Syncretism and Millennium in Herrera’s Kabbalah

  • K. Krabbenhoft
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives Internationales D’Histoire des Idées book series (ARCH, volume 173)


One of Gershom Scholem’s most influential hypotheses was that the millenarian and messianic expectations of the Jewish people in the early modern period — in particular, the Marranos — found mystical expression in the new Kabbalah introduced by Isaac Luria at Safed around 1570. Scholem interpreted what he called the three great symbols of mystical experience as mirrors of Jewish history in the wake of the 1492 expulsion: in his reading, the Lurianic doctrines of zimzum (the metaphorical shrinking or self-limitation of Ein-Sof, the First Cause), shevirah (the breaking of the sefirot kelim, the lower metaphorical parts of Adam Kadmon, the emanated second being), and tikkun ha-parzufim (restoration of the sefirot into the reconfigured faces of God) were direct reflections of the “shattering” of a seven-hundred year old culture, its reconfiguration in exile, and the anticipated deliverance from bondage that would come with the fulfillment of messianic prophecy.1 This phenomenon coincided with the widespread belief among Christians that the Second Coming would take place in the millenial year of 1666, a belief whose roots can be traced from the Book of Revelation through individuals as different as Joaquim of Fiore, Arnold of Vilanova, Christopher Columbus, and the Portuguese cobbler Bandarra, who predicted the return of King Sebastian, dead in battle against the Moors, to spearhead the 1640 rebellion of the Portuguese against their Spanish overlords.2 In the Jewish world, according to Scholem, the most complete historical representation of this Jewish-Christian millenarian syncretism was to found in the career of the would-be Messiah Sabbetai Zevi. The link with Kabbalah was forged by those Sabbatians who used Lurianic doctrine — especially his idea of tikkun — to justify Zevi’s conversion to Islam at Constantinople in 1666.3


Sixteenth Century Mystical Experience Jewish History Early Modern Period Book Versus 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    For Scholem’s argument, see On the Kabbalah and its Symbolism (New York: Schocken Books, 1977), 110 ff.; Kabbalah (New York: Dorset Press, 1987), 128–144, and The Messianic Idea in Judaism (New York: Schocken Books, 1971), passim.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Richard Popkin, “Christian Jews and Jewish Christians in the Seventeenth Century,” in Jewish Christians and Christian Jews: from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, ed. Richard H. Popkin and Gordon M. Weiner (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1994), 57. Matt Goldish sheds new light on the influence of the marranos’ Christian upbringing on seventeenth-century Messianism in “Patterns in Converso Messianism,” in the present volume. On the connection between Bandarra, Sebastianism and Sabbetianism, see Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi’s study of Isaac Cardoso, From Spanish Court to Italian Ghetto (Seattle: University of Washington, 1981), 306–313.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Scholem pointed out that Luria himself — according to certain of his followers — put forth his own candidacy for Messiah. He cites Hayyim ha-Kohen of Aleppo’s claim to this effect (Kabbalah, 422). The matter is also discussed in Sabbetai Sevi, the Mystical Messiah ( Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973 ), 54–55.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Stephen Sharot, Messianism, Mysticism and Magic (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982), 93–114; David Biale, Gershom Scholem: Kabbalah and Counter-History (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982), 80–82; Jacob Barnai, “The Polemics Between Sabbateans and their Opponents: Social Aspects,” in the present volume; Alexander Altmann, “Lurianic Kabbala in a Platonic Key: Abraham Cohen Herrera’s Puerta del cielo, ” Hebrew Union College Annual 53 (1982), 317–355; Moshe Idel, “Kabbalah, Platonism and Prisca Theologia: The Case of Menasseh ben Israel,” in Menasseh ben Israel and His World,ed. Yosef Kaplan, Henry Méchoulan and Richard H. Popkin (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1989), 207–219; Moshe Idel, Messianic Mystics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), especially 164–182; Allison Coudert, “Kabbalistic Messianism versus Kabbalistic Enlightenment,” in the present volume.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Idel singles our Herrera and R. Joseph Shlomo Del Medigo as representative of this aspect of Lurianic teaching. Both of them, he writes, “almost totally neutralized the messianic elements in their works”: their interest in philosophy “caused them to reject the eschatological aspects that are characteristic of much of the Lurianic corpus and therefore also to obfuscate the messianic aspects” (Messianic Mystics,176). Idel sees no fundamental contradiction between Luria’s personal messianic claims and his teachings, which he characterizes as “pre-eschatological” rather than fully messianic (ibid.,174).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Sources Inédites de 1 histoire du Maroc,Série I, Archives et Bibliothèques d’Angleterre, vol. 2, 108–109. Nissim Yosha places Herrera’s encounter with Sarug in Ragusa after his release from captivity. See Yoshe, Mitos u-metaforah: ha parshanut ha-fdosofil shel R. Avraham Kohen Hererah le-kabalatha-Ari (Jerusalem: Hebrew University, 1994), 39–42.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Quoted by Ralph Melnick, From Polemics to Apologetics ( Assen: Van Gorcum, 1981 ), 38.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Popkin, “Christian Jews,” 59. For more on Herrera’s life, see Yosha, `Abraham Cohen de Herrera: An Outstanding Exponent of Prisca Theologia in Early Seventeenth Century Amsterdam,“ in Joseph Michman, ed., Dutch Jewish History (Assen/Maastricht: van Gorcum, 1993 ), 117–119.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Allison P. Coudert, “The Kabbala Denudata: Converting Jews or Seducing Christians,” in Jewish Christians and Christian Jews from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, ed. Richard H. Popkin and Gordon M. Weiner (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1994), 75. See also her “Kabbalistic Messianism versus Kabbalistic Enlightenment,” in the present volume; and “Forgotten Ways of Knowing: the Kabbalah, Language, and Science in the Seventeenth Century,” in The Shapes of Knowledge from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, ed. Donald R. Kelley and Richard H. Popkin (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991), 83–99. For Herrera’s influence on Spinoza, see Richard H. Popkin, “Spinoza, Neoplatonic Kabbalist?,” in Neoplatonism and Jewish Thought, ed. Lenn E. Goodman (Albany: SUNY Press, 1992 ), 387–409. Scholem’s study of the historical influence of Aboab’s translation is in his Introduction to Abraham Cohen de Herrera, Das Buch Sha’ar ha-shamayim oder Pforte des Himmels ( Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1974 ), 41–64.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Sarug is reported to have said: “There is no difference between Kabbala and philosophy, and all I teach in Kabbala I explain philosophically.” In Scholem, “Yisrael Sarug — Talmid haAri?,” Zion (1940), 220f, cited by Altmann, “Lurianic Kabbalah in a Platonic Key,” 326.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Ibid.,326. See also Moshe Idel, “Differing Conceptions of Kabbalah in the Early Seventeenth Century,” in Jewish Thought in the Seventeenth Century,ed. Isadore Twersky and Bernard Septimus (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987), 179–183.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Ennead 5.4.27. Stephen MacKenna translation cited by J.M. Rist, Plotinus, the Road to Reality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 70.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Puerta del cielo VII, I, fo. 85v.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    See Marsilio Ficino, Theologia platonica,Book II, chapter 2, e.g.: “In Deo idem est ipsa esse, intelligere, velle.” Théologie Platonicienne de l’immortalité des âmes (Paris: Société d’Edition `Les Belles Lettres,’ 1964), 1: 114.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Book IV of Puerta del cielo begins with a statement of thirteen philosophical proofs that Adam Kadmon is the emanated second of Ein-Sof; the rest of the book elucidates the proofs one by one. What is of interest to the topic at hand is how these proofs, along with Herrera’s understanding of the sefirot,take his Kabbalah away from possible millenarian implications.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    For the original Italian, see Girolamo Benivieni, Opera omnia (Florence, 1519), chapter 3.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Justus Caesar Scaliger, Exotericarum exercitationum liber XV de subtilitate ad Hieronymum Cardanum (Paris, 1557), 320. Cited in Puerta del cielo IV, 7, fo. 44 r.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    In De substantiis separatis,Aquinas contends that the first, direct emanation from God was a first body (corpus primum) or the soul of the first sphere (anima primi orbis),presumably identical to the primum mobile. Quoted by Cornelio Fabro, Partecipazione e causalitâ secondo S. Tommaso d’Aquino (Turin: Società Editrice Internazionale, 1960), 306.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Durandus de Saint-Pourçain, In Petri Lombardi sententias theologicas commentarium libri IV,Distinctio 44, Quaestio 2 (Venice, 1571. Reprint. Ridgewood, N.J.: The Gregg Press, 1964), 1: 115–116.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Puerta del cielo VII, 1–7 and 11–12. In Puerta del cielo,Altmann writes, “the concept of zimzum is offered as an answer to the philosophical problem… [of] how an infinite perfect being (Adam Kadmon) could have emerged from the Infinite” Altmann, “Lurianic Kabbalah in a Platonic Key,” 348.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Proclus, The Elements of Theology,edited and translated by E.R. Dodds (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 90–91. Herrera translates: “cada orden de participados se reduze a su cauza que en su genero es ynparticipada, mas a todos los de aquel genero, o orden, participable, y todos los que se participan, y en sus generos, no son participados, se reduzen finalmente a la primera y vniuerssalissima vnidad” (fo. 74r).Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Torquato Tasso, “Il Messaggiero” in Prose,edited by Ettore Mazzali (Milan: Ricciardi, 1959), p. 35. The Fox Morcillo connection is pointed out by the editor, 15 fn. 1.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Cited by Krabbenhoft, “Kabbala and Expulsion,” in The Expulsion of the Jews, 1492 and After,ed. Raymond B. Waddington and Arthur H. Williamson (New York: Garland Publishing, 1994), 138; passage translated from Puerta del cielo,fo. 133. This is why kavvanot must be directed to Ein-Sof and not the sefirot: “our intention, devotion and practice, our final goal and objective, should be him and not them… but through them [a el y no a ellas; I, 1, fo. 4r]. Herrera clarifies that Keter the exalted one (el alto) is not Ein-Sof the First Cause but rather ”the first and finest effect which Ein-Sof produced by emanation“ [I, 20, fo. 9r]. The other sefirot are different, as they ”proceded from giver and receiver or metaphorical male and female“ [I, 31, fo. 13v].Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Averroes, The Incoherence of the Incoherence, trans. Simon van den Bergh (London: Luzac and Co., 1954 ), 299.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    nunquam posse certum esse, quot anni residui erunt usque ad iudicii diem.“ Francisco Suarez, Defensa de la fe (Defensio fidei catholicae et apostolicae adversus anglicanae sectae errores) (Madrid: Instituto de Estudios Politicos, 1971), vol. 4, book V, chapter 8, disputation 27A, 602. As for the number 666, Suarez says, although we know from the Book of Revelation that it belongs to the Beast, why do we start counting from one year and not another? [quam ab alio quovis tempore computandus est ille numerus?; 674].Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    No huvo lugar, ni en los superiores, ni en los inferiores, de donde la Divinidad no hablase con Israel (con Israel entiende, en la dâdiva de la ley). Habib de la Silla de la Gloria diziendo)D]td (a saber Yo) y assi monta tanto 2,t0D (o silla; quiere dezir 81). Después hablb de los Angeles….“ Casa de la divinidad,249.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Ibid.,251.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Altmann, “Lurianic Kabbalah in a Platonic Key,” 347.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • K. Krabbenhoft
    • 1
  1. 1.New York UniversityUSA

Personalised recommendations