Thinking in Lines and Circles

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


The previous chapter discusses the ring structure of the Sefer Yetsirah (SY). It shows how the literary structure, or the syntactics, asserts the primacy of the practical interpretation of the work. Similarly, it shows the literary structure of the work reproducing the structure of the cosmos it depicts. In this way there is a strong relation between syntactics and worldview. The current chapter continues this discussion, attending to the various cosmological narratives constituting the worldview expressed in diagrams from two thirteenth-century manuscripts, and framing these in relation to visual syntactics. It examines the diagrams as a setting for action, explores the modes of conceptualizing action within the cosmos depicted in them, and historicizes these concepts. This sets the scene for the next two chapters, which discuss the uses of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century diagrams of the SY.


Cosmological Model Literary Structure Circular Model Letter Combination Visual Narrative 
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    The manuscripts do not specify a first name. Daniel Abrams identifies this writer as Yaakov ben Yaakov haKohen. See Abrams, “R. Eleazar ha Darshan’s Commentary on Sefer Yetzirah,” Alei Sefer 19 (2001): 69–87 (Hebrew).Google Scholar
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    The phrase “bundle of life” is unusual. But it occurs in the Bible in the book of Samuel, and the commentaries on that book usually define it as eternal life. In 1 Samuel: 25:29, the phrase appears in the following context: “Even if a man comes to pursue you and seek your soul, may the soul of my lord be bound up in the bundle of life with the Lord, and the souls of your enemies shall he sling out from the hollow of a sling.” The Tanna, Yonatan ben Uziel, translates “bundle of life” as “eternal life.” Nahmanides wrote in [his commentary at] the end of the Torah portion V’hoyo ekev, “It befits people of this stature that their souls be ‘bound up in the bundle of life’ even while in their mortal state.” Nahmanides identifies this as a level of the celestial realms, He writes, “There are actually three levels: the earthly Garden of Eden, the heavenly Garden of Eden in the seventh heaven, ‘Aravot, and the upper Eden in the divine realm, the Shekhinah, also referred to as the ‘bundle of life.’” See Kitvei Ramban, 1:160–161, 2:297–298. Wolfson points out that Nahmanides’ structure is repeated in the Zohar. Elliot Wolfson, “By Way of Truth: Aspects of Nahmanides’ Kabbalistic Hermeneutic.” AJS Review 14 (1989): 144n32 [103–178].CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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© Marla Segol 2012

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