Samizdat

"Samizdat: Publishing forbidden literature."

Month: November, 2014

Yoser Bereshith

“In its initial stage of development in the circle of the Rabad, the doctrine of kawwanah differed in at least one important and instructive point from the form in which it was to become familiar to his successors. As soon as the kabbalists grasped the fundamental difference between the Emanator and the emanated, between the hidden God, subsequently to be called by them ‘en-sof, and the attributes or sefiroth by which he manifested himself and through which he acts, they immediately emphasized the thesis that there can be no kawwanoth addressed directly to ‘en-sof.

The nature of the hidden God excludes any such possibility. If we could meet him in kawwanah he would no longer be that hidden God, whose concealment and transcendence cannot be sufficiently emphasized. It would therefore only be logical for the kabbalists to argue that kawwanah could be related only to his middoth, the being and reality of which affect us, whereas kawwanah directed toward ‘en-sof is impossible.

When the kabbalists’ propaganda in favor of mystical prayer reached wider circles, this thesis, with its far from innocent implications, must have incensed a good number of people. In the circle of the Rabad, however, we still find kawwanoth directed without the least scruple toward the “Cause of causes,” which is but a philosophical expression for the Lord of the attributes and of the other causes that depend upon him.

We find here certain prayers directed to the Creator of the world, yoser bereshith, but also others in which the kawwanah is addressed directly to the Cause of causes. The difference between the latter and the Creator of the world has already been discussed previously. Kawwanoth of this kind had already disappeared by the time of Rabad’s son.

It is precisely this difference in the conception of the kawwanah that proves the genuineness of these traditions, which at least partially contradict the communis opinio of later generations. One may suppose that the doctrine of the kawwanah initially represented a sort of compromise between different tendencies.

Some of the oldest kabbalists still considered the direct orientation toward the Cause of causes to be possible, although the pleroma of middoth, potencies or forms whose nature was not yet speculatively defined, already absorbed their interest. Their gnostic way of seeing things likewise penetrated their prayer mysticism, without being able to overcome it entirely.

In sum, we can in fact say that this oldest Kabbalah was nourished by two sources: the elaboration of ancient traditional literary sources that served as a kind of raw material and the illuminations experienced by certain individuals for whom “at the beginning a door was opened to the science of the Kabbalah.”

These illuminations no longer occur, as in the time of the Merkabah mystics, by way of an ecstatic ascent to the divine Throne. The transmission of celestial mysteries concerning cosmogony and the Merkabah no longer takes place, either, in the ways indicated in the Hekhaloth literature.

The difference is considerable. Instead of rapture and ecstasy we now have meditation, absorption in oneself, and the pious, inward communion, debhequth, with the divine. The doctrine of the mystical kawwanah in prayer is about to supplant the doctrine of the ascent of the soul. The objective elements, so to speak, of the Hekhaloth literature (that is, the descriptions of the world of the Merkabah) serve as the foundation for a reinterpretation that conceives of everything that had existed there in terms of mystical symbols.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 246-7.

Revelation of Elijah

“Already in the case of the first Spanish kabbalists, among the disciples of Isaac the Blind, the magical elements in their doctrine of the kawwanah occasionally come to the fore, as we have seen. Similar elements are discernible in the “mysteries of the prayer” of the German Hasidim, in that he who prays must think of the various names of angels as they relate—in respect to the mysticism of words and numbers—to the words of the traditional prayer. But in the earliest kabbalist circles, as far as our information extends, this magical element is missing; at least it does not manifest itself openly.

The teaching of the mystical kawwanah in prayer corresponds perfectly, it seems to me, to the objective and psychological conditions surrounding a doctrine born into an exclusive circle of men who possess the gift of meditation. With it, a new layer is added to the old gnostic elements that were contained in the tradition of the Bahir, elements that these men continued to develop in greater detail.

The creation of this doctrine bears the seal of the vita contemplativa. No element of the old Kabbalah better corresponds to the tradition of a revelation of Elijah, and we may regard this tradition as testimony that in this circle something really new had burst forth from the depths. An indication, if not an absolute proof, of this connection may be found in the fact that the remarks concerning the revelation Elijah is supposed to have vouchsafed to Isaac the Blind or his teachers are found precisely in texts in which the kawwanoth of prayer were collected by the Spanish kabbalists at the end of the thirteenth century.

No other specific doctrine among the kabbalists expressly relates to this revelation and this, perhaps, provides us with a key to our problem. A notion analogous to that of gilluy ‘Eliyahu can be found in Sufi mysticism in the accounts of revelations of Khidr (the Muslim metamorphosis of Elijah). Reports or testimonies concerning such revelations exist with regard to Muhi al-din ibn Arabi (1165-1240) of Andalusia, who shortly before 1200 —the time of Rabad and Isaac the Blind—was still wandering about in Spain (cf. G. Husaini, The Pantheism of Ibn Arabi, 28.).”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 245-6.

Living Prayer is an Encounter

“It is difficult to determine to what extent this kawwanah also contained, from the outset, a magical element of action whose goal was to force the divine middoth, toward which the intention of the mediation was directed, to emanate something of their power upon the person who prays.

The oldest of these kawwanoth to have been preserved, those of Jacob the Nazirite and the Rabad, are undoubtedly instructions relating to mystical mediations in the sense explained here, and nothing in them indicates the pursuit of another, magical aim. But let us not be deceived on this point: the differences between these domains are sometimes extremely subtle and the transition from the realm of pure contemplation to that of magic can take place in a completely unexpected manner.

Sometimes it simply depends upon the forms of expression employed in the prayer. In the abstract, we can easily imagine that, by the manner in which he expressed the sense of his prayer, the person who prayed hoped to draw to himself a power from above or, in other words, to attain a position in which his prayer would be heard. This kind of prayer may well be called magical.

We might contrast it with another, pure form of prayer in which the person who prays rises spiritually from degree to degree and strives to become contemplatively absorbed in the domain of the highest middoth or of the divine Thought itself; such a prayer may be said to contain a mystical kawwanah. In terms of abstract definitions of this kind, the kawwanoth of the oldest kabbalists certainly incline toward mysticism. But I strongly doubt whether in the concrete act of prayer performed with kawwanah, the distinction can be maintained.

The living prayer is indeed, as Yehudah Halevi formulated it in one of his poems, an encounter: “As I went towards you, I found you on the road towards me.”

It is entirely possible that here, too, the two elements come together. Only in extreme cases does the encounter of the human and the divine will assume an unequivocally clear form that is entirely magical or altogether free of magical elements. The history of the doctrine of the kawwanah among the kabbalists may serve as a typical example of the various possibilities latent in every mystical doctrine of prayer.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 244-5.

Inner Intention of Mystical Meditation

“This brings us back to the question of the actual content of the “revelations of Elijah” as they were disclosed to these mystics of Narbonne, Posquières, and Lunel. Are we to suppose that it merely concerned religious exaltation or revelations of mysteries of diverse kinds, explanations of one thing or another, visions connected with the Merkabah, such as could be deduced, for example, from the description contained in the document under discussion? In that case there would be nothing really new; the experience would merely add more information to a framework whose basic outline was already known beforehand to the praying ascetic.

Or should we perhaps see in these revelations a genuinely new phenomenon that was added to the kabbalistic tradition of the Bahir and lent it a specific character? Since we possess no reliable documents on this subject, it is difficult to answer this question with any certainty. Nevertheless, I would be inclined to interpret our reports in the sense of the second possibility. What was really new in the Kabbalah of the circle of the Provençal scholars and perushim, I would venture to guess, was their doctrine of the mystical meditations at prayer.

It was indeed apparent at the end of the last chapter that here and there texts concerning the mystical meaning of prayer or of specific prayers are already found in the Bahir and that, for example, a verse that plays as important a role in the liturgy as the Qedushah (Isa. 6:3) was there correlated with the aeons or sefiroth. But in the Bahir we are dealing with commentaries, not with instructions for meditations intended to accompany recitation of the verse at the very moment of prayer.

What is a new step and what surpasses this position is the linking of the individual words of the main prayers with specific sefiroth. This development gave rise, among the kabbalists, to the doctrine of kawwanah, which occupies such a major position in the history of the Kabbalah.

In his recitation—for according to talmudic prescription the prayers must be uttered aloud not only thought—he who prays must concentrate his soul upon one or several divine middoth. In this sense the kawwanah represents only a practical application of the doctrine of the existence of the sefiroth or aeons in the world of the Godhead. The prayer is a symbolic reiteration of processes that occur in the pleroma of the deity.

Hence it no longer resembles the old magical prayers that also, as we have seen, filtered through into the circles of the Hasidim and the first kabbalists. There too the person who prays pronounces magical words or holy names, largely incomprehensible nomina barbara that make up part of the text of the prayer itself. The kawwanah, on the other hand, represents a process that takes place exclusively within the domain of thought. It is most remarkable indeed that kabbalistic usage is, in this respect, very similar to that of the scholastics for whom intentio does not mean ”intention” in our usual sense but rather the energy or tension of the act of cognition. (The etymology would be derived from the tension of the bow when directing the arrow.)

The kawwanah of meditation is the tension with which the consciousness (of a person performing a prayer or another ritual act) is directed to the world or object before him. Nothing is pronounced but the words of the statutory prayers, as they had been fixed of old, but the mystical meditation mentally accompanies the current of words and links them to the inner intention of the person who is praying.

Among the German Hasidim the beginnings of such a process seem to be inherent in the prayer itself; among the kabbalists of Provence these initial stages led to a comprehensive discipline of contemplation concerned with man’s communication with God.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 242-4.

Conversing with Moses and Metatron

“From a somewhat earlier period, around 1200, comes the Hebrew protocol, recorded in Rouen, of the appearance of a prophet of the same type, R. Shemuel ha-Nabi, who conversed, in the presence of witnesses, with Moses and the angel Metatron as well as with the tosafist masters Rabbenu Tam and R. Elias of Paris, and who communicated mystical revelations dealing with talmudic matters.

Similar revelations concerning talmudic and halakhic questions likewise occurred in the Languedoc, in the neighborhood of the Rabad and the same generation. Even if we regard as metaphorical rather than strictly mystical the expressions employed by Rabad (see pp. 205-6) with regard to the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in his school, the occurrence of such revelations is conclusively proven by the curious case of Jacob of Marvège (today in the Department of Lozère), who flourished around 1200.

He sought the answers to halakhic problems through “dream questions,” she’eloth halom, that is, through a visionary procedure. Alongside figures of this kind there also appeared pure mystics whose illuminations were of an inward kind that resulted, when the occasion warranted it, in esoteric doctrines.

How did these revelations come about? Did they appear spontaneously, without preparation, to mystically inclined souls, or were they the result of specific acts and rituals that required a certain preparation? Is it possible that a theurgic element also played a role? There is no unequivocal answer to these questions. We do, however, possess certain testimonies suggesting that in this Provençal circle such revelations were linked, at least in part, to a specific ritual and that they were even tied to a particular day.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 239-40.

Two Angels at the Feast of Tabernacles

“The relatively simple content of that tradition also corresponds to Jacob’s other angelological statements, with which we have already become acquainted on page 208. Jacob is said to have received from a certain R. Nehorai in Jerusalem the tradition that the ritual of libations of water and wine on the Feast of Tabernacles was practiced in the Temple of Jerusalem because “at this ritual two angels were present, whose function it was to bring the fruits to ripeness and to lend them flavor.”

One of these angels is certainly Gabriel, whose function (according to B. Sanhedrin 95b) is to cause the fruit to ripen. The other is probably Michael. Water and wine seem to symbolize the qualities of Grace (water) and Sternness (wine), much as in the Book Bahir. Whether this symbolism came from the Orient—together with the angelological tradition —or whether it belongs exclusively to the Provençal stratum of the Bahir cannot be established with certainty.

We know nothing else about this R. Nehorai, and the doctrine of the sefiroth is implied in no other twelfth-century text that can definitely be said to have been composed in the Orient. This pilgrimage of “Rabbenu Jacob Hasid,” which I see no reason to doubt, must have taken place at the earliest not long after the conquest of Jerusalem by Saladin, after 1187; before that, under the rule of the Crusaders, access to the city was generally forbidden to Jews.

It cannot be fixed at a date prior to the time Jacob the Nazirite commenced his esoteric studies; it was on the contrary, occasioned by those studies. According to the preceding argument, we have in fact every reason to suppose that such studies were already in vogue before 1187 in the circle of Posquières and of Lunel.

Later legends of the Spanish kabbalists related the visit of the old kabbalist of Lunel to the Orient to the interest in the Kabbalah allegedly displayed by Maimonides toward the end of his life. Our R. Jacob is supposed to have gone to Egypt, where he initiated Maimonides in the esoteric science. This legend, whose origin around 1300 I have examined elsewhere, has no historical value. Even the writings of Abraham, the son of Maimonides, whose penchant for mystical religiosity is quite obvious, draw their inspiration from Sufi sources and do not evince the slightest familiarity with kabbalistic ideas, as has already been mentioned on page 12.

Our discussion of the groups of Jewish ascetics in France devoting themselves to a contemplative life gives added urgency to the question of a possible relationship between the emergence of the Kabbalah and Catharism in the middle of the twelfth century. The only scholar who, to my knowledge, has raised the problem—albeit in a rather aphoristic style—was Moses Gaster in his programmatic The Origin of the Kabbalah (Ramsgate, 1894). It is doubtful, however, whether such a relationship can be deduced with certainty from an analysis of the oldest kabbalistic traditions.

The information regarding the beliefs of Cathar groups or individuals contained in Cathar sources or in the acts of the Inquisition reveal few if any elements parallel to kabbalistic doctrine. There is, no doubt, a general similarity in the fundamental assumption common to both groups regarding the reality of a separate higher world belonging entirely to God himself and in which there occur certain dramatic events that have their counterpart in the lower world.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 233-4.

Men with Mystical Tendencies

“The similarities between this phenomenon and Christian monasticism on the one hand and the condition of the perfecti or bonshommes among the Cathars on the other, are especially striking, despite the clear divergences resulting from the different attitudes of Judaism and Christianity toward celibacy. The Nazirites are not simply hasidim in the well-defined sense of the Book of the Pious and German Hasidism.

But it is evident that we are dealing with a parallel stratum in the Jewish communities, many of whose members undoubtedly also inclined toward the more radical demands of German Hasidism. At the end of his halakhic work Rabad himself picked out of his talmudic material precisely that definition of hasiduth that most closely approximated the mentality of the German Hasidim.

R. Ezra of Gerona, in his commentary on the aggadoth, also calls Jacob the Nazirite by the name Jacob the Hasid. What is important for us is the existence of a stratum with society that by its very definition and vocation had the leisure for a contemplative life. It goes without saying that such a stratum could give rise to men with mystical tendencies.

Members of this group are also mentioned in the earliest kabbalistic sources after Jacob the Nazirite as representatives of a mystical tradition; the names may as well be those of historical personalities as of fictitious figures appearing in pseudepigraphic documents. Indeed, it is precisely the fictitious character of these names of perushim and nezirim that seems so characteristic of the mood prevailing in these kabbalistic circles.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 229-31.

Echoes of the Nezirim

“In this generation in France and especially in its southern part we hear with increasing frequency of scholars called by the epithet ha-parush, the ascetic, or ha-nazir, the Nazirite. The exact definition of these terms is provided by a regulation that was undoubtedly composed in this region at the beginning of the thirteenth century, or at best a short time earlier. There it is said that …

“ … one should appoint scholars whose vocation it is to occupy themselves incessantly with the Torah, so that the community might fulfill the duty of the study of the Torah, and in order that the reign of heaven sustain no loss. Perushim [literally: those who are separated, detached] is the name given to scholars who devote themselves exclusively to the study of the Torah; they are called in the language of the Mishnah perushim and in the language of the Bible nezirim—and this detachment [from worldly affairs] leads to purity.”

From this definition it is evident that this institution in France has nothing in common with the ascetic movement of the “Mourners of Zion,” ‘abele siyon, that several centuries earlier had been widespread in the Near East, and above all in Palestine. The traveler Benjamin of Tudela still found remnants of it in Jerusalem in the twelfth century.

The origin of the perushim is, rather, connected with the religious enthusiasm that gripped France in the twelfth century, finding expression in the Jewish milieu as well as in the surrounding Christian world, including the reform movements and their religious heresies.

Naturally, the very choice of words already reflects the spirit of asceticism that characterized the period. These perushim took upon themselves the “yoke of the Torah” and completely detached their thoughts from the affairs of this world. They did not engage in commerce and sought to attain purity.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, p. 229.

Conjuring Shaddiel

“In the middle of the thirteenth century there lived in Narbonne an old kabbalist, also a disciple of Eleazar of Worms, “of whose teacher it was attested [that is, by the people of Narbonne, and not only by the former student himself] that Elijah, may his memory be blessed, revealed himself to him every Day of Atonement.”

Whether this teacher was the Eleazar just named or some other Provençal kabbalist is not clear. But the identity of the teacher is of less importance for us than the information concerning the date when the prophet Elijah regularly appeared to him. In the Talmud such an appearance of Elijah on the Day of Atonement is mentioned, to my knowledge, only once in passing ( Yoma 19b) and not as something that is repeated periodically. This revelation, whose supreme value is thrown into sharp relief by the fact of its occurrence on the most sacred day of the year, was certainly attained only after spiritual preparation and special concentration.

We possess two texts that give an exact description of the magic rituals for conjuring up the archon who is in charge of the mysteries of the Torah. These rituals take place precisely during the night of the Day of Atonement. The first of these texts is a responsum attributed to two fictitious Babylonian geonim of the eleventh century that appears to have been composed in Provence around 1200 in an artificial Aramaic.

We are given here, among other things, an utterly fantastic report concerning a very peculiar procedure that the scholars of earlier times supposedly followed on that night in order to conjure up “Shaddiel, the great king of the demons (shedim) who rule in the air,” thereby to acquire possession and knowledge of “all the mysteries of heaven.”

This mixture of angelology and demonology is very strange. It seems to me impossible that this ritual, transferred in this instance to Babylonia, was ever really practiced. But it does indicate the mood of the group from which it stems.

The second part likewise contains theurgic instructions, but these, we may assume, describe a ritual that was actually performed. These directions constitute only one link in a long chain of incantations given since very early times for conjuring up the “archons of the Torah.”

At the end of the “Greater Hekhaloth” there is a text, Sar Torah, that is also found independently and has the same aim. We possess several other conjurations of this kind that originated in the Orient and passed, in part, into the manuscripts of the German Hasidim. This text too, which similarly prescribes the eve and the night of the Day of Atonement as the time for the performance of these rituals, certainly originated in materials that came from Babylonia through Italy to France.

But the content, half conjuration and half prayer, leaves no doubt that in its extant form it was edited in France. The text contains a long list of things that one of these perushim wished to learn from the archon of the Torah. He desires that his heart be opened to the study of the Torah, with special emphasis on the various types of gematria and number-mysticism and on the comprehension of various talmudic disciplines—such as cosmogony, the Merkabah, the divine glory, the kabhod—as well as many other specific subjects of the talmudic tradition that the author considered worth knowing.

There is nothing to indicate the author’s acquaintance with the Kabbalah; his area of interest coincides, regarding theosophical matters as well, with that of the German and French Hasidim. At the same time, we learn that in those circles too one hoped for revelations concerning the exoteric and esoteric Torah during the night of the Day of Atonement. We have before us, therefore, the sort of prayer that Jacob the Nazirite might have recited had he wished to prepare himself for a revelation of this kind.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 240-2.

Metaphysical Anti-Semitism

“The coupling of masculine and feminine potencies in the upper world, which subsequently came to play such a significant role in the doctrines of the Spanish kabbalists, seems also to have been known in Cathar circles. Here too we should assume a common source in the ancient gnosis rather than immediate influences. However, it is plausible that some details were taken over by the Cathars from Jewish mystics as, for example, the idea, well known to us from the Hekhaloth texts, that Israel was the name of a celestial angel.

Such ideas may also have been introduced into the movement by Jews who attached themselves to the Cathars. Thus, we learn for example that at the end of the twelfth century, a weaver named Johannes Judaeus stood at the head of the Italian Cathars as their bishop. The name would suggest, though it by no means proves, Jewish origin. The surname Judaeus does not always signify Jewish lineage in the Middle Ages.

Another angelological doctrine to be found only among the Cathars and in the kabbalistic traditions of Moses de Leon and the Zohar asserts that the prophet Elijah was an angel descended from heaven. The ideas of the two groups resembled one another, here and there, on the subject of the soul’s fate in the terrestrial paradise and its entry into the celestial paradise after the last judgment, and regarding the garments worn by the souls before their birth that are then preserved in heaven during their earthly existence. But all of these are disparate, and unconnected details, and they concern points of secondary interest only.

As regards the fundamental conceptions, there could of course be no real agreement between the two movements, since in their rejection of the world as the creation of Satan and of the Torah as the law of Satan, the Cathars go much further in their metaphysical anti-Semitism than does the Catholic Church. Besides, the Jewish scholars of Provence were thoroughly conscious of the gulf separating the Jewish conception of the world from that of the Cathars.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 236-7.

The Brides of Satan

“We may also detect a certain resemblance between the doctrine in the Bahir of Satan as the seducer of souls, as the prince of tohu and the material world fashioned from it, and the conceptions of the Cathars with regard to the role of Satan. To be sure, the texts of the Bahir are formulated in a thoroughly Jewish manner, and from the standpoint of the history of religions might also be rooted in other traditions of an earlier period.

One detail found in the older scholarly literature on the Cathars would certainly seem to provide an unexpected parallel to certain sources of kabbalistic demonology. This is the idea of the two wives of Satan, which is preserved in various statements on the diabolical hierarchy collected by the brothers Jacob and Isaac Cohen of Soria, who brought them back from their travels in Provence around the middle of the thirteenth century.

It would conform to a surprising extent with the same idea, inferred by C. Schmidt from a remark of the generally exceedingly well informed Cistercian Peter de Vaux-Cernay, to the effect that the two biblical figures Ahalah and Ahalibah (Ezek. 23:4) were regarded by certain Cathars as the two wives of Satan.

In reality, however, the source in question refers to the two wives of the supreme deity, of whom one was the mother of Christ while the other was that of Satan. The analogy with the demonological speculations of the Kabbalah is therefore spurious; besides, these speculations have no direct relation to the doctrine of the aeons and the sefiroth, with which they must have become linked at a later date. Most probably the sources of the demonological systems that emerged in Provence, go back to the Orient, although the statements on this subject in the texts available to Isaac Cohen were pseudepigraphic in character.

Incidentally, the idea of Lilith as one of the wives, or even as the true wife, of Satan originated in these sources and subsequently passed into the Zohar. Earlier Oriental sources of Jewish magic mention no such marriage and seem to know nothing about a bride or wife of Satan.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, p. 235.

Heresy in the Bahir

“It is in this sense, above all, that the raising of the hands in Aaron’s blessing (Lev. 9:22) and during the battle against Amaleq (Exod. 17:11) is explained. The raising of the hands in the priestly blessing, at the end of the ‘Amidah prayer, corresponds to the raising of the hands after the sacrifice (section 87): it is a gesture marking the union of the sefiroth, which are specifically mentioned here as being contained in one another.

The victory of Israel over Amaleq when Moses raised his hands is on the same level. Moses directed the “concentration of the heart,” kawwanath ha-leb, to that middah that is named Israel and that contains the Torah of Truth.

“He indicated with the ten fingers of his hands, that [this middah] gave permanence to the ten [logoi], so that if it [this middah] would not assist Israel, the ten logoi would no longer be sanctified every day—and then Israel was victorious.”

The expression kawwanath ha-leb is taken from the Targum and the Midrash and means concentration of the spirit; from the Book Bahir on it was used by the kabbalists in the sense of “mystical meditation” on the sefiroth. It serves as the fundamental concept of their mysticism of prayer. The Midrash already states that Israel’s prayer is not heard now, for it does not know the full, explicit name of God, shem ha-meforash. If, therefore, someone knows this secret, his prayer will be heard. The same idea is very boldly developed in an interpretation of Habakkuk 3:10 in section 95:

“If there are in Israel enlightened men and such as know the secret of the venerable name and raise their hands, they will be heard immediately, for it says [Isa. 58:9]: “Then, when you call, the Lord will answer.” [This is to be understood as follows:] If you invoke [that which is indicated by the word] ‘az, God answers. And what does this ‘az [composed of ‘alef and zayin] signify? This teaches that it is not permitted to invoke the ‘alef alone or to pray to it, but only together with the two letters that are connected with it and that sit highest in the royal dominion. And together with the ‘alef, they are three. Seven of the logoi [still] remain, and that is signified by [the letter] zayin [whose numerical value is seven] and of this it is also said [Exod. 15:1]: “Then sang,” ‘az yashir, [that is, the ‘az praised] “Moses and the Israelites.”

This reinterpretation of the Hebrew word ‘az utilizes an old nonmystical midrash in which this word in Exodus 15:1 is interpreted according to the numerical value of the two consonants, as if Moses had said: “Let us praise the one who thrones above the seven heavens.”

The new idea is: if you invoke (in your kawwanah ) the ten logoi that represent the secret of the true name of God, then God answers! It is understandable that this passage, which speaks so clearly of a prayer addressed to the logoi and sefiroth, would have been considered offensive.

It evidently was one of the many heretical utterances that, according to Meir ben Simon of Narbonne, filled the Bahir. He specifically taxed the kabbalists with praying to the sefiroth as intermediaries instead of to God, thus making themselves guilty of polytheism.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 194-6.

Fallen Spirits

“The same symbolism occurs in the Bahir, but without any antinomian overtones. The souls finally return home to the “house of the father,” whence the king’s son had taken them in order to bring them to his bride. This is reminiscent of the interpretation suggested by many earlier researchers for the gnostic “Hymn of the Soul,” an interpretation that evinces a tendency similar to that with which kabbalists—whether they were historically correct or not— read the symbolism of their sources. In fact, the “house of the father” appears there in a similar context.

The further exposition of this theme in sections 126-127 is rather curious. Once again reinterpreting a talmudic dictum, this text explains that the Messiah can come only when all the souls “in the body of the man” are exhausted and have ended their migration.

“Only then may the ‘new [souls]’ come out, and only then is the son of David allowed to be born. How is that? Because his soul comes forth new among the others.”

The soul of the Messiah is therefore not subject to migration. Here the kabbalistic doctrine evinces a characteristic note of its own. We are not dealing with a reminiscence from earlier doctrines of reincarnation such as are known to us in certain Judéo-Christian doctrines concerning the true prophet, as in the Pseudo-Clementines, which also exercised considerable influence upon corresponding idea among Shiite sects in Islam. There the soul of Adam, the true prophet, traverses the aeon, this world, in many shapes until it finally finds repose in the appearance of the Messiah.

Later on, the kabbalists themselves developed this idea independently, in their assumed chain of reincarnations— Adam-David-Messiah; this doctrine, however, is not known before the end of the thirteenth century. Could this thesis of the Bahir have come into being in the Orient, perhaps even in conscious opposition to certain current ideas? Did it develop completely independent of them? It is difficult to answer these questions.

The German Hasidim know nothing at all of the transmigration of souls and the ideas associated with it, as is shown by the detailed work of Eleazar of Worms on the soul, Hokhmath ha-Nefesh. According to the pessimistic view of the Cathars, all the souls in this world are nothing but fallen spirits. Here, too, there is a distinct contrast to the doctrine of the Bahir, which considers the descent of “new” souls, at any rate, as possible and determined by the good deeds of Israel.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 190-1.

The Realm of Mixture

“According to the Aggadah, the Torah was given twenty-six generations after the creation of the world. But according to the rabbinic interpretation of Psalm 105, God gave His “word” (that is, the Torah) after 1,000 generations had passed. The contradiction is resolved by the talmudic Aggadah by saying that God had dispersed 974 generations of impious men among all the future generations where, in fact, they are the evildoers.

In the Bahir, these evil ones are therefore the bad grapevines, which, however, are not denied the opportunity to submit to a new test and to emerge as righteous. Section 39 says the same thing when it speaks of all the souls flying “up to 1,000 generations” from the mystical region of the Sabbath. The idea that the generation that goes is, according to the number of existing souls, the same as that which returns (section 86), points in the same direction. Here, too, the justification, as we have seen, resulted from the revision of an aggadic parable in the Talmud.

Only if Israel is worthy will it receive the new souls coming from the Sabbath or the east—from the seventh logos (section 104). The majority of the souls must wander until they are redeemed and can return from the world of mixture. The collection of the semen that is dispersed in the cosmos, the realm of mixture, is an old gnostic symbol that acquired great significance in the mystery rites of certain antinomian gnostic sects.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 189-90.

Tracing the Doctrine of the Transmigration of Souls

“What matters here is the fact that this doctrine is taught as a mystery, accessible to initiates only, yet at the same time the author also takes it so much for granted that he does not consider it as requiring a special justification. The Cathars too taught it as a secret, which is not surprising since the Church had formally and dogmatically condemned this doctrine, and anyone adhering to it was automatically considered a heretic.

The details of this doctrine as taught by the Cathars are very different. Thus the Bahir does not know the idea of a migration into animal bodies or into any but human forms of existence. The doctrine of the transmigration of souls appeared as an answer to the question of theodicy:

“Why do things go well for an evildoer and badly for a righteous man? Because the righteous man was already [once] in the past an evildoer and he is now being punished. But does one punish a person for [wrongs committed in] the days of his youth? … I do not speak of the [same] life; I speak of the fact that he was already there in the past. His companions said to him: How long will you still speak obscure words?”

In response, R. Rahmai expounds to them, Isaiah 5:2, the parable of the owner of the vineyard who repeatedly replanted and pruned because the grapes were not growing well.

“How often? He said: until the thousandth generations, for it is written [Ps. 105:8]: “The promise He gave for a thousand generations.” And that is the meaning of the dictum [in Hagigah 13b]: 974 generations were wanting; then God arose and implanted them in every generation.” (section 135)

The objections here show that the questioners were completely ignorant of the esoteric doctrine to which the apocryphal R. Rahmai refers. His statements are incomprehensible to them. The notion is taught not in a coherent theoretical exposition but, as is also the case in other passages of the Bahir relating to this doctrine, in the form of parables.

The parable makes express mention of only three unsuccessful attempts to improve the vineyard. It is not clear whether this is already an allusion to the later idea of a triple transmigration. The talmudic passage that is interpreted here in the sense of the transmigration of souls knows nothing of it either.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 188-9.

Ioel, Yahoel, Metatron

“This no doubt explains the special connection between most of the commandments and the particular interpretation of the mystery of the Shekhinah, already discussed at the end of section 8 (p. 178, herein). In fulfilling a commandment, man brings into view some of the hidden reflection that rests upon the entire world and upon each of its particulars as well as upon every action; in this manner he thus unites himself with the historical totality of the ecclesia of Israel and with the Shekhinah, which is its innermost part and its mystical reality.

The sefiroth were thus conceived as the interior side of this Shekhinah, as powers that only manifest themselves outwardly in her and through her agency. But even if in this way we can shed some light on the relationship of the oldest kabbalists to the world of their symbols, the historical formation of these symbols themselves can only be adequately explained through their connection with the remnants of the gnostic doctrine of the aeons.

The quotation from Eleazar of Worms shows, moreover, that here the “daughter,” whether gnostic or aggadic, can also be easily identified with the figure of Metatron, the angel or envoy whom God sends before Israel according to Exodus 23:20. This identification is frequently found in Hasidic writings as well as in old kabbalistic documents.

This is clearly a promotion of Metatron, who in the Merkabah gnosis also bears the name Yahoel. The angel himself becomes a figure of the kabhod. An analogous case is presented by the Manichees; according to Theodoret, the light virgin is named loel, which is nothing other than the Hebrew Yahoel, though I would consider this as hardly more than a coincidence. The Book Bahir itself, as I have already stressed, has preserved no speculations concerning Metatron.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, p. 187.

Malkhuth, Mystery of All Mysteries

“Most significant in this regard is a passage of his Sefer ha-Hokhmah, a commentary on the mystical forty-two-letter name of God. In a text on the tefillin of God, which are composed of the prayers (tefilloth) of Israel, it is said of the crown (‘atarah), which by these prayers ascends from below to rest upon God’s head then to be called Aktariel, in thoroughly kabbalistic language:

“For the tefillah sits at God’s left like a bride by a bridegroom, and she is called the king’s daughter, sometimes she is also called, according to her mission [to those here below] daughter of the voice [the talmudic expression for the celestial voice that mortals sometimes hear]. Of this Solomon said [reinterpreting Proverbs 8:30]: And I was Shekhinah by him, and the name of the Shekhinah is ‘ehyeh [I was] and the word next to it [in the verse] can also be explained, according to the Targum, as “she became great.”

For she is called the king’s daughter because the Shekhinah is with him in his house and it is to this that reference is made [in Ps. 91:1] to the dwelling in the shadow of shaddai [sel, “shadow,” being taken here in the sense of ‘esel, “by”] which means: He has a shadow which is called “by him” and this is the tenth kingdom, malkhuth, and it is the mystery of all mysteries. And we know that the word sod, mystery, can be interpreted [by the method of letter-mysticism] as the word malkhuth.

On every side of the Shekhinah are the crowns of royalty. And she herself is 236,000 myriads of parasangs long [that is, she is the theophany of God upon his throne, as described in the Shi’ur Qomah]. . . . And she directs the world and is named angel of God by virtue [of this her] mission, but with her no separation [from God] takes place.

And of this the verse [Exod. 23:20] said: I am sending an angel before you. This is the Shekhinah. And it is in this sense that the sages explain the verse [Num. 16:4]: Moses fell on his face, that is, because the Shekhinah was [there], he prostrated himself before God. That is why the prophets saw the Shekhinah, which is emanated, as it is said in Sefer Hekhaloth that the Shekhinah dwells beneath the cherub, and [originally] angels and men saw it.

But when the generation of Enoch sinned, the Shekhinah ascended heavenward. As for the Creator and Master of the Shekhinah, he is hidden from all and has neither measure [as in the Shi’ur Qomah] nor likeness, and no eye saw him. . . . And this is the mystery of the crown and the mystery of the Shekhinah, and whoever has this knowledge has a part in the world to come, inherits both worlds, and is saved from the judgment of Gehenna and he is beloved above and cherished below.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 184-5.

On the Oral Transmission

“On the other hand it would be a mistake to overlook the possibility that such an esoteric conception of the symbols of the Merkabah in the spirit of the Book Bahir might be found in the writings of Eleazar of Worms, especially as he refers to an oral tradition concerning the mystical significance of such symbols.

“When it is said in the book of the Merkabah that the angels who are placed over the doors of the seven Hekhaloth ride fiery horses that eat fiery coals. . . . It is well known that there is no eating and drinking in the supernal regions. But if I were to write down the interpretation, someone who is not worthy might see it and arrive at corrupt conceptions of it. . . . That is why [such an interpretation can be transmitted] only by way of tradition, kabbalah, that is to say, through oral transmission.”

The first kabbalists also interpreted the prophets’ descriptions of the Merkabah and the revelations of the authors of the Hekhaloth literature as symbols of profoundly spiritual states. It is not without reason that the anonymous kabbalistic commentary on the Merkabah, whose true author can be identified as Jacob ben Cohen of Soria, is attributed in some manuscripts to “the Kabbalah of the Hasid R. Eliezer of Worms.”

In Narbonne around 1250, Jacob Cohen and his brother Isaac met a “Hasid and kabbalist,” a pupil of Eleazar, who apparently knew how to combine the Hasidic tradition with the kabbalistic tradition of the Provençal group. Perhaps this anonymous disciple was more loyal to the oral transmission of his teacher’s ideas than we are able to conclude from a simple comparison of his writings with those of the earliest kabbalists.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 183-4.

The Double Hokhmah

“In fact, they occasionally seem to force this hypothesis upon us. In that case it is not too much to assume that the gnostic material of Oriental origin in the Book Bahir, once it was received and adopted by a circle of religiously agitated and productive men, amply suffices to explain the inner development of the Kabbalah up to, and including, the Zohar. But how are we to understand the development that led to that ferment, the evidence of which we have before us in the Book Bahir itself? On this point we are forced to assume the existence of some kind of connection, whether in literary or oral form, with older, premedieval materials.

Certain details, as far as I can see, can have no other explanation and above all cannot be attributed to fortuitous coincidences. They prove that the gnostic symbolisms that occupied a meaningful and comprehensible position within their own framework—as for example in the system of the Valentinian gnosis—found their way into Jewish sources, largely detaching themselves, of course, from their organic connection with gnostic mythology.

Today we can no longer (or not yet?) say anything about the nature of these sources, or whether, perhaps, there once existed entire systems of a Jewish character parallel to the classic systems of Gnosticism or to the later gnostic ramifications of the kind that survived in the Aramaic-Syrian linguistic area, such as, for example, the Mandaean gnosis. Only obscure traces of these sources, not a system but merely fragments of symbols, seem to have come into the hands of the redactors of the Bahir. Nevertheless, their attraction was still strong enough to stimulate the combination of old material with new associations of ideas and, thus, to give it a new content.

A surprising detail of this kind is the doctrine of the double Sophia or hokhmah that among the first kabbalists and as early as the Book Bahir, served as a model for similar symbols occupying a double position within the framework of the divine world, the pleroma.

Thus we have a double “Fear of God” (sections 97, 129, 131), a double “Justice” (sedeq, sections 50, 133), a double he in the Tetragrammaton YHWH (section 20), and also, without a doubt, a double Shekhinah (section 11). The region and position of these power symbols (“the lower he; the lower Justice”) are always, in this case, close to the margin and termination of the world of the aeons, and are connected with the symbolism of the Shekhinah.

But these expositions in the Bahir are most precise in just those instances where they are related to the double hokhmah. That should give us cause for thought. The Gnostics, especially those of the Valentinian school, developed the idea of two aeons that are both called Sophia. One, the “upper Sophia,” is high above, in the world of the pleroma; the other, however, which is also related to the symbolism of the “virgin of light,” is found at its lower end.

The gnostic myth of the cosmic drama told of the fall of the lower Sophia, which succumbed to the temptation of the hyle and fell from the pleroma into the lower worlds, where it is either wholly, or at least in certain parts of its luminous being, “in exile.” Even so, this lower, fallen Sophia remains related to the pneuma, the highest constitutive part of the human soul, the contact between these two entities being described by means of different symbols in different systems. This divine spark in man is connected with the drama of the exile of the “lower Sophia.”

It is precisely in the corresponding levels of the structure of the divine middoth that we find, in different passages of the Bahir, the two hypostases or aeons named hokhmah, as the second and the tenth sefirah. Wisdom simply is, in section 96 for example, the upper Wisdom, the “beginning of the paths of God” in the midst of creation.

When God placed this Wisdom in the heart of Solomon he adapted the upper Wisdom to the form of the lower Wisdom, which he was able to grasp. In the form of the lower Wisdom, which is the “daughter” whom God, as it were, gave in marriage to Solomon, “the thirty-two paths of the Sophia,” all the powers and ways of the pleroma are united (sections 43, 62, 67).”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 91-2.

The Shekhinah is Bakol

“The pseudepigraphic disguise that lends it the appearance of an ancient teaching cannot deceive us concerning the true character of this dictum. “The rabbis have taught: Kol, Abraham’s daughter, is not dead. She still exists, and whoever sees her has made a great find, as it is said [Prov. 8:17]: and those who seek me will find me.”

By means of this verse from Proverbs, the daughter is clearly identified as the hokhmah or Sophia, which would be in accord with the symbolism of the Shekhinah in the Bahir, itself related to the mysticism of the Sophia (see following).

It is quite possible that the author of this dictum, preserved only in the Yemenite midrash, knew of an interpretation similar to the one that we read in the Bahir, and which must therefore already have been known in the Orient. But it is just as possible that he produced a similar interpretation quite independently stimulated by the desire to allegorize a strange phrase.

The tradition of the German Hasidim, around 1250, also shows familiarity with older materials that dealt with the interpretation of the Bakol of Genesis 24:1, though in a direction somewhat different from that taken in the Bahir. In connection with this same verse, Ephraim ben Shimshon (ca. 1240) cited a dictum of the adepts of esotericism, ba ‘ale ha-sod, according to which this blessing consisted in God’s charge to the “Prince of the Divine Presence” to grant Abraham’s every wish.

The role of the Shekhinah in the Book Bahir is here assumed by the angel Yahoel, the oldest name of Metatron, prince of the angels, whose relation to the patriarch is not only known from the Apocalypse of Abraham (early second century C.E.), but was also familiar to the German Hasidim of the twelfth century.

However, the particular exegesis relating the word Bakol to Yahoel probably originated in Germany, for it is based on the gematria method of interpretation practiced there at that time.

Whether there is a relation between the Bahir’s reference to the Shekhinah and the idea of the universal presence of the Shekhinah as current at the time particularly among the German Hasidim I would not venture to decide. Such a connection, if it exists, would rest upon a punning interpretation of the Talmud: “The Shekhinah is in every place” (Baba Bathra 25a). By abridging this phrase to shekhinah bakol, “the Shekhinah is in all things,” an association is suggested with the bakol in Genesis 24:1: the Shekhinah is Bakol.

Another example of such a reinterpretation can be found in section 126. The Talmud relates a dictum of the Babylonian amora R. Assi: “The son of David will not come until all the souls in the ‘body’ are exhausted” (Yebamoth 62a, 63b). Here “body” means the storehouse of the préexistent, unborn souls. This traditional interpretation was evidently also known to the Bahir. But there this dictum is further interpreted as a cue for the doctrine of the transmigration of souls: the “body” mentioned there would be the body of man, through which the souls must wander.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 88-90.

Bakol = Shekhinah

“But what about the oldest text, the Book Bahir itself? Here, too, many passages show that we are dealing with a later exegesis, which reinterprets, on the basis of a medieval mentality, older material that had already become authoritative and confers upon it a symbolic character.

Assuredly, biblical verses could already be interpreted in the talmudic era as symbolic of events taking place on a higher plane of being. The psychological distance between the gnostic exegetes, Jewish or not, and the biblical canon is evident. The elaboration of pagan mythology in terms of gnostic exegesis, as, for example, in the “Naassene sermon” preserved by Hippolytus, indicates a similar psychological distance between ancient myth and its new interpretation.

The Bahir already presents this type of interpretation of the talmudic Aggadah. This can be seen not only in the many passages in which parables drawn from aggadic literature in the Talmud and the Midrash, where they have a perfectly exoteric significance, are transposed to a mystical plane, the new parable often becoming, in the process, much more strange and problematic than the one upon which it is based; we can observe it above all when talmudic quotations themselves are treated as old materials of this kind.

Only during a period when, for the pious consciousness of broad sections of the Jewish population, the Aggadah itself could already claim the authority of a sacred text, and at a time when for other circles its very extravagance became a problem—from the eighth century onward, after the emergence of Karaism—is a passage like section 52 of the Bahir possible. The Talmud, Baba Bathra 16b, transmits various opinions with regard to the value of the birth of daughters.

In this connection, a discussion is reported between mishnaic teachers (second century) concerning Genesis 24:1: “And the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things.” “What is meant by ‘in all things?’ R. Meir explained: it means that he had no daughter. R. Yehudah said: Abraham had a daughter whose name was Bakol [literally: with all things].”

The Bahir made this last remark the object of a mystical exegesis, which elevated the strange statement concerning the daughter Bakol to an allegorical plane. Bakol thus becomes a designation for the Shekhinah, the last of the divine powers, which is mentioned at the end of section 51 and to the symbolism of which I shall return. Abraham is there designated as the father of this Shekhinah. Section 52 then continues:

“And whence did Abraham have a daughter? [we learn that] from the verse [Gen. 24:1] the Lord had blessed Abraham with “all things” and [Scripture also] says [Isa. 43:7] “every one” will be called by my Name, etc. Was this “blessing” his daughter or not? [another version: Or was it rather his mother?] Yes, she was his daughter. It is like a king who had a perfect servant . . . Then the king said: What should I give to this servant or what should I do for him? There is nothing left for me to do but to recommend him to my brother, so that he may counsel, protect, and honor him. The servant went home with the king’s great brother and learned his ways. The brother grew very fond of him and called him his friend, as it is said [Isa. 41:8]: Abraham, my friend. He said: What shall I give him or what shall I do for him? Lo, I have made a beautiful vessel, and inside it are beautiful gems to which none can be compared, and they are the jewels of kings. I shall give them to him, and he may partake of them instead of me. That is what is written: God blessed Abraham with “all things.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 87-8,

Jewish Gnosticism

“The decisive step beyond the other gnostic systems consists in the fixing of the number of these powers or aeons at ten, according to the ten sefiroth of the Book of Creation and the ten words of creation through which, according to the ancient Aggadah, God called the world into existence.

Once the number of these “qualities” or middoth of God was fixed they came to be associated with a large number of symbolic names, since each of the epithets by which God could be presented or named was necessarily related to one or another of the middoth. In the Bahir we can still recognize quite clearly the efforts that were made to introduce a more or less consistent terminology in the use of these symbols in relation to specific sefiroth, though it took some time until this process of the definitive crystallization of the symbolism of the old Kabbalah came to its final conclusion.

The different attempts often contradict one another. While the commentators of the Kabbalah strove to bring the symbols into accord or to unify them, the historian naturally has no interest in a harmonistic exegesis of this kind. We shall see several examples that suggest conflicting traditions that were simply juxtaposed in the Bahir. Here, too, the choice of symbols and appellations for this or that sefirah duplicates the process by which the Gnostics designated their aeons. They liked to adopt as names of aeons abstract terms such as thought, wisdom, penitence, truth, grace, greatness, silence, or images such as father, mother, abyss, etc.

These designations, some of which are identical with those found in the ancient documents while others were newly created in accordance with the methods of gnostic exegesis, fill the pages of the Bahir. There, however, they are derived from biblical verses or even the aggadic dicta of the rabbis.

Once again the question is posed: should we admit, at least for one of the strata of the book, the existence of vestiges of an ancient Jewish gnosis, of fragments that antedate the Middle Ages and in which anonymous Jewish Gnostics sought to express their mystical conception of the divinity without impairing their Jewish monotheism?

Or are we dealing with attempts by medieval men, who felt themselves newly stimulated for one reason or another, to view traditions that were intrinsically and purely Jewish from a gnostic perspective? Is our material essentially nothing but the well-known and straightforward Jewish tradition, the adaptation and transformation of which into symbols proves just how great was the psychological and temporal distance between these later authors and the period when the aggadic sayings originally crystallized?

This is the fundamental question that imposes itself upon the reader of the Bahir. It is a question that cannot be answered on the basis of general considerations; only a careful examination of the details can help us here. I do not hesitate, for my part, to affirm that the literature of the Spanish Kabbalah, especially that imbedded in the Zohar, clearly reveals a psychological attitude that, in the Middle Ages, led men to recast ancient talmudic and midrashic material according to an entirely new spirit by means of an exegetical and homiletical method that in its structure was gnostic, but that reached its full development only under the influence of the Bahir.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 85-6.

The Powers of God

“Moreover, a large part of the book consists of mystical variations on motifs from the Book Yesirah. In fact, the term sefiroth was taken by the Bahir from that work, though it is no longer understood in the sense of ideal numbers that contain within them all the powers of creation, as was the case with the author of the Yesirah.

The sefiroth now signify the aeons, the powers of God, which are also his attributes. The term sefiroth, however, does not occupy an important place in the Bahir. It appears only in section 87, where the ten fingers raised in the benediction of the priests are found to be “an allusion to the ten sefiroth by means of which heaven and earth are sealed.”

In the Book Yesirah itself, only six of the sefiroth perform this function, and in this particular instance the term is evidently identified with a different conception. This is also indicated by the book’s new explanation of the meaning of the term sefiroth.

The word is not derived from safar, to count, but from sappir, sapphire. They are thus sapphirine reflections of the divinity, and Psalm 19:2: “The heavens declare the glory of God,” is interpreted by the author in accordance with this etymology: “the heavens shine in the sapphirine splendor of the glory of God.”

This mystical etymology subsequently became classic in kabbalistic literature. In view of the fragmentary condition of the book, it may not be possible to infer very much from the fact that the term sefiroth is missing in other parts of the text. It nevertheless remains surprising that the notion of the sefiroth was, so to speak, eliminated from just those passages that are very clearly based upon the Book of Creation, but appears as something known and self-evident in precisely a passage that otherwise has no connection with the motifs of the Book Yesirah.

Instead, these aeons, if we may speak of them as such, are described in completely different terms. These names reflect the fullness of meaning and “multivalence” of the aeons in gnostic mythology. They are, as we have seen, the powers of God.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 81-2.

Shema’ Yisrael

“The passage occurs in connection with a statement of Rabbi Rahmai concerning the expression “twelve tribes of God” in Psalms 122:4. It follows rather abruptly on a relatively long magical text devoted to the names of God and is found in connection with the symbolism of the “source” that also appears in important passages elsewhere in the book.

Starting from the conception of God as the origin of a source that irrigates everything else, the text interprets the twelve tribes in the upper world as the channels through which the water of the source is conducted. This source is perhaps the name of God, which, through the twelve channels, indicates the thirteen attributes of the divinity, deduced by Talmudic theology from Exodus 34:6.

The discourse concerning the elements of language appears as the continuation of this section 82. The vowels have the form of points, therefore of circles; the consonants, on the other hand, are square, which is in the nature of the Hebrew script.

And just as there is a chain of analogies: God—soul—vowel—circle, so also the corresponding members of each pair should be correlated, to wit, the primordial images of the twelve tribes—bodies—consonants —square. It is difficult to separate one series of symbolism from the other. If these symbols are themselves older, then the pair vowel-consonant which figures among them must also belong to an older tradition reaching back beyond the book Kuzari. In that case the continuation of the paragraph, at first sight enigmatic, can also be interpreted in a logical and consistent manner. The text says:

“And the vowel comes along the way of the “channels” to the consonants through the scent of the sacrifice, and it descends from there, as it is frequently said: the savor is a thing which descends toward God. For [the first] YHWH [of the two four-letter divine names mentioned one after another in Exod. 34:6] descends toward [the second] YHWH, and that is the meaning of Scripture [Deut. 6:4]: “Hear 0 Israel, YHWH our God, YHWH is one.’”

Here, therefore, the symbolism is transferred to the magic of the sacrifice. Through the savor of the sacrifice the current of life enters from the soul, which is the source, into the attributes, which are the tribes, the consonants or the bodies. By means of a sacramental magic it is attracted toward them through the twelve channels introduced in section 82 in the form of a simile. And corresponding to this mysterious event at the hour of sacrifice, in the prayer, which mystically replaces the sacrifice, is the “unification” of the name of God in the formula of Shema’ Yisrael.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 64-5.

Miracles

“And as for thee, Joseph, the son of Jacob, shall be a symbol of thee. For his brethren sold him into the land of Egypt from Syria, the country of Laba (Laban), and on his going down into the land of Egypt there arose a famine in Syria and in all the world. And through his going down he called his kinsfolk and delivered them from famine and gave them a habitation in the land of Egypt, the name whereof is Geshen (Goshen). For he himself was King under Pharaoh, King of Egypt.

“Similarly the Saviour Who shall come from thy seed shall set thee free by His coming, and shall bring thee out of Sheol, where until the Saviour cometh thou shalt suffer pain, together with thy fathers; and He will bring thee forth. For from thy seed shall come forth a Saviour Who shall deliver thee, thee and those who were before thee, and those who shall [come] after thee, from Adam to His coming in the kin of your kin, and He shall make thee to go forth from Sheol as Joseph brought out his kinsfolk from the famine, that is to say the first Sheol in the land of famine, so also shall the Saviour bring out of Sheol you who are His kinsfolk. And as afterwards the Egyptians made [the kinsmen of Joseph] slaves, so also have the devils made you slaves through the error of idols.

“And as Moses brought his kinsmen out of the servitude [of Egypt], so shall the Saviour bring you out of the servitude of Sheol. And as Moses wrought ten miracles and punishments (or, plagues) before Pharaoh the King, so the Saviour Who shall come from thy seed shall work ten miracles for life before thy people. And as Moses, after he had wrought the miracles, smote the sea and made the people to pass over as it were on dry land, so the Saviour Who shall come shall overthrow the walls of Sheol and bring thee out. And as Moses drowned Pharaoh with the Egyptians in the Sea of Eritrea, so also shall the Saviour drown Satan and his devils in Sheol; for the sea is to be interpreted by Sheol, and Pharaoh by Satan, and his hosts of Egyptians by devils.

“And as Moses fed them [with] manna in the desert without toil, so shall the Saviour feed you with the food of the Garden (i.e. Paradise) for ever, after He hath brought you out from Sheol. And as Moses made them to dwell in the desert for forty years, without their apparel becoming worn out, or the soles of their feet becoming torn, so the Saviour shall make you to dwell without toil after the Resurrection.

And as Joshua brought them into the Land of Promise, so shall the Saviour bring you into the Garden of Delight. And as Joshua slew the seven Kings of Canaan, so shall the Saviour slay the seven heads of ‘Iblis. [i..e. Satan, the Devil] And as Joshua destroyed the people of Canaan, so shall the Saviour destroy sinners and shut them up in the fortress of Sheol. And as thou hast built the house of God, so shall churches be built upon the tops of the mountains.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, The Kebra Nagast, [1922], p. 110-1, at sacred-texts.com

Gabriel, the Angel, on the Pearl

“And again, there shall be unto thee a sign that the Saviour shall come from thy seed, and that He shall deliver thee with thy fathers and thy seed after thee by His coming. Your salvation was created in the belly of Adam in the form of a Pearl before Eve. And when He created Eve out of the rib He brought her to Adam, and said unto them, ‘Multiply you from the belly of Adam.’ The Pearl did not go out into Cain or Abel, but into the third that went forth from the belly of Adam, and it entered into the belly of Seth.”

“And then passing from him that Pearl went into those who were the firstborn, and came to Abraham. And it did not go from Abraham into his firstborn Ishmael, but it tarried and came into Isaac the pure. And it did not go into his firstborn, the arrogant Esau, but it went into Jacob the lowly one. And it did not enter from him into his firstborn, the erring Reuben, but into Judah, the innocent one. And it did not go forth from Judah until four sinners had been born, but it came to Fares (Perez), the patient one.”

“And from him this Pearl went to the firstborn until it came into the belly of Jesse, the father of thy father. And then it waited until six men of wrath had been born, and after that it came to the seventh, David, [David was the eighth of Jesse’s sons] thy innocent and humble father; for God hateth the arrogant and proud, and loveth the innocent and humble. And then it waited in the loins of thy father until five erring fools had been born, when it came into thy loins because of thy wisdom and understanding.”

“And then the Pearl waited, and it did not go forth into thy firstborn. For those good men of his country neither denied Him nor crucified Him, like Israel thy people; when they saw Him Who wrought miracles, Who was to be born from the Pearl, they believed on Him when they heard the report of Him. And the Pearl did not go forth into thy youngest son ‘Adrami. For those good men neither crucified Him nor denied Him when they saw the working of miracles and wonders by Him that was to be born from the Pearl, and afterwards they believed in Him through His disciples.”

“Now the Pearl, which is to be your salvation, went forth from thy belly and entered into the belly of ‘Iyorbe’am (Rehoboam) thy son, because of the wickedness of Israel thy people, who in their denial and in their wickedness crucified Him. But if He had not been crucified He could not have been your salvation. For He was crucified without sin, and He rose [again] without corruption. And for the sake of this He went down to you into Sheol, and tore down its walls, that He might deliver you and bring you out, and show mercy upon all of you.”

“Ye in whose bellies the Pearl shall be carried shall be saved with your wives, and none of you shall be destroyed, from your father Adam unto him that shall come, thy kinsman ‘Eyakem (Joachim), and from Eve thy mother, the wife of Adam, to Noah and his wife Tarmiza, to Tara (Terah) and his wife ‘Aminya, and to Abraham and his wife Sara (Sarah), and to Isaac and his wife Rebka (Rebecca), and to Jacob and his wife Leya (Leah), and to Yahuda and his bride Te’emar (Tamar), and to thy father and his wife Bersabeh (Bathsheba), and to thyself and Tarbana thy wife, and to Rehoboam thy son and his wife ‘Amisa, and to Iyo’akem (Joachim) thy kinsman, who is to come, and his wife Hanna.”

“None of you who shall have carried the Pearl shall be destroyed, and whether it be your men or your women, those who shall have carried the Pearl shall not be destroyed. For the Pearl shall be carried by the men who shall be righteous, and the women who have carried the Pearl shall not be destroyed, for they shall become pure through that Pearl, for it is holy and pure, and by it they shall be made holy and pure; and for its sake and for the sake of Zion He hath created the whole world.”

“Zion hath taken up her abode with thy firstborn and she shall be the salvation of the people of Ethiopia for ever; and the Pearl shall be carried in the belly of ‘Ayorbe’am (Rehoboam) thy son, and shall be the saviour of all the world. And when the appointed time hath come this Pearl shall be born of thy seed, for it is exceedingly pure, seven times purer than the sun. And the Redeemer shall come from the seat of His Godhead, and shall dwell upon her, and shall put on her flesh, and straightway thou thyself shalt announce to her what my Lord and thy Lord speaketh to me.”

“I am Gabriel the Angel, the protector of those who shall carry the Pearl from the body of Adam even to the belly of Hanna, so that I may keep from servitude and pollution you wherein the Pearl shall dwell. And Michael hath been commanded to direct and keep Zion wheresoever she goeth, and Uriel shall direct and keep the wood of the thicket [Compare Gen. xxii, 13] which shall be the Cross of the Saviour. And when thy people in their envy have crucified Him, they shall rush upon His Cross because of the multitude of miracles that shall take place through it, and they shall be put to shame when they see its wonders.”

“And in the last times a descendant of thy son ‘Adramis shall take the wood of the Cross, the third [means of] salvation that shall be sent upon the earth. The Angel Michael is with Zion, with David thy firstborn, who hath taken the throne of David thy father. And I am with the pure Pearl for him that shall reign for ever, with Rehoboam thy second son; and the Angel Uriel is with thy youngest son ‘Adrami[s]. This have I told thee, and thou shalt not make thy heart to be sad because of thine own salvation and that of thy son.”

And when Solomon had heard these words, his strength came [back] to him on his bed, and he prostrated himself before the Angel of God, and said, “I give thanks unto the Lord, my Lord and thy Lord, O thou radiant being of the spirit, because thou hast made me to hear a word which filleth me with gladness, and because He doth not cut off my soul from the inheritance of my father because of my sin, and because my repentance hath been accepted after mine affliction, and because He hath regarded my tears, and hath heard my cry of grief, and hath looked upon my affliction, and hath not let me die in my grief, but hath made me to rejoice before my soul shall go forth from my body.”

“Henceforward [the thought of] dying shall not make me sorrowful, and I will love death as I love life. Henceforward I will drink of the bitter cup of death as if it were honey, and henceforward I will love the grave as if it were an abode of costly gems. And when I have descended and have been thrust down deep into Sheol because of my sins, I shall not suffer grief, because I have heard the word which hath made me glad. And when I have gone down into the lowest depth of the deepest deep of Sheol, because of my sins, what will it matter to me?”

“And if He crush me to powder in His hand and scatter me to the ends of the earth and to the winds because of my sins, it will not make me sorrowful, because I have heard the word that hath made me to rejoice, and God hath not cut my soul off from the inheritance of my fathers. And my soul shall be with the soul of David my father, and with the soul of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob my fathers. And the Saviour shall come and shall bring us out from Sheol with all my fathers, and my kinsmen, old and young.”

“And as for my children, they shall have upon earth three mighty angels to protect them. I have found the kingdom of the heavens, and the kingdom of the earth. Who is like unto God, the Merciful, Who showeth mercy to His handiwork and glorifieth it, Who forgiveth the sins of the sinners and Who doth not blot out the memorial of the penitent? For His whole Person is forgiveness, and His whole Person is mercy, and to Him belongeth praise.” Amen.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, The Kebra Nagast, p. 111-4. [1922], at sacred-texts.com

Shiva, Kali, Illusion, Brahman

“The Shaivites envision the pure consciousness of Vast Face as Shiva, and the energy of that consciousness as His consort the Goddess Kali.

The Vedantic philosophy of advaita (non-duality) regards all Name and Form as illusory, and the Brahman (i.e. the Ayn) alone exists.

[Many] Buddhists perform variations of Vast Face meditation practices taught by Gautama Buddha (regarded as the eighth incarnation of Vishnu by Hindus) and other bodhisattvas (souls who reach enlightenment but remain incarnate to teach and help others awaken).

The Buddha practiced jnana yoga (lit. union through direct perception of the Ayn) and taught ashtanga yoga (lit. eight-limbed yoga of concentration and discrimination).

He sat under the Bodhi Tree, renouncing all experiences on all planes of existence. Seeing that all the koshas (Sanskrit words for shells of embodied existence) were empty, he perceived the ultimate Truth of Pure Being in nirvana.

The Vast Face Taoists follow “quietist practices” that lead them to Stillness in the Tao. The principal mood, or bhava, of Vast Face Yoga is called the “shanti bhava” peaceful mood).”

–Daniel Feldman, Qabala: The Mystical Heritage of the Children of Abraham, 2001, pg.  172-3.

The Name

“… As mentioned earlier, almost all the root mantra in the Mystical Qabala involve the One Small Face Name.

The Name … is called the “Shem HaMeforesh” or “Brilliant Name of Fire.” It is often simply referred to as “HaShem” (lit. “The Name”), reflecting its central importance. The Name … is conventionally translated in scriptures as “Lord.” Within the context of Hebrew grammar, the word … is usually cited as a future tense third person form of the verb root  (lit. “to be”). Some regard the word as a composite that combines the past, present, and future tense forms of the verb root.

Orthodoxy has proclaimed the pronunciation of the letter-formula as a Name to be blasphemous. When the Name is encountered in the Torah or when chanting prayers, religious Jews will either pause in silence out of respect or substitute another power name, traditionally “Adonai” ( lit. my Master).

In the Latin Vulgate edition of the Tanakh, Jerome set the precedent of changing the pronunciation of the Yod to “J” and using the vowels from Adonai to produce the anglicized variation “Jehovah.” Jehovah is the way that most contemporary non-Jews pronounce the Name. The Name … is sometimes pronounced “Yaweh,” reflecting the tradition that the High Priest in the Temple of Jerusalem made a monosyllabic pronunciation of the Name … on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).

The halachic prohibition specifies to avoid pronouncing the four letters … as a Name. If one is inclined to follow their prohibition, one can use the Atziluthic version wherein the letters are considered to be standing alone, and therefore pronounced individually–“Yod” (as in “code”), “Heh” (as in “day”), “Vav” (as in “love”), “Heh.”

The Atziluthic version can be regarded as the most powerful way of pronouncing the Name …”

–Daniel Feldman, Qabala: The Mystical Heritage of the Children of Abraham, 2001, pg.  168.

Is the Universe Infinite?

“…one of the continuing debates among astrophysicists regards whether or not the universe is closed i.e. will not expand forever.

On the one hand, the model of a closed universe holds that there is sufficient mass in the universe so that the Big Bang explosion will gradually slow down and reverse due to the pull of gravity. In this model, all the mass of the universe involutes back into its unimaginably small and dense original condition until another quantum shift precipitates another explosion.

On the other hand, there are those who contend that the supernova data on distant galaxies confirms that there is insufficient mass for the reversal to occur, and that the negative expansion energy of space is causing our universe to expand forever.”

–Daniel Feldman, Qabala: The Mystical Heritage of the Children of Abraham, 2001, pg.  131.

Seven

“Through them are said to have formed seven planets, seven days of the week, and seven orifices of the eyes, ears, nostrils, and mouth.

“Seven double letters: Beyt Gimel Dalet Kaf Pey Resh and Tav are the foundation.

He engraved them, He hewed them out, He combined them, He weighed them at opposites, and He formed through them: seven stars in the universe, seven days in the year, seven gates in the body of male and female….and through which He engraved seven universes, seven heavens, seven earths, seven seas, seven rivers, seven Sabbatical years, seven Jubilees, and the Holy Temple.

Therefore He cherished the seventh ones under all the heavens.”

–Daniel Feldman, Qabala: The Mystical Heritage of the Children of Abraham, 2001, pp. 130-1.

Incarnations of the Divine

“Buddhism provides detailed descriptions of the incarnations of the Buddha, and of the one to come called Maitreya.

The sage Lao Tze, to whom is ascribed the Tao Te Ching, was the revered divine incarnation who sired the development of Taoism.

And Zoroaster was the messianic wellspring who transmitted the Zend Avesta and originated the tradition passed down through the Farsis.”

–Daniel Feldman, Qabala: The Mystical Heritage of the Children of Abraham, 2001, pg.  111-2.

Awakening

“Some Messiahs appear to be completely or partially veiled from awareness of their true identity until awakened to it by a Perfect Master who has incarnated to do so, or through a supra-conscious experience of the Divine.

Master Mosheh was dramatically changed by his experience of the “Burning Bush.”

The Qur’an also tells us that Master Mosheh was “guided” by Al Kidr, often referred to as the “Green One” or “The Jew.”

The Perfect Master John baptized Master Yeshuvah in the Holy Spirit.

The monk Tota Puri struck the Bengali avatar Sri Ramakrishna in the center of his forehead with a sharp rock. It immediately sent him into a nirvikalpa samadhi that lasted for six months and culminated twelve years of intense spiritual practices, after which Ramakrishna commenced his activity as a World Teacher.”

–Daniel Feldman, Qabala: The Mystical Heritage of the Children of Abraham, 2001, pg.  107.

The Ineffable

“From here go out (i.e. extrapolate) and think what the mouth is unable to speak and the ear is unable to hear.”

–Daniel Feldman, Qabala: The Mystical Heritage of the Children of Abraham, 2001, pg. 96.

Awaiting the Prophet Elijah

“The Qu’ran is the final revelation of the Lord (as Allah) to the children of Abraham. It was transmitted through the Prophet Mohammed, the “Seal of the Shemite prophets.”

The only prophet yet to come is the reappearance of Eliyahu (Elijah), who will herald the final messianic advent of Allah as “The Last,” which the Qu’ran calls the Day of Judgement” (Yom Ah-Din).

The Qu’ran encompasses 6,666 verses in 114 titled surahs (chapters) of varying length.”

–Daniel Feldman, Qabala: The Mystical Heritage of the Children of Abraham, 2001, pg.  71.

Secret Teachings

“Despite later distrust and suppression by Pauline orthodoxy, mysticism flourished in the early church.

Master Yeshuvah taught one set of teachings openly to the public, and another set of secret teachings privately to his most advanced disciples. The Gospels themselves attest to this, and Clement of Alexandria wrote about such a secret teaching as late as the third century CE.

Of all the Christian mystical literature, the most enigmatic and passionately discussed is the Revelation of John. It opens with a description of John’s vision of the Ancient of Days with fiery eyes and a two-edged sword coming from his mouth, etc.”

–Daniel Feldman, Qabala: The Mystical Heritage of the Children of Abraham, 2001, pg.  71.

Leviathan

“The Yosher is a distinctly anthropomorphic form of the Name.

It is encircled by the Leviathan of Vast Face, described as a “snake devouring its tail.”

The Leviathan acts as a circular “fence” around the Yosher and defines the field of superimposition.

It also displays the ubiquitous mystical principle that “the end is contained in the beginning.”

–Daniel Feldman, Qabala: The Mystical Heritage of the Children of Abraham, 2001, pg.  66.

The Most Religious Nation of Antiquity

“Now the Egyptians believed that as the souls of the departed could assume the form of any living thing or plant, so the “gods,” who in many respects closely resembled them, could and did take upon themselves the forms of birds and beasts; this was the fundamental idea of the so-called “Egyptian animal worship,” which provoked the merriment of the cultured Greek, and drew down upon the Egyptians the ridicule and abuse of the early Christian writers.

But if the matter be examined closely its apparent stupidity disappears. The Egyptians paid honour to certain birds, and animals, and reptiles, because they considered that they possessed certain of the characteristics of the gods to whom they made them sacred.

The bull was a type of the strength and procreative power of the god of reproduction in nature, and the cow was the type of his female counterpart; every sacred animal and living thing possessed some quality or attribute which was ascribed to some god, and as each god was only a form of Râ, the quality or attribute ascribed to him was that of the Sun-god himself.

The educated Egyptian never worshipped an animal as an animal, but only as an incarnation of a god, and the reverence paid to animals in Egypt was in no way different from that paid to the king, who was regarded as “divine” and as an incarnation of Râ the Sun-god, who was the visible symbol of the Creator.

The relation of the king to Râ was identical with that of Râ to God. The Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans never understood the logical conception which underlay the reverence with which the Egyptians regarded certain animals, and as a result they grossly misrepresented their religion.

The ignorant people, no doubt, often mistook the symbol for what it symbolized, but it is wrong to say that the Egyptians worshipped animals in the ordinary sense of the word, and this fact cannot be too strongly insisted on.

Holding the views he did about transformations there was nothing absurd in the reverence which the Egyptian paid to animals. When a sacred animal died the god whom it represented sought out another animal of the same species in which to renew his incarnation, and the dead body of the animal, inasmuch as it had once been the dwelling-place of a god, was mummified and treated in much the same way as a human body after death, in order that it might enjoy immortality.

These views seem strange, no doubt, to us when judged by modern ideas, but they formed an integral part of the religious beliefs of the Egyptians, from the earliest to the latest times.

What is remarkable, however, is the fact that, in spite of invasions, and foreign wars, and internal dissensions, and external influences of all kinds, the Egyptians clung to their gods and the sometimes childish and illogical methods which they adopted in serving them with a conservatism and zeal which have earned for them the reputation of being at once the most religious and most superstitious nation of antiquity.

Whatever literary treasures may be brought to light in the future as the result of excavations in Egypt, it is most improbable that we shall ever receive from that country any ancient Egyptian work which can properly be classed among the literature of atheism or freethought; the Egyptian might be more or less religious according to his nature and temperament, but, judging, from the writings of his priests and teachers which are now in our hands, the man who was without religion and God in some form or other was most rare, if not unknown.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 232-4.

Transformations of the Afterlife

“But the use of the horoscope is much older than the time of Alexander the Great, for to a Greek horoscope (published for the first time by Kenyon, Catalogue of Greek Papyri vol. i. p. 132 ff) in the British Museum is attached “an introductory letter from some master of the art of astrology to his pupil, named Hermon, urging him to be very exact and careful in his application of the laws which the ancient Egyptians, with their laborious devotion to the art, had discovered and handed down to posterity.”

Thus we have good reason for assigning the birthplace of the horoscope to Egypt. In connexion with the horoscope must be mentioned the “sphere” or “table” of Democritus as a means of making predictions as to life and death.

In a magical papyrus (footnotes for page 230 are missing from my edition, not included at the end of the text)  we are told to “ascertain in what month the sick man took to his bed, and the name he received at his birth.”

“Calculate the [course of] the moon, and see how many periods of thirty days have elapsed; then note in the table the number of days left over, and if the number comes in the upper part of the table, he will live, but if in the lower part, he will die.”

Egyptian Horoscope TableBoth from the religious and profane literature of Egypt we learn that the gods and man in the future life were able at will to assume the form of any animal, or bird, or plant, or living thing, which they pleased, and one of the greatest delights to which a man looked forward was the possession of that power.

This is proved by the fact that no less than twelve (footnote missing)  of the chapters of the Book of the Dead are devoted to providing the deceased with the words of power, the recital of which was necessary to enable him to transform himself into a “hawk of gold,” a “divine hawk,” “the governor of the sovereign princes,” “the god who giveth light in the darkness,” a lotus, the god Ptah, a bennu bird (i.e., phœnix), a heron, a “living soul,” a swallow, the serpent Sata, and a crocodile; and another chapter (footnote missing)  enabled him to transform himself into “whatever form he pleaseth.”

Armed with this power he could live in the water in the form of a crocodile, in the form of a serpent he could glide over the rocks and ground, in the form of the birds mentioned above he could fly through the air, and soar up and perch himself upon the bow of the boat of Râ, in the form of the lotus he had mastery over the plants of the field, and in the form of Ptah he became “more powerful than the lord of time, and shall gain the mastery over millions of years.”

The bennu bird, it will be remembered, was said to be the “soul of Râ,” and by assuming this form the deceased identified himself with Khepera, the great god of creation, and thus acquired the attributes of the soul of the Sun-god.

In the Elysian Fields he was able to assume any form and to swim and fly to any distance in any direction. It is noteworthy that no beast of the field or wild animal is mentioned as a type of his possible transformations into animals.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 229-32.

The Five Epagomenal Days

“But to the three hundred and sixty days given in the calendars of lucky and unlucky days must be added the five epagomenal days which were considered to be of great importance and had each its peculiar name.

On the first Osiris was born, on the second Heru-ur (Aroueris), on the third Set, on the fourth Isis, and on the fifth Nephthys; the first, third, and fifth of these days were unlucky, and no work of any kind was to be undertaken on them.

The rubric which refers to these days (See Chabas, op. cit., p. 104) states that whosoever knoweth their names shall never suffer from thirst, that he shall never be smitten down by disease, and that the goddess Sekhet (the Eye of Sekhet seems to have taken the form of noxious vapours in the fields at sunrise; see Chabas, op. cit., p. 78) shall never take possession of him; it also directs that figures of the five gods mentioned above shall be drawn with unguent and ânti scent upon a piece of fine linen, evidently to serve as an amulet.

From the life of Alexander the Great by Pseudo-Callisthenes (I. 4) we learn that the Egyptians were skilled in the art of casting nativities, and that knowing the exact moment of the birth of a man they proceeded to construct his horoscope.

Nectanebus employed for the purpose a tablet made of gold and silver and acacia wood, to which were fitted three belts. Upon the outer belt was Zeus with the thirty-six decani surrounding him; upon the second the twelve signs of the Zodiac were represented; and upon the third the sun and moon (quote from my History of Alexander the Great, Cambridge, 1889, p. 5).

He set the tablet upon a tripod, and then emptied out of a small box upon it models of the seven stars (i.e., Sun, Moon, Zeus, Kronos, Aphrodite, and Hermes; we must add Mars according to Meusel’s Greek text) that were in the belts, and put into the middle belt eight precious stones; these he arranged in the places wherein he supposed the planets which they represented would be at the time of the birth of Olympias, and then told her fortune from them.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 228-9.

Those Born on the 5th Day of Paophi Die of Excessive Venery

“The calendars of lucky and unlucky days do not, however, always agree as to a given day. Thus in the list given above the 20th day of Thoth is marked wholly unlucky, but in the papyrus Sallier IV it is wholly lucky, but the reader is told not to do any work in it, nor to slay oxen, nor to receive a stranger; on this day the gods who are in the following of Râ slew the rebels.

Concerning the fourth day of the next month, Paophi, the papyrus Sallier IV says, “Go not forth from thy house from any side of it; whosoever is born on this day shall die of the disease aat.”

Concerning the fifth day it says, “Go not forth from thy house from any side of it, and hold no intercourse with women. This is the day wherein all things were performed in the divine presence, and the majesty of the god Menthu was satisfied therein. Whosoever is born on this day shall die of excessive venery.”

Front of Papyrus Sallier IV, A Calendar of Lucky and Unlucky Days in Hieratic.

Front of Papyrus Sallier IV, A Calendar of Lucky and Unlucky Days in Hieratic.

Concerning the ninth day it says, “Whosoever is born on this day shall die of old age,” and concerning the fifteenth, “Go not forth from thy dwelling at eventide, for the serpent Uatch, the son of the god, goeth forth at this time, and misfortunes follow him; whosoever shall see him shall lose his eye straightway.”

Again, the twenty-sixth day of Paophi was a lucky day for making the plan of a house; on the fifth day of Hathor no fire was to be kindled in the house; on the sixteenth day it was forbidden to listen to songs of joy because on this day Isis and Nephthys wept for Osiris at Abydos; a man born on the twenty-third day would die by drowning; and so on.

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 226-8.

Lucky and Unlucky Days

“In magical papyri we are often told not to perform certain magical ceremonies on such and such days, the idea being that on these days hostile powers will make them to be powerless, and that gods mightier than those to which the petitioner would appeal will be in the ascendant.

There have come down to us, fortunately, papyri containing copies of the Egyptian calendar, in which each third of every day for three hundred and sixty days of the year is marked lucky or unlucky, and we know from other papyri why certain days were lucky or unlucky, and why others were only partly so (see Brit. Mus. Papyrus, No. 10,474).

Taking the month Thoth, which was the first month of the Egyptian year, and began, according to the Gregorian Calendar, on August 29th, we find that the days are marked as follows:—

The Egyptian Month of Thoth.

The Egyptian Month of Thoth.

Now the sign Egyptian Sign for Lucky means “lucky,” and Egyptian Sign for Unlucky means “unlucky”; thus at a glance it could be seen which third of the day is lucky or unlucky, and the man who consulted the calendar would, of course, act accordingly.

It must be noted that the priests or magicians who drew up the calendar had good reasons for their classification of the days, as we may see from the following example. The 19th day of Thoth is, in the above list, marked wholly lucky, i.e., each third of it is lucky, and the papyrus Sallier IV (see Chabas, Le Calendrier, p. 24) also marks it wholly lucky, and adds the reason:—

“It is a day of festival in heaven and upon earth in the presence of Râ. It is the day when flame was hurled upon those who followed the boat containing the shrine of the gods; and on this day the gods gave praises being content,” etc.

But in both lists the 26th day is marked wholly unlucky, the reason being, “This was the day of the fight between Horus and Set.” They first fought in the form of men, then they took the form of bears, and in this state did battle with each other for three days and three nights.

Isis aided Set when he was getting the worst in the fight, and Horus thereupon cut off his mother’s head, which Thoth transformed by his words of power into that of a cow and put on her body. On this day offerings are to be made to Osiris and Thoth, but work of any kind is absolutely forbidden.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 224-6.

The Seven Hathors

“The Seven Hathor goddesses also could predict the future of a human being, for in the well-known “Tale of Two Brothers” it is related that, when the god Khnemu, at the request of Râ-Harmachis, had created for Bata a wife “who was more beautiful in her person than any other woman in all the earth, for the essence of every god was contained in her,” they came to see her, and that they spake with one voice, saying, “Her death will be caused by the knife.”

And this came to pass, for, according to the story, when the king whose wife she became heard from her first husband that she had left him and had wrought evil against him, he entered into judgment with her in the presence of his chiefs and nobles, and “one carried out their decree,” i.e., they sentenced her to death and she was executed.

Similarly, in another story, the Seven Hathors came to see the son who had been born to a certain king in answer to his prayers to the gods, and when they had seen him they said, “He shall die by means of a crocodile, or a serpent, or a dog.”

The Seven Hathors The story goes on to say how he escaped from the crocodile and the serpent, and though the end is wanting, it is quite clear that he was wounded by an accidental bite of his dog and so died. (See Maspero, Contes Égyptiens, pp. 29-46).

The moral of all such stories is that there is no possibility of avoiding fate, and it is most probable that the modern Egyptian has only inherited his ancestors’ views as to its immutability. (The uneducated Muhammadan believes that man’s fate is written upon his skull, and that the sutures are the writing. No man, however, can read them. See the words of Zayn al-Mawasif in Burton’s Alf Laylah wa Laylah, vol. viii., p. 237).

A man’s life might, however, be happy or unhappy according as the hour of the day or the day itself was lucky or unlucky, and every day of the Egyptian year was divided into three parts, each of which was lucky or unlucky.

When Olympias was about to give birth to Alexander the Great, Nectanebus stood by her making observations of the heavenly bodies, and from time to time he besought her to restrain herself until the auspicious hour had arrived; and it was not until he saw a certain splendour in the sky and knew that all the heavenly bodies were in a favourable position that he permitted her to bring forth her child.

And when he had said, “O queen, now thou wilt give birth to a governor of the world,” the child fell upon the ground while the earth quaked, and the lightnings flashed, and the thunder roared. (See Pseudo-Callisthenes, I. 12). Thus it is quite evident that the future of a child depended even upon the hour in which he was born.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 223-4.

Destiny

“The Egyptians believed that a man’s fate or destiny was decided before he was born, and that he had no power whatever to alter it.

Their sages, however, professed to be able to declare what the fate might be, provided that they were given certain data, that is to say, if they were told the date of his birth, and if they were able to ascertain the position of the planets and stars at that time.

The goddess of fate or destiny was called “Shai,” and she is usually accompanied by another goddess called “Renenet,” who is commonly regarded as the lady of fortune; they both appear in the Judgment Scene, where they seem to watch the weighing of the heart on behalf of the deceased.

But another goddess, Meskhenet, is sometimes present, and she also seems to have had influence over a man’s future; in any case she was able to predict what that future was to be.

Thus we read that she and Isis, and Nephthys, and Heqet, disguised as women, went to the house of Râ-user, whose wife Râ-Tettet was in travail; when they had been taken into her room they assisted her in giving birth to triplets, and as each child was born Meskhenet declared, “He shall be a king who shall have dominion over the whole land.”

And this prophecy was fulfilled, for the three boys became three of the kings of the Vth dynasty. (See Erman, Westcar Papyrus, Berlin, 1890, hieroglyphic transcript, pll. 9 and 10).”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 222-3.

The Ka, the Ghost of the Egyptians

The peculiar ideas which the Egyptians held about the composition of man greatly favoured the belief in apparitions and ghosts. According to them a man consisted of a physical body, a shadow, a double, a soul, a heart, a spirit called the khu, a power, a name, and a spiritual body.

When the body died the shadow departed from it, and could only be brought back to it by the performance of a mystical ceremony; the double lived in the tomb with the body, and was there visited by the soul whose habitation was in heaven.

The soul was, from one aspect, a material thing, and like the ka, or double, was believed to partake of the funeral offerings which were brought to the tomb; one of the chief objects of sepulchral offerings of meat and drink was to keep the double in the tomb and to do away with the necessity of its wandering about outside the tomb in search of food.

It is clear from many texts that, unless the double was supplied with sufficient food, it would wander forth from the tomb and eat any kind of offal and drink any kind of dirty water which it might find in its path.

But besides the shadow, and the double, and the soul, the spirit of the deceased, which usually had its abode in heaven, was sometimes to be found in the tomb.

There is, however, good reason for stating that the immortal part of man which lived in the tomb and had its special abode in the statue of the deceased was the “double.”

This is proved by the fact that a special part of the tomb was reserved for the ka, or double, which was called the “house of the ka,” and that a priest, called the “priest of the ka,” was specially appointed to minister therein.

The double enjoyed the smell of the incense which was offered at certain times each year in the tomb, as well as the flowers, and herbs, and meat, and drink; and the statue of the deceased in which the double dwelt took pleasure in all the various scenes which were painted or sculptured on the walls of the various chambers of the tomb, and enjoyed again all the delights which his body had enjoyed upon earth.

The ka, or double, then, in very early times was, to all intents and purposes, the ghost of the Egyptians.

In later times the khu, or “spirit,” seems to have been identified with it, and there are frequent allusions in the texts to the sanctity of the offerings made to the khu, and to their territories, i.e., the districts in which their mummified bodies lie.

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 217-8.

Procuring Dreams and Visions

Since dreams and visions in which the future might be revealed to the sleeper were greatly desired, the Egyptian magician set himself to procure such for his clients by various devices, such as drawing magical pictures and reciting magical words.

The following are examples of spells for procuring a vision and dreams, taken from British Museum Papyrus, No. 122, lines 64 ff. and 359 ff, (see Catalogue of Greek Papyri, vol. i. p. 118).

“To obtain a vision from [the god] Bes. Make a drawing of Besa, as shewn below, on your left hand, and envelope your hand in a strip of black cloth that has been consecrated to Isis (?) and lie down to sleep without speaking a word, even in answer to a question.”

“Wind the remainder of the cloth round your neck. The ink with which you write must be composed of the blood of a cow, the blood of a white dove, fresh (?) frankincense, myrrh, black writing-ink, cinnabar, mulberry juice, rain-water, and the juice of wormwood and vetch.”

“With this write your petition before the setting sun, [saying], “Send the truthful seer out of the holy shrine, I beseech thee, Lampsuer, Sumarta, Baribas, Dardalam, Iorlex: O Lord send the sacred deity Anuth, Anuth, Salbana, Chambré, Breïth, now, now, quickly, quickly. Come in this very night.'” (A sketch of the god Besa is given at the end of the papyrus. See the description of the “Metternichstele” above, p. 147 ff).

“To procure dreams: Take a clean linen bag and write upon it the names given below. Fold it up and make it into a lamp-wick, and set it alight, pouring pure oil over it.”

“The word to be written is this: ‘Armiuth, Lailamchoüch, Arsenophrephren, Phtha, Archentechtha.’”

“Then in the evening, when you are going to bed, which you must do without touching food [or, pure from all defilement], do thus.”

“Approach the lamp and repeat seven times the formula given below: then extinguish it and lie down to sleep. The formula is this: ‘Sachmu . . . epaëma Ligotereënch: the Aeon, the Thunderer, Thou that hast swallowed the snake and dost exhaust the moon, and dost raise up the orb of the sun in his season, Chthetho is thy name; I require, O lords of the gods, Seth, Chreps, give me the information that I desire.’”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 215-7.

Amen, the Only God

“Of Nut-Amen, the successor of the great Piânkhi who came down from Gebel Barkal and conquered all Egypt from Syene to the sea, we read that in the first year of his reign he one night dreamed a dream wherein he saw two serpents, one on his right hand and the other on his left; when he awoke they had disappeared.

Having asked for an interpretation of the dream he was told:—

“The land of the South is thine, and thou shalt have dominion over the land of the North: the White Crown and the Red Crown shall adorn thy head. The length and the breadth of the land shall be given unto thee, and the god Amen, the only god, shall be with thee.” (See Brugsch, Egypt under the Pharaohs, Vol. ii., p. 259).

The two serpents were the symbols of the goddesses Nekhebet and Uatchet, the mistresses of the South and North respectively.

As the result of his dream Nut-Amen invaded Egypt successfully and brought back much spoil, a portion of which he dedicated to the service of his god Amen.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. P. 215.

Dreaming at the Base of the Sphinx

In early Christian literatures we find a number of examples of demoniacal possession in which the demon who has entered the body yields it up before a demon of greater power than himself, but the demon who is expelled is invariably hostile to him that expels him, and he departs from before him with every sign of wrath and shame.

The fact that it was believed possible for the demon of Bekhten and the god Khonsu to fraternize, and to be present together at a festival made by the Prince of the country, shews that the people of Bekhten ascribed the same attributes to spirits or demons as they did to men.

The demon who possessed the princess recognized in Khonsu a being who was mightier than himself, and, like a vanquished king, he wished to make the best terms he could with his conqueror, and to be on good terms with him.

The Egyptians believed that the divine powers frequently made known their will to them by means of dreams, and they attached considerable importance to them; the figures of the gods and the scenes which they saw when dreaming seemed to them to prove the existence of another world which was not greatly unlike that already known to them.

The knowledge of the art of procuring dreams and the skill to interpret them were greatly prized in Egypt as elsewhere in the East, and the priest or official who possessed such gifts sometimes rose to places of high honour in the
state, as we may see from the example of Joseph, (see Genesis, Chapters xi., xii) for it was universally believed that glimpses of the future were revealed to man in dreams.

As instances of dreams recorded in the Egyptian texts may be quoted those of Thothmes IV., king of Egypt about B.C. 1450, and Nut-Amen, king of the Eastern Sûdân and Egypt, about B.C. 670.

A prince, according to the stele which he set up before the breast of the Sphinx at Gizeh, was one day hunting near this emblem of Râ-Harmachis, and he sat down to rest under its shadow and fell asleep and dreamed a dream.

In it the god appeared to him, and, having declared that he was the god Harmachis-Khepera-Râ-Temu, promised him that if he would clear away from the Sphinx, his own image, the drift sand in which it was becoming buried, he would give to him the sovereignty of the lands of the South and of the North, i.e., of all Egypt.

In due course the prince became king of Egypt under the title of Thothmes IV, and the stele which is dated on the 19th day of the month Hathor of the first year of Thothmes IV proves that the royal dreamer carried out the wishes of the god. (See Vyse, Appendix, London, 1842, vol. iii., p. 114 ff).

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 213-5.

In Which a Pharaoh Sends the Statue of a God on a Journey

The Prince of Bekhten, seeing that the priest was unable to afford relief to his daughter, sent once again to the king, and entreated him to send a god to his help.

When the ambassador from Bekhten arrived in Egypt the king was in Thebes, and on hearing what was asked he went into the temple of Khonsu Nefer-hetep, and besought that god to allow his counterpart Khonsu to depart to Bekhten and to deliver the daughter of the prince of that country from the power of the demon that possessed her.

It seems as if the sage Tehuti-em-heb had been sent to Bekhten by the advice of the god, for the king says, in addressing, the god, “I have come once again into thy presence”; but in any case Khonsu Nefer-hetep agreed to his request, and a fourfold measure of magical power was imparted to the statue of the god which was to go to Bekhten.

The god, seated in his boat, and five other boats with figures of gods in them, accompanied by chariots and horses on the right hand and on the left, set out from Egypt, and after travelling for seventeen months arrived in Bekhten, where they were received with great honour.

The god Khonsu went to the place where Bent-ent-resht was, and, having performed a magical ceremony over her, the demon departed from her and she was cured straightway.

Then the demon addressed the Egyptian god, saying, “Grateful and welcome is thy coming unto us, O great god, thou vanquisher of the hosts of darkness!”

“Bekhten is thy city, the inhabitants thereof are thy slaves, and I am thy servant; and I will depart unto the place whence I came that I may gratify thee, for unto this end hast thou come thither.”

“And I beseech thy Majesty to command that the Prince of Bekhten and I may hold a festival together.”

To the demon’s request Khonsu agreed, and he commanded his priest to tell the Prince of Bekhten to make a great festival in honour of the demon; this having been done by the command of Khonsu the demon departed to his own place.

When the Prince of Bekhten saw that Khonsu was thus powerful, he and all his people rejoiced exceedingly, and he determined that the god should not be allowed to return to Egypt, and as a result Khonsu remained in Bekhten for three years, four months, and five days.

On a certain day, however, the Prince was sleeping., and he dreamed a dream in which he saw the god Khonsu come forth from his shrine in the form of a hawk of gold, and having mounted into the air he flew away to Egypt.

The Prince woke up in a state of great perturbation, and having inquired of the Egyptian priest was told by him that the god had departed to Egypt, and that his chariot must now be sent back.

Then the Prince gave to Khonsu great gifts, and they were taken to Egypt and laid before the god Khonsu Nefer-hetep in his temple at Thebes.

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 211-3.

An Infamous Case of Demoniacal Possession

“Incidentally, however, we have one interesting proof that foreign peoples believed that the Egyptians were able to cure the diseases caused by demoniacal possession, and the exercise of their power on the occasion described was considered to be so noteworthy that the narrative of it was inscribed upon a stele (originally published by Prisse, Monuments Égyptiens, Paris, 1817, pl. 24) and setup in the temple of the god Khonsu at Thebes, so that all men might read and know what a marvellous cure his priests had effected.

(It is now preserved in the Bibliotèque Nationale at Paris; for a full description and translation of it see E. de Rougé, Étude sur une stele Égyptienne, Paris, 1858).

It appears that king Rameses I was in Mesopotamia “according to his wont, year by year,” and all the chiefs of the countries round about came to pay their respects to him, and they sought to obtain his goodwill and protection, probably even an alliance, by bringing to him gifts of gold, and lapis-lazuli, and turquoise, and of every kind of valuable thing which the land produced, and every man sought to outdo his neighbour by the lavishness of his gifts.

Among others there came the Prince of Bekhten, and at the head of all the offerings which he presented to His Majesty he placed his eldest daughter, who was very beautiful.

When the king saw her he thought her the most beautiful girl he had ever seen, and he bestowed upon her the title of “Royal spouse, chief lady, Râ-neferu” (i.e., “the beauties of Râ,” the Sun-god), and took her to Egypt; and when they arrived in that country the king married her.

One day during the fifteenth year of the king’s reign, when His Majesty was in Thebes celebrating the festival of Amen-Râ, a messenger came to the king and reported the arrival of an ambassador from the Prince of Bekhten who had brought rich gifts for the royal lady Râ-neferu.

When he had been led into the king’s presence, he did homage before him, saying, “Glory and praise be unto thee, O thou Sun of the nations; grant that we may live before thee!”

Having said these words be bowed down and touched the ground with his head three times, and said, “I have come unto thee, O my sovereign Lord, on behalf of the lady Bent-ent-resht, the younger sister of the royal spouse Râ- neferu, for, behold, an evil disease hath laid hold upon her body; I beseech thy Majesty to send a physician (Bekh khet, “knower of things”) to see her.”

Stele recording the casting out of the devil from the Princess of Bekhten. On the right the king is offering Incense to Khonsu Nefer-hetep, and on the left a priest is offering incense to Khonsu, "the great god who driveth away devils." (From Prisse, Monuments, plate 24.)

Stele recording the casting out of the devil from the Princess of Bekhten. On the right the king is offering Incense to Khonsu Nefer-hetep, and on the left a priest is offering incense to Khonsu, “the great god who driveth away devils.” (From Prisse, Monuments, plate 24.)

Then the king straightway ordered the books of the “double house of life” to be brought and the learned men to appear, and when they had come into his presence he ordered them to choose from among their number a man “wise of heart and cunning of finger,” that he might send him to Bekhten; they did so, and their choice fell upon one Tehuti- em-heb.

This sage having come before the king was ordered to set out for Bekhten in company with the ambassador, and he departed; and when they had arrived there the Egyptian priest found the lady Bent-ent-resht to be possessed of a demon or spirit over which he was powerless.”

 E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 206-11.

Excerpt from the Papyrus of Hunefer, BC 1350

“But it must be remembered that hitherto only the “bull of the south” has been sacrificed, and that the “bull of the north” has yet to be offered up; and all the ceremonies which have been already performed must be repeated if the deceased would have the power to go forth at will over the whole earth.

From the earliest times the South and the North were the two great sections into which the world was divided, and each section possessed its own special gods, all of whom had to be propitiated by the deceased; hence most religious ceremonies were ordered to be performed in duplicate.

In later days each section was divided into two parts, and the four divisions thus made were apportioned to the four children of Horus; hence prayers and formulæ were usually said four times, once in honour of each god, and the rubrical directions on this point are definite.

The ceremony of "opening the mouth" being performed on the mummy of Hunefer, about B.C. 1350 (From the Papyrus of Hunefer, sheet 5)

The ceremony of “opening the mouth” being performed on the mummy of Hunefer, about B.C. 1350 (From the Papyrus of Hunefer, sheet 5)

In the limited space of this book it is not possible to reproduce all the scenes of the ceremony of opening the mouth and the eyes which are depicted in the tombs and elsewhere, but on page 199 is a general view of the ceremony as it is often given in the papyri of the XVIIIth and XIXth dynasties.

On the right we see the pyramidal tomb in the Theban hill with its open door, and by the side of it is the funeral stele with a rounded top inscribed with a figure of the deceased standing in adoration before Osiris, and with a prayer to the god for sepulchral offerings.

Anubis, the god of the dead, embraces the mummy, thus indicating his readiness to take the deceased under his protection.

Nasha, the wife of the deceased, stands weeping before the mummy, and at his feet kneels another weeping woman, probably his daughter.

Anubis and the mummy stand upon a layer of sand which has been placed there with the object of sanctifying the ground.

A priest clad in a panther’s skin holds a censer containing burning incense in one hand, and a vase, from which he sprinkles water, in the other.

One ministrant holds the two instruments “Tun-tet” and “Seb-ur” in the right hand, and the “Ur hekau” instrument in the left; and another offers four vases of unguent.

In the lower register are a cow and her calf, and two men are carrying along to the mummy the haunch which we must assume to have been recently cut from the slaughtered bull, and the heart which has just been taken out of him.

On a table we see lying a number of objects, the “Meskhet,” and Pesh-en-kef,” and other instruments, two sets of four vases for holding unguents and oil, the bags of colour, the iron of the south and north, etc.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. P. 198-202.

%d bloggers like this: