J. (Joshua) Abelson.

The immanence of God in rabbinical literature online

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association between the ideas.

In XX. 1 it is noteworthy that both Onkelos and
Pseudo- Jonathan render literally " and God spake."
But the Jerus. Targum has " and the Memra spake."

In XXV. 22, " And I shall prepare my Memra for
thee there."

In xxxiii. 22, " And I shall protect thee with my
Memra until I pass." It is noteworthy that in Pseudo-
Jonathan we get the two phrases "Memra" and
"^riD-'Dt!? "ip"' in the same sentence. The latter is the
rendering for the Hebrew "'iiiD, " my glory," and the
former for "'DD, " my hand." Thus, the Shechinah would
seem to be the glory of the Immanent God in the
general sense ; the Memra would be an aspect or
particular expression of this, viz. the protection or
providence of the Immanent God.^^^^

III. Leviticus. — In v. 21 Pseudo-Jonathan has, " If
a man sin and speak falsehood against the name of
the Memra of God." Here there is again the mystical


personification of the Name which we have just alluded
to. Onkelos has simply, " before God." In xx. 23,
" For all these things have they done, and my
Memra has removed them afar." The Memra is the
punitive agency, which must be considered later on.

In xxvi. 46, " These are the statutes and the judg-
ments and the laws which the Lord gave between His
Memra and the children of Israel."

IV. Numbers. — In x. 35, " Reveal Thyself now,
Memra of God, in Thy great anger, and let the enemies
of Thy people be scattered" (Pseudo -Jonathan).
Onkelos renders exactly as in the Biblical text. The
Jerusalem Targum is identical in meaning, though not
in phrasing, with Pseudo-Jonathan, but it has the
following significant addition, "and cause the glory of
Thy Shechinah to rest among them." It is interesting
to observe here, how the Shechinah is secondary, and not
parallel to, the Memra. The Memra is to shed the
Shechinah upon Israel. (A similar instance of the
Memra leading the people to glory is Isaiah Ixiii. 14,
" As a beast goeth along in the plain, thus the Memra
of God led them." ^"°^ Here Memra is the translation of
the Hebrew " Ruah," " spirit.")

In xiv. 9, " And the Memra of God is our help,
fear them not."

Ibid. 11, "And how long will they not believe in
my Memra ? " ^^^^

In xxiii. 8, " How shall I curse those of the house
of Jacob, seeing that the Memra of God has blessed them ?
How shall I make small those of the house of Israel,
seeing that the Memra of God has made them great ? "

In xxiii. 21, "The Memra of the Lord their God is
their help, and the Shechinah of their king is among
them." Here the two terms are used in a parallel sense.
(Compare Hosea ix. 10, where the Memra finds Israel


in the wilderness, as a vine planted by a well of water ;
also Hosea xi. 4, w^iere the Memra is the good plough-
man, who lightens the yoke from the backs of the

V. Deuteronomy. — In i. 32, "And in this thing
ye do not believe in the Memra of the Lord your God "
(also i. 30, " The Memra of the Lord your God who
walketh before you shall make war for you "). In iv.
33, " Hath any people heard the voice of the Memra
of God speaking from the midst of the fire ? " (similar
idea in iv. 36). In v. 35, " I was standing between the
Memra of God and between you." In v. 11 (Pseudo-
Jonathan), " Oh, my people, sons of Israel, swear not
one of you in the name of the Memra of the Lord
your God."

In V. 21 (Pseudo-Jonathan), " And ye said. Verily the
Memra of the Lord your God hath shown you the
' Shechinah ' of His glory, and the greatness of His
praise. And the voice of His Memra have we heard
from the midst of the fire ; this day have we seen that
the Lord speaketh with a man in whom is the Holy
Spirit, and he liveth." It is remarkable that we have
here all three phases of Divine Immanence which we
are investigating, viz. the Shechinah, Memra, and the
Holy Spirit.

In xxxiii. 7 there is a direct invocation to the
Memra as follows : " Hear, Memra of God, the
voice of Judah's prayer, and be a stay and
support to him from his enemies " (Jerus. Targum,
ad loc).

(B) The Memra as Divine Justice

It is the Memra who is always the subject of
swearing or oathtaking. Either the Memra takes the
oath, or God swears by His Memra. This is the way in


which Targumic literature describes Divine fidelity to
Divine promises whether to reward or punish.

In Genesis vi. 6, " And God turned from His
Memra by which He had made man in the land, and He
said by His Memra to break their strength according to
His will" (Onkelos)/^^^ Jerusalem Targum has the same,
except that it ends up, " and He brought affliction
upon them by His Memra."

In Genesis viii. 21, "And God said by His Memra,
I will not again curse the ground for the sake of
man, etc."

In Genesis xx. 3, " And the Memra of God came
to Abimelech in a dream of the night."

In Genesis xxx. 23, xxiv. 3, xxii. 16, we get the
Memra as the subject of the oath.

In Exodus xxxii. 13 same as in Genesis.

In Exodus xxxii. 35, "And the Memra of God
plagued the people" (Jerusalem Targum). The just
retribution which falls upon the heads of the calf-
worshippers is effected by the Memra.

In Leviticus xxvi. 30, the Hebrew, " And my soul
shall abhor you," is rendered, " And my Memra shall
remove you afar off." The Memra here is the avenger
of the wayward Israelites (cp. Isaiah i. 14 ; Ezekiel
xxiii. 18).

In Numbers xiv. 30 we have again the Memra as
the instrument of the Divine oath (cp. Ezekiel xx. 5).

In Deuteronomy ix. 3, " And thou shalt know this day
that the Lord thy God passeth before thee ; His Memra
is a devouring fire." So Onkelos renders. Pseudo-
Jonathan instead of " He passeth before thee," has, " The
Shechinah of His glory walketh before thee." ^^^^

I think one can safely make the following deductions
from this short exposition of the usage of Memra :

xiir THE MEMRA 159

(1) That besides being a mere artifice for avoiding
anthropomorphism, the Memra has, to the minds of the
Targumic authors, some real theological connotation,

(2) That it connotes tlie manifestation on earth and
among men of several aspects of Divine power, goodness,
wisdom and justice. The "Word" is a world-permeat-
ing force, a reality in the world of matter or mind, the
immanent aspect of God holding all things under its
omnipresent sway. (3) That it has affinities in meaning
to both Shechinah and Holy Spirit, except that these,
as can be readily seen from the examples given, are
more generally used in the Targumim to denote the
Immanent Deity from the standpoint of glory, majesty,
etc., whereas the Memra more frequently signifies
the immanent creative, controlling, guiding principle
rather from the standpoint of force than of love,
although, of course, it often appears in the latter senses
as well. (4) That it has affinities with the employment
of "wisdom" in the Apocryphal literature. Just as
the Memra is punitive and will brook neither evil nor
evil-doers, so also " Wisdom will not enter into a soul
that deviseth evil ; nor dwell in a body that is held in
pledge by sin " (Wisdom of Solomon i. 4-5), and it brings
just retribution on tyrants and oppressors. " Their
enemies she drowned, and out of the bottom of the deep
she cast them out" (x. 19). Just as the Memra is the
great healer and preserver of the saints, so also " Thy
word, Lord, healeth all things" (Wisdom xvi. 12), and
" Thy word preserveth them that put their trust in Thee "
(xvi. 26). (5) That it is not used as an intermediary
between man and God ; and this accords with the
Rabbinic anxiety to avoid all possible suspicion of
teaching the existence of two beings having equal
or nearly equal Divine powers. ^"^^ A passage such as
that already quoted from Deut. xxxiii. 7, " Hear,


Memra of God, the voice of Judah's prayer," is to be
explained, by supposing that the Memra is artificially
inserted here to avoid the anthropomorphism, or (and
this is a more likely solution) that the Memra here is
the Deity in His aspect of Love, God as the receiver
of the prayer of the just.

Bearing this in mind, it is rather surprising to
find that Philo is almost less Jewish in his doctrine
of God than the author of the Gospel of St. John.
Philo in many a memorable passage boldly declares
his Logos to be an "Intercessor," a "Paraclete" of
humanity. In the rare cases in which the Memra is
found to bear such a sense, the passages are of not
much importance. And as for the sections in the
Fourth Gospel, where Jesus is depicted in an intercessory
role, these are shown as having a decidedly Rabbinic
colouring. In note 36 in Chapter III. it has been shown
how close is the correspondence between the ideas of the
opening verse of the Fourth Gospel, and the many Rab-
binical sayings about the eternity and pre-existence of
the Torah. But even more pronounced is the corre-
spondence between the ideas of both prologue and body
of that Gospel, with the theological import of the Tar-
gumic Memra. In the prologue the "Word" is the
essence of the immanent God in the universe and man.
It is the agent and quickening spirit in creation, the life
of all that lives and the light of all that shines. In
some of the most striking declarations of Paul there
is the very same conception in regard to the Messiah
(Christ). Thus, "Through him are all things" (Pom.
xi. 36). He is "Life-giving Spirit" (1 Cor. xv.
45). "Christ is all, and in all" (Col. iii. 11). His
reign is co-extensive with history. He is " the first-
born of all creation." He is " before all things, and in
him all things hold together" (Col. i. 15, 17).


Now, what are the theological connotations which
are assio^ned to the Memra in the Taro^umim ? The
examples adduced, prove that the Memra points to a
Divine manifestation in the affairs of the world, that
in the mind of the old-world Targumic author, it
expressed the unfailing and infallible Presence of a
Godhead who is mercy and wisdom and power and love
all in glorious combination, revealing themselves in all
the chequered incidents of the life of Israel, in order to
sustain God's people in their upward path towards
riorhteousness. It is with teaching of this nature, that
the Fourth Gospel seems to accord. Of course, I
assume that the modern critical view of the Fourth
Gospel is the correct one, viz. that it is a book written
with a theological, rather than a historical, purpose, that
it is a subjective interpretation of an idea, or series of
ideas, rather than an objective presentation, a chronicle
of events.

I will now take some parts of the Gospel in detail.
The remark in i. 1, "The Word was with God, and
the Word was God," so far from lending itself to the
Christological interpretation of the identity between
God and Jesus, seems to aim at conveying an idea just
the reverse. It has been shown from our study of both
Shechinah and Memra, that although the Rabbins
personified these terms, speaking with the greatest
freedom of them as the visible manifestations of Deity
in the objective world, they yet left no stone unturned
to prevent any belief in anything but the unique and
incomparable unity of God. The Gospel seems to bring
out just this insistence on the Divine unity, " The Word
was with God, and the Word was God. The Word was
in the beginning with God. All things were made by
Him ; and without Him was not anything made that was
made." It is an exact reproduction of the Rabbinic



emphasis upon everytliing having been made by the
" Ma'amar," based on the Psalmist's declaration, " For
He spake, and it was " (Psalm xxxiii, 9), with the proviso
that this " Ma'amar " must not detract one iota from
the absolute Unity of Deity. The Gospel's allusions to
the metaphor of light in the next few verses seem to be
a further harping on the same Midrashic string. The
manifold figurative portrayal of the Shechinah as
Light has already been mentioned. The ideas of
"the Word made flesh" (i. 14) and "the only begotten
of the Father" [ibid.) seem also to be an echo of
mystical statements found in Rabbinic thought. In
T. B. Pesahim 54a we get an enumeration of seven
persons or things which were created before the world
came into existence. These are (l) the Torah, which is
called "the firstling of His way" (Prov. viii. 22) ; (2)
the throne of glory which is " established of old " (Psalm
xciii. 2) ; (3) the sanctuary : " From the beginning is
the place of our sanctuary" (Jer. xvii. 12); (4) the
garden of Eden (Rabbinical interpretation of mpcj in Gen.
ii. 8); (5) Gehenna : " Tophet is ordained of old" (Isaiah
XXX. 33) ; (6) Repentance : " Before the mountains w^ere
brought forth, or ever Thou hadst formed the earth and
the world" . . . Thou saidst, "Return, ye children of
men " (Psalm xc. 2-3) ; (7) the name of the Messiah :
" Before the sun His name sprouts forth as Yinnon, the
Awakener" (Psalm Ixxii. 17 Rabbinical interpretion).^'^^
This pre-existence * "of the name of the Messiah" has

* It is worth while comparing this Rabbinic enumeration of seven pre-
existent things with the N.T. Apocalypse passages, such as i. 4, "And from the
seven spirits which are before His throne," and iv. 5, "And there were seven
lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God."
That the Apocalypse in its present form can be traced to a mmiber of sources
more or less loosely held together in a mechanical union, seems to be the
opinion of the best modern German scholars, such as Pfleiderer, Weizsiicker,
Spitta, etc. [although Swete in his edition of the Apocalypse (Macmillan, 1907)
seems to argue for a unity of authorship]. And they also agree in this, viz.
that many of these sources are Jewish. [Cp. e.g. a phrase like, "Hurt not the
earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we shall have sealed the servants


a strong bearing on the Gospel idea under consideration.
In John viii. 58 Jesus says, " Before Abraham was,
I am." One can clearly see then, that the " Word "

of our God on their foreheads" (vii. 3); the idea of "sealing the servants of
God" is the Talmudic idea found in T. B. Rosh Hoshana 16b cniDJ D'pns
□"n'? nn'^N'? D'cnmi DunD>] The succeeding verse (vi. 6), "And before the throne,
as it were a glassy sea like unto crystal," seems to have affinity with tlie Rabbinic
seven things before the creation of the world, in so far as it is clearly
reminiscent of the earliest verses of the first chapter of Genesis, where we lind
the waters above the tinnament answering to the waters below it. Beyond
these upper waters, therefore, lay the throne of God, which pre-existed to the
universe (cp. for same idea. Book of Enoch xiv. 9, Secrets of Enoch, edit.
Charles, p. 4). There is an interesting allusion to these seven pre-
existences in the Syriac Odes mid Fsulms of Solomon, edited from MSS. and
translated by Dr. Rendel Harris (Cambridge University Press, 1909). It
occurs in Ode iv. thus : ' ' For Thy sanctuary Thou hast designed before Thou
didst make other places ; that which is the elder shall not be altered by those
that are younger than itself." Dr. Harris says (p. 91) : "The writer of the Psalm
if not of Jewish origin is, at least, Jewish in sympathy ; he holds the Jewish be-
lief that the sanctuary at Jerusalem was older than the world in which it stood ;
it was, according to Rabbinic teaching, prior to all the created things." What
called forth the Psalm, may be, according to Dr. Harris, "some unknown
movement to carry on the Jewish worship outside the desolated and proscribed
sanctuary, or the closing of the Jewish Temple at Leontopolis in Egypt, which
was, perhaps, itself in the first instance built under the pressure of the situation
which resulted in the desecration of the Temple at Jerusalem by Antiochus
Epiphanes." In this Ode again there is an allusion to sealing : " For Thy seal
is known ; and Thy creatures know it ; and Thy [heavenly] hosts possess it ; and
the elect archangels are clad with it." This compares well with the N.T.
Ajjocalypse passage (vii. 3) quoted above, which, as we said there, has decided
Rabbinic affinities. It is hard to see why Dr. Harris should so emphatically
deny the possibility of a Jewish authorship of this Ode in the collection. It
may be true enough that, as he says, ' ' there are no Scripture references in the
Ode." But the whole style breathes the spirit of the O.T. and the Rabbinical

Since writing the aforegoing I have had the opportunity of reading Harnack's
critical review of Rendel Harris's work, entitled Mn jiidisch-christliches Psalm-
buck aus dem ersten Jahrhundert (Leipzig, 1910). Harnack's thesis is that the
Odes emanate from a Jewish hand, and have received Christian interpolations
here and there. While admitting, as he does (see p. 29), that more than
one hand has been at work on this particular Ode ("So dass man schwer
glauben kann, dass die beiden Stiicke urspriinglich eine Einheit gebildet haben "),
he does not so severely exclude the Jewish possibility as R. Harris throughout

During the interval between the publication of Harnack's work and the
present date (1912) this scholar's views have been the subject of considerable
discussion. The main current of learned opinion flows in the direction of
Rendel Harris's conclusions, that the Odes are Christian rather than Jewish.
Thus, in the Journal of Theologiral Studies for January 1912, Father Conolly,
in an able examination of the Odes, maintains that they are entirely Christian.
In the Expositor for January 1912, Professor Wensinck of Utrecht argues for tlie
Christian view by a comparison between the Odes and some points in the
writings of Ephraeni. In the Theologisclie Literaturzcitumj for .January 1912,


which was " in the beginning," and afterwards " was
made flesh" and became the Christ, is an echo of the
Rabbinic teaching about the pre-existence of Messiah/"*^^
The idea of sonship in relation to God, is developed in
Rabbinical literature on the basis of many statements in
the Old Testament, and is quite free from any theological
or dogmatic significance. It is a Hebrew idiom, which
conveys nothing more than the truth of the spirituality of
man. Every Israelite, every member of the human race,
enjoys God's fatherhood ; it is " spirit " and not physical
descent which puts man in the filial relation to his
Father in heaven. But there is this exception, viz. that
in certain passages in Rabbinic literature, the Messiah
is singled out for special sonship. Thus T. B, Sukkah
52a makes God address Messiah, son of David, in the
words of Psalm ii. 7, 8, " Thou art my Son, ask of me,
etc." (cp. also Genesis Rabba xliv. 8). Similarly, the
" Son " of Psalm Ixxx. 17 is rendered by the Targum as
" King Messiah."

It seems to be just this exceptional usage of son
in a Messianic sense, that was adopted by the Fourth
Gospel, and made the basis of a dogma which has had
the most far-reaching efi"ects for Christianity. But can
we go further, and give a Rabbinic authorship to the
special phrase " Only begotten Son," used more than
once in the Fourth Gospel ? In his Tei'minologie
der judischen Schriftauslegung, Professor Bacher
shows how the Hebrew root irf is frequently used in
Rabbinical literature as a synonym for ~ini (chosen,
elect).^^^^ The Gospel translation " only begotten Son "

Professor Montgomery has a paper on ' ' The Quotations from the New Testament
in the Odes of Solomon." Curiously enough, where Harnack and Sjiitta discover
essentially Jewish teaching, Montgomery finds citations from the New Testa-
ment. Further, he tries to show that the quotations from the Old Testament,
are chiefly drawn from those books with which the early Church was most
familiar, viz. the Psalms and certain portions of the Wisdom Literature.


corresponds to the Hebrew i^rc used in this specialised
sense. So that the phrase " only begotten Son " may
possess no doctrinal connotation.

Although I would not go to the length of Giidemann,*
who says (in Monatsschinft, 1893, pp. 345-356) that
the whole of the Fourth Gospel was written by a born
Jew, I do maintain that it is the work of one who
was thoroughly saturated with the Jewish Apocalyptic
as well as the Palestinian Rabbinic teachings in the
first century a.d., and being saturated with these
teachings, one of his objects was to demonstrate, that
a belief in the angelic lore of the Jews, as well as the
prevalent ideas about God's Shechinah and " Word,"
does not in any degree imply dualism of Deity.
Judaism's foremost truth that "God is one" is an
unassailable stronghold. But, lest this oneness of God
might lead to a too narrow and exclusive view of the
Divine transcendentalism of some of the Biblical
writers, he aimed at showing, by means of a string
of deftly - worded parables and striking epigrams, all
clustering round the name of Jesus, the reality of the
other aspect of God, viz. the immanent aspect. Thus,
the Messiahship of Jesus sinks comparatively into the
background, and there is found, instead, an exposition
of God's fatherhood (vi. 29-46, xiv. 2, xv. 8-10, etc.),
through which alone life, salvation, and resurrection

* Giidemann's view is also that of the late Bishop Westcott in his recently
published Gospel according to St. John (Murray, 2 vols). He says : ' ' The
conclusion towards which all the lines of inquiry converge remains unshaken,
that the Fourth Gospel was written by a Palestinian Jew. ..." But Schniiedel
in his newest book, The Johannine Writings (Black), declares it to be the
work of some unknown Ephesian. Harnack, again, in his recently edited Odes
of Solovwn, swings back to the older view of its Jewish origin. He says
(p. 106): " dieser Johannes mag, bevor er Christ wurde, bereits ein judischer
Mystiker gewesen sein."

Since writing the above, I see that in the opinion of the writer of the
Introduction to the Gosi)el of St. John in the Century Bible (Rev. J. A.
M'Clymont), the Gospel is the work of " some Jewish Christian who was
thoroughly conversant with the state of things in Jerusalem and Palestine" at
that epoch.


are obtainable.* This all-embracing, all-permeating
Divinity in tbe affairs of life is, as has been already
shown, the burden of the message of a large part of
Rabbinic theology. Inge, speaking of the permanent
value of the Logos -Christology, says (quoting from
the late Prof. Wallace of Oxford) : " The Veil is rent
away which in days of ignorance hid God and made
Him an unknown God ; clad Him in thick darkness

* Harnack in his essay on the Odes of Solomon asserts : " So ist er fiir die
hohere Kritik des Johannes Evangeliuins epochemachend, weildiese jiidischen Odeu
(nicht erst die christliche Bearbeitung) bereits all wesentlichen Stiicke der johan-
neischen Theologie samt ihrer religiosen Klangfarbe enthalten. Die Tat des
' Johannes ' sie mit Jesus Christus zu verkniipfen iind sie zu noch grosserer
Erhabenheit und Werbekraft zu bringen, bleibt gewaltig genug ; aber sie erschopft
sich auch ganz wesentlich hierin " (Vorrede v.). Thus, the Fourth Gospel is, as I
in these pages have maintained, a Christianised version of Jewish mystical ideas
which were afloat in Palestine in the early Christian centuries. Harnack on
p. 118 asks the question, " What do we learn from these Odes on the subject of
the history of the rise of Christianity ? " And he replies, " Wir lernen aus den
Oden (1) in einem entfernten Zweige des Judentums einen religi'sen Indi-
vidualismus kennen, wie wir ihn bisher kaum geahnt haben. . . . Dass dieser
Indi\4dualismus in seiner Freiheit von allem Mythischen . . . und Cere-
moniosen in seiner spirituellen Reinheit und in seiner relativen Loslcisung von
der nationalen Religion eine wiclitige Yorstufe des Christentums ist, ist klar.
Zwischen den jungsten kanonischen Psalmen der Weisheit und den Psalmen
Solomos und den Testamenten der XII. Patriarchen einerseits und dem
Individualismus eines Paules, Johannes, Ignatius, anderseits finden diese Oden
ihre Statte." It is refreshing to hear, from so great an authority as Harnack,
that the Gospel which, among the four, is by consent the most spiritual, was
inspired by some "entfernten Zweige des Judentums." If this be true, who
shall henceforward be bold enough, be unhistorical enough, to speak of Pharisaism
as though it were all formalism, ceremonialism, nationalism, etc., with no
thought for the inwardness which must be a vital constituent of all religions ?
(2) Harnack says that we learn from these Odes that "die Conceptionen von

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