Word and Image in Medieval Kabbalah: Interpreting Diagrams from the Sefer Yetsirah and its Commentaries

  • Marla Segol
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


In the past 60 years, the study of Jewish mystical thought has blossomed. Once the exclusive arena of a select and traditionally educated few, it is now the most rapidly expanding field in Jewish studies. We are still compiling the canon of kabbalistic texts—many languish in archives, unedited, unpublished, and hence, mostly unknown. Even the most important collections of medieval kabbalistic manuscripts have yet to be correctly identified or fully cataloged. Little by little, scholars in the field are becoming better able to account for these works and make them available to readers. However, in the rush to produce printed texts, the graphic elements of the manuscripts have been largely ignored. The manuscripts contain a rich tradition of graphic representation that remains to be cataloged and analyzed. The study of kabbalistic manuscripts, and in this the study of its diagrams, is largely neglected. This is attributable to two prevalent trends in the study of Jewish mysticism. The first is the conventional textual orientation of Jewish studies, which is in turn based on the common misunderstanding that Jewish culture is iconoclastic, forbidding visual representations such as those found in kabbalistic diagrams. The second is a tendency among both orthodox scholars of kabbalah and its popularizers to treat it as a divinely received and therefore ahistoric tradition.1


Cosmological Model Visual Representation Source Text Literary Structure Jewish Study 
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© Marla Segol 2012

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  • Marla Segol

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