From the Bahir to the Zohar
- First book of "real" Kabbalah; i.e., to employ symbolism of Ten Sefirot as divine attributes (as distinct from Sefer Yetzirah's use of the term to designate numbers). Keneset Israel (midrashic personification of the Jewish people) is equated with the Sheikhinah, the Divine Presence, though in rabbinic tradition they were two distinct concepts.
- Pseudepigraphic work, in style of classical midrash.
- Fictitious names of Talmudic rabbis.
- Frequent use of parables
- Traditional ascription to Rabbi Nehunia ben Ha-Kanah, a Talmudic rabbi who figured prominently in the Heikhalot tradition, probably due to his strange name ("son of the reed/staff/stick" ?). The historical Rabbi Nehunia had no evident link to esoteric activity.
- Sefer Ha-Bahir is unstructured and apparently incomplete, though it appears to have been so since its first appearance.
- Author and origin unknown. It appeared in Provence in the late 12th century. It seems to have been composed shortly before that. Portions appear to have been compiled by the German Pietists, who appear to have made use of "Oriental" sources, notably the "Raza Rabba."
- Initial school of Kabbalists were cautious about not publishing their teachings; known only from later traditions.
Important names include:
- Rabbi Abraham ben Isaac of Narbonne, author of the important halakhic compendium, Sefer ha-Eshkol
- Rabbi Abraham ben David (the Ravad, son-in-law of the above) of Posquieres, important halakhic scholar known for his critical glosses on Maimonides' Code.
It is doubtful whether Scholem was correct in discerning Kabbalistic ideas at the root of some of his glosses.
- Jacob "Nazir," head of an ascetic circle devoted to full-time study.
- Isaac the Blind, son of Ravad: known exclusively as a Kabbalist. Produced many students in Provence and Spain. Strongly opposed increasing leniency in public teaching of Kabbalah.
Provence as a crossroads
of different cultural, intellectual and religious currents that influenced the growth of Kabbalah:
Lying between the Islamic, Arabic-speaking (Sefaradic) and the Latin Christian (French and Ashkenazic) worlds, Provence established itself as the center through which the Arabic writings of the important Jewish philosophers--especially Saadia Ga'on and Maimonides--were transmitted to northern Europe, especially through the translations of the Ibn Tibbon family in Marseilles.
- Kabbalah established itself as a conservative alternative to potentially destructive elements of Jewish rationalism-- especially the latter's failure to provide persuasive justifications for Jewish ritual observance and national particularism.
- Kabbalah served as a channel for the continuation of Neoplatonic philsophical trends--with its concern for mediating between the one spiritual God and the multifarious creation by positing complex theories of gradual emanation.
Neoplatonism had been largely displaced as a Jewish philosophy by Aristotelianism, as championed by Maimonides.
This gnostic, dualistic version of Christianity thrived in Provence until its extermination by the Church. Although there are some general affinities between Catharism and Kabbalah, it has been difficult to identify specific parallels.
Exerted influence through Bahir (see above); meditations on Divine Glory (Holy Cherub); popularity of letter- and number- mysticism, etc.
With spread of Kabbalah to Spain, different varieties emerge, including:
- Speculative, philosophical (Neoplatonic)
- Fluid and variegated interpretations of the doctrine of the Ten Sefirot
- Speculations on Divine Names, "13 Attributes," throne, etc.--without reference to the Sefirot
- Most prominent figure was Rabbi Moses ben Nahman (Nahmanides, Ramban, 1194-1270). who incorporated Kabbalistic allusions into his Commentary to the Pentateuch (introduced as "according to the way of truth"), and some of his treatises, liturgical poems and a homily--but never in his Talmudic or halakhic works.
Nahmanides limited himself to cryptic references (often quotes from the Bahir) that could not be understood by non-Kabbalists. This method was nevertheless criticized by Isaac the Blind, as violating the requirement if secrecy.
Spanish Types of Mysticism other than the Zohar:
- Non-Kabbalistic speculative mystics:
- Isaac Ibn Latif (heavily influenced by Neoplatonic philosophy)
- Abraham Abulafia: Prophetic Kabbalah. Abulafia believed, developing ideas of Maimonides, that through medidation, individuals can connect to the "Absolute intellect" and achieve prophetic inspiration.
Developed system of meditation focusing on letter combinations.
- Gnostics (e.g., Isaac Ha-Kohen).
- Systematic Kabbalists: e.g., Joseph Gikatilla, dealt with theology (Ginnat Ha'egoz) and symbolism (Sha'arei Orah) of the Kabbalah.
- Composed (principally, at least) by Rabbi Moses de Leon of Guadalajara, Spain, around 1280-86.
According to Y. Liebes, the Zohar may have been the work of a "school" of Kabbalists, incorporating heterogeneous traditions.
- Claims to be midrash from Talmudic era, to Pentateuch, Song of Songs, Ruth and Lamentations.
Claimed to be copied from ancient manuscript in his possession.
- Effective use of Midrashic literary forms, especially proems (Petihta).
- Adoption of Aramaic dialect of Targums (ancient Biblical translations), rather than more familiar dialect of the Babylonian Talmud.
- Narrative structure: School of mystics led by Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai wander about Gallilean countryside exchanging secret interpretations."Exotic" characters; e.g., "Yanuka" the child prodigy.
Choice of Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai, in spite of the fact that he does not figure in mystical traditions in Talmudic or Heikhalot literature, apparently alludes to the Talmudic legend (TB Shabbat 33b) about his hiding in a cave for twelve years studying Torah, emerging in an excessively spiritual state.
- Earliest stratum is Midrash ha-Ne'elam (Secret Midrash), in Hebrew.
- "Zoharic Literature"-- Later works presented as sections of the Zohar and incorporated into most editions of the Zohar: Ra'ayah Meheimana and Tiqqunim present radical (by the same unidentified author) present a radical positions that challenges the legitimacy of non-Kabbalistic streams of Judaism.
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