Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports about Christianity and Gnosticism

Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports about Christianity and Gnosticism

Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports about Christianity and Gnosticism

Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports about Christianity and Gnosticism

Synopsis

In this study of the rabbinic heretics who believed in Two Powers in Heaven, Alan Segal explores some relationships between rabbinic Judaism, Merkabah mysticism, and early Christianity. Two Powers in Heaven was a very early category of heresy. It was one of the basic categories by which the rabbis perceived the new phenomenon of Christianity and one of the central issues over which Judaism and Christianity separated. Segal reconstructs the development of the heresy through prudent dating of the stages of the rabbinic traditions. The basic heresy involved interpreting scripture to say that a principal angelic or hypostatic manifestation in heaven was equivalent to God. The earliest heretics believed in two complementary powers in heaven, while later heretics believed in two opposing powers in heaven. Segal stresses the importance of perceiving the relevance of rabbinic material for solving traditional problems of New Testament and gnostic scholarship, and at the same time maintains the necessity of reading those literatures for dating rabbinic material. Please note that Two Powers in Heaven was previously published by Brill in hardback, ISBN 90 04 05453 7 (no longer available).

Excerpt

This study of the rabbinic heretics who believed in "two powers in
heaven" began as a dissertation at Yale. The advantage of the topic,
as Professors Goldin, Dahl, and I discussed it, was that it allowed me
to explore some relationships between rabbinic Judaism, Merkabah
mysticism, and early Christianity without becoming overly dependent
on the complicated and uncharted Merkabah texts. Ironically, what
seemed like a neat and carefully defined problem soon expanded in
an almost unforeseen direction. 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. It was one of
the central issues over which the two religions separated. Furthermore,
the reports of heresy began to clarify how gnosticism, Judaism, and
Christianity

problem which has vexed scholarship for more
than a century.

That systematic study of the reports of "two powers" in rabbinic
literature might yield some interesting clues about the history of
mysticism, gnosticism, and Christianity was not a total surprise. Prev-
ious scholarship had identified the heretics inconclusively as gnostics
and Christians. The work of Gershom Scholem had emphasized a
relationship to early Merkabah mysticism. Not unexpectedly, the sources
showed that some mysticism and apocalypticism, as well as Christianity
and gnosticism, were seen as "two powers" heretics by the rabbis. The
key factor was not that all qualified as heresy but that, with prudent
dating of the stages of the traditions, the development of the heresy
could be reconstructed.

Dating the rabbinic reports was the most complicated problem. It
depended on methods developed in New Testament scholarship for
dating the sayings of Jesus. While the use of form criticism and
tradition history has grown quite sophisticated in New Testament
studies, Jewish scholars have been slower to pick up the methods.
Jacob Neusner has consistently championed the use of form criticism
and tradition history in Judaism. This study was influenced by his
opinions but the application to the field of rabbinic polemic (where
extra-rabbinic sources can be used for dating) has not been tried . . .

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