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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 2

Besides the passages we have covered so far, the Hebrew Bible had other ways of articulating the multiplicity of personhood of the one, true God. We have already seen how the term “angel (“malakh”) of YHWH has been used by biblical authors to teach that YHWH God existed as more than one person at one time (1. the angel of YHWH and 2. YHWH whom the angel of YHWH is distinguished from.)

However, biblical authors also expressed the multiplicity of personhood exhibited by the one, true God through the use of terms like “the name of God.” Below Sommer explains the relationship of the biblical use of “God’s shem” to “the angel of YHWH” and multiplicity of the one, true God’s personhood. (We will discuss the significance of the Hebrew term “kabod” below.)

God’s name and God’s Glory in the Hebrew Bible – Priestly and deuteronomic traditions make distinctive use of two terms that refer to divine presence in various parts of the Hebrew Bible: (kabod, usually translated as “Glory”) appears often in the former, and (shem, or “name”) in the latter. To understand how these traditions take up these terms, it is necessary to review how other biblical texts use them. Outside the priestly and deuteronomic traditions these terms can refer to some type of divine manifestation or some attribute closely aligned with God’s self, but the exact nature of the connection between God and these manifestations or attributes is difficult to characterize. The term “name” in ancient Near Eastern cultures can refer to the essence of any thing and hence can be a cipher for the thing itself. Examples of the identity of God and God’s name in biblical literature abound. The synonymous parallelism of God and God’s name in many poetic texts attest to this identity…(Micah 5.3…Psalm 7.18…Psalm 145.21) Similarly, in Jeremiah 14.9 the presence of God in the people’s midst is equated with God’s shem…Yet shem or Name can also refer to a hypostasis, a quality or attribute of a particular being that becomes distinct from that being but never entirely independent of it. 6 In many texts, God’s shem embodies but does not exhaust God’s self, and it also maintains some degree of separate identity. Texts that use the term this way give witness to the fluidity of the divine selfhood so common in the ancient Near East. We noted in the previous chapter that Exodus 23.20-2 portrays God as sending an angel (mal’akh) to accompany the Israelites to their land. God tells Moses to obey the mal’akh, because “My shem is in it.” This mal’akh is the sort I discussed in the previous chapter – not quite a separate being but a small-scale manifestation of God. At times, the divine shem is sufficiently material to be the subject of its own verbs of motion. In Isaiah 30.27 it moves on its own: “The shem of Yhwh comes from afar, burning in anger, with a weighty load.” It is difficult to say whether “the Name of Yhwh” here means “the LORD Himself” or whether the poem distances God slightly from this angry theophany, implying that only part of God’s self will become manifest. 8 Significantly, God’s shem can manifest itself at more than one location. According to Exodus 20.24, the Israelites are to construct altars “in all the locations where I cause My shem to be mentioned.” Thus the notion of shem reflects the possibility of a fragmented divine self and its physical manifestation in multiple bodies. In short, shem functions outside deuteronomic and priestly texts both as a synonym for God and as a hypostasis or emanation of God that is not quite a separate deity. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 58-59

The identification of “shem” as YHWH is also recognized by other Jewish translators and commentators.

Endnote 8: The former understanding (to wit, that shem here refers to God Himself) is found in NJPS; cf. Radaq, and note the presence of fiery imagery that normally accompanies God. For the latter understanding (to wit, that the term is intended to distance God from the angry theophany to some degree), see ibn Ezra, who identifies the shem with an angel, and Eliezer of Beaugency, who glosses shem as “His reputation.” – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 214

Below Sommer explains how the biblical use of “shem” as YHWH and yet distinct from YHWH corresponds to the common conception of divine fluidity of selfhood within ancient Semitic religions.

Just as the fragmentation of a divine self occurs in Northwest Semitic religions so too we can sense a tendency toward overlapping divine selves. Overlap among Canaanite deities becomes evident in the use of the terms (shem – “name”) and (panim – literally, “face,” and hence also “presence”) in Ugaritic, Phoenician, and Punic texts. In the Canaanite languages, these terms can refer to a person’s self – that is, the person’s essence or bodily presence. Explaining the significance of the term shem in Hebrew, S. Dean McBride describes what he calls the “nominal realism” prevalent in ancient Near Eastern thinking. Nominal realism is the belief in “a concrete, ontological relationship…between words and the things and actions which the words describe. A name is consubstantial with the thing named…[or] a physical extension of the name bearer, an attribute which when uttered evokes the bearer’s life, essence, and power.” 101 Much the same can be said of the term panim. It can simply mean “oneself,” because the face is the most identifiable part of a person. Yet when used in relation to a Canaanite deity, both panim and shem come to indicate an aspect of the divine self that is also distinct from the divine self. I refer not only to the tendency of these terms to refer to a particular form or representation of the divine self (a tendency evident in biblical texts discussed in subsequent chapters more than in Canaanite ones) but also to the use of these terms to refer to a second deity altogether. [Endnote 101: McBride, “Deuteronomic,” 67. Cf. Huffmon, “Name.” for Canaanite examples of (shem) meaning not only “name” but also “one bearing the name,” see Hoftijzer et al., Dictionary, 2:1167, def. 2. This unity of name and object named can also be seen in the frequent parallelism of “God” and “God’s name” in Hebrew poetry: (“Praise Yah! Praise, O servants of Yhwh – praise the name of Yhwh,” Psalm 113.1) (“O my soul, bless the name of Yhwh; all my body, bless His sacred name,” Psalm 103.1). – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 26

Along with the Hebrew word “shem” Sommer also discusses the use of the word “kabod” in the Hebrew Bible. As Sommer explains, like the term “shem,” “kabod” can be used in the Hebrew bible to present the multiplicity of God’s personhood.

But in most biblical texts the divine kabod refers to a divine attribute, whether a concrete one that embodies God’s presence but does not exhaust it (i.e., a hypostasis) or an abstract characteristic, such as the honor due to the deity or the moral qualities the deity expresses….In a great many passages, it is difficult to say whether kabod refers to some substantial thing (that is, God’s literal physical presence) or whether the term is used metaphorically of the honor due to God….The same ambiguity is present when non-priestly texts use this term; see, for example, Isaiah 4.5; Hosea 9.11 and 10.5; Haggai 2.7-9; Psalms 24.7-9 and 26.2, to name only a few. In all these texts, one could take kabod to refer to God’s physical manifestation, or to the splendor due to God, or even to riches stemming from God. Similarly, many texts refer to God’s kabod as something that may be seen, but it is difficult to ascertain whether the verb “see” in these cases is literal or metaphorical; these texts may mean that ones see the kabod in the manner one sees a physical object, or they may mean that one perceives God’s kabod as one perceives His faithfulness and justice (see, e.g., Isaiah 35.2, 40.5, 60.2, 62.2, and Psalms 63.3, 102.16-17 [where nations see both the kabod and the shem]). 22 In some texts, the kabod may be identical with God, though there is not enough context to make a clear-cut decision. Examples include Jeremiah 2.11 and Psalm 106.20, where the people reject their kabod by associating themselves with false gods. Does this mean that the people abandon God Himself or merely that they lose that which gives them dignity in a more abstract sense? In Zechariah 2.9 kabod refers to God’s Glory in Jerusalem, but one cannot be sure whether this means a sign of His protection and concern or the fiery divine body Itself. Several texts emphasize that God’s kabod can be located in more than one place; indeed, it can be located throughout the entire world (Isaiah 6.3, Pslam 57.12; cf. Habakkuk 3.3). Is this because a particular instance of the kabod (perhaps we should say, any given kabod) is merely one of God’s many bodies found in sundry locations, or is it because God’s kabod is an abstract quality and thus not geographically bounded? Many texts associate the kabod with the fire and lightning that accompany Yhwh’s theophany; for example, throughout Psalm 29. The consistent tendency of many of these ambiguous texts to associate God’s kabod with light, fire, and brightness (e.g., Deuteronomy 5.20; Isaiah 6.3, 24.23, 60.2, 62.2; Zechariah 2.9) suggests that, even when the term is used metaphorically, a more substantial usage stands in the background. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 61-62

Even those passages, which Sommer categorizes as using “kabod” in an abstract sense, actually provide evidence to the contrary when compared to other passages. For example, Sommer identifies Deuteronomy 5:24 as a passage speaking merely of “kabod” in regard to an abstract quality.

In Deuteronomy 5:24 the people say, “Yhwh has let us see His kabod and His greatness; we heard His voice from the midst of the fire; today we have seen that God can speak with a human, and the human lives.” ...Here it is clear that kabod refers to God’s glory in the abstract sense, as the parallel with the word “greatness” shows. It is no coincidence that the end of the verse also uses the verb [see] in a broad sense (“we have seen that God can speak”), equivalent to “witness” or “come to understand.” This second use of the verb [see] underscores that its first use in the sentence refers not to perceiving some object with the eye but to coming to understand an abstract idea (namely, God’s glory and power). – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 64

Concerning Sommer’s latter point, that the second use of the Hebrew verb for “see” is meant metaphorically, this is not at all clear from the verse. This passage in Deuteronomy is meant in reference to an actual physical experience. Sommer himself elsewhere emphasizes that the Israelites had seen God enshrouded by clouds during His visitation of Sinai in Exodus, which Deuteronomy 5 is recounting.

We have seen that the term kabod in biblical Hebrew can refer to a body and that this term is often associated with the conflagrations, intense light, smoke, and clouds associated with God’s very self. For P, God’s body differs from the body of a human or an animal: The kabod consists of unspeakably bright light, and for this reason, it is surrounded by a cloud. Normally, this cloud protects humans, so that they see only some of the kabod’s deadly brightness as it shines through the cloud. Thus, P informs us in Exodus 24.16-17, “Yhwh’s kabod rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days….The appearance of Yhwh’s kabod was like a devouring fire at the summit of the mountain visible to the children of Israel.” – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 68

Consider the passages from Exodus and Deuteronomy 5 side by side.

Exodus 19:10 And the LORD said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them to day and to morrow, and let them wash their clothes, 11 And be ready against the third day: for the third day the LORD will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai...16 And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled. 17 And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount. 18 And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. 19 And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice. 20 And the LORD came down upon mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the LORD called Moses up to the top of the mount; and Moses went up. 21 And the LORD said unto Moses, Go down, charge the people, lest they break through unto the LORD to gaze, and many of them perish...20:18  And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. 19 And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die. 20 And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not. 21 And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was.

Deuteronomy 5:1 And Moses called all Israel, and said unto them, Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and keep, and do them. 2 The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. 3 The LORD made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day. 4 The LORD talked with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire, 5 (I stood between the LORD and you at that time, to shew you the word of the LORD: for ye were afraid by reason of the fire, and went not up into the mount;) saying...22 These words the LORD spake unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice: and he added no more. And he wrote them in two tables of stone, and delivered them unto me. 23 And it came to pass, when ye heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, (for the mountain did burn with fire,) that ye came near unto me, even all the heads of your tribes, and your elders; 24 And ye said, Behold, the LORD our God hath shewed us his glory and his greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire: we have seen this day that God doth talk with man, and he liveth.

Not only are the passages parallel, describing the same event, but both passages emphasize that the Israelites physically saw God descend in the cloud as well as the brightness and fire. With regard to Deuteronomy 5:24, Sommer argues that the text intends to convey that they had “seen” God speak, which would imply perception, not physical sight, given the fact that spoken words are not visible things. But to the contrary, the phrasing is about the entire events observed by the people on the day. The Israelites had witnessed these events. And they had not just perceived in their minds, but had looked on with their own eyes as men saw God and yet lived. The physical nature of the events and their direct personal experience of those events argues that the second use of the Hebrew word “see” is meant with regard to physical observation of physical events. Or at least, such a meaning is far from ruled out and, consequently, there is no reason to insist that a literal sight of God is inconsistent with the context of the verse. Conversely, to deny that the Hebrew word for “see” in Deuteronomy 5 is meant to refer to physical sight is to ignore the repeated emphasis of both passages.

But more importantly, Sommer also offers the parallel between God’s kabod and “greatness” as evidence that “kabod” is here meant in reference to abstract qualities, such as greatness rather than to a body. However, this parallel between “greatness” and the kabod seems strikingly similar to language from Exodus 33-34. In chapter 33:18, God is speaking with Moses and Moses petitions to see God’s glory. The Hebrew word for glory here is “kabod.” Yet when God grants this request in the very next verse, God refers to the “kabod” as “all my goodness” saying that “all my goodness will pass before thee.” Yet in verse 22, when God again refers to this “goodness” that would pass by Moses, God refers to it as His “kabod.” Clearly, the “goodness” of God is parallel to the kabod just like “greatness” in Deuteronomy 5. But it is equally clear that “goodness” in Exodus 33 is not a reference to an abstract thing but something that will be physically present and move past Moses. Moreover, the immediate context of chapter 33 and chapter 34, make it repeatedly clear that both “kabod” and “goodness” refer to Moses actually physically seeing God embodied. This is made evident in particular by the fact that Moses is covered by God’s hand, allowed only to see God’s back, and prevented from seeing God’s face (33:22-23) while God stands their in Moses’ presence (34:5) and Moses bows before God in worship (34:8).

Exodus 33:17 And the LORD said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name. 18 And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory (03519). 19 And he said, I will make all my goodness (02898) pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy. 20 And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. 21 And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: 22 And it shall come to pass, while my glory (03519) passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: 23 And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen. 34:1 And the LORD said unto Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which thou brakest. 2 And be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning unto mount Sinai, and present thyself there to me in the top of the mount. 3 And no man shall come up with thee, neither let any man be seen throughout all the mount; neither let the flocks nor herds feed before that mount. 4 And he hewed two tables of stone like unto the first; and Moses rose up early in the morning, and went up unto mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tables of stone. 5 And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 6 And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, 7 Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation. 8 And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped.

In fact, Sommer elsewhere agrees that the term “kabod” in Exodus 33 and 34 refers to God’s body for these very same textual reasons.

Similarly, the kabod must refer to God’s body in Exodus 33.18-23: It moves, and it has a face, a hand, and a back. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 60-61

If Sommer recognizes that Exodus 33-34 use “kabod” to refer to God’s body, then the natural inference from verse 18 of chapter 33 is obvious. Paralleling “kabod” with abstract terms such as “goodness” or “greatness” does not divest “kabod” its reference to a literal body. Rather, such parallels draft such abstract terms as references to that wondrous body.

While the Hebrew word for “goodness” in Exodus 33 is not the same term used for “greatness” in Deuteronomy 5:24, the parallel between these two terms and passages remains. The Hebrew word for “goodness” in Exodus 33:18 is “tuwb,” (Strong’s No. 02898), which means, “goods, good things, fairness, beauty.” The Hebrew word for “greatness” in Deuteronomy 5:24 is “godel” (Strong’s No. 01433), which means, “greatness, magnitude.” While the words are not quite synonmyns, as abstract qualities, they both seem to center on the idea of God’s wondrous nature. Yet it is clear that in Exodus 33-34, this seemingly abstract term is meant in reference to God’s physical presence, which is physically seen. The nearly perfect parallel in Deuteronomy 5 removes any reason to doubt that Deuteronomy intends “kabod” to be understood in the same way.

On this note, Sommer elsewhere describes how abstract qualities were understood as hypostases in Semitic and even rabbinic literature.

Endnote 22: Even…Justice and Fairness…may have been hypostatized in Northwest Semitic literature, where they are actual gods…(For a similar use in rabbinic liturgy, see the Sabbath morning hymn, “El Adon,” where…Right and Fairness…are in God’s presence, along with other creatures…who comprise the heavenly court.) Consequently, the parallel between kabod and terms such as these leaves open at least the possibility that kabod here is not an abstract quality but a hypostatized quality that has become a substantial entity. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 215

In light of facts such as these, it is no wonder that Sommer provides the following conclusion with regard to the use and meaning of the words “shem” and “kabod” in biblical texts and their significance in relation to Complex Monotheism within the Hebrew Bible.

The terms shem and kabod outside priestly and deuteronomic literature, in short, function in similar ways. Thus it is not surprising that the terms often appear together or parallel to each other (see, e.g., Isaiah 59.19; Jeremiah 14.21; Psalms 72.19, 79.9, 102.16-17, 106.2; and Nehemiah 9.5 [cf. Isaiah 30.27]). In Psalm 29.2 and 66.2, the worshippers laud the kabod of God’s shem, whereas in Psalm 27.19 and Nehemiah 9.5, the shem of God’s kabod receives Israel’s praise. Psalm 63.3 is an especially interesting case of their appearance together: The worshipper at the sanctuary sees God’s kabod and raises his hand to God’s shem. In many passages, it is hard to say whether these two closely related terms refer to parts of God’s self, to concrete manifestations that embody or surround the divine presence, to abstract characteristics of God, or to epiphenomena that relate to a theophany. This difficulty is not surprising in a world where divine selfhood can be fragmented or overlapping. In such a world, there is little reason to decide whether shem was the very essence of God, a local manifestation of God, or a hypostasis that overlapped with God while maintaining some distinct nature. All three could be the case at once. Similarly, kabod might be a body of God without being the body of God; it might be an emanation from but not the entirety of the divine self. It is because of the scope of fluidity traditions that we find a plethora of verses that point in all these directions. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 62

As we continue to chronicle the presence of aspects of Complex Monotheism within the Hebrew Bible itself, we next turn to the first chapter of Genesis. As we have seen, Jewish Complex Monotheism understood God as a corporeal being unlike Jewish Simple Monotheism and Greek philosophical religion which understood God as incorporeal. In the quote below, Sommer explains how Genesis 1:26-27 demonstrates that from the beginning of the Hebrew Bible, God is described as having a body with a form and shape that is basically the same as that of man. This passage demonstrates the Hebrew Bible’s affirmation of a critical component of Complex Monotheism and, contrarily, the Hebrew Bible’s rejection of a critical component of Simple Monotheism. As Sommer explains, in the bible God’s body sometimes appears luminous or fiery. At other times, biblical texts describe God’s body to be basically the same as a human body.

One need not go very far into the Bible to find a reference to God’s form or shape. Both terms, in fact, appear in the twenty-sixth verse of the Bible, in which God addresses various unnamed heavenly creatures as follows: “Let us make humanity in our form, according to our shape, so that they rule over the fish of the sea, and the birds of the sky, and the beasts, over all the earth and all the creeping things that creep on the earth” (Genesis 1:26). This verse begins from the assumption that God and the unnamed heavenly creatures have bodies, and it tells us that human bodies will have the same basic shape as theirs….Suffice it to say that the verse makes clear that human and divine bodies have the same contours, but it does not say anything about what the respective bodies are made of. We will see later in Chapter 3, that some biblical authors regarded the substance of the divine body as one of its distinctive features. This body was stunningly bright, so that it had to be surrounded by dark clouds to protect anyone nearby. In modern times, we might tentatively suggest that this body was made of energy rather than matter. We can term this conception of God anthropomorphic in the most basic sense of the word: having the shape of a human. But because the divine body according to this conception is not necessarily made of the same sort of matter as a human body, it might be appropriate to term this belief a nonmaterial conception of God or even a spiritual one. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 1-2

In the last bolded sentence of the quote above, Sommer explains that the conception of God as having a body with a similar form and shape to man’s body is commonly termed anthropomorphism. Anthropomorphism is a compound word created from the Greek words for “man” (“anthropos”) and “form” (“morphe”), which conveys the simple idea that God has a form like man’s form.

However, as Sommer notes in the endnote below, the term “anthropomorphic” is backwards. Because according to Genesis, it is not God who has a form like man. Rather, man has a form like God. Therefore, God is not anthropomorphic. Instead, man is theomorphic. It is true that both terms adequately convey the same point: man and God have bodies of similar form and shape. However, the term theomorphism emphasizes the teaching of Genesis 1:26-27. Man does not imagine God to be like man. Rather, God creates man to be like God. Specifically, God creates man with a body that has the same form and shape as his own divine body.

Endnote 2: A number of scholars have noted that from the biblical point of view, the term “anthropomorphism” renders this conception precisely backward. For the author of Genesis 1.26-7 (and for later commentators committed to its understanding of God), it is appropriate instead to say that God has rendered humanity theomorphic. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 175

In the following quotes, Sommer continues to discuss the importance of Genesis 1’s creation of man for attesting to the corporeality of God. Here, Sommer discusses the Hebrew words that are used to describe how man is made in God’s form and shape.

The terms used in Genesis 1.26-27, demut and selem, then, pertain specifically to the physical contours of God. 68 This becomes especially clear when one views the terms in their ancient Semitic context. They are used to refer to visible, concrete representations of physical objects, as verses such as 2 Kings 16.10, Ezekiel 23.14-15, 1 Samuel 6.4-5, and 2 Chronicles 4.3 make clear. 69 Mayer Gruber points out that the basic meaning of both the terms used in Genesis 1.26-27 is “statue” in old Aramaic (that is, Aramaic roughly contemporary with the P documents). This meaning becomes evident from the use of these terms in the ninth-century Aramaic-Akkadian inscription from Tell Fekherye. Both terms are used to refer to the statues of the king and other human worshippers, and both are translated in the Akkadian of the inscription with the term salmu (which, as we saw in Chapter 1, simply means “statue”). Thus, Gruber paraphrases…Genesis 1.26 plausibly as “like a statue of God.” He argues that there is no evidence suggesting we should read these terms as somehow metaphorical and abstract. Rather, Genesis 1.26-7, 5.1, and 9.6 maintain that human beings are a sort of statue of God; it is for this reason that 9.6 insists that their blood should not be shed. 71 – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 69-70

Endnote 68: The conclusion that selem in Genesis 1.26-7 refer to a physical shape, and hence to a body, is not limited to modern biblical scholars. Alon Goshen-Gottstein points out that classical rabbinic texts (as opposed to medieval Jewish exegetes) almost unanimously understand that selem in Genesis 1.26-7 as God’s body; see Goshen-Gottstein, “Body,” 173-6. For additional evidence, see Lorberbaum, Image, 14-24, 89-101, 278-335. Note further that some rabbinic texts see the word demut as interchangeable with kabod or temunah; see Exodus Rabbah 23:15 and Sifre Zutato Numbers 112:8, and the discussion in Wolfson, Speculum, 47-9. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 224

Endnote 69:  One might object to my assertion that these words in Genesis 1:26-7 refer to visible, concrete representations of concrete objects…Nevertheless, the combination of the two words in Genesis 1.26-7 in all likelihood is intended to stress the concrete sense…In fact, these terms have a substantial area of overlap: Both can refer to physical representations of a physical object…both terms often include both physicality and similarity within their semantic fields. By using both terms (both in Genesis 1.26-7 as well as in 5.3), the priestly authors strongly suggest that they intend a meaning located in the substantial overlap of the two semantic fields. Hence the verse graphically points to a conception of God, angels, and humans as physical beings whose physical forms resemble each other. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 224-225

In the quote below, Sommer clarifies that the terms used in Genesis 1:26-27 also imply moral capacities that man shares with God. However, the idea that Genesis 1:26-27 conveys God’s moral attributes to man can in no way be used to ignore or discard the fact that the Hebrew terms first and foremost require that man’s body was created in the same shape and form as God’s body. 

To be sure, later Jewish and Christian interpreters of Genesis 1.26-7 have attributed abstract meanings of a moral or spiritual nature to the phrase, 72 and some of those meanings may even fit the context of Genesis 1. After all, the result of our having God’s form and shape is spelled out in 1.26 as our ability and responsibility to rule over other creatures in a manner that resembles God’s sovereignty over the universe. Consequently, those interpretations that emphasize the regal dignity and authority that humanity can attain are contextually defensible. But, any such reading of the terms demut and selem in our priestly passages in Genesis supplements the terms’ basic, physical meaning without superseding it. One might, of course, argue that the Creator could endow a being with divine attributes of an abstract, moral or spiritual nature, without also endowing the creature with a divine form in a physical sense. In theory, such a conception of creation is possible, but this conception is simply not conveyed in the Hebrew phrase as used by P. This becomes clear from Genesis 5.3: “Adam fathered a son in his form, after his shape and named him ‘Seth.’” There the phrase must retain its fundamental physical meaning; after all, when a human fathers a child, he is first of all endowing the child with his basic shape. Humans have no ability to bestow abstract attributes or ethical qualities at birth to their offspring. At least in Genesis 5.3, then, P unambiguously uses the terms…in the sense they typically have in Hebrew – that is, P uses these terms to refer to a physical shape and form. It strains credulity to argue that P uses these terms differently in 5.1, 9.6, and 1.26-7. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 70

In the next quote, Sommer again discusses the relevance of Genesis 1:26-27 to the corporeality of God.

Unlike Ezekiel, the P documents in the Pentateuch do not describe the shape of the kabod, but they do speak of the form and the shape of humans in Genesis 1.26-27, 5.1, and 9.6. In the first of these passages we read, “God said, Let us make humanity 62 in our form, after our shape, so that they may rule…Then God created humanity in his form; in the form of God He created him; male and female He created them.” These verses assert that human beings have the same form as God and other heavenly beings. That the shape in question appears not only in God’s body but also in the bodies of other heavenly beings is clear from the first-person plurals of 1.26, in which God speaks to members of the divine court: “Let us make the human in our form and shape.” 64 (Here we should point out that there is no “we” of divine majesty in the Hebrew verbs.) As Randall Garr points out, angels or divine beings in the Hebrew Bible are generally conceived as being humanoid in form. Consequently, the use of the first-person plural in Genesis 1.26 shows that humans, angels, and God all have the same basic shape. (Incidentally, God’s decision to reach out to other divine beings in this verse was purely rhetorical, nothing more than a polite gesture; in the next verse, God creates humanity by Godself, before the other beings can even respond.) – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 69

In the next quote below, Sommer continues to discuss the relevance of Genesis 1 to the theological differences between Complex and Simple Monotheism. We have already seen that in contradiction of Simple Monotheism, Genesis 1 teaches that God is corporeal. In this next series of quotes, Sommer explains Genesis 1’s relevance to the issue of the plurality of YHWH’s personhood. Sommer notes that Genesis 1:26-27 uses first-person plurals when it records “God said, ‘Let us make humanity in our form and after our shape.’” According to Sommer, the Hebrew verbs in these verses which use first-person plurals do not employ the use of a “we” of divine majesty. The text of Genesis 1:26-27 uses first-person plurals to record God’s statement about the creation of man and interchanges these first-person plurals with singulars.

For some Complex Monotheists (such as Trinitarians), God’s intertwined use of plurals and singulars when describing himself in the grammar of Genesis 1 demonstrates a unity (the singulars) that is comprised of a plurality of persons (the plurals.) As such, Genesis 1 constitutes a display of Complex Monotheism within the earliest portion of God’s revelation of himself in the Hebrew Bible. However, in the previous quote above, we have already seen Sommer explain the plurals as references to angels. The quotes below also exhibit the assertion by Sommer, Segal, and other analysts that in Genesis 1 God is speaking to angelic beings in heaven when he uses the plural to state “Let us create man in our image.”

Endnote 64: On members of the divine court (sometimes called “angels”) as the addressees here, see…For the idea that Genesis 1.26 refers to the ministering angels, see also traditional commentaries (Rashi, Seforno) and midrashic texts and Targum (e.g., Genesis Rabbah 8:3, 8:5, Targum Jonathan ad. loc., etc). – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 223-224

Such tales are gathered in Sanhedrin 38 f., the amoraic discussion of Sanhedrin 4:5, after the traditions we have just discussed….R. Judah quote Rab’s story that God consumed various companies of angels because they questioned the importance of creating man, knowing his proclivity to sin. 11 Footnote 11: Interestingly enough, the angels share in the creation of man in this story, explaining the plural “Let us make man” etc. (Gen. 1:26) as due to God’s conversation with angels. This tradition is, hence, properly dated together with the amoraic traditions which resemble it. See p. 143 f. – Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, p. 113

Below Sommer notes that other biblical scholars object to the conclusion that Genesis 1:26-27 describes God speaking with angelic beings. The basis of this objection concerns the fact that Genesis is very clear that it is God alone (and not God with angelic help) that is responsible for the creation of man. Sommer’s response to this objection is that Genesis 1:26-27 only records that God informed the angels of his own intention and actions regarding the creation of man. Sommer contends that the angels were informed of God’s plan (v. 26,) but not involved in accomplishing it (v. 27.) Sommer claims that the beings that were spoken to in verse 26 are attributed no role in verse 27’s creation of man.

Endnote 92: On the existence of a heavenly council in the background of the P creation account, see the references in n.64 in Chapter 3. Some scholars object to the idea that a divine council was present at the creation because the idea that God would consult with other divine beings at the creation conflicts with the major thrust of the creation account in Genesis 1, which is that God created the world by Himself (so Cassuto, Genesis, 55-6). In fact, God is not described as consulting them but simply as informing them of his decision. Indeed the next verse pointedly states that God created humanity – and whatever beings God addressed in 1.26 have no role. These verses do not portray any group efforts or deliberation. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 269

Let us consider this exegesis of Genesis 1:26-27 more carefully.

Sommer and other Jewish scholars acknowledge that Genesis 1:26 records God speaking in the first-person plural (“let us”) regarding his intention to make man in “our” image. He states that the verb tenses here do not employ the “we” of divine majesty. His conclusion is that there literally is more than one person being spoken with in verse 26. Sommer concludes that the plurals include God and various heavenly, angelic beings.

However, other scholars note that Genesis 1:26 indicates that the other persons who are being spoken to will, in fact, be involved in the creation of man (“Let us make man in our image.) If these other persons are identified as angels, this would imply that the angels had a role in assisting God in the creation of man. This conclusion would contradict the main theme of Genesis 1 which repeatedly attributes the creation of the world to God alone. Sommer agrees that the involvement of angels in the creation of man would violate Genesis 1’s proclamation that God alone created the world and everything in it. So, Sommer suggests that in verse 26 God speaks to angels about an action that verse 27 records God himself accomplished alone without the involvement of those God was speaking to in verse 26.

With regard to Sommer’s assertion that verse 26 does not imply the “us” was involved in creation, it is interesting that Segal recounts that various, ancient Jewish sects before the rabbinic period all understood the the use of plurals in Genesis 1 to indicate a plurality of persons who were involved in man’s creation. In fact, Segal states that such an understanding was not limited to groups generally considered heretical by later rabbinic Judaism.

On the other hand, it is clear that the meaning of Gen. 1:26, where God commands the making of man in His image (and uses a plural form), was an issue as early as Philo. – Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, p. 112-113

The basic heresy was that God had help in creation. In this case, the helper is called Adam, but the concept of a divine helper is not unlike the idea that Wisdom or the logos was God’s agent in creation. In fact, Philo sometimes claims that the logos is identical to the primal man, on the basis of Gen. 1:26. 14 [Footnote 14: See Conf. 146 and Leg. All. i 43.] At any rate, these reports seem to reflect the actual beliefs of various Jewish groups, which are evidenced in extra-rabbinic reports long before we can ascertain their presence from rabbinic literature. – Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, p. 114

Gen. 1:1 f.: This verse was supposed to be at issue in tannaitic times….That a plurality of deities could be derived from the first verse because the word for God (Elohim) is plural (Dt. R. 2:13) was the way this issue was expressed during the third century….These verses were used to advantage by many groups using Hellenistic Jewish traditions and cannot be said to be exclusively Gnostic, apocalyptic or Christian. – Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, p. 129

So, there appears to be some agreement that the thrust of Genesis 1 is that God alone created the universe without the help of lesser beings, such as angels. And there also seems to be ancient Jewish support for the idea that Genesis 1:26 indicates a plurality of persons were involved in the creation of man. But finding support from ancient Judaism for or against an idea only helps demonstrate that it’s authentically Jewish. It doesn’t tell us conclusively if it’s a correct interpretation. For that, we need simply to see what the text itself actually says in verse 26. The plurals not only refer to the persons with whom man shares a similar form and shape as Sommer concludes. If we look at verse 26 and ask, “who does God say will make man?” the answer is clearly “us.” God doesn’t say “I will make man in our image.” God is not merely addressing others who are about to watch God work. Rather, God includes whoever he is speaking to in the action of making man. The plurals involve who will be included in making man. Genesis 1:26 plainly attributes the making of man to a plurality. Sommer’s explanation fails to address the fact that in Genesis 1:26, God himself uses first-person plurals to express who will be involved in the creating.

Moreover, Sommer appears to be reversing the natural meaning of verses 26 and 27. Rather than verse 27 EXCLUDING the other persons from the act of creating man (and contradicting God’s statement in verse 26 in the process), verse 27 actually INCLUDES these other persons in the Being of God who alone performed the creative work. This is the only reconcilable way that God can attribute man’s creation to an “us” and yet only God does the creating. Sommer’s suggestion that a third party bystanders are addressed by God in verse 26 requires ignoring and contradicting the meaning of God’s words, which include the “us” in the creative work.

But this fact cannot be ignored. And it doesn’t need to be. The only reason to ignore this fact is to avoid the possibility that the one God is a multiplicity of persons and capable of multiple embodiments, a fact Sommer already repeatedly affirms. Given that one of the central theses of Sommer’s book is to recognize that the Hebrew Bible depicts the one, true God as more than one person with more than one self, it is hard to understand why Sommer avoids seeing affirmation of his own thesis in Genesis 1:26-27.

If we allow Genesis 1:26 and 27 to speak for themselves without filtering it through any theological bias, the text conveys that God stated that multiple persons would make man and then explains that God himself made man. Since Genesis is clear that God alone created the world and man, the natural conclusions offered by the text is that the one God is more than one person.

Returning from this discussion of multiplicity within the divine self in Genesis, we now turn our attention back to the other main issue in the debate between Simple Monotheism and Complex Monotheism. Is God corporeal or non-corporeal? In the quotes below Sommer continues to chronicle evidence from the Hebrew Bible articulating that God is a corporeal being. In the first quote, Sommer uses biblical texts to refute the common idea that man’s inability to see God is due to God not having a body to be seen. As Sommer explains, the biblical teaching is not merely that man cannot see God, as if God cannot be seen because he doesn’t have a body. Instead, the bible teaches that man cannot see God and live. In other words, the biblical idea is that God can be seen, but to see God is mortally harmful to man. 

As one moves forward in Genesis, one quickly arrives at additional verses that reflect the physicality of God – and although some of these verses point toward a nonmaterial anthropomorphism, others reflect a more concrete conception of God’s body. We can term this conception material anthropomorphism, out of belief that God’s body, at least at times, has the same shape and the same sort of substance as a human body….To be sure, many readers believe that the God of the Hebrew Bible cannot be seen, a circumstance that many assume to result from God’s lack of a body. After all, Yhwh famously informs Moses in Exodus 33.20, “A human cannot see Me and live.” In fact this text does not claim that God has no body for us to see; the point is rather that seeing God’s body will lead ultimately to death….The belief that one could see God but that doing so would be fatal is widespread in the scripture, and it is closely related to the conception of God’s body as extraordinarily luminous: The light God’s body gives off is not just blinding but deadly….[Regarding Isaiah 6.5] In this case, however, a heavenly being purified him with a burning coal, which somehow allowed him to see God without the normal danger, and Isaiah became one of several exceptions to the general rule described in the bible. Some biblical texts, on the other hand, consider looking at God as perfectly safe; for them, God’s body is not dangerously luminous, at least not all the time. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 2-3

In the quote below, Sommer clarifies that the pervasive nature of biblical statements depicting God as having a body cannot be reduced to figurative language. After all, though a corporeal depiction of God is prevalent in the bible, none of the biblical authors ever provide any indication that they mean their depictions to be taken simply as figurative.

In absence of any statements telling us that these many verses are merely figures of speech, I think that a likely answer must be that the ancients who talk about God’s body really do think that God has a body. This may seem to be an argument from silence, but silence from a large sample of literature is indeed significant. The Hebrew Bible contains a wide variety of texts, from multiple genres, produced over several centuries. If its authors intended us to realize that they used anthropomorphic language figuratively, at some point surely some of them would have said so or would have given us reason to sense that their language was figurative. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 9

In the quotes below, Sommer details the use of the Hebrew word “kabod” in the bible. This term is applied to God as well as to human figures. In many cases, “kabod” is used to speak of a body, whether it is a man’s body or God’s body. Sommer also provides further insight into biblical texts which connect God’s fiery, bright bodily form with a danger for mortal man as well as efforts that God took to safeguard man from this threat.

A similar ambiguity can be found in many uses of the term kabod. The word kabod in biblical Hebrew can simply mean “body, substance.” Especially clear cases of this meaning are found in several cases of poetic parallelism” “It will come to pass at that time: Jacob’s kabod will wither, And the fat on his flesh will waste away.” (Isaiah 17.4) “Therefore my heart rejoices, My kabod delights, Indeed, my flesh remains confident.” (Psalm 16.9) Several other texts use the term in the same manner: These include Genesis 49.6, Psalm 7.6, and Isaiah 10.3-4, 10.16, and 22.18. Consequently, one might suppose that Yhwh’s kabod can simply refer to God’s body. Biblical texts that use the term kabod to refer to God’s physical presences do not all imagine the kabod as having any one form, appearance, or size. Nevertheless many Israelites (like their Mesopotamian neighbors) conceived of the divine body as stunningly bright or surrounded by an extraordinary radiance. Consequently, we would expect the kabod or God’s body to be made of or surrounded by an intense fire. Indeed, the kabod is clearly a substantial, blazing thing in the old fragment preserved in 1 Kings 8.11-12: “The priests could not stand to serve because of the cloud, for Yhwh’s kabod had filled Yhwh’s house. Then Solomon said, ‘Yhwh resolved to dwell in the dark midst.’” The kabod is surrounded by a cloud of smoke that protects people nearby, in this case preventing the priests from entering the sanctuary. Similarly, the kabod must refer to God’s body in Exodus 33.18-23: It moves, and it has a face, a hand, and a back. (It is not clear in this passage, however, whether kabod is extraordinarily bright.) Some translators evade the anthropomorphism involved in recognizing that kabod means God’s body by translating it as “Presence” or “divine Presence” instead (see for example, NJPS), but as David Aaron has noted, the phrase “divine Presence” does not adequately translate the term kabod in these verses (or, for that matter, anywhere else). Aaron points out that such a translation makes no sense in Exodus 33.18, in which Moses requests to see God’s kabod: “What could the ancients have meant by ‘seeing a Presence?’…Why would someone standing in the presence of someone else request to see their ‘presence’?” Rather, the term must refer to a body that is somehow hidden from sight of those nearby – that is, to the dangerously visible body surrounded by the cloud that prevents those nearby from seeing it directly. The cloud encircling the kabod is in fact mentioned explicitly in the continuation of this passage in Exodus 34.5. In short, God’s kabod in several non-priestly biblical texts means God’s body and, more specifically in many passages, God’s intensely bright body, which is normally surrounded by a cloud. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 60-61

We have seen that the term kabod in biblical Hebrew can refer to a body and that this term is often associated with the conflagrations, intense light, smoke, and clouds associated with God’s very self. For P, God’s body differs from the body of a human or an animal: The kabod consists of unspeakably bright light, and for this reason, it is surrounded by a cloud. Normally, this cloud protects humans, so that they see only some of the kabod’s deadly brightness as it shines through the cloud. Thus, P informs us in Exodus 24.16-17, “Yhwh’s kabod rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days….The appearance of Yhwh’s kabod was like a devouring fire at the summit of the mountain visible to the children of Israel.” In Exodus 40 the kabod came to dwell inside the tabernacle or tent of meeting that the Israelites constructed in the wilderness at Mount Sinai….Even a high priest could not view the kabod directly; whenever the high priest went into the tent, he had to produce a cloud by filling the room with incense before entering, lest the sight of the kabod kill him (see Leviticus 16.2, 13; cf. the closely related tradition in Ezekiel 10.4, in which the movement of the kabod out of the holy of holies is preceded by the appearance of the cloud.) One exception to this rule was Moses, who, we are told entered the cloud and thus moved closer to the kabod itself (Exodus 24.18a). As a result, his skin became radiant (or, perhaps, disfigured), and he was compelled to wear a veil form that time on (Exodus 34.29-45). The Israelites may have seen it momentarily when God alighted on Sinai and again when God accepted the first sacrifices (Exodus 24.17 and Leviticus 9.24), though they may have simply glimpsed some of the brightness through the cloud. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 68

In the following quote, Sommer elaborates on the possible substances that God’s body seems to be made of.

It is worth pausing to reflect on two surprising aspects of the body of God as imagined by priestly authors. First, priestly texts make clear that the kabod has a shape, but they do not make clear the precise nature of its substance. It is clear that for P the kabod gives off, or consists of, extraordinary brightness, the sight of which usually caused death; but could one, at least in theory, touch it (even if doing so was fatal), or would one’s hand go right through it? It is possible that for the priestly authors God’s body consists of light but not of flesh, something like an intense fire, but not of some solid object that is burning. To picture this, one should imagine not a piece of wood that is on fire, but just a self-sustaining fire by itself. (If E has a similar conception of [at least one of] God’s bodies, incidentally, it suddenly becomes clear why the bush in Exodus 3.2 burns but is not consumed. A blazing body of God has located itself inside the bush, but that divine blaze is self-sustaining. The bush is not providing the fuel for the fire-like substance that is God’s presence; it is merely sharing space with that presence, so that to Moses’ eye the bush appears to be on fire even as it does not burn.) If I may be permitted the anachronism of applying Newtonian terms to these ancient texts, the kabod is made of energy but not matter….as we saw in the previous chapter, many other passages in Hebrew scripture do imagine a God with a fairly typical human body….If we use…the definition of “body” I gave in the Introduction – “something located in a particular place at a particular time, whatever its shape or substance”…The God of priestly texts has a body with the same basic shape as the human body, but God’s body differs from human bodies in that it is an immaterial one. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 70-71

Below Sommer explains that the bible does not depict God’s body as being necessarily large in size.

The second aspect of the divine body as imagined by P follows from the first. Although the kabod has a particular shape, it is not clear that it has a permanent size. It is big enough to cover the whole top of Mount Sinai and to be visible to the people some distance away at the foot of the mountain in Exodus 24.16-17 (a P passage), yet it is small enough to fit into the holy of holies in the tabernacle, a spot that measures ten cubits by ten cubits (roughly five meters by five meters). Once a year, the high priest entered the holy of holies (Leviticus 16.2), from which we may infer that the kabod does not take up the entirety of these twenty-five square meters. Indeed, we shall see shortly that P imagines the kabod sitting atop the Ark, which was two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits deep (approximately one and a quarter meters by three-quarters of a meter). The possibility that the kabod’s size varies is not surprising in light of its fiery rather than fleshly substance. God’s body consists of something like a flame that could grow to enormous proportions or become more concentrated at God’s will. The evidence, to be sure, is not clear cut; it is also at least possible that the kabod itself does not vary in size (in which case it must have been relatively small to fit in the holy of holies), whereas the cloud that surrounds it expands and contracts. What remains noteworthy in any event is the fact that God’s body, for P, is not necessarily huge. This concept stands in contrast to some other ancient traditions found in the Bible and early Jewish literature, in which God’s body is often portrayed as enormous. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 71-72

In the following quote, Sommer demonstrates that the prophet Ezekiel unavoidably describes God’s body (kabod) as appearing in the same shape and form as the human body.

The most spectacular exception was Ezekiel, who saw the kabod directly and clearly, much to his initial dismay (Ezekiel 1.1, 27-8). Although the substance of this body differs from that of a human, its shape is basically similar. Ezekiel describes it as “a form like the semblance of a human….I saw from what resembled its loins and up something that looked like amber, with something that resembled fire inside it all around. From what resembled its loins and down I saw what resembled fire and brightness all around….This was the semblance of the form of Yhwh’s kabod.” (Ezekiel 1.26-8) Ezekiel is careful not to equate this divine body with a typical human body (it had not “loins” but “what resembled loins”), but for all his careful verbal reservations, he makes clear that the kabod looks rather like a human body. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 68-69

As he proceeds, Sommer demonstrates that for Ezekiel, the “kabod” is inseparable from God because he uses God and the “kabod” interchangeably in his text and places them in the same location.

In spite of the foregoing discussion, one might raise another sort of objection to my assertion that priestly literature regards the kabod as the actual body of God. “Yes, the kabod in priestly literature has a shape, but the kabod may not be God’s body. Rather, it may be a divine attribute or an accompaniment to divine revelation, as it is in other biblical texts…” …This objection – that the kabod may not be God’s body – does not stand up under scrutiny, because both the priestly authors and the prophet Ezekiel assert the identity of the kabod and God quite explicitly. In chapter 1 of his book, Ezekiel describes several heavenly creatures who were located (he tells us) underneath the kabod during the prophetic experience he underwent on the banks of the Chebar Canal in Mesopotamia. Later in his book, Ezekiel refers to one of these heavenly creatures as “the creature I saw under the God of Israel on the Chebar Canal” (10.20). This phrasing shows that “God” and “Yhwh’s kabod” are interchangeable terms for Ezekiel. Similarly, the identity between the kabod and God becomes clear in priestly texts that narrate the arrival of the kabod on earth in the Books of Exodus and Leviticus. According to this narrative, which has been analyzed with particular acuity by Baruch Schwartz, the kabod arrives at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19.1-2, 24.15b), whereupon “The cloud covered the mountain, and then Yhwh’s kabod dwelt on the mountain, and the cloud covered it for six days. One the seventh day, He/It called to Moses from within the cloud.” (Exodus 24.15-16) The phrasing is telling. It entails the identity of the kabod and Yhwh, for these verses make clear that the kabod was located within the cloud, and it was from within the cloud that God spoke to Moses. After God called to him, P informs us, “Moses entered the cloud, and Yhwh spoke with him as follows…” (Exodus 24.18a, 25.1). (In both 24.16 and 25.1, God speaks to Moses, but in the latter the words “from within the cloud” do not appear, because by that time Moses was together with God/the kabod inside the cloud.) While inside the cloud, Moses received instructions to build the tabernacle (Exodus 25.2-31.18). He went back down imparted these instructions; during the next year, the people constructed the tabernacle, while so far as one can tell, the kabod remained atop the mountain (Exodus 25.1-40.33). Once the tabernacle was complete, the kabod descended further:(Exodus 40.33b-38, Leviticus 1.1) In the last verse of Exodus, the kabod entered the tent; and in the immediately following verse (that is, the first verse of Leviticus, which continues the narrative without interruption), Yhwh called to Moses from within the tent. Here again, the text makes the identity of the kabod and God clear, as it does in the verses that narrate how God accepted the first sacrifices one week later: “Yhwh’s kabod manifested itself to the whole people, and a fire from where Yhwh was went out and consumed what was on the alter…and the whole people saw, and they shouted and fell on their faces (Leviticus 9.23-4). For the kabod to manifest itself entails a fire coming forth from the location in which Yhwh rested, in the holy of holies, beyond the altar. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 72-74

Once the evidence is taken into account it becomes clear that Complex Monotheism is taught by Biblical Judaism long before Greek religion exhibits any trace of monotheism. (On this point, it is worth keeping in mind that Greek polytheism was simple rather than complex in its view of divine beings. Greek gods could change their body, but they only had one body or self and could only be in one place at a time.) Therefore, we cannot explain the presence of Complex Monotheism within later forms of Judaism as a result of incorporating theological elements from Greek philosophy (or Greek religion).

But what about other ancient cultures? What was their view of divine beings and how does it relate to the Complex Monotheism found in early Hebrew scriptures?

As Sommer explains, the “complex” view of divine beings is part of a common heritage shared by Semitic peoples in general as well as adjacent Canaanite groups.

Religious thinkers of the ancient Near East viewed gods and goddesses as radically unlike human beings in ways that may seem baffling to people in the contemporary Western world. In the eyes of Babylonians, Assyrians, Canaanites, Arameans, and Egyptians, a single deity could exist simultaneously in several bodies. Further, a deity could have a fragmented or ill-defined self, for gods were not fully distinct from each other, at least not all of the time. (By “a self,” I mean a discrete conscious entity that is conscious of its discrete nature.)…For ancient Near Eastern religions, gods could have multiple bodies and fluid selves. Greek religion assumed a basic resemblance between mortals and immortals in this respect, whereas ancient Near Eastern religions posited a radical contrast between them. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 12

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

In the quote below, Sommer explains the how the biblical usage of “shem” and “panim” (as aspects of God’s self, but yet distinct from God in some way) parallels a similar conception within other ancient Semitic and nearby peoples.

Just as the fragmentation of a divine self occurs in Northwest Semitic religions so too we can sense a tendency toward overlapping divine selves. Overlap among Canaanite deities becomes evident in the use of the terms (shem – “name”) and (panim – literally, “face,” and hence also “presence”) in Ugaritic, Phoenician, and Punic texts. In the Canaanite languages, these terms can refer to a person’s self – that is, the person’s essence or bodily presence. Explaining the significance of the term shem in Hebrew, S. Dean McBride describes what he calls the “nominal realism” prevalent in ancient Near Eastern thinking. Nominal realism is the belief in “a concrete, ontological relationship…between words and the things and actions which the words describe. A name is consubstantial with the thing named…[or] a physical extension of the name bearer, an attribute which when uttered evokes the bearer’s life, essence, and power.” 101 Much the same can be said of the term panim. It can simply mean “oneself,” because the face is the most identifiable part of a person. Yet when used in relation to a Canaanite deity, both panim and shem come to indicate an aspect of the divine self that is also distinct from the divine self. I refer not only to the tendency of these terms to refer to a particular form or representation of the divine self (a tendency evident in biblical texts discussed in subsequent chapters more than in Canaanite ones) but also to the use of these terms to refer to a second deity altogether. [Endnote 101: McBride, “Deuteronomic,” 67. Cf. Huffmon, “Name.” for Canaanite examples of (shem) meaning not only “name” but also “one bearing the name,” see Hoftijzer et al., Dictionary, 2:1167, def. 2. This unity of name and object named can also be seen in the frequent parallelism of “God” and “God’s name” in Hebrew poetry: (“Praise Yah! Praise, O servants of Yhwh – praise the name of Yhwh,” Psalm 113.1) (“O my soul, bless the name of Yhwh; all my body, bless His sacred name,” Psalm 103.1). – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 26

As we can see, an awareness of the relevant theological and historical context shows that finding fluidity in the religious texts of an ancient Semitic people like the Israelites cannot be understood as superimposing a foreign or later concept onto Biblical Judaism. When we see Complex Monotheism within the Hebrew Bible it is a result of reading the texts in their historic, religious, and cultural context and simply acknowledging the concepts they plainly articulate. When we seek to understand Biblical Judaism in its original setting without first filtering it through more recent ideas about what Judaism teaches or should teach, we can see the native theological heritage shared by the descendents of Shem and Ham as it is expressed within the monotheistic perspective of the Israelites from the earliest period of biblical history.

The fundamental conceptual distinction between Simple and Complex views of divinity is the theological idea that a single god can exist as more than one person at the same time. And whether they were polytheists or monotheists, the ancient Semitic and Canaanite peoples of the Near East shared the fundamental idea that a divine being could exist as more than one person at the same time. Ham’s descendents were polytheists. Shem’s were monotheists. Yet they lived in close contact with each other for centuries in the earliest times. And while their contemporaries were polytheists, the Israelites were monotheists who worshipped only one God, YHWH. Nonetheless, the biblical Israelites were in harmony with the shared theological legacy of the northwestern Semitic peoples in expressing a belief in the multiplicity of divine selfhood: a single god existing as more than one simultaneously-present person. And when the concept of a “complex” divine being coexists with the belief in one God (monotheism) the result is Complex Monotheism: the belief in one, true God who exists as more than one person at the same time. This biblical fact is consistently present in the bible from the earliest patriarch period long before similar ideas are expressed in Greek philosophy.

How can we explain the shared presence of this theological concept among ancient Hebrew culture and its neighbors? While it is possible that some ancient Hebrews were influenced by pagan culture and intermingled pagan ideas into monotheism, three problems with this idea emerge.

First, for those who accept traditional dates for Old Testament figures and books and regard the narratives of the development of nations, the patriarchs, and the Exodus as historical rather than fictional, the presence of these ideas within Hebrew culture would date to the early second millennium BC and even earlier. For those who accept such conclusions, the ideas that the patriarchs exhibit about God are depicted as original and authentic. Since Complex Monotheism is among the views they expressed, it would have to be accepted as original and authentic as well. Furthermore, from within this point of view, the evidence for Complex Monotheism among the patriarchs is early enough to rival evidence for complex views of divine beings among pagan cultures, making it impossible to assert that the idea first emerged from pagan cultures and from there was imported into Hebrew culture. In short, the only way to deny that Complex Monotheism is the authentic Jewish view of God expressed by the patriarchs is to reject the historicity of the biblical accounts of such things as the development of nations, the patriarchs, and the Exodus. While some scholars may be comfortable with such a scenario, many devout Jews and Christians will likely regard any view that undermines the factual nature of patriarcal narratives to be a negation of the validity of Judaism on a fundamental level.

Second, notice in the quote above that Sommer points out that the use of terms like “panim” and “shem” to indicate “an aspect of the divine self that is also distinct from the divine self” is more prevalent in the Hebrew bible than Canaanite texts. This suggests a greater affinity for such ideas in Hebrew culture, which in turn suggests that (between these two cultures) the Canaanites were not the original source of such ideas. 

Third, even if the presence of Complex Monotheism in early Judaism is the result of borrowing from other cultures, then Judaism is tainted and derived from pagan theological ideas from its beginnings. Since these are the earliest views expressed in Hebrew bible, they can hardly be viewed as unauthentic or later perversions. For better or for worse, this would be the original Hebrew view of God. To retroactively strip it out Hebrew theology would be, by definition, a deviation from the views of the founders of Judaism. This raises the familiar question of whether any later historic figure has the authority to make changes to such a fundamental issue as the nature of God. Certainly, introducing this kind of fundamental change has been levied as sufficient grounds for labeling Christianity a heresy when the Trinity is viewed as the later development.

However, it is also possible to view the shared presence of this view of divinity among both pagan polytheistic cultures and Jewish monotheistic culture as resulting from a common ancestor. Perhaps the parent theology was monotheistic and polytheism is a degradation of it. Or perhaps the parent theology was polytheistic and Jewish monotheism can be seen as a philosophical advancement. Which of these is accepted likely depends on the conclusion one has drawn about the facts regarding the history and development of the Hebrew Bible, including whether or not its record of human historical development, the Jewish patriarchs, and the Exodus is historically reliable. Jews and Christians who view the Hebrew Bible as a reliable record of human history and the origin of the Jewish people and faith will tend to see the patriarchal faith as a faithful preservation of pre-Flood truths about God known from the beginning of creation. But once again, in either case the complex view of deity is not a later development but original and authentic to Judaism.

In summary, the presence of Complex Monotheism within the Hebrew Bible means that the presence of Complex Monotheism in later Judaism is not a matter of re-contextualization or revision of biblical culture through foreign ideologies that developed after the Hebrew Bible. It is not a superimposition upon biblical teaching by post-biblical theologians. And it is not the result of reading Hebrew scriptures through the lense of later religious ideas that aren’t actually present in the biblical context. To the contrary, Sommer documents that the fluidity of divine selfhood is the common inheritance of the ancient Semitic and Canaanite peoples. Complex Monotheism is an authentically Jewish theological concept that is taught in the Hebrew Bible itself. The Hebrew Bible itself teaches that the one, true God is corporeal and exists as more than one, simultaneously-present person each.

Furthermore, as Sommer points out, the Hebrew Bible doesn’t condemn Complex Monotheism along with its rejection of other false religious ideas. On the contrary, Judaism’s scriptures teach and endorse Complex Monotheism. This demonstrates that Complex Monotheism is a core belief that is both authentic and inherent in Biblical Judaism when it originated. The biblical display of fluidity traditions is contrasted with the strong scriptural condemnation of polytheism and idol worship demonstrating the clear distinction that biblical authors made between Complex Monothesim and polytheism in any form.

At least some ancient Israelites, to judge from the biblical evidence and perhaps also from archaeological evidence, believed in more than one god; some worshipped goddesses alongside Yhwh. The polytheistic theologies of these Israelites have been banished from the Hebrew Bible, which repeatedly, insistently, and unambiguously denounces them….The fluidity tradition, however, is not excluded from the biblical canon. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 125

When these facts are taken into account any possible consideration that Complex Monotheism is a foreign invention that was erroneously infused into Biblical Judaism at a later period becomes not only misguided, but untenable. Furthermore, as Sommer notes below, this biblical and historical evidence indicates that reasons for rejecting Complex Monotheism (such as a prohibition of polytheism) simply are not applicable. Reconsidering Complex Monotheism does not constitute polytheism or a violation of biblical teaching. Rather it is an openness to contemplate important beliefs that are presented in the Hebrew scriptures themselves.

Theological Implications – Hosea, who endorses the fluidity model, protests against this danger (and thus attests to it) when he insists that, contrary to popular belief, Yhwh is not a baal-god (e.g., Hosea 2.18)…But for Jews of our own age, the fluidity model poses no such danger. After all, the theological obstacle facing most contemporary Jews, even some religious ones, is hardly the belief in more than one deity. The reasons for rejecting the fluidity model and the notion of embodiment it entails are no longer pressing, and therefore it behooves contemporary Jews to reexamine these ancient traditions. Might God in fact have a body of intense light or energy, which can inhabit many places at once? Can contemporary Jews have faith in God so conceived? What do they regain by doing so? What dangers lurk in reexamining this tradition? Most crucially: what aspects of God does the fluidity model help, or force, the modern Jew to see? – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 137

As we close this section we want to end with a final quote from Sommer’s book. In the passage below, Sommer posits important questions that deserve our consideration in light of the demonstrable evidence of Hebrew Bible’s own presentation of Complex Monotheism. As Sommer explains, these biblical teachings of the multiplicity of God’s personhood cannot simply be ignored. A belief system that claims to be Jewish and biblical in origin, but which does not reflect these views, is a faulty one.

What does the presence of this portrayal within the Hebrew Bible mean for a religion based on that anthology? Here I begin to speak not only as a historian of religion but as a committed Jew who hopes to contribute something to the ongoing development of Torah. I address this question, in other words, not only as a biblical critic, but also as a biblical theologian, and my bedrock assumption as a biblical theologian is that every passage found in sacred scripture is there to teach us something. We may have the right to react to what is in scripture; we may have the right to disagree with it; but we have no right to ignore it. A Jewish understanding of God that does not reflect the fluidity tradition is a defective one. What once was Torah in some way always remains Torah; supersessionism is not a Jewishly valid option. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 124-126