The Cabala (1)

19.07.2015 11:01



The Cabala.--By Cabala we understand that system of religious philosophy, or more properly, of Jewish theosophy, which played so important a part in the theological and exegetical literature of both Jews and Christians ever since the Middle Ages.

The Hebrew word Cabala (from Kibbel) properly denotes "reception," then "a doctrine received by oral tradition." The term is thus in itself nearly equivalent to "transmission, like the Latin traditio, in Hebrew masorah, for which last, indeed, the Talmud makes it interchangeable in the statement given in Pirke Abot I, 1: "Moses received (kibbel) the Law on Mount Sinai, and transmitted (umsarah) it to Joshua." The difference, however, between the word "Cabala" and the cognate term masorah is that the former expressed "the act of receiving," while the latter denotes "the act of giving over, surrendering, transmitting." The name, therefore,

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tells us no more than that this theosophy has been received traditionally. In the oldest Jewish literature (Mishna, Midrash, Talmud), the Cabala denotes the whole body of Jewish tradition. The name is even applied to the prophetic writings of the Old Testament, and the Hagiographa, in contradistinction to the Pentateuch. As a scientific system the Cabala is also called chokmat ha-cabalah, i.e., science of tradition, or chokmah nistarah (abbreviated ch’n, i.e., chen, ‏חן‎), i.e., secret science or wisdom, and its representatives and adherents delighted in calling themselves; maskilim, i.e., "intelligent," or with a play of words yodé ch’n, i.e., "connoisseurs of secret wisdom."

Having defined the term Cabala, which was still commonly used for "oral tradition" in the 13th and 14th centuries even after the technical sense of the word was established, we must be careful to distinguish between cabala and mysticism. Like other Eastern nations, the Jews were naturally inclined to theosophical speculation and though this tendency may have been repressed by the definite teaching of revelation as long as they were confined within the sacred boundaries of Palestine, it found a freer scope after the Exile.

There were two subjects about which the Jewish imagination especially busied itself,--the

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history of the Creation, and the Merkabah, or the Divine apparition to Ezekiel. Both touch the question of God's original connection with His creatures, and that of His continued intercourse with them. They treat of the mystery of nature and of Providence, especially of Revelation; and an attempt is made to answer the question, how the Infinite God can have any connection or intercourse with finite creatures.

It is difficult to say how far it is possible to trace with certainty Jewish mysticism. Even in the book of Sirach (Ecclus, xlix. 8) it is the special praise of Ezekiel that he saw the chariot of the Cherubim. When we come to the period of the Mishna, we find the existence of a body of esoteric doctrine already presupposed. It is laid down that "no one ought to discourse the history of Creation (Gen. i) with two, or the Chariot (Ezek. i) with one, unless he be a scholar, who has knowledge of his own" (Chagiga II, 1) .

Further allusions to these mysterious doctrines occur in the Talmud, but any rash investigation of them was discouraged, as is shown by the story of the four sages in "the enclosed garden," i.e., who were engaged in theosophical studies. One of them, it was said, had looked around and died; another had looked around and lost his reason; a third eventually tried to destroy the

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garden; 1 while the fourth alone had entered and returned in safety (Chagiga, fol. 14, col. 2).

Little by little mysticism made its way from Palestine into Babylonia and found many followers. Its adepts called themselves "Men of Faith." They boasted of possessing the means of obtaining a view of the divine household. By virtue of certain incantations, invocations of the names of God and the angels, and the recitation of certain prayer-like chants, combined with fasting and an ascetic mode of living, they pretended to be able to perform supernatural deeds. For this purpose they made use of amulets and cameos (Kameoth), and wrote upon them the names of God and the angels with certain signs. Miracle-working was a trifle to these mystics. The books which they wrote only gave hints, and only those were initiated into the mystic secrets, in whose hand and forehead the adepts pretended to discover lines that proved them to be worthy of being initiated.

Origin of the Cabala.--Deferring until later


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the works belonging to this period, we will now speak of the origin of the Cabala. Although the name "Cabala" in its pregnant meaning is first used in the 13th century, yet Jewish tradition claims a high antiquity for the Cabala and traces it back, among others, to three famous Talmudists, as the proper founders of the Cabala, viz., Rabbi Ismaël ben Elisa (about 121 A. D.); Nechunjah Ben-Ha-Kanah (about 70 A. D.), and especially Simon ben Jochaï (about 150 A. D.), 2 the reputed author of the Zohar.

Whatever may be the claims of these traditions they must be rejected. The mystical speculations of the Cabala are entirely foreign to older Judaism, especially original Mosaism. It is true that the Talmud contains many things concerning God, heaven, hell, world, magic, etc., 3 but these things were generally assigned to some individuals, and are elements derived from Parsism and neo-Platonism; and much as the Talmud and Midrash may otherwise speak of the three teachers mentioned before, such things are not recorded of them. The Cabala as a mystical system and its development as such undoubtedly belongs to the Middle Ages, beginning probably with the seventh century of our era, and culminating



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in the Book Zohar. A fuller and more mature development of the Cabala is due to the speculations of later masters.

The origin of the Cabala belongs to that period in which Judaism on the one hand was permeated by a crude anthropomorphic notion of the Deity, whereas on the other hand Platonism and Aristotelianism strove for the ascendency in formulating the fundamental doctrines of Jewish belief. With Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) rationalism had reached its climax. The injunctions of the Bible were only to be explained by the light of reason. Only the simple, primary or literary sense (peshat) of the Scripture was recognized, the existing allegorical interpretation (derúsh) was considered either as rabbinical fancy, or one saw in it only a poetical form. Even the Talmud had been systematized and codified. Religion had become a more or less meaningless opus operatum. Philosophy had always been treated as something secondary, which had nothing to do with practical Judaism, as it is daily and hourly practiced. Maimonides, on the other hand, had introduced it into the holiest place in Judaism, and, as it were, gave Aristotle a place next to the doctors of the Law. Instead of unifying Judaism, Maimonides caused a division, and the Maimunists and Anti-Maimunists opposed each other. A reaction came and the

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[paragraph continues] Cabala stepped in as a counterpoise to the growing shallowness of the Maimunists' philosophy. The storm against his system broke out in Provence and spread over Spain. The latter country may be considered as the real home of the Cabala. When the Jews were driven from that country, the Cabala took root in Palestine and thence it was carried back into the different countries of Europe.

The fundamental ideas of the Cabala are un-Jewish, derived from Philo, the neo-Platonists and the neo-Pythagoreans; we sometimes even notice Gnostic influences. But the close amalgamation of these different elements with Biblical and Midrashic ideas has given to these foreign parts such a Jewish coloring, that at the first glance they appear as an emanation of the Jewish mental life.


12:1 In the Talmud he is called Elisha ben-Abuja, surnamed Acher, i.e., "the other one," after his apostasy from Judaism. It is related of him that while attending the Jewish college he had often been noticed to carry with him writings of the "Minim" (probably of Gnostics), and that he had even been in the habit of quoting Greek poetry. Elisha was a pupil of the famous rabbi Akiba; comp. Jellinek, Elisha ben-Abujja, genannt Acker, Leipsic, 1847.

13:2 See my article s.v. in McClintock and Strong's Cyclop., Vol. IX, p. 757.

13:3 The reader is referred for such things to my article "Talmud," loc. cit., Vol. X, pp. 170, 171.






Pre-Zohar Period.--The history of the Cabala comprises a period of nearly a thousand years. Its beginning may be traced back to the seventh century, whereas its last shoots belong to the eighteenth century. For convenience' sake we can distinguish two periods, the one reaching from the seventh to the thirteenth century, the other from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century. The former is the time of gradual growth, development and progress, the other that of decline and decay. The origin of the Zohar in the thirteenth century forms the climax in the history of the Cabala. It became the treasury to the followers of this theosophy, a text-book for the students of the Cabala, the standard and code of the cabalistic system, the Bible of the Cabalists.

From the seventh to the ninth century we meet with the representatives of the mysteries of

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the merkaba1 which is expounded in the so-called Hekaloth, i.e., "Palaces." This work, which is ascribed to Ismaël ben-Elisa, opens with a description of God's throne and his household consisting of angelic hosts. In this mystical production, which has been reprinted by Jellinek in Bet ha-Midrash, Vol. III, pp. 83-108, the praises of the Almighty God and his chariot throne are celebrated. We are told that each of the seven heavenly palaces is guarded by eight angels; a description of the formula is given by virtue of which these angelic guards are obliged to grant admission into the celestial palaces; also a description of the peculiar qualifications necessary for those who desire to enter into these palaces. Some hymns of praise and a conversation with God, Israel and the angels conclude this treatise, which like the Shiur Kama or the treatise on "the Dimensions of the Deity," also ascribed to Rabbi Ismaël, knows nothing of the speculations of the En Soph, the ten Sephiroth and the doctrine of the Transmigration of Souls.

Another work belonging to this period is the


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[paragraph continues] Othijoth de Rabbi Akiba, i.e., "the Alphabet of Rabbi Akiba," which alternately treats each letter of the Hebrew alphabet "as representing an idea as an abbreviation for a word, and as the symbol of some sentiment, according to its peculiar form, in order to attach to those letters moral, theoanthropic, angelological and mystical notions." This treatise is also given in Jellinek's work, cited above, Vol. III, pp. 12-49, Leipsic, 1855. A Latin translation of Akiba's Alphabet is given by Kircher, in his Œdipus Ægyptiacus2 and in Bartolocci's Bibliotheca Rabbinica3

Bodenschatz in his Kirchliche Verfassung der heutigen Juden, (Erlangen, 1748) gives in Part III, p. 15, the following specimen: "On the words: 'The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart' (Ps. xxxiv, 18) we read: 'All who are of a broken heart are more agreeable before God than the ministering angels, because the ministering angels are remote from the divine Majesty 360,000,000 miles, as it is said in Is. vi. 2: "Above it stood the Seraphim" (mimaal lo), where the word to by way of gematria means 36,000. This teaches us that the body of the divine Majesty is 2,000,000,336,000 miles long. From his loins upward are 1,000,000,180,000 miles, and from his loins downward 118 times 10,000 miles. But these miles are not like ours,



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but like his (God's) miles. For his mile is 1,000,000 ells long, and his ell contains four spans and a hand's breadth, and his span goes from one end of the world to the other, as is said Is. x. 12: "Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span?" Another explanation is that the words "and meted out heaven with the span" denote that the heaven and the heaven of all heavens is only one span long, wide and high, and that the earth with all the abysses is as long as the sole of the foot, and wide as the sole of the foot, etc., etc.'"

Another part of Akiba's Alphabet is the so-called "Book of Enoch," 4 which describes the glorification of Enoch and his transformation into the angel Metatron, regarding him as "the little God" in contradistinction to "the Great God."

These mystical treatises came into existence in the course of time, and their teachings rapidly spread. So numerous became the disciples of mysticism in the twelfth century that Maimonides found it necessary to denounce the system. "Give no credence to the nonsense of the writers of charms and amulets, to what they tell you or to what you find in their foolish writings about the divine names; which they invent without any


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sense, calling them appellations of the Deity, and affirming that they require holiness and purity and perform miracles. All these things are fables; a sensible man will not listen to them, much less believe in them." 5

A new stage in the development of the Cabala commences with the publication of The Book of Creation or Jezirah, which is the first work that comprises the philosophical speculations of the age in one systematic whole. Scholars are now agreed that the Book of Jezirah belongs to the eighth or ninth centuries, and that it has nothing to do with the Jezirah-Book mentioned in the Talmud, where we are told that "Rabbis Hanina and Oshaya studied it every Friday, whereby they produced a calf three years old and ate it" (Sanhedrin, fol. 65, col. 2), and whereby Rabbi Joshua ben Hananya declared he could take fruit and instantly produce the trees which belong to them (Jerusalem Sanhedrin, chapt. VII towards the end). 6



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The Sepher Jezirah as we now have it, is properly a monologue on the part of Abraham, in which, by the contemplation of all that is around him, he ultimately arrived at the conviction of the Unity of God. Hence the remark of the philosopher Jehudah Halevi (born about 1086)--"the Book of the Creation, which belongs to our father Abraham . . . . . . demonstrates the existence of the Deity and the Divine Unity, by things which are on the one hand manifold and multifarious, whilst on the other hand they converge and harmonize; and this harmony can only proceed from One who originated it" (Khozari, IV, 25).

Referring the reader to the literature on the Sepher Jezirah to Goldschmidt's book, pp. 35-46, 7 we will state that the Book of Creation consists of six Perakim or chapters, subdivided into thirty-three very brief Mishnahs or sections, as follows: the first chapter has twelve sections, the second has five, the third five, the fourth four, the fifth three, and the sixth four sections. The doctrines which the book propounds are delivered in the style of aphorisms or theorems, and, pretending to be the dicta of Abraham, are laid down very dogmatically, in a manner becoming the authority of this patriarch, who, according


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to Artapanus instructed King Pharethothes of Egypt in astrology (Eusebius, Praep. evang., IX, 18); fulfilled the whole law, before it was given (Apoc. Baruch, chap. 57; Kiddushin, IV, 14 fin.), and victoriously overcame ten temptations 8 (Pirke Aboth, V, 3).

Theosophical Arithmetic.--The book opens with the statement that ''by thirty-two paths of secret wisdom, the Eternal, the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel the living God, the King of the Universe, the Merciful and Gracious, the High and Exalted God, He who inhabits eternity, Glorious and Holy is His name, bath created the world by means of number, word and writing (or number, numberer, numbered)" I. 1.--The book shows why there are just thirty-two of these. By an analysis of this number it seeks to exhibit, in a peculiar method of theosophical arithmetic, on the assumption that they are the signs of existence and thought, the doctrine that God produced all, and is over all, the universe being a development of original entity, and existence being but thought become concrete; "in short, that instead of the heathenish or popular Jewish conception of the world as outward, or co-existent with Deity,


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it is co-equal in birth, having been brought out of nothing by God, thus establishing a Pantheistic system of emanation, of which, principally because it is not anywhere designated by name, one would think the writer was not himself quite conscious."

The following will illustrate the curious proof of this argumentation: the number 32 is the sum of 10, the number of the ten fingers (I, 3), and 22, the number of the Hebrew alphabet, this latter being afterwards further resolved into 3 + 7 + 12 (I, 2). The first chapter (I, 2-8 treats of the decade and its elements, which are called figures in contradistinction from the 22 letters. This decade is the sign-manual of the universe. In the details of this hypothesis the existence of divinity in the abstract is really ignored, though not formally denied. Thus the number one is its spirit as an active principle, in which all worlds and beings are yet enclosed. "One is the spirit of the living God, blessed and again blessed be the Name of Him, Who liveth for ever--Voice and Spirit and Word, and this is the Holy Ghost" (I, 9).

Two is the spirit from this spirit, i.e., the active principle in so far as it has beforehand decided on creating; "in it He engraved the twenty-two letters" (I, 10).

Three is water; four is fire; "in it He hewed

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the throne of glory, the Ophanim 9 and Seraphim, the sacred living creatures, and the angels of service, and of these three He founded His dwelling place, as it is said, He maketh His angels breaths, and His ministers a flaming fire (I, 11, 12). The six remaining figures, 5-10, are regarded severally as the sign-manual of height, depth, east, west, north and south, forming the six sides of a cube, and representing the idea of form in its geometrical perfection (I, 13).

In the words of the Book of Creation the hexade is thus described: "Five: Three letters from out the simple ones; He sealed spirit on the three, and fastened them in His great Name J H V. 10 And He sealed with them six outgoings (ends, terminations); He turned upwards, and He sealed it with J H V. Six: He sealed below, turned downwards, and sealed it with J V H. Seven: He sealed eastward, He turned in front of Him, and sealed it with H J V. Eight: He sealed westward and turned behind, and sealed it with H V J. Nine: He sealed southward, and turned to His right, and sealed it with V J H. Ten: He sealed northward, and turned to His left, and sealed it with V H J. These are the Sephiroth: (1) Spirit of the living God, and (2)



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wind [air or spirit?] 11 (3) water, and (4) fire; and (5) height above and (6) below, (7) east and (8) west, (9) north and (10) south."

[Sephiroth is the plural of the word Sephirah. Azariel derives the word from saphar, "to number"; later Cabalists derive it either from saphir, "Saphir," or from the Greek "spheres," 12 and are not at all certain whether to regard the Sephiroth as "principles," 13 or as "substances," 14 or as "potencies, powers," 15 or as "intelligent worlds," 16 or as "attributes," or as "entities," 17 or as "organs of the Deity" (Kelim). We might fairly well translate the word Sephiroth by "emanations."]

We see, however, that this alone establishes








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nothing real, but merely expounds the idea of possibility or actuality, at the same time establishing that which is virtualiter as really existing in God, the foundation of all things, from which the whole universe proceeded. The actual entities are therefore introduced in the subsequent chapters under the twenty-two letters. The connection between the two series is evidently the Word, which in the first Sephira (number) is yet identical in voice and action with the spirit (I, 9); but afterwards these elements, separating as creator and substance, together produce the world, the materials of which are represented by the letters, severally divided into gutturals, labials, palatals, linguals and dentals (II, 3), since these by their manifold manifestations, name and describe all that exists.

These twenty-two letters of the alphabet are then divided into three groups, consisting respectively of:

1. The three mothers or fundamental letters (ch. III);

2. Seven double (ch. IV), and

3. Twelve simple consonants (ch. V).

First are subtracted from the twenty-two letters the three mothers (Aleph, Mem, Shin), i.e., the universal relations of (1) principle, (2) contrary principle, and (3) balance (i.e., the intermediate).

In the world

we have air, water, fire. This p. 27 means, the heavens are from fire, the earth from water, and the air indicates the intermediate between the fire and the water.

In the year

there is fire, and water, and wind. The heat comes from fire, cold from water, and moderation from wind (air) that is intermediate between them.

In man

there is fire, water and wind. The head is from fire, the belly from water, and the body from wind that is intermediate between them,

The three mothers or fundamental letters are followed by the seven duplicate letters--Beth, Gimel, Daleth, Caph, Pe, Resh, Tau 18--duplicate, because they are opposite as life and death; peace and evil; wisdom and folly; riches and poverty; grace and ugliness; fertility and desolation; rule and servitude (IV, 1): These seven duplicate letters correspond to the seven outgoings: above and below, east and west, north and south, and the holy Temple in the middle, and it upbears the whole (IV, 2). From them God created:


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In the world.

Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon.

In man

Wisdom, Riches, Dominion, Life, Favor, Progeny, Peace.

In the year

Sabbath, Thursday, Tuesday, Sunday, Friday, Wednesday, Monday.

With these seven letters God also formed the seven heavens, the seven earths or countries, and the seven weeks from the feast of Passover to Pentecost (IV, 3, 4). These letters also represent the seven gates of issue in the soul; two eyes, two ears, and a mouth, and the two nostrils.

Turning finally to the twelve single letters (ch. V), they show the relations of things so far as they can be apprehended in a universal category. By means of these twelve letters God created the twelve signs of the zodiac, viz.:

In the world.

Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricornus, Aquarius, Pisces.

In the year

the twelve months, viz.: Nisan, Ijar, Sivan, Tamus, Ab, Elul, Tishri, Cheshvan or Marcheshvan, Kislev, Tebet, Shebat, Adar.

In man

the organs of sight, hearing, smelling, talking, taste, copulating, dealing, walking, thinking, p. 29 anger, laughter, sleeping (ch. V, 1).

They are so organized by God as to form at once a province, and yet be ready for battle, i.e., they are as well fitted for harmonious as for dissentious action. "God has placed in all things one to oppose the other; good to oppose evil, good to proceed from good, and evil from evil; good to purify evil, and evil to purify good; the good is in store for the good, and the evil is reserved for the evil" (VI, 2). "The twelve are arranged against each other in battle array; three serve love, three hatred; three engender life, and three death. The three loving ones are the heart, the ears and the mouth; the three hating ones: the liver, the gall, and the tongue; but God the faithful King, rules over all three systems. One (i.e., God) is over the three; the three are over the seven; the seven are over the twelve, and all are joined together, the one with the other" (VI, 3).

We also learn that the twenty-two letters, though a small number, by their power of "combination" and "transposition," yield an endless number of words and figures, and thus become the types of all the varied phenomena in the creation. "Just as the twenty-two letters yield two hundred and thirty-one types by combining Aleph (i.e., the first letter) with all the letters,

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and all the letters with Beth (i e., the second letter), so all the formations and all that is spoken proceed from one name" (ch. II, 4). To illustrate how these different types are obtained we will state that by counting the first letter with the second, the first letter with the third and so on with all the rest of the alphabet, we obtain 21 types; by combining the second letter with the third, fourth, etc., we get 20 types; the third letter combined with the fourth, etc., yields 19 types; finally the twenty-first combined with the last letter yields 1 type. In this way we get as the Hebrew table shows: 21 + 20 + 19 + 18 + 17  + 16 + 15 + 14 + 13 + 12 + 11 + 10 + 9 + 8 + 7  + 6 + 5 + 4 + 3 + 2 + 1 = 231; or


ab ag ad ah av az ach at ai ah al am an as etc.
bg bd bh bv bz bch bt bi bk bl bm bn bs etc.
gd gh gv gz gch gt gi gk gl gm gn gs etc.
dh dv dz dch dt di dk dl dm dn ds etc.
hv hz hch ht hi hk hl hm hn hs etc


The infinite variety in creation is still more strikingly exhibited by permutations, of which the Hebrew alphabet is capable, and through which an infinite variety of types is obtained. Hence the remark: "Two letters form two houses, three letters build six houses, four build twenty-four, five build a hundred and twenty houses, six build seven hundred and twenty

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houses; 19 and from thenceforward go out and think what the mouth cannot utter and the ear cannot hear" (IV, 4). A few examples may serve as illustration. Two letters form two houses, by using the first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, a b20 in the following manner:

1 = ab

2 = ba

[paragraph continues] Three letters, a, b, g21 build six houses, namely:

1 = abg; 2 = agb; 3 = bag; 4 = bga;

5 = gab; 6 = gba.

Four letters, a, b, g, d, 22 build twenty-four houses, viz.:

1 = abgd

13 = gabd

2= abdg

14 = gadb

3 = agbd

15 = gbad

4 = agdb

16 = gbda

5 = adbg

17 = gdab

6 = adgb

18 = gdba

7 = bagd

19 = dabg

8 = badg

20 = dagb

9 = bgad

21 = dbag

10 = bgda

22 = dbga

11 = bdag

23= dgab

12 = bdga

24 = dgba





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The Book of Creation closes with the statement: "And when Abraham our father had beheld, and considered, and seen, and drawn, and hewn, and obtained it, then the Lord of all revealed Himself to him, and called him His friend, and made a covenant with him and with his seed; and he believed in Jehovah, and it was computed to him for righteousness. He made with him a covenant between the ten toes, and that is circumcision; between the ten fingers of his hand, and that is the tongue; and He bound two-and-twenty letters on his tongue, and showed him their foundation. He drew them with water, He kindled them with fire, He breathed them with wind (air); He burnt them in seven; He poured them forth in the twelve constellations" (ch. VI, 4).

Romantic Cosmology.--The examination of the contents of the Book of Jezirah proves that it has as yet nothing in common with the cardinal doctrines of the Cabala, as exhibited in later works, especially in the "Lobar, where speculations about the being and nature of the Deity, the En Soph 23 and the Sephiroth, which are the essence of the Cabala, are given.


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To the period of the Book of Jezirah belongs the remarkable work which in the Amsterdam edition of 1601 is entitled: "This is the book of the first man, which was given to him by the angel Raziel." In this work the angel Raziel appears as the bearer and mediator of astrological and astronomical secrets, and shows the influence of the planets upon the sublunary world. To the same period belongs the Midrash Konen, a kind of romantic cosmology (newly translated into German by Wünsche in Israels Lehrhallen, III, Leipsic, 1909, pp. 170-201).

With the thirteenth century begins the crystallization of the Cabala, and Isaac the Blind (flourished 1190-1210) may be regarded as the originator of this lore. The doctrines of the Sephiroth 24 taught in the Book Jezirah are further developed by his pupils, especially by Rabbi Azariel (died 1238), in his "Commentary on the Ten Sephiroth, by Way of Questions and Answers," an analysis of which is given in Jellinek's Beiträge zur Geschichte der Kabbalah, Leipsic, 1852, Part II, p. 32 f. In this commentary


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[paragraph continues] Azariel lays down the following propositions:

1. The primary cause and governor of the world is the En Soph (i.e., a being infinite, boundless), who is both immanent and transcendent.

2. From the En Soph emanated the Sephiroth which are the medium between the absolute En Soph and the real world.

3. There are ten intermediate Sephiroth.

4. They are emanations and not creations.

5. They are both active and passive.

6. The first Sephirah is called "Inscrutable Height" (rum maalah): the second, "Wisdom" (chokma); the third, "Intelligence" (binah); the fourth, "Love" (chesed); the fifth, "Justice" (pachad); the sixth, "Beauty" (tipheret); the seventh, "Firmness" (nezach); the eighth, "Splendor" (hod); the ninth, "the Righteous in the Foundation of the World" (zadik yesod olam); and the tenth, "Righteousness" (zedaka).

The first three Sephiroth form the world of thought; the second three the world of the soul; and the four last the world of body--thus corresponding to the intellectual, moral and natural worlds.

That Isaac the Blind must be regarded as "the Father of the Cabala," is acknowledged by some of the earliest and most intelligent Cabalists

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themselves. And the author of the cabalistic work entitled Maarecheth haelohuth, said to be a certain Perez of the second part of the thirteenth century, frankly declares that "the doctrine of the En Soph and the Ten Sephiroth is neither to be found in the Law, Prophets, or Hagiographa, nor in the writings of the Rabbins of blessed memory, but rests solely upon signs which are scarcely perceptible."

Another remarkable book of this period is the Sepher Bahir, or Midrash of Nehunjah ben-ha-Kanah. According to this work, long before the creation God caused a metaphysical matter to proceed, which became a fulness (melo) of blessing and salvation for all forms of existence. The ten divine emanations, which are not yet called Sephiroth, but Maamarim and appear as categories endowed with creative power, are connected with the attributes (middoth) of God as well as with his fingers and other members.

The doctrine of metempsychosis is already given here in its most important features. The work itself, though ascribed to Nehunjah is of much later date, because it speaks of the Hebrew vowels and accents. Only a part of the Bahir book has been published, first at Amsterdam, 1651; then again at Berlin, 1706. The greater part is still in manuscript in the libraries at Paris and Leyden.

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The conversion of the famous Talmudist and scholar Moses Nachmanides 25 (1194-1270) to the newly-born Cabala gave to it an extraordinary importance and rapid spread amongst his numerous followers. In the division of the synagogues caused by the writings of Maimonides, Nachmanides took the part of the latter, probably more on account of the esteem he felt for this great man than for any sympathy with his opinions. Maimonides intended to give Judaism a character of unity, but he produced the contrary. His aim was to harmonize philosophy and religion, but the result was a schism in the synagogue, which gave birth to this queer kind of philosophy called Cabala, and to this newly-born Cabala Nachmanides became converted, though he was at first decidedly adverse to this system.

One day the Cabalist who was most zealous to convert him was caught in a house of ill-fame, and condemned to death. He requested Nachmanides to visit him on the Sabbath, the day fixed for his execution. Nachmanides reproved him for his sins, but the Cabalist declared his innocence, and that he would partake with him of the Sabbath meal. According to the story, he did as he promised, as by means of the Cabalistic mysteries he effected his escape, and an ass was


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executed in his stead, and he himself was suddenly transported into Nachmanides's house! From that time Nachmanides became a disciple of the Cabala, and was initiated into its mysteries, the tenets of which pervade his numerous writings, especially his commentary on the Pentateuch.

To the first half of the twelfth century belongs the Massecheth Aziluth or "the Treatise on the Emanations," supposed to have been written by Rabbi Isaac Nasir. From the analysis given by Jellinek (Auswahl kabbalistischer Mystik, Part I, Leipsic, 1853) we learn that the prophet Elijah propounded that

1. "God at first created light and darkness, the one for the pious and the other for the wicked, darkness having come to pass by the divine limitation of light.

2. "God produced and destroyed sundry worlds, which, like ten trees planted upon a narrow space, contend about the sap of the soil, and finally perish altogether.

3. "God manifested himself in four worlds, viz., Azila, Beriah, Jezirah and Asiah, corresponding to the four letters of his name J H V H. In the Azilatic luminous world is the divine Majesty, the Shechinah. In the Beriatic world are the souls of the pious, all the blessings, the throne of God, who sits on it in the form of Achteriël

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[paragraph continues] (the crown of God, the first Sephira Keter), and the seven different luminous and splendid regions. In the Jeziratic world are the sacred animals in the vision of Ezekiel, the ten classes of angels with their princes, who are presided over by the fiery Metatron, 26 the spirits of men, and the accessory work of the divine chariot. In the Asilatic world are the Ophanim, the angels who receive the prayers, who are appointed over the will of man, who control the action of mortals, who carry on the struggle against evil, and who are presided over by the angelic prince Synadelphon. 27

4. "The world was founded in wisdom and understanding (Prov. iii. 13), and God in his knowledge originated fifty gates of understanding.

5. "God created the world--as the book Jezirah already teaches--by means of the ten Sephiroth, which are both the agencies and qualities



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of the Deity. The ten Sephiroth are called Crown, Wisdom, Intelligence, Mercy, Fear, Beauty, Victory, Majesty and Kingdom; they are merely ideal and stand above the concrete world" (pp. 2, 3).

The conversion of Todros ben Joseph Halevi Abulafia (1234-1304) to the Cabala, gave to this science a great influence, on account of Abulafia's distinguished position as physician and financier in the court of Sancho IV, King of Castile. The influence of Abulafia, whose works are still in manuscript, can be best seen from the fact that four Cabalists of the first rank ranged themselves under his banner and dedicated their compositions to him. These four Cabalists were Isaac Ibn Latif or Allatif, Abraham Abulafia, Joseph Gikatilla, and Moses de Leon, all Spaniards.

Mysteries of the Cabala.--Isaac Ibn Latif (about 1220-1290), starting with the thought that a philosophical view of Judaism was not the "right road to the sanctuary," endeavored to combine philosophy with Cabala. "He laid more stress than his predecessors on the close connection between the spiritual and the material world--between God and his creation. For the Godhead is in all, and all is in it. In soul-inspiring prayers the human.

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spirit is raised to the world-spirit (sechel hapoel), to which it is united 'in a kiss,' and, so influencing the Deity, it draws down blessings on the sublunar world. But not every mortal is capable of such spiritual and efficacious prayer; therefore the prophets, the most perfect men, were obliged to pray for the people, for they alone knew the power of prayer. The unfolding and revelation of the Deity in the world of spirits, spheres and bodies Allatif explained by mathematical forms. The mutual relation thereof is the same as "that of the point extending and thickening into a line, the line into the plane, the plane into the expanded body."

An enthusiastic contemporary of Allatif was Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia 28 (born at Saragossa, 1240; died 1291) . He was an eccentric personage, full of whims, and fond of adventures. Not satisfied with philosophy, he gave himself to the mysteries of the Cabala in their most fantastic extremes, as the ordinary doctrine of the Sephiroth did not satisfy him. He sought after something higher, for prophetic inspiration. Through it he discovered a higher Cabala, which offered the means of coming into spiritual communion with the Godhead, and of obtaining prophetic insight. To analyze the words of Holy Writ,


p. 41

especially those of the divine name, to use the letters as independent notions (Notaricon), or to transpose the component parts of a word in all possible permutations, so as to form words from them (Tsiruf), or finally to employ the letters as numbers (Gematria), are indeed means of securing communion with the spirit-world; but this alone is not sufficient. To be worthy of a prophetic revelation, one must lead an ascetic life, retire into a quiet closet, banish all earthly cares, clothe himself in white garments, wrap himself up with Talith (i.e., the fringed garment) and Phylacteries, and devoutly prepare his soul, as if for an interview with the Deity. He must pronounce the letters of God's name at intervals, with modulations of the voice, or write them down in a certain order under divers energetic movements, turnings and bendings of the body, till the mind becomes dazed and the heart is filled with a glow. When one has gone through these practices and is in such a condition, the fulness of the Godhead is shed abroad in the human soul: the soul then unites itself with the divine soul in a kiss, and prophetic revelation follows quite naturally. In this way he laid down his Cabala, in antithesis to the superficial or baser Cabala, which occupies itself with the Sephiroth, and, as he gibingly said, erects a sort of "ten unity" instead of the Christian Trinity.

p. 42

Abulafia went to Italy, and in Urbino he published (1279) prophetic writings, in which he records his conversations with God. In 1281 he undertook to convert the Pope, Martin IV, to Judaism. In Messina he imagined that it was revealed to him that he was the Messiah, and announced that the restoration of Israel would take place in 1296. Many believed in him and prepared themselves for returning to the holy land. Others, however, raised such a storm of opposition that Abulafia had to escape to the island of Comino, near Malta (about 1288), where he remained for some time, and wrote sundry Cabalistic works. Of his many works Jellinek published his Rejoinder to Solomon ben Adereth, who attacked his doctrines and pretensions as Messiah and prophet. 29

A disciple of Abulafia was Joseph Gikatilla of Medina-Celi, who died in Penjafiel after 1305. He, too, occupied himself with the mysticism of letters and numbers, and with the transposition of letters. His writings are in reality only an echo of Abulafia's fancies: the same delusion is apparent in both. Gikatilla's system is laid down in his Ginnath egos, i.e., "Garden of Nuts," published at Hanau, 1615; and Shaare ora, i.e., "the Gate of Light," first published at Mantua, 1561,


p. 43

in Cracow, 1600, and translated into Latin by Knorr von Rosenroth in the first part of his Kabbala Denudata, Sulzbach, 1677-78.

But far more influential and more pernicious than Allatif, Abulafia and Gikatilla was Moses de Leon (born in Leon about 1250, died in Arevalo, 1305), the author of a book which gave the Cabala a firm foundation and wide circulation; in brief, raised it to the zenith of its power. This book is known by the name of Zohar or Splendor. At first he published his productions under his own name (about 1285) . But as his writings were not sufficiently noticed, and brought him but little fame and money, he hit upon a much more effective means and commenced the composition of books under feigned but honored names. If he put the doctrines of the Cabala into the mouth of an older, highly venerated authority, he was sure to be successful in every respect. And he selected for this purpose the Tanaite Simon ben Jochaï, 30 who according to tradition spent thirteen years in a cave, solitary and buried in profound reflection, and whom ancient mysticism represented as receiving revelations from the prophet Elijah. Simon ben Jochaï was assuredly the right authority for the Cabala. But he must not write or speak Hebrew, but Chaldee, a language peculiarly fit for secrets, and


p. 44

sounding as if from another world. And thus there came into the world a book, the "Zohar," which for many centuries was held by the Jews as a heavenly revelation, and was studied even by Christians.


17:1 Merkaba, i.e., "Chariot," mentioned in Ezek. i and x, which treat of the Divine Throne, resting on wheels, and carried by sacred animals. Great mysteries are attached by the ancient Jews to all details of this description of the Deity and his surroundings, which in imitation of Maasey Bereshit, i.e., "the work of the hexahemeron" or "cosmogony," is also called Maasey Merkaba, "the Work of the Chariot," a kind of "theosophy."

18:2 Rome, 1652, Vol. II, p. 225 f.

18:3 Vol. IV, pp. 27 f.

19:4 Also reprinted in Jellinek's Bet Ha-Midrash, Vol. II, pp. 114-117.

20:5 More, Nebuchim I, 61. Wünsche thinks that the treatise De Judaicis süperstitionibus by Agobard, bishop of Lyons (died 840), was directed against this mystic tendency.

20:6 L. Goldschmidt, Das Buch der Schöpfung, Frankfurt a. M., 1894, p. 10, remarks: "I am inclined to put the time of the composition of the Book Jezirah into the second century B.C., and assert that it is the same book of the Creation which is mentioned in the Talmud." He is also inclined to make Palestine the place of its composition.

21:7 We may add the English translation of the book by Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Vol. II (1883), pp. 690-695.

22:8 Comp. in general Beer, Leben Abraham's nach Auffassung der jüdischen Sage, Leipsic, 1859; Grünbaum, Neue Beiträge zur semitischen Sagenkunde; 1893, pp. 89-132; Bonwetsch, Die Apokalypse Abrahams, 1897, pp. 41-55.

24:9 Ophanim (‏אופנים‎, plural of ‏אופו‎), translated "wheels" in the English version (Ezek. i. 20), is taken by the Jewish Rabbis to denote "a distinct order of angels," just as Cherubim and Seraphim. Hence the p. 25 Talmudic explanation of Exod. xx, 20, by "Thou shalt not make the likeness of those ministering servants who serve before me in heaven, viz., Ophanim, Seraphim, sacred Chajoth and missive angels," (Rosh ha-Shana, fol. 24, do. 2). Ophan, the prince of this order, is regarded by the ancient sages as identical with the angel Sandalphon, ‏סנדלפון‎ = συνάδελφος, co-brother or fellow-companion of the angel Metabron.

24:10 p. 25 These three letters mean Jahu, or Yahveh, now pronounced Jehovah, of which they are the abbreviation; what follows shows how the permutation of these three letters marks the varied relationship of God to creation in time and space, and at the same time, so to speak, the immanence of His manifestation in it.

25:11 The word ruach means all these.

25:12 σφαῖραι.

25:13 ἀρχαὶ.

25:14 ὑποστάσεις

25:15 δυνάμεις

25:16 κόσμοι νοητικοί.

25:17 Azamoth.

27:18 These letters of the Hebrew Alphabet are called double because they have a double pronunciation, being sometimes aspirated and sometimes not, according to their being with or without the dagesh (i.e., a point in the middle).

31:19 In order to ascertain how often a certain number of letters can be transposed, the product of the preceding number must be multiplied with it, thus:


2 × 1 =


5 × 24 =




3 × 2 =


6 × 120 =




4 × 6 =


7 × 720 =


and so on.


31:20 ‏א‎ ‏ב‎

31:21 ‏א‎ ‏ב‎ ‏ג‎

31:22 ‏א‎ ‏ב‎ ‏ג‎ ‏ד‎

32:23 p. 33 En Soph; ‏אין סוף‎ = ἄπειρος, i.e., "Endless," "Boundless," is the name of the Deity given in the Zohar, where it is said of God (III, 283b) that he cannot be comprehended by the intellect, nor described in words, for there is nothing which can grasp and depict him to us, and as such he is, in a certain sense, not existent (‏אין‎).

33:24 See above.

36:25 See my article s.v. "Nachmanides" in McClintock and Strong's Cyclop.

38:26 The angel who stands behind the throne of God.

38:27 This Synadelphon is no doubt the same as "Sandalphon," the theme of Longfellow's poem of that name, which commences thus:


"Have you read in the Talmud of old,
 In the Legends the Rabbins have told
 Of the limitless realms of the air,
 Have you read it,--the marvelous story
 Of Sandalphon, the Angel of Glory,
 Sandalphon, the Angel of Prayer?"


In a note on page 668 (Boston and New York edition, 1893) it is stated that Longfellow marked certain passages in Stehelin's The Traditions of the Jews, which evidently furnished the material.

40:28 See my article s.v. "Abulafia" (loc. cit., Vol. XI, p. 18); comp. also Günzburg, Der Pseudo-Messias Abraham Abulafia, sein Leben and sein Wirken, Cracow, . 1904.

42:29 Auswahl kabbalistischer Mystic, Part I, pp. 20-25 (German part).

43:30 See my article S. V. in McClintock and Strong's Cyclop., Vol. IX, p. 757.






The Book of Splendor.--The titles of the Zohar vary. It is called "Midrash of Rabbi Simon ben Jochaï," from its reputed author: "Midrash, Let there be Light," from the words in Gen. i. 4; more commonly "Sepher ha-Zohar," from Dan. xii. 3, where the word Zohar is used for "the brightness of the firmament." The title in full is: Sepher ha-Zohar al ha-Torah, me-ish Elohim Kodesh, hu more meod ha-tara R. Simon ben Jochaï, etc., i.e., "The Book of Splendor on the Law, by the very holy and venerable man of God, the Tanaite rabbi Simon ben Jochaï, of blessed memory."

The editio princeps is the one of Mantua (3 vols., 1558-1560) and has often been reprinted. The best edition of the book of Zohar is that by Christian Knorr von Rosenroth, with Jewish commentaries (Sulzbach, 1684, fol.) to which his rare Kabbala Denudata (1677-1684) forms an ample introduction. This edition was reprinted

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with an additional index (Amsterdam, 1714, 1728, 1772, 1805, 3 vols.). Recent editions. of the Zohar were published at Breslau (1866, 3 vols.), Livorno (1877-78, in 7 parts), and Wilna (1882, 3 vols.; 1882-83 in 10 parts, containing many commentaries and additions).

The body of the work takes the form of a commentary of a highly mystic and allegorical character extending over the entire Pentateuch; but the Zohar is not considered complete without the addition of certain appendices attributed to the same author or to some of his personal or successional disciples.

These supplementary portions are:

1. Siphra di Tseniutha, i.e., "The Book of Secrets" or "Mysteries," contained in Vol. II, 176-178. It contains five chapters and is chiefly occupied with discussing the questions involved in the creation. In the second and third chapters the prophet Elijah communicates the secret which he learned in the heavenly school, that before the creation of the world God was unknown to man, but made known his essence after the creation of the world. The history of the creation is represented under the figure of a scale, which adjusts the opposite aspects of God before and after the creation. This portion has been translated into Latin by Rosenroth in the second volume of his Kabbala Denudata (Frankfort-on-the-Main,

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[paragraph continues] 1684; Englished by Mathers, loc. cit., pp. 43-108).

2. Iddera Rabba, i.e., "The Great Assembly," referring to the community or college of Simon's disciples in their conferences for cabalistic discussion. These discussions are chiefly occupied with a description of the form and various members of the Deity; a disquisition on the revelation of the Deity, in his two aspects of the "Aged" and the "Young," to the creation and the universe; as well as on the diverse gigantic members of the Deity, such as the head, the beard, the eyes, the nose, etc., etc.; a dissertion on pneumatology, demonology, etc., etc. This part is generally found in Vol. III, pp. 127b-145a, and has been translated into Latin by Rosenroth, loc. cit., and Englished by Mathers, pp. 109-257.

3. Iddera Zuta, i.e., "The Small Assembly," referring to the few disciples who still assembled for cabalistic discussion towards the end of their master's life or after his decease. It is to a great extent a recapitulation of the Iddera Rabba, and concludes with recording the death of Simon ben Jochaï, the Sacred Light and the medium through whom God revealed the contents of the Zohar. This part is found in Vol. III, 287b-296b, and from the Latin of Rosenroth (Vol. II of the Kabbala Denudata) it has been Englished by Mathers, pp. 259-341.

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To these three larger appendices are added fifteen other minor fragments, viz.:

4. Saba, i.e., "The Aged Man," also called "Saba demishpatim," or "The Discourse of the Aged in Mishpatim," given in II, 94a-114a. "The Aged" is the prophet Elijah who holds converse with Rabbi Simon about the doctrine of metempsychosis, and the discussion is attached to the Sabbatic section called "Mishpatim," i.e., Exod. xxi, l-xxiv. 18.

5. Midrash Ruth, a fragment.

6. Sepher hab-bahir, i.e., "The Book of Clear Light."

7 and 8. Tosephta and Mattanitan, i.e., "Small Additional Pieces," which are found in the three volumes.

9. Raïa mehemna, i.e., "The Faithful Shepherd," found in the second and third volumes. The faithful shepherd is Moses who holds a dialogue with Rabbi Simon, at which not only the prophet Elijah is present, but Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Aaron, David, Solomon, and even God himself make their appearance.

10. Hekaloth, i.e., "The palaces," found in the first and second volumes, treats of the topographical structure of paradise and hell.

11. Sithre Torah, i.e., "The Secrets of the Law."

12. Midrash han-neelam, i.e., "The Concealed

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[paragraph continues] Treatise," in which passages of Scripture are explained mystically. Thus Lot's two daughters are the two proclivities in man, good and evil (I, 110). It also discourses on the properties and destiny of the soul.

13. Raze de Razin, i.e., "Mysteries of Mysteries," contained in II, 70a-75a, is especially devoted to the physiognomy of the Cabala, and the connection of the soul with the body.

14. Midrash Chazith, on the Song of Songs.

15. Maamar to Chazi, a discourse, so entitled from the first words, "Come and see."

16. Yanuka, i.e., "The Youth," given in III, 186a-192a, records the discourses delivered by a young man who according to R. Simon was of superhuman origin.

17. Pekuda, i.e., "Illustrations of the Law."

18. Chibbura Kadmaah, i.e., "The Early Work."

The body of the work is sometimes called Zohar Gadol, "The Great Zohar."

Authorship of the Zohar.--Who is the author of this remarkable book, which has continued to be a text-book up to the present day, for all those who have espoused the doctrines of the Cabala? We have anticipated the answer, but let us see which reasons were adduced by modern scholarship to prove that the Zohar is a forgery of the thirteenth century.

p. 50

Now the Zohar pretends to be a revelation from God communicated through Rabbi Simon ben Jochaï to his select disciples, according to the Iddera Zuta (Zohar III, 287b). This declaration and the repeated representation of Rabbi Simon ben Jochaï, as speaking and teaching throughout the production fixed the authorship upon Rabbi Simon, an opinion maintained not only by Jews for centuries, but even by distinguished Christian scholars. On the other hand it has been clearly demonstrated by such Jewish scholars as Zunz, Geiger, Jellinek, Graetz, Steinschneider, and a host of others, that the Zohar is not the production of Rabbi Simon, but of the thirteenth century, by Moses de Leon (1250-1305). 1 Simon ben Jochaï was a pupil of Rabbi Akiba; but the earliest mention of the book's existence occurs in the year 1290, and the anachronisms of its style and in the facts referred to, together with the circumstance that it speaks of the vowel-points and other Masoretic inventions which are clearly


p. 51

posterior to the Talmud, justify J. Morinus (although too often extravagant in his wilful attempts to depreciate the antiquity of the latter Jewish writings) in asserting that the author could not have lived much before the year 1000 of the Christian era (Exercitationes Biblicae, pp. 358-369). This later view of the authorship is sustained by the following reasons:

1. The Zohar most fulsomely praises its own author, calls him the Sacred Light, and exalts him above Moses, "the faithful Shepherd" (Zohar III, 132b; 144a), while the disciples deify Rabbi Simon, before whom all men must appear (II, 38a).

2. The Zohar quotes and mystically explains the Hebrew vowel-points (I, 16b, 24b; II, 116a; III, 65a), which were introduced later. 2

3. The Zohar (II, 32a) mentions the Crusades, the temporary taking of Jerusalem by the Crusaders from the Infidels, and the retaking of it by the Saracens.

4. The Zohar (III, 212b) records events which transpired A. D. 1264.

5. The doctrine of En-Soph and the Sephiroth, as well as the metempsychosian retribution, were not known before the thirteenth century.

6. The very existence of the Zohar, according to the stanch Cabalist Jehudah Chayoth (about


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[paragraph continues] 1500), was unknown to such distinguished Cabalists as Nachmanides and Ben-Adereth (12351310); the first who mentions it is Todros Abulafia (1234-1306).

7. Isaac of Akko (about 1290) affirms that "The Zohar was put into the world from the head of a Spaniard."

8. The Zohar contains passages which Moses de Leon translated into Aramaic from his works, e.g., the Sepher ha-Rimmon, as Jellinek has demonstrated in his Moses de Leon and sein Verhältniss zum Sohar," Leipsic, 1851, p. 21-36; (see also Graetz, Geschichte der Juden, VII, 498; 2d ed., 1873, p. 477 et seq.).

These are some of the reasons why the Zohar is now regarded as a pseudograph of the thirteenth century, and that Moses de Leon should have palmed the Zohar upon Simon ben Jochaï was nothing remarkable, since this rabbi is regarded by tradition as the embodiment of mysticism. There was also a financial reason, for from the Book Juchasin (pp. 88, 89, 95, ed. Filipowski, London, 1857) we learn that when his wife asked him why he published the production of his own intellect under another man's name, Moses de Leon replied "that if he were to publish it under his own name nobody would buy it, whereas under the name of Rabbi Simon ben Jochaï it yielded him a large revenue."

p. 53

With the appearance of the Zohar we find also a Zohar School, which is a combination and absorption of the different features and doctrines of all the former methods, without any plan or method; and we must not be surprised at the wild speculations which we so often find in the writings of the post-Zohar period. In Spain especially the study of the Zohar took deep root, and found its way to Italy, Palestine and Poland.


50:1 See my article s.v. in McClintock and Strong. Professor Strack, who is entitled to a hearing in matters of Rabbinic literature, says: "He [Rabbi Simon] has long been regarded as the author of the Zohar; but this main work of the Cabala was in reality composed in Spain by Moses ben Shem Tob de Leon in the second half of the thirteenth century, as has been proved especially by Jacob Emden, in Mitpahath Sepharim, Altona, 1768.'--Einleitung in den Talmud, 4th ed., Leipsic, 1908; p. 93.

51:2 See my article "Vowel-Points" in McClintock and Strong.