The Incarnation: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Incarnation of the Son of God

By Stephen T. Davis; Daniel Kendall et al. | Go to book overview

6 The Incarnation: The Jewish Milieu

Alan F. Segal

It has been my pleasure to attend each of the three seminars which have taken place at Dunwoodie. My task has been to survey the Jewish background to each of the Christian doctrines that we have explored together. By comparison to incarnation, the Jewish background to resurrection and trinity is much easier to find. Even the trinity can be shown to have some precedents in Judaism because, although the Christian notion of the Trinity is precisely formulated to fit Christian experience, it is possible to find Jewish writers who propounded that God could be perceived in many different forms, even at once. In fact, there were several important Jewish philosophical or mystical thinkers who speculated about the differences between the descriptions of God as a young warrior as opposed to an old man (e.g. Dan. 7: 9-13). So it is at least possible to find a clear precedent of hypostases within the Hebrew Godhead.

The incarnation, on the other hand, seems more puzzling because Jewish thinking, even Hellenistic Jewish philosophical thinking, avoided explicitly discussing the conception of incarnation; indeed they were perplexed to discover how matter and spirit could interact at all. Incarnation is a much later, much more refined notion of how matter and spirit relate. Indeed, it is hard not to put incarnation somehow in the same category as avatar as a strange and interesting but different notion of the Godhead which is at best comparable to some Jewish notions of Godhead. 1 Yet with allowance as for the Christian perspective, interesting precedents can be found.

Since the Christian concept of incarnation results from the interplay

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