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Was the concept of Godhead (one God, but multiple persons) known to Judaism prior to the advent of Christianity? Were there Jews that held a Binitarian, Trinitarian or similar "Godhead" theology as a result of studying and interpreting the Torah, long before Christianity came on the scene?


The phrase "one God in multiple persons" is not technical at all, but rather my personal way of expressing the idea with words. For a more technical definition, please see the following quotes from Wikipedia:

Godhead (or godhood) refers to the divinity or substance (ousia) of the Christian God, especially as existing in three persons — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Binitarianism is a Christian theology of two persons, personas, or aspects in one substance/Divinity (or God). Classically, binitarianism is understood as a form of monotheism—that is, that God is absolutely one being—and yet with binitarianism there is a "twoness" in God, which means one God family. The other common forms of monotheism are "unitarianism", a belief in one God with one person, and "trinitarianism", a belief in one God with three persons.

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity (Latin: Trinitas, lit. 'triad', from Latin: trinus "threefold")[1] holds that God is one God, but three coeternal and consubstantial persons:[2][3] the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. The three persons are distinct, yet are one "substance, essence or nature" (homoousios).[4] In this context, a "nature" is what one is, whereas a "person" is who one is.[5]

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  • This is a tough question, because we have no recorded oral tradition prior to the onset of Christianity, and all we can judge about Judaism is from its scriptures. But in those, God is only described as acting (and maybe feeling) but not being, so the rest are speculations. I stressed many times, that once Rabbis took the Halachic approach to Judaism to contrast the Christian philosophical one, Judaism has dealt little with theology and God's essence. We, more or less, invented the slogan "Just do it!". – Al Berko Apr 12 at 5:14
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    According to all Rishonim, there is a mitzvah to know (to the extent possible) and believe in Hashem. Many works were written on this subject by R' Saadya Gaon, the Chovos Halevavos, etc. – N.T. Apr 12 at 9:38
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    I don't think Trinitatianism was a thing in Chrstianity either until centuries after it's split from Judaism. – Micha Berger Apr 12 at 11:10
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Short answer: No. If there were any Jews who held such claims, they were not enough to leave behind any record.

The Bible is clear that there were Jews who worshipped foreign idols, but they did not claim a Biblical basis for doing so. Rather, they recognized that they were acting AGAINST the Bible's claim that there is only one G-d.

The concept of G-d being one and multiple at the same time does not appear in Jewish literature until after the establishment of Christianity, when the Jewish authors of philosophical works started to counter it as being illogical and wrong. It does not seem at all possible that an idea that almost all Jews have considered heretical, and which many Jews died rather than agree to, would have existed previously without occasioning comment.

It is worth pointing out that the Rabbinic descriptions of Jesus do not have him claiming divinity. Instead, they have him disputing the rabbis and claiming to be the Messiah. In the Jewish tradition, the claims of divinity for Jesus came later as a result of his followers trying to spread Christianity among non-Jews. They tried to give him the qualities pagans expected of a divinity (birth from a divine being, etc.) without losing their claim to monotheism, which resulted in the awkward "have your cake and eat it too" claim of the trinity.

Not only that, but the claim would not stand up to the deeper understanding of G-d's Oneness. To give a very short and brief quote from Maimonides (other books explain this at much greater length):

This God is One. He is not two nor more than two, but One; so that none of the things existing in the universe to which the term one is applied is like unto His Unity; neither such a unit as a species which comprises many units (e.g. sub-species), nor such a unit as a physical body which consists of parts and dimensions. His Unity is such that there is no other Unity like it in the world. If there were plural deities, these would be physical bodies; because entities, that can be enumerated and are equal in their essence, are only distinguishable from each other by the accidents* that happen to physical bodies. If the Creator were a physical body, He would have bounds and limits, for it is impossible for a physical body to be without limits; and where a body is limited and finite, its energy is also limited and finite. And our God, blessed be his Name, since His power is infinite and unceasing—for the Sphere (of the Universe) is continually revolving—His power is not the energy of a physical body. And since He is not a physical body, the accidents that happen to physical bodies do not apply to Him, so as to distinguish Him from another being. Hence, it is impossible that He can be anything but One. To realize this truth is an affirmative precept, as it is said "The Eternal, our God, is One God" (Deut. 6:4).

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  • Adding a reference/link to where Maimonides' words can be found, would improve your answer. – IsraelReader Apr 12 at 16:44
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Since Abraham, the first Jew, Judaism has been devoted to a simple one God. "Minim" מינים heretics I believe refers to various Gnostic groups (does its etymology mean "kinds" as in those two view different kinds and numbers of gods?)

When is the "advent" of Christianity -- Jesus or Paul or the later Gospels? Nevertheless I think this will be very useful in answering:

Antelman Vol 2 Ch 15 of "To Eliminate the Opiate" (2002)

...Judaism clashed with Hellenistic and Christian Gnostics. The effects of this warfare left their scars on Judaism. When the Greek Gnostic challenge threatened the Torah way of life, two distinct trends emerged; one to fight Gnosticism tooth and nail, and the other to incorporate elements of Gnosticism into Judaism.
The latter view held that as long as Jewish law or basic philosophical theological concepts were not compromised in any way, there was no harm in this. Among those that chose the route of no-compromise, there were those who felt that any acceptance of Gnostic thought and its neutralization into the faith would be a constant source of danger and dissension. Others chose to accept the no-compromise route as their personal preference, and withheld from publicly challenging the compromisers. However, those who compromised were, nevertheless, bitter enemies of pure Idolatrous Gnosticism. The tensions engendered in these attitudes have surfaced throughout Christian and Jewish history. In Judaism, the Midrashic literature encompassing much legendary material on the Bible as well as minor randomly interspersed legendary sections of the Talmud between its major legalistic sections, initially became the repository of the tamed Gnosticism. Out of these basic writings grew a unique literature that resulted in the development of some of the finest ethical and morally influential systems on Jewish life, which even anti-Gnostic purists acknowledged had spiritual edification despite their opposition to what they considered the basic superstitious premises upon which these ethical systems were built. The Zohar is exemplary of this literature. ...

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  • Even if this Antelman is correct, which I don't think he is, the question asked for BEFORE Christianity. Gnosticism originated later. – N.T. Apr 12 at 9:40
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Our understanding of God is (for the most part) limited to a reflection of our understanding of man.

Within the human psyche there are quite well defined areas of thought and feeling that are identified in modern psychology (e.g. see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transactional_analysis#The_ego-state,_or_Parent%E2%80%93Adult%E2%80%93Child_(PAC),_models) which correspond relatively well to the kabbalistic areas of "God's mind" (e.g. see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sefirot).

So the notion of, for example, the functions of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are not new. Judaism disavows relating to these Divine elements as separate personas however, as indicated in previous answers.

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    It's more of a negative reflection of our understanding of man. G-d is indivisible, and as such has no "elements". G-d did create a metaphysical system of sephirot, etc, that correspond to man's body, but they are not an element of G-d, chas v'chalilah. See Da'as Tevunos at length. – N.T. Apr 12 at 20:14
  • @N.T. What is a negative reflection of our understanding of man? – The GRAPKE Apr 14 at 7:24
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    Our understanding of G-d. He is not like any of his creations in any way. – N.T. Apr 14 at 9:46
  • @N.T. But it says that man was created in the image of God? – The GRAPKE Apr 14 at 9:53
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    See the beginning of Nefesh Hachaim where he discusses that in great detail. – N.T. Apr 14 at 10:34

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