I’m excited to direct readers to a wonderful resource offered by the Foundation for Jewish Studies. Benjamin D. Sommer, professor of Bible and Ancient Semitic languages at the Jewish Theological Seminary, has delivered four lectures (each of which several hours long) teaching his book The Bodies of God in the World of Ancient Israel to a Jewish audience. Having completed all the lectures over the last few days on my car commutes, I can say they are fascinating. (Sommer’s book was a favorite of mine having found it in the library several years ago.) You can download all the lectures for free here.
Now, why should Christians care about Sommer’s book and these lectures on a subject as weird (or creepy, rather) sounding as “the bodies of God”? I’ll provide you with this quote from Sommer starting at 35 minutes into the last lecture to give you an idea:
“When the New testament talks about Jesus as being some sort of small scale human manifestation of God, that really 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…We Jews have always tended to sort of make fun of the Trinity…[that Christians] aren’t real monotheists like we Jews are or like the Muslims are, but I think what we have been seeing from what I’ve been saying for the past couple of days [is] the idea of the Trinity…[is] actually an old ancient Near Eastern idea…that can also function in a monotheistic context, as it does I think in the J and the E texts and some of the other texts we were looking at. In fact, to say that three is one—hey! The Kabbalah is going to go even further than that! They say ten is one. The Zohar [and] Sefer Ha-Bahir, they say ten is one. Actually when you get to Lorena Kabbalah there’s the idea that within each of the ten sefirot has ten sefirot within it so that we’ve got a hundred…We [Jews] are taking this [divine fluidity] reasoning much, much farther than the Christians did. One of the more radical conclusions that I came to, much to my own surprise when I was writing this book--and this is not at all what I had intended to do because in various ways that we could discuss if you’re interested--I’m actually rather uncomfortable with my own conclusion here, but as a scholar I gotta to call em as I see em—one of the conclusions that I came to…is that we Jews have no theological objection to the doctrine to the Trinity…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”
As a disclaimer, I don’t accept some of his source critical presuppositions throughout the lectures. (He thinks there is disagreement in the Biblical sources about God’s embodiment.) But the value of Sommer’s thesis for apologetic contexts and understanding ancient Israelite religion is tremendous. I’ll also use this as an excuse to point readers to Michael Heiser’s work on pre-Christian divine plurality here.