Is it true that Jews during Jesus' lifetime were binitarian, that is believing that God was one being in two persons similar to how Christians have historically believed and taught that God is trinitarian having the persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

From "Two Powers in Heaven" by Alan Segal".

Though it was difficult to date the rabbinic traditions accurately in many cases, the results showed that the earliest heretics believed in two complementary powers in heaven while only later could heretics be shown to believe in two opposing powers in heaven. The extra-rabbinic evidence allowed the conclusion that the traditions were earlier than the first century. Furthermore, in comparing the literature, it was possible to define a number of dangerous scriptural interpretations central to the heresy and show how the rabbis countered them by bringing in other scriptures which unambiguously stated God’s unity. From this evidence it became clear that the basic heresy involved interpreting scripture to say that a principal angelic or hypostatic manifestation in heaven was equivalent to God.

"Two Powers In Heaven Early Rab Segal"

Hopefully this will remove the downvotes.

Edit This might also help.

Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven, - Genesis 19:24

I'm told the clear reading is that there are two YHWH's but I only know a little Greek and no Hebrew.

  • 3
    Okay, thanks for the quote. That sounds to me more like dualism, than Binitarianism. – curiousdannii Feb 12 '19 at 12:11
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    Dualism it is not because they share the same nature, they both have thrones, receive worship, make the ground Holy on where they “stand”, know the thoughts of men. I intend to respond with OT passages when time permits. – Autodidact Feb 12 '19 at 14:38
  • Just to be clear - you are not asking whether the Holy Spirit was recognised as a Person in addition to the Father? – davidlol Feb 12 '19 at 14:41
  • My guess is no but I've not completed the document I quoted in my question so I'm not sure how they address it. Just looking to see if there is evidence for a binitarian belief among the Jews in Jesus' day. The specific "persons" in question would be made clear in the details. – WnGatRC456 Feb 12 '19 at 16:31

Segal's Persepective and its Reception

That book by Segal was one of the first to advance that argument, and has been fairly influential since then (e.g. Heiser, 2004; Boyarin, 2001. McGrath and Truex (2004) cite six other works influenced by Segel's book). Certainly there is a case to be made that some Jews (not all) in the late second temple period were binitarian in some sense; for instance Boyarin in Gospel of the Memra: Jewish Binitarianism and the Prologue to John, (2002).

An excerpt (p. 254):

"The Memra has a place above the angels as that agent of the Deity who sustains the course of nature and personifies the Law." [Edwards 1995, Justin's Logos and the Word of God, p. 263.] This position has been well established among historians of Christianity since the late nineteenth century. Alfred Edersheim saw the Memra as referring to God's self-revelation. As Robert Hayward says of Edersheim: "He also made a distinction between God and the Memra. Noting that Rabbinic theology has not preserved for us the doctrine of distinct persons in the Godhead, he remarks: 'And yet, if words have any meaning, the Memra is a hypostasis.'" [Robert Hayward, 1981 Divine Name and Presence: The Memra p. 3] With this comment, Edersheim is clearly implying the existence of non-rabbinic forms of Judaism that were extant and vital within the rabbinic period alongside the rabbinic religion itself. Although the official rabbinic theology suppressed all talk of the Memra or Logos by naming it the heresy of "Two Powers in Heaven," both before the Rabbis and contemporaneously with them there was a multitude of Jews, in both Palestine and the Diaspora, who held onto this version of monotheistic theology. If we accept Edersheim's view, the Memra is related to the Logos of Logos theology in its various Christian manifestations.

Emphasis mine. Also p. 249:

It becomes apparent, therefore, that for one branch of pre-Christian Judaism, at least, there was nothing strange about a doctrine of a deuteros theos, and nothing in that doctrine that precluded monotheism.

On p. 257 Boyarin quotes the Palestinian Targum for the Genesis 19:24 verse you cite (from Klein, 1980):

"And the Memra of H' rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah...

The idea is that in this theology, the Memra of God (Word of God) fulfils the physical, personified actions, while God himself remains invisible and totally transcendent from the creation. The way this theology could naturally develop (or be fulfilled, if you like) with a Christian incarnation should be clear. Boyarin's article goes into quite extensive detail presenting the case, with relevant material from Philo, Justin Martyr, Targumic sources, as well as other Jewish prayers and texts.

But were Jews Binitarian?

Perhaps, but it's not really something that can be answered definitively, and is likely to remain controversial. Arguments can be made (like that of Segal, etc.) that some Jews were, but Jewish thought was not monolithic. As mentioned in the except from Boyarin, the rabbis opposed this line of thought officially.


Boyarin, D. 2001. Gospel of the Memra: Jewish Binitarianism and the Prologue to John. Harvard Theological Review 94:3 July, p. 243-284.

Heiser, M. S., 2004. The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-canonical Second Temple Jewish Literature. Doctoral Thesis, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Klein, M. L., 1980. The Fragment-Targums of the Pentateuch: According to Their Extant Sources. Vol. 1, p. 45-46.

McGrath, J. F., Truex, J., 2004. 'Two Powers' and Early Jewish and Christian Monotheism. Journal of Biblical Studies 4/1 January. p. 43.


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