Spirit in Judaism – part 1: Second Temple EraOctober 27, 2017
(Ruach HaKodesh, Session 3a)
This session of the Ruach HaKodesh series looks at the history of ideas in Judaism regarding the Holy Spirit. This episode, part 1, focuses on the Second Temple Era up to the early Rabbinic era. Our goal will be to trace some patterns of thinking regarding the Holy Spirit, with a special focus on how the Jewish people around the time of Yeshua and the apostles understood the subject.
The following is a condensed version of the audio teaching, including the text of sources cited. You can also subscribe to this podcast here.
Introduction and Overview
Our focus in this study will be on four main eras in history:
- Second-Temple Judaism (ca. 300 BCE to 200 CE)
- Rabbinic Judaism (ca. 200 CE to 1000 CE)
- Medieval Era (ca. 500-1500)
- The Chasidic Movement (ca. 1700 to present)
These are not cut-and-dried eras as much as they are movements. Or, more precisely, these (at least the first two) indicate eras of literature that we will examine.
This study is a little more difficult than our study of the Holy Spirit in Christianity. This is because Judaism largely avoided any sort of systematic theology, particularly on the Holy Spirit. While Christianity sought to systematize beliefs, Judaism sought to systematize practices. As a result, there is no single, monolithic answer to some of the questions we are asking.
Just like in our survey of Christianity, we are going to encounter views that we disagree with. These extrabiblical sources are not our source of truth; only the Bible is. While we need to be clear about the differences, hopefully we will also find some insights that are valuable. All this is background material; in session 4 we will finally dive in to what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit.
For our purposes, we are going to be looking at writings that date primarily between 300 BCE and 200 CE (even though the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE). It is this era of Jewish literature that gives us the best insight into the background behind the Apostolic Scriptures. This literature is what gives us a glimpse into what Judaism was like at the time of Yeshua. What did they believe? What was their worldview?
We can divide the literature from this era into three categories:
- Dead Sea Scrolls (Qumran texts)
- Philo and Josephus
Technically we could add the Apostolic Scriptures (New Testament) to this list, since it is a compilation of Jewish writings from the period under discussion. But we will save that for later in this series when we examine the Holy Spirit in Scripture.
In going through extrabiblical literature, we are by no means trying to give weight to it. Keep in mind, we are trying to answer this question: What did the Jewish people at the time of Yeshua think about the Holy Spirit? For the most part, the Apostolic Scriptures assume that we already know what the Holy Spirit means. Judaism already had an understanding, and that formed the basis for the apostles’ understanding.
One observation we can make right off the bat is that in Judaism the Holy Spirit is usually synonymous with the Spirit of Prophecy. When these writings talk about the Spirit of God, they are often talking about prophetic inspiration.
The visible results of the activity of the Holy Spirit, according to the Jewish conception, are the books of the Bible, all of which have been composed under its inspiration. All the Prophets spoke “in the Holy Spirit”; and the most characteristic sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit is the gift of prophecy, in the sense that the person upon whom it rests beholds the past and the future.Joseph Jacobs and Ludwig Blau, “Holy Spirit” in Jewish Encyclopedia (1906), VI:449.
Another observation is that in Judaism there is no clear consistent depiction of the Holy Spirit as a Person like there is in Christianity, although we will see some scattered instances of personification.
The term “Apocrypha” (meaning “hidden” or “non-canonical”) refers specifically to those intertestamental books in Catholic Bibles that are excluded from the Jewish and Protestant canons. These are Jewish writings mostly from the first few centuries BCE. Some are dated as late as the second century CE. Some of them existed in Hebrew or Aramaic, but most of them are preserved for us in Greek.
The term “Pseudepigrapha” literally means “falsely inscribed”, i.e. spuriously ascribed to well-known author. It refers to Jewish religious writings not included in any Bible, nor in the Apocrypha. Many of these writings are pseudonymous.
Spirit Absent in the Present
One trend we first notice in this literature is this idea that prophecy and the Holy Spirit are a thing of the past. For example:
And they took counsel concerning the altar of whole burnt offering, which had been defiled, as to what they should do with it. And there fell to them a good counsel, to tear it down so that it would not become a reproach to them, because the nations defiled it. And they tore down the altar and put away the stones on the mount of the house in a suitable place until a prophet would come to give an answer concerning these things.
(1 Maccabees 4:44–46)
And there was a great affliction in Israel such as had not been since the day that a prophet was not seen among them.
(1 Maccabees 9:27)
The Judeans and the priests were pleased that Simon would be their leader and high priest forever, until a faithful prophet would arise…
(1 Maccabees 14:41)
Know ye, moreover, that In former times and in the generations of old our fathers had helpers, Righteous men and holy prophets: Nay more, we were in our own land [And they helped us when we sinned], And they interceded for us with Him who made us, [Because they trusted in their works], And the Mighty One heard their prayer and forgave us. But now the righteous have been gathered And the prophets have fallen asleep, And we also have gone forth from the land, And Zion has been taken from us, And we have nothing now save the Mighty One and His law. If therefore we direct and dispose our hearts, We shall receive everything that we lost, And much better things than we lost by many times. For what we have lost was subject to corruption, And what we shall receive shall not be corruptible.
(2 Baruch 85:1–5)
These writings depict a three-fold view of history: Prophecy at the time of the First Temple, prophetless present, prophecy of the end-time.Horn, “Holy Spirit” in ABD 3:264. This doctrine is significant for understanding the Apostolic Scriptures.
Spirit in the End Times
In keeping with this viewpoint, as well as the prophecies in the Tanakh, we see a clear expectation of an end-time outpouring of the Spirit, especially in apocalyptic writings. This outpouring is connected with the Messianic Era and the restoration of Israel:
And it shall be whosoever shall have survived all these things that I have foretold unto thee, he shall be saved and shall see my salvation and the end of my world. And the men who have been taken up, who have not tasted death from their birth, shall appear. Then shall the heart of the inhabitants (of the world) be changed, and be converted to a different spirit. For evil shall be blotted out, and deceit extinguished; Faithfulness shall flourish, and corruption be vanquished; And truth, which for so long a time has been without fruit, shall be made manifest.
(4 Ezra 6:25–28)
Let thy mercy, O Lord, be lifted up upon Thy people, and create in them an upright spirit, and let not the spirit of Beliar rule over them to accuse them before Thee, and to ensnare them from all the paths of righteousness, so that they may perish from before Thy face. But they are Thy people and Thy inheritance, which thou hast delivered with thy great power from the hands of the Egyptians: create in them a clean heart and a holy spirit, and let them not be ensnared in their sins from henceforth until eternity.’ And the Lord said unto Moses: ‘I know their contrariness and their thoughts and their stiffneckedness, and they will not be obedient till they confess their own sin and the sin of their fathers. And after this they will turn to Me in all uprightness and with all (their) heart and with all (their) soul, and I will circumcise the foreskin of their heart and the foreskin of the heart of their seed, and I will create in them a holy spirit, and I will cleanse them so that they shall not turn away from Me from that day unto eternity.
In this passage the Spirit comes after the final judgment:Notice also that this passage lists seven spirits of God. Cf. Revelation 1:4; Isaiah 11:2.
And He will summon all the host of the heavens, and all the holy ones above, and the host of God, the Cherubic, Seraphin and Ophannin, and all the angels of power, and all the angels of principalities, and the Elect One, and the other powers on the earth (and) over the water On that day shall raise one voice, and bless and glorify and exalt in the spirit of faith, and in the spirit of wisdom, and in the spirit of patience, and in the spirit of mercy, and in the spirit of judgement and of peace, and in the spirit of goodness, and shall all say with one voice: “Blessed is He, and may the name of the Lord of Spirits be blessed for ever and ever.”
Spirit and Messiah
Another theme is the expectation that the coming Messiah will be filled with the Spirit:
The Lord Himself is his king, the hope of him that is mighty through (his) hope in God. All nations (shall be) in fear before him, For he will smite the earth with the word of his mouth for ever. He will bless the people of the Lord with wisdom and gladness, And he himself (will be) pure from sin, so that he may rule a great people. He will rebuke rulers, and remove sinners by the might of his word; And (relying) upon his God, throughout his days he will not stumble; For God will make him mighty by means of (His) holy spirit, And wise by means of the spirit of understanding, with strength and righteousness.
(Ps. Solomon 17:38–42)
And thus the Lord commanded the kings and the mighty and the exalted, and those who dwell on the earth, and said: ‘Open your eyes and lift up your horns if ye are able to recognize the Elect One.’ And the Lord of Spirits seated him on the throne of His glory, And the spirit of righteousness was poured out upon him, And the word of his mouth slays all the sinners, And all the unrighteous are destroyed from before his face.
Finally, we see the two themes combined, with Messiah being the agency through which the Spirit is poured out:
And after these things shall a star arise to you from Jacob in peace, And a man shall arise [from my seed], like the sun of righteousness, Walking with the sons of men in meekness and righteousness; And no sin shall be found in him. and the heavens shall be open unto him, To pour out the spirit, (even) the blessing of the Holy Father; And He shall pour out the spirit of grace upon you; And ye shall be unto Him sons in truth, And ye shall walk in His commandments first and last.
(T. Judah 24:1–3)
And he [the “New Priest”] shall open the gates of paradise, And shall remove the threatening sword against Adam. And he shall give to the saints to eat from the tree of life, And the spirit of holiness shall be on them.
(T. Levi 18:10–11)
And through His Messiah He shall make them know His holy spirit, And he is true, and in the true interpretation of his name are their names But them He hated He made to go astray.
Spirit in the Present
Yet there are also depictions of the Holy Spirit’s involvement in the present. In Wisdom literature the Holy Spirit is equated with wisdom. Wisdom is God’s Spirit, which fills the world and holds all things together:
For wisdom is a kindly spirit, but it will not hold blasphemers free of the guilt of their words, because God is a witness of their inner feelings and a true overseer of their hearts and a hearer of their tongues. Because the spirit of the Lord fills the world and that which holds all things together has knowledge of what is said.
She is also a divine gift that dwells within individuals:
Because wisdom will not enter a soul that plots evil or reside in a body involved in sin. For a holy and disciplined spirit will flee from deceit and depart from senseless thoughts and be ashamed when unrighteousness approaches.
For she is a breath of the power of God and an emanation of the pure glory of the Almighty; therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her. For she is a reflection of eternal light and a spotless mirror of the activity of God and an image of his goodness. Although she is one, she can do all things, and while remaining in herself, she renews all things, and in every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God and prophets.
Hence the Spirit of God, and being filled with the Spirit, is essentially the same as being filled with wisdom.
“Who has learned your counsel unless you gave wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high?”
In apocalyptic literature, the visionary claims to be filled with the Spirit. (E.g. 1 Enoch 91:1; 4 Ezra 5:22). A vivid example is the following:
And I answered and said: Let me speak before thee, O Lord! Lo, I will depart, as thou hast commanded me, and will warn the people who (now) exist: but they that shall be born later, who shall admonish them? For the world lies in darkness, and the dwellers therein are without light. For thy Law is burnt; and so no man knows the things which have been done by thee, or the works that shall be done. If, then, I have found favour before thee, send into me the Holy Spirit, that I may write all that has happened in the world since the beginning, even the things which were written in thy Law, in order that men may be able to find the path, and that they who would live at the last, may live.
In summary, the Holy Spirit is seen primarily as a thing of the past and a thing of the future. But it is also seen as active in the present in different ways in two very different genres: wisdom and apocalyptic literature.
Dead Sea Scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls were first discovered in 1947 at Qumran, near the Dead Sea. This was an enormous discovery that continues to have impact on Biblical scholarship. Dating to the first few centuries BCE and the first century CE, these are by far the oldest Jewish manuscripts extant. Among the scrolls are fragments of the Hebrew Bible, some Apocryphal works, and sectarian documents. Most are in Hebrew.
The Qumran Scrolls are often seen as the “missing link” between the Tanakh and the Apostolic Scriptures when it comes to the topic of the Holy Spirit. In the Tanakh, the title “Holy Spirit” is only found three times, as opposed to the more common “Spirit of the Lord”. However, in the Apostolic Scriptures and in later Christianity, as well as in later Judaism, this term becomes standard. The first place we see this title become more common is in the Dead Sea Scrolls.Horn, “Holy Spirit” in ABD, 3:261.
F. F. Bruce lists seven categories of functions assigned to the Holy Spirit at Qumran:F. F. Bruce, “Holy Spirit in the Qumran Texts,” Annual of Leeds University Oriental Society 6 (1966/68): 49-55.
- The two spirits
- The spirit of prophecy
- The holy spirit as the fount of knowledge
- The holy spirit as guide and protector
- The holy spirit as purifier from sin
- The holy spirit defiled by sin
- The holy spirit indwelling the holy community
We will look at a few examples from this list.
The Two Spirits:
He created man to rule 18 the world and placed within him two spirits so that he would walk with them until the moment of his visitation: they are the spirits 19 of truth and of deceit. . . . These are their paths in the world: to enlighten the heart of man, straighten out in front of him all the paths of true justice, establish in his heart respect for the precepts 3 of God; it is a spirit of meekness, of patience, generous compassion, eternal goodness, intelligence, understanding, potent wisdom which trusts in all 4 the deeds of God and depends on his abundant mercy; a spirit of knowledge in all the plans of action, of enthusiasm for the decrees of justice, 5 of holy plans with firm purpose, of generous compassion with all the sons of truth, of magnificent purity which detests all unclean idols, of careful behaviour 6 in wisdom concerning everything, of concealment concerning the truth of the mysteries of knowledge. These are the foundations of the spirit of the sons of truth (in) the world. And the reward of all those who walk in it will be healing, 7 plentiful peace in a long life, fruitful offspring with all everlasting blessings, eternal enjoyment with endless life, and a crown of glory 8 with majestic raiment in eternal light. . . .
15 In these (lies) the history of all men; in their (two) divisions all their armies have a share for their generations; in their paths they walk; every deed 16 they do (falls) into their divisions, dependent on what might be the birthright of man, great or small, for all eternal times. For God has sorted them into equal parts until the 17 last time, and has put an everlasting loathing between /their/ divisions. . . . God, in the mysteries of his knowledge and in the wisdom of his glory, has determined an end to the existence of injustice and on the appointed time 19 of the visitation he will obliterate it for ever. Then truth shall rise up forever (in) the world, for it has been defiled in paths of wickedness during the dominion of injustice until 20 the time appointed for the judgment decided. Then God will refine, with his truth, all man’s deeds, and will purify for himself the structure of man, ripping out all spirit of injustice from the innermost part 21 of his flesh, and cleansing him with the spirit of holiness from every wicked deeds. He will sprinkle over him the spirit of truth like lustral water (in order to cleanse him) from all the abhorrences of deceit and (from) the defilement 22 of the unclean spirit, in order to instruct the upright ones with knowledge of the Most High, and to make understand the wisdom of the sons of heaven to those of perfect behaviour.
(1QS 3:17-4:22, Community Rule)
This doctrine is similar to the later Rabbinic conception of yetzer ra and yetzer tov (evil inclination and good inclination). This passage also describes the final outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Notice the strong sectarian and polemical overtones of this document.
The Spirit as the Source of Knowledge:
I, as an instructor, have come to know thee, O God, by the spirit which thou hast set within me, and by thy holy spirit I have listened faithfully to thy wonderful secret counsel. (1QH 12:11 ff.)
I, thy servant, have received knowledge by the spirit which thou hast set within me. (1QH 13:18 ff.)
I know through the understanding imparted by thee that in thy good pleasure […thou hast given me] thy holy spirit and thus thou hast brought me near to thy understanding. (1QH 14:12 ff.)
The Holy Spirit Can Be Defiled by Sin:
According to Qumran thinking, the holy spirit is defiled when men, and especially the people of God, are guilty of sin. The majority of the religious leaders in Israel ‘have defiled their holy spirit’ by a wrong attitude towards the commandments of God (CD v 11 ff.); by contrast, the members of the covenant community undertake that each of them will avoid all forms of uncleanness ‘and not defile his holy spirit’ (CD vii 3 ff.).Ibid. 54.
According to F. N. Horn, there are three ways the Holy Spirit works in people in the Qumran texts:Horn, “Holy Spirit” in ABD, 3:264.
- With the gift of the spirit during creation
- When initiants become part of the community
- In the outpouring of the spirit during the end-time
One obtains the Holy Spirit by being a member of the sect:
[I give you thanks, because] you have spread [your] holy spirit upon your servant […] . . . . I give you thanks, Lord, because you have sustained me with your strength, 7 you have spread your holy spirit over me so that I will not stumble. (1QH 4:26; 15:6-7)
These passages describe the eschatological gift of the Spirit to the Messiah:
May you be […] with the power of your [mouth.] With your sceptre may you lay waste the earth. With the breath of your lips 25 may you kill the wicked. May he give [you a spirit of coun]sel and of everlasting fortitude, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of God. (1QSb 5:24-25)
This […] is the day of [peace about whi]ch he said [… through Isa]iah the prophet, who said: [Isa 52:7 «How] beautiful 16 upon the mountains are the feet [of] the messen[ger who] announces peace, the mess[enger of good who announces salvati]on, [sa]ying to Zion: your God [reigns.»] 17 Its interpretation: The mountains [are] the prophet[s …] … […] for all … […] 18 And the messenger i[s] the anointed of the spir[it] as Dan[iel] said [about him: Dan 9:25 «Until an anointed, a prince, it is seven weeks.» And the messenger of] 19 good who announ[ces salvation] is the one about whom it is written that […] 20 «To comfo[rt] the [afflicted», its interpretation:] to instruct them in all the ages of the wo[rld …] 21 in truth… (11QMelch 15-21)
Philo Judaeus (c. 20 B.C.E. to 50 C.E.) was a Jew who lived in Alexandria, Egypt. He was enamored with Greek philosophy. In those days Alexandria was one of the biggest centres for Greek learning. In later centuries some of the church fathers from Alexandria essentially argued that you need to study Plato in order to understand the Bible. Philo is almost doing the same thing, but as a Jew. His writings are to some extent an attempt to prove that Platonic and Stoic concepts can be found in the Hebrew Scriptures. He wrote in Greek, not Hebrew or Aramaic.
Philo saw the Spirit as the source of life in man:
Man was not created out of the earth alone, but also of the divine Spirit. (Philo, 1Genesis 1:51; cf. also Creat 1:135)
This Spirit, however, does not remain in all men but only in those who have wisdom (1Gen 1:90; 2Gen 1:59). Hence there are two types of people:
So that the race of mankind also is twofold, the one being the race of those who live by the divine Spirit and reason; the other of those who exist according to blood and the pleasure of the flesh. This species is formed of the earth, but that other is an accurate copy of the divine image. (Heir 1:57)
Yet this wisdom/reason that the Spirit brings is not human reason; on the contrary, the prophetic Spirit obstructs our rationality:
As long therefore as our mind still shines around and hovers around, pouring as it were a noontide light into the whole soul, we, being masters of ourselves, are not possessed by any extraneous influence; but when it approaches its setting, then, as is natural, a trance, which proceeds from inspiration, takes violent hold of us, and madness seizes upon us, for when the divine light sets this other rises and shines, and this very frequently happens to the race of prophets; for the mind that is in us is removed from its place at the arrival of the divine Spirit, but is again restored to its previous habitation when that Spirit departs, for it is contrary to holy law for what is mortal to dwell with what is immortal.
Here, Philo is incorporating the Platonic teaching of inspiration as “divine frenzy” where the prophet/mystic loses control of their reason, and inspiration takes place as a sort of spiritual possession.Cf. Alan Unterman and Rivka G. Horwitz, “Ru’ah Ha-Kodesh” in Encyclopedia Judaica (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House, 1972), 366. Cf. ...continue
For a prophet does not utter anything whatever of his own, but is only an interpreter, another Being suggesting to him all that he utters, while he is speaking under inspiration, being in ignorance that his own reasoning powers are departed, and have quitted the citadel of his soul; while the divine spirit has entered in and taken up its abode there, and is operating upon all the organization of his voice, and making it sound to the distinct manifestation of all the prophecies which he is delivering.
Moses is the only person to have the Spirit remain continually upon him (Deca 1:175).
Philo also connected the Spirit with Wisdom/the Logos. His conceptions were heavily influenced by Greek philosophy. His writings became more important to later Christian thinkers than to Rabbinic Judaism.
Titus Flavius Josephus (37-100 CE), the Jewish historian, was a general in the First Jewish-Roman War during which he surrendered to the Romans in 67 CE. He fully defected to the Roman side, and was granted his freedom by Vespasian when he became emperor. Josephus wrote in Greek, and his works are directed toward a Greco-Roman audience. His two most important works are The Jewish War (c. 75) and Antiquities of the Jews (c. 94).
Levison notes that Josephus rarely refers to the Spirit. In his retelling of the Torah in his Antiquities, he omits every reference to the Spirit of God except in the story of Balaam.John R. Levison, “The Debut of the Divine Spirit in Josephus’s Antiquities” in Harvard Theological Review 87 2 (1994), 123-38.
But when the divine angel met him in the way, when he was in a narrow passage, and hedged in with a wall on both sides, the ass on which Balaam rode understood that it was a divine spirit that met him, and thrust Balaam to one of the walls, without regard to the stripes which Balaam, when he was hurt by the wall, gave her.
Thus did Balaam speak by inspiration, as not being in his own power, but moved to say what he did by the divine spirit. But then Balak was displeased, and said he had broken the contract he had made, whereby he was to come, as he and his confederates had invited him, by the promise of great presents: for whereas he came to curse their enemies, he had made an encomium upon them, and had declared that they were the happiest of men. . . To which Balaam replied, “O Balak, if thou rightly considerest this whole matter, canst thou suppose that it is in our power to be silent, or to say anything, when the Spirit of God seizes upon us?—for he puts such words as he pleases in our mouths, and such discourses as we are not ourselves conscious of.
Josephus’ goal was to provide a respectable history for his readers, and he lived at a time when he felt obligated to defend God’s transcendence against depictions of his immanence. In his day, the stories about the Greek gods had been allegorized because taking them literally was laughable to philosophers. Thus the divine anthropomorphisms in Scripture were too unrefined to be taken seriously. To suggest that the God of Israel somehow performed ventriloquism with prophecy was unthinkable. To get around this, Josephus presents the “divine spirit” as an angel that possesses Balaam, utilizing the same Platonic terminology used of the Oracle at Delphi. Therefore, Josephus portrays Balaam’s inspiration in terms that Plato used to describe the Delphic oracle.
Josephus transformed the potentially embarrassing story of Balaam and the ass into a credible tale in the eyes of his non-Jewish readers by adopting a method of inspiration that provided a popular explanation—traceable directly to Plato—of the most ancient and revered oracle in the Greco-Roman world.Ibid. 138.
In summary, Josephus tends to avoid discussing the Holy Spirit as the actual immanent presence of God in people. Hellenism had a profound impact not only on Philo and Josephus, but even on the later Rabbis as we will see in the next episode. These Hellenistic Jewish writings were mostly rejected by Rabbinic Judaism, to which we will turn in part 2.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Joseph Jacobs and Ludwig Blau, “Holy Spirit” in Jewish Encyclopedia (1906), VI:449.|
|2.||↑||Horn, “Holy Spirit” in ABD 3:264.|
|3.||↑||Notice also that this passage lists seven spirits of God. Cf. Revelation 1:4; Isaiah 11:2.|
|4.||↑||Horn, “Holy Spirit” in ABD, 3:261.|
|5.||↑||F. F. Bruce, “Holy Spirit in the Qumran Texts,” Annual of Leeds University Oriental Society 6 (1966/68): 49-55.|
|7.||↑||Horn, “Holy Spirit” in ABD, 3:264.|
|8.||↑||Cf. Alan Unterman and Rivka G. Horwitz, “Ru’ah Ha-Kodesh” in Encyclopedia Judaica (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House, 1972), 366. Cf. Horn, “Holy Spirit” in ABD, 3:264.|
|9.||↑||John R. Levison, “The Debut of the Divine Spirit in Josephus’s Antiquities” in Harvard Theological Review 87 2 (1994), 123-38.|