Monday, September 1, 2014

Regarding Jewish Professor Dr. Sommer's Comments About the Trinity

Christian (and Jewish Messianic Believer in Jesus) Dr. Michael L. Brown, wrote
Interestingly, Dr. Benjamin Sommer, a professor in Bible and ancient Near Eastern languages at the Jewish Theological Seminary (that’s right, the Jewish Theological Seminary), came to similar conclusions in his recent book, The Bodies of God. He wrote: “Some Jews regard Christianity’s claim to be a monotheistic religion with grave suspicion, both because of the doctrine of the trinity (how can three equal one?) and because of Christianity’s core belief that God took bodily form. . . . No Jew sensitive to Judaism’s own classical sources, however, can fault the theological model Christianity employs when it avows belief in a God who has an earthly body as well as a Holy Spirit and a heavenly manifestation, for that model, we have seen, is a perfectly Jewish one. A religion whose scripture contains the fluidity traditions [referring to God appearing in bodily form in the Tanakh], whose teachings emphasize the multiplicity of the shekhinah, and whose thinkers speak of the sephirot does not differ in its theological essentials from a religion that adores the triune God.”
So, it appears that there are Jewish scholars who do not believe in Yeshua who can see what my dear friend Rabbi Blumenthal cannot. Let’s continue to pray for Rabbi Blumenthal!

In a book review of Dr. Sommer's book The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel 
someone named J. Todd Hibbard, (University of Tennessee at Chattanooga) acknowledges that Dr. Sommer believes the Christian conception of the Trinity is not incompatible with various traditions within Judaism. It doesn't matter if Hibbard is a Christian or not. I quote him only to further corroborate Dr. Brown's interpretation of Dr. Sommer.

The final chapter finds Sommer donning his theologian hat in order to answer the question, “What do the Hebrew Bible's fluidity traditions teach a modern religious Jew?” (p. 126). After noting that the antifluidity traditions in P and D dominate the final form of the Hebrew Bible, he notes that fluidity traditions found elsewhere (notably in JE) are still present. He briefly explores the development of these traditions in the postbiblical rabbinic literature, the kabbalah and early Christianity. With respect to the latter, Sommer insists that core Christian assertions—the trinity and incarnation—are not theologically impermissible within the world of Judaism, but rather are faithful to the fluidity model of divinity found in ancient Israel. For modern Jews, Sommer demonstrates how biblical notions of fluidity and antifluidity pose challenges for both liberal and conservative Jews, though not in the same way. He concludes by insisting that, contrary to customary positions, it is the fluidity model that offers the strongest statement of monotheism consistent with the personhood of God.

In another book review, Esther J Hamori says the following:

In chapter 6, Sommer traces the fluidity model into later Judaism and Christianity. He points to the continuation of these concepts—the fluidity of the divine self and multiplicity of embodiment, the rejection of these notions, and various implications for sacred space—in rabbinic literature and kabbalah, addressing what this all might mean for those reading the Hebrew Bible as scripture today. He then frames the concept of incarnation in the New Testament in terms of the fluidity model and discusses the impact this has had on later Christianity. It is fascinating to see some of this unfold, for instance, as he traces the ways in which Protestantism and Catholicism prioritize different  voices among the fluidity and antifluidity traditions. One of his laudable goals here is to demonstrate ways in which much of Christian theology is not so foreign to Judaism. He concludes, “No Jew sensitive to Judaism’s own classical sources, however, can fault the theological model Christianity employs when it avows belief in a God who has an earthly body as well as a Holy Spirit and a heavenly manifestation, for that model, we have seen, is a perfectly Jewish one. A religion whose scriptures contains the fluidity traditions, whose teachings emphasize the multiplicity of the shekhinah, and whose thinkers speak of the sephirot does not differ in its theological essentials from a religion that adores a triune God” (135). The similarities of the Christian concept of the simultaneous presence of God in heaven and God on earth to the older fluidity model are striking, and it will be fruitful to consider Christian theology in light of this. At the same time, there are also important differences between these types of embodiment, and at a certain point the similarity may be a bit overdrawn. Sommer’s view does not take into account the difference between theophany and incarnation, between temporary manifestation and full human identity and life, as claimed in Christian theology. Perhaps more significantly, while the concept of the Trinity may be seen to reflect the multiplicity of embodiment as in the older fluidity traditions, it does not seem particularly fluid. Finally, Sommer concludes that this fluidity in Judaism and Christianity allows God both immanence and transcendence, and that it shows that the divine is not bound to any one place. (Or, as I have argued in regard to some biblical texts, even the embodiment of God demonstrates divine freedom, rather than limitation.)

An article HERE quotes Dr. Sommer:

“When the New Testament talks about Jesus as being some sort of small scale human manifestation of God, it sounds to Jews so utterly pagan, but what I’m suggesting is perhaps the radical idea for us Jews that in fact, it’s not so pagan. That in fact, there was a monotheistic version of this that existed already in the Tanakh. And that the Christian idea, that Jesus, or ‘The Logos’, The Word, as the Gospel of John describes it in it’s opening verses, that the presence of The Word or Jesus in fleshly form – in a human body on the planet earth – is actually God making God self accessible to humanity in a kind of avatar. This is what we were seeing in the ‘J’ and ‘E’ texts [differing Hebrew manuscripts]. This is much less radical than it sounds. Or when the Gospel of John describes God’s Self as coming down and overlapping with Jesus – which is a famous passage early in the Gospel of John – that is actually a fairly old ancient near eastern idea of the reality, or self, of one deity overlapping with some other being. So, this is not just Greek paganism sort of just smoothed on to a Jewish mold, which is a way that a lot of Jews tend to view Christianity. This is actually an old ancient near eastern idea, that is an old semitic idea, that is popping up again among those Jews who were the founders of Christianity. We Jews have always tended to sort of make fun of the trinity. ‘Oh how can there be three that is one? If they’ve got this three part God, even if they call it a triune God, a God that is three yet one, really, really, they are pagans. They are not really monotheists like we Jews are or like the Muslims are. Those Christians are really pagan.’ But I think what we are seeing in the idea of the trinity that there is this one God who manifests Itself in three different ways, that’s actually an old ancient near eastern idea that could function in a polytheistic context as it did for the Babylonians and Canaanites, but it can also function in a monotheistic context as it does I think in the ‘J’ and ‘E’ texts. In fact, to say that three is one, heck, Kabbala [Jewish mysticism] is going to go further than that. They say ten is one. The Zohar says ten is one. Actually certain parts of Kabbala say that within each of the ten spherote has ten spherote within them so that there is a hundred spherote, we are taking this much further than the Christians did. One of the conclusions that I came to, to my shock, when I finished this book [The Bodies of God and The World of Ancient Israel], is that we Jews have no theological objection to the trinity. We Jews for centuries have objected to the trinity, have labeled it pagan, have said: ‘Well, that’s clear. There you can see that the core of Christianity doesn’t come out of the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh, what they call the Old Testament. Really, they are being disloyal to the monotheism of the Old Testament.’ Actually, I think that’s not true. To my surprise, I came to the conclusion, somewhat to my dismay, I came to the conclusion that we Jews have no theological right to object to the trinity. Theologically, I think that the model of the trinity is an old ancient near eastern idea that shows up in the Tanakh and in a different way shows up in Jewish mysticism as well.”

The article also has a link to the mp3 audio lecture from which the quote is from. Here's the direct link (for as long as it lasts). If the link dies, I'm willing to send a copy of the audio to anyone who requests it from me.

Here's another article that has links to lectures by Dr. Sommer:

See also:

My blog Trinity Notes

Which include blogposts like

The Jewish Trinity: How the Old Testament Reveals the Christian Godhead by Dr. Michael Heiser

Old Testament Passages Implying Plurality in God

Proving That There Is A Plurality In The Godhead

Quotes from "Of A Plurality In The Godhead" by John Gill

The Aaronic Blessing Is Highly Suggestive of the Doctrine of the Trinity

 Quotations from the Jewish New Testament Commentary by David H. Stern

The Great Mystery; or, How Can Three Be One? [The Trinity in Early Judaism]





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