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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

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Memphis (2)
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"The Word," in the sense of the creative or directive word or speech of God manifesting His power in the world of matter or mind; a term used especially in the Targum as a substitute for "the Lord" when an anthropomorphic expression is to be avoided.

—Biblical Data:

In Scripture "the word of the Lord" commonly denotes the speech addressed to patriarch or prophet (Genesis 15:1; Numbers 12:6, 23:5; 1 Samuel 3:21; Amos 5:1-8); but frequently it denotes also the creative word: "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made" (Psalms 33:6; comp. "For He spake, and it was done"; "He sendeth his word, and melteth them [the ice]"; "Fire and hail; snow, and vapors; stormy wind fulfilling his word"; Psalms 33:9, 147:18, 148:8). In this sense it is said, "For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven" (Psalms 119:89). "The Word," heard and announced by the prophet, often became, in the conception of the seer, an efficacious power apart from God, as was the angel or messenger of God: "The Lord sent a word into Jacob, and it hath lighted upon Israel" (Isaiah 9:7 [A. V. 8], 55:11); "He sent his word, and healed them" (Psalms 107:20); and comp. "his word runneth very swiftly" (Psalms 147:15).

Personification of the Word.

—In Apocryphal and Rabbinical Literature:

While in the Book of Jubilees, 12:22, the word of God is sent through the angel to Abraham, in other cases it becomes more and more a personified agency: "By the word of God exist His works" (Ecclus. [Sirach] 42:15); "The Holy One, blessed be He, created the world by the 'Ma'amar'" (Mek., Beshallaḥ, 10, with reference to Psalms 33:6). Quite frequent is the expression, especially in the liturgy, "Thou who hast made the universe with Thy word and ordained man through Thy wisdom to rule over the creatures made by Thee" (Wisdom 9:1; comp. "Who by Thy words causest the evenings to bring darkness, who openest the gates of the sky by Thy wisdom"; . . . "who by His speech created the heavens, and by the breath of His mouth all their hosts"; through whose "words all things were created"; see Singer's "Daily Prayer-Book," pp. 96, 290, 292). So also in IV Esdras 6:38 ("Lord, Thou spakest on the first day of Creation: 'Let there be heaven and earth,' and Thy word hath accomplished the work"). "Thy word, O Lord, healeth all things" (Wisdom 16:12); "Thy word preserveth them that put their trust in Thee" (c. 16:26). Especially strong is the personification of the word in Wisdom 18:15: "Thine Almighty Word leaped down from heaven out of Thy royal throne as a fierce man of war." The Mishnah, with reference to the ten passages in Genesis (ch. ) beginning with "And God said," speaks of the ten "ma'amarot" (= "speeches") by which the world was created (Abot 5:1; comp. Gen. R. 4:2: "The upper heavens are held in suspense by the creative Ma'amar"). Out of every speech ["dibbur"] which emanated from God an angel was created (Ḥag. 14a). "The Word ["dibbur"] called none but Moses" (Lev. R. 1:4,5). "The Word ["dibbur"] went forth from the right hand of God and made a circuit around the camp of Israel" (Cant. R. 1:13).

—In the Targum:

In the Targum the Memra figures constantly as the manifestation of the divinepower, or as God's messenger in place of God Himself, wherever the predicate is not in conformity with the dignity or the spirituality of the Deity.

Instead of the Scriptural "You have not believed in the Lord," Targ. Deuteronomy 1:32 has "You have not believed in the word of the Lord"; instead of "I shall require it [vengeance] from him," Targ. Deuteronomy 18:19 has "My word shall require it." "The Memra," instead of "the Lord," is "the consuming fire" (Targ. Deuteronomy 9:3; comp. Targ. Isaiah 30:27). The Memra "plagued the people" (Targ. Yer. to Exodus 32:35). "The Memra smote him" (2 Samuel 6:7; comp. Targ. 1 Kings 18:24; Hosea 13:14; et al.). Not "God," but "the Memra," is met with in Targ. Exodus 19:17 (Targ. Yer. "the Shekinah"; comp. Targ. Exodus 25:22: "I will order My Memra to be there"). "I will cover thee with My Memra," instead of "My hand" (Targ. Exodus 33:22). Instead of "My soul," "My Memra shall reject you" (Targ. Leviticus 26:30; comp. Isaiah 1:14, 42:1; Jeremiah 6:8; Ezekiel 23:18). "The voice of the Memra," instead of "God," is heard (Genesis 3:8; Deuteronomy 4:33,36; 5:21; Isaiah 6:8; et al.). Where Moses says, "I stood between the Lord and you" (Deuteronomy 5:5), the Targum has, "between the Memra of the Lord and you"; and the "sign between Me and you" becomes a "sign between My Memra and you" (Exodus 31:13,17; comp. Leviticus 26:46; Genesis 9:12; 17:2,7,10; Ezekiel 20:12). Instead of God, the Memra comes to Abimelek (Genesis 20:3), and to Balaam (Numbers 23:4). His Memra aids and accompanies Israel, performing wonders for them (Targ. Numbers 23:21; Deuteronomy 1:30, 33:3; Targ. Isaiah 63:14; Jeremiah 31:1; Hosea 9:10 [comp. 11:3, "the messenger-angel"]). The Memra goes before Cyrus (Isaiah 45:12). The Lord swears by His Memra (Genesis 21:23, 22:16, 24:3; Exodus 32:13; Numbers 14:30; Isaiah 45:23; Ezekiel 20:5; et al.). It is His Memra that repents (Targ. Genesis 6:6, 8:21; 1 Samuel 15:11,35). Not His "hand," but His "Memra has laid the foundation of the earth" (Targ. Isaiah 48:13); for His Memra's or Name's sake does He act (c. 48:11; 2 Kings 19:34). Through the Memra God turns to His people (Targ. Leviticus 26:90; 2 Kings 13:23), becomes the shield of Abraham (Genesis 15:1), and is with Moses (Exodus 3:12; 4:12,15) and with Israel (Targ. Yer. to Numbers 10:35,36; Isaiah 63:14). It is the Memra, not God Himself, against whom man offends (Exodus 16:8; Numbers 14:5; 1 Kings 8:50; 2 Kings 19:28; Isaiah 1:2,16; 45:3,20; Hosea 5:7, 6:7; Targ. Yer. to Leviticus 5:21, 6:2; Deuteronomy 5:11); through His Memra Israel shall be justified (Targ. Isaiah 45:25); with the Memra Israel stands in communion (Targ. Joshua 22:24,27); in the Memra man puts his trust (Targ. Genesis 15:6; Targ. Yer. to Exodus 14:31; Jeremiah 39:18, 49:11).


Like the Shekinah (comp. Targ. Numbers 23:21), the Memra is accordingly the manifestation of God. "The Memra brings Israel nigh unto God and sits on His throne receiving the prayers of Israel" (Targ. Yer. to Deuteronomy 4:7). It shielded Noah from the flood (Targ. Yer. to Genesis 7:16) and brought about the dispersion of the seventy nations (c. 11:8); it is the guardian of Jacob (Genesis 28:20-21, 35:3) and of Israel (Targ. Yer. to Exodus 12:23,29); it works all the wonders in Egypt (c. 13:8, 14:25); hardens the heart of Pharaoh (c. 13:15); goes before Israel in the wilderness (Targ. Yer. to Exodus 20:1); blesses Israel (Targ. Yer. to Numbers 23:8); battles for the people (Targ. Joshua 3:7, 10:14, 23:3). As in ruling over the destiny of man the Memra is the agent of God (Targ. Yer. to Numbers 27:16), so also is it in the creation of the earth (Isaiah 45:12) and in the execution of justice (Targ. Yer. to Numbers 33:4). So, in the future, shall the Memra be the comforter (Targ. Isaiah 66:13): "My Shekinah I shall put among you, My Memra shall be unto you for a redeeming deity, and you shall be unto My Name a holy people" (Targ. Yer. to Leviticus 22:12). "My Memra shall be unto you like a good plowman who takes off the yoke from the shoulder of the oxen"; "the Memra will roar to gather the exiled" (Targ. Hosea 11:5,10). The Memra is "the witness" (Targ. Yer. 29:23); it will be to Israel like a father (c. 31:9) and "will rejoice over them to do them good" (c. 32:41). "In the Memra the redemption will be found" (Targ. Zechariah 12:5). "The holy Word" was the subject of the hymns of Job (Test. of Job, 12:3, ed. Kohler).

The Logos.

It is difficult to say how far the rabbinical concept of the Memra, which is used now as a parallel to the divine Wisdom and again as a parallel to the Shekinah, had come under the influence of the Greek term "Logos," which denotes both word and reason, and, perhaps owing to Egyptian mythological notions, assumed in the philosophical system of Heraclitos, of Plato, and of the Stoa the metaphysical meaning of world-constructive and world-permeating intelligence (see Reizenstein, "Zwei Religionsgeschichtliche Fragen," 1901, pp. 83-111; comp. Aall, "Der Logos," and the Logos literature given by Schürer, "Gesch." 1:3,542-544). The Memra as a cosmic power furnished Philo the corner-stone upon which he built his peculiar semi-Jewish philosophy. Philo's "divine thought," "the image" and "first-born son" of God, "the archpriest," "intercessor," and "paraclete" of humanity, the "arch type of man" (see See Philo), paved the way for the Christian conceptions of the Incarnation ("the Word become flesh") and the Trinity. The Word which "the unoriginated Father created in His own likeness as a manifestation of His own power" appears in the Gnostic system of Marcus (Irenæus, "Adversus Hæreses," 1:14). In the ancient Church liturgy, adopted from the Synagogue, it is especially interesting to notice how often the term "Logos," in the sense of "the Word by which God made the world, or made His Law or Himself known to man," was changed into "Christ" (see "Apostolic Constitutions," 7:25-26,34-38, et al.). Possibly on account of the Christian dogma, rabbinic theology, outside of the Targum literature, made little use of the term "Memra." Logos.

  • Bousset, Die Religion des Judenthums im Neutestamentlichen Zeitalter, 1903, p. 341;
  • Weber, Jüdische Theologie, 1897, pp. 180-184.
Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Memra'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​m/memra.html. 1901.
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