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Theological Notebook--Alan F. Segal's "Two Powers in Heaven"

A Note of Explanation My main intention with starting this journal last semester was to keep an online record, for my own benefit, of what I was reading in my theological studies, but also to share that with friends who were always asking me such questions as "What are you reading?" I think it not only good for me to keep notes of where I've been and what I've thought, but also to constantly try to take professional theology and popularize it: learn to make it accessible for the person who doesn't have a strong background or formation in the material. With the school year starting, I'm going to try to be more conscious of this, and more methodical in my writing. So this is just to say, this will be a format--a paragraph or two in review of an article or reading--that you will be seeing more often, if I keep the discipline up. If you're interested in this: great! Read on! If not so much, you'll be able to tell and move on to me talking about my next life-episode, like that's any more interesting....

"'Two Powers in Heaven' & Early Christian Trinitarian Thinking" by Alan F. Segal in Trinity, ed. by Stephen T. Davis, et al.

Segal's article was given as "Deep Background Reading" for Michel René Barnes' "Holy Spirit from Second Temple Judaism to Augustine" class. It's an exploration of a possibly pre-Christian phenomenon of what seems to be a kind of proto-Trinitarian kind of thinking already occurring in Judaism, or in this case a "binitarian" one. Either way, it seemed to indicate multiplicity in the One God. The rabbis of Rabbinic Judaism (the Judaism we have today, which was formed after these rabbis refused to recognize those who believed in Jesus as Messiah as being their fellow Jews anymore--after the year 70) referred to a heresy of there being "two powers" in God. Because of a variety of texts in the Hebrew scriptures, questions were being raised about figures--taken as appearances of God--that somehow also seemed to be distinct from God. (See the appearance on Sinai, Psalm 110:1, Daniel 7:9-13, and others.) The timing of these heresies are difficult to tell from what the rabbis wrote. They could be reacting to Christians talking about "the Father and the Son." These could also be reactions to the influence of thinking like the Greek philosophical influence we see in Philo of Alexandria and his language of a logos or "Word" in God: a style of thinking that would have a great influence in the opening of the Gospel of John. Philo, a Jewish philosopher living in Egypt at the time of Jesus and the earliest church, called the logos "a second god" without denying monotheism. Whether of Jewish Christian origin or of Hellenistic (Greek-influenced) Jewish philosophy, what is notable for our class purposes is that the rabbis were deeply bothered by a notion of two somehow being in God. As Segal says, " Christian mention of the "Holy Spirit" would neither have been considered unique nor heretical by the rabbis." (p. 79) Unlike "Father and Son," language of the Holy Spirit is already established in Judaism, if not the idea that this is a name for a distinction within God.
Tags: holy spirit course, jewish mysticism, johannine literature, patristics, theological notebook

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