Scholem Gershom Gerhard - Origins of the kabbalah

Author : Scholem Gershom Gerhard
Title : Origins of the kabbalah
Year : 1962

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Editor's Preface. It is idle to question which of a great scholar's great works is his greatest. In the case of Gershom Scholem, also the opera minora, articles, and essays were "great." But three works stand out not only by virtue of their size, but also by virtue of their impact. Each exhibits different qualities. Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1st ed. 1941) is the first great and still classic attempt to view the whole history of Jewish mysticism in one wide sweep, combining synthetic power with analytical precision and attention to philological detail. Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah (original Hebrew ed. 1956; revised English version 1973) became a best seller not only because of the fascination with its exotic subject matter. Rarely before had such erudition, quantity and breadth of the sources, minute textual analysis, and profound historical insight been brought to bear on a relatively short—but nevertheless bizarre, spectacular, and, withal, significant—episode in Jewish history (and the history of messianic movements in general for that matter). Yet in many ways Ursprung und Anfange der Kabbalah (1962) is the most impressive of all, for here Scholem dealt with a major yet enigmatic phenomenon in the history of Jewish spirituality. The very specific form of Jewish mysticism (or mystical theosophy) known as Kabbalah appeared suddenly, as if out of the blue, in the late Middle Ages. What were its antecedents? Was it really as ancient as it purported to be? Exactly where, when, and in what circles did it originate? What were the influences (Oriental, Western, philosophical, gnostic, early, late) that went into its making? The wealth of source material marshaled, the penetrating philological accuracy with which it was analyzed, and the scope of historical insight with which it was evaluated all made this study, first published in German in 1962, a maximum opus. The book was a first synthesis of research that had been presented as a draft, as it were, in a small Hebrew book Reshith ha- Qabbalah (1948). The author, in his Preface (see p. xv), describes his German publication of 1962 as "more than double the size of the earlier Hebrew publication." In a letter written in the summer of 1961 from London to his lifelong friend S.Y. Agnon, the Hebrew writer and Nobel laureate, and preserved in the Agnon Archive at the National and Hebrew University, Scholem referred to his fruitful year, praised the cold London winter that had kept him indoors and hard at work, and mentioned that the size of the book he was finishing was about three times that of the Hebrew publication. In actual fact the Hebrew book had 262 pages octavo size, whereas the German publication of 1962 ran to 464 pages quarto size. After the publication of Ursprung, research continued with growing intensity, and in due course Scholem's graduate and postgraduate students began to contribute to it in increasing measure. Additional sources came to light, necessitating a reexamination and réévaluation of the known sources and texts. Seholem's developing views were voiced in his course lectures at the Hebrew University, and some of those notes were subsequently edited by his students and circulated in stenciled copies. Thus his lecture courses on "The Origins of the Kabbalah and the Book Bahir" (1961/1962) and on "The Kabbalah in Provence: the circle of RABAD and his son R. Isaac the Blind" (1962/1963) were edited by his student, now Professor Rivkah Schatz-Ufíenheimer, and published in 1966. The lecture course on "The Kabbalah of the Book Temunah and of Abraham Abulafia" (1964/1965) was edited by another student, now Professor J. Ben- Shlomoh, and published in 1965. A French translation of Ursprung appeared in 1966 (Les origines de la Kabbale); although it made the work accessible to the French reader, it did not add to the state of knowledge as represented by the original. Several years ago the Jewish Publication Society conceived the happy idea of bringing out an English version of this seminal work. The translator, Dr. Allan Arkush, who rendered the German original into English, had to struggle with the extreme difficulty of the subject matter and the equally extreme difficulty of the author's German style. And when the translation was ready a new problem became apparent. The accumulation of the results of more than twenty years of intensive research rendered very questionable the value of a simple "reprint" (albeit in English) of a study reflecting the state of knowledge in 1962. The editor therefore decided to bring the book up-to-date. But here the difficulty was compounded by the death of Professor Scholem early in 1982. By contrast, in the late sixties, when the present editor translated and to some extent rewrote Sabbatai Sevi in the light of newly discovered texts and sources, it was with Scholem's permission and under his watchful eye. In fact, knowing that the author would carefully scrutinize the product, accepting or rejecting the translator's changes, the editor felt free to revise the text and add or delete according to his judgment. Professor Scholem's death laid a heavy burden of responsibility on the editor of the present, posthumous, English version. The editor solved his problem by making only those changes that he was confident the author would have made himself. (The few exceptions are marked by square brackets and the addition of the editor's initials). To this end the editor had no need of special occult powers. One of Scholem's scholarly habits was to have every work of his bound in a special interleaved volume. Thus he had not only the margins but also a full blank page facing every page of text on which to add notes, queries, references, corrections, additions, and so forth. Whenever he read anything that had a bearing on his research, he immediately entered a note on the relevant page of his working copy of the relevant book. Scholem's interleaved working copy of Ursprung, into which he made entries until shortly before his last illness, shows the enormous amount of research done since 1962. On many points Scholem was confirmed in his original judgment; on many others he came to express doubts or even to repudiate opinions held earlier. The basic thesis that the Kabbalah originated in one chronologically limited time-span and in one geographically limited area is, however, still upheld. It may become the subject of debate in the future. On one important point the editor was faced with a major quandary. In his discussion of Gerona, the most important kabbalistic center on the eve of the composition of the Zohar, Scholem devotes a whole section to the Book Temunah and its doctrine of cosmic cycles. At the time of writing Scholem was convinced that the Temunah was composed during the first half of the thirteenth century. Subsequent research, especially by Seholem's students, led him to revise this opinion and to date the book after 1300, i.e., decades after the composition of the Zohar. I inserted the relevant remarks from Scholem's interleaved copy, but did not radically tamper with the text, especially as Scholem seems to have held to the belief that, however late the date of the composition of the book, some of its basic ideas and doctrines had developed in the thirteenth century and should therefore form part of any discussion of pre-Zoharic Kabbalah. In this English edition, part of the material taken from Seholem's interleaved working copy has been incorporated in the main text and part has been presented in the form of additional notes. Biblical quotations are rendered according to the new translation of The Jewish Publication Society (1962-1982), except in cases where the rabbinic or kabbalistic exegesis of the verse necessitated a different rendering. The editor hopes that in performing his delicate task he has not betrayed Scholem's views and intentions and that his labors would have met with the approval of the author. R. J. Zwi Werblowsky. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. ...

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