Discussion:
The Nature of Kabbalah
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D. Schlenk
2012-10-21 04:43:20 UTC
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The Nature of Kabbalah

The Hebrew word kabbalah means "tradition." In the
medieval Jewish culture of southern France and northern
Spain, however, the term acquired a fuller connotation: it
came to identify the mystical, esoteric tradition of
Judaism. Between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries,
this increasingly refined spiritual heritage was an
important force in European and Mediterranean Judaism,
competing with and often antagonistic to more
rationalistic and Rabbinical trends. By the sixteenth
century, Kabbalah had infused not only Judaism, but
Renaissance Christian culture as well. Starting first with
the Florentine court of Lorenzo de Medici at the end of
the fifteenth century, Kabbalah became a potent force
inseminating the Renaissance world view. Ultimately this
movement engendered during the late Renaissance a separate
heterodox tradition of Christian Kabbalah. From this
period on, Kabbalah has been a major creative force in
Western religious and poetic imagination, touching such
diverse individuals as Jacob Boehme, John Milton, Emanuel
Swedenborg, William Blake, and perhaps Joseph Smith.
An understanding of Kabbalah starts with an understanding
of "tradition." Contrary to the word's common connotation,
the tradition of Kabbalah was not a static historical
legacy of dogma, but a dynamic phenomenon: the mutable
tradition of the Divine mystery as it unfolds itself to
human cognition. Kabbalah conveyed as part of its
tradition a complex theosophic vision of God but
simultaneously asserted that this image was alive and open
to further revelation. Thus the Kabbalist maintained a
creative, visionary interaction with a living system of
symbols and lore, and--most importantly--new prophetic
vision was intrinsically part of the Kabbalist's
understanding of their heritage.[3]
How long and in what form Kabbalah existed before
blossoming in twelfth-century Spain is uncertain.
Kabbalists themselves made extraordinary claims that
require our understanding before being discarded: Kabbalah
was--said adepts--the tradition of the original knowledge
Adam received from God. Not only was Kabbalah guardian of
this original knowledge, but it preserved the tradition of
prophecy which allowed a return to such primal vision:
"Kabbalah advanced what was at once a claim and a
hypothesis, namely, that its function was to hand down to
its own disciples the secret of God's revelation to
Adam."[4]
In keeping with its own mythic claims, Kabbalah has been
accorded fairly early origins in Judaic culture. Some
modern authorities--Moshe Idel is a notable
representative--identify roots of Kabbalah in Jewish
mythic motifs predating the Christian era and suggest that
the tradition emanated from archaic aspirations of
Judaism.[5] In a more conservative posture the eminent
authority Gershom Scholem dates first threads of Kabbalah
to the initial centuries of the Christian era. With
origins cryptically entwined in Gnostic traditions and
Jewish myths coursing through that early epoch, Kabbalah
became in its mature form what Scholem describes as the
embodiment of a "Jewish gnosticism."[6]
In recent years, this identification of Kabbalah with
Gnosticism has been a source of controversy.[7] Noted
Swiss psychologist C. G. Jung commented, "We find in
Gnosticism what was lacking in the centuries that
followed: a belief in the efficacy of individual
revelation and individual knowledge. This belief was
rooted in the proud feeling of man's affinity with the
gods."[8] While classical Christian Gnosticism vanished
from the Western world by the forth or fifth century, this
Gnostic world view was not so easily extinguished.
Historicity here, however, becomes a vexing problem. Under
what circumstances should anything occurring after the
disappearance of classical Gnosticism be called Gnostic?
Was the Gnostic world view transmitted to later ages
through historically discernible influences and
communications or, instead, was something similar
continually and independently recreated, reborn time after
time? What now are the proper bounds for using the term,
"Gnostic"?
Questions like these animate modern Gnostic and
Kabbalistic studies, and the types of answers offered
often reach beyond history into human psychology. The
proper historical definition of Gnosticism has generated
wide variances of opinion during the last several decades,
and yet remains a fluid area. In the second century,
Gnosticism clearly produced a historically manifest
movement: it had specific myths, rituals, schools,
teachers, and enemies. Some scholars have felt it most
expedient to artfully delimit all discussions of
Gnosticism with taxonomic dissections rooted exclusively
in these ancient manifestations and, having so done,
declare the old heresy long dead in its grave. But while
this kind of a strictly delimiting approach was not
uncommon three decades ago, other and much more insightful
thrusts have recently developed in Gnostic studies.[9] As
Dan Merkur summarizes,

The Gnostic inventory should not be defined too
rigidly. . . for it was not fixed and immutable, as
scientific and metaphysical categories may be. Gnosis was
and is a historical phenomenon that has undergone change
over the centuries. A detailed definition for the gnosis
of the second century will not fit the gnosis of the
eighteenth, but the process of change can be traced.
Gnosticism appears to have made its way from late
antiquity to modern times, in a manner and by a route that
compares with the transmissions of both Aristotelianism
and the practice of science.[10]

To be sure, Gnosticism was always at core an independent
product of primary, creative vision; by definition, devoid
of this experiential ingredient there was no Gnosis. And
perhaps it could be argued that whenever this primary
Gnostic vision is found, it is in essence new creation. If
such a view of Gnosis is granted, the precise part played
by historical individuals, rituals, myths or texts as
conveyors of tradition must remain problematic.
Nonetheless, as Merkur suggests, there is substantial
evidence to argue that a Gnostic world view was
transmitted by historically identifiable sources coursing
from antiquity into more recent times, and that Kabbalah
was one of the principal agents of this transmission.[11]
In the thirteenth century, the oral legacy of this Jewish
gnosis increasingly took written form and several
Kabbalistic manuscripts began to circulate, first in Spain
and southern France and then throughout Europe and the
Mediterranean. By far the most important text emerging in
this period was the Zohar, or "Book of Splendor". This
massive work first appeared in Spain just before the year
1300. Internally it presented itself as an ancient work, a
lost record of the occult and mystical oral teachings
given by one Simeon ben Yochai, a notable second-century
Rabbi, as he wandered about Palestine with his son and
disciples, explaining the hidden mysteries of the Torah.
The Zohar's significance in the evolution of Kabbalah
cannot be overstated; it played a preeminent role in the
development of Kabbalistic theosophy, and soon took on
both canonical rank and unquestioned sacred authority--a
status it retained for nearly five centuries. Thousands of
manuscripts would eventually be added to the corpus of
written Kabbalah, but none rivaled the Zohar in
dissemination or veneration.
The Zohar was, however, what a modern student might call a
forgery: it was a pseudoepigraphic work--a work written in
the name of an ancient author by a contemporary figure.
This was a literary device popular with Kabbalists, as it
had been with Gnostic writers in earlier centuries. Though
probably based on oral tradition, Scholem argues that the
majority of the Zohar is the work of a single thirteenth-
century Spanish Kabbalist, Moses de Leon. To understand
how a pseudoepigraphic work--a "forged book"--could remain
at the center of a religious tradition for centuries
requires consideration of the Kabbalistic experience.
Kabbalah used the term "tradition" in a radically
deconstructed sense. The tradition it guarded was not a
dogmatic or theosophical legacy, but a pathway to
prophetic consciousness. The teachings of Kabbalah were
not dogmatic assertions, but maps intended to lead a
dedicated and worthy student to experiential cognition.
[12] Unlike the rabbinical tradition which placed the
prophets in a past age and closed the canon of revelation,
Kabbalah asserted that the only valid interpretation of
scripture came when the individual passed beyond words and
returned to the original vision. Though such a visionary
experience was shared in full measure only by a vital
elite among Kabbalists, it nonetheless was the sustaining
heart of Kabbalah. In the inner sanctum of his
contemplation the adept Kabbalist found--so he claimed--no
less than the vision granted the ancient prophets; with
them he became one. To speak pseudoepigraphically with
their voice was a natural expression of the experience.
Kabbalah thus arose from oral traditions extant in
medieval Judaism--and possibly of even earlier origin--
which proclaimed both special knowledge of the Divine and
possession of ecstatic or mystical gifts similar to those
enjoyed by the ancient prophets, gifts which allowed men
(in measures varing with their own natures) to achieve
knowledge of God or even union with God.[13] In this
affirmation, it shared some bond to earlier Gnostic
traditions. Now the majority of Kabbalists were not full-
fledged mystics or prophets, and a great deal of
Kabbalistic teachings was purely intellectual theosophic
speculation. At the heart of the tradition, there
nonetheless was a prophetic aspiration, and several
Kabbalists left intimate records--material preserved in
manuscript and often held in restricted circulation--of
visions, angelic visitations, ecstatic transport, and
divine anointings.[14] These individuals saw themselves,
and were sometimes seen by others, in the same mold as
Israel's ancient prophets. A rationalistic approach to
history might judge such phenomena as aberrant, even
pathological. But within the scholarly study of Kabbalah,
these phenomena are so well witnessed and so central to
the tradition, that they require acceptance at very least
as empirical psychological realities.

Kabbalistic experience engendered several perceptions
about the Divine, many of which departured from the
orthodox view. The most central tenet of Israel's faith
had been the proclamation that "our God is One." But
Kabbalah asserted that while God exists in highest form as
a totally ineffable unity--called by Kabbalah Ein Sof, the
infinite--this unknowable singularity had necessarily
emanated into a great number of Divine forms: a plurality
of Gods. These the Kabbalist called Sefiroth, the vessels
or faces of God. The manner by which God descended from
incomprehensible unity into plurality was a mystery to
which Kabbalists devoted a great deal of meditation and
speculation. Obviously, this multifaceted God image admits
to accusations of being polytheistic, a charge which was
vehemently, if never entirely successfully, rebutted by
the Kabbalists.[15]
Not only was the Divine plural in Kabbalistic theosophy,
but in its first subtle emanation from unknowable unity
God had taken on a dual form as Male and Female; a
supernal Father and Mother, Hokhmah and Binah, were God's
first emanated forms. Kabbalists used frankly sexual
metaphors to explain how the creative intercourse of
Hokhmah and Binah generated further creation. Indeed,
sexual motifs and imagery permeate Kabbalistic theosophy,
and the Divine mystery of sexual conjunction--a
hierosgamos or sacred wedding--captured Kabbalistic
imagination. Marital sexual intercourse became for the
Kabbalist the highest mystery of human action mirroring
the Divine: an ecstatic sacramental evocation of creative
union, an image of God's masculine and feminine duality
brought again to unity. Of interest to Mormonism, among
several groups of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century
Kabbalists, polygamous and variant sexual relationships
sometimes served as social expressions of these sacral
mysteries.[16]

The complex Divine image composed of the multiple vessels
of Divine manifestation was also visualized by Kabbalah as
having a unitary, anthropomorphic form. God was, by one
Kabbalistic recension, Adam Kadmon: the first primordial
or archetypal Man. Man shared with God both an intrinsic,
uncreated divine spark and a complex, organic form. This
strange equation of Adam as God was supported by a
Kabbalistic cipher: the numerical value in Hebrew of the
names Adam and Jehovah (the Tetragrammaton, Yod he vav he)
was both 45. Thus in Kabbalistic exegesis Jehovah equaled
Adam: Adam was God.[17] With this affirmation went the
assertion that all humankind in highest realization was
like God: the two realities shadowed each other.
The Kabbalist saw himself intimately involved in a story
told by God--he heard the divine voice and followed. He
saw that in the redemption and knowledge of creation, God
depended on man, just as man turned his eye to God.
History came from two realms: man's burden was to wed this
mysterious dual story in his own flesh.


The Renaissance and Christian Kabbalah

Kabbalah was a growing force in Judaism throughout the
late medieval period and by the beginning of the
Renaissance had gained general acceptance as the true
Jewish theology, a standing it maintained (particularly in
the Christian view) into the eighteenth century.[18] Only
in the last several decades of the twentieth century,
however, have historians begun to recognize the importance
of Kabbalah in both the history of religion and in the
specific framework of Renaissance thought. Frances Yates,
one of this century's preeminent historians of the period,
emphasized "the tremendous ramifications of this subject,
how little it has been explored, and how fundamental it is
for any deep understanding of the Renaissance." She
continued,

Cabala reaches up into religious spheres and
cannot be avoided in approaches to the history of
religion. The enthusiasm for Cabala and for its
revelations of new spiritual depths in the Scriptures was
one of the factors leading towards Reformation. . . . The
Cabalist influence on Renaissance Neoplatonism . . .
tended to affect the movement in a more intensively
religious direction, and more particularly in the
direction of the idea of religious reform.[19]

Yates has delineated how understanding Kabbalah and its
penetration into Christian culture are essential not only
for comprehending Renaissance thought but also for studies
of the Elizabethan age, Reformation religious ideals, the
seventeenth-century Rosicrucian Enlightenment, and much
that followed, including the emergence of occult Masonic
societies in mid-seventeenth century England.
From its early medieval development in Spain, Jewish
Kabbalah existed in close proximity to the Christian world
and inevitably aroused notice among gentile observers.[20]
During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Kabbalists
increasingly established a presence in several areas of
Europe outside Spain, the most consequential of these
perhaps being Italy, where Kabbalah soon touched the
vanguard of Renaissance life. Then in 1492 came one of the
great tragedies in Jewish history: the violent expulsion
of Jews from newly unified Christian Spain. Forcibly
expelled from their homeland, they fled to Italy, France,
Germany, to the England of Henry the VII, and to Turkey,
Palestine, and North Africa. With them went Kabbalah.
European culture in the fifteenth century had been
animated by explorations, sciences, and bold visions
reborn. Man stepped out from the shadow of the Creator and
found himself master of worlds, capable of knowing God's
handiwork. He discovered himself: the jewel of creation,
the measure of all things. Perhaps no place was ablaze in
this creative fire more than the Florentine courts of
Cosimo and Lorenzo de' Medici. Cosimo had assiduously
collected the rediscovered legacies of Greek and
Alexandrian antiquity (an effort facilitated by the exodus
west after the Turkish conquest of the Byzantine Empire in
1453). But most important, in 1460 he acquired and had
brought to Florence the Corpus Hermeticum, a collection of
fourteen ancient religious treatises on God and man.
Authoritatively mentioned in the early Christian patristic
writings of St. Augustine and Lactantius, these "lost"
texts were thought to have been authored in antiquity by
one Hermes Trismegistos ("Thrice Great Hermes"), an
ancient Egyptian prophet older than Moses, a knower of
God's ancient but forgotten truths, and a seer who
foretold the coming of Christ.[21] Though eventually dated
to the Gnostic milieu of the second century C.E.,
sixteenth-century scholars believed that Hermes
Trismegistos and the Hermetica were an occult source that
nurtured true religion and philosophy from Moses to the
Greek philosophers of late antiquity.[22]
The influence of the Corpus Hermeticum was remarkable, its
diffusion among intellectuals immense; it epitomized the
Renaissance world view, a reborn prisca theologia, "the
pristine font of ancient and Divine illumination." In a
variety of ways, Renaissance thought was radically
transformed by the Hermetic doctrine that man was infused
with God's light and divinity: "You are light and life,
like God the Father of whom Man was born. If therefore you
learn to know yourself . . . you will return to life."[23]
Man was a divine, creative, immortal essence in union with
a body, and man reborn "will be god, the son of God, all
in all, composed of all Powers."[24]
Kabbalah made a dramatic entry on the Renaissance stage at
almost precisely the same time the rediscovered Hermetic
writings were gaining wide dissemination in the elite
circles of Europe. The initial impetus for study of
Kabbalah as a Christian science and for its integration
with Hermeticism came from Florentine prodigy Pico della
Mirandola (1463-94). Pico's philosophical education was
initiated under the Hermetic and Platonic influence of the
Medici Academy and court, of which he became an
intellectual luminary. About age twenty he began his
studies of Kabbalah, a pursuit furthered by Jewish
Kabbalists who assisted him in translating a considerable
portion of Kabbalistic literature into Latin and then
aided his understanding of their occult interpretations.
[25] In 1486 Pico penned the "Oration on the Dignity of
Man"--one of the seminal documents of the Renaissance--as
an introduction to the famous 900 theses which he intended
to debate publicly in Rome that year. More than a hundred
of these 900 theses came from Kabbalah or Pico's own
Kabbalistic research.[26] "The marrying together of
Hermetism and Cabalism, of which Pico was the instigator
and founder," notes Yates, "was to have momentous results,
and the subsequent Hermetic-Cabalist tradition, ultimately
stemming from him, was of most far-reaching importance."
[27] Hermeticism found a perfect companion in Kabbalah.
Sympathies that can be drawn between the two occult
sciences, both supposed ancient and divine, are
remarkable, and it is easy to see how they would have
impressed themselves upon sixteenth-century philosophers:
Kabbalah originated with God's word to Adam and the
ancient Jewish prophets after him; Hermeticism was the
sacred knowledge of the ancient Egyptian Gnosis, the
legacy of a thrice-great prophet, transmitted to the
greatest pagan philosophers, and foretelling the coming of
the divine Word (Logos). Both placed considerable interest
in a mystical reinterpretation of the Creation; the
Hermetic text Pimander, often called "the Egyptian
Genesis," complimented the new vision gained from a
Kabbalistic revisioning of the Hebrew Genesis.[28] Each
taught the great "Art" of Divine knowledge based on the
tenet that man is able to discover the Divine, which he
reflects within himself through direct perceptive
experience. And both offered paths to God's hidden throne,
the divine intellect, where humankind might find revealed
the secrets of heaven and earth. Element after element of
Renaissance thought and culture is linked to the force of
a new religious philosophy born of these two Gnostic
traditions intermingling in the cauldron of Western
culture's rebirth. Indeed, Yates suggests that the true
origins of the Renaissance genius may be dated from two
events: the arrival of the Corpus Hermeticum in Florence
and the infusion of Kabbalism into Christian Europe by the
Spanish expulsion of the Jews.[29]

[...]
Lady Azure, Baroness of the North Pole
2012-10-24 03:50:29 UTC
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Post by D. Schlenk
The Nature of Kabbalah
2 Separate Nations there Dud!
Israel and Zion!
Not exactly the Same Story!
Lebor Gaebala/Habbala/Cabbala/Kabbalah. . . . . . .
Is the story of My Ancestors!
How dare I think outside the "Orthodox" Lines!
Acadian's?
We all know how "Un-American" they are!
Butterflies of Cabot's Trail?
"What do people want, those Damned FRENCH Liberties?
Look what they did to the world, led to the Musilimisation, of Europe!"
Ask an Alaskan, especially the Militia!
Boys of the White Mountain, gonna teach the Boys of the Red Mountain, who the "Legends", are
all about!

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