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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

Eliminating Potential Sources of Complex Monotheism

In our History of Religions and Religious Texts Chart, we listed various religious traditions that predated the presence of Complex Monotheism in first century Jewish sects (such as Christians.) Prominent potentials sources for the development of “Trinitarian-like” ideas included Hinduism, Greek philosophical religion, and Gnosticism. These religious traditions have been suggested as possible contributors to Complex Monotheism. A further investigation of the religious ideas will allow us to eliminate some of these religious traditions from consideration as the source of “Trinitarian-like” ideas.

Within later Hindu religion, a somewhat “Trinitarian-like” concept emerged called the Trimurti. The Trimurti held that the Hindu gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva were grouped together and considered to be manifestations of a single god. However, text sources displaying this conception date to the fourth and fifth centuries AD (that is, after 300 CE.)

trimurti – trimurti,  (Sanskrit: “three forms”) in Hinduism, triad of the three great gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Scholars consider the doctrine of the trimurti to be an attempt to reconcile different approaches to the divine with each other and with the philosophical doctrine of ultimate reality (brahma). The doctrine was given classical expression in Kalidasa’s poem Kumarasambhava (“Birth of the War God”; c. 4th–5th century ce). – Encyclopedia Britannica

Trimurti – Evolution of the concept – The Puranic period (c. CE 300-1200) saw the rise of post-Vedic religion and the evolution of what R. C. Majumdar calls "synthetic Hinduism."[6] This period had no homogeneity, and included orthodox Brahmanism in the form of remnants of older Vedic faith traditions, along with different sectarian religions, notably Shaivism, Vaishnavism, and Shaktism that were within the orthodox fold yet still formed distinct entities.[7] One of the important traits of this period is a spirit of harmony between orthodox and sectarian forms.[8] Regarding this spirit of reconciliation, R. C. Majumdar says that: “Its most notable expression is to be found in the theological conception of the Trimūrti, i.e., the manifestation of the supreme God in three forms of Brahmā, Viṣṇu, and Śiva.... But the attempt cannot be regarded as a great success, for Brahmā never gained an ascendancy comparable to that of Śiva or Viṣṇu, and the different sects often conceived the Trimūrti as really the three manifestations of their own sectarian god, whom they regarded as Brahman or Absolute.[9]” Maurice Winternitz notes that there are very few places in Indian literature where the Trimurti is mentioned.[10] The identification of Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma as one being is strongly emphasized in the Kūrma Purana, where in 1.6 Brahman is worshipped as Trimurti; 1.9 especially inculcates the unity of the three gods, and 1.26 relates to the same theme.[11] Historian A. L. Basham explains the background of the trimurti as follows, noting Western interest in the idea of trinity: “Early western students of Hinduism were impressed by the parallel between the Hindu trinity and that of Christianity. In fact the parallel is not very close, and the Hindu trinity, unlike the Holy Trinity of Christianity, never really "caught on". All Hindu trinitarianism tended to favor one god of the three; thus, from the context it is clear that Kālidāsa's hymn to the Trimūrti is really addressed to Brahmā, here looked on as the high god. The Trimūrti was in fact an artificial growth, and had little real influence.[12]” – wikipedia.org

While parallels may be drawn the New Testament Christian concept of the Trinity, we must be clear that the Hindu Trimurti post-dated the New Testament and the Christian Trinitarian concept. It is therefore impossible to suggest that the New Testament Christian concept was influenced by the Hindu religion with regard to its conception of God. Any line of influence would have to be from Christianity to Hinduism because early Christian evangelists (such as Thomas the Apostle) were known to have been to India prior to the onset of the fourth century AD which is when we find the earliest emergence of the Hindu concept of the Trimurti.

Thomas the Apostle – Thomas the Apostle, also called Doubting Thomas or Didymus (meaning "Twin") was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. He is best known for disbelieving Jesus' resurrection when first told of it, then proclaiming "My Lord and my God" on seeing Jesus in John 20:28. He was perhaps the only Apostle who went outside the Roman Empire to preach the Gospel. He is also believed to have crossed the largest area, which includes the Parthian Empire and India.[5]…St. Thomas is traditionally believed to have sailed to India in 52 AD to spread the Christian faith among the Cochin Jews, the Jewish diaspora present in Kerala at the time. He is supposed to have landed at the ancient port of Muziris (which became extinct in 1341 AD due to a massive flood which realigned the coasts) near Kodungalloor. He then went to Palayoor (near present-day Guruvayoor), which was a Hindu priestly community at that time. He left Palayoor in AD 52 for the southern part of what is now Kerala State, where he established the Ezharappallikal, or "Seven and Half Churches". – wikipedia.org

ThomasSt Thomas an Apostle, known as Doubting Thomas. He earned his nickname by saying that he would not believe that Christ had risen again until he had seen and touched his wounds (John 20:24–9). According to tradition he preached in SW India. – The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

Saint Thomas – Saint Thomas one of the Twelve Apostles, called Didymus. According to John, he refused to believe in the resurrection until he saw Jesus' wounds; hence the expression "doubting Thomas." John 11.16; 14.5; 20.24-29; 21.2. By tradition he is said to have gone as missionary to Parthia or India. The Syriac-rite Christians of Malabar, India, whose church was established by the 3d cent., claim St. Thomas as their founder.Columbia Encyclopedia

Saint Thomas – Saint Thomas, (born , probably Galilee—died ad 53, Madras, India; Western feast day December 21, feast day in Roman and Syrian Catholic churches July 3, in the Greek church October 6), one of the Twelve Apostles. His name in Aramaic (Teʾoma) and Greek (Didymos) means “twin”; John 11:16 identifies him as “Thomas, called the Twin.” He is called Judas Thomas (i.e., Judas the Twin) by the Syrians...Thomas’ subsequent history is uncertain. According to the 4th-century Ecclesiastical History of Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, he evangelized Parthia (modern Khorāsān). Later Christian tradition says Thomas extended his apostolate into India, where he is recognized as the founder of the Church of the Syrian Malabar Christians, or Christians of St. Thomas. – Encyclopedia Britannica

Besides the Trimurti, Hinduism also has developed a conception of a single God manifesting himself as different persons. However, this Hindu concept (called an avatar) cannot be responsible for potentially similar ideas within Hebrew Complex Monotheism for several reasons. First, evidence of avatars as manifestations of a god within Hinduism cannot be traced prior to the 5th century BC (400’s BC) at the earliest in the work of Panini, the Sanskrit grammarian. The Vedas do not include the term. And a clear presentation of the doctrine does not appear until more recent texts such as the Bhagavad Gita which dates to around 200 BC. These dates show that the Hindu concept of an avatar comes long after the writing of the Hebrew Bible. If the Hebrew Bible displays a belief in one God who is manifest in more than one hypostatic person at the same time, then these late-dating Hindu ideas cannot be the source of Complex Monotheism in Jewish traditions. 

Second, there isn’t a great deal of discussion of one god having multiple avatars at the same time. The ability of the God to exist as more than one person at the same time is a critical component of Complex Monotheistic conceptions of god, particularly as Sommer defines this idea. In Hinduism, an avatar simply refers to an earthly appearance of a particular god at a particular time. It is not apparent that more than one such appearance existed at the same time. There is nothing inherent to the avatar concept that relates to the critical issue of the multiplicity of divine personhood. Rather, an avatar is simpy a singular descent of the Hindu god to be present on earth.

avatar  avatar,  Sanskrit avatāra (“descent”), in Hinduism, the incarnation of a deity in human or animal form to counteract some particular evil in the world. The term usually refers to these 10 appearances of Vishnu: Matsya (fish), Kurma (tortoise), Varaha (boar), Narasimha (half man, half lion), Vamana (dwarf), Parashurama (Rama with the axe), Rama (hero of the Ramayana epic), Krishna (the divine cowherd), Buddha, and Kalkin (the incarnation yet to come). The number of Vishnu’s avatars is sometimes extended or their identities changed, according to local preferences. Thus, Krishna is in some areas elevated to the rank of a deity and his half brother, Balarama, included as an avatar. One formulation of the doctrine is given in the religious poem the Bhagavadgita when charioteer Lord Krishna tells Arjuna: “Whenever there is a decline of righteousness and rise of unrighteousness then I send forth Myself. For the protection of the good, for the destruction of the wicked, and for the establishment of righteousness, I come into being from age to age.” – Encyclopedia Britannica

avatar  avatar In Hinduism, an incarnation of a god (especially Vishnu) in human or animal form that appears on Earth to combat evil and restore virtue. In Hindu tradition, there have been nine incarnations of Vishnu and a tenth is yet to come: these include Buddha, Krishna, and Rama. – World Encyclopedia

avatar  In Hinduism, an avatar, Hindustani: Sanskrit for "descent" [viz., from heaven to earth]) is a deliberate descent of a deity from heaven to earth, or a descent of the Supreme Being (i.e., Vishnu for Vaishnavites) and is mostly translated into English as "incarnation", but more accurately as "appearance" or "manifestation".[1][2] The term is most often associated with Vishnu, though it has also come to be associated with other deities.[3] Varying lists of avatars of Vishnu appear in Hindu scriptures, including the ten Dashavatara of the Garuda Purana and the twenty-two avatars in the Bhagavata Purana, though the latter adds that the incarnations of Vishnu are innumerable.[4] The avatars of Vishnu are a primary component of Vaishnavism. An early reference to avatar, and to avatar doctrine, is in the Bhagavad Gita.[5] Shiva and Ganesha are also described as descending in the form of avatars....The Sanskrit noun avatāra is derived from the verbal root t "to cross over", joined with the prefix ava "off , away , down". The word doesn't occur in the Vedas, but is recorded in Pāini (3.3.120). Avatāra was initially used to describe different deities, then around the 6th century CE it began to be used primarily to describe the manifestations of Vishnu.[7] While earlier texts mention deities taking on different forms, the Bhagavad Gita (4.5-9) is the first text to discuss the doctrine associated with the term even though the word avatāra itself is not mentioned.[8] The common translation "incarnation" due to its christological implications is somewhat misleading as the concept of avatar corresponds more closely to the view of Docetism in Christian theology, as different from the idea of God 'in the flesh' in mainstream Christology.[9][10] – wikipedia.org

Panini – Pāini; a patronymic meaning "descendant of Pai") was an Ancient Indian Sanskrit grammarian from Pushkalavati, Gandhara (modern day Charsadda, Pakistan) (fl. 4th century BC[1][2])...Nothing definite is known about Pāini's life, not even the century he lived in. The scholarly mainstream favours a 4th century BC floruit, corresponding to Pushkalavati, Gandhara. Contemporary to the Nanda Dynasty ruling the Gangetic plain, but a 5th or even late 6th century BC date cannot be ruled out with certainty. – wikipedia.org

Panini Panini , fl. c.400 BC, Indian grammarian.Columbia Encyclopedia

Indian philosophy   ini, a 5th-century-bc grammarian… – Encyclopedia Britannica

Third, an avatar was not the reality of the god, but was more of an illusion, as indicated above in the reference to Docetism. Therefore, like the concept of Trimurti, the Hindu concept of an avatar cannot be historically responsible for the presence of Complex Monotheistic concepts within ancient Judaism or Christianity for reasons related to conceptual dissimilarities and historical chronology.

Docetism – In Christianity, docetism (from the Greek δοκέω dokeō, "to seem") is the belief that Jesus' physical body was an illusion, as was his crucifixion; that is, Jesus only seemed to have a physical body and to physically die, but in reality he was incorporeal, a pure spirit, and hence could not physically die. This belief treats the sentence "the Word was made Flesh" (John 1:14) as merely figurative. Docetism has historically been regarded as heretical by most Christian theologians.[1][2] – wikipedia.org

Docetism – Docetism,  (from Greek dokein, “to seem”), Christian heresy and one of the earliest Christian sectarian doctrines, affirming that Christ did not have a real or natural body during his life on earth but only an apparent or phantom one. Though its incipient forms are alluded to in the New Testament, such as in the Letters of John (e.g., 1 John 4:1–3; 2 John 7), Docetism became more fully developed as an important doctrinal position of Gnosticism, a religious dualist system of belief arising in the 2nd century ad which held that matter was evil and the spirit good and claimed that salvation was attained only through esoteric knowledge, or gnosis. The heresy developed from speculations about the imperfection or essential impurity of matter. More thoroughgoing Docetists asserted that Christ was born without any participation of matter and that all the acts and sufferings of his life, including the Crucifixion, were mere appearances. They consequently denied Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension into heaven. Milder Docetists attributed to Christ an ethereal and heavenly body but disagreed on the degree to which it shared the real actions and sufferings of Christ. Docetism was attacked by all opponents of Gnosticism, especially by Bishop Ignatius of Antioch in the 2nd century. – Encyclopedia Britannica

Docetism – Docetism [Gr.,=to appear], early heretical trend in Christian thought. Docetists claimed that Christ was a mere phantasm who only seemed to live and suffer. A similar tendency to deny Jesus' humanity appeared in the teachings of Simon Magus, Marcion, Gnosticism, and certain phases of monarchianism. – Columbia Encyclopedia

These historical details show that Hinduism cannot be reasonably concluded to be the source of Complex Monotheistic concepts within ancient Judaism or Christianity. Any supposed similarities between Hinduism and Judeo-Christianity are either conceptual dissimilar or the Hindu concepts are not known to exist until after the presence of Complex Monontheism within Judeo-Christian sects.

As with Hinduism, we can also eliminate Gnosticism from our list of potential sources for Complex Monotheism within Judeo-Christian sects of the first century AD (and earlier.) The first reason to eliminate Gnosticism is that the text sources for Gnosticism (such as the Apocryphon of John and the Pistis Sophia) all emerge after the earliest Christian writings (including the New Testament.) 

“Gnosticism – The dualistic phase was reached after the expansion of Gnosticism into the Hellenistic world and under the influence of Platonic philosophy, from which was borrowed the doctrine that a lower demiurge was responsible for the creation of this world. This teaching is to be found in the Apocryphon of John (early 2nd century) and other documents of popular gnosis discovered near Naj' Hammadi in upper Egypt in the 1940s and in the Pistis Sophia, a 3rd-century Gnostic work in Coptic belonging to the same school. The learned gnosis of Valentinus, Basilides (qq.v.), and their schools presupposes this popular gnosis, which, however, has been thoroughly Hellenized and Christianized and sometimes comes very near to the views of Middle Platonism.” – Britannica.com

Second, as Segal explains in his book, early rabbinic reactions to Complex Monotheism show that “Trinitarian-like” ideas (such as “binitarianism,” one God who is two persons) were not Gnostic. To the contrary, Gnostic views which in some ways may resemble Judeo-Christian conceptions of God only emerged after the earlier Jewish and Christian concepts. Additionally, Complex Monotheism within Gnosticism was defined by a belief that the “Two Powers” of God were opposed to one another. This is contrasted with earlier Judeo-Christian ideas in which the persons of God were always and completely complimentary and cooperative with one another.

But since there is no uniquely anti-Christian theme in the rabbinic attack, we cannot conclude that Christians were the only offending group. One may disagree as to whether or when these groups began to compromise monotheism, which was the force of the rabbinic criticism, since many different positions within Judaism defended themselves with “two powers” arguments. But the terminology itself is apt, because it tells us the categories in which the development of Christianity was seen. It tells us that Christianity was probably one of a number of similar sects. It may have been unique in that it identified a messianic candidate with the manlike figure in heaven who was going to judge the world. It may also have been unique to identify a contemporary rather than a hero of the past with an angelic being. But the theme was not, insofar as anyone can prove, the Christian application of a redeemer myth of a single, Gnostic pre-existent, divine savior who was going to descend to the earth, save those who received him, and reascend to heaven. Rather Christianity was one among a plethora of different sects with similar scriptural traditions. The single Gnostic pattern, if there is one, seems to be a rather sophisticated re-understanding of the Christian model. To summarize, the one sectarian movement within Judaism about which we have considerable evidence is Christianity. There is warrant to believe that “two powers” heresy was manifested in some kinds of Christianity in the first century. – Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, p. 218

In the midst of this work [The Gospel of Truth] we suddenly find traditions that associate the name of God with “place” and make the divine name both a manifestation of God and an independent hypostasis which mediates revelation. All of this strongly suggests that various Gnostic ideas ultimately go back to Jewish heterodox traditions where they may or may not have been heretical in nature. The opposing configuration of deities insure that at least two (perhaps many) independent deities were present. Therefore it seems clear that the rabbis would have considered it heretical. When the powers were complementary – as they seem to be in the apocalyptic literature of the first century, in some of the Gnostic and much of the Christian literature – the independence of the second power is a moot question. It is often possible that the later traditions in heretical literature are the survivals of heterodox but not necessarily heretical exegesis, brought into new context. – Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, p. 250-251

Therefore the evidence is that opposition to Christian exegesis preceded opposition to extreme Gnostic exegesis. In this case, the key factor in separating radical Gnosticism from earlier exegesis is the negative portrayal of the demiurge. Whenever the second figure in heaven is negative, we are dealing with a radically Gnostic system. Not until then can we say definitively that a Gnostic heresy is present. In all the earliest traditions, the second figure is always seen as a complementary figure, suggesting the notion of a divine helper who carried God’s name is the basic concept which developed into heresy, not a redeemed redeemer. – Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, p. 262

The available historical material shows that Gnostic conceptions of God arose out of existing Judeo-Christian traditions which preceded them. Therefore, Complex Monotheism within Gnostic schools cannot be identified as a source of “Trinitarian-like” ideas with Judeo-Christian sects for the simple reasons that the Judeo-Christian traditions are earlier and conceptually distinct. (The Gnostic view identified the multiple persons of God as opposed to one another, while the Jewish and Christian sects understood the multiple persons of God to be complementary. And the opposing view is seen as a later outgrowth of the complementary view.)

We can see that Jewish, Christian, and Gnostic groups of the early centuries AD all express some form of Complex Monotheism. Likewise, their views are often traced to Greek philosophical thought. Clearly, authors like Segal and Sommer are right to identify Gnosticism as a blending of Jewish religious traditions (including Christianity) with Greek philosophical schools.

Gnosticism – (Greek: gnōsis, knowledge) refers to diverse, syncretistic religious movements in antiquity consisting of various belief systems generally united in the teaching that humans are divine souls trapped in a material world created by an imperfect god, the demiurge;…The introduction of a distinct creator god. This creator god is commonly referred to as the demiourgós, a technical term literally denoting a public worker, used in the Platonist tradition… The gnostic demiurge bears resemblance to figures in Plato's Timaeus and Republic… Like Plato, Gnosticism presents a distinction between the highest, unknowable "alien God" and the demiurgic "creator" of the material…In many Gnostic systems (and heresiologies), God is known as the Monad, the One, The Absolute…The earliest origins of Gnosticism…include influence from Plato, Middle Platonism and Neo-Pythagoreanism academies or schools of thought…incorporated elements of Christianity and Platonism as it grew...gnostics attempted "an effort towards conciliation, even affiliation" with late antique philosophy…Gnostics borrow a lot of ideas and terms from Platonism… - wikipedia.org

"GnosticismThe origins of the Gnostic world view have been sought by scholars in…the allegorical Idealism of the Middle Platonic philosophers…It was only with the rise of Christianity, however, that Gnostic syncretism came to full expressionGnostic revelation is to be distinguished…from Christian revelation, because it is not rooted in history and transmitted by Scripture. It is rather the intuition of the mystery of the self…This world is therefore alien to God…The Gnostic sects of the 2nd century made use of Hebrew and Christian religious writings, employing the allegorical method to extricate Gnostic meanings from them…The dualistic phase was reached after the expansion of Gnosticism into the Hellenistic world and under the influence of Platonic philosophy, from which was borrowed the doctrine that a lower demiurge was responsible for the creation of this world… thoroughly Hellenized and Christianized and sometimes comes very near to the views of Middle Platonism - Encyclopedia Britannica

In the next section of our study we will examine the potential influence that Greek philosophy may have had on the development of Complex Monotheism with Jewish and Christian theology.

Greek Philosophical Religion, Ancient Semitic Religion, and Complex Monotheism

We have already seen that Gnosticism cannot be the source of Complex Monotheism in Judeo-Christian traditions. If we want to evaluate whether Greek philosophical religion contributed to the formation of Complex Monotheism within Jewish sectarian groups such as the Christians we need to first become familiar with the Greek philosophical conception of God. We will examine the Greek philosophical conception of God as it was offered by the Stoics and the Platonists (including the Neo-Platonists.)

To investigate the possibility that Judeo-Christian Complex Monotheism resulted from incorporating Greek ideas we must first become familiar with Greek philosophical religion and its view of God.

Greek Complex Monotheism is expressed through the philosophical religious schools beginning in the late 5th and early 4th centuries BC. Prior to this, Greek religion during the Archaic (800-480 BC) and Classical (circa 480-323 BC) periods was effectively what we may call Simple Polytheism. In contrast to Simple Monotheism, Simple Polytheists believed in more than one god. However, like Simple Monotheists, Simple Polytheists believed that the gods were exactly like men. Each god was only one person. A single god did not exist as more than one hypostasis (person) at a time.

The first item worth noting is that these dates are too late for Greek philosophy to be the source of the Complex Monotheism that Sommer identifies in the earliest portions of the Hebrew bible. This makes Hebrew Complex Monotheism an independent phenomenon, at least from Greek influence. And this fact, in turn, presents us with a rather easy choice. If Complex Monotheism existed in both Hebrew religion and Greek philosophy prior to Christianity, the fact that Christianity originated as a Jewish sect in Judaea makes it unlikely and unnecessary to suggest Greek religion as the source of Christian Complex Monotheism. The Christian view is much more readily and naturally explicable as originating within Judaism.

But there is more to be gleaned from the contrast between Simple Polytheism and Complex Monotheism. And Sommer provides some insight into these historical facts in his book, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel. As Sommer explains below, unlike their philosophically-minded, fourth century successors, archaic Greek theologians did not think that a single God could simultaneously exist as multiple, divine, hypostatic persons. Rather, only philosophical forms of Greek religion like Neo-Platonism (in the third century AD) express a view of God in which one God can be manifest in more than one divine hypostasis. Sommer contrasts the archaic and classic Greek concept of the divine self with the concept common to the ancestors and local contemporaries of Biblical Israel (which, to some extent, was mirrored in Greek philosophy centuries later.)

Unlike their Greek contemporaries, the ancient Semitic peoples of the early biblical period, thought of God’s self as fluid in a way that believed a single god could exist as more than one simultaneously-present self or person.

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.) We can contrast this perspective with another one, which is evident in data from archaic and classical Greece. Greek culture provides no evidence that multiple objects could contain the presence of a particular deity at any one moment. Ancient Greek religion furthermore maintained that deities’ selves were consistently distinct from each other. Each cultures’ perception of gods’ bodies, then reflects its understanding of gods’ selves. These two ways of perceiving divinity present us with two types of answers to the question, “Are deities fundamentally similar to humans or fundamentally different from them?” For the Greeks, a god, like human being, had a discrete body and a discrete self. 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

Polytheism and the Fluidity of Divine Personhood – What stands behind this conception of the divine in its distinction from the human? One might be tempted initially to suggest that what I have described here is characteristic of (perhaps even the salient characteristic of) a polytheistic system. Yet counterexamples belie this suggestion. To be sure, the phenomenon I discuss here can be found in other polytheistic religions of the ancient Near East. Nearly identical conceptions can be found in the culture of ancient Egypt. Evidence for the fragmentation and overlap of divine selves is especially strong there…Nevertheless, this sort of fluidity is not prominent in the polytheistic religion of archaic and classical Greece. Thus we can note a striking contrast between those polytheistic systems that emphasize fluidity (such as those of Mesopotamia and Canaan) and those which do not articulate this notion (such as that of ancient Greece). Fluidity in Classical Greece? Before moving on to ponder the implications of the conclusion that the polarity “fluidity vs. nonfluidity” is not the same as the polarity “polytheism vs. monotheism,” I need to devote some attention to evidence that might appear to suggest that archaic and classical Greek religion does in fact display notions of divine fluidity and multiplicity. The discussion that follows refers to archaic and classical Greek religion. I do not address Minoan-Mycenaean religion on the one hand or Hellenistic and late antique religions on the other. In the latter especially the fluidity model can be detected (for example in neo-Platonism) – perhaps due to the influence of Near Eastern, especially Egyptian, religions. (1) In classical mythology, a god might alter his or her bodily form…but he does not seem to have more than one body... – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 30

The transformation of divine bodies in classical sources are therefore different in quantity but not quality from the changes that occur in a human body. My body today has a shape somewhat different from the shape it had twenty years ago, and my head is covered with less hair…in classical religion both gods and humans seem to have a single body that metamorphoses, whether slowly or suddenly, partially or radically. The deities of the ancient Near East, on the other hand, differ fundamentally from humans, in that their physical presence can abide in many locations at once. (2) Various scholars suggest that cult images in ancient Greece were receptacles or vessels of divine presence, and not merely aesthetic representations or decorations. In fact, however, no archaic or classical Greek source I know of describes these statues as embodiments of divinity, even though the statues in question were regarded as deeply sacred and even otherworldly. These statues constitute what Mircea Eliade calls a hierophany (an object touched by divinity), but such a statue is neither a theophany (the arrival of the god in a particular location) nor an incarnation (the bodily presence of a diety). It is worthwhile to examine in greater detail the evidence of these statues and the distinction between hierophany on the one hand and incarnation or theophany on the other…Rather, the hierophany has been touched by divinity, so that it has become distinguished from the profane and is able to connect the mundane to the realm of divine power. A hierophany is not necessarily an incarnation. The ancient Greek statues in question were merely, the former, whereas the Mesopotamian salmus were the latter….As Walter Burket plainly puts it, “There are no magical rites to give life to the cult image as in Babylon.” The classicist Tanja Scheer in particular stresses the importance of this point: “It is altogether highly conspicuous that Greek sources never report what took place at the erection of a new divine image. One never finds indications that a particular and consistent ritual was undertaken during these occasions or shortly after them. One never finds that some something had to take place that distinguished itself in any respect from regular religious festival rites…The absence of rituals of consecration that could attest to the attempt to bind the divinity in its image in a lasting manner is a fact that cannot be overstressed.” Scheer further notes that Hellenistic and especially Roman evidence for such rituals does exist, which, she points out, has led many scholars to assume that such a ritual also occurred in archaic and classical Greece. In fact, the consistent absence of any such rituals in the abundant archaic and classical texts themselves rules out this possibility. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 31-33

In sum, archaic and classical Greek literature and ritual practice do not articulate a notion of multiplicity of divine embodiment or fluidity of divine selfhood. As Jean-Pierre Vernant puts it, “For the Greeks, the divine world…gathers together a multiplicity of particular divine figures, with each having its place…In short, each one has an individual identity. Individual identity has two aspects: a name and a body…Like human beings, the gods have proper names. Like them too, gods have bodies – that is to say, a set of specific characteristics that make them recognizable by differentiating them from the other supernatural Powers with whom they are associated.” As we have seen, one cannot make this statement about the deities of Mesopotamia and Canaan, for they did not have the same sort of bodies possessed by humans, and they were not always differentiated from other supernatural powers or deities. The fluid notions of divinity with which we are concerned are at home in some polytheistic cultures but not others. The Conceptual Roots of Fluidity – What we find, then, in the ancient Near Eastern texts and ceremonies examined here – but not in the texts and ceremonies of archaic and classical Greece – needs to be explained not by a polarity between polytheism and monotheism but by a second polarity involving differing conceptions of divinity. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 35-36

Endnote 84: Similarly, we saw at the end of Chapter 1 that the gods of archaic and classical Greece had nonfluid selves and only a single body, but this did not render the religion of the Greeks monotheistic.

Archaic and Classical Greek religion did not have a complex view of a god’s selfhood. Therefore, any contribution the Greeks may have made to the development of Complex Monotheism came from their philosophical religion. As we have seen, Greek philosophical religion roughly began after the Classic Period of Greece with men like Plato and Zeno.

Plato – (born 428/427 bce, Athens, Greece—died 348/347, Athens), Greek philosopher, who with his teacher Socrates and his student Aristotle laid the philosophical foundations of Western culture. – Encyclopedia Britannica

Stoicism – Stoicism, school of philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium (in Cyprus) c.300 BC – Columbia Encyclopedia

Stoicism – Inspired by the teaching of Socrates and Diogenes of Sinope, Stoicism was founded at Athens by Zeno of Citium c. 300 bc and was influential throughout the Greco-Roman world until at least ad 200. – Encyclopedia Britannica

It is important to note that forms of Complex Monotheism that are present in Greek philosophical literature come after the writing of the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament.) In other words, the religion of the Hebrew Bible came before the emergence of Complex Monotheism in Greek philosophical religion. We will return to this important historical fact as we proceed with our study.

In order to understand any potential role Greek philosophical religion may have played in the formation of Complex Monotheism within Judeo-Christian sects, we need to also become familiar with the specific tenets of Greek philosophical religion itself. We can study the Hellenistic philosophical religion by looking at the beliefs of major Greek schools of thought such as Platonism and Stoicism. Important sources of information about Platonic philosophy include the third century AD formulation of Platonism called Neo-Platonism.

Platonism and Neo-Platonism both trace their doctrines to Plato and both are considered to be forms of dynamic pantheism. In Platonic religion, God was referred to as the One or Monad. From the One (or Monad) emanated a divine hypostasis identified as the Logos. However, the One itself was understood as a unitary simplicity which contained no division.

Neoplatonism - The One - The primeval Source of Being is the One and the Infinite, as opposed to the many and the finite…Neoplatonism may be described as a species of dynamic panentheism. Directly or indirectly, everything is brought forth by the "One." In it all things, so far as they have being, are divine, and God is all in all. - wikipedia.org

Platonism – Neoplatonism is the modern name given to the form of Platonism developed by Plotinus in the 3rd century ce…But the leading ideas in the thought of philosophers who can properly be described as Neoplatonists seem always to have included the following: 1. There is a plurality of levels of being, arranged in hierarchical descending order, the last and lowest comprising the physical universe, which exists in time and space and is perceptible to the senses. 2. Each level of being is derived from its superior, a derivation that is not a process in time or space…5. Degrees of being are also degrees of unity; as one goes down the scale of being there is greater multiplicity, more separateness, and increasing limitation until the atomic individualization of the spatiotemporal world is reached. 6. The highest level of being, and through it all of what in any sense exists, derives from the ultimate principle, which is absolutely free from determinations and limitations and utterly transcends any conceivable reality, so that it may be said to be “beyond being.” Because it has no limitations, it has no division, attributes, or qualifications; it cannot really be named, or even properly described as being, but may be called “the One” to designate its complete simplicity…As far as is known, the originator of this distinctive kind of Platonism was Plotinus (205–270 ce).  – Encyclopedia Britannica

Neoplatonism – Neoplatonism, ancient mystical philosophy based on the doctrines of PlatoAt the center of the order is the One, an incomprehensible, all-sufficient unity. By the process of emanation the One gives rise to the Divine Mind or Logos [word], which contains all the forms, or living intelligences, of individuals. The content of the Divine Mind, therefore, constitutes a multiple reflection of the unitary perfection of the One. Below the divine mind is the World Soul, which links the intellectual and material worlds. These three transcendent realities, or hypostases (the One, the Divine Mind, and the World Soul) support the finite and visible world, which includes individuals and matter. Plotinus sometimes compared the One to a fountain, from which overflowed the lower levels of reality. – Columbia Encyclopedia

Henosis - In Platonism, and especially Neoplatonism, the goal of Henosis (Ancient Greek: νωσις "unity, oneness") is union with what is fundamental in reality: the One ν), the Source or Monad. - wikipedia.org

Monad (Greek philosophy) - Monad (from Greek μονάς monas, "unit" from μόνος monos, "alone"),[2] according to the Pythagoreans, was a term for God or the first being, or the totality of all beings, Monad being the source or the One meaning without division. - wikipedia.org

Logosin Greek philosophy and theology, the divine reason implicit in the cosmos, ordering it and giving it form and meaning. Though the concept defined by the term logos is found in Greek, Indian, Egyptian, and Persian philosophical and theological systems…The idea of the logos in Greek thought harks back at least to the 6th-century-bc philosopher Heracleitus, who discerned in the cosmic process a logos analogous to the reasoning power in man. Later, the Stoics, philosophers who followed the teachings of the thinker Zeno of Citium (4th–3rd century bc), defined the logos as an active rational and spiritual principle that permeated all reality. They called the logos providence, nature, god, and the soul of the universe… – Encyclopedia Britannica

Greek philosophical religion thought of God as an indivisible, completely simple, utterly singular, unified entity known as the One or Monad. However, there also existed hypostatic beings who emanated from the One. Among these hypostases was the Logos, which was thought of as a rational principle, force, or fire and not necessarily as a personal being. In the third century AD, Neo-Platonism placed the Logos within a group of three divine hypostases. While the quantity may be similar to the Trinity, we must keep in mind that the Neo-Platonic grouping of hypostases into three came centuries after New Testament and early Christian writers described the Trinity. (In addition, there is the question of whether the Greek philosophical Logos was itself related to or post-dated the figure of the Word of God in ancient Hebrew Complex Monotheism.)

An important additional feature of the Greek philosophical understanding of God was the incorporeal nature of the One. For Greek philosophers, God was immaterial and was far removed from matter and the physical world. The existence of the One was above and beyond material existence. The One did not have a body. As a result, Platonism taught that mankind should likewise escape our bodily, material existence.

Plato, The earlier dialogues, Metaphysical foundation of Plato's doctrine: ‘Phaedo’ – The object of the Phaedo is to justify belief in the immortality of the soul by showing that it follows from a fundamental metaphysical doctrine (the theory of Ideas, or the doctrine of Forms), which seems to afford a rational clue to the structure of the universe. Socrates' soul is identical with Socrates himself: the survival of his soul is the survival of Socrates—in a purified state. For his life has been spent in trying to liberate the soul from dependence on the body. In life, the body is always interfering with the soul's activity. Its appetites and passions interrupt the pursuit of wisdom and goodness. There are four arguments for thinking that the soul survives death. First, there is a belief that the soul has a succession of many lives. The processes of nature in general are cyclical; and it is reasonable to suppose that this cyclicity applies to the case of dying and coming to life.” – Encyclopaedia Britannica 2004 Deluxe Edition

But more importantly, the quote below describes Plato’s model of the universe in which the physical world is the lowest level of being and the One is the highest level of being defined by existence that is non-spatial and devoid of any limitations, characteristics, or parts, especially any that can be perceived by the senses. It is also noteworthy that Plato’s One is a form of Simple Monotheism as reflected by the closing line, which explains that the term “the One” is meant to “designate its complete simplicity” that is free from all “divisions, attributes, or qualifications.” Plato’s “One” is by definition non-corporeal, Simple Monotheism.

"Platonism - Neoplatonism began as a complex (and in some ways ambiguous) philosophy and grew vigorously in a variety of forms over a long period; it is therefore not easy to generalize about it. But the leading ideas in the thought of philosophers who can properly be described as Neoplatonists seem always to have included the following: 1. There is a plurality of levels of being, arranged in hierarchical descending order, the last and lowest comprising the physical universe, which exists in time and space and is perceptible to the senses…6. The highest level of being, and through it all of what in any sense exists, derives from the ultimate principle, which is absolutely free from determinations and limitations and utterly transcends any conceivable reality, so that it may be said to be 'beyond being.' Because it has no limitations, it has no division, attributes, or qualifications; it cannot really be named, or even properly described as being, but may be called 'the One' to designate its complete simplicity." – Britannica.com

Plotinus was the leading figure in Neo-Platonism’s recapturing of Plato’s philosophical religion in the third century AD.

Plotinus – Plotinus, (born 205 ce, Lyco, or Lycopolis, Egypt?—died 270, Campania), ancient philosopher, the centre of an influential circle of intellectuals and men of letters in 3rd-century Rome, who is regarded by modern scholars as the founder of the Neoplatonic school of philosophy. – Encyclopedia Britannica

As Plotinus understood it, Platonism taught that matter was the lowest level of existence, the Platonic concept of God (the One) was the highest.

Monotheism – Plotinus (c. 205–269 CE) developed a mystical-philosophical form of monotheism. He believed in a supreme, transcendent reality known as the One out of which all other things emanate in descending, hierarchical order: from the Intellect (nous ), to the Soul (psyche ), and finally to matter. – International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, encyclopedia.com

Neoplatonism – Neoplatonism, ancient mystical philosophy based on the doctrines of PlatoAt the center of the order is the One, an incomprehensible, all-sufficient unity. By the process of emanation the One gives rise to the Divine Mind or Logos [word], which contains all the forms, or living intelligences, of individuals. The content of the Divine Mind, therefore, constitutes a multiple reflection of the unitary perfection of the One. Below the divine mind is the World Soul, which links the intellectual and material worlds. These three transcendent realities, or hypostases (the One, the Divine Mind, and the World Soul) support the finite and visible world, which includes individuals and matter. Plotinus sometimes compared the One to a fountain, from which overflowed the lower levels of reality.Columbia Encyclopedia

The concept of an immaterial, bodiless God was the second of two ways in which Platonic philosophy understood the One to differ from all else. First, the world was matter. God was immaterial. Second, the One was an indivisible unity unlike everything else which was fragmented and separated. These then are the chief features of the Greek philosophical conception of God. God was bodiless (incorporeal) and immaterial. God was an indivisible, simple unity. And there were hypostatic emanations of God including the Logos.

We can see that Platonic philosophic religion does at least contain some conceptions that seem to be similar to ideas exhibited by the Complex Monotheism of some first-century Jewish sects such as the Christians. Specifically, both Platonic philosophy and Jewish Complex Monotheism assert concepts that can be labeled with the term hypostasis. However, it must be noted that for Plato, these hypostases were not within the One, in which case the One would cease to be a complete simplicity free from discernable divisions and attributes. For Plato, the Logos is another level of being that exists as an emanation out from and separate from the One (at least to the same extent that anything can be deemed separate in a pantheistic/panentheistic model). Likewise, the World Soul is also “below” rather than within the One.

We can now examine the possibility that Jewish forms of Complex Monotheism were the result of borrowing from Greek philosophical religions.

As we proceed we must likewise keep in mind Sommer’s demonstration that the multiplicity or oneness of God’s self is a separate and categorically different issue than the question of how many gods exist (polytheism or monotheism.) A polytheistic religion can view any single god as existing in more than one, simultaneously-existing, hypostatic persons. Or, alternatively, a polytheistic religion can view any single god as inherently existing as only one person at all times. Semitic and Canaanite religions of the Near East exhibit the first kind of polytheism during the Biblical Period (2000-400 BC). For convenience, we will call the kind of polytheism that is exhibited by the Canaanite and Semitic peoples Complex Polytheism in order to denote the multiplicity they ascribed to a god’s self and personhood. On the other hand, archaic and classical Greek religion of the same period, though polytheistic, believed that each god was only one person. We will continue to refer to this type of polytheistic religion, Simple Polytheism.

As we have already examined briefly, these same conceptual options regarding the selfhood of God are available for monotheistic religions. Monotheistic religions can conceptually be either simple or complex. They can believe that the one, true God’s self is inherently singular and indivisible. Or, they can conceive of the one, true God’s self in terms of a multiplicity or plurality of simultaneously-existing, hypostatic persons. We will continue to explore these theological conceptions and issues in greater detail as we proceed.