TWO POWERS IN HEAVEN: REVEALING ISRAEL’S SECOND GOD

RABBINIC JUDAISM’S STRUGGLE WITH DIVINE PLURALITY

In this post I will be citing from specific rabbinic sources highlighting the difficulties that rabbis had with the very same [O]ld [T]estament texts cited by Christians and others to prove the existence of multiple divine Persons within the Godhead. The references will demonstrate how the rabbis themselves realized that their very own Hebrew Bible pointed to the one true God existing as a divine plurality. This led the rabbis to find creative ways to explain away the import and explicit meaning of these particular OT texts which I am about to list.

THE OT PASSAGES

Here are the passages, which the rabbis clearly saw pointed to the one true God existing as a multiplicity of divine Persons. The readers shall see that these are the same texts employed by Christians to support the Trinity.

“Then God said, ‘Let US make humans (adam) in OUR image, according to OUR likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over the cattle and over all the wild animals of the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’” Genesis 1:26 New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition (NRSVUE)

Come, let US go down and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” Genesis 11:7 NRSVUE

“Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD out of heaven,” Genesis 19:24 NRSVUE

“I am going to send an angel in front of you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Be attentive to him and listen to his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him. But if you listen attentively to his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes. When my angel goes in front of you and brings you to the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, and I blot them out,” Exodus 23:20-23 NRSVUE  

“Then he said to Moses, “Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship at a distance.” Exodus 24:1 NRSVUE

“As I watched, thrones were set in place, and an Ancient One took his throne; his clothing was white as snow and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and flowed out from his presence. A thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him. The court sat in judgment, and the books were opened… As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being (kebar enash) coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.” Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 NRSVUE  

In the following examples, the Hebrew employs either a plural participle or plural verb in reference to God:  

“and there he built an altar and called the place El-bethel, because it was there that God had revealed (niglu – third person plural verb) himself to him when he fled from his brother.” Genesis 35:7 NRSVUE

“For what other great nation has a god so near (qerobim – plural participle) to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him?” Deuteronomy 4:7 NRSVUE

“Who is like your people, like Israel? Is there another nation on earth whose God went (halekhu – third person plural verb) to redeem it as a people and to make a name for himself, doing great and awesome things, driving out nations and their gods before your people, whom you redeemed for yourself from Egypt?” 2 Samuel 7:23 NRSVUE

THE RABBINIC DILEMMA

Instead of explaining how the foregoing cases prove that God is multi-Personal by nature, I will simply let the rabbinic sources themselves do it for me:

And Rav Yehuda says that Rav says: Adam the first man spoke in the language of Aramaic, as it is stated in the chapter of Psalms speaking in the voice of Adam: “How weighty also are Your thoughts to me, O God” (Psalms 139:17)…

And Rav Yehuda says that Rav says: Adam the first man was a heretic, as it is stated: “And the Lord called to the man and said to him: Where are you”? (Genesis 3:9), meaning, to where has your heart turned, indicating that Adam turned from the path of truth. Rabbi Yitzḥak says: He was one who drew his foreskin forward, so as to remove any indication that he was circumcised. It is written here: “And they like men [adam] have transgressed the covenant” (Hosea 6:7), and it is written there: “And the uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant” (Genesis 17:14).

Rav Naḥman says: He was a denier of the fundamental principle of belief in God. It is written here: “And they like men [adam] have transgressed the covenant,” and it is written there: “He has broken My covenant,” and it is written in a third verse: “And then they shall answer: Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord their God and worshipped other gods and served them” (Jeremiah 22:9)…

Rabbi Yoḥanan says: Any place in the Bible from where the heretics attempt to prove their heresy, i.e., that there is more than one god, the response to their claim is alongside them, i.e., in the immediate vicinity of the verses they cite. The verse states that God said: “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26), employing the plural, but it then states: “And God created man in His image” (Genesis 1:27), employing the singular. The verse states that God said: “Come, let us go down and there confound their language” (Genesis 11:7), but it also states: “And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower” (Genesis 11:5). The verse states in the plural: “There God was revealed [niglu] to him when he fled from the face of his brother” (Genesis 35:7), but it also states in the singular: “To God Who answers [haoneh] me in the day of my distress” (Genesis 35:3).

Rabbi Yoḥanan cites several examples where the counterclaim is in the same verse as the claim of the heretics. The verse states: “For what nation is there so great that has God so near to them as the Lord our God is whenever we call upon Him?” (Deuteronomy 4:7), where the term “near” is written in plural, kerovim, but the term “upon Him” is written in singular. Another verse states: “And who is like Your people, like Israel, a nation one in the earth, whom God went to redeem unto Himself for a people?” (II Samuel 7:23), where the term “went” is written in plural, halekhu, but the term “Himself” is written in singular. Another verse states: “I beheld till thrones were placed, and one that was ancient of days did sit” (Daniel 7:9); where the term “thrones” is written in plural, kharsavan, but the term “sit” is written in singular.

The Gemara asks: Why do I need these instances of plural words? Why does the verse employ the plural at all when referring to God? The Gemara explains: This is in accordance with the statement of Rabbi Yoḥanan, as Rabbi Yoḥanan says: The Holy One, Blessed be He, does not act unless He consults with the entourage of Above, i.e., the angels, as it is stated: “The matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the sentence by the word of the holy ones” (Daniel 4:14).

The Gemara clarifies: This works out well for almost all the verses, as they describe an action taken by God, but what is there to say concerning the verse: “I beheld till thrones were placed”? The Gemara answers: One throne is for Him and one throne is for David, i.e., the messiah, as it is taught in a baraita: One throne is for Him and one throne is for David; this is the statement of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Yosei said to him: Akiva! Until when will you desacralize the Divine Presence by equating God with a person? Rather, the correct interpretation is that both thrones are for God, as one throne is for judgment and one throne is for righteousness.

The Gemara asks: Did Rabbi Akiva accept this explanation from Rabbi Yosei or did he not accept it from him? The Gemara suggests: Come and hear a proof to the matter from what was taught in another baraita, as it is taught in a baraita: One throne is for judgment and one throne is for righteousness; this is the statement of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya said to him: Akiva! What are you doing near, i.e., discussing, matters of aggada? Go near tractates Nega’im and Oholot, which examine the complex halakhot of ritual purity, where your knowledge is unparalleled. Rather, the correct interpretation is that while both thrones are for God, one is for a throne and one is for a stool. There is a throne for God to sit upon, and a stool that serves as His footstool.

Rav Naḥman says: This one, i.e., any person, who knows how to respond to the heretics as effectively as Rav Idit should respond to them, but if he does not know, he should not respond to them. The Gemara relates: A certain heretic said to Rav Idit: It is written in the verse concerning God: “And to Moses He said: Come up to the Lord” (Exodus 24:1). The heretic raised a question: It should have stated: Come up to Me. Rav Idit said to him: This term, “the Lord,” in that verse is referring TO THE ANGEL METATRON, whose name is like the name of his Master, as it is written: “Behold I send an angel before you to keep you in the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Take heed of him and obey his voice; do not defy him; for he will not pardon your transgression, for My name is in him” (Exodus 23:20–21).

The heretic said to him: If so, if this angel IS EQUATED WITH GOD, we should worship him as we worship God. Rav Idit said to him: It is written: “Do not defy [tammer] him,” which alludes to: Do not replace Me [temireni] with him. The heretic said to him: If so, why do I need the clause “For he will not pardon your transgression”? Rav Idit said to him: We believe that we did not accept the angel even as a guide [befarvanka] for the journey, as it is written: “And he said to him: If Your Presence go not with me raise us not up from here” (Exodus 33:15). Moses told God that if God Himself does not accompany the Jewish people they do not want to travel to Eretz Yisrael.

The Gemara relates: A certain heretic said to Rabbi Yishmael, son of Rabbi Yosei: It is written: “And the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven” (Genesis 19:24). The heretic raised the question: It should have stated: From Him out of heaven. A certain launderer said to Rabbi Yishmael: Leave him be; I will respond to him. This is as it is written: “And Lemech said to his wives: Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; wives of Lemech, hearken to my speech” (Genesis 4:23). One can raise the question: It should have been written: My wives, and not: “Wives of Lemech.” Rather, it is the style of the verse to speak in this manner. Here too, it is the style of the verse to speak in this manner. Rabbi Yishmael said to the launderer: From where did you hear this interpretation? The launderer said to him: I heard it at the lecture of Rabbi Meir.

The Gemara comments: This is as Rabbi Yoḥanan said: When Rabbi Meir would teach his lecture he would expound one-third halakha, one-third aggada, and one-third parables. And Rabbi Yoḥanan says: Rabbi Meir had, i.e., taught, three hundred parables of foxes, and we have only three. (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 38b https://www.sefaria.org/Sanhedrin.38b?lang=bi; bold and capital emphasis mine)

Here’s another English version:

Rab Judah also said in Rab’s name: The first man spoke Aramaic,18 for it is written, How weighty are thy thoughts unto me, God.19 And that is what Resh Lakish meant when he said: What is the meaning of the verse, ‘This is the book of the generations of Adam?20 It is to intimate that the Holy One, blessed be He, showed him [Adam] every generation and its thinkers,21 every generation and its sages. When he came to the generation of Rabbi Akiba, he [Adam] rejoiced at his learning but was grieved at his death,22  and said: How weighty23 are Thy friends24 to me, O God.19

Rab Judah also said in Rab’s name: Adam was a Min,25 for it is written, And the Lord God called unto Adam and said unto him, Where art thou?26 i.e., whither has thine heart turned? R. Isaac said: He practised episplasm:27 For here it is written, But like man, [Adam] they have transgressed the covenant;28 whilst elsewhere it is said, He hath broken my covenant,29 R. Nahman said: He denied God.30 Here it is written, They have transgressed the covenant;28 whilst elsewhere it is stated, [He hath broken my covenant,31 and again,] Because they forsook the covenant of the Lord their God.32

R. Johanan sad: In all the passages which the Minim have taken [as grounds] for their heresy,36 their refutation is found near at hand. Thus: Let us make man in our image,37  — And God created [sing.] man in His own image;38  Come, let us go down and there confound their language,39 — And the Lord came down [sing.] to see the city and the tower;40 Because there were revealed [plur.] to him God,41 — Unto God who answereth [sing.] me in the day of my distress;42 For what great nation is there that hath God so nigh [plur.] unto it, as the Lord our God is [unto us] whensoever we call upon Him [sing.];43 And what one nation in the earth is like thy people, [like] Israel, whom God went [plur.] to redeem for a people unto himself [sing.],44 Till thrones were placed and one that was ancient did sit.45

Why were these46 necessary? To teach R. Johanan’s dictum; viz.: The Holy One, blessed be He, does nothing without consulting His Heavenly Court,47 for it is written, The matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the sentence by the word of the Holy Ones.48 Now, that is satisfactory for all [the other verses], but how explain Till thrones were placed? — One [throne] was for Himself and one for David.49 Even as it has been taught: One was for Himself and one for David: this is R. Akiba’s view. R. Jose protested to him: Akiba, how long will thou profane the Shechinah?50 Rather, one [throne] for justice, and the other for mercy. Did he accept [this answer] from him or not? Come and hear! For it has been taught: One is for justice and the other for charity; this is R. Akiba’s view. Said R. Eleazar b. Azariah to him: Akiba, what hast thou to do with Aggada? Confine thyself to [the study of] Nega’im and Ohaloth.51 But one was a throne, the other a footstool: a throne for a seat and a footstool in support of His feet.

R. Nahman said: He who is as skilled in refuting the Minim as is R. Idith,52  let him do so; but not otherwise. Once a Min said to R. Idith: It is written, And unto Moses He said, Come up to the Lord.53 But surely it should have stated, Come up unto me! — IT WAS METATRON54 [who said that], he replied, whose name is similar to that of his Master,55 for it is written, For my name is in him.56 But if so, [he retorted,] we should worship him! The same passage, however, — replied R. Idith says: Be not rebellious57  against him, i.e., exchange Me not for him. But if so,58 why is it stated: He will not pardon your transgression?59 He answered: By our troth60 we would not accept him even as a messenger,61 for it is written, And he said unto him, If Thy [personal] presence go not etc.62

A Min once said to R. Ishmael b. Jose: It is written, Then the Lord caused to rain upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord:63 but from him should have been written! A certain fuller64 said, Leave him to me, I will answer him. [He then proceeded,’ It is written, And Lamech said to his wives, Ada and Zillah, Hear my voice, ye wives of Lamech;65 but he should have said, my wives! But such is the Scriptural idiom — so here too, it is the Scriptural idiom.

Whence do you know that? asked he [R. Ishmael]. — I heard it in a public discourse66  of R. Meir, [he answered]. Even as R. Johanan said: When R. Meir used to deliver his public discourses, a third was Halacha, a third Haggadah, and a third consisted of parables. R Johanan also said: R. Meir had three hundred parables of foxes, and we have only three left,67

  1. This may have been said in justification of the abandonment by the Babylonian Jews of the Hebrew language in favour of Aramaic.]
  2. Ps. CXXXIX, 17. This Psalm deals with the creation of man. [H] ‘weighty’, and [H] ‘thoughts’ are Aramaisms.
  3. Gen. V, 1.
  4. Lit., ‘exponents’.
  5. R. Akiba was executed by Tineius Rufus after being most cruelly tortured. Cf. Ber. 61b.
  6. Perhaps to be understood here with a twofold meaning: weighty = honoured; and weighty = a source of heaviness and grief.
  7. [H] is probably here taken in its usual Hebrew meaning, ‘Thy friends’.
  8. V. Glos. V. p. 234, n. 4; it is to be observed that Min is contrasted (in the next passage) with unbeliever.
  9. Gen. III, 9.
  10. I.e., he removed the mark of circumcision.
  11. Hos. VI, 7.
  12. Gen. XVII, 14. with reference to circumcision.
  13. Lit., ‘the fundamental (principle)’.
  14. Gen. XVII, 14. Ms.M. omits the bracketed passage; rightly so, for it is irrelevant.
  15. Jer. XXII, 9, referring to belief in God…
  1. E.g., where God is spoken of in the plural.
  2. Gen. I, 26.
  3. Ibid. 27.
  4. Gen. XI, 7.
  5. Ibid. 5.
  6. Ibid. XXXV, 7.
  7. Ibid. 3.
  8. Deut. IV, 7.
  9. II Sam. VII, 23.
  10. Dan. VII, 9.
  11. Plural forms.
  12. [H], ‘family’v. p. 675.
  13. Dan. IV, 14.
  14. The Messiah.
  15. By asserting that a human being sit beside Him.
  16. Names of Treatises in the Seder Tohoroth, the most difficult in the whole of the Talmud. V. infra 67b. R. Akiba was a great authority on these laws, whereas his Haggadic interpretations were not always acceptable. [This interpretation involved the same danger as that of R. Akiba’s first interpretation in that it tended to obscure the true monotheistic concept of God.]
  17. [Ms.M.: R. Idi.]
  18. Ex. XXIV, 1.
  19. Name of an Angel, probably derived from metator, guide. In Talmud and Midrash he is regarded notably as the defender of the rights of Israel (cf. Hag. 16a).
  20. Cf. Rashi on Ex. XXIII, 21. The numerical value of Metatron ([H]) is equal to that of [H] (the Almighty) viz. 314.
  21. Ex. XXIII, 21.
  22. [H] is here taken, in the sense of ‘exchange’, from [H].
  23. That he is not to be worshipped, but God alone.
  24. Ibid. Surely, he has no authority to do so.
  25. Lit., ‘we hold the belief.’
  26. Lit., ‘Postman’ — of forgiveness.
  27. Ex. XXXIII, 15. [The Min was a believer in the doctrine of two rulers and he sought support for this belief from Ex. XXIV, 1. R. Idith met his argument by showing that even Metatron was accepted by Jews only as guide, and in no sense a second god. For a full discussion of the passage, v. Herford, op. cit. p. 285ff.]
  28. Gen. XIX, 24
  29. A figure frequently mentioned in the Talmud as of a specific type. V. e.g., Ber. 28a, Ned. 41a. [In Roman literature, he is an object of ridicule; in rabbinic lore, he plays a more dignified role.]
  30. Gen. IV, 23.
  31. [H] v. supra p. 178 n. 3.
  32. Probably of those collected by R. Meir, since many other fox fables are found scattered throughout the Talmud and Midrash. Cf. Ber. 61b; Eccl. Rab. V. 14. (Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin, Folio 38; bold emphasis mine)

JEHOVAH IS AN ANGEL NAMED AKATRIEL YH WHO PRAYS?

The following rabbinic source identifies Jehovah of Hosts as an Angel named Akatriel!

R. Johanan says in the name of R. Jose: How do we know that the Holy One, blessed be He, says prayers? Because it says: Even them will I bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer.1 It is not said, ‘their prayer’, but ‘My prayer’; hence [you learn] that the Holy One, blessed be He, says prayers. What does He pray? — R. Zutra b. Tobi said in the name of Rab: ‘May it be My will that My mercy may suppress My anger, and that My mercy may prevail over My [other] attributes, so that I may deal with My children in the attribute of mercy and, on their behalf, stop short of the limit of strict justice’.2 It was taught: R. Ishmael b. Elisha says: I once entered into the innermost part [of the Sanctuary] to offer incense and saw Akathriel Jah,3 the Lord of Hosts, seated upon a high and exalted throne. He said to me: Ishmael, My son, bless Me! I replied: May it be Thy will that Thy mercy may suppress Thy anger and Thy mercy may prevail over Thy other attributes, so that Thou mayest deal with Thy children according to the attribute of mercy and mayest, on their behalf, stop short of the limit of strict justice! And He nodded to me with His head. Here we learn [incidentally] that the blessing of an ordinary man must not be considered lightly in your eyes.

  1. Ibid. LVI, 7. ‘In the house of My prayer’.
  2. I.e., not exact the full penalty from them.
  3. Lit., ‘crown of God’. (Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Berakoth, Folio 7)

Peter Schäfer, considered the foremost authority on Judaism today, cites and comments on another version of this same rabbinic tradition:

Akatriel Is Metatron and God

There is yet another version of the ascent of Elisha ben Avuyah in the Hekhalot literature, this time not the Third Book of Enoch, but as an independent literary unit titled “The Mystery of Sandalfon.” It is not known where or when it was written, but in its present form it can be found only in Hekhalot literature:   

Elisha ben Avuyah said: “When I ascended to the pardes I beheld Akatriel YH, the Lord of hosts, who sits at the entrance to the pardes, and 120 myriads of ministering angels surround him, as it is said: ‘Thousands upon thousands served him and myriads upon myriads, etc. [stood attending him]’ (Dan. 7:10).

When I saw them I was alarmed and startled, regained my composure and entered before the Holy One, blessed be he.”

I said before him: “Lord of the world, you wrote in your Torah: ‘Behold, to the Lord your God, belong heaven and the heavens of heaven, etc.’ (Deut. 10:14). And it is written: ‘[The heavens are telling the glory of God], and the firmament declares the work of his hands’ (Ps. 19:2)– one alone!”

He said to me: “Elisha my son, have you perhaps come in order to reflect upon my mysteries? Have you now heard the parable that human beings apply?”

The text breaks off here, and the continuation with the parable is missing in both manuscripts. In MS Oxford, a colophon follows, and in MS New York, the scribe adds “I found no parable” and then continues with the work Harba de-Moshe (The Sword of Moses).

There is no doubt that this is yet another version of the narrative on Elisha ben Avuyah’s ascent to heaven and his encounter with Metatron. Here, however, Elisha is not called Aher and, as we will see, also not a heretic. Metatron is referred to here as Akatriel and assumes the same function as Metatron does in 3 Enoch and in the Bavli, and consequently, his throne stands at the entrance of the seventh heaven and not at its center. But he is nevertheless served by the myriads of angels from Daniel 7:10 standing around his throne. Because the Daniel verse refers to the “Ancient of Days” and thus clearly to God, other qualities of God in addition to sitting are attributed to the angel Akatriel. It is thus not surprising that in view of this presumed second God, Elisha becomes ashamed and startled. In contrast to the version in 3 Enoch and the Bavli discussed earlier, here Elisha does not draw the heretical conclusion that there are two Gods in heaven, for which he would have been punished. On the contrary, he enters the seventh heaven and, evidently at the center steps before the throne of God, who is clearly identified as such through the epithet “the Holy One, blessed be he.”  

Here something unexpected happens. Elisha is transformed from the protagonist of the idea of two Gods in heaven–and thus the arch heretic–into an opponent of this idea, of which he accuses none other than God himself. He does this with two Bible verses that clarify the heaven of heavens (that is, all seven heavens) belong to God alone (Deut. 10:14), and for that reason, the heavens praise the glory of God, and the firmament–the Hebrew word for firmament (raqia’) in the Hekhalot literature is also a technical name for one of the seven heavens–announces the work of his hands. In other words, he accuses God of violating his own Torah by enthroning Akatriel, surrounded by his ministering angels, at the entrance to the seventh heaven, although the Torah clearly states that there can only be one God alone. According to this version the heretic is God himself. And how does God respond? He gruffly reproaches Elisha and rather haughtily lets him know that it is not Elisha’s responsibility to speculate about God’s mysteries. (Schäfer, Two Gods in Heaven: Jewish Concepts of God in Antiquity [Princeton University Press, 2020], Part II: Rabbinic Judaism and Early Jewish Mysticism, 11. From the Human Enoch to the Lesser God Metatron, pp. 119-121; bold emphasis mine)

RABBINIC POLEMICS AGAINST THE SECOND POWER

Suffice it to say the rabbis were not pleased with this and sought to censure any Jew who would use these statements to affirm and argue that God exists as a multi-Personal Being. They did so by fabricating myths about God punishing Metatron for allowing a heretic to confuse him for being the true God without God’s chief angel correcting him:

§ The Gemara stated earlier that Aḥer chopped down the saplings, becoming a heretic. With regard to him, the verse states: “Do not let your mouth bring your flesh into guilt” (Ecclesiastes 5:5). The Gemara poses a question: What was it that led him to heresy? He saw the angel Mitatron, who was granted permission to sit and write the merits of Israel. He said: There is a tradition that in the world above there is no sitting; no competition; no turning one’s back before Him, i.e., all face the Divine Presence; and no lethargy. Seeing that someone other than God was seated above, he said: Perhaps, the Gemara here interjects, Heaven forbid, there are two authorities, and there is another source of power in control of the world in addition to God. Such thoughts led Aḥer to heresy.

The Gemara relates: They removed Mitatron from his place in heaven and smote him with sixty rods [pulsei] of fire, so that others would not make mistake that Aḥer made. They said to the angel: What is the reason that when you saw Elisha ben Avuya you did not stand before him? Despite this conduct, since Mitatron was personally involved, he was granted permission to erase the merits of Aḥer and cause him to stumble in any manner. A Divine Voice went forth saying: “Return, rebellious children” (Jeremiah 3:22), apart from Aḥer.

Upon hearing this, Elisha ben Avuya said: Since that man, meaning himself, has been banished from that world, let him go out and enjoy this world. Aḥer went astray. He went and found a prostitute and solicited her for intercourse. She said to him: And are you not Elisha ben Avuya? Shall a person of your stature perform such an act? He uprooted a radish from a patch of radishes on Shabbat and gave it to her, to demonstrate that he no longer observed the Torah. The prostitute said: He is other than he was. He is not the same Elisha ben Avuya, he is Aḥer, other. (Chagigah 15a https://www.sefaria.org/Chagigah.15a.5-7?lang=bi)

Another translation reads:

Aher mutilated the shoots.11 Of him Scripture says: Suffer not thy mouth to bring thy flesh into guilt.12 What does it refer to? — He saw that permission was granted to Metatron13 to sit and write down14 the merits of Israel. Said he: It is taught as a tradition that on high15 there is no sitting16 and no emulation, and no back,17 and no weariness.18 Perhaps, — God forfend! — there are two divinities! [Thereupon] they led Metatron forth, and punished him with sixty fiery lashes,19 saying to him: Why didst thou not rise before him when thou didst see him? Permission was [then] given to him to strike out the merits of Aher. A Bath Kol20 went forth and said: Return, ye backsliding children21 — except Aher.22 [Thereupon] he said: Since I23 have been driven forth from yonder world,24 let me go forth and enjoy this world. So Aher went forth into evil courses.25 He went forth, found a harlot and demanded her. She said to him: Art thou not Elisha b. Abuyah? [But] when he tore a radish26 out of its bed on the Sabbath and gave it to her, she said: It is another [Aher].27

(11) V. supra p. 91, n. 10.

(12) Eccl. V, 5. (A.V. 6); v. rest of verse.

(13) The name of one of the highest angels. Various derivations of the word have been suggested. Cf. Levy and Jast. s.v. For an illuminating article on the character, activities and identity of Metatron, v. J.E. vol. VIII, p. 519.

(14) The sentence may also be rendered thus: ‘He saw M. to whom permission was given to be seated while writing down etc.’ (Jast.).

(15) I.e., in heaven.

(16) MS.M. (v. Rabb. D.S. a.I.) reads: ‘no standing and no sitting’ i.e., no effort and no rest. This reading, in reverse order, was known to Maim. (Comm. on Mishnah Sanhedrin, ch. 10); but Rashi deletes the words ‘no standing’.

(17) I.e., the angels have faces in all directions (Rashi), Jast. explains i.e., everything is in sight. Maim. (loc. cit.) renders: ‘no division’.

(18) Maim. ‘no junction’.

(19) I.e., he was beaten with ‘heated disks or rings strung on a lash’ (Jast.). The purpose of the punishment was to show that M. had no more power than others (Tosaf.).

(20) V. p. 73, n. 12. (21) Jer. III, 22.

(22) According to our passage, Aher was guilty of the heresy of dualism. L. Ginzberg (J.E. vol. V, pp. 138-139) denies all historic worth to the story given here, which, on account of its reference to Metatron — which he declares to be a specifically Babylonian idea — and its lack of connection with the introductory words, he declares to be of late origin. Ginzberg prefers the parallel account in J. Hag. II, l, where it is related that when Elisha saw a scholar he slew him, that he enticed the young from studying the Torah, and that he informed against the Jews when they sought to perform the work they were ordered to do on the Sabbath in a manner not to break the Law, These events undoubtedly refer to the period of the Hadrianic persecutions. In the J.T. two reasons are mentioned for his apostasy: according to some, he saw one man break the precept of Deut. XXII, 7, without coming to harm, and another observe it and get killed; according to others, he saw the tongue of the great scholar R. Judah Nahtum in the mouth of a dog. The J.T. also gives a different version of the verses discussed by Elisha with R. Meir, and of what R. Meir said on his master’s death (v. J.E. vol. VIII, p. 434).

(23) Lit., ‘that man’, a frequent euphemism for I or thou (to avoid ominous speech or curse).

(24) I.e. ‘he would have no share in the world to come (cf. Sanh. 90a (Sonc. ed., p. 601).

(25) Lit,, ‘evil growth’, hence, ‘evil rearing, manners, ways’. The stories that follow show the expression to mean here moral depravity and apostasy.

(26) Strictly, the soft tuber of the radish; cf. ‘Er. 28b.

(27) ‘Aher’ is thus explained to mean ‘another person’. Ginzberg (op. cit.) takes the view that it is a euphemism for a vile thing (cf. rjt rcs). V. p. 91, n. 3.  (Talmud – Mas. Chagigah 2a https://halakhah.com/pdf/moed/Chagigah.pdf; bold emphasis mine)

CONCLUDING REMARKS

The foregoing citations should help the readers see that the rabbis themselves realized and had to contend with the fact that the Hebrew Bible itself reveals that there are at least two divine Powers ruling together in heaven.

The rabbis were forced to contend with specific groups such as Christians who were citing verses where God is described with plural pronouns, verbs, participles etc., or where the Angel of the Lord is equated with Yahweh himself, to prove that Israel’s God is a multi-Personal Being. The rabbis had to further address certain individuals from among their own camp, e.g., Rabbi Akiba, Elisha ben Avuyah etc., that also believed and taught that there were two heavenly divine Powers.

The fact is that the rabbinic responses to the clear, unambiguous testimony of the Hebrew prophets that the God of Israel is multi-Personal by nature leaves a lot to be desired, as can be seen from some of the many responses to the rabbinic arguments.  I will link to some of these rebuttals at the conclusion of my post.

Suffice it to say, these rabbinic citations are a great aid in helping Jews and various non-Trinitarian cults and groups realize that the revelation of God’s Triunity is not merely based upon the inspired witness of the New Testament writings. Rather, the Triunity of God is a revelation which has deep roots in the Hebrew Scriptures themselves.  

NOTES

* After the time of Christ, certain segments of Judaism began to identify Enoch with both the Danielic Son of Man and the chief angel Metatron. This is readily seen in the  work called Third Enoch, which scholars believe was composed during the 5th century AD.  

* The term Aher (lit. “an other”) is a name believed to be given to Elisha ben Avuyah. Avuyah was a Jewish rabbi who was condemned as a heretic for endorsing the view that there were two Gods or divine Powers in heaven. Avuyah is said to have ascended into heaven where he is reported to have seen two divine beings, namely God and his chief Angel, who is variously referred to as Metatron, Akatriel YH, Enoch.

FURTHER READING

THE ANGEL METATRON: JUDAISMS’ SECOND YHWH

The OT Evidence for God’s Uni-Plurality

Elohim and the Trinity [Part 2]

NOTES FOR KELLY POWERS VS. DUSTIN SMITH DEBATE REVIEW

JUDAISMS’ VIEWS ON THE MESSIAH’S PREHUMAN EXISTENCE

The Rabbis Affirm the Divine Prehuman Existence of the Messiah!

How Rabbinic Judaism’s Belief in Two Messiahs proves that Jesus is the Christ

A Leading Jewish Rabbi Exposes the Duplicity of Jewish anti-Christian Missionaries!

4 thoughts on “TWO POWERS IN HEAVEN: REVEALING ISRAEL’S SECOND GOD

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