In my last blog I discussed the debate between David Wood and Mohammed Hijab. I pointed out that Hijab’s knowledge of the Hebrew language and history was flawed and focused on the language foible that he committed during the debate - a language foible which, incidentally, any first-year Hebrew student could spot. I also discussed the fact that he had no shame as an Islamic polemicist in pulling out Jewish objections. This showed the commonality between certain objections shared by both the Jewish and Islamic communities.
Now I’d like to examine in more depth the glaring error Mohammed Hijab committed in relation to Jewish history and the Second Temple era. This particular tactic is very common among Islamic polemicists. They attempt to make trinitarian belief the odd man out by pointing to rabbinical Jewish objections against the doctrine of the Trinity. However, these objections ignore both the Old Testament foundations of the Trinity and the allowance for a mysterious plurality in the Godhead which existed in Jewish thought prior to the 12th-century Jewish thinker, Moses Maimonides.
Dr. Michael Brown points out one example of such thought, the important concept of the Memra of God, which certainly allows for plurality within the Godhead. This Memra theology has a direct connection to John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God.” He even lines up the Targums (the Aramaic translations of the Bible used at the time of Jesus) with the Hebrew text in a chart to demonstrate the Memra being discussed as a distinct person apart from God.
The translation of the Hebrew text is followed immediately by the translation of the Aramaic Targum. Keep in mind when reading that these Targums were the official translations used in the synagogues. Therefore, the Targums took on great significance in the religious life of the people, just as English versions of the Bible take on great significance for English speakers today. Here are several examples:¹
Genesis 1:27 God created man.
The Word of the Lord created man. (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan)
And it repented the Lord that he made man on the earth. Genesis 6:6–7
And it repented the Lord through his Word that he made man on the earth. Targum of Gen 1:27
And God said, “This is the sign that I set for the covenant between me and you.” Genesis 9:12
And the Lord said, “This is the sign that I set for the covenant between my Word and you.” Targum of Genesis 9:12
And Abraham believed in the Lord. Genesis 15:6
And Abraham believed in the Word of the Lord. Targum of Genesis 15:6
And God came to Abimelech. Genesis 20:3
And the Word from before the Lord came to Abimelech. Targum of Genesis 20:3
May the Lord keep watch between you and me. Genesis 31:49
May the Word of the Lord keep watch between you and me. Targum of above verse
And they believed in the Lord. Exodus 14:31
And they believed in the Word of the Lord. Targum of above verse
And the Lord spoke all these words. Exodus 20:1
And the Word of the Lord spoke all these words. Targum of above verse
Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Theological Objections, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 19.
While the Memra is different than the Trinity, an allowance for distinctions within the Godhead is further made in a Judaic doctrine called the Sefirot. As Isidore Singer explains, “These emanations, or intelligences as they are called, are the intermediary agents between the intellectual and the material worlds.”² I included discussion of the Sefirot only to demonstrate that within Jewish thought there has been an allowance for distinctions within the Godhead from early on: during the second Temple era, and even during the medieval era before post-Maimonides rabbinical Judaism. The concepts of the Memra and Sefirot do not even include the Shekinah of God, which the Scriptures clearly indicate as separate from God while being deity.
With all of these concepts in mind, Mohammed Hijab’s analysis of the Jewishness (or non) of the Trinity clearly ignores Jewish history and oversimplifies Jewish thought in a way that may be consistent with modern rabbinical thought, but does not capture Jewish thought with historical accuracy. In doing so, Hijab proved he can hardly be considered a scholar - he merely dished out some convenient Jewish polemics against faith in Messiah Jesus. While he may get points from those encamped in rabbinical Judaism, he cannot get points for an accurate picture of Jewish thought. His picture is clearly skewed, borrowing only from those who slant Jewish history to avoid trinitarian conclusions. To make a long story short, his reasoning is circular and full of confirmation bias: there is no Trinity, therefore I will pick only those elements of Jewish thought which deny the Trinity, and therefore prove my case against the Trinity.
¹ Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Theological Objections, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 19.
² Isidore Singer, ed., The Jewish Encyclopedia: A Descriptive Record of the History, Religion, Literature, and Customs of the Jewish People from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, 12 Volumes (New York; London: Funk & Wagnalls, 1901–1906), 154.