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Book: Scholem - On The Kabbalah And Its Symbolism


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#1 Winnipeg1919

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Posted 10 March 2018 - 11:27 AM

As always Prof. Scholem has presented a mix of the familiar and wonderfully new ideas. The Occultist is presented with an early history that is untarnished by mythology.

Before I continue I am compelled to note at this point that this book deals with the Jewish Kabbalah. Occultists will find a great many differences. The two diverge in the Late Medieval/Early Renaissance period. After that, there is little that came back to Judaism.

The primary texts (The Zohar, Sepher Bahir, Sepher Yetzirah) are stripped of pseudo-gobble-di-gook and the authors identified. You can see how the ideas percolated in various Jewish communities to colour their whole religious life. Which I will grant you is not much use to an Occultist, but along the way he discusses many ideas that will feed occultist in the late Medieval period. In Isaac Luria and his followers we can hear words that will bloom in Agrippa.

This work's focus is symbolism, as the title suggests, so the history ignores events that do not effect symbolism. There is no mention of its crossing over to Christianity because it did not effect Judaism. On the other hand, the author is open about earlier influences, such as Neoplatonism.

One of the symbols that I found particularly interesting was the Sacred Marriage. The author traces how it flows from esoteric to exoteric (real marriage) and back to esoteric. Imagine a world where women don't have sex unless they want to, in the 13th century, and then imagine the sexual ethics of today.

The other symbol that I found interesting was the golum. Following aspects of the golum we are lead from the early 19th c novel back through Adam as creator and forward again. Along the way we stop again at Sacred Marriage.

Edited by Winnipeg1919, 10 March 2018 - 11:28 AM.

Winnipeg1919

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#2 Sheperdess

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Posted 10 March 2018 - 01:02 PM

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#3 Aurum

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Posted 14 March 2018 - 02:45 PM

I had a quick read of the first chapter of this book (at least I think it was the same book). These are some of the things the author said that jumped out at me: Mystics who experience a communion with God endeavour to explain such an inexplicable experience with the use of symbols, which are steeped in religious tradition. However, the mystics give these symbols new meaning in the texts and rituals, thus conforming to and transforming the religious authority. Most mystics are therefore conservative and rebellious by reaffirming and changing religious authority. Prophets, on the other hand, have clear and distinct divine messages that can be more directly conveyed to people. 'Nihilistic' mystics that completely outright reject religious authority are rarer because it would be highly inflammatory. Some mystics have been subject to high levels of 'conflict' depending on the historical circumstances of the period or whether the mystic was not very knowledgeable about the particular Theology.
I might read more chapters another time, but I think it's written fairly clearly and has a lot of different examples in history!

#4 Spida

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Posted 14 March 2018 - 09:40 PM

I have "The Essential Kabbalah" by the same Author. Maybe I could do a quick synopsis on God as I see it.

Here is my definition of God:

God is a Zero Dimensional Point of Primordial Consciousness. This conforms with the Singularity of Theoretical Physics. God does in fact precede Space and Time, ergo its existence is in the absence of spatial dimensions. God's entire existence is Within this Primordial Point of Infinite Density. This is the Mind of God existing outside of Space and Time, and although Physical Spacetime has not yet been created the Primordial Consciousness has 'Perception' of Time, which is Change Within. This is reflected in the thought processes of the Microcosm which also exists independently of Four Dimensional Spacetime. Mind of Man(Microcosm), and the Mind of God(Macrocosm). Consciousness does not require Space for its existence, but creates Space. This creation of Space by the Primordial Consciousness(or God) is referred to by Science as the Big Bang, but I prefer to call it an Aetherial Expansion. As Within, So Without !

Edited by Spida, 14 March 2018 - 10:13 PM.

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#5 Aurum

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Posted 15 March 2018 - 07:12 AM

I quickly read the second chapter, and it's much more difficult to read than the first chapter. There was a description I found difficult to understand in the book. The author states that there is a theory that before the Earth was created, there was a primordial Torah. Issach the Blind explained that God in his right hand had a white fire and a black fire. The white fire which was the engravings of the letters and words were concealed and could not be seen. These letters and words only became visible with the engravings of black fire which is the oral Torah. Now the Torah that is seen today is really the oral Torah in a sense. The author describes the black fire of the oral Torah as like the 'ink' on the parchment. Is the author saying that the black fire is the spoken word of God which after uttered manifested upon the white fire and this created the Torah? I'm not really sure. I could see then how people might regard the Torah as then an emanation of God or as the wisdom of God. Some of the theories go as far as to say the Torah is an instrument of creation.

These are some of the things that stood out to me in this chapter. The Torah is described as having letters and words that have concentrated divine power. These are special configurations of divine light. It has been said the Torah is not only the name of God but an emanation of God because the name of God must reside in God. The Torah is like a living being and each letter is like an organ which must not be misplaced or omitted. On the other hand, the Torah did have jumbled letters which fell into place after events happened but the same letters are still contained in it (this is described by Pinhas de Koretz (?)). In future times to come, it is believed by some Kabbalists that the letters will rearrange again to abrogate some of the commandments to represent a purer Utopian state of existence (as described by Jacob Koppel Lifschitz in the 18th Cent.)

The Torah can have a 4-fold interpretation. Moses de Leon uses the cypher Pardes (Paradise) to describe the different interpretations. P stands for peshat (the literal), R for remez (the allegorical), d for derasha (the Talmudic and Aggadic interpretations) and s for sod (the mystical or theosophical meaning). The Torah thus is often compared to a nut which has the outer hard layer (the literal), the two inner layers, and the kernel (mystical). I believe the author said there were theories that before the fall, the Torah did not have this outer hard shell of literal meaning and that it had only the mystical meaning that came from the Tree of Life. Then after the fall, it had to take on a different appearance to protect the world from evil.

Another interesting theory in the 1500s by Palestinian Kabbalists was that the Torah originally had 600,000 letters that represented the 600,000 Isreal people present when the pure mystical Torah was shown at Mount of Sinai. Then when this Tablet broke, the second Tablet of the Torah now contained fewer letters but that 600,000 can still be found contained esoterically in the text. While the first Tablet came from the Tree of Life, the second one came from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (according to author of Tikkunim) and contained more laws on what to do and what not to do.

I'm not sure if I wrote all of that down accurately but some of the theories cross over quite a bit.

#6 Winnipeg1919

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Posted 15 March 2018 - 10:30 AM

View PostAurum, on 15 March 2018 - 07:12 AM, said:

The Torah can have a 4-fold interpretation. Moses de Leon uses the cypher Pardes (Paradise) to describe the different interpretations. P stands for peshat (the literal), R for remez (the allegorical), d for derasha (the Talmudic and Aggadic interpretations) and s for sod (the mystical or theosophical meaning). The Torah thus is often compared to a nut which has the outer hard layer (the literal), the two inner layers, and the kernel (mystical). I believe the author said there were theories that before the fall, the Torah did not have this outer hard shell of literal meaning and that it had only the mystical meaning that came from the Tree of Life. Then after the fall, it had to take on a different appearance to protect the world from evil.

It is interesting how often the four-fold interpretation pops up in Qabala and other things in mysticism. Compare it to the four worlds, Atziluth to Assiah, or the four parts of a soul.

I wouldn't worry to much about getting it all down. Prof. Scholem's writing is dense, and as you noted, serpentine. It usually takes me a few reads to get most of it.
Winnipeg1919

Facta non verba (Deeds not words) - Regimental Motto, Fort Garry Horse

#7 Aurum

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Posted 15 March 2018 - 11:45 AM

The sources were very good. I haven't read much on the Kabbalah so I guess that's another reason why the different references to texts got more difficult to keep up with. But he's a very clear writer!





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