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It is a well-known fact that the Zohar frequently describes the Godhead as a threefold unity, doing so in different ways. The tenfold structure of the Kabbalistic sefirot can actually be fitted into threefold division, particularly in accordance with a certain passages from Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer - a passage on which the Zohar bases itself (see note 15) - thus remaining within the realm traditional Judaism.

Yehuda Liebes - Studies in the Zohar, pg. 140.

The third chapter of Yehuda Liebes Studies in the Zohar is entitled "Christian influences in the Zohar." In this chapter, he documents a few of the many threefold formulations of classic Jewish doctrines, taking special care to analyze the "mystery of the threefold unity" of the Godhead derived from the Shema (cf. Unity Holograph). His fundamental thesis is that the Trinitarian formulations - which are simply too obvious to dismiss - must have come through the influence of the Christian doctrine, of which the author of the Zohar was certainly aware. But before he presented his arguments, he was careful to state the painfully obvious fact that "Needless to say, the Zohar is emphatically a Jewish, not a Christian work." With this, I wholeheartedly agree.

Liebes' argument that the appearance of Trinitarian formulations must be due to Christian influence has one extremely obvious alternative. Suppose the Trinity is true. It then would be intrinsic to the nature of God and would therefore be a doctrine taught by God Himself! As it turns out, Liebes provides this alternative in the first text he quoted, Zohar (III, 43b) (emphasis added):

Hear, 0 Israel, Adonai Eloheinu Adonai is one. These three are one. How can the three Names be one? Only through the perception of faith: in the vision of the Holy Spirit, in the beholding of the hidden eye alone! The mystery of the audible voice is similar to this, for though it is one yet it consists of three elements-fire, air and water, which have, however, become one in the mystery of the voice. Even so it is with the mystery of the threefold Divine manifestations designated by Adonai Eloheinu Adonai - three modes which yet form one unity. This is the significance of the voice which man produces in the act of unification, when his intent is to unify all, from the Infinite (Ein Sof) to the end of creation. This is the daily unification, the secret of which has been revealed in the holy spirit.

It is important to note that if this is a genuine Jewish glimpse of the Trinity, it is somewhat occluded by the fact that they don't have the full light of the Gospel. But note how it is based on the Shema, which Jews from before the time of Jesus have recognized as the "first and greatest commandment." It is hard to imagine that the Jewish authors of this Jewish work would write anything like this if it were not perceived as a true mystery of their own faith. What would they have to gain by accommodating a Christian doctrine? And why would they sully the holiest of all commandments with something they thought originated from a false Christian doctrine? And besides all this, there is the mathematical identity - Love = 13 = Unity - that naturally lends itself to contemplation of Three united as One. As documented in the Unity Holograph article, this knowledge made its way into the Daily Prayer Book and the formulation of the Jewish Faith as Thirteen Articles. Liebes arguments do not seem convincing to me at all. It seems to me that the Wisdom of God revealed in the intrinsic alphanumeric structure of the supernatural Hebrew alphabet is a much more likely source for the Trinitarian formulations found throughout Jewish writings.

Liebes then gives another very enlightening quote from the pen of Moses de Leon, who refers to the "mystery of the triune singularity", which he supports with the words "as our sages teach us [Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, 3]: "The world was created through ten sayings, and of three are they comprised -- wisdom, understanding, and knowledge -- forming a single secret of reality." Now it is granted that this is not identical to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, but it certainly is compatible with it, and with the help of God's Holy Spirit it is a natural stepping stone to the Christian Faith. If nothing else, it proves that the Doctrine of the Trinity is not incompatible with the Jewish understanding of God.

I highly reccomend Liebes scholarly work, for it bears witness not so much to his thesis that these references are due to Christian influence as to the truth that the one God is a Blessed Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May the day soon come when all Israel will say "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" Shema Yisroel!

Update (09/07/2006)

Liebes erred in his reference to the Zohar on page 140 of his book where he wrote that the quote is from Zohar II, 53b when in fact no such text exists. But he does give the correct reference (Zohar III, 43b) in footnote #3. The quote is found on page 134 of the Zohar III printed by Soncino press.

The Soncino edition also contains a citation error. It states that the quote is from the Ra'aya Meheimana. Liebes corrected this in his footnote #4 stating:

This passage is not part of the Ra'aya Meheimana, as is indicated in the printed editions, but from the section of Pikkudin, written by the author of the main text. See E. Gottlieb, "The Pikkudin Passages in the Zohar" (Hebrew), in his Mehkarim be-Sifrut ha-Kabbala, Tel Aviv 1976 pp. 215-30.

Originally Posted: 01/24/2004

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