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Genre as Argument in the Sefer Yetsirah: A New Look at Its Literary Structure

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

Abstract

The semantic difficulty of the Sefer Yetsirah (SY) is widely attested by its varied commentary tradition. The diverse body of commentarial literature demonstrates the difficulty of establishing the meaning of the work. As discussed in chapter 2, the tenth-century commentaries do not appear in a vacuum. Instead they already dispute previous, unnamed interpretive traditions that posit magical functions for the work. This chapter endeavors to explain why. In order to do so, it is necessary to look differently at the SY to try to understand the way it generates meaning. Because the work is complex in both its semantic meaning and its reception, this chapter will examine its structure. A structural approach to the text is useful in two ways: first, a better interpretation of the SY sheds light upon the worldview of its readers, and second, understanding the worldview of the readers allows insight into its ritual uses and their meanings. The ritual uses are articulated in the text of the SY, its commentaries, and the diagrams. Therefore, the relationship between structure and function can pave the way for understanding the relationship between word, image, practice, and meaning.

Keywords

Ring Structure Primary Ring Semantic Meaning Numeric Category Literary Structure 
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.

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Notes

  1. 3.
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  16. 29.
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  23. 47.
    Most recently Ronit Meroz has characterized the introduction as an editor’s preface of sorts. She writes: “It is my view that Sefer Yezirah presents several different answers to the question of the meaning of these claims [about the nature of the sefirot]: alternative solutions whose conceptual worlds are close to one another, yet nevertheless differ in several significant aspects. The opening of the book may therefore be read as presenting a shared, common claim or, alternatively, as posing the question presented for discussion. By the nature of things, such a presentation is done by one who knows and is familiar with the possible solutions—namely, the editor of the text.” Ronit Meroz, “Between Sefer Yezirah and Wisdom Literature: Three Binitarian Approaches in Sefer Yezirah,” Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies, 6, no. 18 (2007): 106.Google Scholar

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© Marla Segol 2012

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