The purpose of Part 4 in this series is to establish the fact that the Gohead model set forth in Part 2 was not simply a late innovation of the middle ages, but in fact can be traced back to Judaism at least back to the first century.
The Essene Roots of Kabbalah
The two most authoritative earliest works of Rabbinic Kabbalah are the Sefer Yetzirah and the Bahir.
The earliest known reference to the Sefer Yetzirah is found in the Jerusalem Talmud which mentions the book as having been used by Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya (j.San. 7:13 (41a)) who lived in the late first century. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya (47 BCE - 73 CE) was one of the five talmidim (students) of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai (m.Avot 2:8) who is said to have received his tradition from his colleague Rabbi Nehunia ben HaKana the traditional author of the Bahir. According to the Sefer HaTagin Rabbi Nehunia ben HaKana learned his teaching from a certain Menachem. Most scholars identify this Menechem as Menechem the prominent early first century Essene by that name mentioned by Josephus (Ant. 15:10:5). Thus the Kabbalistic tradition in Rabbinic Judaism can within its own tradition be traced back to early first century Essene Judaism, the sect of Judaism which most scholars believe were authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The Dead Sea Scrolls and Kabbalah
Now it is well known that researchers believe that Chritendom has roots at Qumran. What is less well known is that many researchers also see the roots of Kabbalah at Qumran.
Kabbalah had its beginning as "torat-ha-sod" as Adin Steinsaltz writes:
The sources state that torat ha-sod (mysticism)
was divided into two parts: Ma'aseh Bereshit (Act of Creation)
and Ma'aseh Merkavah (Divine Chariot). The former was more
theoretical and dealt with the creation of the world and the first
divine revelations. Ma'aseh Merkavah, based on the prophet
Ezekiel's description of the Divine Chariot, is a study of the
prevailing relations between God and the world and apparently
contained the seeds of what later came to be known as
Kabbalah ma'asit (practical kabbalah).
(The Essential Talmud; Adin Steinsaltz p. 213)
And as G. Vermes writes:
The Throne-Chariot was a central subject of meditation
in ancient as well as in medieval Jewish esotericism
and mysticism, but the guardians of the Rabbinic orthodoxy
tended to discourage such speculation. The liturgical use
of Ezekiel's chapter on the Chariot is expressly forbidden
in the Mishnah; it even lays down that no wise man is
to share his understanding of the Merkavah with a person
less enlightened than himself. As a result, there is very little
ancient literary material extant on the subject, and the Qumran
text is therefore of great importance to the study of the Origins
of Jewish mysticism.
(The Dead Sea Scroll in English; Second Edition; G.Vermes; p. 211)
Among the parallels between Kabbalah and Qumran esotericism is the strong parallel between the Metatron figure of Kabbalah and the Melchizadek figure at Qumran as P. Alexander writes:
The Merkabah literature has links also with Qumran.
Perhaps the closest Parallels are in the following texts:
The angelic liturgy (4QsirSabb) … The heavenly
Melchizedek (11QMelch) [also known as 11Q13]…
(OTP Vol. 1 pp. 250-251)
Regarding the Melchizedek/Metatron connection Alexander states:
In this text Melchizedek appears as being exalted
over all angels. It is stated that he will preside over
a heavenly assize and exact Punishment, with the help
of other angels, from Belial and his Minions. In view of
the priestly functions of Melchizedek in the Bible (Gen. 14:8;
Ps. 110:4), van der Woude has conjectured that at Qumran
Melchizedek may have been regarded as the high priest of
the heavenly Temple and identified with the archangel Michael,
who fulfills the role of the heavenly high priest in rabbinic tradition …
However all of this is very uncertain. A number of clear parallels
between the heavenly Melchizedek of Qumran and Metatron
of 3 Enoch at once suggest themselves: both figures hold exalted,
if not pre-eminent, positions among the angels, both are heavenly
judges… and both, apparently had earthly lives prior to their exalted,
The Deity of Messiah in the Dead Sea Scrolls
The fact that the Qumran community believed in the deity of the Messiah can best be shown by examining the Qumran community's understanding of Is. 61:1-2. Now we know from 4Q521 that the Qumran community saw the one "anointed" by YHWH in Is. 61:1-2 as the Messiah as this fragment reads:
For the heavens and the earth shall listen to His Messiah …
And then goes on to allude to Is. 61:1-2. Another reference to the figure of Is. 61:1-2 is made in another Qumran document known as 11Q13. 11Q13 speaks of this Messiah as a figure called "Melchizedek." In this document Is. 61:2 is quoted with "Melchizedek" substituted for YHWH. Furthermore the terms EL and ELOHIM are in 11Q13 applied to the Melchizedek/Messiah figure.
11Q13 Col. 4-9 quotes Is. 61:1-2 but substitutes "the year of Melchizedek's favor" for "the year of YHWH's favor" thus identifying the Melchizedek figure with YHWH in this passage. 11Q13 goes on to say:
…as it is written about him [Melchizedek] in
the Songs of David, "ELOHIM has taken his place
in the council of EL; in the midst of the ELOHIM
he holds judgment" (Ps. 82:1)
Scripture also says about him [Melchizedek],
"Over it take your seat in the highest heaven;
EL will judge the peoples" (Ps. 7:7-8)
(11Q13 Col. 10-11)
The text of 11Q13 goes on to apply the passage "Your ELOHIM reigns" (Is. 52:7) to Melchizedek finally concluding:
"Your ELOHIM" (Is. 52:7) is Melchizedek,
who will deliver them from the power of Belial.
(11Q13 Col. 24-25)
It is therefore apparent that the Qumran community saw the Messiah as a Melchizedek figure who was identified as EL, ELOHIM and even YHWH.
Further evidence for belief in the deity of Messiah at Qumran is found in a reference in the Book of Enoch, (seven fragmentary copies of this book were found in cave four at Qumran). In Enoch 14 Enoch is having a vision of the divine throne in which the figure on the throne calls to Enoch "come near to Me and to My Holy Word." (1En. 14: 24). Thus it would seem that the concept of the entity known as the "Word" of YHWH which we discussed in terms of Rabbinic Judaism earlier, was also held to by the Qumran community. It seems hard to escape the fact that in 1En. 14:24 the "Word" of YHWH seems to be positioned next to the throne of YHWH, just as Melchizedek is in Ps. 110.
Philo and Kabbalah
In addition to the Dead Sea Scrolls the first century Jewish writer Philo also wrote many things which demonstrate that this same Godhead model found in the Kabbalah existed in the first century. Philo believed that the essence of God was unknowable to man, but that man could know God thru his emanations. Philo writes:
...Every man in regard of his intellect is connected with Logos (Word),
being an impression of, or a fragment or emanation of that blessed
(Philo; On Creation LI (146))
Philo gave a very detailed description to the Word (Logos). To Philo the Word was the creator:
As therefore the city, when previously shadowed out in
the mind of architectural skill had no external place, but
was stamped solely in the mind of the workman, so in
the same manner neither can the world which existed in
ideas have had any other local position except the
Logos which made them...
(Philo; On Creation V (20))
Philo taught that the Word (Logos) was the shadow of God and that man was made in the image of the Word (Logos):
...But the shadow of God is his Word,
which he used like an instrument when he was
making the world.
(Philo; Allegorical Interpretation III XXXI (96))
...For God does not seem to have availed himself
of any other animal existing in creation as his model
in the formation of man; but to have been guided,
as I have said before, by his own Word alone...
(Philo; On Creation XLVIII (139))
Most astonishingly, Philo identifies the Word of God as God's "first-born son!":
...For God, like a shepherd and king, governs
(as if they were a flock of sheep) the earth, and the water,
and the fire, and the air and all the plants, and living
creatures that are in them, whether mortal or divine;
and he regulates the nature of the heaven, and the periodical
revolutions of the sun and moon, and the variations
and harmonious movements of the other stars, ruling them
according to law and justice; appointing as their immediate
superintendent, his own right Word [Logos], his first-born son,
who is to receive the charge of this sacred company,
as the lieutenant of the great king;...
(Philo; On Husbandry XII (45))
Philo also taught that "Wisdom" is the "Mother of the Word [Logos]" Philo also identified the three angels which appeared to Abraham in Gen. 18 as "God, the creative power"; "Lord, the ruling power"; and "the Word [Logos]." Not only did Philo teach that God' first-born son is the "Word" and that "Wisdom" is his mother, Philo also clearly taught the concept of a Trinity. He refers to God as “...the Lord of three natures...”(Philo; On the Change of Names II, 11)
Elsewhere Philo writes:
...it is reasonable for one to be three and for three to be one,
for they were one by a higher principle... ...he makes
the appearance of a trinity [triad]... He cannot be seen
in his oneness without something [else], the chief Powers
that that exist immediately with him... the Creative, which
is called "God" and the Kingly, which is called "Lord"...
[Abraham] begins to see the sovereign, holy, and divine vision
in such a way that single appearance appears as a trinity [triad],
and the trinity [triad] as a unity.
(Philo; Questions on Genesis, IV, 2)
In closing it is clear that the tradition of the Godhead model found in the Kabbalah tradition of Rabbinic Judaism can be traced back to a tradition held by the early first century Essenes who authored the Dead Sea Scrolls. This Godhead tradition also can be found in the writings of the first century Jewish writer Philo.
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