theology of biblical Israel and the development of various sects of Judaism whose views came to differ from one another on key religious issues. Two books will be relied upon heavily for the relevant historical material. The two books are: Two Powers in Heaven by Alan F. Segal and The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel by Dr. Benjamin D. Sommer.

Before we proceed into our study, it is useful to provide biographical information on these authors and their credentials.

Alan F. Segal – Alan F. Segal (1945 – February 13, 2011) was a professor of religion and Ingeborg Rennert Professor of Jewish Studies at Barnard College.[1] Segal was born in Worcester, Massachusetts. He attended Amherst College (B.A., 1967), Brandeis University (M.A., 1969), Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (Bachelor of Hebrew Letters, 1971), and Yale University (M.A., 1971; M.Phil., 1973; and Ph.D., 1975).[1] Segal was an expert especially in the history and religious traditions of Judaism and Christianity of the Roman period, and on the Semitic languages in use in Israel in that period. His scholarly reputation commenced with his landmark book, Two Powers in Heaven (1977), in which he explored early references in rabbinic texts that he proposed were directed against beliefs of Jewish Christians and gnostics. – wikipedia.org

Dr. Benjamin D. Sommer, professor in the Department of Bible and Ancient Semitic Languages at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. He was previously the Director of the Crown Family Center for Jewish Studies at Northwestern University. Dr. Sommers serves as the editor of the Psalms volumes of the Jewish Publication Society Bible Commentary Series and is writing the first volume of that five volume set. His first book, A Prophet Reads Scripture: Allusion in Isaiah 40-66 (1998), was awarded the Salo Wittmayer Baron Prize by the American Academy of Jewish Research. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel

Both of these authors are theological historians of high degree. Just as important, for our purposes, is the fact that neither is a Christian. In fact, both men are non-Christian Jews who are committed to Judaism. Neither scholar is seeking to legitimize Christianity. And neither has any bias towards proving Christianity. This is helpful because it will alleviate concerns about prejudicing results in order to force or illegitimately fabricate support for Christianity in the Hebrew Bible or among ancient Jews.

This study is intended for Jews and Gentiles who hold that the Hebrew Bible is God’s Word. It is for those who hold that the Hebrew scriptures are divine revelation. This study will not involve presenting arguments in favor of that position. Nor will we spend time arguing against the contrary view that the bible is simply a human artifact or the product of human ingenuity and human thought. A prerequisite of this study is the rejection of the premise that that bible is merely a human invention.

The material found in this study may be of interest and relevant to several groups within the Judeo-Christian tradition including: Trinitarian Christians, non-Christian Jews, and non-Trinitarian Christians. Trinitarian Christian may find this study to be of interest because it will trace the biblical and historical origins of the fundamental concepts of the Trinitarian understanding of God. Non-Trinitarian Christians may find it interesting because the history of the non-Trinitarian conception of God will also be presented in the context of ancient Judaism. Likewise, non-Christian Jews may find this study interesting because it will examine the major theological differences between modern Judaism and Christianity and how and when those differences emerged. Given that our potential audience may include non-Christians we will refer to the Old Testament as the Hebrew Bible throughout the study.

One of the major issues that we will examine concerns the proper conception of God. Christianity believes that the God of Israel has revealed Himself in the Hebrew bible as one God, in three persons. This view of God is commonly referred to as the Trinity. Rabbinic Judaism rejects the Christian Trinitarian concept and instead believes that the biblical God is a single, simple unity: one God who is one person.

For the purposes of clarity, the explanation of the Trinity that we will be using in this study is provided below. It is the view of the Trinity that we believe is the most biblically, historically, and conceptually accurate. (The statement below is excerpted from the Statement of Beliefs page on our website.)

Christian Conception of God: The biblical understanding of the Trinity is a composite of several scriptural facts. These facts include that biblical descriptions indicate that more than one divine Person exists at a single time, that they’ve always existed, and that these Persons interact and communicate with one another. Each of these three divine Persons is eternal and uncreated. And each of these three Persons are Creator to everything else that exist. All three Persons are referred to in the bible using the divine name Yahweh or Jehovah. This name signifies their eternal, uncreated nature because of its derivative meaning as “I am” or “the existing one.” These three divine Persons (the Father, the Word, and the Spirit) are one in substance. They are three Persons, yet one Being. In the bible, the sonship and subordination of the Word of God is solely related to the Word’s incarnation as a human whereby He became part of creation Himself through His humanity and thus, became a son to God our Creator and Father. Prior to the incarnation the concept of sonship cannot be correctly used to refer to the Word’s relationship to the Godhead. The Word of God is the person of the Trinity who is interactive with man throughout the Old Testament. God the Father has never been seen by any man.

(A detailed biblical study and explanation of this point of view can be found in our Trinity Study. While many of the points we make in the Trinity Study correspond to the material that will be examine below, the Trinity Study was completed several years before we read the books and the material that will be presented here.)

Before we proceed it is useful to outline the basic course of this study. The sections of this study are provided below. There are four of them. In Section One, we will present basic information related to terminology, theological concepts, relevant religious writings, and historical chronologies. Section Two will feature an investigation of Jewish and Christian concepts of God focusing on the biblical and post-biblical Jewish writing in its historical context. Section Three will include additional assessment of other critical theological topics involved in conventional views regarding differences between Judaism and Christianity. And Section Four will summarize the major points of the preceding study and provide conclusions regarding major issues that have been discussed.

Section One
1. Introduction: the Purpose of this Study
2. Definitions and Terminology 
3. Timeline of Important Jewish Religious Writings
4. Timeline of Potentially Relevant, Non-Biblical, Gentile Religious Thought and Writings

Section Two
5. Eliminating Potential Sources of Complex Monotheism
6. Greek Philosophical Religion, Ancient Semitic Religion, and Complex Monotheism
7. Testing the Hypothesis that Jewish Forms of Complex Monotheism Were the Result of Borrowing from Greek Complex Monotheism
8. The Hebrew Bible Teaches Complex Monotheism Long Before Greek Philosophical Religion – Part 1
9. The Hebrew Bible Teaches Complex Monotheism Long Before Greek Philosophical Religion – Part 2
10. The Continuation of Complex Monotheism within Judaism after the Close of the Hebrew Bible
11. Philo Affirms Complex Monotheism in Pre-rabbinic Judaism
12. The Criteria for Maintaining or Violating Biblical Monotheism and New Testament Christianity within the Context of Pre-Rabbinic Judaism
13. The Uniqueness and Lack of Uniqueness of New Testament Christianity as a Sect of Judaism
14. Complex Monotheism First Rejected by Late, Second-Century Rabbis and Medieval Jewish Philosophers
15. Finding Evidence of Simple Monotheism and Objections to Complex Monotheism within Judaism Prior to the Rabbinic Period

Section Three
16. What Does Separate Biblical Judaism from New Testament Christianity?
17. Regarding Jesus as a False Messiah
18. The Repudiation of the Sinai Covenant and the Veto on the Binding Force of Jewish Law
19. The Rejection of God’s Sovereign Choice of a Particular Family and that Family’s Descendants
20. Christianity’s Belief in a Dying and Rising God
21. Conclusions Regarding Biblical Judaism and New Testament Christianity

Section Four
22. Summary, Conclusions, and Implications


Definitions and Terminology

Now that we have defined our purpose and our audience, it is critical to define some key terminology that we will encounter throughout this study.

As we explain in our Trinity Study:

“When it comes to terminology, perhaps the place to start is the name of God itself. Throughout this study we will be using the four-letter designation ‘YHWH’ for ‘Yahweh’ or ‘Jehovah,’ the proper name of God, revealed and used throughout the Old Testament. (Yahweh and Jehovah are simply two alternate pronunciations of the same name.)

YHWHyahweh — compare tetragrammaton. – Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary

Tetragrammaton – the four Hebrew letters usually transliterated YHWH or JHVH that form a biblical proper name of God — compare yahweh. – Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary

Typically, English translations of the Bible use the all-capitalized word ‘LORD’ in place of YHWH or JHVH. While completely acceptable for normal usage, the use of a common term such as ‘Lord’ in place of ‘YHWH’ tends to down play the fact that this Hebrew word is the proper name for God. As such, the four-letter designation YHWH has identity value. For example, in English, there are many individuals that might be deemed lords. So, if a text were to refer to the angel of God simply as ‘the LORD,’ it would not carry the same connotation as reading the same sentence referring to the angel of God by the actual proper name Yahweh or Jehovah. The use of the proper name conveys a specific identity where as the English term ‘lord,’ even if capitalized, loses the attachment to a specific identity, namely in this case the identity of God.”

Although we did not know it at the time we were working on the Trinity Study, this method of using the tetragrammaton (four-letter designation) to identify the God of Israel is the same approach employed by Segal and Sommer in their books.

Here are a few additional matters of terminology: The God of ancient Israel, like all deities of the ancient Near East, has a personal name, spelled in Hebrew with the four letters yod, waw, and hey. Most translations render this name in English as “LORD,” in uppercase letters, to differentiate it from the noun “Lord,” but by rendering a personal name with this noun, these translations miss something crucial in the original meaning. I prefer simply to transliterate this name. Following Jewish tradition, however, I never pronounce this name out loud…Therefore, this name always appears as “Yhwh” in this book, even when I am citing the title of an article or book that spells it differently. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. x

In their books, both Segal and Sommer address the theological conception expressed in the Trinity and how it was viewed by Jewish religious leaders and writers during the biblical and post-biblical periods.

The phrase “the theological conception expressed in the Trinity” refers not to the specific number of divine persons, but rather to the idea that YHWH exists as more than one divine person. The Trinitarian concept holds that YHWH God is three persons in one divine being. As we will see other Jewish sects and important Jewish religious figures sometimes may have conceived of YHWH as more than one person as well. However, unlike the Trinitarian concept, they may have believed YHWH to exist as only two persons, for example. The point is that the exact number of divine persons is not the critical issue. The critical issue is whether biblical and ancient Jews understood the one true God, YHWH, to be only one person or more than one person.

In their books, Segal and Sommer employ particular terminologies for dealing with Jewish conceptions of YHWH as more than one person. We are already familiar with the Christian term Trinity. It is also useful to become familiar with the terms these authors use so that we can understand what concepts these terms are referring to when we encounter them in passages from their books.

Throughout his book, Segal uses the Talmudic term “two powers.” As we will see, Talmudic texts refer to Jewish and non-Jewish groups who believed there were two figures who were YHWH. More precisely, the term “Two Powers” refers to theological conceptions of God which featured at least two, simultaneously-existing figures of YHWH. Segal refers to these multiple, simultaneously-existing figures of YHWH as “hypostases” and “divine manifestations.” To elucidate how these terms are used, we have included some examples of their use in Segal’s book, Two Powers in Heaven.

In the first example, Segal cites a Talmudic passage that contains a conversation involving the famed, second-century Jewish leader Rabbi Akiba (alternatively Akiva, circa 110-135 AD)

Akiba ben Joseph – The Palestinian rabbi Akiba ben Joseph (ca. 50-ca. 135) was a founder of rabbinic Judaism. He developed a method of Hebrew scriptural interpretation. – Encyclopedia of World Biography

Akiba ben Joseph – Scholarly opinion is divided on the extent of Akiba's participation in an ill-fated rebellion against Rome (132–135) led by Bar Kokhba (originally Simeon ben Koziba). Some consider Akiba to have been the spiritual force behind the uprising. Others take note of the Talmudic report that Akiba considered Bar Kokhba to be the promised messianic king but see no evidence of further action on his part. – Encyclopedia Britannica

Akiba ben Joseph – Akiba ben Joseph , c.AD 50-c.AD 135, Jewish Palestinian religious leader, one of the founders of rabbinic Judaism. Although the facts of his life are obscured by legend, he is said to have been a poor and illiterate shepherd who began his rabbinic studies at the age of forty. Tradition views him as one of the first Jewish scholars to systematically compile Hebrew oral laws, the Mishna. He is believed to have been executed by the Romans in the aftermath of the messianic revolt of Bar Kokba (AD 132-135), though the extent of his participation is a matter of controversy. – Columbia Encyclopedia

As Segal explains, this Talmudic excerpt recounts Akiba’s understanding of the identities of two figures that are described in Daniel 7:9. In Daniel’s text, the figures are identified as “the Ancient of Days” and “one like the son of man.” As Segal also explains, the Talmud recounts that Rabbi Akiba identified the two figures as YHWH and the Davidic Messiah. Comments by Akiba’s contemporary, Rabbi Yosi, evoked a further response from Akiba. Again, as Segal explains, prompted by Yosi’s remarks, Rabbi Akiba also agreed that both of the figures described in Daniel 7:9 were “divine, one God in two hypostases.” Though it differs in number from the Trinity, the underlying concept is similar: one God who is more than one person.

One passage says: His throne was fiery flames (Dan. 7:9) and another passage says: Until thrones were placed; and One that was ancient of days did sit – there is no contradiction; One (throne) for Him, and one for David: this is the view of R. Akiba. Said R. Yosi the Galilean to him: Akiba, how long will you treat the divine presence as profane! Rather, one for justice and one for grace. Did he accept (this explanation) from him, or did he not accept it? – come and hear: One for justice and one for grace; this is the view of R. Akiba. 21 (Footnote 21: b Hag. 14a Tr Epstein. Cf. also b. Sanhedrin 38a.) These two rabbis were perplexed by the seeming contradiction in the verses. In one place, more than one throne is indicated by the plural form of the noun. In another place “His (God’s) throne was fiery flames” implies only one throne. Does this mean that the “son of man” in the next verse was enthroned next to God? Rabbi Akiba (110-135 C.E.) affirms the possibility, stating that the other throne was for David. Akiba must be identifying the “son of man” with the Davidic messiah. Nor was R. Akiba alone in the rabbinic movement in identifying the figure in heaven as the messiah. There is some evidence that Judaism contained other traditions linking these verses in Daniel with the messiah. However plausible R. Akiba’s interpretation, it is opposed by his colleague, R. Yosi, who explicitly states that the throne is for a divine rather than a messianic figure. It is not clear that Akiba would have seen the two categories as contradictory. Yet, the outcome of that controversy was that R. Akiba agreed that the two thrones in heaven should symbolize the two aspects of God’s providence – His mercy and His justice. God is viewed as sitting on one throne when judging mercifully and on the other when judging by strict justice. It is significant that a central figure in the rabbinic movement like R. Akiba was alleged to have proposed messianic interpretations of Daniel 7:9. Ironically he subsequently reconsidered those opinions by substituting an opinion in which both figures in heaven were seen to be divine, one God in two hypostases. – Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, p. 47-49

In the second example from Segal, Segal uses the same terminology to explain that various Christian and Jewish groups of the first and second century AD understood themselves to be monotheists while at the same time espousing multiple, divine hypostases (or personal manifestations) of YHWH. We will return to this quote later in our study. Presently, the bolded sections are of interest to the current point under discussion.

Since we know from the previous passage that “two powers” referred to Christians and not extreme Gnostics, we have to conclude that “two powers” was a catch-all term for many different groups – including Christians, Gnostics, and Jews…The rabbis are saying that many varieties of Jewish sects – including Christians and Gnostics – are guilty of violating an essential premise of Judaism, even while they think they are exegeting scripture correctly. The rabbis are involved in the formulation of orthodoxy – a task necessary in their view because some Jewish sects have ceased to understand the theological center of Judaism….Although the designation is apt from the rabbinic perspective it is also exaggerated from the Christian one. In fact, neither apocalyptic, mystical, nor Christianized Judaism affirmed two separate deities. Each understood itself to be monotheistic, giving special emphasis to one divine hypostasis or manifestation. – Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, p. 58-59

In the next quote, Segal explains that Philo (the first century Jewish writer and philosopher) also accepted the idea of multiple, separate, divine hypostases of YHWH. (Like the New Testament, Philo identified one of these hypostases of YHWH as the Logos, or Word.) Again, we will return to this quote later in the study. For now, the bolded portions are of particular relevance.

When “place” refers to something divine revealed to man, as it did in the passage above, for Philo, it may mean God’s image, His logos. It is, in fact, impossible for a man to see God and live (Ex. 33:20). However, Moses and the elders see the image of God or everything “that is behind me” (Ex. 33:23). These are equivalent to the logos which as a second God can also be given the title “Lord.” (kyrios – YHWH). This doctrine, which allows that “place” is a divine creature called Lord, cannot strike us as innocent, especially when we know that “Lord” is synonymous with the tetragrammaton and when the structure of the argument resembles the heretical argument which R. Ishmael b. Yosi encountered at Gen. 19:24 which derived as second power in heaven, (who was the agent of God in the destruction of Sodom) from the second appearance of the divine name YHWH. By a similar method, Philo derives the idea that the logos is a separate, second divine hypostasis from the fact that “God” is repeated in “place of God” instead of using the pronoun (i.e., My place) as one would normally expect. Because of this, the logos is properly a god and may be called by the divine names. Philo is using an argument which R. Ishmael found dangerous. Furthermore he has paralleled the structure of the argument in the Mekhilta. The reasoning by which the name of God and the logos become equated is also familiar to us. In this same passage in On Dreams, Philo states: Here it gives us the title of “God” to His chief Word, not from any superstitious nicety in applying names, but with one aim before him, to use words to express facts. – Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, p. 162-163

From these quotes we can gain an idea of how Segal uses various terms. Segal is discussing various examples of ancient Jewish sects from the first century AD and earlier including: Christians, Jewish apocalypticists, and Philo. Though they may have differed on the exact number of divine persons, each of these Jewish religious perspectives believed that the one, true God, YHWH existed as multiple, simultaneously-present, divine figures which Segal calls “hypostases.”

In his book, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, Sommer uses similar terminology to discuss similar theological concepts. Again, an example is helpful.

In the quote below, Sommer discusses a figure identified in passages like Exodus 23 and 33 as the “angel of YHWH.” (In Hebrew, the word “angel” is “malakh.”) As Sommer explains, the angel (“malakh”) of YHWH is a hypostatic manifestation of God who himself is YHWH and who is also somehow different from YHWH.

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 anger of God destroy them. – Benjamin D. Sommers, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 42

Along with the terms hypostasis and divine manifestation, Sommer also employs the terms “fluidity,” “fragmentation,” and “multiplicity.” As the quotes below show, Sommer uses the term “fluidity” to refer to theological conceptions in which one God simultaneously exists as more than one person without undermining the deity’s unity.

Eastern fluidity traditions, in which a deity can have manifestations that are in some way separate but do not impugn the deity’s unity. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 254

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

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

Let me give a few examples of what I mean by fluidity of selfhood. First, I refer to a type of fluidity we might call fragmentation. Some divinities have a fluid self in the sense that there are several divinities with a single name who somehow are and are not the same deity….Somehow, it was possible for various local and even heavenly manifestations of a single god to be effectively identical with each other and also distinct from each other. This phenomenon indicates the first sort of fluidity of divine selfhood I treat here. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 13

It follows then, that what we saw earlier concerning the complex self of a god also applies to the god’s physical presence. The divine body, like the divine self, can be fragmented yet somehow remain unified. Any one body was part of the god, but did not exhaust the god’s fullness, just as a god’s self was not confined to one person. In short, gods’ bodies paralleled gods’ selves. Similarly, a human’s body paralleled a human’s self in that both human bodies and human selves lack this sort of fluidity. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 24

As we can see, Segal and Sommer are describing views held by ancient Jews which are very closely related to the Trinitarian concept of God. Although various Jewish groups may not have shared the Trinitarian belief in three divine persons, they did share the same fundamental, theological concept that is expressed in the Trinity: one God who exists as more than one person. Many of the terms Segal and Sommer employ in their books are the same terms that are commonly used to explain the Trinity.

Hypostasis – the substance or essential nature of an individual. – Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary

Trinity – The Christian doctrine of the Trinity, one of the most important in mainstream Christian faith, teaches the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three persons (Greek hypostases), [1] in One Divine Being (Greek: Ousia),[2] called the Godhead (from Old English Godhǣd, "God-hood"), the Divine Essence of God.[3] According to this doctrine, God exists as three persons but is one God, meaning that God the Son and God the Holy Spirit have exactly the same nature or being as God the Father in every way.[4]…Trinitarianism contrasts with Nontrinitarian positions which include Binitarianism (one deity/two persons), Unitarianism (one deity/one person)… - wikipedia.org

Hypostasis – Hypostasis (Gk.; pl. -ses). A technical term used in Christian formulations of the doctrine of the Trinity and of christology. In secular Gk. its most general meaning is ‘substance’, but it could also mean ‘objective reality’ as opposed to illusion (as in Aristotle), and ‘basis’ or ‘confidence’ (as in Hebrews 3. 14). In Christian writers until the 4th cent. it was also used interchangeably with ousia, ‘being’ or ‘substantial reality’. The term also came to mean ‘individual reality’ hence ‘person’. It was in this sense that it was enshrined, under the influence of the Cappadocian fathers, in the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity as ‘three hypostases in one ousia’. From this technical use, the term is applied to the substantiation of a metaphysical reality—e.g. the (possible) hypostasization of Wisdom in Jewish Wisdom literature. – The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, encyclopedia.com

Hypostasis (philosophy) – In Christian usage, the Greek word hypostasis (πόστσις) means beneath-standing or underpinning and, by extension, the existence of some thing. In the ecumenical councils the terminology was clarified and standardized, so that the formula "Three Hypostases in one Ousia" came to be accepted as an epitome of the orthodox doctrine of the Holy Trinity, that The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit are three distinct 'hypostases' in one God. The word is also used to refer to the divinity of Christ, which is another facet of Christ along with his humanity (see also Hypostatic union). The word 'hypostasis' has been met with controversy and confusion over the years, especially in the conversations between those who consider it to be a violation of the principle of Monotheism and those who do not. – wikipedia.org

These types of terms and phrases (hypostases, divine manifestation, fluidity of divine selfhood, multiplicity of persons, Trinity, Two Powers, etc.) are all used to discuss the same theological issue, our conception of God. Is the one, true God (YHWH, the biblical God, the God of Israel) one person or more than one person?

For the purposes of simplicity and consistency, we will refer to views that conceive of YHWH as one person using the term Simple Monotheism. Simple Monotheism is used to convey and combine the belief in one God (monotheism) with the belief that God is a simple, singular unity (one person.) Alternatively, we will use the term Complex Monotheism to refer to views which conceive of YHWH as one God who exists as more than one person (regardless of the exact number of divine persons.) In this way Complex Monotheism connects the belief in one God (monotheism) with the belief that God is complex (or compound) in his unity (one God who is more than one person) and yet remains one Being.

It is important to be clear about what we mean when we use the word “complex” (or "compound") in reference to monotheistic views of God. Even though we use the term “complex” to describe monotheistic views of God wherein one God exists as more than one person, we do not mean to that each of the persons are themselves only a portion of God as if the fullness of God is not present in each of them or as if, in the case of Trinitarianism, each person of God is only one third of God. To the contrary, it is our understanding that the bible reveals that each of the persons of the one God share, possess, and display the fullness of God. As we will see throughout the course of our study, the basic category “monotheism” (which declares a belief in one true God) does not by definition dictate or restrict how many persons the one God exists as. Common forms of monotheism include both Unitarianism (the belief in one God who is one Person) and Trinitarianism (the belief in one God who is three Persons). But Binitarianism (the belief in one God who is two Persons) has also been part of some monotheistic traditions. We use the terms Simple and Complex Monotheism largely to differentiate between Unitarian conceptions of monotheism and all forms of monotheism which believe that one God exists as more than one person. The term Complex Monotheism can, therefore, be understood as a general term used to group non-unitarian forms of monotheism.

It is also important to note that Complex Monotheism is distinct from pantheistic or panentheistic concepts of God. In pantheism or panentheism, God is believed to be present in all things at once.

TheismTheism sharply contrasts with pantheism, which identifies God with all that there is, and with various forms of monism, which regards all finite things as parts, modes, limitations, or appearances of some one ultimate Being, which is all that there is…Mysticism in practice comes close to theism, but mystical thought and much of its practice have often involved a repudiation of the proper reality of finite things and sometimes tends to dismiss all of the finite manifold or multiplicity of things as some wholly unreal phantasm that has no place in the one undiversified Being, which alone is real. Theism is very far removed from ideas of this kind. – Encyclopedia Britannica

Pantheism, panentheismA family of views dealing with the relation between God and the world. In contrast to theism's stress on the total transcendence of God, both terms reflect an emphasis on divine immanence. In pantheistic views, God and the world are essentially identical; the divine is totally immanent. In panentheistic views, the world exists in God (all reality is part of the being of God), but God is not exhausted by the world; the divine is both transcendent and immanent. Such views are often closely related to mysticism. – The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions

pantheism – pantheism [Gr. pan =all, theos =God], name used to denote any system of belief or speculation that includes the teaching "God is all, and all is God." Pantheism, in other words, identifies the universe with God or God with the universe. Columbia Encyclopedia

In contrast to pantheistic views of God, Complex Monotheism teaches that while God exists as more than one person, God is not present within everything. Rather, for Complex Monotheism, God is understood to exist as a number of hypostatic persons, but not as or in anything else besides these hypostatic persons. There is a clear distinction between God existing as more than one hypostatic person and God in everything that exists. Therefore, as Sommer explains in the quotes below, Complex Monotheism and pantheism are not the same thing.

Endnote 13: Buber 16a (concerning which see the helpful remarks in Lorberbaum, Image, 437-8) presents a variant of this second notion: that God is in all places but the shekhinah is forced to leave a place where adulterers commit their sin. This notion is closer to panentheism, which is not at all the same as the idea of multiplicity of embodiment I have described; on the difference, see my remarks on p. 141 of this chapter. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 252

The quotes below provide insight into the different views offered by Complex Monotheism and pantheism regarding God’s immanence or transcendence.

In theological discourse, immanence refers to the presence of God in the world. Conventionally, immanence contrasts with the term transcendence, which emphasizes God's separateness and superiority to the world. – Encyclopedia of Science and Religion

immanence – immanence [Lat.,=dwelling in], in metaphysics, the presence within the natural world of a spiritual or cosmic principle, especially of the Deity. It is contrasted with transcendence. The immanence of God in the world is the basic feature of pantheism.Columbia Encyclopedia

For pantheism God is immanent in that God is in everything. For panentheism, God is both immanent in that God is in everything, but God is also transcendent in that there is more to God than the universe. Non-mystical forms of monotheistic religions, on the other hand, do not equate God with the world. Within Simple Monotheism, God exists as one person at all times and this one person is distinct from the created world. Likewise, Complex Monotheism is also not pantheistic. Despite multiple Persons or embodiments that may at times enter the created world, within Complex Monotheism, God remains distinct from the created world.

As Sommer explains below the Hebrew Bible depicts God as both immanent and transcendent. These biblical depictions present a difficulty for Simple Monotheism. Within Simple Monotheism God is either immanent or transcendent, but not both. If God is present at some place in the world (such as the Temple in Jerusalem) then God is immanent in the world. But if God is present in heaven, then God is removed from the world and therefore he is transcendent from the world and not immanent in it. Therefore, Simple Monotheism has a tendency to conceptualize God as one of these traits at the expense of overlooking or dismissing biblical passages that emphasize the other. (Or perhaps just as often, it is assumed that these opposing traits do reconcile although no explanation is provided and the need for explanation is dismissed by labeling the issue a “mystery” or “paradox.”) Complex Monotheism, however, is able to simultaneously embrace biblical depictions of God as both immanent and transcendent without compromising either trait. Below is Sommer’s insightful explanation of these important issues.

Yochanan Muffs points to a tension that pervades and nourishes the entire Hebrew Bible. He argues that “the tension between the concept of transcendence, which insists the Deity is not to be identified with the physis of the world, and radical personalism, which insists the Deity is anthropomorphically involved in the world, is the very source of the creative dynamism of biblical anthropomorphism.” I would like to suggest that the fluidity traditions provide an especially deft resolution to this tension, a resolution that comes into focus when we contrast the fluidity model with some other theological models with which it might initially be confused. The notion of multiple embodiment, it must be stressed, is not identical with the idea that God’s presence pervades the world or, less pantheistically, the idea that the effects of God’s presence (which might also be termed God’s concern) pervade the whole cosmos...In these pantheistic or panentheistic conceptions, God can be equally present in all things and all places. The notion of multiple embodiment is something else altogether. Although they acknowledge that God’s power and concern can reach any place, the fluidity traditions maintain that God is literally located in some objects and not others...In this regard, the fluid God retains a degree of transcendence that is lacking in the antifluidity traditions on the one hand and in pantheistic and panentheistic understandings of God on the other. The conception of God as multiply embodied allows for the possibility that God can be anthropomorphically involved in the world even as God is not identified with the world, because this God is bound to no one place. For a monotheistic religion that insists on God’s personhood and on God’s intimate concern with the world, the concept of multiple embodiment cuts the Gordian knot: God is not the same as the world’s physis, but God can choose to inhabit parts of the physis in order to be present to His worshippers. This concept, then, seems almost inevitable as a consequence of the biblical stress on both transcendence and immanence. It is precisely when there is only one divine body, on the other hand, that the tension between these two forces in biblical religion becomes so severe: If the divine person has one body, that body must be in a particular place. If that place is on the planet Earth, then God is clearly immanent but not transcendent. If that place is exclusively in heaven, then God is transcendent but not immanent. (In its most extreme forms, the tension produces a line of reasoning that leads to highly abstract conceptions of God that deny not only divine embodiment but even divine selfhood [e.g., in the philsophical work of Maimonides or, quite differently, in the thought of Mordecai Kaplan].) – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 140-141

In addition to being categorically distinct from pantheism, Complex Monotheism is also conceptually distinct from polytheism. Polytheism and monotheism are categorical terms designating the number of gods that exist. However, according to Sommer, whether there is multiplicity or absolute oneness in God’s self is a separate and categorically different issue than the question of how many gods exist.

Yhwh’s fluidity does not render Yhwh something akin to a polytheistic deity, even though we saw in Chapter 1 that the gods of ancient Near Eastern polytheism were fluid. 84 Rather, the perception of divinity we have explored here reflects Yhwh’s freedom, even as it expresses Yhwh’s grace – more specifically, Yhwh’s desire to become accessible to humanity. This conception renders God an unfathomable being, but nevertheless one with whom we can enter into dialogue. This God matters to a modern Jewish theology, as do the texts in which this God was first perceived. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 143

Fluidity and the Monotheistic God – The Bible’s fluidity traditions are not polytheistic. J and E and the other verses that evince the notion that God has more than one body never speak of other gods having any independent power or import, and they oppose the worship of other deities. Nevertheless, one may tend initially to think of the fluidity model, even in its monotheistic form, as closer to paganism and to view the antifluidity model as representing a purer monotheism. The emphatically embodied God of the fluidity traditions seems, at first glance, to lack the radical differentiation from humanity that must be required of a monotheistic conception of divinity. In any event, that is surely how P and D must have seen the matter. Further reflection shows the opposite to be the case. The fluidity tradition presents us with the most profoundly monotheistic perception of God in the Hebrew Bible. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 140

We can see that while Complex Monotheistic conceptions of YHWH may be “Trinitarian-like” they are not necessarily Trinitarian. Complex Monotheistic conceptions of God will not always or necessarily posit the same number of divine persons. But they will share the basic idea as the Trinity: the one God exists as more than one, simultaneously-present person, but he is not identified with all things and he remains a solitary deity.  

Fluidity in Christianity – It is immediately evident that the fluidity traditions from the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East found expression in Christianity. The most obvious example of fluidity in Christian thought is the notion of the trinity. For all the trouble that Jewish and Muslim philosophers have had with this notion, the trinity emerges as a fairly typical example of the fragmentation of a single deity into seemingly distinct manifestations that do not quite undermine that deity’s coherence. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 132-33

Contrarily, views expressing Simple Monotheism can be called non-Trinitarian, because they lack the fundamental concept exhibited in the Trinity. Specifically, non-Trinitarian views claim that God is not more than one person. However, neither Simple nor Complex Monotheism is equivalent to pantheism or panentheism, both of which identify God with the world. In contrast to these views, both forms of monotheism distinguish between God and the world. Likewise, conceptions of God existing as more than one, simultaneously-present, hypostatic person are not equivalent to polytheism. Such Complex Monotheistic conceptions do not involve the distinct question of how many gods exist. Rather, they deal with how we understand the selfhood of any one god. As such, fluidity or multiplicity of divine selfhood can be found in either polytheistic or monotheistic religious systems and the question of the nature of divine selfhood cannot be reduced to or equated uniquely with either polytheism or monotheism. We will discuss these issues in further detail as we continue.

Throughout our study, we will use these terms (Simple and Complex Monotheism, and non-Trinitarian and “Trinitarian-like”) to help us identify ancient biblical and Jewish conceptions about YHWH. We have already seen some examples of Complex Monotheism discussed in the quotes above from Segal and Sommer. The study below will provide further details and examples within a discussion of the history and development of the differences that exist between modern Judaism and Christianity.