Situating the Text

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


The Sefer Yetsirah (SY), Book of Creation, is a mystical cosmogony that describes the creation of the universe with the letters of the alphabet and the sefirot, a term that the book never does define. The book was written as a narrative response to Genesis 1 and to other late-antique accounts of letter magic.1 Genesis begins with a spoken decree, and the SY narrates the construction of the letters necessary for speech and describes their function in the creative process. It is, therefore, an account of the mechanics of creation. The SY is an unadorned book, with few words (from 1,300–2,500, depending on the version), written in very simple Hebrew. Yet Moshe Cordovero, a famous sixteenth-century kabbalist,2 wrote of this work: “The words of this book are deep, high, and hidden from the stare of those who study it, notwithstanding that many have tried to explain it.”3


Sacred Text Early Commentator Hebrew Letter Interpretive Tradition Hebrew Alphabet 
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  1. 1.
    For more information on the late-antique context of letter magic, see Naomi Janowitz, Icons of Power: Ritual Practices in Late Antiquity (University Park: Penn State University Press, 2002).Google Scholar
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© Marla Segol 2012

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  • Marla Segol

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