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THE TRINITY IN TARGUM NEOFITI

In this post I will be quoting the interpretation of Genesis found in the Targum Neofiti, which is a Jewish paraphrase of the Hebrew Bible into Aramaic. This ancient version furnishes evidence that there were specific non-Christian Jews that clearly saw from their reading of Genesis a plurality of divine Persons coexisting together as the one true God of Israel.

Note, for instance, how they interpreted the creation account, specifically the creation of humanity and God’s use of plural pronouns to describe his act of creating mankind:

From the beginning with wisdom the Son (1) of the Lord created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1 (Targum Neofiti, p. 497  https://archive.org/details/neofiti1genesis/Neofiti%201%20-%20G%C3%A9nesis%20-%20Translation-English/page/n3/mode/2up; bold emphasis mine)

A non-Christian Jewish source affirms that God has a Son by whom he created the heavens and the earth! To say that this is remarkable would be a wild understatement!

Note what the footnote claims here:

(1) The word Memeralogos, is probably [sic] missing in the text, as a hand has erased the waw of shakel, and therefore one should translate <<From the beginning (the Word) of the Lord with wisdom created and perfected the heavens and the earth>>. In Jewish-Christian dialogue Bereshit was often translated <<in the Son>>; cf. A. Diez Macho in Melanges E. Tisserant, I, Rome, 1964, 1974. (Ibid., p. 497)

The problem with the foregoing assertion is that the Aramaic has the phrase br’ dYYY (bara di’YHWH), which literally reads “the Son of Yahweh.” Therefore, no amount of conjecture can erase this fact.

Besides, the Hebrew Bible plainly testifies that God has a unique, incomprehensible Son who is essentially equal to him:

“I have not learned wisdom, nor the knowledge of the holy ones (qedoshim) do I know. Who has gone up to the heavens and come down, who has scooped up the wind in his palms? Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak, Who has raised up all the ends of the earth? What is his name or the name of his son, That you should know?” Proverbs 30:3-4 (Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary [W. W. Norton & Company, 2019], Volume 3. The Writings, pp. 445-446; bold emphasis mine)

Here is Alter’s explanation of the use of the plural “holy ones”:

the knowledge of the holy ones. While an exegetical tradition going back to the Middle Ages understand qedoshim as “the Holy One,” the Hebrew noun is plural. It is true that the most common name for God, ‘elohim, is plural in form though singular in meaning, but the evidence that qedoshim works in the same way is not altogether convincing. The most likely reference would be to angelic beings [sic]…

What is his name or the name of his sonThis formulation has obviously invited Christological readings that would not have been within the purview of the Hebrew poet, writing several centuries before the emergence of Christian doctrine. In the patrilineal society of ancient Israel, a man’s full name was his given name and the name of his father (for example, Isaiah son of Amoz), as in our society it is the given name and the family name. (Ibid., p. 445; bold emphasis mine)

Although Alter is correct in regards qedoshim being an actual numerical plural, he is mistaken in assuming that this is because it is referring to the angels. Rather, as the context itself attests the plural is in relation to God and his Son.

He is right, however, in that there is a particular Angel that is not a creature, but a divine Messenger whom God dispatches to save his people, who happens to be his Son:

“Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, ‘Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?’ They answered and said to the king, ‘True, O king.’ ‘Look!’ he answered, ‘I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God (la’Bar Elahin).’ Then Nebuchadnezzar went near the mouth of the burning fiery furnace and spoke, saying, ‘Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here.’ Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego came from the midst of the fire. And the satraps, administrators, governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together, and they saw these men on whose bodies the fire had no power; the hair of their head was not singed nor were their garments affected, and the smell of fire was not on them. Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying, ‘Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God!’” Daniel 3:24-28 New King James Version (NKJV)

So, in a sense Alter is right in that the plural qedoshim does refer to an Angel who happens to be God’s incomprehensible Son that is able to do everything that God does, in the same way that God does it (Cf. John 5:15-30).

The Targum has a lot more to say:

And the earth was empty and without form, and desolate without a son of man or beast and void of all cultivation of plants and of trees, and darkness was spread over the face of the abyss, and a spirit of love from before the Lord was blowing over the face of the water. And the Word of the Lord said: Let there be light, and there was light according to the decree of his Word… And the Lord said: Let us create man in our image, similar to ourselves, and let him have dominion over the fishes of the sea and over the birds of the heavens, and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. And the Word of the Lord created the son of man in his (own) image, in a resemblance from before the Lord he created him, male and his partner he created them. And the Glory of the Lord blessed them and the Word of the Lord said to them: Be strong and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fishes of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that creeps upon the earth. And the Glory of the Lord said: Behold I have given you all the herbs that produce seed that are on the face of all the earth and every tree that has fruit on it – the fruit-bearing tree – to you I have given them as food. Genesis 1:2-3, 26-29 (Targum Neofiti, pp. 497, 499  https://archive.org/details/neofiti1genesis/Neofiti%201%20-%20G%C3%A9nesis%20-%20Translation-English/page/n3/mode/2up; bold emphasis mine)

And THEY completed the creatures of the heavens and the earth and all the hosts of them. And the Word of the Lord completed on the seventh day his work which he had created because there was rest and repose before him on the seventh day from all his work which he had created. And the Glory of the Lord blessed the seventh day and declared it holy because on it there was a great rest and repose before him from all his work which the Glory of the Lord created to do. Genesis 2:1-3 (Ibid., p. 500; bold, capital and italicized emphasis mine)

Notice the use of the plural “THEY” in the foregoing text, clearly affirming that the translator(s) realized that the work of creation was carried out by Yahweh, the Word of the Lord, the Glory of the Lord or God’s loving Spirit! This refutes the nonsense of those who argue that Yahweh was addressing his angelic host in Genesis 1:26.

The Glory spoken of here is elsewhere associated with God’s Shechinah/Shekinah, which signifies God’s presence that is often manifested visibly on earth:

And he cast forth the man and made the Glory of his Shekinah to dwell from the beginning to the east of the garden of Eden between the two Cherubim. He established the garden of Eden for the just who will eat and nourish themselves from the fruits of the tree of Life, because they observed the commandments of the Law and fulfilled its precepts. He established Gehenna for the wicked, which is like a sharp sword, devouring with both sides. Two thousand years before the world was created he created the Law. He established the garden of Eden for the just and Gehenna for the wicked. In the midst of it he established darts of fire and burning coals, enkindled for the wicked, to be avenged of them in the world to come because they did not observe the precepts of the Law in this world; for the Law is the tree of life for all who study it and anyone who observes its precepts lives and endures as the tree of life in the world to come. The Law is good for those who serve it in this world like the fruits of the tree of life. Genesis 3:24 (Ibid., p. 505; bold emphasis mine)

The word is derived from shakan, which is associated with the mishkan or God’s tabernacle/tent/temple where his glorious presence dwelt. God even visibly appeared in a pillar of cloud/fire to fill the tabernacle in the sight of all Israel as a sign that his glory would rest here:

“And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle (ha’mishkan). Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle (ha’mishkan), the children of Israel would go onward in all their journeys. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not journey till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the LORD was above the tabernacle (ha’mishkan) by day, and fire was over it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.” Exodus 40:34-38

Now on the day that the tabernacle (ha’mishkan) was raised up, the cloud covered the tabernacle (ha’mishkan), the tent of the Testimony; from evening until morning it was above the tabernacle (ha’mishkan) like the appearance of fire. So it was always: the cloud covered it by day, and the appearance of fire by night. Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle, after that the children of Israel would journey; and in the place where the cloud settled, there the children of Israel would pitch their tents. At the command of the LORD the children of Israel would journey, and at the command of the LORD they would camp; as long as the cloud stayed above the tabernacle (ha’mishkan) they remained encamped. Even when the cloud continued long, many days above the tabernacle (ha’mishkan), the children of Israel kept the charge of the LORD and did not journey. So it was, when the cloud was above the tabernacle (ha’mishkan) a few days: according to the command of the LORD they would remain encamped, and according to the command of the LORD they would journey. So it was, when the cloud remained only from evening until morning: when the cloud was taken up in the morning, then they would journey; whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud was taken up, they would journey. Whether it was two days, a month, or a year that the cloud remained above the tabernacle (ha’mishkan), the children of Israel would remain encamped and not journey; but when it was taken up, they would journey. At the command of the LORD they remained encamped, and at the command of the LORD they journeyed; they kept the charge of the LORD, at the command of the Lord by the hand of Moses.” Numbers 9:15-23

In rabbinic Judaism God’s Spirit is often equated with the Shekinah that fills the entire earth:

“Another Rabbinic concept to indicate the nearness of God and His direct influence on man is that of Ruach Hakodesh (the Holy Spirit). Sometimes it seems to be identical with the Shechinah as expressing the divine immanence in the world. For instance, it is related that after the destruction of the Temple, the Emperor Vespasian dispatched three shiploads of young Jews and Jewesses to brothels in Rome, but during the voyage they all threw themselves into the sea and were drowned, rather accept so degraded a fate. The story ends with the statement that on beholding the harrowing sight: ‘The Holy Spirit wept and said, “For these do I weep” (Lament. i. 16)’ (Lament. R. I. 45).

“More often it is employed to describe the endowment of a person with special gifts. Prophecy, in the sense of the ability to interpret the will of God, is the effect of which the Holy Spirit is the cause. Its possession also endows one with foreknowledge.” (Abraham Cohen, Everyman’s Talmud, [Schoken Books, New York], Chapter II. God And The Universe, II. Transcendence And Immanence, p. 45; bold emphasis mine)

Cohen goes on to explain what the Shekinah is in Jewish thought:

“What, in Rabbinic teaching, is God’s relation to the world? Is He thought of as transcendent and far removed from His creatures, or is He considered as being near to, and in contact with, them? The true answer is to be found in a combination of both ideas. The Rabbis did not look upon the two conceptions as contradictory or mutually exclusive, but rather as complementary.

“When they reflected upon the ineffable Majesty of the Creator, His absolute perfection and boundless might, they reverentially spoke of Him as a Being immeasurably removed from the limitations of the finite world. But they, at the same time, realized that such a transcendent God was of little use to the human being who was grappling with the problems of life and yearned for communion with a Helper and Comforter and Guide amidst his perplexities and struggles. They, accordingly, stressed the doctrine that God was immanent in the world, and was very near to all who call upon Him in sincerity.

“We have seen that in the cosmology of the Talmud, the Deity is located in the seventh heaven. His habitation was therefore infinitely removed from earth

“Much more prominent, however, in the Talmudic literature is the conception of God’s immanence in the world and His nearness to man. It follows as a corollary from the doctrine of His omnipresence… ‘On the other hand, the Holy One, blessed be He, appears to be afar off, but in reality there is nothing closer than He.’… ‘However high He be above His world, let a man but enter a Synagogue, stand behind a pillar and pray in a whisper, and the Holy One, blessed be He, hearkens to his prayer. Can there be a God nearer than this, Who is close to His creatures as the mouth is to the ear?’ (p. Ber. 13a)…

“With the object of utilizing the doctrine of the immanence of God in the world, while avoiding the suggestion that He could be located in any spot, the Rabbis invented certain terms to express the Divine Presence without giving support to a belief in His corporealityThe most frequent of these terms IS SHECHINAH, which literally means ‘dwelling.’ It denotes the manifestation of God upon the stage of the world, although He abides in the far-away heaven. In the same way that the sun in the sky illumines with its rays every corner of the earth, so the Shechinah, the effulgence of God, may make its presence felt everywhere (Sanh. 39a).” (Cohen, pp. 40-42; bold and capital emphasis mine)

And:

“The Talmud offers this demonstration of divine omnipresence: ‘The messengers of God are unlike those of men. The messengers of men are obliged to return to those who sent them with the object of their mission; but God’s messengers return at the place wither they had been dispatched. It is written: “Canst thou send forth lightnings, that they may go and say unto thee, Here we are?” (Job xxxviii. 35). It is not stated “they returned” but “they go and say”, i.e. wherever they go they are in the presence of God. Hence it is to be deduced that the Shechinah is in every place’ (Mech. to xii. I; 2a; B.B. 25a).

“The question how God could be everywhere at the same time received various answers. The problem was elucidated by this analogy: ‘It may be likened to a cave situated by the seashore. The sea rages and the cave is filled with water, but the waters of the sea are not diminished. Similarly the Tent of Meeting was filled with the lustre of the Shechinah, which was not diminished in the Universe’ (Num. R. XII. 4)…

“‘A heretic said to R. Gamaliel: “You Rabbis declare that wherever ten people assemble for worship the Shechinah abides amongst them; how many Shechinahs are there then?” He called the heretic’s servant and struck him with a ladle. “Why did you strike him?” he was asked, and he replied, “Because the sun is in the house of the infidel.” “But the sun shines all over the world!” exclaimed the heretic; and the Rabbi retorted: “If the sun, which is only one out of a million myriads of God’s servants, can be in every part of the world, how much more so can the Shechinah radiate throughout the entire Universe!”’ (Sanh. 39a).” (Cohen, Chapter I. The Doctrine Of God, IV. Omnipresence, pp. 9-10; bold emphasis mine)

Hence the Holy Spirit is none other than God’s very own Shekinah, he whom the Targum identifies as the glory of the Lord.

That this Glory refers to the visible appearance of God on earth is readily seen from the following text:

And the Glory of the Shekinah of the Lord went up when it had finished speaking with Abraham. And Abraham returned to his place.” Genesis 18:33 (Ibid., p. 542; bold emphasis mine)

Compare this with how the Hebrew text actually reads:

“And Jehovah went his way, as soon as he had left off communing with Abraham: and Abraham returned unto his place.” Genesis 18:33 American Standard Version (ASV)

The Hebrew is emphatically clear that it was Yahweh himself who appeared an earth as a man to speak with Abraham face to face. And yet the Targum describes this Yahweh God in human form as the Lord’s own glorious Shekinah!

The Targum even goes as far as to identify the Yahweh who was on earth that brought down upon Sodom and Gomorrah sulphur and fire from the heavenly Yahweh, e.g., the Yahweh who was in heaven,

“Then Jehovah rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from Jehovah out of heaven;” Genesis 19:24 ASV

As the Word of the Lord appearing in human form!

And the Word of the Lord made to come down upon Sodom and Gomorrah sulphur and fire from before the Lord, from the heavens. Genesis 19:24 (Ibid., p. 544; bold emphasis mine)

Hence, not only does the Targum provide conclusive proof that this text does indeed present two distinct divine Persons as Yahweh God–One of whom appears as a man on earth and the Other that was residing in heaven–it also identifies the earthly Yahweh as the Word of the Lord!

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who is familiar with the Holy Bible, which testifies to the fact of God having created all things by his Word, Wisdom, Power and Spirit!

By His Spirit He adorned the heavens; His hand pierced the fleeing serpent.” Job 26:13 NKJV

The Spirit of God has made me, And the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” Job 33:4 NKJV

By the word of Yahweh, the heavens were made, and, by the spirit (uba’ruach) of his mouth, all their host:” Psalm 33:6 Rotherham(i)’s Emphasized Bible

“O LORD, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all. The earth is full of Your possessions—… You hide Your face, they are troubled; You take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; And You renew the face of the earth.” Psalm 104:29-30 NKJV

“The LORD by wisdom founded the earth; By understanding He established the heavens; By His knowledge the depths were broken up, And clouds drop down the dew.” Proverbs 3:19-20 NKJV

“Thus you shall say to them: ‘The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under these heavens.’ He has made the earth by His power, He has established the world by His wisdom, And has stretched out the heavens at His discretion.” Jeremiah 10:11-12 NKJV

“He has made the earth by His power; He has established the world by His wisdom, And stretched out the heaven by His understanding.” Jeremiah 51:15 NKJV

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,” Romans 1:20 NKJV

And since the inspired Christian Scriptures identify Jesus as God’s unique Son and the human embodiment and enfleshment of God’s eternal Power and Wisdom,

“but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:23-24 NKJV

It should, therefore, come as no surprise that Christ is depicted as the One by, through and for whom all creation came into existence:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men… He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:1-4, 10, 14 NKJV

“yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.” 1 Corinthians 8:6 NKJV

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created THROUGH HIM and FOR HIM. And He IS before all things, and IN HIM all things consist.” Colossians 1:15-17 NKJV

“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high… But to the Son He says: ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom…’ And: ‘You, Lord [the Son], in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You remain; And they will all grow old like a garment; Like a cloak You will fold them up, And they will be changed. But You are the same, And Your years will not fail.’” Hebrews 1:1-3, 8-12 NKJV

Concluding Remarks

Targum Neofiti furnishes ancient support that there were in fact non-Christian Jews who realized from their reading of the Hebrew Bible that the one true God is a multi-Personal Being. These Jews could plainly see that God has a Son by whom he created the heavens and earth. They further saw that the Word of this God and his Spirit, who is the very Glory of this God, are eternal divine Persons, since they were already present from before the creation was brought into existence.

This establishes that these particular Jews actually believed that God, the Son of God whom the NT identifies as the very Word of this God, and the Holy Spirit are the one true God of all creation whom the Hebrew Bible names as Yahweh!

Hence, the foregoing proves that the assessment of the following Evangelical authors is spot on:

DOES THE TRINITY APPEAR IN THE OLD TESTAMENT?

The opening lines of Scripture reveal God in a most surprising way:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.36

We see both God the Father and the Spirit of God involved in creation.

It gets even more interesting when we look at how ancient Jewish rabbis understood this passage as they did their interpretative translation of the Hebrew Bible into Aramaic, the common language of the people. They did a word study of “beginning” (re’shit in Hebrew) and found that it is used in synonymous parallelism with the Hebrew word for “firstborn” (bekor in Hebrew) four times in the Old Testament.37 This would mean that the two words, “beginning” and “firstborn,” can have the same meaning. Thus, their translation of the opening words of the Bible includes both words:

In the beginning, by the firstborn, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.38

In this important translation, predating the birth of Jesus Christ by approximately two hundred years. we find three divine persons–the Firstborn, God the Father, and the Spirit–at work in creation.

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