An explanation of its meaning

K J Cronin

References and Endnotes

[1] The 1985 JPS Tanakh does not translate these words from the Hebrew and so the division of Ex.3:14 can be readily displayed with reference to this text as follows: 3:14a And God said to Moses,”Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh” 3:14b He continued, “Thus shall you say to the Israelites, ‘Ehyeh sent me to you'”. Source: Berlin A. and Zvi Brettler M. (eds.), The Jewish Study Biblefeaturing the Jewish Publication Society Tanakh translation, (NY: Oxford University Press, 2004), p.111.

[2] Perkins L., A New English Translation of the Septuagint, Electronic Edition, available online at: The Greek ho on has also been translated as “The Being”, for which see: The Septuagint Version of the Old Testament, with an English Translation, (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1879), p.ff.73

[3] Propp W., Exodus 1-18, A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible, (NY: Doubleday, 1998), p.225.

[4] For an English translation of Vulgate Exodus, see: Douay-Rheims Bible, available online at:

[5] Grossfeld B. (trans.), Targum Onkelos to Exodus, Aramaic Bible Vol. 7, (Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1988), p.8. See also: Ethereidge J., The Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan Ben Uzziel on the Pentateuch, (1862), available online at:

[6] McNamara M. and Maher M. (trans.), Targums Neofiti 1 and Pseudo-Jonathan, Aramaic Bible Vol.2, (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1994), p.19.

[7] Ibid., p.168. See also: Etheridge J., The Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan Ben Uzziel on the Pentateuch, (1862), available online at:

[8] Walton B. (ed.), Biblia sacra polyglotta: complectentia textus originales, Hebraicum, cum Pentateucho Samaritano, Chaldaicum, Græcum; versionumque antiquarum, Samaritanæ, Graecæ LXXII interp., Chaldaicæ, Syriacæ, Arabicæ, Æthiopicæ, Persicæ, Vulg. Lat., quicquid comparari poterat, (London: Thomas Roycroft, 1657), p.237.

[9] Rosenzweig F., The Eternal, in: Buber M. and Rosenzweig F, Scripture and Translation, (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994), p.103.

[10] Ibid. p.102.

[11] Fox E. (trans.), The Schocken Bible: Vol.1, The Five Books of Moses, (NY: Schocken Books, 1997), p.273.

[12] See No. 1 above.

[13] Fox E., The Schocken Bible. p.273.

[14] Quoted from: Pelcovitz R. (trans.), Sforno, Commentary on the Torah, Translation and explanatory notes, (NY: Mesorah Publications, 2004), p.295.

[15] Propp, Exodus 1-18, A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, p.181.

[16] Epstein I. (ed.), The Babylonian Talmud, (London: Soncino Press, 1978). The Soncino Talmud translates all three citations of ehyeh asher ehyeh as “I am that I am” and the ehyeh of 3:14b in Berakoth 9b as “I AM”.

[17] Freedman H. (ed.), Midrash Rabbah, (London: Soncino Press, 1983). The Soncino Midrash Rabbah translates all citations of ehyeh asher ehyeh as “I am that I am” and the ehyeh of 3:14b as “I AM”.

[18] Munk E., The Call of the Torah, Volume 2 – Shemos, (NY: Mesorah Publications Ltd, 1994), p.41.

[19] Chavel C. (trans), Ramban (Nahmanides), Commentary on the Torah: Exodus, (NY: Shilo Publishing House, 1973), pp.36-39. Elements of Rashi’s, Halevi’s, and Maimonides’ interpretations are to be found in Ramban’s comments on Berakoth 9b, while his own interpretation on p.38 draws upon Rashi’s and was substantially incorporated into Sforno’s interpretation.

[20] Maimonides M., Guide of the Perplexed, Part 1, Ch.63 (LXIII), trans. Friedlander M., (2nd edn., 1904), available online at:

[21] Pelcovitz R. (trans.), Sforno, Commentary on the Torah, Translation and explanatory notes, (NY: Mesorah Publications, 2004), p.295.

[22] Herczeg Y. (trans.), Rashi, The Sapiristein Edition Commentary on Torah, Vol.2 – Shemos (Exodus), (NY: Mesorah Publications, 1999), p.25. Rashi’s commentary on Exodus 3:14 is available online at:

[23] Munk, The call of the Torah, p.42.

[24] Schorr Y. and Malinowitz C. (eds.), The Scottenstein Edition Talmud BavliTractate Berachos, Volume 1, elucidated by G. Zlotowitz, (NY: Mesorah Publications, 1997), p.9b1.

[25] Halevi J., The Book of Kuzari, trans. Hirschfeld H., (NY: Pardes Publishing House, 1946), Part IV, p.178. Hirschfeld’s translation of The Book of Kuzari is available online at:, p.202. Halevi wrote The Book of Kuzari in Arabic which I cannot read, and so I am unable to say how he rendered the ehyeh asher ehyeh of 3:14a and ehyeh of 3:14b in the original. In his translation of The Kuzari Hirschfeld rendered ehyeh asher ehyeh as “I am that I am” and retained the Hebrew transliteration of the absolute ehyeh. I can find no clear indication that Halevi intended ehyeh asher ehyeh to be read as “I am that I am” and so have taken the safest default position of rendering these words also in Hebrew transliteration.

[26] Strickman N. and Silver A. (trans), Ibn Ezra’s Commentary on the Pentateuch: Exodus (Shemot), (NY: Menorah, 1997), p.64. In a footnote to Ibn Ezra’s comment on Ex.3:14 the authors explain his interpretation as follows: “According to I.E., That I Am explains I Am. In other words, God’s name is not I Am That I Am. His name is I Am, the meaning of which is, That I Am”. Ibn Ezra’s comment on Ex.3:15 describes the name YHWH in the following terms: “Another name meaning the same as the first one. However, one name (EHYH) is in the first person and this name (YHWH) is in the third person”.

[27] Propp, Exodus 1-18, A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, p.225.

[28] Tisby I., The Wisdom of the Zohar: An Anthology of TextsVol.1, trans. Goldstein D., (NY: Oxford University Press, 1989), p.345.

[29] Ibid, p.310.

[30] Ibid, p.243-244.

[31] Scholem G., Kabbalah (J. mysticism), Details of the Doctrine of the Sefirot and their Symbolism, in Wigoder J. (ed.), Encyclopaedia Judaica CD-ROM Edition, (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House, 2004).

[32] Munk, p.42.

[33] Fox M., God, Names ofEncyclopaedia Judaica CD-ROM Edition.

[34] Rosenzweig F., “The Eternal”: Mendelssohn and the name of God, in: Buber M. and Rosenzweig F., Scripture and Translation, trans. L. Rosenwald, (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994), p.103.

[35] Rosenzweig, “The Eternal”, p.102.

[36] Fox M., God, Names ofEncyclopaedia Judaica CD-ROM Edition.

[37] Buber M. and Rosenzweig F., Scripture and Translation.

[38] Buber M., Moses: The Revelation and the Covenant, (NY: Harper and Row, 1946), p.48-55.

[39] Jenni E. and Westermann C., Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, trans. Mark Biddle, (Peabody: Hendrikson’s Publishers Inc., 1997), p.523.

[40] On the Historical Presence of Exodus 3:14 in Judaism
The suggestion that the name in Exodus 3:14b and the declaration in Exodus 3:14a have been all but absent from Jewish life ever since the day this verse was first penned is very hard to believe, especially if these words are as important as they appear to be. There is therefore a very important and very interesting question that must be asked in relation to this verse. If the words of Exodus 3:14 are not referred to elsewhere in the Bible, then where in Judaism are they? I think the most propitious approach to answering this question is to try to imagine how Moses might have intended this verse to be remembered if it was of such great importance to him and his fellow Israelites. What follows is my answer to that question.

If the words of Exodus 3:14 are as religiously important as they appear to be, then Moses would surely have wanted them to be remembered by the Israelites in their place of greatest religious importance, and to be remembered during the event of greatest religious significance. In Moses’ day the place of greatest religious importance was the Tabernacle, which was so important that it is the sole subject of the last fifteen chapters of the Book of Exodus, along with the brief and fitting interlude of the incident of the Golden Calf. The religious event of greatest significance in Mosaic times was the daily sacrificial service that took place in the Tabernacle, the Tamid service, which is first referred to in Exodus 29:28. Here is an extract from the Soncino Talmud, Tractate Tamid 33b (Misnah 7:3), describing the ceremonial that took place when the High Priest officiated at the Tamid sacrifice in Second Temple times:

“The deputy high priest stood on the horn of the altar with the flags in his hand, and two priests on the table of fat with two trumpets in their hands. They blew a Teki’ah Teru’ah Teki’ah, and then went and stood by Ben Arza, one on his right and one on his left. When he bent down to make the libation, the deputy high priest waved the flags and Ben Arza struck the cymbals and the Levites chanted the psalm. When they came to a pause a Teki’ah was blown and the public prostrated themselves; at every pause there was a Teki’ah and at every Teki’ah a prostration. This was the order of the regular daily sacrifice for the service of the house of our God”.

The Teki’ah is a sustained blast on the trumpet and the Teru’ah is a wavering blast (RH 33b). There is an obvious structural resemblance between the Teki’ah Teru’ah Teki’ah pattern of trumpet blasts and the words Ehyeh asher Ehyeh of Exodus 3:14a, and likewise between the single Teki’ah trumpet blasts and the single Ehyeh of Exodus 3:14b. However, the sounding of a Teki’ah over the burnt offering is most obviously explained by Numbers 10:10 where the commandment to do so is given. Numbers 10:10 also appears to explain the purpose of the Teki’ah, which was to serve as a “reminder” for the Israelites of when they were “before YHWH”, which presumably refers to when they were assembled before the Presence of YHWH. Prior to being given this commandment the Israelites had last been assembled before the Presence of YHWH during the very first Tamid service at the Tabernacle (Leviticus 9:23) on which occasion “fire came forth from before YHWH and consumed the burnt offering and the fat parts on the altar. And all the people saw, and shouted, and fell on their faces” (Leviticus 9:24). So the combination of Num.10:10 and Lev.9:23-24 could between them account for the act of prostration in response to the sound of the single Teki’ah blasts during the Tamid service.

However, prior to the theophany of Leviticus 9:23-24 the Israelites had most notably been assembled before the Presence of God at Sinai, some nine months earlier. The giving of the 10 Commandments (more correctly “Ten Words”) at Sinai is recorded in Exodus Chapter 20. It may only be a coincidence that the Chapter and verse in Numbers 10:10 bear a strong numerical relation to the number of Commandments given at this most remarkable of theophanies and to the Chapter in which it is described. On the other hand it may be an intentional link being made between the blowing of the trumpet over the sacrifice during the Tamid service and the sound of the shofar at Sinai, which the text appears to suggest was the sound of the voice of God as experienced by all of the Israelites except Moses (Exodus 19:13-20:18).

The sounding of the Teki’ah trumpet blasts during the Tamid service could therefore have been intended to serve the dual purpose of reminding the Israelites of the theophany during the first Tamid service at the Tabernacle, and of reminding them of the theophany at Sinai, which would seem to make perfectly good sense. But to fully explore the possibility of a link between the single Teki’ah blasts during the Tamid service and the name Ehyeh there is one other question we must ask. Is there any biblical evidence to suggest that prior to the commencement of the Tamid services the Israelites had prostrated themselves upon hearing the name Ehyeh pronounced?

There are only three occasions on which the Israelites are recorded as having collectively prostrated themselves in the interval between the revelation at the Burning Bush and the first Tamid service (Leviticus Ch.9). These are described in Exodus 4:31, 12:27 and 33:10. Of these it is only Exodus 4:31 we need to consider in connection with the name Ehyeh because this verse describes the very moment when the Israelites first believed that Moses had been sent to them by God, and they had become convinced of this by the words and signs that God had given to Moses at the Burning Bush. The foremost word he was commanded to say to the Israelites was the name Ehyeh, and so it is not unreasonable to suggest that the Israelites prostrated themselves on that occasion principally in response to hearing Moses pronounce the name Ehyeh.

It is therefore quite reasonable to suggest that the sounding of the single Teki’ah trumpet blasts during the Tamid service in the Tabernacle was intended to bring to mind both theophanies at Sinai and the first Tamid service, and to signify and remind the Israelites of the first and only public pronunciation of the name Ehyeh. That is, however, a speculative connection, and one that does not yet allow us to confidently associate Exodus 3:14 with the Tamid service, not until we have considered the Teki’ah Teru’ah Teki’ah pattern of trumpet blasts immediately preceding the single Teki’ah blasts and the possibility that they signify the words Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh.

All observant Jews will be familiar with the Teki’ah Teru’ah Teki’ah pattern of blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah and many will be aware of the reason for it being blown in this way, which is given in Tractate RH 16a and 32a. However, the reason for the pattern of blowing that is presented in Tractate RH is appropriate specifically to Rosh Hashanah, and so it cannot be assumed to have the same significance as the identical pattern of blowing that occurs during the Tamid service. There is no Gemara in Tamid Ch.7, and so there is no way of knowing how the sages of the Talmud would have understood the Teki’ah Teru’ah Teki’ah pattern of blasts during the Tamid service. However, we can make some headway in this enquiry by considering the following sequence of events.

Moses erected the Tabernacle on the first day of the first month (Nisan) of the second year after the Exodus (Exodus 40:1-2, 17-18). The Tabernacle and the priests were consecrated on the same day (Exodus 40:9-16) and the first Tamid service occurred seven days later (Leviticus 9:1-6). The commandment to blow the trumpet over the sacrifice was apparently given after this first service took place, but certainly before the twentieth day of the second month of the same year (Numbers 10:10-12). Rosh Hashanah was first celebrated five months later, in the month of Tishri. Moses was surely responsible for establishing the liturgies for both the Tamid service and for Rosh Hashanah and so he would presumably have established the pattern of blowing the trumpet during the Tamid service and the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. The question, therefore, is this. Is it more likely that the Teki’ah Teru’ah Teki’ah pattern of trumpet blasts would have been first established for the daily Tamid service and subsequently adopted for the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, or that the pattern of blasts was first established for the shofar on Rosh Hashanah and secondarily incorporated into the Tamid service seven months after that service had been established, assuming there is any link between the two at all?

My answer is that given the importance of the Tabernacle and the Tamid service to Moses and the Israelites and the fact that this service was established seven months before the first Rosh Hashanah and that they were both established by Moses, it is far more likely that the Teki’ah Teru’ah Teki’ah pattern of trumpet blasts was established specifically for the liturgy of the Tamid service and that the significance it has in this service is therefore specific to it. If this is the case, then a second question must be asked. What could this pattern of trumpet blasts have signified in the Tamid service at that time in Israel’s history? They must surely have signified something because there are no meaningless features in the Tamid service, as Tractate Tamid amply testifies.

Numbers 10:3 might appear to supply an answer to this question, because it is there commanded that the Teki’ah blasts were to be sounded in order to assemble the Israelites before Moses at the Tent of Meeting. The Tent of Meeting is generally understood to be synonymous with the Tabernacle and so this might appear to suggest that this was the original intent of the Teki’ah Teru’ah Teki’ah blasts during the Tamid service. Against this possibility is Numbers 10:7, which in fact rules it out entirely, because it is there commanded that a Teru’ah blast must not be sounded to gather the congregation. Moreover, it would make no sense to sound trumpet blasts in order to gather the congregation when the Tamid service was already at its climax, and so this possibility can be conclusively ruled out.

On the other hand, if the words of Exodus 3:14a are as important as they appear to have been to Moses, and if they are as theologically and religiously meaningful as I am proposing in this paper and as so many have so long suspected, then I would suggest that it would be very appropriate to have these words remembered every day during the Tamid services and to have them so remembered in perpetuity. Moreover, because these words are apparently uniquely holy, it is also reasonable to suppose that they would not have been uttered at all after the Exodus from Egypt, not even by Aaron in the Tabernacle. It would therefore have been necessary to represent them symbolically if they were to be publicly remembered in the Tabernacle, for example in the form of trumpet blasts sounded by priests officiating at the Tamid service. I therefore consider it to be more than merely possible that the Teki’ah Teru’ah Teki’ah trumpet blasts sounded during the Tamid service represent the words Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh. I think it is very likely.

Moreover, if we return briefly to the significance of the number 10, it is suggested in the Talmud (RH 32a) that the sets of 10 blowings of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah represent the 10 Commandments and the 10 utterances by which God created the cosmos. The latter is a reference to Genesis Ch.1 and specifically to the occurrence of the verb amar (to say) as applied to God during the creation narrative. However, the word amar is applied to God 11 times in Genesis Chapter 1 and it is also applied to Him 11 times during the account of the destruction – the narrative of the Flood in Genesis 6:1-9:17, which association would certainly be very appropriate if it were intentional. On the other hand the word amar is applied to God on 10 occasions in the narrative of the Fall of Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:1-3:24) – specifically as employed by Him and in reference to Himself – and it is applied to God 10 times in His exchange with Moses at the Burning Bush – specifically as employed by Him and in reference to Himself. This association between humanity’s first sinners on the one hand and the commissioning of Israel’s redeemer on the other would again be very appropriate if it was intentional. I make the point of counting only those occurrences of amar that are specifically employed by God and in reference to Himself because in the story of Adam and Eve both the serpent and Eve quote God as ‘saying’ something but it is not God to whom the word amar is directly applied on those occasions. Likewise, in His exchange with Moses at the Burning Bush God commands Moses to say (amar) certain things on His behalf, which thus become instances of Moses ‘saying’ (amar) something and not of God so doing. By this count the second amar in Exodus 3:15 and in 3:16 are excluded, because it is Moses who is to do the ‘saying’ on those occasions, but the amar of 3:17 is included, because although it is Moses who is to speak this occurrence of amar he is to do so as a direct quotation of God’s words and so it is spoken by God and in reference to Himself. ‘amar‘ is also the final word of Exodus 20:1, and so is the word that immediately precedes the speaking by God of what are amongst the most influential words ever spoken; the “10 Words” with which He would seal His covenant with Israel.

Bearing in mind that the text of Exodus 19:13-20:18 appears to suggest that the sound of the shofar was the sound of the voice of God as experienced by the Israelites at Sinai, it would seem to be very appropriate to blow this instrument 10 times when acknowledging His Kingship over Israel, and when remembering humanity’s primal sin of succumbing to the temptation to do that which they know to be contrary to His will, and when remembering that God sent a redeemer to Israel when they were slaves in Egypt, and when remembering the occasion of that redeemer (Moses) being commissioned, and when remembering the Law that He gave through that redeemer to enable humanity’s redemption, and perhaps even when celebrating the memory of Him actually speaking directly to the Israelites at Sinai when He sealed His covenant with them. I am not suggesting that this is how the shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah should be understood, because that has long since been established in Jewish tradition. I am only suggesting that the way in which it is blown could reasonably bring all of these themes to mind. It is therefore entirely justifiable to suggest a connection between the Teki’ah Teru’ah Teki’ah pattern of trumpet blasts during the Tamid service and the words of Exodus 3:14 and to suggest a connection between the Teki’ah Teru’ah Teki’ah pattern of trumpet blasts in the Temple and the pattern of shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah. Of course all of the connections I have pointed out might be accidental but if they are then they would collectively amount to what I would consider to be a very considerable and very striking coincidence.

Returning specifically to the subject of Exodus 3:14 and the Tamid service, I must say that looking at it as objectively as I can, it really does seem to me that all lines of enquiry in relation to the blowing of the trumpets during the Tamid service do lead eventually to Sinai, to Moses and to the revelation at the Burning Bush, and so I believe that a real link exists between the two.

There is much more that could be said on this subject but I think no definite conclusion can be reached one way or the other because the records are insufficient to allow us to be so conclusive. In the final analysis I can only say that I feel sure Moses would have wanted these words to be remembered every day and by every Jew everywhere, and that he would have wanted them to be remembered splendidly, and I strongly suspect that he would have forbidden them being spoken aloud anywhere, and so to have them publicly remembered by the sounding of silver trumpets at the climax of the Tamid service would seem to be an ideal way to accomplish that remembrance. This would also explain why the words of Exodus 3:14 have been all but forgotten in contemporary Judaism because the Tamid service ceased when the Temple was destroyed on the 17th of Tammuz in the year 70 CE and so the great majority of Jews have had little reason to wonder what the trumpet blasts in this service might signify.

[41] Exodus, The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation, Commentary by Nahum Sarna, (NY: The Jewish Publication Society, 1991), p.17, n.13.

[42] Propp, Exodus 1-18, A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, p.225.

[43] Sarna N., Exploring Exodus, The Origins of Biblical Israel, (NY: Schocken Books Inc., 1996), p.52.

[44] Tigay J., Exodus, in Berlin A. and Zvi Brettler M. (eds.), The Jewish Study Bible, p.111.

[45] Propp, Exodus 1-18, A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, p.224-226.

[46] Propp, Exodus 1-18, A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, p.181.

[47] Consider, for example, the interpretations of Maimonides and Buber. The problem with the question, as Maimonides saw it, was stated as follows:

“Either the Israelites knew the name, or they had never heard it. If the name was known to them, they would perceive in it no argument in favour of the mission of Moses, his knowledge and their knowledge of the Divine name being the same. If, on the other hand, they had never heard it mentioned, and if the knowledge of it was to prove the mission of Moses, what evidence would they have that this was really the name of God?”(Maimonides, Guide, Part 1, Ch. 63/LXIII)

Maimonides solved this problem by interpreting the question of Exodus 3:13 as a request by Moses for proof of the existence of God and interpreted Exodus 3:14 as a summary statement of this proof. I have already analysed Maimonides’ interpretation under the heading Medieval Jewish Thought and I have there explained my reasons for rejecting it. Buber, by contrast, understood the question of 3:13 to mean, “What finds expression in or lies concealed behind the name?” He also finds the answer to this question in Exodus 3:14, although in entirely different terms to Maimonides and I have likewise explained my reasons for rejecting his interpretation under the heading Modern Jewish Philosophy.

The reason Maimonides and Buber misunderstood the question of Exodus 3:13 is that they were conforming it to their interpretations of Exodus 3:14-15 in which the only name revealed was in Exodus 3:15 and in which Exodus 3:14 plays only a supporting role.

The answer to Maimonides’ question in the above extract, by the way, is that Moses would have needed to understand the meaning of the name Ehyeh before he could approach the Israelites with it and with this meaning he could have brought to the Israelites a whole new understanding of God.

[48] See e.g. Propp, Exodus 1-18, A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, p.181.

[49] Berlin A. and Zvi Brettler M., The Jewish Study Bible, p.111.

[50] Note that in Propp’s version of this sentence there is a typographical error, with the root hyh written incorrectly as hyyhyh is the unpointed third masculine singular Qal perfect, which when pointed is written hayah and is translated ‘he was’. As well as being the third masculine singular Qal perfect of the verb, hayah is also known as the verb root of hayah. The verb root is the form under which it is listed in the lexicon in Hebrew script and so according to the Hebrew alphabet (ref. Strong’s 1961; BDB 224a).

[51] Abba R., The Divine Name YHWH, 1961, JBL 80, p.320-28. Quoted extract from p.324. Bold type my own.

[52] You may be struck by the scarcity of both the perfect and imperfect forms of hayah that translate as “I am”. This is due to the fact that in biblical Hebrew the English word ‘am’ is most often implied rather than supplied.

[53] A stative verb is one that describes a condition or state of existence. All of the verses cited in the preceding paragraph employ hayah in this stative sense.

[54] De Vaux R., The Revelation of the Divine Name YHWH, in: Durham J. and Porter J. (eds.), Proclamation and Presence: Old Testament Essays in Honour of Gwynne Henton Davies, (London: SCM Press, 1970), p.48-75. Quoted extract from p.66. Parentheses and bold type my own.

[55] See e.g. Rosenzweig, Scripture and Translation, p.191.

[56] Propp, Exodus 1-18, A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, p.205.

[57] That is to say, God created all that is not Him and before He created there was only Him. I have made this point in two different ways and in successive lines because I particularly want to impress it upon all who are rationally contemplating God to any extent. There is no more fundamental and crucial an understanding of God than that before He created, He was All-That-Is, the totality of existence, The Perfect One besides Whom there was no other.

[58] For an authoritative statement of the Jewish understanding of the perfect unity of God see Maimonides’ Guide, Ch.51 (LI) where he puts it as follows: “Belief in unity cannot mean essentially anything but the belief in one single homogenous uncompounded essence; not in a plurality of ideas but in a single idea. Whichever way you look at it, and however you examine it, you must find it to be one, not dividing itself in any manner or for any reason into two ideas. No plurality must be discoverable in it either in fact or in thought” (Quoted from: Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, An Abridged Edition with Introduction and Commentary by Julius Guttmann, Translated from the Arabic by Chaim Rabin, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1995, p.67-68).

Pines translates the same passage as follows: “For there is no oneness at all except in believing that there is one simple essence in which there is no complexity or multiplication of notions, but one notion only; so that from whatever angle you regard it and from whatever point of view you consider it, you will find that it is one, not divided in any way and by any cause into two notions; and you will not find therein any multiplicity either in the thing as it is outside of the mind or as it is in the mind” (Pines S., Vol. I, University of Chicago press, 1963, p.113).

Alternatively, Friedlander’s translation of this passage is available online at:, p.69.

[59] For an authoritative Jewish statement of this understanding, see: Maimonides M. Guide, Ch.53 (LIII), where he put it thus: “if by wisdom we understand the consciousness of self… the subject and the object of that consciousness are undoubtedly identical [as regards God]: for according to our opinion He is not composed of an element that apprehends and another that does not apprehend”. Available online at: , p.74.

Pines translates the same extract as follows: “For we wished to signify by “knowledge” the apprehension of one’s own essence. Now the essence that apprehends is undoubtedly the same as the essence that is apprehended. For in our opinion He is not composed of two things, the thing that apprehends and another thing that does not apprehend.” (Pines, Vol. I, p.122).

[60] See Diagram: The Creative Activity of God in Part II of this website and endnote 61 to further clarify this point.

[61] See Diagram: The Creative Activity of God in Part II of this website for an illustration of this point. The beginning of God’s creating was an act of will, not of mind. The formation of the perfectly formless beginning of Creation was an act of mind, which became active in response to the perception in God of the beginning of His Creation. In the beginning, Creation was in the condition of perfectly formless potential (Genesis 1:1-2), anticipating the formative imprint of God’s word (Genesis 1:3-27), which can only have been spoken after He had become aware, as illustrated in the Diagram and as explained in the following passages.

[62] The concept of non-existence (aka. non-being) has attracted the attention of philosophers ever since Parmenides first addressed it some 2,500 years ago. According to Parmenides, all that can be said of non-existence is that it is not and that it cannot therefore constitute a valid subject of philosophical enquiry. To illustrate the issue under consideration there is only one example that any reader of this paper need consider and that is the irreconcilability of the Christian and Jewish understandings of God. The Christian idea of God is that He is three persons of one essence and the Jewish idea is that He is one Person of one essence. Both of these ideas are undeniably in the realm of existence but both cannot be true. For most readers of this site, I would expect that either one or the other of them is accepted as true and the other as false. It would be absurd to suggest that the one that is false is in the realm of non-existence. Try telling that to two billion Christians. Therefore ideas can be in the realm of existence and be content-rich but have no basis in reality.

However, the concept of non-existence is unique in that although it is in the realm of existence, it is absolutely devoid of conceptual content. Indeed, it is the only concept in the entire realm of existence that is absolutely devoid of content. If you think about non-existence and in so doing your mind comes to rest on any idea, that idea is in the realm of existence like the concept of non-existence itself. So the concept of non-existence is in the realm of existence but it has no basis in reality and is absolutely devoid of conceptual content.

The best way I can think of to illustrate the concept of non-existence is with the following exercise. Open the documents folder on your computer. Create a new folder and entitle it ‘non-existence’. Now send the document to your desktop as a shortcut. Now delete the ‘non-existence’ folder in your documents and close down your documents. You are now left with a short-cut on your desktop entitled ‘non-existence’, which when you click on it does not open onto anything, not even a blank page. That is precisely what non-existence is, a concept entirely devoid of content. Therefore I believe it is just as Parmenides said nearly 2,500 years ago, that ‘non-existence’ cannot constitute a valid subject of philosophical enquiry and that all that can be said of it is that there is no such thing.

[63] See Diagram: The Creative Activity of God in Part II of this website for an illustration of this point.

[64] Many readers will be aware that Christianity professes belief in one God. Some readers may find this profession confusing and perhaps even misleading, suggesting as it does a belief in only one Personal God. It is important to understand that this is not what Christians believe and so I will briefly clarify their position.

The one God of Christian profession does not refer to one Personal God as it does in Judaism and Islam. The one God of Christian profession refers instead to the Divine essence, which Christian thinkers must acknowledge to be numerically one if they are to make any claim to monotheistic belief (See e.g. Aquinas, Summa 1, 13, 8, where he states, “this name “God” is imposed to signify the Divine nature”. In Christian thought, Divine ‘nature’ is synonymous with Divine ‘essence’. Available online at: There are instead in Christianity three Divine persons, each of whom is necessarily professed to be identical to the same Divine essence because the Divine essence is necessarily acknowledged by Christian thinkers to be numerically one, perfectly simple and indivisible (see e.g. Aquinas, Summa 1, 39, 1, where he states, “Thence it follows that in God essence is not really distinct from person”. Available at: Each of the three persons is thus necessarily professed to be God (see The Athanasian Creed, vs. 15-16, available online at:, and, despite the obvious objection arising out of the indiscernibility of identicals, each of the three is also necessarily professed to be absolutely distinct from the other two.

Such a populous scheme of divinity should by any normal and universally acceptable standard of rational analysis yield a total count of three personal gods. However, Christian thinkers do not feel bound by any such rational standard and so they flatly deny the existence of three personal gods while at the same time insisting upon the existence of three distinct Divine persons each of whom is God. They do so because to do otherwise would be to confirm Christianity as a polytheistic and hence pagan religion and presumably because mule-headed denial of the obvious is the course they find most acceptable when faced with the distressingly insoluble incoherence of their own beliefs.

None of the three Divine persons (or gods) in the Christian trinity correspond to the Personal God of Jewish belief. They do not do so individually and they do not do so collectively. The Christian profession of belief in one God is in fact an intellectual acknowledgement of the rationally established existential condition of the Divine essence and is not at all a statement of belief in the existence of a Personal God which I suspect few Christians are aware of as they recite by rote the opening words of their creeds.

If the reader is interested in the refutation of Christianity, then I would recommend to them my Refutation of Christianity published on Also, for an excellent and highly readable summary of the most important Christian beliefs and the unsuccessful Jewish attempts to refute them I would recommend Daniel Lasker’s Jewish Philosophical Polemics Against Christianity In The Middle Ages, published by The Litmann Library of Jewish Civilisation 2007.