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Tag: Ezra

The Library of Ashur-bani-pal

ASHUR-BANI-PAL, BOOK-COLLECTOR AND PATRON OF LEARNING.

“Ashur-bani-pal (the Asnapper of Ezra iv, 10) succeeded his father Esarhaddon B.C. 669, and at a comparatively early period of his reign he seems to have devoted himself to the study of the history of his country, and to the making of a great Private Library.

The tablets that have come down to us prove not only that he was as great a benefactor of the Library of the Temple of Nebo as any of his predecessors, but that he was himself an educated man, a lover of learning, and a patron of the literary folk of his day.

In the introduction to his Annals, as found inscribed on his great ten-sided prism in the British Museum, he tells us how he took up his abode in the Crown Prince’s dwelling from which Sermacherib and Esarhaddon had ruled the Assyrian Empire, and in describing his own education he says:

“I, Ashur-bani-pal, within it (i.e., the palace) understood the wisdom of Nebo, all the art of writing of every craftsman, of every kind, I made myself master of them all (i.e., of the various kinds of writing).”

These words suggest that Ashur-bani-pal could not only read cuneiform texts, but could write like a skilled scribe, and that he also understood all the details connected with the craft of making and baking tablets.

Having determined to form a Library in his palace he set to work in a systematic manner to collect literary works. He sent scribes to ancient seats of learning, e.g., Ashur, Babylon, Cuthah, Nippur, Akkad, Erech, to make copies of the ancient works that were preserved there, and when the copies came to Nineveh he either made transcripts of them himself, or caused his scribes to do so for the Palace Library.

In any case he collated the texts himself and revised them before placing them in his Library. The appearance of the tablets from his Library suggests that he established a factory in which the clay was cleaned and kneaded and made into homogeneous, well-shaped tablets, and a kiln in which they were baked, after they had been inscribed.

The uniformity of the script upon them is very remarkable, and texts with mistakes in them are rarely found. How the tablets were arranged in the Library is not known, but certainly groups were catalogued, and some tablets were labelled.

Groups of tablets were arranged in numbered series, with “catch lines,” the first tablet of the series giving the first line of the second tablet, the second tablet giving the first line of the third tablet, and so on.

Ashur-bani-pal was greatly interested in the literature of the Sumerians, i.e., the non-Semitic people who occupied Lower Babylonia about B.C. 3500 and later. He and his scribes made bilingual lists of signs and words and objects of all classes and kinds, all of which are of priceless value to the modem student of the Sumerian and Assyrian languages.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, The Babylonian Story of the Deluge and the Epic of Gilgamish1929, pp. 15-17.

Mysteries Not to be Discussed

He made no secret of the fact that the Kabbalah was the positive ground on which he stood in his struggle against rationalist enlightenment. He derided the Maimonideans in witty verses in which he sought to expose the weaknesses of their position. But the kabbalistic doctrines themselves, which he manifestly opposes to them, are only for initiates who weigh their words and know how to keep silent. He had studied the secret science with Ezra and Azriel:

Yes, my supports are Ezra and Azriel, who pour kabbaloth onto my hands.”

In a panegyric to the members of his circle he bemoans the death of the two “whose shields hang upon my walls.” He stands on solid ground:

The ‘ephod is in our midst; and why should we conjure the dead; in our hands the tablets are intact. The son of Nahman is a firm refuge, his discourses are measured and do not gallop away recklessly. Ezra and Azriel and my other friends, who taught me knowledge without lying—they are my priests, the luminous stars of my night. They know number and measure for their Creator, but they guard themselves from speaking publicly of God’s glory and they mind their words with a view to the heretics.

His masters in mysticism taught him to keep silent; nevertheless, he mentions the mystical kawwanah of the prayers, the meditation in the profession of unity, the mystical reasons for precisely those commandments that were emphasized by the kabbalists of Gerona, and he alludes to the doctrine of the sefiroth.

Like Jacob ben Shesheth, he reproaches the rationalists for no longer knowing how to pray, and he defends the mystical character of those aggadoth that embarrassed them the most:

Softly—you who find fault with the aggadoth! Perhaps they are mysteries, not to be discussed.

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, p. 409.

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.

Seeking the Garden of Eden Alphabet

“The letterforms of the Sinatic and Ezra Hebrew alphabets bear little physical resemblance to one another, though they share the same twenty-two-letter format and have the same names for the letters.

Hence, the Sinatic Hebrew letter Alef transliterates with the Ezra Alef, the Sinatic Beyt with the Ezra Beyt, and so forth. Sinatic letterforms are basically built from the letters Alef and Ayin. Ezra Hebrew letter forms are built upon variations of the letter Yod.

Both alphabets have letters which overtly or covertly contain other letters, such as the Tav contained in the Sinatic Alef or the Beyt contained in the Ezra Alef (as described in the Sefer Bahir).

Unlike the Ezra alphabet, Sinatic does not have final letters, which were developed much later as a means of showing separation between words in crowded scrolls. The final letters became significant in the Ezra alphabet when given extended numerical value in gematria or qabalistic numerology.

The sudden appearance of the original Hebrew was paralleled several hundred years later by the sudden appearance of Brahmi Sanskrit in the Indus Valley.

Sinatic and Brahmi have many similar letterforms, and both were replaced by later alphabets claimed in present times to be the originals (i.e. Sinatic replaced by Ezra and Brahmi replaced by Deva Negari).

Some Qabalists and Tantrikas maintain that there is a parent alphabet, called the “Gan Aden Alphabet” (Garden of Eden), from which both Hebrew and Sanskrit are derived.

[ … ]

There is also said to be a Gan Aden Torah, an unbroken sequence of letters that may be broken into words and sentences in innumerable ways.

Hence, the written Torah is one such “translation” of the unbroken letter sequence, minus the letters and anusvara that were not included in the Hebrew alphabet.

A book called the Tiqunim HaZohar (“Perfections of Splendor”) discusses seventy ways of translating the first six letters of the Torah.”

–Daniel Feldman, Qabala: The Mystical Heritage of the Children of Abraham, 2001, pg. 57.

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