Could The Holy Ghost Be Jewish?

Christian Belief Can Be Traced Back to the Hebrew Bible

Ghost Light: There can be no doubt that the concept of the “spirit of holiness” of the Bible and rabbinic literature was the direct antecedent of the Christian concept of the Holy Spirit.
Getty Images
Ghost Light: There can be no doubt that the concept of the “spirit of holiness” of the Bible and rabbinic literature was the direct antecedent of the Christian concept of the Holy Spirit.

By Philologos

Published May 19, 2013, issue of May 31, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Indeed, in the first appearance of the word ru’aḥ in the Bible, in the second verse of the book of Genesis, it is difficult to know which meaning to give it. Does veru’aḥ elohim meraḥ efet al-p’nei ha-mayim mean “And the spirit of God hovered over the water” or “And a wind from God hovered over the water”? Perhaps both.

The phrase ru’aḥ ha-kodesh, “the holy spirit,” occurs only three times in the Bible, one of them being Psalms 51:13, where we read, “Cast me not away from your presence and take not thy holy spirit [ru’aḥ kodshekha] from me.”

In rabbinic literature, on the other hand, the phrase is extremely common. In most cases, it is perhaps best translated as “divine inspiration,” in others as “the divine presence.” In several passages, it is associated with the Shekhinah, God’s indwelling presence in the world.

In very early Christianity, the Holy Spirit is much the same as the ru’aḥ ha-kodesh of the rabbis. The first chapter of Acts, for example, written in the first century, tells how after Jesus’ death he appears to his apostles and is asked, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom of Israel?”

He answers them: “It is not for you to know the times…. But you will receive power when the holy spirit [to agios pneumatos, in the Greek of the New Testament] has come upon you.” The “holy spirit” here is the power to prophesy, granted by inspiration from above.

The rabbinic mind was not a theological one, nor was that of the early Christians; neither attempted, as did the ancient Greeks, to systematize their thought logically or to construct it upon a foundation of defined terms and concepts.

The first figure to do this in either Judaism or Christianity was Philo of Alexandria, an early first-century Jewish philosopher who sought in his Greek works to integrate Judaism with the Hellenistic school of Neoplatonism, which viewed the universe as emanating in stages from the One, the unknowable origin of all things, to the material world. One way in which he did this was by developing the idea of the ru’aḥ ha-kodesh as a distinct spiritual sphere midway between God and man, the realm of “pure knowledge in which every wise man naturally shares.”

Philo turned out to have much more of an influence on Christianity than on Judaism, in which he was a peripheral figure who was soon forgotten. The Christian notion of the Holy Spirit as the third element of a triadic God whose two other constituents are “the Father” and “the Son” — that is, the creator God of the Old Testament and the divine Jesus of the New Testament — derives largely from him, though Philo himself was no more Trinitarian in his approach than were the rabbis. This, in a nutshell, is the answer to Mr. Foley’s question.

Questions for Philologos can be sent to philologos@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.