It is almost half a century, in 1843, since this book saw the light for the first time. It is nearly as long since it was introduced into public and private libraries. This public eagerness to take notice of a metaphysical and religious work could but astonish us; it is explainable by the subject covered therein and by the very name of the Kabbalah. Since that time, long past, I have often been requested, in and out of France, to publish a second edition of my volume of 1843. For several reasons I refused to satisfy this desire. Compelled by circumstances, as professor of physical and international law, at the College of France, to devote all my activity to studies which are of general interest, it was difficult for me to return to a subject of research which did not seem to me to respond any more to the spirit of the times. Then again, I would have been obliged, because of the nature of the objections raised, to relegate to second place that which makes up the merit and charm of the Kabbalah, that is to say, the philosophic and religious system it contains, in order to discuss first certain bibliographical and chronological questions. I lacked the courage and did not consider it useful to impose upon myself this sacrifice.
The situation is quite different now. Disgusted with positivistic, evolutionistic and brutally atheistic doctrines which dominate our countries to-day, and which seek to domineer not alone science but society as well, many minds have turned to the Orient, the cradle of religions and the primitive fatherland of
mystic ideas; and among the doctrines which they endeavor to restore to honor, the Kabbalah is not forgotten. I shall give several proofs.
We must know that under the name of the Theosophical Society, there exists a vast organization which, coming from India, passed to America and Europe, sending out vigorous ramifications into the United States, England, and France. This association is not left to chance; it has its hierarchy, its organization, its literature, its reviews and its journals. The principal organ in France is the Lotus. This is a periodical publication of very great interest, which borrowed from Buddhism the foundation of ideas, making no pretense to bind to them the minds by forbidding new researches and attempts at changes. Upon this Buddhistic foundation are often developed speculations and textual quotations borrowed from the Kabbalah.
There is even a branch of the Theosophic Society, a French branch by the name of Isis, which published during the last year a previously unpublished translation of the Sefer Yetzirah, one of the two Kabbalistic books considered the oldest and most important. What gives merit to this translation, or, above all, what makes valuable the commentaries that accompany it, I do not consider it my duty to examine here. I will only say, in order to give an idea of the thought that inspired the author of this work, that, according to him, "the Kabbalah is the only religion from which all other cults emanated." (Preface, p. 4.)
Another Review, also consecrated to theosophical propaganda, and in which necessarily the Kabbalah occurs often is the one which was founded, and which is managed and edited, for the most part, by Lady Caithness, Duchess of Pomar. Its name is the same as the one given by the great German theosophist Jacob Boehm to his first work--"The Dawn." The purpose of the Dawn is not entirely the same as that of the Lotus. Buddhism does not hold there first rank to the detriment of Christianity; but with the aid of an esoteric interpretation of sacred texts,
the two religions are brought in accord and presented as the common source of all other religions. This esoteric interpretation is surely one of the principal elements of the Kabbalah; but this also is made to contribute in a direct manner, under the name of Semitic Theosophy. I do not undertake to guarantee the correctness with which it is expounded. I limit myself to point out the lively preoccupation of which it is the object in the very curious work of the Duchess of Pomar.
Why not speak also of the Magazine Initiation, although it is no more than four months in existence? The very name Initiation tells us a great deal, it puts us upon the threshold of a good many sanctuaries closed to the profane; and this young Review, which, in fact, bears upon its cover the title "Philosophic and Independent Review of the Higher Studies," is dedicated exclusively to science, or, at least to matters of research, to subjects of curiosity and conjectures, suspected most in the eyes of established science and even in the eyes of that public opinion which passes as an organ of common sense. Among these figure, in a general manner, Theosophy, Occult Sciences, Hypnotism, Freemasonry, Alchemy, Astrology, Animal Magnetism, Physiognomy, Spiritualism, etc., etc.
Wherever the subject of Theosophy springs up, one is sure to see the Kabbalah appear. The Initiation does not fail to obey this law. The Kabbalah, "the Sacred Kabbalah," as she calls it, is dear to her. She appeals often to its authority; but one notices, particularly in its second number, an article from the pen of Mr. René Caillé, on the "Kingdom of God" by Albert Jouney, where the doctrine of the Zohar, the most important of the two Kabbalistic works, serves as basis to a Christian Kabbalah formed from the ideas of St. Martin, styled the "Unknown Philosopher," the unconscious renovator of the doctrine of Origenes. That which Abbot Roca proposes in one of the first numbers of the Lotus is also a Christian Kabbalah.
I shall be permitted also not to pass entirely in silence the
[paragraph continues] Swedenborgian journals which appeared lately in and out of France, especially the "General Philosophy of the Students of Swedenborg's Books." 1 But the Church of Swedenborg, or the "New Jerusalem," although represented by its adepts as one of the most important forms of Theosophy, can surely not join the Kabbalah simply because it leans upon an esoteric interpretation of sacred books. The results of this interpretation and the personal visions of the Swedish prophet resemble but little, barring a few exceptions, the teachings contained in the Kabbalistic books--the Zohar and the Sefer Yetzirah. I shall rather stop to consider a recent work of great erudition, a doctor's thesis presented not long ago to the Faculty of Sciences of Paris, which did not receive the measure of attention of which it is worthy: "Essay on Egyptian Gnosticism, its development and its Egyptian origin," by M. E. Amélineau (Paris, 1887).
This dissertation, written for an entirely different purpose, demolishes entirely the criticism which sees in the Kabbalah nothing but fraud hatched in the head of some obscure rabbi of the thirteenth century and continued after him by unintelligent and unscientific imitators.
Amélineau discovers for us in the fathers of gnosticism, who were absolutely unknown in the thirteenth century, mainly in Saturninus and Valentin, a system of theogony and of cosmogony identical to the one of the Zohar; and not only are the ideas alike, but the symbolical form of language and the manner of argumentation are also the same. 2
In the same year in which Mr. Amélineau, by his doctor's thesis, delivered at Sarbonne, avenged the Zohar from the attacks delivered against it by the skepticism of our times, another German scholar, Mr. Epstein, restored to the Sefer Yetzirah, also a target for the objections of modern criticism, a part at least of its great antiquity. Although he does not permit it to go back to Akkiba,
and still less to the patriarch Abraham, he establishes, at least, through decisive reasoning, that it is not any later than the fourth century of our era. 3
This is something already. But I do not doubt, that by paying more attention to the depth rather than the form of the book, and by searching for analogies in the most ancient products of gnosticism, it will be possible to go back still further. Do not numbers and letters to which the entire system of the Sefer Yetzirah is traceable, play just as great a role in Pythagorism as in the first system of India? It is the rage nowadays to rejuvenate everything, as though the spirit of the system, and, above all, the mystic spirit were not just as old as the world and will not last as long as human mind will last.
Here, then, we have reason to believe that the interest found in the Kabbalah during so many centuries, in Christianity as well as in Judaism, in the researches of Philosophy as well as in the speculations of Theology, is far from being exhausted, and that I am not entirely wrong in republishing a work which may serve to make it known. After all, if it only answers the wish of a few curious ones, it will suffice to dispute the right to count it among books entirely useless.
Paris, April 9th, 1889.
xxv:1 Published by Villot, 22 rue de Boisey, Taverny (Sein-et-Oisee).
xxv:2 I have cited several examples in the journal of Scholars, April and May numbers, 1888.
xxv:3 Epstein, M’kadmonios Ha-Y’udim, Beitraege zur Geschichte Juedischer Alterthumskunde, Vienna, 1887.