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Month: December, 2014

The Lance of Longinus and the Chalice of Christian Liturgy Represent Pagan Antecedents

“Reference to some recent studies in the Legend will make my meaning clear. A reviewer of my small Quest of the Holy Grail volume remarked that I appeared to be ignorant of Miss Peebles’s study The Legend of Longinus “which materially strengthens the evidence for the Christian origin.” 1

Now this is precisely what, in my view, the study in question, which I knew and possessed, does not do. As evidence for the fact that the Grail legend has taken over certain features derived from the popular ‘Longinus’ story (which, incidentally, no one disputed), the essay is, I hold, sound, and valuable; as affording material for determining the source of the Grail story, it is, on the other hand, entirely without value.

On the principle laid down above no theory which purports to be explanatory of the source of one symbol can be held satisfactory in a case where that symbol does not stand alone. We cannot accept for the Grail story a theory of origin which concerns itself with the Lance, as independent of the Grail. In the study referred to the author has been at immense pains to examine the different versions of the ‘Longinus’ legend, and to trace its development in literature; in no single instance do we find Longinus and his Lance associated with a Cup or Vase, receptacle of the Sacred Blood.

The plain fact is that in Christian art and tradition Lance and Cup are not associated symbols. The Lance or Spear, as an instrument of the Passion, is found in conjunction with the Cross, Nails, Sponge, and Crown of Thorns, (anyone familiar with the wayside Crosses of Catholic Europe will recognize this), not with the Chalice of the Mass 1.

This latter is associated with the Host, or Agnus Dei. Still less is the Spear to be found in connection with the Grail in its Food-providing form of a Dish.

No doubt to this, critics who share the views of Golther and Burdach will object, “but what of the Byzantine Mass? Do we not there find a Spear connected with the Chalice 2?”

I very much doubt whether we do–the so-called ‘Holy Spear’ of the Byzantine, and present Greek, liturgy is simply a small silver spear-shaped knife, nor can I discover that it was ever anything else. I have made careful enquiries of liturgical scholars, and consulted editions of Oriental liturgies, but I can find no evidence that the knife (the use of which is to divide the Loaf which, in the Oriental rite, corresponds to the Wafer of the Occidental, in a manner symbolically corresponding to the Wounds actually inflicted on the Divine Victim) was ever other than what it is to-day.”

Jessie L. Weston, From Ritual to Romance, 1920. Pp. 66-7.

Remnants of Secret Rituals of Fertility Cults

“We have found, further, that this close relation between the ruler and his land, which resulted in the ill of one becoming the calamity of all, is no mere literary invention, proceeding from the fertile imagination of a twelfth century court poet, but a deeply rooted popular belief, of practically immemorial antiquity and inexhaustible vitality; we can trace it back thousands of years before the Christian era, we find it fraught with decisions of life and death to-day.

Further, we find in that belief a tendency to express itself in certain ceremonial practices, which retain in a greater or less degree the character of the ritual observances of which they are the survival. Mr E. K. Chambers, in The Mediaeval Stage, remarks: “If the comparative study of Religion proves anything it is, that the traditional beliefs and customs of the mediaeval or modern peasant are in nine cases out of ten but the detritus of heathen mythology and heathen worship, enduring with but little external change in the shadow of a hostile faith.”

“This is notably true of the village festivals and their ludi. Their full significance only appears when they are regarded as fragments of forgotten cults, the naïve cults addressed by a primitive folk to the beneficent deities of field and wood and river, or the shadowy populace of its own dreams 1.”

We may, I think, take it that we have established at least the possibility that in the Grail romances we possess, in literary form, an example of the detritus above referred to, the fragmentary record of the secret ritual of a Fertility cult.”

Jessie L. Weston, From Ritual to Romance, 1920. Pp. 62-3.

Echo of Old Customs Across Time, Geography and Cultures

“The ‘Wasting of the land’ must be held to have been antecedent to that failure, and the Gawain versions in which we find this condition fulfilled are, therefore, prior in origin to the Perceval, in which the ‘Wasting’ is brought about by the action of the hero; in some versions, indeed, has altogether disappeared from the story.

Thus the position assigned in the versions to this feature of the Waste Land becomes one of capital importance as a critical factor. This is a point which has hitherto escaped the attention of scholars; the misfortunes of the land have been treated rather as an accident, than as an essential, of the Grail story, entirely subordinate in interest to the dramatis personae of the tale, or the objects, Lance and Grail, round which the action revolves.

As a matter of fact I believe that the ‘Waste Land’ is really the very heart of our problem; a rightful appreciation of its position and significance will place us in possession of the clue which will lead us safely through the most bewildering mazes of the fully developed tale.

Since the above pages were written Dr Frazer has notified the discovery of a second African parallel, equally complete, and striking. In Folk-Lore (Vol. XXVI.) he prints, under the title A Priest-King in Nigeria, a communication received from Mr P. A. Talbot, District Commissioner in S. Nigeria.

The writer states that the dominant Ju-Ju of Elele, a town in the N.W. of the Degema district, is a Priest-King, elected for a term of seven years. “The whole prosperity of the town, especially the fruitfulness of farm, byre, and marriage-bed, was linked with his life.

Should he fall sick it entailed famine and grave disaster upon the inhabitants.” So soon as a successor is appointed the former holder of the dignity is reported to ‘die for himself.’ Previous to the introduction of ordered government it is admitted that at any time during his seven years’ term of office the Priest might be put to death by any man sufficiently strong and resourceful, consequently it is only on the rarest occasions (in fact only one such is recorded) that the Ju-Ju ventures to leave his compound.

At the same time the riches derived from the offerings of the people are so considerable that there is never a lack of candidates for the office.

From this and the evidence cited above it would appear that the institution was widely spread in Africa, and at the same time it affords a striking proof in support of the essential soundness of Dr Frazer’s interpretation of the Priest of Nemi, an interpretation which has been violently attacked in certain quarters, very largely on the ground that no one would be found willing to accept an office involving such direct danger to life. The above evidence shows clearly that not only does such an office exist, but that it is by no means an unpopular post.”

Jessie L. Weston, From Ritual to Romance, 1920. Pp. 59-61.

Worshipping Virility

“While it is only of comparatively recent date that information as to the exact character of the worship directed to Tammuz has been available and the material we at present possess is but fragmentary in character, the corresponding cult of the Phoenician-Greek divinity we know as Adonis has for some years been the subject of scholarly research.

Not only have the details of the ritual been examined and discussed, and the surviving artistic evidence described and illustrated, but from the anthropological side attention has been forcibly directed to its importance as a factor in the elucidation of certain widespread Folk-beliefs and practices 2.

We know now that the worship of Adonis, which enjoyed among the Greeks a popularity extending to our own day, was originally of Phoenician origin, its principal centres being the cities of Byblos, and Aphaka.

From Phoenicia it spread to the Greek islands, the earliest evidence of the worship being found in Cyprus, and from thence to the mainland, where it established itself firmly.

The records of the cult go back to 700 B.C., but it may quite possibly be of much earlier date. Mr Langdon suggests that the worship of the divinity we know as Adonis, may, under another name, reach back to an antiquity equal with that we can now ascribe to the cult of Tammuz.

In its fully evolved classical form the cult of Adonis offers, as it were, a halfway house, between the fragmentary relics of Aryan and Babylonian antiquity, and the wealth of Medieval and Modern survivals to which the ingenuity and patience of contemporary scholars have directed our attention.

We all know the mythological tale popularly attached to the name of Adonis; that he was a fair youth, beloved of Aphrodite, who, wounded in the thigh by a wild boar, died of his wound.

The goddess, in despair at his death, by her prayers won from Zeus the boon that Adonis be allowed to return to earth for a portion of each year, and henceforward the youthful god divides his time between the goddess of Hades, Persephone, and Aphrodite. But the importance assumed by the story, the elaborate ceremonial with which the death of Adonis was mourned, and his restoration to life fêted, the date and character of the celebrations, all leave no doubt that the personage with whom we are dealing was no mere favourite of a goddess, but one with whose life and well-being the ordinary processes of Nature, whether animal or vegetable, were closely and intimately concerned.

In fact the central figure of these rites, by whatever name he may be called, is the somewhat elusive and impersonal entity, who represents in anthropomorphic form the principle of animate Nature, upon whose preservation, and unimpaired energies, the life of man, directly, and indirectly, depends 1.

Before proceeding to examine these rites there is one point, to which I have alluded earlier, in another connection, upon which our minds must be quite clear, i.e., the nature of the injury suffered. Writers upon the subject are of one accord in considering the usual account to be but a euphemistic veiling of the truth, while the close relation between the stories of Adonis and Attis, and the practices associated with the cult, place beyond any shadow of a doubt the fact that the true reason for this universal mourning was the cessation, or suspension, by injury or death, of the reproductive energy of the god upon whose virile activity vegetable life directly, and human life indirectly, depended.” 2

Jessie L. Weston, From Ritual to Romance, 1920. Pp. 39-41.

Role of Chastity in Fertility Rites

“But the poems selected by Professor von Schroeder for discussion offer us a further, and more curious, parallel with the Grail romances.

In Section VIII. of the work referred to the author discusses the story of Rishyaçriñga, as the Mahâbhârata names the hero; here we find a young Brahmin brought up by his father, Vibhândaka, in a lonely forest hermitage 3 absolutely ignorant of the outside world, and even of the very existence of beings other than his father and himself. He has never seen a woman, and does not know that such a creature exists.

A drought falls upon a neighbouring kingdom, and the inhabitants are reduced to great straits for lack of food. The King, seeking to know by what means the sufferings of his people may be relieved, learns that so long as Rishyaçriñga continues chaste so long will the drought endure.

An old woman, who has a fair daughter of irregular life, undertakes the seduction of the hero. The King has a ship, or raft (both versions are given), fitted out with all possible luxury, and an apparent Hermit’s cell erected upon it.

The old woman, her daughter and companions, embark; and the river carries them to a point not far from the young Brahmin’s hermitage.

Taking advantage of the absence of his father, the girl visits Rishyaçriñga in his forest cell, giving him to understand that she is a Hermit, like himself, which the boy, in his innocence, believes. He is so fascinated by her appearance and caresses that, on her leaving him, he, deep in thought of the lovely visitor, forgets, for the first time, his religious duties.

On his father’s return he innocently relates what has happened, and the father warns him that fiends in this fair disguise strive to tempt hermits to their undoing. The next time the father is absent the temptress, watching her opportunity, returns, and persuades the boy to accompany her to her ‘Hermitage’ which she assures him, is far more beautiful than his own.

So soon as Rishyaçriñga is safely on board the ship sails, the lad is carried to the capital of the rainless land, the King gives him his daughter as wife, and so soon as the marriage is consummated the spell is broken, and rain falls in abundance.

Professor von Schroeder points out that there is little doubt that, in certain earlier versions of the tale, the King’s daughter herself played the rôle of temptress.

There is no doubt that a ceremonial ‘marriage’ very frequently formed a part of the ‘Fertility’ ritual, and was supposed to be specially efficacious in bringing about the effect desired 1.

The practice subsists in Indian ritual to this hour, and the surviving traces in European Folk-custom have been noted in full by Mannhardt in his exhaustive work on Wald und Feld-Kulte; its existence in Classic times is well known, and it is certainly one of the living Folk-customs for which a well-attested chain of descent can be cited.

Professor von Schroeder remarks that the efficacy of the rite appears to be enhanced by the previous strict observance of the rule of chastity by the officiant 2.

What, however, is of more immediate interest for our purpose is the fact that the Rishyaçriñga story does, in effect, possess certain curious points of contact with the Grail tradition.”

Jessie L. Weston, From Ritual to Romance, 1920. Pp. 27-9.


“It is perfectly obvious that Sir W. Ridgeway’s theory, reduced to abstract terms, would result in the conclusion that all religion is based upon the cult of the Dead, and that men originally knew no gods but their grandfathers, a theory from which as a student of religion I absolutely and entirely dissent. I can understand that such Dead Ancestors can be looked upon as Protectors, or as Benefactors, but I see no ground for supposing that they have ever been regarded as Creators, yet it is precisely as vehicle for the most lofty teaching as to the Cosmic relations existing between God and Man, that these Vegetation cults were employed.

The more closely one studies pre-Christian Theology, the more strongly one is impressed with the deeply, and daringly, spiritual character of its speculations, and the more doubtful it appears that such teaching can depend upon the unaided processes of human thought, or can have been evolved from such germs as we find among the supposedly ‘primitive’ peoples, such as e.g. the Australian tribes.

Are they really primitive? Or are we dealing, not with the primary elements of religion, but with the disjecta membra of a vanished civilization? Certain it is that so far as historical evidence goes our earliest records point to the recognition of a spiritual, not of a material, origin of the human race; the Sumerian and Babylonian Psalms were not composed by men who believed themselves the descendants of ‘witchetty grubs.’

The Folk practices and ceremonies studied in these pages, the Dances, the rough Dramas, the local and seasonal celebrations, do not represent the material out of which the Attis-Adonis cult was formed, but surviving fragments of a worship from which the higher significance has vanished.

Sir W. Ridgeway is confident that Osiris, Attis, Adonis, were all at one time human beings, whose tragic fate gripped hold of popular imagination, and led to their ultimate deification. The first-named cult stands on a somewhat different basis from the others, the beneficent activities of Osiris being more widely diffused, more universal in their operation. I should be inclined to regard the Egyptian deity primarily as a Culture Hero, rather than a Vegetation God.

With regard to Attis and Adonis, whatever their original character (and it seems to me highly improbable that there should have been two youths each beloved by a goddess, each victim of a similar untimely fate), long before we have any trace of them both have become so intimately identified with the processes of Nature that they have ceased to be men and become gods, and as such alone can we deal with them.

It is also permissible to point out that in the case of Tammuz, Esmun, and Adonis, the title is not a proper name, but a vague appellative, denoting an abstract rather than a concrete origin. Proof of this will be found later.

Sir W. Ridgeway overlooks the fact that it is not the tragic death of Attis-Adonis which is of importance for these cults, but their subsequent restoration to life, a feature which cannot be postulated of any ordinary mortal.

And how are we to regard Tammuz, the prototype of all these deities? Is there any possible ground for maintaining that he was ever a man? Prove it we cannot, as the records of his cult go back thousands of years before our era. Here, again, we have the same dominant feature; it is not merely the untimely death which is lamented, but the restoration to life which is celebrated.

Throughout the whole study the author fails to discriminate between the activities of the living, and the dead, king. The Dead king may, as I have said above, be regarded as the Benefactor, as the Protector, of his people, but it is the Living king upon whom their actual and continued prosperity depends.

The detail that the ruling sovereign is sometimes regarded as the re-incarnation of the original founder of the race strengthens this point–the king never dies–Le Roi est mort, Vive le Roi is very emphatically the motto of this Faith.

It is the insistence on Life, Life continuous, and ever-renewing, which is the abiding characteristic of these cults, a characteristic which differentiates them utterly and entirely from the ancestral worship with which Sir W. Ridgeway would fain connect them.”

Jessie L. Weston, From Ritual to Romance, 1920. Pp. 6-8.

What is the Holy Grail?

“Some years ago, when fresh from the study of Sir J. G. Frazer’s epoch-making work, The Golden Bough, I was struck by the resemblance existing between certain features of the Grail story, and characteristic details of the Nature Cults described.

The more closely I analysed the tale, the more striking became the resemblance, and I finally asked myself whether it were not possible that in this mysterious legend–mysterious alike in its character, its sudden appearance, the importance apparently assigned to it, followed by as sudden and complete a disappearancewe might not have the confused record of a ritual, once popular, later surviving under conditions of strict secrecy? (Underlined emphasis in original).

This would fully account for the atmosphere of awe and reverence which even under distinctly non-Christian conditions never fails to surround the Grail, It may act simply as a feeding vessel, It is none the less toute sainte cose; and also for the presence in the tale of distinctly popular, and Folk-lore, elements. Such an interpretation would also explain features irreconcilable with orthodox Christianity, which had caused some scholars to postulate a heterodox origin for the legend, and thus explain its curiously complete disappearance as a literary theme.

In the first volume of my Perceval studies, published in 1906, I hinted at this possible solution of the problem, a solution worked out more fully in a paper read before the Folk-lore Society in December of the same year, and published in Volume XVIII. of the Journal of the Society. By the time my second volume of studies was ready for publication in 1909, further evidence had come into my hands; I was then certain that I was upon the right path, and I felt justified in laying before the public the outlines of a theory of evolution, alike of the legend, and of the literature, to the main principles of which I adhere to-day.

But certain links were missing in the chain of evidence, and the work was not complete. No inconsiderable part of the information at my disposal depended upon personal testimony, the testimony of those who knew of the continued existence of such a ritual, and had actually been initiated into its mysteries–and for such evidence the student of the letter has little respect. He worships the written word; for the oral, living, tradition from which the word derives force and vitality he has little use. Therefore the written word had to be found.

It has taken me some nine or ten years longer to complete the evidence, but the chain is at last linked up, and we can now prove by printed texts the parallels existing between each and every feature of the Grail story and the recorded symbolism of the Mystery cults.

Further, we can show that between these Mystery cults and Christianity there existed at one time a close and intimate union, such a union as of itself involved the practical assimilation of the central rite, in each case a ‘Eucharistic’ Feast, in which the worshippers partook of the Food of Life from the sacred vessels.

In face of the proofs which will be found in these pages I do not think any fair-minded critic will be inclined to dispute any longer the origin of the ‘Holy’ Grail; after all it is as august and ancient an origin as the most tenacious upholder of Its Christian character could desire.

But I should wish it clearly to be understood that the aim of these studies is, as indicated in the title, to determine the origin of the Grail, not to discuss the provenance and interrelation of the different versions. I do not believe this latter task can be satisfactorily achieved unless and until we are of one accord as to the character of the subject matter.

When we have made up our minds as to what the Grail really was, and what it stood for, we shall be able to analyse the romances; to decide which of them contains more, which less, of the original matter, and to group them accordingly.”

Jessie L. Weston, From Ritual to Romance, 1920. Pp. 3-5.

At the Nexus of Pagan Mystery and Christian Ceremony

“Finally, a casual reference, in Anrich’s work on the Mysteries, to the Naassene Document, caused me to apply to Mr G. R. S. Mead, of whose knowledge of the mysterious border-land between Christianity and Paganism, and willingness to place that knowledge at the disposal of others, I had, for some years past, had pleasant experience.

Mr Mead referred me to his own translation and analysis of the text in question, and there, to my satisfaction, I found, not only the final link that completed the chain of evolution from Pagan Mystery to Christian Ceremonial, but also proof of that wider significance I was beginning to apprehend. The problem involved was not one of Folk-lore, not even one of Literature, but of Comparative Religion in its widest sense.”

Jessie L. Weston, From Ritual to Romance, 1920. P. vii.

Snake Kings

“The myths of the heroes of Athens, from Cecrops to Theseus, show them as kings, that is as functionaries, and, in primitive times, these functionaries assume snake-form. The daimon-functionary represents the permanent life of the group.

The individual dies, but the group and its incarnation the king survive. Le roi est mort, vive le roi. From these two facts, of group permanency and individual death, arose the notion of reincarnation, palingenesia.

Moreover, since the group included plants and animals as well as human members, and these were linked by a common life, the rebirth of ancestors and the renewed fertility of the earth went on pari passu.

Hence the Intichiuma ceremonies of Central Australians, hence the Revocation of ghosts at the Athenian Antkesteria. Gradually, as the group focussed on its king, the daimones of fertility, the collective ancestors, focussed on to an Agathos Daimon, a spirit of fertility, again figured as a snake.”

Jane Ellen Harrison, Themis–A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion, 1912. P. xiv.

The Naassene Fragment, on Attis

S. 4 Moreover, also, the Phrygians say that the Father of wholes 5 is Amygdalos 6

J. —no [ordinary] tree 7 (H. he says); but that He is that Amygdalos the Pre-existing, who having in Himself the Perfect Fruit, as it were, throbbing 8 and moving in [His] Depth, He tore asunder 9 His Womb, and gave birth to His own Son 10

C. —the Invisible, Unnameable, and Ineffable [One] of whom we tell. 1

S. For “amyxai” 2 is, as it were, “to break” and “cut open”; just as (H. he says) in the case of inflamed bodies and those which have some internal tumour, when physicians lance them, they speak of “amychas.” 3

Thus (H. he says) the Phrygians call him Amygdalos.

C. From whom proceeded and was born the Invisible—

“Through whom all things were made, and without whom nothing was made.” 4

(30) S. The Phrygians also say that that which is generated from Him is Syriktēs. 5

J. For that which is generated is Spirit in harmony. 6

C. For “God (H. he says) is Spirit.” 7

Wherefore He says:

“Neither in this mountain do the true worshippers worship, nor in Jerusalem, but in Spirit.” 8

For the worship of the perfect [men] (H. he says) is spiritual, not fleshly.

J. And “Spirit” (H. he says) is there where both Father and Son are named, generated there from Him 1 and the Father.

S. He 2 (H. he says) is the Many-named, Myriad-eyed, Incomprehensible, whom every nature desires, some one way, some another.

J. This (H. he says) is the Word 3 of God, which is:

“The Word of Announcement of the Great Power. Wherefore It shall be sealed, and hidden, and concealed, stored in the Habitation, where the Root of the Universals has its foundation—

“Of Æons, Powers, Intelligences, Gods, Angels, Spirits Delegate, Existing Non-existences, Generated Ingenerables, Comprehensible Incomprehensibles,—Years, Months, Days, Hours,—of [the] Boundless Point, from which the most minute begins to increase by parts. 4

“For (H. he says) the Point which is nothing and is composed of nothing, though partless, will become by means of its own Thought a Greatness 1 beyond our own comprehension.”

C. This [Point] (H. he says) is the Kingdom of the Heavens, the “grain of mustard seed,” 2 the partless point, the first existing for the body; which no one (H. he says) knows save the spiritual [men] alone.

J. This (H. he says) is what is said:

“They are neither words nor languages whereby their 3 sounds are heard.” 4

H. These things, [then,] which are said and done by all men, they thus interpret off-hand to their peculiar theory (νοῦν), pretending that they are all done with a spiritual meaning.

For which cause also they 5 say that the performers in the theatres—they, too, neither say nor do anything without Design. 6

S. For example (H. he says), when the people assemble in the theatres, and a man comes on the stage, clad in a robe different from all others, with lute 7 in hand on which he plays, and thus chants the Great Mysteries, not knowing what he says: 8

“Whether blest Child of Kronos, or of Zeus, or of Great Rhea,—

Hail, Attis, thou mournful song 9 of Rhea!

Assyrians call thee thrice-longed-for Adōnis;

all Egypt [calls thee] Osiris;

the Wisdom of Hellas [names thee] Mēn’s Heavenly Horn;

the Samothracians [call thee] august Adama;

the Hæmonians, Korybas;

the Phrygians [name thee] Papa sometimes,

at times again Dead, or God, 1 or Unfruitful,

or Aipolos, or Green Reaped 2 Wheat-ear,

or the Fruitful that Amygdalos brought forth,

Man, Piper . . . Attis!”

H. He [S.] says that this is the Attis of many forms of whom they [NN., in H.’s opinion] sing as follows:

S. “Of Attis will I sing, of Rhea’s [Belovèd];—

not with the boomings 3 of bells,

nor with the deep-toned 4 pipe of Idæan Kurētes;

but I will blend my song with Phoebus’ music of the lyre.

Evoï! Evan!—for [thou art] Pan, [thou] Bacchus [art], and Shepherd of bright stars!”

G.R.S. Mead, Thrice-Greatest HermesVol. 1, 1906, pp. 182-6.

From Hippolytus, Philosophumena; or, Refutation of all Heresies.

Naassene Fragment, Concerning the Greater and Little Mysteries of Eleusis

” … (23) S. This same [Man] is called by the Phrygians Unfruitful.

C. For He is unfruitful as long as He is fleshly and works the work of the flesh.

This (H. he says) is what is said:

“Every tree that beareth not good fruit, is cut down and cast into the fire.” 1

For these “fruits” (H. he says) are the logic, 2 living men only who pass through the third Gate. 3

J. At any rate they 4 say:

“If ye have eaten dead things and made living ones, what will ye make if ye eat living things?” 5

And by “living things” they mean logoi and minds and men—the “pearls” of that Inexpressible [Man] cast into the plasm below. 6

C. This is what He saith (H. he says):

“Cast not the holy thing to the dogs nor the pearls to the swine.” 7

H. For they say that the work of swine is the intercourse of man with woman.

(24 8) S. This same [Man] (H. he says) the Phrygians also call Ai-polos; 9 not because (H. he says) He feeds she-goats and he-goats, as the (C.—psychics 1) interpret the name, but because (H. he says) He is Aei-polos—that is, “Always-turning” (Aei-polōn), 2 revolving and driving round the whole cosmos in [its] revolution; for polein is to “turn” and change things.

Hence (H. he says) all call the two centres 3 of heaven poles. And the poet also  (H. he says) when he says: “Hither there comes and there goes (pōleitai) Old Man of the Sea, whose words are e’er true—Egypt’s undying Prōteus.” 4

[By pōleitai] he does not mean “he is put on sale,” 1 but “he turns about” [or comes and goes] there,—as though it were, [he spins] and goes round.

And the cities in which we live, in that we turn about and circulate in them, are called poleis.

Thus (H. he says) the Phrygians call Aipolos this [Man] who turns all things at all times all ways, and changes them into things kin.

(25) The Phrygians, moreover (H. he says), call Him Fruitful.

J. For (H. he says):

“Many more are the children of the desolate [woman] than of her who hath her husband.” 2

C. That is, the regenerated, deathless, and ever-continuing [children] are many, although few are they [thus] generated; but the fleshly (H. he says) all perish, though many are they [thus] generated.

C. For this cause (H. he says):

“Rachel bewailed her children, and would not (H. he says) be comforted weeping over them; for she knew (H. he says) that they are not.” 1

J. And Jeremiah also laments the Jerusalem Below—not the city in Phœnicia, 2 but the generation below—which is subject to destruction.

C. For Jeremiah also (H. he says) knew the perfect man, regenerated from water and spirit, not fleshly.

J. At any rate the same Jeremiah said:

“He is man, and who shall know him?” 3

C. Thus (H. he says) the knowledge of the perfect man is deep and hard to comprehend.

J. For “The beginning of Perfection (H. he says) is Gnosis of man, but Gnosis of God is perfect Perfection.” 4

(26) S. And the Phrygians (H. he says) call Him also “Plucked Green Wheat-ear”; and after the Phrygians the Athenians [so designate Him], when, in the secret rites at Eleusis, they show those who receive in silence the final initiation there into the Great—

C. —and marvellous and most perfect—

S. —Epoptic Mystery, a plucked wheat-ear. 5

And this Wheat-ear is also with the Athenians the Light-giver 1

C. —perfect [and] mighty—

J. —from the Inexpressible—

S. —as the hierophant himself—not emasculated like the “Attis,” 2 but made eunuch with hemlock juice—

C. —and divorced from all fleshly generation—

S. —in the night, at Eleusis, solemnising the Great Ineffable Mysteries, when the bright light streams forth, 3 shouts and cries aloud, saying:

“[Our] Lady hath brought forth a Holy Son: Brimō [hath given birth] to Brimos”—

—that is, the Strong to the Strong.

(27) J. And “[Our] Lady” (H. he says) is the Genesis—

C. —the Spiritual, Heavenly [Genesis]—

J. —Above. And the Strong is he who is thus generated.

For it is the Mystery called “Eleusis” and “Anaktoreion”;—“Eleusis,” because we—

C. —the spiritual—

J. —come 2 from Above, streaming down from Adamas, for eleus-esthai (H. he says) is “to come”; and “Anaktoreion” [from anag-esthai, “leading back,” that is 3] from “returning” 4 Above. 5

This [Return] (H. he says) is that of which those who are initiated into the great Mysteries of the Eleusinia speak.

(28) S. And the law is that after they have been initiated into the Little Mysteries, they should be further initiated into the Great.

“For greater deaths do greater lots obtain.” 6

The Little (H. he says) are the Mysteries of Persephonē Below; concerning which Mysteries and the way leading there and—

C. —being broad and wide,—

—taking [men] to Persephonē, the poet also speaks:

“Beneath this there is another path death-cold,

Hollow and clayey. But this 1 is best to lead

To grove delightsome of far-honoured Aphroditē.” 2

These 3 are (H. he says) the Little Mysteries—

C. —those of the fleshly generation—

S. —and after men have been initiated into them, they should cease for a little, and become initiated in the Great—

C. —heavenly [Mysteries].

S. For they to whom the “deaths” in them 4 are appointed, “receive greater lots.”

J. For this [Mystery] (H. he says) is the Gate of Heaven, and this is the House of God, where the Good God dwells alone; into which [House] (H. he says) no impure [man] shall come—

C. —no psychic, no fleshly [man]—

J. —but it is kept under watch for the spiritual alone; where when they come, they must cast away their garments, and all become bridegrooms, obtaining their true manhood 5 through the Virginal Spirit.

For this (H. he says) is the Virgin big with child, conceiving and bearing a Son 1

C. —not psychic, not fleshly, but a blessed Æon of Æons. 2

Concerning these [Mysteries] (H. he says) the Saviour hath explicitly said that:

“Narrow and strait is the Way that leadeth to Life, and few are they who enter it; but broad and wide [is] the Way that leadeth to Destruction, and many are they who journey thereby.” 3

G.R.S. Mead, Thrice-Greatest HermesVol. 1, 1906, pp. 175-82.

From Hippolytus, Philosophumena; or, Refutation of all Heresies.

More From the Naassene Fragment, Jesus Says “I am the True Door”

“Lift up the gates, ye who are rulers of you, and be ye lift up ye everlasting gates, and the King of Glory shall come in.” 1

This is a wonder of wonders.

“For who (H. he says) is this King of Glory? 2 A worm 3 and no man, the scorn of men, and the contempt of the people. 4 He is the King of Glory, the Mighty in War.” 5

By “War” he 6 means the “[war] in the body,” for the plasm is compounded of warring elements, as it is written (H. he says):

“Remember the war that is [warred] in the body.” 7

This (H. he says) is the Entrance, and this is the Gate, which Jacob saw, when he journeyed into Mesopotamia. 8

C. Which is the passing from childhood to puberty and manhood; that is, it was made known to him who journeyed into Mesopotamia.

J. And Mesopotamia (H. he says) is the Stream of Great Ocean flowing from the middle of the Perfect Man.

And he 9 marvelled at the Heavenly Gate, saying:

“How terrible [is] this place! This is naught else than the House of God; yea, this [is] the Gate of Heaven.” 10

C. On this account (H. he says) Jesus saith:

“I am the True Door.” 11

J. And he 12 who says these things is (H. he says) the [one] from the Inexpressible Man, expressed from Above—

C. —as the perfect man. The not-perfect man, therefore, cannot be saved unless he be regenerated passing through this Gate.

(21) S. This same [Man] (H. he says) the Phrygians call also Papa; 1 for He calmed 2 all things which, prior to His own manifestation, were in disorderly and inharmonious movement.

For the name Papa (H. he says) is [the] Sound-of-all-things-together in Heaven, and on Earth, and beneath the Earth, saying: “Calm, calm” 3 the discord of the cosmos.

C. And: Make “peace for them that are far”—that is, the material and earthy—“and peace for them that are near” 4—that is, the spiritual and knowing and perfect men.

(22) S. The Phrygians call Him also Dead—when buried in the body as though in a tomb or sepulchre.

C. This (H. he says) is what is said:

“Ye are whited sepulchres, filled (H. he says) within with bones of the dead, 5 for Man, the Living [One] 6 is not in you.”

And again He says:

“The dead shall leap forth from their graves” 7

—that is, from their earthy bodies, regenerated spiritual, not fleshly.

This (H. he says) is the Resurrection which takes place through the Gate of the Heavens, through which all those who do not pass (H. he says) remain Dead.

S. The same Phrygians again call this very same [Man], after the transformation, God [or a God]. 1

C. For he becomes (H. he says) God when, rising from the Dead, through such a Gate, he shall pass into Heaven.

This is the Gate (H. he says) which Paul, the Apostle, knew, setting it ajar in a mystery, and saying that he was caught up by an angel and came to the second, nay the third heaven, into Paradise itself, and saw what he saw, and heard ineffable words, which it is not lawful for man to utter. 2

These (H. he says) are the Mysteries, ineffable [yet] spoken of by all,—

“—which [also we speak, yet] not in words taught of human wisdom, but in [words] taught of Spirit, comparing things spiritual with spiritual things. But the psychic man receiveth not the things of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness unto him.”3

And these (H. he says) are the Ineffable Mysteries of the Spirit which we alone know.

Concerning these (H. he says) the Saviour said:

“No one is able to come to Me, unless my Heavenly Father draw him.” 4

For it is exceedingly difficult (H. he says) to receive and accept this Great Ineffable Mystery.

And again (H. he says) the Saviour said:

“Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord! shall enter into the Kingdom of the Heavens, but he who doeth the Will of My Father who is in the Heavens” 5

—which [Will] they must do, and not hear only, to enter into the Kingdom of the Heavens.

And again He said (H. he says):

“The tax-gatherers and harlots go before you into the Kingdom of the Heavens.” 1

For by “tax-gatherers” (τελῶναι) are meant (H. he says) those who receive the consummations 2 (τέλη) of the universal [principles]; and we (H. he says) are the “tax-gatherers” 3 [upon whom the consummations of the æons have come” 4].

For the “consummations” (H. he says) are the Seeds disseminated into the cosmos from the Inexpressible [Man], by means of which the whole cosmos is consummated; for by means of these also it began to be.

And this (H. he says) is what is said:

“The Sower went forth to sow. And some [Seeds] fell by the way-side, and were trodden under foot; and others on stony places, and they sprang up (H. he says), but because they had no depth, they withered and died.

“Others (H. he says) fell on the fair and good ground, and brought forth fruit—one a hundred, another sixty, and another thirty.

“He who hath (H. he says) ears to hear, let him hear!” 5

G.R.S. Mead, Thrice-Greatest HermesVol. 1, 1906, pp. 171-4.

From Hippolytus, Philosophumena; or, Refutation of all Heresies.

More from the Naassene Fragment, the Great Ineffable Mystery of the Samothracians

” … H. Following after these and such like [follies], these most wonderful “Gnostics,” discoverers of a new grammatical art, imagine that their prophet Homer showed forth these things arcanely; and, introducing those who are not initiated into the Sacred Scriptures into such notions, they make a mock of them.

And they say that he who says that all things are from One, is in error, [but] he who says they are from Three is right, and will furnish proof of the first principles [of things]. 2

J. For one (H. he says) is the Blessed Nature of the Blessed Man Above, Adamas; and one is the [Nature] Below, which is subject to Death; and one is the Race without a king 3 which is born Above—where (H. he says) is Mariam the sought-for, and Jothōr the great sage, and Sepphōra the seeing, and Moses whose begetting is not in Egypt—for sons were born to him in Madiam. 4

S. And this (H. he says) also did not escape the notice of the poets:

“All things were threefold divided, and each received his share of honour.” 1

C. For the Greatnesses (H. he says) needs must be spoken, but so spoken by all everywhere, “that hearing they may not hear, and seeing they may not see.” 2

J. For unless (H. he says) the Greatnesses 3 were spoken, the cosmos would not be able to hold together. These are the Three More-than-mighty Words (Logoi): Kaulakau, Saulasau, Zeēsar;—Kaulakau, the [Logos] Above, Adamas; Saulasau, the [Logos] Below; Zeēsar, the Jordan flowing upwards. 4

(17 5) S. He (H. he says) is the male-female Man

in all, whom the ignorant call three-bodied Gēryonēs—Earth-flow-er, as though flowing from the earth; 1 while the Greek [theologi] generally call Him the “Heavenly Horn of Mēn,” 2 because He has mixed and mingled 3 all things with all.

C. For “all things (H. he says) were made through Him, and without Him no one thing was made that was made. In Him is Life.” 4

This (H. he says) is “Life,” the ineffable Race of perfect men, which was unknown to former generations.

And the “nothing” 5 which hath been made “without Him,” is the special cosmos; 6 for the latter hath been made without Him by the third and fourth [? Ruler]. 7

J. This 1 (H. he says) is the drinking-vessel—the Cup in which “the King drinketh and divineth.” 2

This (H. he says) was found hidden in the “fair seed” of Benjamin.

(18) S. The Greeks also speak of it (H. he says) with inspired tongue, as follows:

“Bring water, bring [me] wine, boy!

Give me to drink, and sink me in slumber! 3

My Cup tells me of what race I must be born,

[Speaking with silence unspeaking].” 4

C. This (H. he says) would be sufficient alone if men would understand—the Cup of Anacreon speaking forth speechlessly the Ineffable Mystery.

J. For (H. he says) Anacreon’s Cup is speechless—in as much as it tells him (says Anacreon) with speechless sound of what Race he must be born—

C. —that is, spiritual, not carnal—

J. —if he hear the Hidden Mystery in Silence.

C. And this is the Water at those Fair Nuptials which Jesus turned and made Wine.

“This (H. he says) is the great and true beginning of the signs which Jesus wrought in Cana of Galilee, and made manifest His Kingship [or Kingdom] of the Heavens.” 5

This (H. he says) is the Kingship [or Kingdom] of the Heavens within us, 6 stored up as a Treasure, 7 as “Leaven hid in three measures of Flour.” 8

(19 1) S. This is (H. he says) the Great Ineffable Mystery of the Samothracians,—

C. —which it is lawful for the perfect alone to know—[that is] (H. he says) for us.

J. For the Samothracians, in the Mysteries which are solemnised among them, explicitly hand on the tradition that this Adam is the Man Original.

S. Moreover, 2 in the initiation temple of the Samothracians stand two statues of naked men, with both hands raised to heaven and ithyphallic, like the statue of Hermes in Cyllene. 3

J. The statues aforesaid are images of the Man Original. 4

C. And [also] of the regenerated 5 spiritual [man], in all things of like substance with that Man.

This (H. he says) is what was spoken by the Saviour:

“If ye do not drink My Blood and eat My Flesh, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of the Heavens. 6

“But even if ye drink (H. he says) the Cup which I drink, 7 where I go, there ye cannot come.” 8

For He knew (H. he says) of which nature each of His disciples is, and that it needs must be that each of them should go to his own nature.

For from the twelve tribes (H. he says) He chose twelve disciples, and through them He spake to every tribe. 1

On this account (H. he says) all have not heard the preachings of the twelve disciples; and even if they hear, they cannot receive them. For the [preachings] which are not according to their nature are contrary to it.”

G.R.S. Mead, Thrice-Greatest HermesVol. 1, 1906, pp. 164-8.

From Hippolytus, Philosophumena; or, Refutation of all Heresies.

The Naassene Fragment Continued, Jesus Made the River Jordan Flow Upwards

” … And that he (H. that is Hermes, so symbolised) is Conductor and Reconductor of souls, 1 and Cause of souls, has not escaped the notice of the poets (H. of the Gentiles), when saying:

“But Cyllenian Hermes summoned forth the souls

Of men mindful” 2

—not the “suitors” of Penelope (H. he says), hapless wights! but of those who are roused from sleep, and have their memory restored to them—

“From what honour and [how great] degree of blessedness.” 3

J. That is, from the Blessed Man Above—

H. —or Original Man, or Adamas, as they 4 think—

J. —they 5 have been thus brought down into the plasm of clay, in order that they may be enslaved to the Demiurge of this creation, Esaldaios 6

H. —a fiery God, fourth in number, for thus they call the Demiurge and Father of this special cosmos. 7

(13) S. “And he 1 holds a rod in his hands,

Beautiful, golden; and with it he spell-binds the eyes of men,

Whomsoever he would, and wakes them again too from sleep.” 2

This (H. he says) is He who alone hath the power of life and death. 3

J. Concerning Him it is written: “Thou shalt shepherd them with a rod of iron.” 4

But the poet (H. he says), wishing to embellish the incomprehensibility of the Blessed Nature of the Logos, bestowed upon Him a golden instead of an iron rod.

S. “He spell-binds the eyes” of the dead (H. he says), and “wakes them again too from sleep”—those who are waked from sleep and become “mindful.” 5

C. Concerning them the Scripture saith: “Awake thou that sleepest, and rise, and Christ will give thee light.” 6

This is the Christ, the Son of Man (H. he says), expressed in all who are born from the Logos, whom no expression can express.

S. This (H. he says) is the Great Ineffable Mystery of the Eleusinia: “Hye Kye.” 7

J. And that (H. he says) all things have been put under Him, this too has been said: “Into all the earth hath gone forth their sound.” 1

(14) S. And “Hermes leads them, moving his rod, and they follow, squeaking” 2—the souls in a cluster, as the poet hath shown in the following image:

“But as when bats into some awesome cave’s recess

Fly squeaking—should one from out the cluster fall

Down from the rock, they cling to one another.” 3

J. The “rock” (H. he says) means Adamas. This (H. he says) is the “corner-stone”—

C. —“that hath become the head of the corner.” 4 For in the

“Head” is the expressive Brain 1 of the Essence, from which [Brain] “every fatherhood” 2 has its expression—

J. —which “I insert in the foundation of Zion.” 3

[By this] (H. he says) he 4 means, allegorically, the plasm of man. For the Adamas who is “inserted” is [the inner man, and the “foundations of Zion” are 5] the “teeth”—the “fence of the teeth,” as Homer says—the Wall and Palisade 6 in which is the inner man, fallen into it from the Primal Man, the Adamas Above—[the Stone] “cut without hands” 7 cutting it, and brought down into the plasm of forgetfulness, the earthy, clayey [plasm].

(15) S. And (H. he says that) they followed Him squeaking 8—the souls, the Logos.

“Thus they went squeaking together; and he led them on,

Hermes, the guileless, down the dark ways.” 9

That is, (H. he says) [He led them] into the eternal lands free from all guile. For where (H. he says) went they?

(16) “They passed by the streams of Ocean, and by the White Rock,

By the Gates of the Sun, and the People of Dreams.” 10

For He (H. he says) is Ocean—“birth-causing of gods and birth-causing of men” 1—flowing and ebbing for ever, now up and now down.

J. When Ocean flows down (H. he says), it is the birth-causing of men; and when [it flows] up, towards the Wall and Palisade, and the “White Rock,” it is the birth-causing of gods.

This (H. he says) is what is written:

“‘I have said ye are Gods and all Sons of the Highest’ 2—if ye hasten to flee from Egypt and get you beyond the Red Sea into the Desert”; that is, from the intercourse below to the Jerusalem Above, who is the Mother of the Living. 3

“But if ye turn back again into Egypt”—that is, to the intercourse below—“‘ye shall die like men.’” 4

For (H. he says) all the generation below is subject to death, but the [birth] begotten above is superior to death.

C. For from water alone—that is, spirit—is begotten the spiritual [man], not the fleshly; the lower [man] is fleshly. That is (H. he says) what is written: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit.” 5

H. This is their 6 spiritual birth.

J. This (H. he says) is the Great Jordan, which, flowing downwards and preventing the sons of Israel from going forth out of Egypt, or from the intercourse below—

H. —for Egypt is the body, according to them—

J. —was turned back by Jesus 1 and made to flow upwards.”

G.R.S. Mead, Thrice-Greatest HermesVol. 1, 1906, pp. 155-8.

From Hippolytus, Philosophumena; or, Refutation of all Heresies.

The Naassene Fragment, on the Ithyphallus

” … (7) And they say that not only the Mysteries of the Assyrians and Phrygians substantiate this teaching (logos) concerning the Blessed Nature, which is at once hidden and manifest [but also those of the Egyptians 1].

C. 2 [The Nature] which (H. he says) is the Kingdom of the Heavens sought for within man—

H. —concerning which [Nature] they hand on a distinct tradition in the Gospel entitled According to Thomas, saying as follows:

C. “He who seeketh shall find me in children from the age of seven years 3; for in them at the fourteenth year 4 [lit. æon] I hidden am made manifest.”

H. But this is not Christ’s Saying but that of Hippocrates:

“A boy of seven years [is] half a father.” 5

Hence as they place the Original Nature of the universals in the Original Seed, having learned the Hippocratian dictum that a child of seven is half a father, they say at fourteen years, according to Thomas, it is manifested. This 6 is their ineffable and mysterious Logos. 7

(8 8) S. (H.—At any rate they say that) the Egyptians—who are the most ancient of men after the Phrygians, who at the same time were confessedly the first to communicate to mankind the Mystery-rites and Orgies of all the Gods, and to declare their Forms and Energies—have the mysteries of Isis, holy, venerable, and not to be disclosed to the uninitiated.

H. And these are nothing else than the robbing of the member of Osiris, and its being sought for by the seven-robed and black-mantled 1 [Goddess].

And (they [the Egyptians] say) Osiris is Water. 2 And Seven-robed Nature—

H. —having round her, nay, robing herself in seven ætheric vestures—for thus they 3 allegorically designate the planet-stars, calling [their spheres] ætheric vestures—

S. —being metamorphosed, as ever-changing Genesis, by the Ineffable and Uncopiable and Incomprehensible and Formless, is shown forth as creation.

J. And this is what (H. he says) is said in the Scripture:

“Seven times the Just shall fall and rise again.” 4

For these “fallings” (H. he says) are the changes of the stars, 5 set in motion by the Mover of all things.

(9) S. Accordingly they 6 declare concerning the Essence of the Seed which is the cause of all things in Genesis, that it is none of these things, but that it begets and makes all generated things, saying:

“I become what I will, and am what I am.” 1

Therefore (H. he says) That which moves all is unmoved; for It remains what It is, making all things, and becomes no one of the things produced.

(H. He says that) This is the Only Good—

C. And concerning this was spoken what was said by the Saviour:

“Why callest thou me Good? One is Good 2—my Father in the Heavens, who maketh His sun to rise on righteous and unrighteous, and sendeth rain on saints and sinners.” 3

H. And who are the saints on whom He sendeth rain and the sinners on whom He also sendeth rain—this also he tells subsequently with the rest.

S. —and (H. that) This is the Great, Hidden, and Unknown Mystery of the Egyptians, Hidden and [yet] Revealed.  For there is no temple (H. he says) before the entrance of which the Hidden [Mystery] does not stand naked, pointing from below above, and crowned with all its fruits of generation.

(10) And (H. they say) it stands so symbolised not only in the most sacred temples before the statues, but also set up for general knowledge—

C. —as it were “a light not under the bushel, but set “on the candlestick” 1—a preaching “heralded forth on the house-tops.”2

S. —on all the roads and in all the streets, and alongside the very houses as a boundary and limit of the dwelling; (H. that) This is the God spoken of by all, for they call Him Bringer-of-good, not knowing what they say.

H. And this mystery [-symbol] the Greeks got from the Egyptians, and have it [even] to this day.

At any rate, he says, we see the “Hermes” 3 honoured by them in this form.

(11) S. And the Cyllenians, treating [this symbol] with special honour, [regard it as the] Logos. 4

For (H. he says) Hermes is [the] Logos, who, as being the Interpreter and Fabricator of all things that have been and are and shall be, was honoured by them under the symbolism of this figure, namely an ithyphallus.”

 G.R.S. Mead, Thrice-Greatest HermesVol. 1, 1906, pp. 155-8.

From Hippolytus, Philosophumena; or, Refutation of all Heresies.

Naassene Fragment Continued

” … (4) S. Now every nature (H. he says) yearns after Soul—one in one way and another in another.

For Soul is cause of all in Genesis. All things that are sustained and grow (H. he says) need Soul. Indeed, no sustenance (H. he says) or growth is possible without the presence of Soul.

Nay, even stones (H. he says) are ensouled; 1 for they have the power of increase [or growth]; and growth could not take place without sustenance; for it is by addition that things which increase grow; and addition is the sustenance of that which is sustained. 2

(5) Now the Assyrians call this [Mystery] Adōnis (or Endymiōn). And whenever it is called Adōnis (H. he says), it is Aphroditē who is in love with and desires Soul so-called.

H. And Aphroditē is Genesis according to them. 3

But when Persephonē (that is, Korē) is in love with Adōnis, Soul becomes subject to Death, separated from Aphrodite (that is, from Genesis).

But if Selēnē is impassioned of Endymiōn, and is in love with [formal] beauty, 1 it is the Nature of the higher [spaces 2] (H. he says) which desires Soul.

(6 3) But if (H. he says) the Mother of the Gods emasculate Attis—she, too, regarding him as the object of her love—it is the Blessed Nature Above of the supercosmic and æonian [spaces] which calls back the masculine power of Soul to herself. 4

H. For Man, he says, is male-female. According, then, to this theory of theirs, the intercourse between man and woman is exhibited as most mischievous, and is forbidden according to their teaching.

J. For Attis (H. he says) is emasculated—that is, [Soul is separated] from the earthy parts of the creation [tending] downwards, and ascends in quest of the Æonian Essence Above—

C. —where (H. he says) is “neither male nor female,” 1 but a new creature, a new man, who is male-female.

H. What they call “Above” I will explain when I come to the proper place. And they say that this theory is supported not simply by [the myth] of Rhea, but also, to put it briefly, by universal creation.

Nay, they make out that this is [even] what was said by the Word (Logos): 2

C. “For the invisible 3 things of Him [God]—namely, His Eternal 4 Power and Godhead—are clearly seen from the creation of the world, being understood by His things that are made; so that they [men] are without excuse. Because that, though knowing God, they glorified Him not as God, nor did they give [Him] thanks, but their non-understanding heart was made foolish. 5

“Professing themselves to be wise, they convicted themselves of folly, and changed the Glory of the Incorruptible God into the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and of four-footed beasts, and creeping things. 1 . . . 2

“Wherefore also God gave them up to passions of dishonour; for both their females did change their natural use to that which is against nature—

H. And what the natural use is, according to them, we will say later on.

C. —“and likewise also their males, leaving the natural use of the female, burned in their lust for one another, males with males working unseemliness 3

H. And “unseemliness,” according to them, is the First and Blessed Formless Essence, the Cause of all forms for things enformed. 4

C. —“and receiving in themselves the recompense of their Error which was meet.”

H. For in these words which Paul spake is contained, they say, the whole of their hidden and ineffable Mystery of the Blessed Bliss.

For what is promised by the [rite of the] bath 5 is nothing else, according to them, than the introduction into Unfading Bliss of him who, according to them, is washed with Living Water, and anointed with the Chrism that no tongue can declare.” 6

 G.R.S.Mead, Thrice-Greatest HermesVol. 1, 1906, pp. 151-4.

From Hippolytus, Philosophumena; or, Refutation of all Heresies.

Excerpts from the Naassene Fragment

” … In the following analysis H. stands for Hippolytus; C. for the Christian Gnostic final overwriter, the “Naassene” whose MS. lay before H.; J. for the Naassene Jewish mystic who preceded C. and overworked the original; S. for the original Heathen Hellenistic Source. …”

“(1) S. “Earth (say the Greeks 3) first brought forth Man—bearing a fair gift, desiring to be mother not of plants without feeling, nor of brutes without reason, but of a tamed God-loving life.

“Difficult is it (H. he says 4) to discover whether it was among the Bœotians that Alalkomeneus rose from the Kephisian Lake as first of men; or whether it was the Idæan Kurētes, race divine, or the Phrygian Korybantes, whom Helios saw first sprouting forth tree-like; or whether Arkadia brought forth Pelasgos [first], older than the Moon; or Eleusis Diaulos, dweller in Raria; or Lēmnos Kabeiros, fair child of ineffable orgies; 1 or whether Pallēnē Phlegræan Alkyoneus, eldest of Giants.

“The Libyans say that Garamas, 2 rising from parched plains, first picked sweet date of Zeus; while Neilos, making fat the mud of Egypt to this day (H. he says), breeds living things, and renders from damp heat things clothed in flesh.” 3

The Assyrians say it was with them Ōannēs, the Fish-eater; while the Chaldæans [say that it was] Adam.

(2) J. And this Adam they [the Chaldæans] say was the man that Earth produced—a body only, and that he lay breathless, motionless, immovable, like a statue, being an image of that Man Above—

H. —of whom they sing, and brought into existence by the many Powers, 1 concerning which there is much detailed teaching.

J. In order, then, that the Great Man from Above—

C. From whom, as is said, every fatherhood has its name on earth or in the heavens. 2

J. —might be completely brought low, there was given unto him 3 Soul also, in order that through the Soul the enclosed plasm of the Great, Most-fair, and Perfect Man might suffer and be chastened.

H. For thus they call Him. They seek to discover then further what is the Soul, and whence, and of what nature, that by entering into man and moving him, it should enslave and chasten the plasm of the Perfect Man; but they seek this also not from the Scriptures, but from the Mysteries.

(3) S. And they 4 say that Soul is very difficult to discover, and hard to understand; for it never remains of the same appearance, or form, or in the same state, so that one can describe it by a general type, 5 or comprehend it by an essential quality.

H. These variegated metamorphoses they 6 have laid down in the Gospel, superscribed “According to the Egyptians.” 7

S. They are accordingly in doubt—

H. —like all the rest of the Gentiles—

J. —whether it [sc. the Soul] is from the Pre-existing [One], or from the Self-begotten, or from the Streaming Chaos. 8

H. And first of all, in considering the triple division of Man, they fly for help to the Initiations of the Assyrians; for the Assyrians were the first to consider the Soul triple and [yet] one. …”

 G.R.S.Mead, Thrice-Greatest Hermes, Vol. 1, 1906, pp. 148-51.

From Hippolytus, Philosophumena; or, Refutation of all Heresies.

The Luminous Mirrors of the Deity

“Thus the sefiroth are here conceived as worlds but also as seals, as minting stamps of all reality—just as the Platonists speak of the ideas as seals—but they are also the ”luminous mirrors” of the deity through which its light is reflected in all reality.

Some texts specify, much as does the “Book of the Five Substances,” a distinct “world of life,” which is distinguished from the world of the intellect and from that of the soul in the hierarchy of being.

‘En-sof as a name of the hidden God in his transcendence is still unknown in these texts, suggesting that they preceded the writings of the Gerona circle. But they also readily make use of adverbial phrases of the kind we have already discussed with regard to the Infinite and often speak of the “light whose sublimity has no end.”

The fact that the name Araritha was used for the primordial and transcendent being, as we have mentioned, proves that the writers felt the need to find some name for the absolute unity, which is above all these “worlds,” the “One where everything originates, where everything has its existence and to which everything returns.”

The absence of the name ‘en-sof can therefore be no accident.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, p. 330.

Mystical Spelling of the Divine Name

“In the writings of the ‘Iyyun circle, the sefiroth undergo a transformation: each one, indeed even each of the thirty-two paths of the Sophia, becomes an autonomous world in which the theosophist immerses himself.

In fact, even the mystical spelling of the divine name with twenty-four points, which Pseudo-Hai transmits here and which no doubt goes back to Oriental sources of Jewish magic, is interpreted in this manner.

The spelling obviously imitates the magical alphabet and characters as they are frequently found in amulets and that, in Jewish magic, are encountered, for example, in the old “alphabets of the angels.”

They appear below:


The twenty-four points or stars of this script correspond, according to the author, to the twenty-four books of the biblical canon, which are perhaps woven from this “hidden name.”

The author instructs the initiate that each of these points in and of itself represents an entire world. This use of the term “worlds” for different levels of being is undoubtedly Neoplatonic. It first penetrated into kabbalistic literature in the ‘Iyyun circle.

As we have seen, Isaac the Blind speaks of the “world of separation” below the sefiroth, but it seems he still did not take the step of considering the sefiroth themselves as just so many worlds. The upper world is henceforth no longer that of the separate intelligences, as it was for the philosophers and in Isaac’s fragments on cosmogony, but the world of the divine emanations itself. In the “Book of the Unity” of Pseudo-Hammai it is said that before Creation all the powers were intertwined and hidden in God,

“ … until there came the time of the will of the first Acting One, and they emerged from potentiality to spiritual reality, and the emanation of the upper world emanated to that of the tenth fundamental stone which is called, in the language of the sages of the mysteries, the “condensed light,” ‘or ‘abh. On account of its condensation they also name it “mixed darkness,” for all the powers of the flames are mixed in it, but are also differentiated in it, and it is the foundation of all the spiritual and corporeal worlds . . . and the last seal of all the [other] seals [emanated in the higher sefiroth].”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 328-30.

The Four Principle Sefiroth

“We thus encounter pell-mell the names of sefiroth, a new light-mysticism, notions of the Merkabah, and cosmological powers. Moses of Burgos had before him a later redaction of this list, which exhibited significant variants and which apparently strove to identify the first ten potencies with the ten sefiroth of the tradition that had meanwhile become canonical.

In these potencies the unknowable God gives the appearance of assuming a body, and his kabhod is, just as in the old Shi’ur Qomah, the “body of the Shekhinah.” God Himself is, in a Neoplatonic image (which likewise must have come from ibn Gabirol’s poem “The Royal Crown”) “the soul of souls.”

Below the kabhod there extend, in the form of the primordial man, the four “camps of the Shekhinah,” which are also the four primordial elements and the four realms of the archangels. Here the “body of the Shekhinah” is inexplicably separated from the primordial man.

In an equally inexplicable manner the elements are correlated with four of the aforementioned thirteen potencies, which apparently also correspond to the four principal sefiroth.

These are the hashmal (corresponding to hesed), the cloud (corresponding to Stern Judgment), the Throne of Splendor (corresponding to tif’ereth), as well as the ‘ofan of greatness (corresponding to malkhuth). This is not directly stated but implicitly understood.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, p. 317.

The Supreme Mystery

“Whereas one of these names thus illustrates the way from magic to Neoplatonic mysticism, the other marks the way from the theory of language of the grammarians to the magic of names, that is, in the opposite direction. Both currents meet in an impressive manner in the Book ‘Iyyun and related writings.

The sequel no longer makes any direct reference to the primordial darkness. First, an “order of the master of the world” is expounded, then an “order of Metatron,” the second part obviously being conceived as some sort of explanation of the Shi’ur Qomah.

The two parts describe, in their own fashion and constantly confusing Merkabah gnosis with Neoplatonic images, the potencies by means of which God acts at Creation as well as the supreme hierarchies of essences emanating from him, the hawwayoth.

The exposition quotes other, presumably also fictitious, writings. At the end of the text it suddenly seems as if R. Ishmael had read all the foregoing aloud to Nehunya ben Haqqanah, as if everything had come from the aforementioned book of Hekhaloth.

The framework of the old Merkabah literature clearly serves here as a receptacle for contents that are alien to it. There is scarcely any relationship between these ideas (in which the doctrine of the sefiroth is mentioned only very incidentally) and the world of the Book Bahir.

The thirteen potencies manifested from the supreme mystery, setherelyon ha-ne ‘elam—no doubt the aforementioned primordial darkness—are enumerated by name. They are:

  1. The primordial hokhmah;
  2. The wondrous or hidden light, ‘or mufla;
  3. Hashmal;
  4. The cloud, ‘arafel;
  5. The throne of splendor;
  6. The ‘ofan of greatness;
  7. The cherub;
  8. The wheels of the Merkabah;
  9. The surrounding ether;
  10. The curtain;
  11. The Throne of Glory;
  12. The place of the souls, also called “chambers of greatness”;
  13. The outer Holy Temple.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, p. 316.

The Magical Name Araritha

“But here the magical name by means of which heaven is sealed is Araritha, and the corresponding name for the earth is ‘EHWY. The latter name, which in the writings of this group frequently serves as an object of mystical speculation, is obviously not a secret name belonging to the theurgic tradition but an artificial product composed of the four consonants employed in Hebrew as matres lectionis.

Abraham ibn Ezra and Yehudah Halevi were the first to propose interpretations of these four letters as the most spiritual elements among the consonants, and hence best suited to form the symbols of the divine spirit in the body of the world and the elements of the two most important divine names in the Torah: ‘Ehyeh and YHWH.

In due course a magical primordial Tetragrammaton was formed, designating the unity of these two names and said to precede them. However, the name Araritha can be found in very old magical texts of the German Hasidim as the secret name of the hashmal in the vision of Ezekiel 1:4.

The same name also appears in a magical piece from the Gaonic period, the “Prayer of Rab Hamnunah the Elder.” In the Book ‘Iyyun, these names are interpreted in the spirit of a Neoplatonic concept of God: they indicate his static as well as his dynamic unity, which also maintains its identity in its oppositions.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 315-6.

The Sound of the Alef

“Before all Creation he rested, transcendent, in himself, hidden in the power of his own reality. But at the beginning of Creation, “His kabhod became manifest, and the explication of his knowledge consisted in five things.” The author in fact names, but does not explain, these five things, which lead to gnosis. They obviously belong to the sphere of language mysticism and are called tiqqun, ma ‘ amar, seruf, mikhlal, heshbon.

It appears that they constitute the processes by which the letters are placed in harmony (tiqqun), assembled into words (ma’ amar), permutated (seruf), collected together in all their combinations (mikhlal), and calculated according to their numerical value (heshbon). Here, too, the process of emanation coincides with the process of language, but the details do not become clear.

These five events are, as the author says in a curious image, “united in the ramifications of the root of movement [probably meaning the root of the movement of language], which is strengthened in the root of the thirteen pairs of opposites” and unfolds from a thin breath, the sound of the ‘alef, into the name of God (if I understand this difficult text correctly).

These thirteen pairs of opposites are, at the same time, the thirteen middoth derived from Exodus 34:6, which play such a great role in Jewish theology as the modes of God’s action. God acts in the middoth positively as well as negatively, which enables us to perceive a connection with the kabbalistic notion of middah that we found in Isaac.

Here, however, not the sefiroth are meant but the powers or modes of action that are enclosed in the first sefirah and erupt from it. It is in these five modes of the movement of language that everything is realized “like a source for the flame and a flame for the source” prolonged “up to the unfathomable and infinite light, which is concealed in the excess of the hidden darkness. And the knowledge of the unity and of its principle refers to this darkness.”

The divine unity acts therefore out of the effusive darkness from which come all the lights, which are connected to it as the flame to its source. This world of images does not appear to me far removed from that of John Scotus Erigena and Pseudo-Denys the Areopagite; it is more closely related to them than to the world of the Bahir.

Among the Hebrew Neoplatonists such language is not used to express the divine unity, and we touch here upon a possible connection that will emerge more often in the course of this investigation. It seems that the kabbalists of Provence combined the doctrine of the aeons, as found among the gnostics and in the Bahir, with Erigena’s doctrine of the causae primordiales, which in all their multiplicity are nevertheless the unity of the divine sapientia.

Such a relationship is historically plausible. It is not difficult to suppose that the first kabbalists of Provence and Aragon, around 1180-1220, had direct or indirect knowledge of Scotus Erigena, whose influence reached its high point at that time, just before the condemnation of 1210. Many Cathars too seem to have made use of Erigena’s work as is suggested by two extant testimonies. Writings of Erigena were no rarity in the cities where the first kabbalists lived, before Honorius III ordained the destruction of all copies found in France.

But from this speculative and novel introduction, the Book ‘Iyyun proceeds to an explanation of the primordial darkness and the potencies issuing from it. This explanation claims to be a kind of commentary on a Hekhaloth text by Nehunya ben Haqqanah that however, is not identical with any of the Hekhaloth writings known to us. It is apparently against this commentary and, by the same token, against the Book ‘Iyyun in general (along with the Bahir and other writings) that the antikabbalistic attack in Meir ben Simon’s epistle is directed.

Around 1245, therefore, the existence of such a commentary on the Hekhaloth, “where one finds things in the spirit of their [namely, the kabbalists’] heresy” was known in Provence. This text names the signet rings sealing heaven and earth much as we also find them in the Wertheimer version of the “Greater Hekhaloth” (chap. 23).

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 313-5.

On the Lost Book of the Speculation

“What is surprising in this text is that it constitutes an irruption of Neoplatonic language and concepts into older cosmological and Merkabah teachings, as far removed from the language of the Bahir as it is from that of Isaac the Blind.

The few extant pages appear to have been carelessly thrown together without any sense of structure, and the exposition is in part erratic and opaque. The book is written in a pure Hebrew and in a curiously enthusiastic style. The long superscription says:

“ … The “Book of the Speculation” of the great master Rab Hammai, chief of those who speak of the subject of the inner [hidden] sefiroth, and he unveiled in it the essence of the whole reality of the hidden glory, whose reality and nature no creature can comprehend, [and of all that] in a truthful manner, such as it [the hidden kabhod?] is in the indistinct unity, in the perfection of which the higher and the lower are united, and it [this kabhod] is the foundation of all that is hidden and manifest, and from it goes forth all that is emanated from the wondrous unity. And Rab Hammai has interpreted these subjects according to the method of the doctrine of the Merkabah—’al derekh ma- ‘aseh merkabah—and commented upon the prophecy of Ezekiel.”

The language used in this superscription, as well as in the beginning of the work, is purely speculative. The notion of indistinct unity (‘ahduth shawah) is unknown in prekabbalistic Hebrew texts. The term, as becomes quite clear in the writings of Azriel of Gerona, refers to that unity in which all oppositions become “equal,” that is, identical.

This concept, and the idea of a coincidentia oppositorum in God and the highest sefiroth—which subsequently plays such an important role, particularly in Azriel—seems to appear here for the first time. According to Azriel, God is …

“ … the One who is united in all of His powers, as the fire’s flame is united in its colors, and His powers emanate from His unity as the light of the eyes proceeds from the black of the eye, and they are all emanated from one another like perfume from perfume and light from light, for one emanates from the other, and the power of the emanator is in the emanated, without the emanator suffering any loss.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, p. 312.

The Lost Book of Rab Hammai

“The tendency of these writings to enumerate celestial beings and their names is sometimes reminiscent of the catalogues to be found in the Pistis Sophia and other gnostic (Mandaean) texts of a later period. Isaac Cohen, who preserved for us many such lists and enumerations, attributed them to a particular group of kabbalists who had not walked the “royal road” followed by the others.

The source of these lists (as distinct from the demonological speculations discussed previously) is said to be a source he called the Book of Rab Hammai, which he claims to have found in Provence in three copies: one in Narbonne, in the possession of the aforementioned anonymous Hasid, and two in Aries.

Here we find ourselves in a very curious situation. The Book of Hammai is lost; Moses of Burgos, Isaac’s disciple, still quoted further catalogues of archons of a gnostic character; the name appears in several other writings that in all probability also originated in Provence.

But no historical personage by this name is known. Whether the Amora Hamma ben Hanina has been transformed into a pseudepigraphic author, or the name Rahmai, rahmai, known to us from the Bahir has perhaps become a Rab Hammai, rab_hammai  or whether we are simply dealing with a new fiction, can no longer be determined.

In the most important of the extant texts, Hammai appears as a speculative author of the eleventh or twelfth century who already relied upon pseudepigraphic kabbalistic writings circulating in the name of Hai Gaon (d.1040). In addition to a “Book of the Unity,” Sefer ha-Yihud, from which only some quotations remain, we have a small tract entitled Sefer ha-‘Iyyun, “Book of the Speculation” (or “Contemplation”), preserved in numerous manuscripts.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 310-1.

The First Sefirah is Passed Over in Silence

“After the resurrection, the righteous and the average realize a new progress in their spiritual and moral perfection, one that takes them beyond everything they attained in their lives. By this adherence to the seven divine middoth, all will share perpetually in the gift of prophecy.

From a brief allusion of ibn Sahula (f. 34a), we can infer that on several occasions Isaac expressed his views on eschatological matters, in the context of which he may also have discussed the preparation for redemption by means of the purification of souls during their transmigrations.

In the extant texts, however, there is no clear statement on this subject, though on one occasion Isaac quotes a relevant passage from the Bahir, section 105.

Isaac of Acre states that in his commentary on Yesirah Isaac the Blind made a hidden allusion to the distinction between the migration of souls (gilgul) and the impregnation of souls (ibbur) as being two different things, but I have not been able to locate this allusion.

It should be clear from the foregoing that Isaac the Blind already had at his disposal a complete system of kabbalistic symbolism, partly inherited from tradition and partly elaborated by himself which he applied to a great variety of biblical and rabbinic subjects.

His epistle to Gerona, which has survived, offers a brief explanation of the last psalm, apparently in response to a question. The psalmist’s tenfold invitation to praise God is interpreted as an allusion to the ten sefiroth, though the first sefirah is passed over in silence, and Isaac counts downward beginning with hokhmah.

His mystical allusions in this epistle scarcely differ from the instructions he gives for the mystical kawwanoth at prayer; there too, he briefly describes the process by which the mystic first traverses the world of the sefiroth from below upward during the profession of the divine unity, the Shema’ Yisrael, and then, in his meditation on the word ‘ehad, “one!” completes and closes the circle of his kawwanah, from above downward.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 308-9.

Debhequth is Communio

“It is this contact, connection, or communio with God that is designated by the Hebrew term debhequth. This kabbalistic concept has its origins in the terminology of the medieval Jewish theologians, especially Bahya ibn Paquda and Abraham ibn Ezra, who employed the biblical verb dabhaq (“adhere, cleave to,”) to express the contact of the soul with God or the divine light. The biblical injunction Deuteronomy 13:5 is cited by Isaac’s pupils as their master’s cue for this doctrine:

“ … Our master the Hasid said: The essential thing in the divine service of the mystics [maskilim] and those who meditate on His name, lies in this [verse]: “and cleave to Him.” And this is a cardinal principle of Torah and of prayer, that one make one’s thought conform with one’s faith, as though it were cleaving to what is above, in order to conjoin the name [of God] in its letters and to link the ten sefiroth to Him as a flame is joined to the coal. With his mouth he must express it according to its paraphrase, but in his heart, he must conjoin it in its true structure.”

Debhequth is therefore not unio but communio. In the sense the term acquired in kabbalistic usage it always contains an element of distance despite its character of intimacy. Debhequth is not becoming one with God but entering into an infinitely close liaison with him, roughly corresponding to that called adhaeresis by medieval Christian mystics.

In Hebrew, debhequth can denote the process as well as the state attained through it. The instrument of this process is the kawwanah. Isaac and his disciples do not speak of ecstasy, of a unique act of stepping outside oneself in which human consciousness abolishes itself.

Debhequth does not consist in tempestuously rushing toward God and becoming absorbed in him; it is a constant state, nurtured and renewed through meditation. In contrast to some later schools, the old kabbalists did not go any further, and in this remained true to their Jewish-theistic character. For them, debhequth or the mystical communio is not, as for many non-Jewish mystics, a transitional stage leading to still higher regions.

Any pantheistic overstepping of the limits they fixed for themselves in their interpretation of the mystical path is far from their thoughts.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 302-3

The Secret Signature of the Letters

“Isaac’s picture of the universe rests, therefore, on the idea that the different realms of Creation, each according to its rank in the hierarchy of things, are in communication with the roots of all being as given in the world of the sefiroth.

The limited powers proceed from the unlimited powers, and the secret signature of the letters acts in everything, but nowhere more clearly than in man. But to the current that flows downward there corresponds another, upward movement.

When Isaac says in his commentary on Yesirah (end of chapter 3) that “all things return to the root of their true being,” he means, in this context, that a thing can act only in that which is related to its principle.

But his disciples already understood expressions of this kind in the sense of a return of all things to God. “Everything issues from the first Cause, and everything returns to the first Cause.”

Such a return can have both an ontological and an eschatological aspect. Even before the end of all things all being seeks to return, in accordance with its nature, to its origin, in the spirit of the ancient philosophical thesis of the appetitus naturalis, which the Neoplatonists above all rendered popular in the Middle Ages.

But also, the eschatological nuance of a “restoration of all things to their original being,” hashabath kol ha-debharim le-haw-wayatham, is not absent among Isaac’s pupils, who probably derived it from him.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 299-300.

On the Apocatastasis

“Only in the messianic era will the position of Sammael be restored; the Throne of God, which for the present is damaged, will then be repaired.

It thus appears that Isaac the Blind was a follower of the doctrine of the ultimate “restoration of Satan,” the apocatastasis.

Since, as is well known, Judaism recognized no official dogmatic authority that was entitled to determine the content of the faith, this question too, which played such an important role in the history of the Christian churches, remained open and a subject of dispassionate discussion.

Opinions were divided, and many mystics adhered to the “restoration” doctrine. Later kabbalistic theories exhibiting the same tendency, such as Joseph ibn Gikatilla’s Mystery of the Serpent, probably owe their inspiration to Isaac the Blind.

What is curious in the case of Isaac is that Sammael did not fall from his exalted rank, as one would expect, at the time of Adam’s sin—for which the Aggadah holds him responsible—but only at the time of the battle against Amaleq.

In this detail he was not followed by later kabbalists; even when they defended the doctrine of apocatastasis they placed it in relation to the reestablishment of the harmony of all things, which had been disturbed by Adam’s original sin.

However, also for ibn Gikatilla (as for Isaac), the serpent drew his original power directly from the sacred domain of the emanations, standing outside its “walls” and acting as the genius of the entire sublunar world. There, too, the rebellion of the serpent introduces disorder into the harmonious union of the worlds and isolates Sammael as genius of evil.

Isaac’s view that the supreme angelic powers draw their influx directly from the tenth sefirah is also found in Ezra, who attests to having received “from the lips of the son of the master,” that is, from Isaac the Blind, the doctrine “that Metatron is only a messenger, and not a specific thing bearing that name.

Rather, every messenger is called in Greek metator, and perhaps the messengers received the influx of the [tenth sefirah] named ‘atarah to fulfill their mission.”

Metatron is therefore not a proper name at all but a designation for the whole category of celestial powers performing a mission. This conception is far more prosaic than that taught by his father, the Rabad (cf. the passage quoted, p. 212), in his commentary on the Talmud.

Is this the whole truth about Isaac’s view, or merely an occasional remark? No other kabbalist ever denied the existence of a specific angelic being called Metatron, even if he adopted Isaac’s etymology.

The etymology itself is apparently taken from the old talmudic dictionary ‘Arukh of Nathan ben Yehiel of Rome, which was well known in Provence (as metator). Isaac obviously did not think of identifying Metatron with the last sefirah, the Shekhinah, although the identification is found later, among the first generation of Catalan kabbalists.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 298-9.

On the Evil Status of Goats

“Nevertheless, many extant fragments prove that Isaac had a certain interest in questions relating to the nature of Sammael, whose name had become for the Jews of the Middle Ages, the principal one associated with the devil and his dominion. The following dictum of Isaac makes good sense when viewed against the background of the large number of shepherds populating the western Languedoc:

He who lives with herds of sheep, even if it is in the high mountains and in the desert wastes, which are uninhabited, has no need to fear Satan and the evil powers, for no evil spirit rules among them. But he who lives among goats [of him it can be said] that even when he is surrounded by ten houses and a hundred men, an evil spirit rules over them.

In another fragment, we learn that Sammael’s origins lie in the power of the sefirah pahad, channeled to him through the last sefirah “without any other intermediary.” He has, therefore, a legitimate position in the sacred totality of Creation.

It was only when he pitted himself in the war of Amaleq against Israel and the sacred order it represents—a war that has always been interpreted in Jewish tradition as a metaphysical event of enormous significance—that he lost this legitimate place. Since then he receives his power only indirectly, from planetary spirits, and “no longer by the path of the primordial order of Creation.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, p. 297.

Sammael and Lilith, Adam and Eve

“In Provence, Aramaic texts appeared that could in fact have arrived there, at least in part, directly from the Orient in the twelfth century, even if they did not necessarily reach the circle of Rabad and his family. It seems, however, that in some of the earliest circles of kabbalists further variations were composed in an obviously artificial Aramaic on these same themes of the demonological hierarchies.

Remnants of these compositions still exist, for example, the pseudo-gaonic responsum on the conjuration of the prince of the demons, which incidentally also speaks of the revelation of the prophet Elijah during the night of the Day of Atonement. Already the earliest stratum of these texts distinguished between an old and a young Lilith and is familiar with strange names for the demonic rulers of the three realms of the ether and for their spouses, the Jewish names being combined with those of an obviously foreign provenance.

“The old Lilith is the wife of Sammael; both of them were born at the same hour in the image of Adam and Eve, and they embrace one another. Ashmedai, the great king of the demons, took as his wife the young Lilith, daughter of the king; his name is Qafsafuni and the name of his wife is Mehetabel, daughter of Hatred [from Gen. 36:39], and her daughter Lilitha.”

The fact that the spouse of the last king of Edom (in the list given in Genesis 36) figures as a demon suggests a reinterpretation of the list of these kings that turned them into the archons of darkness. Sammael too appears in these sources as the ruler of Edom—a Jewish code word, since the early Middle Ages, for Christianity, which was regarded as originating from the realm of darkness.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 295-6.

Sammael and Lilith and the Hierarchy of Darkness

“On the other hand, what might very well be of Oriental origin are purely mythical statements regarding the realm of demons, in which kabbalistic ideas like the doctrine of the sefiroth or the idea of emanation in general play no role.

These doctrines are mentioned by Isaac Cohen as coming from theurgic texts, which he connects with the “Lesser Hekhaloth” and a Sefer Malbush which, however, bear no relation to the old theurgic texts known by these names.

In these sources, Sammael and Lilith appear for the first time as the demonic couple placed at the head of the hierarchy of darkness. The connection between this strange mythic construction and the properly kabbalistic theories was only established later by the editors, the brothers Isaac and Jacob Cohen or their teachers.

The great antiquity of these ideas, the details of which I do not wish to discuss here, is also attested by the fact that the very old etymology, borrowed by the Gnostics of the second century from Jewish circles, of the name of the devil Sammael—a name that arose concurrently with that of Beliar—is still preserved here: the “blind archon,” sar summa.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, p. 294.

Intertwining Branches of Good and Evil

“But it is not only the good that has its origin in the irradiation of lights of the emanation; there also exists a positive evil, which is related to the root of death. In this way Isaac adopts a modified form of the corresponding idea of the Bahir concerning the nature of evil.

The oppositions discussed in chapter 4 of the Book Yesirah, in connection with the seven consonants of the Hebrew alphabet that can be pronounced in two different ways, also include that of life and death; and Isaac explains that “after the cause of life, the cause of death was emanated.”

Also at the beginning of chapter 2 he emphasizes that in each case the poles of oppositions come “from an autonomous principle.” Death is therefore something more and something other than the mere cessation of life. It has a positive root.

Certainly Isaac stresses at the same time that in the world of the sefiroth and of the “inner essences,” good and bad are not yet dissociated from one another but are harmoniously united, be-‘ah-duth ube-shalom. Only when the “roots” continue to develop into a tree—and in the emanation that later derives from it and to which the double letters correspond—does evil also exist in isolation.

Otherwise, Isaac’s thinking remains determined by the image of the organic body (on chap. 4). The letters are like the branches of the tree and in them the intertwined pattern of good and evil is unfolded, so that each good middah also has its corresponding evil and vice versa.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, p. 293.

Man as the “Great Seal”

“The divine power spreading from the sefiroth into Creation, from the world of the Throne and the angels outward, also descends below the human domain to living beings of a lower order, even to plants.

Trees, too, have a mystical root in those of Paradise, which represent the primordial images of all future trees. Everything below is linked to that which is above, to which it owes its existence, until it is linked by a chain of this kind to the Infinite.

”All creatures on earth depend on the higher powers, and these on still higher, up to the infinite cause.”

This cosmic chain is, at least in the realm of the sefiroth, a magnetic one. The sefiroth and logoi “rise above themselves like something rising under the influence of a magnet and thus their end [in the words of the Book Yesirah] is [enclosed] in its beginning” (on 1:7).

But in addition to the connection through emanation there is also one through vision, sefiyah. In connection with Yesirah 1:6, we learn that this vision itself is the magnetic act of communication in which everything ascends to its origins.

The Book of Creation says that the vision of the sefiroth is like lightning, and Isaac explains:

“The vision is the meditation of one thing out of the other. . . . Every cause is taken up and rises and then looks down from a cause that is higher than itself. . . . Everything is in the other and in communication with the other.”

Thus, not only does God contemplate the depths of his own wisdom when he produces the world, but a contemplative communication of the same kind also takes place among the sefiroth.

The contemplation of the mystic in a state of kawwanah is thus not unlike that which occurs among the spiritual essences themselves. In creation, it is not the divine middoth, the “fathers,” that act directly but rather the derivative middoth, toladoth, which issue from them. In isolation, without communicating with “fathers” or “mothers,” they are unable to produce anything.

Man too is inserted into this process. He is …

” … built out of combinations of the letters” (chap. 3). “And this higher edifice of spirit [ruah] that directs him [also] directs the All, and thus the All is connected to the upper and the lower ones and is composed of the world, the year and the soul. . . . And the soul is the determining factor in the All” (ibid.).

Man, our text continues, is “the quintessence of all creatures, a great seal, in which the beginning and the end” of all creatures are enclosed.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, p. 290.

The Mystical Radicalism of Isaac

“It corresponds to the sefirah of the divine Mercy, or tifereth. The lowest sefirah, on the other hand, contains, by virtue of its correspondence to the action of divine judgment in the world, the Oral Torah, which is black fire burning upon an underlayer of white fire. “But the form of the letters is without vowels and is only potentially engraved in this black fire, which is like ink [on white parchment].” In the white fire itself the forms of the letter still do not actually appear, and where they do so we are already (in the symbolism of the black fire) in the domain of the Oral Torah.

“ … And thus the Written Torah cannot adopt corporeal form, except through the power of the Oral Torah; that is, that the former cannot be truly understood without the latter, just as the mode of divine Mercy can only be grasped and perceived through the mode of Judgment. And the figures of color, gawwanim, of black, which are those of Judgment, rise up and spread out over the configurations of white, which are those of Mercy, like the light of the coal. For the power of the colored configuration of the flames prevails until the light of the coal can no longer be perceived at all because of the excess of flames covering it.”

The simile of the coal and its flames is the same as that employed by Isaac so often in his commentary on Yesirah. The mystical Written Torah is still hidden, as it were, under the invisible form of the white light represented by the parchment of the Torah scroll and is in no way perceptible to the ordinary eye.

It is only when the mystical lights, in the play of flames, sometimes veer away from one another that they offer a momentary glimpse of the white light or the sphere of divine Mercy. At such moments, “many a prophet” can “snatch, by means of the ‘crown of royalty,’ [the last sefirah, accessible to their contemplation] something of this mystical splendor, each according to the spiritual degree of which he is worthy.” But this can be no more than a momentary intuition.

A truly lasting contemplation of this hidden form of the white light is as inconceivable as that of the sun by a terrestrial eye. Only Moses, the master of all the prophets, could attain a continuous contemplation of this “luminous mirror” and by virtue of his prophetic rank enter into spiritual communication with it.

The language of this symbolism is identical to that found in other of Isaac’s fragments. Hidden behind mystical symbols, we find a conception according to which there simply is no Written Torah within reach of the ordinary mortal.

Everything we call by that name has already passed through the mediation of the Oral Torah. The Torah apprehensible to man is not the hidden form in the white light but precisely the obscure light that already had adopted definite forms and determinations and that thereby designates the quality of divine Sternness, the quality of Judgment.

The Torah scroll itself symbolizes that. The ink and the parchment form a unity. But the element rendered visible by the ink is the blackness, the “obscure mirror” of the Oral Torah; the true secret of the Written Torah, which embraces everything, is contained in the signs, still not visible, of the white parchment.

In a word, there is only an Oral Torah, and the concept of a Written Torah has its place, in the final analysis, in the mystical domain, the sphere accessible only to the prophets. Therefore, here, at the very beginning of the historical appearance of the Kabbalah in the West, we have a thesis whose mystical radicalism can hardly be surpassed and was in fact not surpassed in the entire history of the Kabbalah.

It proves, more than anything else we know of him, that Isaac was a genuine esotericist. Isaac’s fragment fell into oblivion, but his thesis was taken up and elaborated more than once in the history of the Kabbalah, at times in much less veiled language.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 288-9.

The Mah ‘Elohim of Genesis 1:2

“In another way, however, Isaac’s mysticism of language is easier to understand. From the Sophia, which we have come to know as the primordial Torah as yet undifferentiated by language, the voice is formed in the next sefirah, binah. This voice is not yet audible and is still hidden; it becomes audible only at the later stages of emanation and at the end of this process becomes articulated speech.

But already the hidden voice becomes differentiated, by prolonging itself, into many letters. “Hewn in the pneuma,” which is binah, they acquire, according to Isaac, an exterior and an interior, body and soul. This power of the letters flows into the world beneath the sefiroth, forming on the celestial sphere the secret but nonetheless primordial images of all things in the figure of the 231 gates of this sphere; the gates represent the combinations, two by two, of the elements of the Hebrew alphabet.

There are 462 such combinations, but the other half of this power remains above the sphere. Hence the letters, no matter how they are combined, are only the visible ramifications of the one promordial name.

It remains unsaid, however, whether this primordial name is the Tetragrammaton, the name ‘ehyeh, or some other mystical name underlying both of these. The entire process of emanation remains condensed in all the letters, and “in each individual letter are contained all ten sefiroth” (3:2).

The letter becomes, therefore, a world in itself encapsulating the whole future as something already preformed in it. “In each individual letter there are subtle, inward, and hidden essences ‘without what’ [that have not become anything definite].

Whatever could be chiseled out of them was already in them, just as all a man’s descendants are already in him.”

These secret essences in the letters, which exert their influence in the midst of creation, are conceived “in the manner of the essences given in the Sophia.” It is quite possible that the “whatless” being, being without quiddity, to which this passage refers and which is hidden in the letters, had something to do with the punning definition of the Sophia, given by Isaac’s disciples as being the “potency of the what.” This conception is in perfect accord with the quotation from the Yesirah commentary.

Similar ideas on the development of the world of the sefiroth and what lies below it are found, albeit expressed with enigmatic brevity, in Isaac’s commentary on Genesis 1 (which already ibn Sahula admitted was partly incomprehensible).

Mention is made there of a progression from the “splendor to the Sophia” toward the “light of the Intellect” as the content of the creation of the first day, which, as the mystical primordial day, contained within itself “in spirit, though not yet in their form” all the essences. It is only with the diffusion of the light of the intellect that the light of all other things radiated therefrom; and it seems that for Isaac, the primordial creation of the first day embraces all ten sefiroth.

He interprets the events of the second day of creation as constituting a transition representing the “extension of the spirit in the form.” The souls, too, only “extend in the form” on the second day. We do not learn what constitutes this specifically formative power of the spirit, which is the mah ‘elohim of Genesis 1:2. It is a pneuma that comes from the sefiroth of hokhmah and binah, “and it is called among the sages the power that shapes the form.”

The “sages” named here must be the philosophers, judging by the terminology employed; in the Midrash one finds no such expression. From this supreme pneuma, apparently, come all the souls, which are stamped with the letters engraved in the spirit.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 285-7.

The Letters of the Great Name

“Whatever the precise nature of the supreme sefirah, hokhmah is in any case the “beginning of being” as it is also the “beginning of the dibbur.” Prom hokhmah, all the sefiroth proceed in a clear chain of emanations. In terms of Isaac’s language-mysticism, the divine things are at the same time the divine words. The ideas are names.

This motif, already prefigured in the Bahir where the sefiroth coincided with the ten logoi, now appears in a much profounder form. For the kabbalist, evidently, language-mysticism is at the same time a mysticism of script and of letters. The relation between script and language is a constitutive principle for the Kabbalah.

In the spiritual world, every act of speaking is concurrently an act of writing, and conversely every writing is potential speech, destined to become audible. The speaker engraves, as it were, the three-dimensional space of the word on the plane of the ether.

The script, which for the philologist is only a secondary and otherwise rather useless image of real speech, is for the kabbalist the true repository of its secrets. The phonographic principle of a natural transposition of speech into script and vice versa manifests itself in the Kabbalah in the idea that the sacred letters themselves are the lineaments and signs that the modern phoneticist would want upon his disc.

The creative word of God is legitimately stamped upon just these sacred lines. Beyond language lies the unarticulated reflection, the pure thought, the mute profundity, one could say, in which the nameless reposes. Prom hokhmah on there opens up, identical with the world of the sefiroth, the world of the pure name as a primordial element of language. This is the sense in which Isaac understood the saying of Yesirah 2:5, according to which all language proceeds from a name. The tree of divine powers, which formed the sefiroth in the Bahir, is here transposed to the ramifications of the letters in this great name.

But more than that of the tree, Isaac liked the simile of the coal and the flames (shalhabiyoth) that are fed by it, inspired by another passage of Yesirah (1:7) to which he often has recourse:

“ … Their root [that is, that of language and things] is in a name, for the letters are like branches, which appear in the manner of flickering flames, which are mobile, and nevertheless linked to the coal, and in the manner of the leaves of the tree, its boughs and branches, whose root is always in the tree . . . and all the debharim become form and all the forms proceed only from the one name, just as the branch comes from the root. It follows therefore that everything is in the root, which is the one name (on 2:5).

The world of language is therefore actually the “spiritual world.” Only that which lives in any particular thing as language is its essential life.

Raising the above to the level of kabbalistic discourse, the words, dibburim, constitute the world of the sefiroth, which are united in their configurations in order to form letters, just as, conversely, the words themselves are the configurations of letters.

Isaac uses both images though their kaleidoscopic relations are not entirely transparent. In any case, letters are for him the elements of the universal script. According to him, the Hebrew word for letters, ‘othiyoth, derives from the verb ‘atha, to come; the letters are “things which come from their cause,” thus, that which “proceeds” from the root.

But each of these elements comprises in ever new configurations all the sefiroth: “In every letter there are the ten sefiroth.” Thus we are told, in connection with Yesirah 4:1 that the ten sefiroth are “inner [or: hidden] essences” whose inner [hidden] being is contained in the hokhmah, and that they are at the same time the roots of principles in which good and evil are still united.

“They [the sefiroth] begin to grow forth like a tree whose beginnings are unrecognizable, until a plant issues from them.” The verbs employed by the Book Yesirah to describe the formation of the letters that God “hewed” in the pneuma suggest to Isaac the image of a mountain from which raw stones are extracted, then hewed and chiseled, and from which well-ordered edifices come into being.

This “edifice” is the world, but the world of the sefiroth as such also represents a building of this type that issues from its elements, and, in the last analysis, from the hokhmah. The sphere in which this hewing of the innermost elements takes place is not the hidden Sophia, where everything is still conceived as united without form, but the sefirah that follows it, binah or teshubah (“that to which all returns”), which is itself a mystical hyle from which the forms are chiseled.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 277-9.

The Unknowable

“To this correspond two statements of Isaac that refer to the hidden subject of the third person, past tense, which Hebrew does not mark by a specific termination. In his comment on Genesis 1, he says: “In every place [in the Scriptures] where you find simply bam’, ‘asa, ‘he created, he made,’ know that it [the subject] is above the pure thought.”

But in his commentary on Yesirah 1:1 he explains the hidden subject of the verb haqaq, as “that which thought cannot attain.” Since for Isaac (who knows nothing of a definition of the Will as the first emanated being) the mahshabah itself is the first sefirah, then that which it cannot attain would therefore be nothing other than ‘en-sof, which is itself transcendent and hidden in relation to thinking.

The pure thought would be the supreme creative sphere of being, while ‘en-sof, as the Unknowable, already existed before all thought. Quite possibly this was in fact Isaac’s opinion, and I find nothing in his own statements to contradict this supposition. The difficulty, however, lies in the fact that all his disciples, Ezra ben Solomon, Azriel, Jacob ben Shesheth, and above all his own nephew, Asher ben David, who was closest to him, identify the Unknowable, at times explicitly, at times implicitly, with the first sefirah.

The rules of simple logic would lead to the conclusion that Isaac is the common source of this identification. The divine Thought would then be that which cannot be attained by human thought, and Isaac would therefore employ the word mahshabah in different senses: in one context it would designate the Thought of God, but in the expression “that which cannot be attained by thought,” the reference would be to human thought.

However, in the fragment of his commentary on Genesis, he even speaks, as we saw, of that which is above the “pure Thought,” that is, above the divine Thought. I cannot resolve this difficulty without doing violence to the texts. The unknowable in God is identified by the Christian Neoplatonist, Scotus Erigena, with the Nothing from which all creation proceeds.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 270-2.

The En-Sof

“They are called in his works the Infinite (‘en-sof), Thought, and Speech. The principle of Speech, dibbur, is divided into the plurality of speeches and words, by which he often means the seven lower sefiroth, called not only dibburim but also debharim. In Hebrew dabhar means “word” as well as “thing,” and this coincidence was obviously decisive for the formation of Isaac’s thought.

The sefiroth, above all the seven lower ones, are the words or things “which shape reality.” They take the place of the ma’amaroth, the logoi of the Bahir. The “Thought,” too, already comes from this text, as we saw in the previous chapter. But what is entirely new is the emphasis laid on a domain of the divine that is above all reflective contemplation, indeed above the divine Thought itself, a domain called by Isaac “the cause of Thought” and designated by a new term: ‘en-sof.

The birth of this concept is of great interest for the history of the Kabbalah. This designation is usually explained as a borrowing from Neoplatonism. Christian Ginsburg, whose essay on the Kabbalah has been appropriated by many authors (who do not always bother to acknowledge their source), says:

“ … Any doubt upon this subject must be relinquished when the two systems are compared. The very expression En Sof which the Kabbalah uses to designate the Incomprehensible One, is foreign, and is evidently an imitation of the Greek Apeiros. The speculations about the En Sof, that he is superior to actual being, thinking and knowing, are thoroughly Neo-Platonic.”

Ginsburg, however, proceeded on the completely erroneous assumption that the oldest document of the authentic Kabbalah was the Neoplatonic catechism on the sefiroth composed by Azriel, Isaac’s disciple. There the notion is in fact explained in a manner that comes particularly close to Neoplatonic thought. But this says nothing about the origin of the concept. Indeed, the expression is strange, by virtue of its very grammatical formation.

It certainly is not a rendering of a fixed philosophical idiom, whether it be from the Greek or from the corresponding Arabic (la-nihaya)—in spite of the readiness with which some scholars have adopted this view.

The form ‘en-sof corresponds in no way to the translations of privative notions in medieval Hebrew literature: in these the conjunction Ulti always precedes the negated notion; the negation ayin is never employed for this purpose. Thus “inconceivable” is rendered by bil-ti-mussag and not by ‘en hassagah, and “infinite” is Ulti ba’al-takh-lith and not ‘en-sof.

The form ‘en-sof is altogether unusual, and Graetz had good reason to see it in a proof of the late origin of the term. However, he should have added that in the Hebrew literature of the Middle Ages, too, it represents a completely isolated phenomenon. It is only in biblical literature that we find forms such as ‘en ‘onim or ‘en ‘eyyal, for powerless. Subsequently, locutions of this kind disappear completely.

How, then, are we to understand the origin of the term ‘en-sof? It did not result from a deliberate translation, but from a mystical interpretation of texts that contain the composite term ‘en-sof in a perfectly correct adverbial sense, and not as a specific concept. The doctrine of Saadya Gaon, in particular, abounds with affirmations of the infinity of God—in fact, it is asserted at the very beginning of his well-known “Supplication” (Siddur R. Saadia [1941], 47), and in the old Hebrew paraphrase, known among the Provençal Kabbalists as well as the German Hasidim, it is reiterated incessantly.

Tobias ben Eliezer, who wrote around 1097, also stressed precisely this quality of God, in the context of a reference to the mystical Hekhaloth writings. For him God is “the first up to the unfathomable, the primordial beginning up to the infinite (‘ad ‘en-takhlith), among the last up to infinity (‘ad ‘en-sof). ” The adverbial construction is perfectly correct.

“Up to infinity” results from a combination of “up to there, where there is no end.” Expressions of this kind, in which ‘en-sof has the function of an adverbial complement, are found with particular frequency in the writings of Eleazar of Worms. We find the same usage in the Bahir (cf. p. 130 preceding). Thus, Eleazar writes, for example: “When he thinks of that which is above, he should not set any limit to this thought, but thus [should he think of God]:

” … high, higher up to the Boundless [‘ad ‘en-qes]; down deep, who can find him; and the same above in the expanse of all the heavens . . . and outside the heavens up to the infinite [le’en- sof].” Or: “in the Throne of Glory are engraved holy names, which are not transmitted to any mortal, and which sing hymns unto infinity [meshorerim shiroth le’en-sof].”

The transition here from the innumerable hymns sung by holy names and angels to a hypostasis that, as a mystical reader might perhaps conceive it, “sings hymns to ‘en-sof” seems easy enough. The term ‘en-sof came into being when one of the Provençal kabbalists read this combination of words that actually represents a phrase as a noun, possibly influenced by the aforementioned kind of adverbial composites and perhaps also by some expressions in the Bahir.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 265-7.

Eschatological Elevation of the Soul After Death

“The Bahir’s idea of the sefiroth appears in Isaac’s writings in a fully crystallized form. In his commentary on the Yesirah 4:3, the verse 1 Chronicles 29:11 is used for the first time as a biblical reference for the names and the sequence of the seven lower sefiroth, especially the first five among them: “Yours, Lord, are the greatness (gedullah), might (geburah), splendor (tif’ereth), triumph (nesah), and majesty (hod)—yes all (kol) that is in heaven and on earth; to You, Lord, belong kingship (mamlakhah) and preeminence above all.”

From here come the designations not yet used in the Bahir, of gedullah for hesed, tif’ereth for ‘emeth, and hod. Isaac himself for the most part uses the names hesed and pahad (as in the Bahir) instead of gedullah and geburah. The name tif’ereth, however, is already familiar to him.

Whereas the word kol, occurring in the aforementioned verse, already served in the Bahir as an epithet designating the “Righteous,” Isaac uses for this sefirah the noun “Righteous” and the epithet “Foundation of the world.” For the last sefirah, on the other hand, he employs almost exclusively an epithet still not familiar to the Bahir, although it is undoubtedly alluded to there.

This epithet is ‘atarah, a synonym for kether, which designates the lowest of the ten “crowns.” Like the Bahir, he names the first three sefiroth kether or mahshabah, hokhmah and binah.

In his commentary on Yesirah, Isaac mentions many of these sefiroth in the framework of fixed schemata, but this does not always enable us to comprehend the sequence of the sefiroth within them. What is strange is that in point of fact the structure of the sefiroth beyond the supreme three only interests him in detail when it is a question of prayer mysticism, or the interpretation of certain ritual commandments. They have their importance as stages of the contemplative ascent or of the eschatological elevation of the soul, after death, to even higher spheres.

But never are any coherent thoughts presented concerning their function and structure. This is particularly the case for the potencies of tif’ereth, yesod and ‘atarah, which play an especially important role in the evolution of the doctrine of the sefiroth. In contrast to this lack of interest in detail, one discerns in Isaac a more pronounced interest in the totality of the spiritual potencies expressed in language and, in a more general manner, in spiritual entities.

Having said that, the terminological differences between concepts like sefiroth, middoth, letters (of the alphabet) and hawwayoth (literally: essences) are by no means always clear, and their interpretation is often fraught with difficulties.

However, these difficulties are closely related to what is truly new in Isaac’s Kabbalah. Indeed, from the historical point of view their interest lies in the combination of the world of ideas of the Bahir and the entirely new elements that erupt, inspired by gnostic ideas, into the oldest form of the Kabbalah as represented by the Bahir.

This combination reflects speculative interests whose origin is no longer essentially determined by Gnosticism but rather by Neoplatonism and a language mysticism generated by the latter. Isaac is visibly struggling with new thoughts for which he is as yet unable to find clear and definitive expression. The awkwardness of his new terminology militates against the supposition that this lack of clarity, which often makes it so difficult to penetrate his meaning, is intentional.

His new terminology seems to be derived from philosophy, although we cannot identify its philosophical sources in the Hebrew tradition. The special importance of Isaac’s commentary on the Yesirah lies in the attempt to read into the old texts the new, speculative thoughts of a contemplative mystic. But we are no less surprised by the boldness with which he presents far-reaching ideas in his other cosmological fragments and in his remarks concerning the mystical theory of sacrifice. The particular manner in which Isaac applies his ideas to the task of man, to the connection between the terrestrial and the celestial worlds, and to eschatological matters merits closer consideration.

The path of the mystic, described by Isaac at the beginning of his commentary on the Yesirah, is (as Isaac of Acre already recognized in his paraphrase of several of these passages in his own commentary) that of systematically uncovering the divine—by means of reflective contemplation and within the innermost depths of such contemplation. Isaac postulates three stages in the mystery of the deity and its unfolding in creation and revelation.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 263-5.

Finally, Here is the True Kabbalah

“The transition from the usual meaning of the word Kabbalah to the esoteric nuance was easily made. We find the first sign of it in Yehudah ben Barzilai. Speaking of the creation of the Holy Spirit, which is the Shekhinah, he says: “The sages did not deal with it at length, in order that men would not come to form ideas concerning ‘what is above,’ etc. and that is why they were accustomed to transmitting this thing in whispers and in secret, as a tradition to their pupils and to the sages.”

The ordinary expression “to transmit something as Kabbalah [orally]” here acquires through the addition of the adverbs “in whispers and in secret” the quality of an esoteric tradition. Somewhat similar is the use of the term in an Arabic text of 1223 that counters Maimonides in its assertion that where the Kabbalah of the sages of Israel is mentioned the reference is to the baraithoth of the Hekhaloth literature as the true interpretation of Ma’aseh Merkabah (A. Harkavy, in his appendix Hadashim gam Yeshanim to the Hebrew translation of Graetz’s Geschichte 5:47).

But contrary to Harkavy’s view, this passage in no way proves that the term Kabbalah in its novel, technical sense was known in the Orient in 1223. That, precisely, is Kabbalah, in the sense of the Provençal school. But Eleazar of Worms also cites traditions of this kind—for example, with respect to the names of the angels—as “Kabbalah.” Besides, still other expressions were used in Isaac’s circle. In a letter sent to Gerona, Isaac himself speaks in this sense of hokhmah, wisdom or science, without adding the adjective penimith, “esoteric,” although this often occurs in other places.

In the twelfth century, the expression of sefarim penimiyyim appears in France for writings considered there as esoteric literature, such as Seder ‘Eliyahu Zutta.

In the liturgical manual Sefer ha-Manhig, composed in 1204 by Abraham ben Nathan ha-Yarhi of Lunel, who in his youth had studied with the Rabad, the “Greater Hekhaloth” are twice designated by this term.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 261-3.

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