J. (Joshua) Abelson.

The immanence of God in rabbinical literature online

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"Therefore can nothing defiled find entrance into her"
(vii. 25). But these seem contradicted by the state-
ment in XV. 2, " For even if we sin we are Thine."
One meets the same difficulty in Rabbinic literature.
Thus in T. B. Sotah 3b there is the following passage :
" R. Hisda said that before Israel sinned the Shechinah


iibode with every individual Israelite, as it is said
(Deut. xxiii. 14), 'For the Lord Thy God walketh in
the midst of thy camp.' But when Israel sinned it
departed, as it is said (ihid.), ' that He see no unclean
thing in thee and turn away from thee.'"^^^ On the
contrary we are told (T. B. Rosh Hashanah 17b) : "I
am the Lord before man sins, I am He after man
sins." (Based on the repetition of the Tetragrammaton
in Exodus xxxiv. 6.) These two quotations seem to
exactly parallel those from Wisdom.

(e) It has been frequently pointed out by Jewish
students of the Apocrypha that Wisdom at times shows
an un-Jewish proximity to being a Personality. The
most salient passage is xviii. 14-16 : —

For while peaceful silence enwrapped all things

And night in her own swiftness was in mid-course,

Thine all-powerful word leaped from heaven out of the Royal

A stern warrior into the midst of the doomed land.
Bearing as a sharp sword thine unfeigned commandment ;
And standing it filled all things with death ;
And while it touched the heaven it trode upon the earth.

The " Word," that "leaps out from heaven" like a
warrior with a sharp sword reaching up from earth to
heaven, certainly comes very near deification. But the
same sort of expression can be found in Rabbinic literature,
in spite of the fact that the Rabbins made the unalloyed
unity of the Deity the corner-stone of their teaching,
and were never tired of insisting upon the duty of
avoiding any semblance of nntDT Tim (" two divinities ")
in their interpretations of Scripture. Does not the
Shechinah walk and talk ? Several instances will be
given later on of dialogues between the Shechinah and
man.^^^ And similarly with the Holy Spirit. And
further, these very ideas in Wisdom seem a poetic ren-
dering of several Midrashic passages on the revelation


at Sinai. The "Word" is the "Voice" at Sinai.
In Exodus Rabba xxviii, and xxix. the "Voice" is
strongly personified. It deals death to Israel as well
as to the idolaters. God is the Warrior in whose train
are myriads of angels. The Voice fills earth and
heaven. It is split up into all the tongues of the globe,
and conveys an intelligible message to all classes
irrespective of age or sex. The " Word" again appears
frequently, with personified attributes, as the Tim
("Dibbur") or -idnd ("Ma'amar"), the latter being the
Talmudic equivalent for the Targumic Memra.

Coming now to Philo, it is by no means easy to say
what were his most habitual views in reference to God's
relationship to the universe and man. The matter is
complicated by the singular fact of Philo's twofold
education and sympathies. His education was Greek.
His genius was Oriental. He loved Greek wisdom, and
he loved the Hebrew faith as well. He was a pious Jew.
Philo gives us a Greek skeleton, and clothes it with a
blend of Greek and Hebrew flesh. He was too devoted
a lover of Jewish thought to give the Old Testament any
disparagement in his writings, but he presses it into a
framework of philosophy which is essentially Greek.
And the allegorising process enables him to give the
appearance of unity and consistency to his expositions
of Scriptural doctrine. ^'^^ Philo's views of God are
to be found scattered throughout the whole of his
writings. On the question of the transcendental or
immanent conception of God he is not always con-
sistent. ^^"^ He sometimes leans to the one view and
sometimes to the other.* As a true disciple of Plato

* " Quand Philon parle de la creation et des premiers principes des etres,
de Dieu et de ses rapports avec I'univers, il a evidenimeut deux doctrines qu'aucun
effort de logique ne pourra jamais mettre d'accord. L'une est siraplement le
dualisme de Platou, tel qu'il est enseigne dans le Timee ; I'autre nous fait penser
^ la fois a Plotin et a la Kabbale " (Franck, La Kahbale, p. 221).


he thinks of God as existing neither in time nor
space. ^^''^ He cannot be conceived by man. He is
self-suflScient, and has no relations with any other
being. These ideas of God's transcendence and His
preclusion from any activity in the world are to be
met frequently in Philo. Thus : " But God has given
nothing to Himself, for He has no need of anything ;
but He has given the world to the world, and its
parts He has bestowed on themselves and on one
another, and also on the universe. . . . He merely has
regard to His own everlasting goodness, thinking the
doing good to be a line of conduct suitable to His
own happy and blessed Nature. So that if any one
were to ask me what was the cause of the Creation
of the world, having learnt from Moses, I should answer,
that the goodness of the living God, being the most
important of His graces, is in itself the cause." ^^^ How
strangely irreconcilable does this philosophic isolation of
God sound by the side of a passage like the following
on the Providence of God. " The fifth lesson that
Moses teaches us is, that God exerts His Providence for
the benefit of the world. For it follows of necessity that
the Creator must always care for that which He has
created, just as parents do also care for their children.
And he who has learnt this, not more by hearing it than
by his own understanding, and has impressed on his own
soul these marvellous facts which are the subject of so
much contention, namely, that God has a Being and
Existence . . . and that He exercises a continual care
for that which He has created, will live a happy and
blessed life stamped with the doctrines of piety and
holiness." ^^'^^ Philo was too devoted a Jew to forget
or ignore the distinctively Jewish doctrine of God's
fatherhood — a fact which the Jew gathered theoretic-
ally from his Bible, and realised practically in the


fortunes of his own and his people's life. With such
strong Jewish attachments, one must expect that Philo
could not be content with the conception of the
transcendent isolation of the Creator ; that he could
only find satisfaction in the belief that God is near
and that He and His Goodness fill the universe. Philo
speaks of an Immanent God in a great many passages.
His idea of Immanence is probably the result of Stoic
influence ; ^^^^ but it may also have been brought
about by his studies of the Palestinian Midrash. Philo
was influenced by Palestinian exegesis in two ways.^^'^
Firstly, he paid more than one visit to Jerusalem,^^^^
the home of the Palestinian teachers of the Law.
Secondly, the persecutions of Hyrcanus ^^*^ caused some of
the Palestinian Rabbins to flee for safety to Alexandria,
and in this way Palestinian teaching probably became
known in Alexandria before the time of Philo/^^^ Philo
has much to say about the ceaseless workings of God
in the world, one of the underlying conceptions of
Divine Immanence. Commenting on the phrase in
Genesis " And God finished His work on the seventh
day," he says, " God never ceases from making some-
thing or other. But as it is the property of fire to burn,
and of snow to chill, so also it is the property of God to
be creating. And much more so, as He Himself is to
all other being^s the Author of their workingr. . . . For
He makes things to rest which appear to be producing
others, but which in reality do not eflect anything.
But He Himself never ceases from creating." ^^^^ There
is a strong parallel to this idea in Genesis Eabba xi. :

iSn d:?i iSn d:; hs^D nS« □"'prn^n, " God ceased from
the creation of His world, but He ceased not from
creating good and bad men. His activity with these
is ever-constant." The Midrash limits God's endless


labour to tlie creation of the variegated characters
of man. Philo widens the idea to embrace every-
thing. [It would require investigation in order to fix
the exact date of the above Midrash. One could then
know whether Philo drew upon it, or vice versa. Or,
of course, it is possible to assume that they are both in-
dependent of one another, and that Philo is merely
echoing a piece of his Stoic doctrine.*] We shall consider
some more instances. In the midst of a curious inter-
pretation of the word rrD"'N in Genesis iii. 9 he remarks,
" For since you have thought that God was walking in
the Garden, and was surrounded by it, learn now that in
this you are mistaken, and hear from God who knows all
things that most true statement that God is not in any
one place. For He is not surrounded by anything, but
He does Himself surround everything." ^^^^ A duplicate
passage is the following : " For let not such impiety
ever occupy our thoughts as for us to suppose that God
cultivates the land and plants paradises, since if we were
to do so, we should be presently raising the question of
why He does so ; for it could not be that He might
provide Himself with pleasant places of recreation and
pastime or with amusement. Let not such fabulous
nonsense ever enter our minds. For even the w^hole
world would not be a worthy place or habitation for
God, since He is a place to Himself, and He Himself is
full of Himself, and He Himself is sufficient for Himself,
filling up and surrounding everything else which is
deficient in any respect, or deserted, or empty. But
He Himself is surrounded by nothing else, as being
Himself one and the Universe." ^^^^ All such passages

* I see, on further reference, that the author of this statement is "R.
Phinehas in the name of R. Hoshaiah." The latter's dates are roughly about
A.D. 200, so that he comes long after Philo. Prof. Bacher, in J.Q.E. iii. 357,
attempts to show how Hoshaiah from his familiarity with Origen may have
imbibed many of Philo's ideas. It is obvious from the tone of several of his
Haggadic utterances that Hoshaiah had a knowledge of philosophy.


are like elaborations of the great Rabbinic dictum on
Immanence: io"ipD oS^i? fNi 'dSi2> hw lo^po Nin, "God
is the place of the world, and the world is not His
place." The next passage strongly reminds one of the
Immanent teaching of the 139th Psalm. "Can a
man then or any other created animal hide himself
from God ? Where can he do so ? Where can he hide
himself from that Being who pervades all places, whose
look reaches to the very boundaries of the world, who fills
the whole universe, of whom not even the smallest portion
of existing things is deficient ? " ^^^^ Another and more
important department of Philo's views on Divine Imman-
ence is his theory of the Logos. Yet he seems to make
the Logos mean different things at different times. One
can therefore give no concise definition of it, unless it
means the immanent Reason of God in the world and
man. Philo taught that God's presence is manifested
in every man. " Every man in regard of his intellect
is connected with Divine Reason, being an impression
or a fragment or a ray of that Blessed Nature." ^"°^ Again,
" Let every one on whom the Love of God has
showered good things, pray to God that he may have
as a dweller within him the Ruler of all things, who
will raise this small house, the mind, to a great height
above the earth, and will connect it with the bounds of
heaven." ^^^^ And again, " For when he uses the expres-
sion, ' He breathed into his face the Breath of Life,' he
means nothing else than the Divine Spirit proceeding
from that happy and blessed Nature sent to take up its
habitation here on earth for the advantage of our race,
in order that, even if man is mortal according to that
portion of him which is visible, he may at all events be
immortal according to that portion which is invisible. "^^^^
Just as Philo speaks of God as dwelling in man and
the universe, so he speaks of the Logos as being inherent



in man and all things. Take e.g. his very beautiful
interpretation of Psalm Ixi. 10, " The course of the
river makes glad the City of God." " What city ? For
the Holy City which exists at present, in which also
the Holy Temple is established, is at a great distance
from any sea or river, so that it is clear that the writer
here means figuratively to speak of some other city
than the visible City of God. For in good truth, the
continual stream of the Divine Logos, being borne on
incessantly with rapidity and regularity, is diffused
universally over everything, giving joy to all. And in
one sense he calls the world the City of God, as having
received the Whole Cup of the Divine draught. . . .
But in another sense he applies the title to the soul of
the wise man in which God is said also to walk as if
in a City, ' For ' says God, ' I will walk in you, and
I will be your God in you ' (Leviticus xxvi. 12)." ^^^^ In
this sublime passage the Logos and God are inter-
changeable terms, and the implication seems to be that
we are in God as well as God is in us. The Logos is
used in so many senses. It is the Mind of <Jjrod, the
Wisdom of God, the Glory of God, the Agent of God
in the creation of the world, " For it is the Divine
Logos which divided and distributed everything in
nature." ^"^^ " For the Logos of the living God, being
the bond of everything, as has been said before, holds
all things together, and binds all the parts and prevents
them from being loosened or separated." ^^^^ The Logos
is the Image of God. " For even if we are not yet
suitable to be called the sons of God, still we may
deserve to be called the children of His eternal image,
of His most sacred Logos ; for the image of God is
His most ancient Logos." ^^^^ And more important than
all the foregoing for the student of Rabbinic literature
is Philo's use of the Logos in what is very largely the


Biblical and Rabbinic sense of inSo angel. There is
a plurality of Logoi (and not only one Logos), just as
in the Bible the ano-els are the numerous bands of God's
agents, who do His behests and speak to man ; and
just as in the Talmud and Midrashim (largely through
the influence of Babylonian and Persian angelologies)
the angels are the personified working forces of the
Deity in the life of the world and man. Thus, the
Logoi help man to virtue and righteousness. " For
God, not condescending to come down to the external
senses, sends His own Logoi or angels for the sake of
giving assistance to those who love virtue. But they
attend like physicians to the diseases of the soul . . .
offering sacred recommendations like sacred laws, and
inviting men to practise the duties inculcated by them.
. . ."^-'^ When HaQ-ar flees to the desert she is met
by " the angel, that is the Logos of God," and being
recommended what to do, she is guided by the Logos
in her return to her mistress's house.^'"®^ The Logoi seem
to be the assistants of God in the making of man.
Philo, in attributing Divine Immanence to man in
general, fell into the difficulty of not being able to
reconcile this fact with the existence of evil in man.^^®^
If the Divine presence had a place in every man's heart,
then the evil which bad men do must be God's work just
as well as the good. To overcome this difla.culty, Philo
assigned the cause of man's creation to his ministers
— the Logoi. " The expression ' Let us make ' indicates
a plurality of makers. Here the Father is conversing
with his own powers {i.e. his Logoi or ministers) to
whom he has assigned the task of making the mortal
part of our soul. . . . He thought it necessary to
assign the origin of evil to other workmen than himself
— but to retain the generation of good for himself
alone." ^^°^ To the student of Rabbinical literature


Philo's views on these and other kindred points come
as no surprise. They are to be found constantly in
the Midrashim. Whether Philo is the debtor to the
latter or vice versa is a moot point. As Freudenthal ^^^^
has pointed out, the coincidence of ideas in both
literatures need not necessarily stamp either as the
borrower from the other. They may have arisen in-
dependently in Palestine and Alexandria respectively.
Philo's view of the Logoi as angels, i.e. as certain
" powers " of God sent down to earth to minister to
man and help him to virtue, is strikingly similar to
the Rabbinic conception. The field of the latter is
so extensive and variegated, that it is difficult to fix
upon any representative quotations. It would need
a whole essay to itself. Philo's attempt to withdraw
God from contact with evil by making the Logoi
largely instrumental in the creation of man is elabo-
rated in interesting ways in Genesis Rabba viii. 3, 4.
The plural form " Let us make man " is there justi-
fied in several ways. One authority says that man's
creation was the result of a consultation between
God and heaven and earth. Another, that it was
the result of a similar consultation between God and
His already created work of the preceding five days.
Another gives the consultation as between God and
His own Heart. Then follow some significant parables.
" It may be likened unto a king unto whom his architect
erected a palace. He looked at it, but it pleased him
not. With whom should he be angry ? Should it not
be with the architect ? " Again, " It may be likened unto
a king whose trafiic was done by means of his agent.
But when the king lost his money with whom should
he be angry ? Should it not be with the agent ? " The
aim of these parables is to shift the blame for the evil
in man away from the shoulders of the Creator just



as is done by Philo. Philo holds the Logoi, who are
God's ministers, responsible. The one Midrash gives
the responsibility to heaven and earth which, according
to the Biblical as well as Eabbinical teaching, are the
messengers of God. The other Midrash, which gives
the responsibility to God's Heart, seems to be introduced
merely for the purpose of tallying with the quotation
" And He was grieved in His heart." I do not see
how the heart of God can by any logic be regarded as
anything outside Him. But further on there is the
explicit statement, i^d3 ptUNin dtn riNin^ nik) tm^wi
mtun ^dnSoid, " When God was about to create the
first man He took counsel with the ministering angels."
This leaves no doubt. A more philosophical Midrash
(which is repeated in Yalkut on the words ^^2^p•' nS d'^i?
ioDtUDi D^i?tt)-i, Psalm i.) represents God as associating
Himself with the D'^ornn''' d, " the attribute of mercy,"
in His creation of man. If God knew that the way
of the wicked would perish, why did He create the
wicked ? ^^^^ And the reply is that the creation of the
latter is only the result of God's association with the
D^cjmn "d. The Rabbinic usage of D^omn "d and
jnn ''d had much in common with Philo's Logoi. Like
the latter, it helps man and pleads for him in the hour
of his perplexity or when punishment threatens.

Yet one other aspect of Philo's views on the Im-
manence of God from the standpoint with which we are
here concerned, is his usage of the Logos as intercessor
between man and the Deity. The Logos is at times
described as the High Priest ^^^^ because, like him, it is
the expiator of sins. In another place it is described
as UeT'n'i (suppliant). " And this same Logos is con-
tinually a suppliant to the immortal God on behalf of the
mortal race which is exposed to affliction and misery ;
and is also the ambassador, sent by the Ruler of all to


the subject race."^^^^ And again as irapaKXT^To^ (Paraclete).
" For it was indispensable tliat the man who was
consecrated to the Father of the world should have as
a paraclete, His Son, the Being most perfect in virtue
to procure forgiveness of sins, and a supply of unlimited
blessings." ^^^^ In all these, the Logos is a very strong
hypostasis of the Deity. The idea was largely taken up
by Christianity and worked out in the Fourth Gospel. ^^''^
It went too near impugning the strict monotheism
of Judaism to be taken up and seriously cherished by
Jews.* And yet, one comes across Rabbinic utterances
which have a striking resemblance to Philo's words ;
and even though, as was said before, this does not
necessarily prove borrowing or imitation, it at any
rate shows that Philo's hypostasisation of the Logos
is a method of exposition not unknown to the Talmud
and Midrashim. Thus, in numerous instances, the

* And yet, as if to emphasise the truth of monotheism and counterbalance
any possible suggestion tliat these " Middot" are independent entities, we have
the famous passage in T. B. Berachoth 7a, where the question is asked, "What
does God's prayer consist of?" And the answer is that it consists of the
words, ' ' May it be the will from before me that my compassion overcome
my wrath, that my mercies be rolled upon my attributes ('nno 7j; 'cm i?iJ'i)
and that I may show myself towards my children with the attribute of
mercy. . . ." This passage is often described by Christian critics of Rabbinism
as grotesque. But that this is an undeserved criticism is readily seen by
any one who realises that it is one of the oft-repeated and emphatic safeguards
of the Jewish monotheistic idea. The "Middah" is not God. And God is
not the " Middah," but a loving father whose one all-absorbing aim is to
have cause to exercise His love. The "Middah" may degenerate into being a
philosophical principle like the Logos of Philo. But a God who is a loving
father is the highest phase of that personal God, which is the basis of Rabbinic

Another clear illustration of the Rabbinic safeguarding against any infringe-
ment of the Unity, is afforded by the Targum on Psalm Ivi. 11. Here the two
Hebrew words for God ("Elohim" and the " Tetragrammaton ") occur in two
independent phrases in one and the same sentence, as the utterance of one and
the same man. The Targumic author evidently suspected the danger of a
possible dualistic interpretation. To avert this, he accoi'dingly paraphrases the
first word for God by kh^ni xri mo^j ' ' by the attribute of justice which belongs
to God," and the second word for God by """i pom mon, i.e. "by the attribute
of mercy which belongs to God."

For parallels between these ideas and those of Philo, see the chapter on
' ' Die Hypostasen-Spekulation, ' ' in Bousset's Religion des Judenthums im neutesta-
mentlichen Zeitalter.


D^Dmn "d ("Attribute of mercy") is represented as a
personality, speaking, pleading before God for an erring
individual, or for a whole nation that has sinned. In
the Targum on Lamentations i. 1, the pin^D (" Attri-
bute of justice") pleads (cp. Targum on Koheleth x. 8).
One of the important functions of angels is to intercede
for the sinner or the sick. And the Holy Spirit so
very frequently plays the role of the paraclete. There
is a very fine passage in the Song of Songs Rabba
(viii. 12) where this is well illustrated. It is as follows :
" When the Israelites eat and drink, and bless and
praise God, He listens to them and derives satisfaction.
But when the nations of heathendom eat and drink,
and blaspheme God, and provokeTIim to anger by their
immoral talk, then God thinks' of destroying the whole
of creation. Thereupon there enters the Torah and
speaking in defence of Israel it says, ' Sovereign of
the universe, instead of looking at these who blaspheme
and provoke thee to indignation, look at thy people
Israel, who praise and bless and adore thy great Name
by the Torah, and with Psalms and Hymns.' After the
Torah there enters the Holy Spirit and says, ' Flee
away, my beloved God, flee from the heathens and
attach thyself to Israel only.' " Here both the Torah
and the Holy Spirit are strongly personified. Another
passage in which personification is still more striking
is in the Sifri on n^iin nxn, page 148 (Friedmann's
edition), and it represents a chorus singing the praises
of the Deity. The singers are the Holy Spirit and
Israel. " Israel says, ' There is none like the God of
Jeshurun ' ; ^^"^ and the Holy Spirit says, ' The God of
Jeshurun.' Israel says, ' Who is like unto thee among
the Gods ? ' and the Holy Spirit says, ' Happy art
thou, Israel, who is like unto thee ? ' Israel says,
' Hear, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one ' ;


and the Holy Spirit says, ' And who is like thy people,

Online LibraryJ. (Joshua) AbelsonThe immanence of God in rabbinical literature → online text (page 6 of 32)