A doctrine with more than one point of resemblance to the doctrine of Plato and Spinoza; a doctrine which in its form rises at times to the majestic tone of religious poetry; a doctrine born in the same land, and almost at the same time, as Christianity; a doctrine which developed and spread during a period of more than twelve centuries in the shadow of the most profound mystery, without any supporting evidence other than the testimony of a presumptive ancient tradition, and with no apparent motive than the desire to penetrate more intimately into the meaning of the Sacred Books--such is the doctrine found in the original writings and in the oldest fragments of the Kabbalah 1 when shifted and purified of all their dross.
It occurred to me that, at a time, when all historical researches, and the history of philosophy in particular, have
acquired so much importance; at a time when the belief is prevalent that the human mind may reveal itself in its entirety only in the totality of its works--that such a subject, considered from a viewpoint far above every sect or party spirit, may justly lay claim to participation. That even the difficulties which surround such a subject, and the obscurity offered in its ideas as well as in its language, may promise indulgence to one daring to treat it.
But this is not the only reason why the Kabbalah recommends itself to the attention of serious minds. It should be remembered that from the beginning of the sixteenth century until the middle of the seventeenth century, it exercised a considerable influence over theology, philosophy, natural science and medicine. It was the spirit of the Kabbalah which inspired a Pico de la Mirandola, a Cornelius Agrippa, a Reuchlin, a Paracelsus, a Henry Morus, a Robert Fludd, a Van Helmont, and even a Jacob Boehm, the greatest of all those who went astray in searching for an universal science, one science that would take upon itself to show us the very essence of the connection of all things in the very depths of divine nature. Less bold than a modern critic soon to be mentioned, I dare not now pronounce the name of Spinoza.
I do not pretend to have discovered an entirely unknown land. On the contrary, I must say that years will be required for a review of all that has been written concerning the Kabbalah, if it were only from the moment when the press first bared its secrets. But what contradictory opinions, what impassioned judgments, what fantastical hypotheses, and, taking it all together, what inassimilable chaos in that mass of Hebrew, Latin and German books published under all forms, and furrowed by citations in all languages! And mark well, that the discord shows itself not only in the appreciations of the doctrines to be made known, or in the so very complicated problem of their origin, but presents itself in no less a conspicuous manner in the very exposition of the doctrines. For that reason the more modern way of
studying the matter is not to be considered useless if it bases its work upon original documents, upon the best accredited traditions, and upon the most authentic texts; and, if at the same time, it embraces all that is good and true in previous researches.
But before entering upon this plan of research, I deem it necessary to set before the reader a rapid review of the works which gave rise to this original idea, and which, in some measure, contain the elements of this work. It will thus be possible to have a more correct idea of how far science succeeded with this mysterious subject, and of what nature is the task endowed upon us by our predecessors. To accomplish that task is the aim of this preface.
I shall not speak of the considerable number of modern Kabbalists who wrote in Hebrew. Individually, their distinguishing features are of so little importance, and, save for a few exceptions, they penetrate so little into the depths of the system, that it would be very difficult and equally tedious to mention each one separately. Suffice it to know that they divide themselves into two schools, both founded in Palestine at about the same time, the middle of the sixteenth century. One was founded by Moses Corduero, 2 the other by Isaac Luria 3 who was regarded by a few Jews as the forerunner of Messiah.
Notwithstanding the superstitious veneration which these two instilled into their students, both were but commentators who lacked the gift of originality. Corduero, at least, kept close to the meaning of the original writings, although not entering deeply
into their spirit; while Luria almost always deviated from the true text in order to give free rein to his reveries which, in reality, were dreams of a diseased mind--aegri somnia vana. I need not say which of the two I have consulted most frequently; but I can not refrain from remarking that the prevailing opinion places more importance with the latter.
I shall set aside those writers who made but a passing mention of the Kabbalah; writers like Richard Simon, 4 Burnet (Archaeologic Philosoph. ch. 4) and Huttingen; 5 or those who, confining their researches to biography, bibliography and history proper, do no more than indicate the sources where to look, as, for instance, to Wolf, 6 to Basnage, 7 and to Bartolocci; 8 in a word, to writers who are content to sum up, sometimes to repeat what others have said. To the latter class belong, as far as our subject is concerned, the authors of the "Introduction to the Philosophy of the Hebrews," 9 and the modern historians of philosophy who more or less, copied Brucker, as Brucker himself put under contribution the more neo-platonic and Arabic than the Kabbalistic dissertations of the Spanish rabbi Abraham Cohen Herrera. 10 After all these eliminations I have still to put forth prominently a number of authors who have made a more serious study of the esoteric doctrine of the Hebrews, or to whom we must at least accord the credit of having drawn that doctrine from the profound obscurity where it had remained hidden until the close of the fifteenth century.
The first who revealed to Christian Europe the name and the existence of the Kabbalah, was a man who, despite the deviations of his ardent imagination, despite the dashing ardor of his enthusiastic mind, and perhaps even because of the force of these brilliant defects, gave vigorous impulsion to the ideas of his century, we mean--Raymond Lullus (Raimundus Lullus). It would be difficult to say just how far Raymond Lullus was initiated in this mysterious science, and what influence it exercised over his own doctrines.
Under no consideration will I affirm with a historian of philosophy 11 that Raymond Lullus drew from this science the identity of God and Nature. That much is certain, though, that he had a lofty idea of the Kabbalah, and that he regarded it as a divine science and as a true revelation, whose light shone for the illumination of the rational soul; 12 and it is permitted to suppose that the artificial methods used by the Kabbalists to link their opinions with the words of the Holy Writ, and their frequent use of the substitution of numbers and letters for ideas and for words, contributed a great deal to the invention of the Great Art (Ars Magna). It is worthy of note that Raymond Lullus has already made the distinction between ancient and modern Kabbalists more than two and a half centuries before the existence of the two contending schools of Luria and Cordovera, the period to which some modern critics wished to ascribe the birth of the entire Kabbalistic science. 13
The example given by the Majorcan philosopher remained unimitated for a long time; for after him the study of Kabbalah was forgotten until the time when Pico de la Mirandola and
[paragraph continues] Reuchlin came to throw light again upon a science which, save to a circle of adepts, was until then known only by name and existence. These two men, who were equally admired by their century, for the boldness of their minds and for their extensive learning, were yet very far from entering into all the depths and into all the difficulties of the subject.
Pico de la Mirandola made efforts to reduce to a few propositions 14--the sources of which he does not indicate and between which a connection can hardly be found--a system just as extensive, just as many sided and just as strongly built as the one which is the subject of our investigations. It is true that these propositions were originally intended for public discussion and for development by argumentation; but in the state in which they reached us they are unintelligible, not only because of their brevity, but also because of their isolation; and it is surely not in a few far-fetched digressions, scattered haphazardly through works of the most diverse character, that one would hope to find the unity, the development or the proofs of truth which we have a right to demand from a work of such importance.
The other one was not carried so far away by his imagination; he was more systematic and more lucid, but he was less learned and, unfortunately, had not the gift of drawing from the richest sources which were most worthy of his confidence. No more than the Italian author who, though born after him, was in advance of him on this road, 15 did Reuchlin cite his authorities; but it is easy to recognize in him the scant critical spirit of Joseph of Castile 16 and not of the spurious Abraham ben Dior, 17 a
commentator of the fourteenth century, who mingled Aristotelian ideas and all that he knew of the Greek traditions as interpreted by the Arabians, with his Kabbalistic knowledge. Besides, the dramatic form adapted by Reuchlin is neither precise nor serious enough for such a subject; and it is not without vexation that one sees him graze the most important questions in order to establish, by means of a few indefinite analogies, an imaginary affiliation between the Kabbalah and the doctrine of Pythagoras.
Reuchlin contended that the founder of the Italian school was a disciple of the Kabbalists, to whom he owed not only the foundation but also the symbolical form of his system as well as the traditional character of his teachings. Whence arise those subtleties and perversions which equally disfigure the two orders of ideas that one endeavors to mingle. Of the two works which have established Reuchlin's fame, only one, "de Arte Cabbalistica" (published in Hagenau, 1517, fol.), contains an ordered exposition of the esoteric doctrine of the Hebrews; the other, ("de Verbo Mirifico") which, in fact, was the first published, 18 is only an
introduction to the first volume. This introduction, however, is conceived from a personal viewpoint, although it appears to be a simple development of a more ancient idea. It is in this book that the author, under pretence of defining the names consecrated to God, gives free course to his mystical and venturesome spirit; it is there that he makes efforts to prove in a general manner, that all religious philosophy, whether of Greece or of the Orient, originated in the Hebrew books; and it is here that he lays the foundation for that which later on is called the "Christian" Kabbalah.
Dating from that epoch Kabbalistic ideas became the object of more general interest, and they came to be regarded as serious and important not only in works of erudition, but also in the scientific and religious movements of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is at that time that there appeared successively the two works of Cornelius Agrippa, the learned and curious imaginations of Postel, the repertory of the Christian Kabbalists published by Pistorius, the translations of Joseph Voysin, Kirchner's researches on Oriental Antiquity as a whole, and, finally, the résumé and perfection of all these works, the "Kabbalah Unveiled."
In Cornelius Agrippa we find a dual personality; one, the author of "de Occulta Philosophia" (published in Cologne in 1533 and 1531), the enthusiastic defender of all the reveries of mysticism, the impassionate adept of all the fantastic arts; and the other, the discouraged skeptic who deplores the uncertainty and the vanity of the sciences." 19 It is certainly not the first personality, as one might suppose, which rendered the most service to the study of the Kabbalah. On the contrary, by losing sight of the
metaphysical side of the system, i.e., of its very essence and real source, and by adhering solely to its mystic form, developing the latter to its ultimate consequences--astrology and magic, he contributed not a little in turning away from the Kabbalah the grave and serious minds.
But Agrippa, the skeptic, Agrippa recovered from all his intoxications, and, so to speak, restored to the use of reason, recognized the rare antiquity of the Kabbalistic ideas and their relationship to the various sects of Gnosticism; 20 and it was also he who pointed out the resemblance between the diverse attributes recognized by the Kabbalists, otherwise called the ten Sefiroth and the ten mystic names spoken of by St. Jerome in his letter to Marcella. (De Occulta Philos., lib. 3, ch. 11.)
As far as I know, Postel was the first to translate into Latin the most ancient and the most obscure monument of the Kabbalah: "The Book of Formation" (Sefer Yetzirah), 21 a work ascribed at times by a fabulous tradition to the patriarch Abraham, at times even to Adam himself. As far as can be judged from this translation, which is as obscure as its text, it appears to us in general to be faithful. But nothing useful can be gathered from the commentaries which follow the text and in which the author, simulating the apostle of some new religion, uses his wealth of erudition to justify the deviations of an unruly imagination. Postel is also credited with an unpublished translation of the Zohar which we have searched for in vain among the manuscripts of the royal library.
Pistorius has set for himself a more useful and a more modest aim. He endeavored to unite in one single collection all the writings published on the Kabbalah or imbued with its spirit; but
for unknown reasons he stopped his work when it was but half done. Of the two enormous volumes which were originally to comprise the work, one was devoted to all the Kabbalistic books written in Hebrew, and, consequently, under the influence of Judaism; the other was devoted to the Christian Kabbalists, or to use the words of the author, "to those who professing Christianity are always distinguished by a pious and honest life, and whose writings, therefore, no one would repulse as Jewish ramblings." 22 This was a wise precaution taken against the prejudices of his age. But only the last volume appeared. 23
This volume contains, besides the Latin translation of the Sefer Yetzirah and the two works of Reuchlin already mentioned, also a mystical, altogether arbitrary commentary on Pico de la Mirandola's theses, 24 a Latin translation of the work of Joseph of Castile which served as basis for "de Verbo Mirifico" and, finally, different treatises of two Jewish authors, one of whom was led by the study of the Kabbalah to embrace Christianity; this one Paul Ricci (Paulus Riccius), the physician of Emperor Maximilian I; the other is the son of the renowned Abravanel, or Judah Abravanel, better known as Leon the Hebrew. 25 The latter doubtless merits a distinguished place in the general history of Mysticism by his "Dialogues on Love," 26 of which there are
several translations in French. 27 But, as his work bears but indirectly upon the Kabbalah, it will be sufficient to point out casually from one of the most important viewpoints the ideas whence similar conclusions were drawn.
Ricci, who paid more attention to the allegorical form than to the mystical foundation of the same traditions, contents himself by following Reuchlin's lead at a distance; and like him, he tries to demonstrate, by Kabbalistic procedure, all the essential beliefs of Christianity. This is the character of his work "Of the Heavenly Agriculture." 28 He is also the author of an introduction to the Kabbalah 29 in which he confines himself to the summing up, somewhat briefly, the opinions expressed by his predecessors. But unlike them he does not date back the tradition which he explains, to the patriarchs or to the father of the human race. He is content in the belief that these traditions were already in vogue at the time when Christ began to preach his doctrine, and that they have paved the way for the new covenant; for, according to him, those thousands of Jews who adopted the Gospel without abandoning the faith of their fathers were no others but the Kabbalists of those days. 30
I shall yet mention here Joseph Voysin, whose chief merit
about the Kabbalah is that he faithfully translated from the Zohar several texts on the nature of the soul, 31 and then hasten to works more important at least because of the influence they exerted.
The name of Kirchner can not be spoken without deep reverence. He was a living encyclopedia of all the sciences. No science was entirely beyond his prodigious learning, and there are several, notably Archaeology, Philology and Natural Sciences, that are indebted to him for important discoveries. But it is also known that this remarkable scholar did not shine through those qualities which go to make up the critic and the philosopher, and that at times he exhibits even uncommon credulity. Such is the character he shows all through his exposition of the doctrines of the Kabbalists. 32 Thus, he does not doubt for a moment that the Kabbalah was first brought to Egypt by the patriarch Abraham, and that from Egypt it spread gradually through the remainder of the Orient, mingling with all the religions and all the systems of philosophy. But, while conceding this imaginary authority and this fabulous antiquity, he despoils the work of its real merits. The profound and original ideas, the bold creeds the Kabbalah contains, and the striking views it darts into the foundations of every religion and morality, escape entirely his feeble perception, which is struck only by the symbolical forms, the use and misuse of which seem to exist in the very nature of mysticism. The Kabbalah exists for him only in this gross envelope with its thousands of combinations of numbers and letters, its arbitrary ciphers, and, finally, its more or less fantastic procedure by means of which it forces the sacred script to lend such meaning as to find access to minds rebellious to all authority save the Bible. The facts and the texts which I have brought together in this volume aim to destroy this strange point of view and, therefore,
[paragraph continues] I shall not dwell upon it any longer. I will say only that Kirchner, just like Reuchlin and Pico de la Mirandola, knew but the works of the modern Kabbalists, the majority of whom halted midway on the road to wisdom at the dead letter and senseless symbols.
On the subject occupying us, there is today no work more complete, more exact and more worthy of respect due to much labor and sacrifice, than that of Baron of Rosenroth or "the Kabbalah Unveiled." 33 There are precious texts in that book which are accompanied by generally faithful translations, among them the most ancient fragments of the Zohar, the most important work of the Kabbalah; and where there are no texts it gives extensive analyses and very detailed tables. It contains also either numerous extracts or entire treatises from modern Kabbalists, a kind of dictionary which prepares us more for the knowledge of things than of words.
And, finally, under pretext, and perhaps in the sincere hope of converting the adepts of the Kabbalah to Christianity, the author collected all the passages of the New Testament which show any resemblance to their doctrine. Yet, there must be no illusion as to the character of this great work; like its predecessors it does not throw any more light on the origin, the transmission or the authenticity of the most ancient monuments of the Kabbalah. In vain, too, will one look there for a regularly ordered and complete exposition of the Kabbalistic system. It contains only such material which, perforce, must enter into a work of this nature; and, even when considered from this single point of view, it is not beyond the lash of criticism. Although much too severe in some of his expressions, Budde was not unjust when he said: "it is an obscure and confused work in which the necessary and the unnecessary, the useful and the superfluous, are thrown together pell-mell, in the same chaos." 34
With a better choice, his work might have been richer and less extensive. In fact, why did he not leave the dreams of Henry Morus, which have nothing in common with the mystic theology of the Hebrews, in their proper place, that is in the collected works of this author? And I would say the same of the pretended Kabbalistic work of Herrera. This Spanish rabbi, remarkable for his philosophical erudition, was not content to substitute the modern traditions of the school of Isaac Luria 35 for the true principles of the Kabbalah; but he found also the secret of disfiguring these principles by mingling with them the ideas of Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Avicenna and Pico de la Mirandola--in short, all that he knew of the Greek and Arabian philosophy.
Modern historians of philosophy have taken chiefly Herrera for their guide in the interpretations of the Kabbalah, probably because of the didactic order of his dissertations and the precision of his language. And as such a guide has been accepted, no wonder that quite recent origin has been ascribed to this science, or that it was looked upon as a faint imitation, a badly disguised plagiarism of the other well known systems! Finally, since the author of the "Kabbalah Denudata" was not willing to adhere to the most ancient sources and to acquaint us through more numerous quotations with the originality and interesting facts hidden in the Zohar, why this predilection for the commentaries of Isaac Luria, which no one in possession of his reason can stand reading? Would not the sacrifices and the laborious vigils which, by the author's own avowals, it cost him to bring to light those sterile chimeras, have been better employed upon the long chain of Kabbalists still too little known, beginning at Saadia, around the tenth century, and ending with the thirteenth century at
[paragraph continues] Nachmanides? In this way, by including all the traditions composing the Zohar, we would have had before our eyes the entire chain of Kabbalistic traditions, starting with the moment when they were first written down until the point when their secret was completely violated by Moses de Leon. 36 Had this task been too difficult, it would, at least, have been possible to have devoted some space to the esteemed works of Nachmanides, 37 the defender of the celebrated Moses hen Maimon, and whose Kabbalistic knowledge inspired admiration so intense that it was said to have been brought to him by the prophet Elijah from heaven.
Despite its gaps and its numerous imperfections, Rosenroth's conscientious labor will stand forever as a monument of patience and erudition, and it will be consulted by all who will want to know the products of thought among the Jews, or by those who wish to observe mysticism in all its forms and in all its results. It is owing to his deeper knowledge of the Kabbalah, that this doctrine has ceased to be studied exclusively either as an instrument of conversion or as an occult science. It has taken a place in philosophical and philological research, in the general history of philosophy and in rational theology which has attempted by its light to expound some of the difficult passages of the New Testament.
The first whom we see taking this direction is George Wachter, theologian and distinguished philosopher, who, because of the independence of his mind, was falsely accused of Spinozaism, and who was the author of an attempt to reconcile the two
sciences to which he had consecrated equal devotion. 38 Wachter's attention was first turned to the Kabbalah in this way: A protestant of the confession of Augsburg, seduced by this system to which he was otherwise a stranger, converted himself publicly to Judaism, discarded his real name (Johann Peter Speeth) and took the name of Moses Germanus. He foolishly challenged Wachter to imitate him and engaged with him in a correspondence from which sprang a little book entitled "Spinozaism in Judaism." (Amsterdam, 1699, 12mo, in German.)
The book does not throw much light upon the nature or upon the origin of the Kabbalistic ideas, but it raises a question of the highest interest: Was Spinoza initiated in the Kabbalah, and what influence did this doctrine exert upon his system? Until then it was the almost general opinion among scholars that there is quite a close affinity between the most important points of the science of the Kabbalists and the fundamental dogmas of the Christian religion. Wachter undertook to demonstrate that these two orders of ideas are separated by an abyss; for, in his opinion, the Kabbalah is nothing but atheism, the negation of God and the deification of the world, a doctrine which he believed to be that of the Dutch philosopher and to which Spinoza gave a more modern form.
We need not investigate here whether the two systems, per se, are well or ill-judged, but whether there is some ground for the theory of their affinity or for their historical succession. The sole proof given (for I do not count more or less far-fetched analogies and resemblances) consists of two very important passages, indeed, one drawn from "Ethics," the other from Spinoza's letters. The last named reads: "When I affirm that all things exist in God, and that in Him all things move, I speak like St. Paul, like all the philosophers of antiquity, although I express myself in a different way, and I even dare to add: like all the ancient Hebrews, as far
as can be judged by certain of their traditions which have been altered in many ways." 39 Evidently, nothing but the Kabbalistic traditions are referred to in these lines; for those which the Jews collected in the Talmud are either recitals (Haggadah) or ceremonial laws (Halakah).
The passage from "Ethics" is still more decisive. Having spoken of the unity of substance, Spinoza adds: "It is this principle which some of the Hebrews seem to have perceived as through a cloud when they thought that God, the Intelligence of God and the objects under the action of that intelligence, as of one and the same thing." 40 The historical sense of these words can not be mistaken if we juxtapose them with the following lines translated nearly literally from a Kabbalistic work, the most faithful commentary to the Zohar: "The knowledge of the Creator is not like the knowledge of the Creatures; for with the latter the knowledge is apart from the known subject. This is designated by the following terms: the thought, he who thinks and that which is thought of. The Creator, on the contrary, is Himself the Knowledge, the One who knows, and the One known. God's way of knowing does not really consist in applying His thought to things outside of Himself. It is by cognizing and knowing Himself that He also cognizes and knows all that exists. Nothing exists that is not united with Him and which He could not find in His own substance. He is the prototype of all Being, and in Him all things exist in the purest and most accomplished form; so that the perfection of the creatures is in this very existence by virtue of which they find themselves united
with the source of their being; and in measure as they deviate from it, they sink from that sublime and perfect state." 41
What conclusion can be drawn from these words? Is it that the ideas and the Carthesian method, that the altogether independent development of reason, and above all, that individual estimates as well as the errors of genius, count for nothing in the most audacious conception of which the history of modern philosophy can give an example? This would be a strange paradox which we would not even attempt to refute. Moreover, it is easy to see by the very citations given as authority, that Spinoza had but a very summary and uncertain idea of the Kabbalah, the importance of which he could have recognized only after the creation of his own system. 42 But, strangely, having stripped Spinoza of all originality for the benefit of the Kabbalah, Wachter turned that doctrine itself into a miserable plagiarism, a characterless compilation to which have contributed all the centuries during which it remained unknown, all the countries where the Jews were dispersed, and, consequently, the most contradictory systems. How could such a work be more atheistic than theistic? Would it not teach pantheism rather than one God distinct from the world? Above all, how had it taken in the "Ethics" the form of severe unity, the inflexible vigor of the exact sciences?
But we must do Wachter the justice to say that he modified his opinions considerably in a second volume on the same subject. (Elucidarius Cabbalisticus, Rome, 1706, 8 vo.) Thus, according to him, Spinoza is no longer the apostle of atheism, but a true savant who, enlightened by a sublime science, recognized the
divinity of Christ and all the truths of the Christian religion. 43 He naively confesses that he judged him previously without having known him, and that he was influenced against him by prejudices and excited passions when he recorded his first impressions. 44 He makes equally an honorable apology to the Kabbalah by distinguishing two essentially different doctrines by that name: the modern Kabbalah lies under the weight of his scorn and anathema; but the ancient Kabbalah which, according to him, lasted until the council of Nice, was a traditional science of the highest order, the origin of which loses itself in mysterious antiquity. The first Christians, the oldest fathers of the Church, had no other philosophy; 45 and it is this philosophy which led Spinoza upon the road of Truth. The author stubbornly insists upon this point and makes it the centre of his researches.
Though in its entirety very superficial, and at times far from accurate, this parallel between the doctrine of Spinoza and that of the Kabbalists contributed not a little to the enlightenment of the minds as to the true significance of the Kabbalah; I speak of its character and its metaphysical principles. That parallel led to an examination which proved that the theory which had caused so much surprise and scandal, the theory that God is an unique substance and the immanent cause and real nature of all that is, was not new, that it appeared already before, at the cradle of Christianity, under the very name of the religion. But this idea is also met with somewhere in a no less remote antiquity. Where, then, is the origin of this idea to be looked for? Is it Greece, or Egypt of the Ptolomaeans that have given it to
[paragraph continues] Palestine? Is it Palestine which found it first? or is it necessary to go back still further into the Orient?
Such are the questions which occupied the minds primarily, and such also is the meaning attached to the Kabbalistic traditions since that time by all save a few critics who are peculiarly attentive to nothing but form. It is no longer a question of a certain method of interpretation applied to Holy Writ, nor of mysteries far beyond reason, which God Himself revealed whether to Moses, to Abraham or to Adam, but it is a question of a purely human science, of a system representing within itself the entire metaphysics of an ancient people, and, therefore, of great interest to the history of the human mind, once more a philosophical viewpoint that dislodged Allegory and Mysticism.
This spirit is shown not only in Brucker's exposition, where it is perfectly in place, but it seems also to be generally prevalent. Thus, in 1785 a learned association, the Society for the Investigation of Antiquities at Cassel, opened an academic competition on the following topic: "Does the doctrine of the Kabbalists, according to which all things are engendered by the emanation of the very essence of God, come from the Greek philosophy or not?" Unfortunately, the answer was much less sensible than the question. The work which carried off the prize--very little known and not deserving to be known--certainly does not cast any new light upon the very nature of the Kabbalah and what concerns the origin of this system, it contents itself with reproducing the most defaced fables. 46 It shows the Kabbalistic ideas in the hymns of Orpheus and in the philosophy of Thales and Pythagoras; it makes them contemporaries of the patriarchs, and, without any hesitation it hands them to us as the ancient wisdom of the Chaldeans. It is less surprising when it is known that the author was of the sect of the Illuminati who, following the
example of all such associations, dated its annals back to the very cradle of humanity. 47
But Rational Theology--as it is called in Germany--that is that absolutely independent method of expounding the Holy Scriptures, of which Spinoza gave an example in his Theologic-Political tractat, made frequent use of the Kabbalah. As I said before, it made use of it for the purpose of explaining divers passages in the letters of St. Paul which referred to the heresies of that day. It desired also to find therein the explanation of the first verses of the Gospel of St. John, and tried to make it useful either for the study of Gnosticism or for the study of ecclesiastic history in general. 48 Tiedemann and Tennemann, at the same time, had given the Kabbalah a kind of deed of possession in the history of philosophy, which was at first consecrated to it by Brucker. There soon appeared the school of Hegel which could not fail to make use of a system wherein it found, under another form, some of its own doctrines.
A reaction against this ever famous school was surely not slow in coming, and it is evidently under this sentiment that the useless work "Kabbalism and Pantheism" was written. The author of that little book strives to prove, at the expense of the evidence, that there is no resemblance between the two systems which he undertakes to compare; for it often happens that the passages which he uses as bases of his arguments are diametrically opposed to the deductions he draws from them. Besides, as far as erudition is concerned, he is far inferior to most of the writers who preceded him; and does not surpass them either by criticism of the sources or by philosophic appreciation of the ideas, not-withstanding the pedantic attire and luxury of citations with which he pleases to surround himself.
Finally, Herr Tholuck, a man who is justly entitled to eminent rank among the theologians and orientalists of Germany,
recently also desired to contribute to this subject his knowledge and skilled criticism. But as he concerns himself with one particular point, the origin of the Kabbalah, and as any appreciation of his opinions would demand profound discussion, I have reserved comment of him for the body of this work, as a more opportune time. This refers also to all the modern writers, whose names, although deserving a place here, have as yet not been mentioned.
Such are, in substance, the efforts made until now for the discovery of the meanings and the origin of the Kabbalistic books. I do not wish to have the conclusion drawn that all must be started anew again because one is struck only by those books which are incomplete. On the contrary, I am convinced, that the labors and even the errors of such distinguished minds can not be ignored without punishment to those wishing seriously to study the same subject. Even were it possible, in fact, to approach the original monuments without any aid, it would, nevertheless, always be necessary to know beforehand the various interpretations which have been given to them to the present day; for each one of these correspond to a viewpoint well founded in itself, but which becomes faulty when one sticks to it exclusively.
Thus has the Kabbalah--to corroborate what has just been said and to sum up briefly the foregoing--been accepted by some who had in view only its allegorical form and mystical character, with mystic enthusiasm as an anticipated revelation of Christian dogmas; others took it as an occult art, struck by the strange figure, the queer formulas under which it loves to hide its real intention, and by the relations it incessantly establishes between man and all parts of the universe; others, finally, took hold above all of its metaphysical principles and tried to find therein an antecedent, either honorable or dishonorable, of the philosophy of their times.
It is easy to understand that with partial and incomplete studies governed by various prejudices, one can find all this in
the Kabbalah without necessarily contradicting the facts. But, in order to have an exact idea and to find the place which it really holds among works of intelligence, it should be studied neither in the interest of a system, nor in the interest of a religious belief; on the contrary, one will endeavor for the sake of truth only, to furnish to the general history of human thought some elements as yet too little known. This is the aim I desire to reach in the following work for which I spared neither time nor research.
xxvii:1 The Hebrew word קבלה (Kabbalah), as its root קבל indicates, expresses the action of receiving: a doctrine received by tradition. The word Masorah (מסורה) designates the action of transmitting; a doctrine transmitted by tradition. The orthography herein used has been used in Germany a long time (Kabbalah instead of Cabbala). It seems the orthography best fitted to the pronounciation of the Hebrew term, and it is the orthography recommended as most exact by Raymond Lullus in his book "de Auditu Kabbalistico." 1a
xxvii:1a The possible reason that the Kabbalists preferred to call their doctrine קבלה (acceptio) and not מסורה (traditio)--compare Peter Beer: Geschichte, Lehren and Meinungen aller bestandenen and noch bestehenden religioesen Secten der Juden u. s. w. Vol. II, p. 4--may be found in their desire to avoid a name in which the term "teaching" is especially conspicuous; for the secret doctrine was to be imparted only to the pious who has been well tried and who has attained full manhood. Jellinek.
xxix:2 In Hebrew the name is ר׳ משה קורדואירז, and perhaps the pronounciation should be Cordovero. Of Spanish origin, he flourished toward the middle of the sixteenth century, in Sephath, in Lower Galilee. * His principal work was the "Garden of Pomegranates" (פררם רמונים) published in Cracow. His little treatise on Mystic Ethics, "Deborah's Palm Tree" (תמר דבורה), was published in Mantua in 1623.
xxix:* More correctly in Upper Galilee.--Jellinek.
xxix:3 In Hebrew Luria's name was ר׳ יצחק אשבנזי or, abbreviated האר״ י. He also died in Sephath in 1572. Apart from detached treatises which show no proof of authenticity, he published nothing more. But his disciple, Chaim Vital, collected all his opinions into one system and embodied them under the title עץ חיים.
xxx:4 Critical History of the Old Testament, tome I, ch. 7.
xxx:5 Thes. philolog. and in other writings--Discursus gemaricus de imcestu, etc.
xxx:6 Bibliotheca Hebraica, Hamb., 1721. 4 vols. 4 to.
xxx:7 Histoire des Juifs, Paris and the Hague.
xxx:8 Magna Bibliotheca Rabbinica. 4 vols. fol.
xxx:9 J. F. Buddeus, Introductio ad Historiam philosophiae Hebraeorum, Halle, 1702 and 1721. 8 Vo.
xxx:10 Yerira or Herera, belonged to the seventeenth century. His chief work, "Porta Coelorum" (the Gate of the Heavens) was composed in Spanish, his mother tongue, and translated first into Hebrew then into Latin by the author of the Kabbalah denudata. (This will be spoken of further on in this book.)
xxxi:11 Tennemann, Geschichte der Philosophie, Vol. VIII, p. 837.
xxxi:12 Dicitur haec doctrina Kabbala quod idem est secundum Hebraeos ut receptio veritatis cujus libet rei divinitis revelatae animae rationali . . . Est igitur Kabbala habitus anima rationalis ex recta ratione divinarum rerum cognitivus; proper quod est de maximo etiam divino consequutive divina scientia vocari debet.--"De Auditu Kabbalistico, sive ad omnes scientias introductorium." Strasburg, 1651.
xxxi:13 Ibid, as above. The opinion here mentioned will be fully discussed further on, in Part I of this book.
xxxii:14 Conclusiones cabalisticae, numero XLVII, secundum secretam doctrinam sapientium Hebraeorum, etc. Vol. I, p. 54 of his works, Basle edition. They were first published at Rome in 1486.
xxxii:15 Reuchlin was born in 1455; Juan Pico de la Mirandola in 1465.
xxxii:16 In Hebrew יוספ גיקטילא, Joseph ben Abraham Gikatilla. He was the author of a book entitled: "The Gate of Light" שער אורת which Paul Ricci translated into Latin and which Reuchlin apparently took as basis for his "de Verbo Mirifico."
xxxii:17 He is known under the name of ראב״ד (RABD), i.e., Rabbi Abraham ben David, or ben Dior. His commentary on the Sefer p. xxxiii Yetzirah (in Hebrew) was printed with the text at Mantua in 1562, and at Amsterdam in 1642. Because of the likeness in names, ben Dior was for a long time confounded with another widely known Kabbalist, who died at the beginning of the eighteenth century, and who was the teacher of Moses de Leon, to whom it was attempted to attribute the compilation of the Zohar. (See Geiger's "Scientific Journal for Jewish Theology," Vol. II, p. 312.)
xxxiii:18 Published in Basle in 1494, fol. As this work is extremely rare and of great interest to the history of Mysticism, I feel obliged to give here a summary idea of its contents. Like "de Arte Cabbalistica" it is in the form of a dialogue carried on by three persons: an epicurean philosopher named Sidonius, a Jew named Baruch, and the author himself, who translated his German name by the Greek word Capnio. The dialogue is divided in as many books as persons. The first book, devoted to a refutation of the Epicurean philosophy, is nothing more than a simple reproduction of the arguments generally used against that system. We shall not linger here any longer.
The second book aims to establish that all wisdom and all true philosophy came from the Hebrews; that Plato, Pythagoras and Zoroaster have drawn their religious ideas from the Bible, and that traces of the Hebrew language are found in the liturgy and in the sacred books of all other nations. The author finally arrives at the explanation of the different names of God. The first, the most celebrated of all, the ego p. xxxiv sum qui sum, (the "I Am that I Am" אהיה), is translated in Plato's philosophy by τὸ ὄντοως ὤν. The second name, the one we translate by He (הוא), i.e., the sign of the immutability of God and of His eternal identity, is found also in the Greek philosophy, in the θατερὸν as opposed to ταυτὸν.
In the Sacred Scriptures God is called by still another name, a third name--Fire (אש); and, in point of fact, was it not in the form of a burning bush that God first appeared to Moses on Mount Hereb? Is it not He whom the prophets called the devouring fire? And again, is it not He of whom John the Baptist spoke when he said "I baptize you with water, but the one who cometh after me shall baptize you with fire"? (Matthew III, 11). The fire of the Hebrew prophets is identical with the Ether (αἰθήρ) spoken of in the hymns of Orpheus. But all these names given to God are, in reality, but one name, which shows us the divine substance under three different aspects.
Thus, God is called the Existence because all existence emanates from Him. He calls Himself Fire, because it is He who illumines and vivifies all things. Finally He is always He, because He eternally remains like Himself amidst the infinite varieties of His works. As there are names which express the substance of God, so there are names which relate to His attributes, and of such are the ten Sefiroth or Kabbalistic categories to be mentioned frequently in this book. But when abstraction is made of all the attributes of God, and even of every definite point of view under which the divine substance can be considered; when an effort is made to represent the Absolute Being as retired within Himself, showing no definable relation to our intelligence, then He is designated by the name to pronounce which is forbidden--by the thrice holy Tetragrammaton that is to say by the word Jehovah (שם המפורש--Shem Ha-mforesh.)
There can be no doubt that the Tetractys of Pythagoras is an imitation of the Hebrew Tetragrammaton, or that the cult of the Dekas was invented in honor of the ten Sefiroth. It would be difficult to form an idea of all the wonders the author discovers in the four letters that form, in Hebrew, the word Jehovah. These four letters allude to the four elements, to the four essential qualities of bodies (the point, the line, the plane and the solid), to the four notes of the musical scale, to the four streams in the earthly paradise, to the four symbolical figures of the chariot of Ezekiel, etc. What is more, every one of these letters, when considered separately, offers us a no less mysterious significance.
The first (י--Yod) which is also the sign of the number ten and which, by its form, calls to our mind the mathematical point, teaches us that God is the beginning and the end of all things; for the point is the beginning, the first unit, and the ten is the end of all enumeration. The number five, expressed by the second letter (ה--Heh) shows us the union of God and of Nature; of God as represented by the number three, that is to say, by the Trinity; of visible Nature as represented, according to Plato and Pythagoras, by the Dyad. The third letter (י--Vav) is the sign of the number six. Now this number, venerated also by the Pythagorean school is found by uniting the Monad, the Dyad and the Triad, which is the symbol of all perfection. The number six is symbolical also, from another standpoint, of
This page entirely footnote text--JBH.
This page entirely footnote text--JBH.
the cube, of the solids or of the world; we must, therefore, believe that the world bears the imprint of divine perfection. The fourth letter ה--Heh), finally, is the same as the second, and, consequently, we find ourselves once more in the presence of the number five. But here it corresponds to the human soul, the rational soul, which holds the centre between heaven and earth, just as the number five holds the centre in the decade, the symbolical expression of the totality of all things.
And now we come to the third book, which has for its object the demonstration of the principal dogmas of Christianity by the same methods. The whole book is given by the mouth of Capnio; for it is upon the ruins of the sensualistic or exclusively pagan philosophy and upon the pretended Kabbalistic traditions, interpreted by Baruch in the preceding book, that the edifice of Christian theology is to be erected. A few examples will, I hope, suffice to give an idea of the method followed by the author, and of the way in which he affixes his general views to the history of religions. In the very first verse of the book of Genesis, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth," he finds the mystery of the Trinity. In fact, by arresting our attention at the Hebrew word (ברא--Bara) which we translate by "create," and by considering each one of the three letters that form it as the initial of another word entirely distinct from the first, we obtain three terms which mean Father, Son and Holy Ghost (אב-בן-רוה הקדש--Av-Ben-Ruach Hakodesh).
In the words taken from the Psalms (Ch. CXVIII, v. 22), "The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone," we find, by use of the same method, the two first persons of the Trinity (אבן--Aven, בן--Ben, ,אב--Av). It is again the Christian Trinity that Orpheus wished to designate in his "Hymn to the Night" by the words νύξ, οὐρανός, because Night, the engender of all things, can be αἰθήρ, nothing less than the Father. The Heavens, this Olympus, which embraces all beings in its immensity, and which is born of the Night, means the Son; and finally, Ether, called by the ancient poet "the breath of fire," is the Holy Ghost. Translated into Hebrew the name Jesus י״ה״ש״ו״ה) is the name of God plus the letter ש (Shin) which in the language of the Kabbalists is the symbol of fire or light of which St. Jerome spoke in his mystical interpretation of the alphabet as the sign. of the Word (λόγος). This mysterious name is, therefore, a complete revelation which shows us that Jesus is God Himself, conceived as Light and Word (λόγος), or the Divine Word.
Even the symbol of Christianity, the cross, is plainly indicated in the Old Testament, either by the tree of life which God placed in the earthly paradise, or by the supplicating attitude of Moses when he spread his arms towards heaven to implore for victory of Israel over Amalek; or, finally, by the miraculous rod which changed the bitter waters into sweet in the desert Morah. According to Reuchlin, God manifested Himself to man under three different aspects during the three great religious periods ordinarily distinguished since the creation, and to each of these aspects there corresponds a name which characterizes Him perfectly. During the reign of Nature He is called the "Almighty" (שדי--Shaddai) or, rather, the "Fructifier," the "Maintainer of Man." Such is the God of Abraham and of all the patriarchs.
[paragraph continues] During the reign of Law, or from the time of the revelation of Moses to the beginning of Christianity, Ile is called the "Lord" (אדני--Adonai). because He is King and Lord of the chosen people. During the reign of Grace, He is called "Jesus," the "Deliverer," (יהשוה--Y’hoshu-ah) a point of view that does not lack truth and grandeur.
xxxvi:19 "De Incertudine et vanitate scientiarum." Cologne, 1527; Paris, 1529; Antwerp, 1530.
xxxvii:20 "Ex hoc cabalisticae superstitionis judaico fermento prodierunt, Auto, Ophitae, Gnostici et Valentiniani haeretici, qui ipsi quoque cum discipulis suis graecam quamdam cabalam commenti sunt," etc. De Vanitate scient, c. 47.
xxxvii:21 Abrahami patriarchae liber Jezirah, ex hebraeo versus et coinmentariis illustratus a Guilelmo Postello. Paris, 1552, 16mo.
xxxviii:22 Scriptores collegi qui christianam religionem professi, religiose honesteque vixerunt et quorum propterea libros, tanquam judaicam delirationem, detestari nemo potest.--Praef., p. 2.
xxxviii:23 Artis cabalisticae, h.e. reconditae theologiae et philosophiae scriptorum. Tome I. Basel, 1587, fol.
xxxviii:24 Archangeli Burgonovensis interpretationes in selectiora obscurioraque Cabalistorum dogmata. Ib. supr.
xxxviii:25 An exhaustive character sketch of him and his times (by Delitsch) is given in Fuerst's "Orient," Year 1840.--Jellinek.
xxxviii:26 They were translated into Italian under the title, "Dialoghi de amore, composti per Leone Medico, di natione hebreo e di poi fatto christiano," Rome 1535, 4to, and Venice, 1541. It is to be noted, though, that he is cited by Herrera among the Jewish philosophers (philasophorum nostratium) as Rabbi Judah Abarbanel. (Irir. Porta coelor. Dissert. II, ch. 2).
xxxix:27 There is one Latin translation by Sarasin; three French by Sauvage, Pontus de Thiard and du Pare; four Spanish by Montesa, Garcilasso de la Vega, Yahija and Juan Costa of Arragonia.--Jellinek.
xxxix:28 "De celesti Agricultura," comprising four books. The first is a refutation of the philosophers who repulse Christianity as contrary to reason; the second is directed against modern Judaism, against the Talmudic system, and endeavors to prove through symbolic interpretation of the Scriptures that all the Christian dogmas are found in the Old Testament; the third aims to reconcile the opinions which divide Christianity by making each one do his part, and by calling all to catholic unity; in the fourth volume only does the author treat of the Kabbalah and of the use that can be made of it for the conversion of the Jews.
xxxix:29 Isagoge in Cabbalistarum eruditionem et introductoria theoremata cabalistica.
xxxix:30 ". . . Cabala cujus praecipui (haud dubie) fuere cultores primi hebraeorum Christi auditorum et sacram ejus doctrinam atque fidei pietatem amplectentium, aemuli tamen paternae legis." De Coelesti Agricultura, lib. IV, ad init.
xl:31 Disputatio cabalistica R. Israel filii Mosis de anima, etc. Adjectis commentariis ex Zohar; Paris, 1655. His Theologia Judaeorum contains nothing of the Kabbalah.
xl:32 Oedipus Aegyptiacus, vol. II, part I. This work was published at Rome from 1652 to 1654.
xli:33 Kabbala Denudata, seu Doctrina Haebraeorum transcendentalis, etc., tome II, Solisb., 1677, 4 to, tome II, liber Zohar restitutus. Franck, 1684, 4to.
xli:34 "Confusum et obscurum opus, in quo necessaria cum non necessariis, p. xlii utilia cum inutilibis, confusa sunt, et in unum velut chaos conjecta."--Introd. ad Philos. hebr.
xlii:35 He himself said that having been taught by Israel Serug, the immediate disciple of Luria, he was of Luria's school.--Porta coelor IV, eh. 8).
xliii:36 Information concerning all the names cited will he found in the first part of this book.
xliii:37 Nachmanides or Moses hen Nachman, called by abbreviation Ramban (רמב״ן, was born in Granada, and flourished toward the close of the thirteenth century. He was a doctor, a philosopher and, more than all, a Kabbalist. His chief works are: "Commentary on the Pentateuch" ביאור על התורה "The Book of Faith and Hope" (ספר אמונה והבטחון) and the "Law of Man" תורת האדם.
xliv:38 The work in which he pursued that aim has for title: "Concordia rationis et fidei, sive Harmonia philosphiae moralis et religionis Christianae." Amst., 1692, 8vo).
xlv:39 Omnia, inquam, in Deo esse, et in Deo moveri cum Paulo affirmo, et forte etiam cum omnibus antiquis philosophis, licet alio modo, et auderem etiam dicere, cum antiquis omnibus Hebraeis, quantum ex quibusdam traditionibus, tametsi multis modis adulteratis conjicere licet.--Epist. XXI.
xlv:40 Hoc quidam Hebraeorum quasi per nebulam vidisse yidentur, qui silicet etatuunt Deum, Dei intellectum, resque ab ipso intellectas, unum et ideas esse.--Eth. part II, prop. 7, Schol.
xlvi:41 Moses Cordovero, "Pardes Rimonim," fol. 55a.
xlvi:42 He knew the modern Kabbalists much better, or, at least some of them, against whom he did not spare some abusive epithets: Logi etiam et in super novi nugatores alique kabbalistas, quorum insaniam numquam mirari satis potui. (Tract. theolo. polit., ch. 9.) It would be absurd to wish to apply this phrase to the Kabbalists in general.
xlvii:43 Non defuerunt viri docti, qui posthabita philosophia vulgari, reconditam et antiquissimam Hebraeorum sectarentur. Quos inter memorandus mihi est Benedictus de Spinoza, qui ex philosophiae hujus rationibus, divinitatem Christi atque circa veritatem universae religionis christianae agnovit.--Elucid. Cab. praef., p. 7.
xlvii:44 Ib. supr., p. 13.
xlvii:45 Haec philosophia, ab Hebraeis accepta, et sacris Ecclesiae patribus tantopere commendata, post tempora nicaena mox expiravit.--Ib. supr.
xlviii:46 On the nature and origin of the Kabbalists' doctrine of Emanation. Riga, 1786, 8.
xlix:47 See Tholuck, de Ortu Cabbalae, Hamb., 1837, p. 3. Tholuck, de Ortu Cabbalae, 1837, p. 4.
xlix:48 Kabbalismus et Pantheismus by M. Freystadt, Koenigsberg, 1832.