Our understanding of early Judaism and its relationship
to Christianity has been significantly advanced by
Alan Segal’s formative work on the two powers heresy.
This work demonstrated that belief in two heavenly
powers was considered an intolerable heresy by the
rabbis and that Christians were among those indicted.
Furthermore, Segal argued that the two powers debate
could be traced back to the first century, as evidenced
by certain christological passages of the NT and
by Philo's writings. Thus, according to Segal,
the two powers controversy provides an important insight
into the first-century context of the NT and, conversely,
these early Jewish and Christian writings shaped rabbinic
reports about those who claim “there are two powers
study has widely influenced Jewish and Christian scholarship.
Among its contributions, the study firmly placed early
christological development and controversy in a Jewish
setting. It also took a critical approach to the dating
and redaction of rabbinic literature. However, Segal’s
study is not without shortcomings. For example, Segal
appears to maintain that there was a clear ‘orthodoxy’
in first-century Judaism, whereas the existence
of a clearly recognizable ‘orthodoxy’ during this
period is much debated.
hints at three possible ways of relating the ‘two
powers’ debate to first-century Judaism. First, we
have the interpretation which Segal himself appears
to favour, stressing continuity or consistent condemnation.
On this interpretation of the evidence, the belief
that there were ‘two powers in heaven’ was condemned
as a heresy in rabbinic literature just as the same
belief was condemned as a heresy in first-century
Judaism. This view maintains that there was continuity
in belief (it was the same belief over the centuries)
and continuity in rabbinic condemnation (it was not
accepted at any time). A second possible way of conceptualizing
the matter can be called retrospective condemnation.
That is, certain first-century Jewish beliefs were
later classified as ‘two powers heresy’ and retrospectively
condemned in rabbinic literature. Here we have
continuity in belief (the same belief), but not in
condemnation (earlier the belief in question was accepted
(or at the very least tolerated), but later it was
not). A third explanation emphasizes development:
Particular first-century Jewish beliefs evolved into
a form which became intolerable for the rabbis.
In this view, there is only partial continuity of
belief (it changed over time), and there is discontinuity
regarding condemnation (only the later form was rejected).
study has demonstrated that a similarity exists between
some first-century exegesis (like Philo's) and later
‘two powers’ discussions in the rabbinic literature.
However, he has not provided corroborating evidence
for his overall conclusion in two ways. First, Segal
has not provided evidence that Philo, for example,
was regarded by his Jewish contemporaries as a heretic,
which Segal’s work might lead us to expect. This suggests
that a retrospective explanation may be possible.
Second, Segal has not demonstrated that specific first-century
beliefs were identical with those later condemned.
This opens the way for a developmental explanation.
Thus, we believe there are grounds for questioning
whether or not christological passages in the NT ought
to be read in light of the ‘two powers heresy’ of
rabbinic Judaism. Although various forms of ‘two powers’
conceptuality may have been present in first-century
Christian and Jewish thought, we will argue that there
is no evidence that they were identified as heretical
during that century.
II. Methodology and Dating
The last couple of decades of study of rabbinic literature
can almost be described as a revolution, as critical
methodology, developed in the field of NT studies
and other scholarly disciplines, has been applied
to the relevant source material. Thus recent critical
studies have eclipsed earlier rabbinic scholarship,
which often took materials separated by many centuries
to form a monolithic entity called ‘Judaism’.
However, the fact that this revolution has taken place
so recently means that there is still uncertainty
in many areas, particularly with respect to the dating
of documents. On questions of dating rabbinic material,
NT scholars can for the most part do little more than
accept the results reached by scholars in the field
of rabbinic studies, and where necessary note differences
of opinion. Perhaps even more important for our purposes,
however, is the question of the relationship between
(1) the date assigned to a particular rabbinic document
and (2) the date of the rabbis who appear in that
work. It has long been axiomatic in NT scholarship
that written documents tell us about the Sitz im Leben
of the authors and only secondarily--and through critical
study--about any earlier period described in those
works. This axiom, increasingly recognized and accepted
by scholars engaged in academic study of the rabbinic
literature, informs our approach. So, for example,
later documents which attribute to earlier rabbis
views which are nowhere attested in earlier writings
must be treated with some degree of skepticism.
we have no desire to exclude potentially valuable
information from any quarter, this study limits itself
to Jewish literature through ca. 600 C.E. when the
Babylonian Talmud reached closure. While it is
not impossible that later documents can tell us something
about first-century Jewish-Christian relations, in
any other discipline the use of documents dating from
centuries after the time being studied would be considered
methodologically suspect. This should be true of rabbinic
studies as well. Although our study has as its
primary aim to illuminate first-century Jewish-Christian
theology in relation to two powers belief, we shall
nonetheless investigate later traditions to determine
what, if anything, can be traced to the first century.
The Start of the Controversy
Philo and the NT
Let us begin with the earliest evidence available
to us, namely the writings of Philo and the NT. What
is immediately striking is that there is no real indication
in the writings of Philo and Paul that they felt their
beliefs, which resemble the ‘two powers’ belief in
rabbinic literature, were controversial. In dealing
with Philo, Segal persuasively argues that Philo and
the rabbis drew upon common traditions regarding the
powers, names, and attributes of God. However, in
contrast to the rabbis, Philo's identification of
the Logos as ‘a second God’ and even ‘God,’ and his
association of the Logos with the ‘two powers’
of God, is conspicuously positive. It is also
surely significant that Philo nowhere seeks to defend
these beliefs against a charge of heresy.The fact
that Philo gives no indication that he was departing
from an already-existing Jewish ‘orthodoxy,’ or that
his teaching on the Logos was met with objections,
suggests that his views were not objectionable to
his contemporaries. Although this is admittedly a
form of argument from silence, it is not without force,
since research into the sociology of knowledge indicates
that when objections are raised against one's belief
system, that belief system or worldview must be defended
same may be said in relation to Paul. While Paul engages
in a great deal of legitimation for his view of Torah,
there is no indication that he felt the need to defend
himself against charges of ‘two powers’ heresy.
Paul's view of the exalted Christ's investiture with
the divine name (Phil.2:9-11) must be viewed in relation
to non-Christian Jewish texts such as the Apocalypse
of Abraham. This work refers to an exalted angel,
Yahoel, who bears the divine name (Apoc.Abr.10:3,8).
There is simply no evidence that belief in a supreme
mediator or agent of God, one that might later be
called a ‘second power,’ was controversial at any
point during the first century CE. This is not to
be explained by the lack of any universally recognized
authority which could speak for Jewish ‘orthodoxy’
in this period. Even within the context of first century
Jewish diversity, parties in conflict with one another
took seriously the objections of their opponents and
sought to respond to them. In the case of Paul's
claims about the exalted Christ and of Philo's view
of the Logos as a second god, there is nothing to
indicate that their contemporaries found them to be
heretical or controversial.
key witness usually appealed to as evidence for the
existence of the ‘two powers heresy’ in the first
century is the Gospel of John, and many NT scholars
would agree that the Johannine Christians had been
accused of abandoning monotheism. While it cannot
be denied that John bears witness to an intense conflict
regarding christology, this need not imply that it
centred on monotheism per se. What is telling is that
within the Gospel of John the opponents of the Johannine
Christians do not use the phrase ‘two powers’ nor
do they charge Jesus or the Johannine Christians with
rejecting monotheism. There are only two clear references
to monotheism in the Fourth Gospel and both affirm
the oneness of God in rather axiomatic language, without
defense or explanation (John 5:44; 17:3). If the Johannine
Christians had been charged with rejecting monotheism,
we would expect the writer to make a more vigorous
and explicit defense. But it does not happen.
the controversies narrated in the Fourth Gospel are
being fought on different theological ground. The
conflict centres on the question of who is God's agent,
who has God sent. If Jesus is God's agent, then
he speaks and acts on God's behalf (John 5:17-30).
If he is not, he is demon possessed (John 7:20; 8:52),
a deceiver (John 7:47), and a blasphemer (John 10:33).
It is with these issues that the author appears to
have been concerned, and his response is overwhelmingly
clear. Fifteen times the Johannine Jesus is said to
have been sent by God; twenty-three times Jesus refers
to the Father as “the one who sent me”; seven times
Jesus is said to be “from” God. For the Johannine
believer, the work of God is “to believe in the one
whom he has sent” (John 6:29). But there is more to
the Johannine claim for Jesus’ divine agency. For
John, Jesus functions, in practical terms, as equivalent
to God, in accordance with the basic principle of
agency that “the one sent is like the one who sent
him.” Jesus does whatever the Father does (John
5:19), he gives life just as the Father does (John
5:21), he receives equal honor to the Father (John
5:23), his teaching is God’s teaching (John 7:16),
to see him is to see God (John 14:9), he and the Father
are one (John 10:30). The issue central to the conflict
is whether Jesus "makes himself equal to God",
rather than being God's appointed agent. The Johannine
Jesus avidly denies that he is making himself anything;
rather, he does the will of him who sent him.
notwithstanding John’s strong language of continuity
between the agent and the sender, John’s presentation
of Jesus fits well within the broad understanding
of monotheism current within first-century Judaism.29]
The language used to describe the divine agency of
the Johannine Jesus has close parallels in contemporary
Jewish and Christian writings, works which are generally
accepted as monotheistic. For example, it is widely
recognized that John’s concept of the Logos has similarities
with Philo’s. As previously mentioned, Philo described
the Logos as a ‘second God,’ and yet Philo did not
feel that this undercut belief that God is one.
Likewise John’s view of Jesus as one who bears the
divine name (John 8:24, 28, 58; 17:11) has parallels
both in Jewish and in pre-Johannine Christian thought.
The accusations of ‘blasphemy’ and of Jesus ‘making
himself (equal to) God’ in John closely resemble the
Synoptic tradition found in Mark 2:5-7. In Mark, some
objected to Jesus claiming to do what God does, either
because they felt this was something which God would
not delegate to an agent, or because they did not
accept that Jesus is God’s appointed agent. John seems
to develop these ideas, but there is nothing that
indicates that John had taken “a step too far.”
Rather, in John we have evidence of increased controversy
over the same issues that were sticking points between
Christian and non-Christian Jews from the very beginning.
As we have already seen, there is no evidence of conflict
over monotheism prior to John; we may now suggest
that John more closely resembles the earlier conflicts
depicted in the Synoptics than the later rabbinic
‘two powers’ material.
proceeding, we may note two further points about the
rabbinic discussions of ‘two powers’ in relation to
the first-century. First, it is interesting that there
are no references within rabbinic literature linking
‘two powers’ with any of the first century tannaim.
Second, the Babylonian Talmud and 3 Enoch in their
present form date the origin of the two powers controversy
to the early second century. Although we shall see
that there are reasons to question the historical
reliability of this tradition, it is noteworthy that
no attempt was made by the tannaim to link the ‘two
powers’ controversy to events or persons of the first-century,
in the time of Jesus, Philo, Paul, and John.
An extremely important witness to early Jewish-Christian
dialogue is Justin Martyr. His Dialogue with Trypho
the Jew was written around 160 C.E., although it purports
to record a dialogue which he had around 135 C.E.
Whether a fictitious dialogue or not, what is important
is that Justin seems to be concerned about interacting
with the actual views and positions held by contemporary
Jews. It is significant, therefore, that one of Justin's
Jewish interlocutors agrees with Justin that there
is be a second figure in heaven alongside God, who
is also called God and Lord. Trypho is portrayed
as quite quickly reaching the same conclusion.
Thus, in this second century work, there is no hint
that the belief in a ‘second god,’ a heavenly agent
and vice-regent, is heretical or antithetical to Jewish
monotheism. When Segal refers to Justin's interlocutor
as a “heterodox Jew,” he is assuming what needs to
be proved. The question of when a Judaism that
may rightly be called ‘orthodox’ finally emerged is
currently the subject of much discussion and debate.
Many would want to emphasize that, in spite of whatever
impressions rabbinic literature may give, it was only
a long and slow process that eventually led to the
rabbinic definition of Judaism being accepted as ‘normative’
in some sense.
C. Mishnah and Tosefta
We may now turn to those passages in the Mishnah and
Tosefta that are thought to contain allusions to ‘two
powers’. It is noteworthy that the phrase itself never
appears, a fact which is given more significance when
one considers that the Tosefta contains several references
to Christians as minim (‘heretics’). The lack
of explicit reference to ‘two powers’ cannot be explained
as a lack of interest in Christianity, since the rabbis
who composed the Tosefta took the trouble to polemicize
against Christians. So, if Christian belief in ‘two
powers in heaven’ was an issue at that time, it is
quite surprising that the Mishnah and the Tosefta
do not mention it.
that are several passages from the Mishnah and the
Tosefta which Segal takes to allude to the ‘two powers’
heresy, and these must be examined. The first passage
refers to certain heretics who say there are ‘many
ruling powers in heaven.’
M. Sanh. 4:5: “Therefore but a single man was
created in the world ... that none should say to his
fellow, ‘My father was greater than your father;’
also that the heretics should not say, ‘There are
many ruling powers in heaven’”
The phrase used in this Mishnaic passage is not ‘two
powers’ but ‘many powers’, which suggests a distinct
set of beliefs. While this brief pericope leaves
a number of questions unanswered, its meaning appears
to be clear enough: If numerous human beings had been
created, people might have concluded that this was
evidence of several creators. The phrase ‘many powers’
sounds suspiciously like polytheism, and it may be
that there were Jews (pagans cannot be in mind because
of the use of minim) who believed that it was not
God but the angels who created the world. Justin Martyr
refers to Jews who hold such beliefs, and he calls
it “heresy.” The evidence from Justin suggests
that one could reject creation by angels and yet believe
in the Logos (or a similar supreme mediator or personified
divine attribute). It is the former sort of belief
which the rabbis appear to refer to as ‘many powers,’
whereas it is the latter which eventually developed
into or came to be regarded as heretical belief in
‘two powers.’ The two are not entirely unrelated,
but neither are they simply to be identified.
The conclusion that lesser beings created the world
was a key element in certain streams of Hellenistic
Judaism and in Gnosticism, both of which were influenced
by contemporary Platonism. These various groups all
posited, in one form or another, a demiurge, distinct
from the high God, who created the (evil) world, often
with helpers. The Mishnah’s argument makes sense
as a response to such views. It argues from the Biblical
account that only one human being was created to be
the origin of all human kind, which in turn implies
that there was one creator, not many. This is
similar to the argument that, just as there is one
temple and one nation chosen by God, so also there
is only one true God.  Therefore, m. Sanh. 4:5
does not appear to identify the sort of Logos doctrine
held by Philo and the early Christians as heretical;
it is more likely aimed at beliefs which were moving
in a gnostic direction. Beliefs of this sort were
an issue for Christians in the second century and
may well have been for Jews as well. Although
we are probably dealing with something distinct from
‘two powers’ in this passage, it is quite possible
that this early use of ‘powers’ language provided
the basis for the use of ‘two powers’ beliefs later
on. If so, the designation ‘two powers’ may have been
used to stigmatize those who held such beliefs as
little better than those who had polytheistic or gnostic
we may look at three passages from the Mishnah also
thought to refer to the ‘two powers’ heresy. These
warnings focus on what is acceptable and unacceptable
M. Ber. 5:3: “He who says [in a prayer]: ‘Even
to a bird's nest do your mercies extend’ or ‘May your
name be remembered for the good’ or ‘We give thanks,
we give thanks’--is to be silenced”
M. Meg. 4:9: "He who says "May the good
bless you" - this is the manner of sectarianism"
M. Ber. 9:5: "Man is bound to bless (God) for
the evil even as he blesses (God) for the good"
The meaning of the first prayer concerning ‘a bird's
nest’ is obscure, as it was to the amoraic rabbis
who discuss it in b. Ber. 33b and b. Meg. 25a.
The latter two prayers are associated with ‘two powers’
in the Babylonian Talmud, but this may very well represent
an attempt either to understand an obscure decision
by earlier rabbis, or to make an earlier decision
relevant to the issues of their day. As it stands,
the prayers which thank God for the good but not for
the evil appear to imply an opposing dualism or Gnosticism:
such prayers suggest that God is to be thanked for
the good, but another power is to be blamed for the
evil. The opponents in mind here are unlikely to be
either early Christians or Jews with beliefs similar
to those of Philo.
the first prayer, we also find the repetition of ‘We
give thanks.’ This is easy to associate with ‘two
powers’ since it was the repetition of the name of
God in the Hebrew Scriptures that ‘two powers heretics’
often appealed to in support of their beliefs.
However, as Segal himself acknowledges, “The amoraic
traditions concerning the prayer do not clarify the
heresy. Although they assume that such prayers are
to be silenced because they manifest ‘two powers in
heaven,’ they do not explain how. We may suspect that
they themselves were guessing. We must also be prepared
to allow that the tannaim in their day were worried
by different phenomenon [sic.] from the amoraim.”
addition, Segal notes that the repetition of the words
in the synagogue liturgy is unlikely to have been
the real problem, since the rabbis came to require
a repetition. He suggests that it may be the eucharistic
prayers of Christians which are in view, since the
Didache includes a double thanksgiving as part of
the eucharistic service (Did 9:2-3). This is highly
speculative, but even if it is correct, there is no
indication that the problem was prayer which mentioned
a second power. The Didache has only prayer to the
Father giving thanks for Jesus. The glory clearly
goes to the one God for Jesus, without hint of ‘two
powers.’ Alternatively, Gruenwald suggests that the
problem may have been adding one’s own prayer alongside
those which were part of the official liturgy. Introducing
a personally-composed prayer with the same language
as official liturgy (modim, ‘we give thanks’) would
be in danger of claiming official status. In view
of this uncertainty about what was being objected
to in m. Ber 5:3, it seems prudent not to assume that
the repetition of ‘We give thanks’ is a reference
to ‘two powers’ unless further evidence is forthcoming.
we turn to a passage from the Tosefta, probably composed
in the decades immediately after the completion of
the Mishnah. Here a reference is made to minim who
believe, or who might reach the conclusion, that God
had a partner in creation, specifically Adam.
T. Sanh. 8:7: Our rabbis taught: Adam was created
on the eve of the Sabbath. And why? So that the heretics
could not say: The Holy One, blessed be He, had a
partner in his work (of creation).
We know from a number of Jewish sources that, in some
circles at least, Adam was believed to have been created
as a great and glorious being. Philo even distinguished
between a heavenly and earthly Adam, but it is unlikely
that his sort of exegesis is the object of this polemic.
Philo interpreted Genesis 1 as the creation of heavenly
things, and thus for him the heavenly Adam, identified
with the Logos, did in fact have a role in the creation
of the earthly realm. Yet t. Sanh. 8:7 does not seem
to address or to be relevant to the issues raised
by this type of interpretation of Genesis 1.
The saying is perhaps best interpreted as a response
to the traditions which glorify Adam and almost turn
him into a divine being. However, the polemic is not
against the idea that Adam was created as a splendorous
being per se, but against the idea that he was God’s
partner in creation. Thus the rabbis were placing
a limit on the exalted status of Adam in order to
check unbridled speculation: Adam, however glorious
and exalted, did not create. It must also be pointed
out that there is nothing which clearly indicates
that any group actually held the views described here.
It is possible that the rabbis are hypothetically
addressing what heretics might have said if Adam had
not been created on the sixth day. Nevertheless, if
the t. Sanh. 8:7 tradition is related to the issue
of ‘two powers’--and this is far from clear--then
it is, at best, one of the first indicators that ‘two
powers’ belief is becoming problematic. Thus even
if, for the sake of argument, we grant that t. Sanh.
8:7 is related to the ‘two powers’ controversy, this
does not provide grounds for dating the controversy
earlier than immediately prior to the composition
of the Tosefta around the beginning of the third century
Since the Mishnah and Tosefta show no clear signs
of the ‘two powers’ controversy, it is likely that
the controversy only arose after the formation of
these documents. Nonetheless, later rabbinic writings
trace the origins of the ‘two powers’ controversy
to the early second century CE. We will therefore
discuss two key baraitot from the Babylonian Talmud
which are connected with key rabbis from this period.
The first passage reads as follows:
b. Hag. 14a. One passage says: His throne was
fiery flames (Dan 7:9) and another passage says: Until
thrones were placed; and One that was ancient of days
did sit--there is no contradiction; One (throne) for
Him and one for David: this is the view of R. Akiba.
Said R. Yosi the Galilean to him: Akiba, how long
will you profane the Shekinah? Rather, one for justice
and one for mercy. Did he accept (this explanation)
from him, or did he not accept it? -- Come and hear:
One for justice and one for mercy; this is the view
of R. Akiba.
Segal recognizes that “no one would suggest that these
are Akiba's actual words.” He also acknowledges that,
even if Akiba did hold to beliefs such as those represented
here, the portrait of him recanting his earlier view
may well be an attempt to bring him into line with
later ‘orthodoxy.’ Thus, even if Akiba maintained
some form of belief in ‘two powers,’ this would still
would not demonstrate that his belief would have been
regarded as objectionable in his time. Further, it
is not entirely clear that this baraita, if it does
represent an authentic tradition about Akiba, was
originally about ‘two powers.’ In its present position
within the Babylonian Talmud, this story is situated
in the context of a discussion of subjects related
to ‘two powers.’ However, if the dialogue between
R. Akiba and R. Yosi is taken on its own, the issue
may simply be whether any human figure--even a unique
human figure like the Messiah--is worthy to sit alongside
God in heaven. Such a discussion presupposes belief
in the uniqueness of God, but does not necessarily
deny or challenge it.
should compare this baraita with the tradition concerning
the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin recorded in
the Synoptic Gospels, in which the high priest is
depicted as condemning Jesus to death for ‘blasphemy,’
because he asserted that they will see the Son of
Man (with whom he implicitly identifies himself) seated
at God's right hand. Here too there is no reason to
think that Jesus was being accused of abandoning monotheism.
Rather, he was felt to have claimed for himself a
status which was too high for a human being, especially
one who was rejected by the leaders and condemned
to death. Akiba was remembered for having identified
Bar Kochba as the Messiah, and this may have been
part of the difficulty in the rabbinic passage: to
have made messianic claims for someone who was put
to death by the Romans may have been what was really
the sticking point. On the other hand, to make
extravagant claims for any human being in the present
day may have met with resistance. There is probably
a psychological aspect to this issue which is worthy
of further investigation. It seems to be the case
that people are often willing to make assertions concerning
'canonical' heroes and figures which they would be
unwilling to make or accept concerning any one of
their contemporaries. At any rate, the most we can
say with certainty is that to make grandiose claims
for a failed messiah was felt to be ‘blasphemy’ or
‘profaning the Shekinah’ in the sense of ‘insulting
to God.’ There is nothing which necessitates the
conclusion that this tradition was originally connected
with the issue of ‘two powers’ heresy.
second passage from the Babylonian Talmud is the most
famous ‘two powers’ tradition. It concerns the apostasy
of R. Elisha ben Abuya, often referred to as ‘Aher’
(meaning ‘other’) in rabbinic tradition. The story
is preserved in b. Hag. 15a and also (in a different
form) in 3 Enoch 16. Regarding b. Hag. 15a, Segal
acknowledges that “The tradition is a late addition
to the Babylonian Talmud.” This means that we
are dealing with a gap of more than three centuries
between the time Aher lived and the writing of this
story in the Talmud. The authenticity of the tradicition
is thus at best questionable, and is certainly not
to be taken for granted. In a similar vein, P. Alexander
writes, in reference to the attribution of 3 Enoch
to R. Ishmael (d. 132 C.E.), that “there can be no
question of accepting this attribution at face value;
the work is a pseudepigraphon and Ishmael is simply
the authority the author or redactor of 3 Enoch wished
to claim.” He dates 3 Enoch to the 5th-6th century
C.E., while acknowledging that a later date is not
impossible. In addition, chapter 16, which contains
the tradition concerning Aher’s apostasy, shows signs
of being an interpolation into 3 Enoch and so can
be dated even later.
The lack of any mention of ‘two powers’ in the Mishnah
is thus highlighted by the fact that this important
rabbi-turned-heretic is not associated with this heresy
until hundreds of years after his apostasy is said
to have taken place. The connection between Aher and
the specific heresy of ‘two powers in heaven’ is thus
problematic, and we have no way of knowing how early
or late his name first became associated with this
particular controversy. Even if the historical Elisha
ben Abuya did hold views which were later censored,
this still does not provide evidence that, in his
own day and age, they would have been regarded as
unacceptable. It would therefore be ill-advised to
accept this tradition as evidence of a controversy
which involved these near-contemporaries of the NT
authors. The story is explicable in terms of the tendency
to attribute later heresies to earlier figures who
were already regarded as heretics, and to attribute
responses to those heresies to earlier, well-known,
authoritative sources. Thus, in Gruenwald’s words,
“It is quite likely that the rabbis found in ’Elish‘a
ben ’Avuyah a peg on which they hung a variety of
evidence thus gives no support for dating the origins
of the controversy even to the second century. It
is of course possible that the controversy did in
fact arise in the second century, but had not yet
had sufficient impact to leave any clear or explicit
trace in the traditions and literature from that period.
However, in the absence of clear evidence, any suggestion
that the ‘two powers’ controversy was already underway
in the second century must remain hypothetical.
We find the first explicit reference to ‘two powers’
in the period after the composition of the Mishnah
and Tosefta, in the so-called ‘Tannaitic Midrashim.’
The earliest reference is probably Sifre Deuteronomy
379, which seems to have Gnosticism in mind. When
the rabbis describe ‘two powers’ as antagonistic,
Gnosticism is indicated; when the ‘two powers’ are
complementary, it is something else. With this
distinction in mind, Sifre Deuteronomy 379 seems to
be combating a Gnostic version of ‘two powers’ belief
because it argues against the view that one power
is responsible for life and another power for death.
The reference in Mekhilta de-R. Ishmael is also probably
aimed at Gnosticism of some form. The point which
it attributes to R. Nathan (c.135-170)--that when
the Holy One claimed “I am the Lord thy God” no one
protested--suggests an opposition between the two
powers, and recalls the Gnostic stories of the God
of the Jews claiming to be the only God when he was
in fact ignorant of the true God. The earliest
use of the term ‘two powers’ thus appears to be as
a reference to Gnosticism. This is exactly the opposite
of the conclusion which is reached by Segal.
The Third Century Context
This reevaluation of the tradition history of the
‘two powers’ material, and of the controversies which
formed them, may explain the continuity that exists
between the exegesis of the ‘two powers heretics’
and earlier traditions and views. Scholars have long
noted that writers like Philo share some views in
common with Gnosticism, probably because of their
common Platonic heritage rather than through direct
influence. It is likely that other Platonizing
Jews were responsible for developing Gnosticism, and
thus they may have been influenced either by Philo’s
own writings or by the Hellenistic Jewish traditions
that influenced Philo. Similarly, Jacob Neusner has
noted that, although there is no clear evidence that
the authors of the Mishnah were aware of and interacting
with Gnosticism, they come down firmly on matters
which also interested the Gnostics, but with the opposite
conclusions. The designation ‘two powers’ may
thus be a reference to a heresy (and that there were
Jewish Gnostics seems very likely) with which
the rabbis had perhaps already begun to interact in
the second century, without calling it by that specific
third century provides a suitable context for the
origin or intensification of the debate with Gnosticism,
and perhaps also with Christianity. If ‘two powers’
only became an issue in the third century, then we
must attempt to offer some explanation of why this
should be the case. In the second century, we see
Christian theologians beginning to formulate the idea
of creatio ex nihilo. This was done by drawing out
the implications of the Judeo-Christian view of God
in response to Gnosticism and contemporary philosophy,
both of which held that there was an eternally existent
material which God made use of when he created.
Judaism on the whole did not adopt or develop the
doctrine of creatio ex nihilo until the middle ages.
Nonetheless, the debates about how God relates to
creation may have had an impact on Judaism as well
as on Christianity, even if the effect was not the
same. Christians, concerned to emphasize the goodness
of creation against Gnosticism, denied that God used
eternally existent matter in creating, and began to
define God in such a way that a clear dividing line
was drawn between God and creation. This line had
not previously been drawn, and the space where the
line would be drawn was previously occupied by the
Logos, whom Philo describes as “neither uncreated...nor
created.” From the second century onwards, Christians
began to see the need to distinguish clearly between
God and creation, which ultimately necessitated that
a line be drawn on one side or the other of the Logos.
And so it was that Arius and other non-Nicenes drew
the line between God and the Logos, whereas the Nicenes
drew the line between the Logos and the creation.
rabbis did not confront exactly the same issues as
the Christians, and they seem to have reached different
conclusions and to have nuanced their views differently.
If God's uniqueness was safeguarded sufficiently,
his use of pre-existent material need not be problematic.
And thus it may be supposed that the rabbis also participated
in this debate, drawing a different but equally clear
line between God and creation, which might be bridged
by metaphorical expressions of God's creative activity,
such as Memra, but which nonetheless remained firm.
At this point, in response to Gnosticism and to Christianity,
the oneness of God was defined in terms of the denial
of a ‘second power in heaven’ who functions as, and
could thus be confused with, God. In previous times,
the distinguishing factor between the one God and
other gods and angelic beings was worship, the cultic
worship of the temple. Perhaps it was the final
disappearance of any real hope for the rebuilding
of the temple--the place where the worship that distinguished
Israel's God from all other beings and powers took
place--that created the need to define the uniqueness
of God in more abstract terms. This is of course speculation.
But in view of the fact that an unambiguous dividing
line between creator and creation appears not to have
been drawn--or at least drawn clearly and explicitly--before
the second century, whether by Jews or pagans, Christians
or Gnostics, it makes sense to relate the Jewish opposition
to belief in ‘two powers’ to this particular setting
and controversy. The documentary evidence from rabbinic
Judaism and the issues being debated by many other
groups fit well together, and thus makes it reasonable
to date the origins of the ‘two powers’ heresy to
the end of the second century at the very earliest,
and more likely to the first half of the third.
What Exactly Was Heretical About 'Two Powers'?
Our study, and much other recent scholarship, suggest
that, in first century Judaism at least, monotheism
was felt to be compatible with the idea of a divine
agent or viceroy who represented God and acted on
his behalf. This does not appear to have ceased
to be the case even later on. The Babylonian Talmud
recounts a discussion which is said to have taken
place between R. Idi (2nd-3rd cent. C.E.) and a heretic
who engages in ‘two powers’ exegesis, pointing out
that Genesis 19:24 appears to refer to two ‘Lords.’
It is R. Idi who responds by asserting that this refers
to Metatron, who bears God's name. His only point
of conflict with the heretic is about whether this
figure should be worshipped. The idea that there was
such a principal agent of God does not appear to have
been an issue in and of itself; rather, it was some
specific aspect of the content of that belief that
was in dispute. This suggests what may have led to
the ‘two powers’ designation being applied to Christians.
On the one hand, Christians regarded the Logos/Christ
as essentially an 'emanation' from the Father, which
may have seemed rather Gnostic to the rabbis. On the
other hand, from the second century onwards, there
was an increasing tendency to worship Christ as God.
Likewise, the developing Christian understanding of
Christ as ‘fully God,’ which was officially affirmed
at the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E., led some to
believe that monotheism was being denied. It is
interesting to note that, even in the post-Nicaea
period, the Jewish-Christians who authored the Pseudo-Clementine
literature did not feel that their belief in a second
heavenly being, who could even be called ‘god,’ was
heretical, since this figure was clearly subordinate.
Subordinationist christology, whether in NT times
or later, does not appear to have been controversial
in and of itself.
may thus suggest that a combination of development
and retrospective condemnation were at work in the
origins of the ‘two powers’ controversy. It seems
likely that Gnosticism, while clearly not accepted
by most Jews even in the first century, was condemned
as heretical when the rabbis came to have the power
to do so. Belief in a principal divine agent or angelic
mediator was probably not condemned until groups with
gnostic tendencies began to distinguish between the
supreme God and the creator of the world, and/or until
Christians began to regard the ‘second power’ as co-equal
with God and equally worthy of worship. The need to
polemicize against such beliefs--which developed out
of earlier Jewish beliefs about mediators, but were
not identical to the earlier beliefs--probably resulted
in the condemnation of various streams of thought
within Judaism that were felt to be too similar to
the doctrines held by either Christians or Gnostics.
Since they were condemned so late in the game, it
may be that there was some ambiguity about which beliefs
were acceptable and which were not. Perhaps many who
would previously have considered themselves mainstream
Jews found their beliefs being censured by the rabbinic
authorities. To what extent such beliefs continued
to be held in spite of official censure, and may have
contributed directly to the beliefs found in later
forms of Jewish mysticism, it is impossible to say.
We have seen that Segal's work on ‘two powers,’ although
widely accepted and obviously a very important contribution
to this field, is not without shortcomings, and at
points the evidence is open to interpretations other
than those argued for by Segal. We have also observed
that there is no passage in the Mishnah or Tosefta
which explicitly mentions ‘two powers’ or which requires
reference to that heresy in order to be understood.
Alleged connections between ‘two powers’ and early
tannaim are also suspect in view of the late date
of the documents which first associate them with the
‘two powers’ heresy. A plausible setting can be given
to the ‘heresy’ and to the controversies it caused
in the late second and subsequent centuries, when
the issue of the relationship between God and creation
became an issue of debate for philosophers, Christians
and Gnostics. Therefore, there is good reason to conclude
that the conceptualities later condemned as ‘two powers
heresy’ (i.e. those involving God and a second figure
who functions as God's supreme divine agent) would
not have been controversial in the first century.
In short, our study suggests that it is anachronistic
to interpret Jewish and Christian documents from this
period as reflecting ‘two powers’ heresy.
basic premise of the two powers heresy was “interpreting
scripture to say that a principal angelic or hypostatic
manifestation in heaven was equivalent to God”; Alan
Segal, Two Powers in Heaven. Early Rabbinic Reports
about Christianity and Gnosticism (Leiden: Brill,
E.g., Mek. R. Ishmael, Bahodesh 5; b. Hag. 15a;
3 Enoch 16.
E.g., b. Sanh. 38b, Deut. Rab. 2:33, Eccl. Rab.
4:8; Segal, Two Powers, 118-20, 139-141, 218.
E.g., Mark 14:62; Phil 2:6; Gal 3:20; John 5:18,
6:46, 10:33 ; Rev 19:11-16; Segal, Two Powers, 205-19.
E.g., Som. 1.227-233; Quaest. in Gn. 2.62; Cher.
27-8; Fug. 95, 101; Segal, Two Powers, 159-181.
E.g., John Ashton, Understanding the Fourth Gospel
(Oxford: Clarendon, 1991) 158; James D. G. Dunn, The
Partings of the Ways (London: SCM, 1991) 228-9; Larry
W. Hurtado, One God, One Lord (Philadelphia: Fortress,
1988) passim; Eric Osborn, The Emergence of Christian
Theology (Cambridge University, 1993) 24-29; John
Painter, The Quest for the Messiah (2nd ed., Nashville:
Abingdon, 1993) 225; Stephen G. Wilson, Related Strangers
(Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995) 79.
 Segal, Two Powers, x, and Rebecca’s Children (Cambridge:
Harvard University, 1986) 155, 159-60. Nonetheless,
Segal recognizes that the rabbis may not have had
sufficient power in the first century to enforce orthodoxy
and censure heresy (Two Powers, 200), though he does
not appear to recognize that some would question whether
rabbinic Judaism was ‘orthodox’ or ‘normative’ at
all, or only became such much later.
 See N. J. McEleney, “Orthodoxy in Judaism of the
First Christian Century”, JSJ 4 (1973), 19-42; idem,
“Orthodoxy in Judaism in the First Christian Century,”
JSJ 9 (1978) 83-88; David E. Aune, “Orthodoxy in First
Century Judaism. A Response to N. J. McEleney,” JSJ
7 (1976) 1-10; L. L. Grabbe, “Orthodoxy in First Century
Judaism. What Are the Issues?”, JSJ 8 (1977), 149-153;
Philip S. Alexander, “‘The Parting of the Ways’ from
the Perspective of Rabbinic Judaism,” in Jews and
Christians (ed. James D. G. Dunn; Tubingen: Mohr-Siebeck,
1992) 2-3, 16, 20-1; Jacob Neusner, Judaic Law from
Jesus to the Mishnah (Atlanta: Scholars, 1993) ch.
Segal writes, ”It became clear that ‘two powers
in heaven’ was a very early category of heresy, earlier
than Jesus, if Philo is a trustworthy witness, and
one of the basic categories by which the rabbis perceived
the new phenomenon of Christianity”; Two Powers, ix;
E.g., Segal asserts that Philo’s doctrine of the
Logos would “eventually [be] called heresy”; Two Powers,
173. On anachronism as a form of apologetic in the
Rabbinic literature see Jacob Neusner, Formative Judaism.
Second Series: Religious, Historical, and Literary
Studies (Chico: Scholars, 1983) 167.
E.g., Segal muses that “even if the rabbinic evidence
alone cannot demonstrate the existence of a heresy
in the first century and before, it may yet give us
hints about the earlier forms of the thought which
were in the process of becoming heretical”; Two Powers,
28 (our italics).
 Recent titles reveal the shift to speaking about
‘Judaisms’. Jacob Neusner, William S. Green, and Ernest
Frerichs (eds.), Judaisms and Their Messiahs at the
Turn of the Christian Era (Cambridge University, 1987);
Alan F. Segal, The Other Judaisms of Late Antiquity
(Atlanta: Scholars, 1987).
See especially Philip S. Alexander, “Rabbinic
Judaism and the New Testament,” ZNW 74 (1983) 237-46;
also James D. G. Dunn, The Partings of the Ways (London:
SCM, 1991) 13. Regarding dating see Ithamar Gruenwald,
From Apocalypticism to Gnosticism (Frankfurt am Main:
Peter Lang, 1988) 230; Gunter Stemberger, Introduction
to the Talmud and Midrash (2d ed.; Edinburgh: T&T
Clark, 1996) 56-59; Jacob Neusner, The Rabbinic Traditions
about the Pharisees before AD 70 (Leiden: Brill, 1971),
So Jacob Neusner, Introduction to Rabbinic Literature
(New York: Doubleday, 1994) 185.
Cf. Dunn, Partings, 13.
While space will not allow a detailed discussion,
it must be noted that Philo’s two dunameis are not
to be simply identified with the two rsywt of the
rabbis. The Greek word dunameis is broader than the
Hebrew term rsywt. While dunamis can bear the sense
of ruling power (as e.g. in Plutarch, On Isis and
Osiris, Moralia 369 b-e), it does not always have
this narrower meaning. In contrast, ruling power is
the basic meaning of the Hebrew (see further Segal,
Two Powers, 7-8 n.8). Philo is clearly referring to
two potencies of the one God (cf. e.g., Philo, Quaest
in Ex. 2.68; Mos. 2.99), and not to a single additional
being placed on the same level as God himself. Philo’s
doctrine is close to the rabbinic concept of God’s
two middot. See further Segal, Two Powers, 174-181.
The LXX had no problem with there being a number of
dunameis with Israel’s God as ‘Lord of the powers’
(kurios twn dunamewn, as e.g. in Ps. 24:10). Likewise,
the Qumran doctrine of ‘two spirits’ is unlikely to
have been identified as a doctrine of ‘two ruling
authorities,’ since (however dualistic the idea may
seem at times) both spirits are clearly ultimately
subordinate to the one God.
E.g., Som. 1.227-229; Quaest in Gn. 2.62; Quaest
in Ex. 2.68; Plant. 85-89.
The tension in Segal’s own analysis of Philo is
noteworthy. On the one hand, Segal writes, “It is
impossible to speculate on how the Pharisees would
have reacted to Philo’s system” and yet he also says
“that ‘two powers in heaven’ was a very early category
of heresy ... if Philo is a trustworthy witness”;
Two Powers, 261 and x.
Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social
Construction of Reality, New York: Penguin, 1966,
Cf. Dunn, Partings, 205-6; idem, “How Controversial
was Paul’s Christology?” From Jesus to John (ed. M.
C. de Boer; Sheffield Academic, 1993) 162-166; idem,
The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
1998) 252-260, 293; Donald A. Hagner, “Paul’s Christology
and Jewish Monotheism” Perspectives on Christology
(ed. Marguerite Shuster and Richard Muller; Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991) 28-30. Segal’s reading of
Gal. 3:19-20 is highly problematic (Two Powers, 210-11).
It does not concern mediator figures diluting monotheism.
Rather, Gal 3:19-20 concerns whether or not Moses
can represent the one people of God which unites Jews
and Gentiles and thus corresponds to the one God.
For this exegesis see N. T. Wright, The Climax of
the Covenant (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1991), 159-162.
The other Pauline passages cited by Segal (Phil 2:6
and Eph 1:21) use language reminiscent of the later
‘two powers’ material, but without any indication
that it is controversial.
For examples of inner-Jewish polemic in early
Judaism see Luke T. Johnson, “The New Testament’s
Anti-Jewish Slander and the Conventions of Ancient
Polemic,” JBL 108 (1989) 436-441.
Frances Young notes the lack of awareness of a
'christological problem' on the part of the NT authors
in “Christology and Creation: Towards a Hermeneutic
of Patristic Christology” (in T. Merrigan and J. Haers
(eds.) The myriad Christ: plurality and the quest
for unity in contemporary christology (BETL 152),
Leuven: Peeters, 2000, pp.191-205. The authors are
grateful to Prof. Young for allowing them to see a
copy of her paper prior to its publication). See also
Dunn, Partings, 205-6.
Segal, Two Powers, 262.
That the Johannine Christians were accused of
abandoning monotheism appears to be the consensus
of recent scholarship. See J. L. Martyn, History and
Theology in the Fourth Gospel (2d ed., Nashville:
Abingdon, 1979), 72; John Ashton, Understanding, 144-146;
Robin Scroggs, Christology in Paul and John (Philadelphia:
Fortress, 1988) 78-79;Dunn, Partings, 228-9; idem,
“Let John be John: A Gospel for Its Time,” The Gospel
and the Gospels (ed. Peter Stuhlmacher; Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1991) 316; Wilson, Related, 189-90; Maurice
Casey, Is John’s Gospel True? (London: Routledge,
1996) 3, 30-1.
On agency and the Johannine Jesus see further
Peder Borgen, “God’s Agent in the Fourth Gospel,”
The Interpretation of John (ed. John Ashton; London:
SPCK, 1986) 67-78; A. E. Harvey, “Christ as Agent”
The Glory of Christ in the New Testament (ed. L. D.
Hurst and N. T. Wright; Oxford: Clarendon, 1987) 239-250;
also Jan-A. Buhner, Der Gesandte und sein Weg im 4.
Evangelium (Tubingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1977), passim.
Concordance to the Novum Testamentum Graece(3rd
ed., Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, 1987). On the sending
motif see further the recent book by Andreas J. Kostenberger,
The Missions of Jesus and the Disciples According
to the Fourth Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998)
On the concept of agency in the ancient world
see especially Borgen, “God’s Agent,” passim.
 The issue in John is thus not equality with God
per se, but whether Jesus is “making himself God”
(John 10:33) or “making himself equal to God” (John
5:18). John denies that Jesus “makes himself anything”
(John 5:19; 8:28). See C. K. Barrett, “'The Father
is Greater than I' (John 14:28). Subordinationist
Christology in the New Testament,” Essays on John
(London: SPCK, 1982) 24; Raymond E. Brown, The Community
of the Beloved Disciple (Mahwah: Paulist, 1979) 47
n.80; Wayne A. Meeks, “Equal to God” in The Conversation
Continues (ed. Robert T. Fortna and Beverly R. Gaventa;
Nashville: Abingdon, 1990) 309-21; Jerome H. Neyrey,
“‘My Lord and My God’: The Divinity of Jesus in John's
Gospel,” SBL Seminar Paper Series, 25 (Atlanta: Scholars,
1986) 155-159. This point has been discussed and argued
more fully in part two of James McGrath, John’s Apologetic
Christology (SNTSMS, 111), Cambridge University Press,
On first-century monotheism see especially Larry
W. Hurtado, “What Do We Mean by ‘First-Century Jewish
Monotheism’,” SBL 1993 Seminar Papers, (ed. David
Lull; Atlanta: Scholars, 1993) 348-368; see also Peter
Hayman, “Monotheism - A Misused Word in Jewish Studies?"
JJS 42 (1991) 2-15; Loren T. Stuckenbruck, Angel Veneration
and Christology (Tubingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1995) 15-21;
Alexander, “Parting,” 19-20.
Cf. C. H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth
Gospel (Cambridge University, 1953) 276-7; Wayne A.
Meeks, “The Divine Agent and His Counterfeit in Philo
and the Fourth Gospel” Aspects of Religious Propaganda
in Judaism and Early Christianity (ed. Elisabeth Schussler
Fiorenza; University of Notre Dame, 1976) 43-67; Craig
A. Evans, Word and Glory (Sheffield Academic, 1993)
Compare, for example, Philo, Quaest in Gn. 2.62
with Dec. 65. Although Segal is a bit ambiguous, he
seems to accept that Philo had no intention of compromising
monotheism (Two Powers, 161, 166-8). See also Hurtado,
One God, 41-48; Dunn, Christology, 227-8.
The Johannine use of ‘the name’ and ‘I am’ can
be interpreted as a claim that he bears the name of
God (John 17:11) in a way that is similar to the angel
Yahoel in Apoc. Abr. 10:3, 8. See Ashton, Understanding,
The phrase is used by Dunn, Partings, 228.
Henry Chadwick, The Early Church (London: Penguin,
Segal, Other Judaisms, 17.
Cf. Alexander, “Parting,” 3, 16, 20-1. We do not
deny that the majority (if not all) who identified
themselves as ‘Jewish’ in the first century held to
belief in one God; rather, we deny that such belief
was incompatible with belief in a supreme angelic
or heavenly agent. See also Dunn, Partings, 12-3,
and for a helpful alternative to monolithic classifications
of religions see Jonathan Z. Smith, “Fences and Neighbors:
Some Contours of Early Judaism,” Approaches to Ancient
Judaism. Volume II (ed. William Scott Green; Chico:
Scholars, 1980) 1-25.
E.g., t. Hul. 2.24; cf. Jack T. Sanders, Schismatics,
Sectarians, Dissidents, Deviants (London: SCM, 1993)
61-7. Minim included, but was not limited to, Jewish-Christians;
cf. Reuven Kimelman, “Birkat ha-Minim and the Lack
of Evidence for an Anti-Christian Jewish Prayer in
Late Antiquity,” Jewish and Christian Self-Definition,
Vol. 2 (ed. E. P. Sanders, et. al.; London: SCM, 1981)
While not settling the issue, it is worth noting
that later rabbinic writings appear to distinguish
between those who believe there is ‘no power’ in heaven
(presumably atheists or Epicureans), those who believe
in ‘many powers,’ and those who believe in ‘two powers’.
Cf. e.g. Sifre Deut. 329, and Segal, Two Powers, 8-9.
Dial. 62. Those who formulated such views may
have been seeking to reconcile or harmonize Jewish
beliefs with those of non-Jews, or to distance the
highest God from creating directly in accordance with
contemporary philosophy. Cf. Philo, Fug. 68-70; Conf.
179-182; Op. 72-72, and also the discussions in Jarl
Fossum, The Name of God and the Angel of the Lord
(Tubingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1985) 197-204; Birger A.
Pearson, Gnosticism, Judaism and Egyptian Christianity
(Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990) 34-38.
Cf. the texts conveniently collected in Fossum,
Name, 213-220. See also Philo, Fug. 69, who nonetheless
elsewhere emphasizes that God alone is the creator
(cf. e.g. Cher. 77).
This type of exegetical argument is also found
in the later Targumic traditions, which draw parallels
between the uniqueness of Adam and the uniqueness
of God. The references to God are in the plural and
explain them in terms of God speaking to the angels
or to his Memra. See especially Tg. Neof. to Gen.
1:26-27; 3:22. The fact that Targum Onqelos, which
is probably the earliest existing targum to the Pentateuch,
mentions Adam’s uniqueness but does not emphasize
the uniqueness of God, may suggest that the plurals
in the creation stories were not the focus of intense
controversy until after the interpretative traditions
preserved in Onqelos had already taken shape.
See Josephus, Contra Ap. 2.193 and N. T. Wright’s
discussion of “covenental monotheism” in The New Testament
and the People of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992)
Interestingly, Vermes reached the same conclusion
about the identity on the minim when looking at another
strand of tradition. Cf. Geza Vermes, “The Decalogue
and the Minim” Post-Biblical Jewish Studies (Leiden:
Brill, 1975) 176-7.
Cf. Neusner, Formative Judaism: Religious, Historical,
and Literary Studies. Fifth Series (Chico: Scholars,
1985) 15-6, who suggests that the rabbis who composed
the Mishnah were concerned, if not with Gnosticism,
then at least with the same issues that concerned
the Gnostics. Yet caution must be exercised in view
of the lack of clear evidence, as Gruenwald notes,
Apocalypticism, 242-251. See also Nathaniel Deutsch,
The Gnostic Imagination (Leiden: Brill, 1995), esp.
Cf. Segal, Two Powers, 99.
 Cf. y. Ber. 12d-13a; b. Sanh. 38b; see also Tanhuma
Segal, Two Powers, 100, 152.
Two Powers, 101.
Gruenwald, Apocalypticism, 249-50.
The issue here could possibly be the same as that
mentioned in connection with the first text we discussed,
namely that someone other than God was responsible
for part of creation, thus resulting in an inferior
material world. However, the specific association
with Adam has little connection with such ideas. The
Gnostics did believe in a God named anthrwpos (‘man’),
but this was the highest God rather than the inferior
creator. The rabbinic polemic against ‘man’ creating
would most likely have fueled Gnostic exegesis rather
than countering it. Cf. Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic
Gospels (London: Penguin, 1979) 132; also Irenaeus,
Adv. Haer., 1.12.3; 1.30.6. At any rate, the use of
the term ‘partner’ implies a co-operating rather than
an opposing power.
Like t. Sanh. 8:7, Philo himself asserts that
God had no need of a helper when he created (Op.,
23,46). Also see Hans-Friedrich Weiss, Untersuchungen
zur Kosmologie des Hellenistischen und Palastinischen
Judentums (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1966) 320-1.
Segal, Two Powers, 49. It is interesting to note
that the association of different names of God with
the two divine attributes of 'justice' and 'mercy'
is what Philo refers to as God's "two powers".
This tradition, in a slightly different form and using
different terminology, is also well attested in the
The idea of a figure other than God sitting in
heaven is a point of controversy in later writings,
and this may in fact have been objectionable to some
even at an early stage (cf. Gruenwald, Apocalypticism,
238; Darrell L. Bock, “The Son of Man Seated at God’s
Right Hand and the Debate over Jesus’ “Blasphemy”,”
Jesus of Nazareth: Lord and Christ (ed. Joel B. Green
and Max Turner; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994) 189-90).
Yet what is striking is that in the viewpoint attributed
to Akiba, and in 3 Enoch, human figures are described
as sitting in heaven, and it is only in later additions
that such ideas are counterbalanced in an attempt
to make them seem more ‘orthodox.’
So Dunn, Partings, 174-5. See also Wright, New
Testament and the People of God, 259, on Jewish monotheism
in this period.
This also appears to be a key issue in the disagreement
between Justin and Trypho in Dial. 38. What is blasphemous
is not what Christians claim per se, but the fact
that they make such claims for a crucified man. See
further also Darrell L. Bock, Blasphemy and Exaltation
in Judaism, Grand Rapids, Baker, 2000, 208-9.
This tradition is also relatively late, but there
is nonetheless good reason for the early rabbis to
have avoided mentioning it (embarrassment at the mistaken
claims of a great rabbi and fear of reprisals from
Rome may have been among their motives), and no real
reason why it should have been invented.
‘Blasphemy’ need not imply some sort of challenge
to monotheism; cf. Bock, “Son of Man,” 184-186.
There does not seem to have been an opposition
by the rabbis to messianic expectation per se in the
period between the Jewish revolts. In fact, Joseph
Klausner (The Messianic Idea in Israel, London: George
Allen and Unwin, 1956, 392-396) notes that messianic
and nationalistic fervour actually increased during
this period. The problem in the case of the Christians
was probably that, during this period of hope for
a restored nation and temple, they claimed that a
man who had threatened the temple and been killed
by the Romans was the Messiah.
Segal, Two Powers, 60. We presume that Segal means
it was added in the latest stage of the redaction
of Bavli, rather than being a much later interpolation.
There are good form critical reasons for this conclusion,
as shown by David J. Halperin, The Merkabah in Rabbinic
Literature (New Haven: American Oriental Society,
1980) 76, 92; see also Christopher Rowland, The Open
Heaven (London: SPCK, 1982) 309-312. On the generally
unreliable character of the baraitot which are found
in Bavli, see Stemberger, Introduction to the Talmud
and Midrash, 198-9.
P. Alexander, “3 (Hebrew Apocalypse of) Enoch,”
The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. Vol.1 (ed. James
H. Charlesworth; New York: Doubleday, 1983) 226.
Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 226-229.
Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 268; idem, “The Historical
Setting of the Hebrew Book of Enoch,” JJS 28 (1977)
178. See also Gruenwald, Apocalypticism, 229-30, who
notes that the explanation given for Aher’s apostasy
in b. Hag. 15a is not the earliest one; cf. t. Hag.
2.3-4; y. Hag. 77b; Cant. R. 1.4; I. Gruenwald, Apocalyptic
and Merkabah Mysticism (Leiden: Brill, 1980) 90; John
Bowker, The Targums and Rabbinic Literature (Cambridge
University, 1969) 149; Fossum, Name, 309 accepts the
Bavli account over the earlier ones found in the Tosefta
and Yerushalmi for no apparent reason other than he
is already convinced of the early date of the ‘two
powers’ material. Rowland’s suggestion (Open Heaven,
334) that Yerushalmi knew the story about Aher and
Metatron but chose to suppress it is highly speculative
(the citation of Eccl 5:5-6 is more likely to be the
inspiration for the later traditions, rather than
evidence that the Metatron story was known earlier
Gruenwald, Apocalypticism, 242. There is some
evidence which suggests that the ‘heresy’ of Aher
was Gnosticism; see Pearson, Gnosticism, 24; Deutsch,
Gnostic, 46-7, 55. However, L. Ginzberg, “Elisha ben
Abuyah,” JE 5, 138-9, notes the unreliable character
of the later Aher stories, and suggests that Elisha
was in fact a rabbi who became a Sadducee (i.e., he
was an apostate from Pharisaism but not from Judaism)
and only later had extreme heretical views attributed
to him. See also Rowland, Open Heaven, 337-8, and
the forthcoming book by Alon Goshen-Gottstein, The
Sinner and the Amnesiac: The Rabbinic Invention of
Elisha Ben Abuya and Eleazar Ben Arach, Stanford University
Rightly George F. Moore, Judaism in the First
Centuries of the Christian Era, vol. 1 (Cambridge:
Harvard University, 1927) 365-6. On dating Sifre,
see Stemberger, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash,
Two Powers, 17.
Regarding Sifre Deut 379, Segal argues that the
identity of the heretical group is “elusive” and that
the passage could have several groups in mind. While
this seems true in characterizing the passage as a
whole, it is also obvious that an antagonistic form
of ‘two powers’ is particularly in view. See Segal,
Two Powers, 85.
As is noted by Segal, Two Powers, 57. On dating
Mekhilta, see Stemberger, Introduction to the Talmud
and Midrash, 253-255.
the relevant passages reproduced in Pearson, Gnosticism,
30-1; Pagels, Gnostic Gospels, 55-6; Segal, Other
Segal, Two Powers, 262. This is not to say that
Gnosticism (belief in two opposing powers) is older
than other ‘two power’ traditions (which maintain
belief in two complementary powers). Rather, it to
say that resistance to Gnosticism is found in the
rabbinic literature before resistance to other two
power traditions emerged. The term ‘two powers,’ therefore,
was probably first used as a reference to Gnostics,
and only subsequently to Christians and others with
beliefs similar to theirs.
Cf. R. McL. Wilson, The Gnostic Problem (London:
Mowbray, 1958) 261 and passim; Pearson, Gnosticism,
34-36,171-182, for a balanced assessment of a number
of the similarities and differences between Philo
and the Gnostics.
Cf. Neusner, Formative Judaism: Fifth Series,
especially Pearson, Gnosticism, passim; idem, “The
Problem of “Jewish Gnostic” Literature” Nag Hammadi,
Gnosticism, and Early Christianity (ed. Charles W.
Hedrick and Robert Hodgson; Peabody: Hendrickson,
1986) 21-35. See also Segal, Other Judaisms, 32-34.
Cf. Gerhard May, Creatio ex Nihilo (Edinburgh:
T&T Clark, 1994). See also Origen, De Prin. 2.1.4;
Tertullian, Adv. Herm. 2-3.
May, Creatio, 25; Hayman, “Monotheism,” 3-4.
Quis. Her., 206. See further Andrew Louth, The
Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition (Oxford:
Clarendon, 1981) 75-77.
See further Louth, Origins, 75-77; Young, “Christology”;
Rowan Williams, Arius. Heresy and Tradition (London:
Darton, Longman and Todd, 1987).
On worship rather than cosmology as the distinguishing
feature between the Jewish worldview and that of others
see especially Hurtado, “What Do We Mean,” 349,355-365.
Cf. also Alexander, “Historical,” 179. However, we
would exmphasize that is was sacrificial cultic worship,
rather than worship in any broader sense, that was
the make-or-break issue and dividing line.
E.g. Hurtado, One God, 75; P. S. Alexander, “Parting,”
19-20; John J. Collins, “Jewish Monotheism and Christian
Theology”, in Aspects of Monotheism (ed. Hershel Shanks
and Jack Meinhardt; Washington: Biblical Archaeology
Society, 1997) 81-105.
b. Sanh. 38b.
Segal notes that it is not belief in Metatron
per se that is the issue (Two Powers, 65). Gruenwald,
Apocalypticism, 248 does insufficient justice to the
apparent acceptability of belief in Metatron among
Cf. the letter of Pliny to Trajan (Ep. 10.96.7).
On the evidence of worship offered to Christ in the
NT see the different opinions in Hurtado, One God,
99-124; Richard Bauckham, “Jesus, Worship of” ABD
vol.3 (ed. D. N. Freedman; New York: Doubleday, 1992)
812-816; Hagner, “Paul’s Christology,” 26; Dunn, Partings,
204-206. See also 3 Enoch 14:5-16:5, where the apostasy
of Aher is almost immediately preceded by the heavenly
homage offered to Metatron. On development of the
worship of Christ in the second century cf. Jonathan
Knight, Disciples of the Beloved One (Sheffield Academic,
Moore (Judaism, 365) notes the resemblance between
the arguments used in debates between Rabbinic Judaism
and Catholic Christianity and those found in the ‘Two
Powers’ material. The tendency for Christians to distinguish
their Trinitarian belief in God from Jewish monotheism
can be traced back to the early third century: cf.
e.g. Tertullian, Adv. Prax. 31.1-2.
The issue between the author of the Pseudo-Clementines
and ‘the Jews’ was apparently whether Jesus is the
Messiah, not the idea of being a pre-existent, subordinate
heavenly viceroy. See further Segal, Two Powers, 256-258;
James McGrath, “Johannine Christianity - Jewish Christianity?”
Koinonia VIII.1 (1996) 6-7.
The authors thank Dr. Robert Hayward for his helpful
comments on an earlier version of this paper.