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Thinking in Lines and Circles

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

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Cosmological Model Literary Structure Circular Model Letter Combination Visual Narrative 
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. 1.
    Clifford Geertz, Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    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
  3. 3.
    For more information on the contents of these manuscripts, see: Daniel Abrams, Kabbalistic Manuscripts and Textual Theory: Methodologies of Textual Scholarship and Editorial Practice in the Study of Jewish Mysticism (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2010).Google Scholar
  4. See also: Moshe Idel: Kabbalah in Italy: A Survey (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011).Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    Moshe Idel says that a passage on the dangers of golem creation precedes it from 92b–93a, and that a golem recipe follows on 94b–95a. Idel, Kabbalah in Italy 1280–1510: A Survey, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011) 92.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    Giulio Busi, Qabbala Visiva (Torino: Einaudi, 2005), 129.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    Denis Cosgrove, “Mapping New Worlds: Culture and Cartography in Sixteenth-Century Venice,” Imago Mundi 44 (1992): 65–89.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    Denis Cosgrove, Mappings (London: Reaction Books, 1999), 2.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    Brian Lancaster, “On the Relationship between Cognitive Models and Spiritual Maps,” Journal of Consciousness Studies 7, no. 11–12 (2000): 231 [231–250]..Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    Moshe Idel, Hasidism: Between Ecstasy and Magic (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995), 219.Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    Moshe Idel, “Reification of Language in Jewish Mysticism,” in Mysticism and Language, ed. Steven T. Katz (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 43.Google Scholar
  12. 16.
    Moshe Idel, Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven, CT: Yale Universit y Press, 1990), 136.Google Scholar
  13. 17.
    Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1991). He claimed that while its terms were introduced in the SY, the cosmology articulated in the Bahir is distinct from earlier ones because it features sefirot that figure as hypostasized elements of the divine capable of interacting with one another.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 18.
    In Kabbalah: New Perspectives, Moshe Idel writes: “The earliest theosophical conceptions of the sefirot occur concomitantly in Provencal Kabbalah, in Sefer haBahir, and in the esoteric materials preserved in Eleazar of Worms’ Sefer HaHokhmah. Conspicuous in their elaboration of the nature of the sefirot are certain passages in the Sefer haBahir (although the term itself is rarely mentioned) and the Commentary on the Sefer Yetzirah of R. Isaac the Blind. Although the names of the sefirot are similar, these two seem to originate from different theosophical traditions. Sefer HaBahir presents a mythically oriented picture of the sefirotic pleroma whereas R. Isaac the Blind gives a much more complex theory of the emergence of the sefirot from the depths of divinity, betraying a deep speculative tendency probably influenced by Neoplatonic thought.” Moshe Idel. Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990),136.Google Scholar
  15. 19.
    The Commentary of Isaac the Blind lists them in two groups progressing from bottom to top, with Hokhmah appearing at the top of both lists. The text follows: Five are Netzach, Hod, Tiferet, Hesed, Hokhmah; the other five are: Atarah, Tzadik, Pahad, Binah and Hokhmah again. Mark Brian Sendor, “The Emergence of Provençal Kabbalah: Rabbi Isaac the Blind’s Commentary on Sefer Yezirah,” 2 vols. (PhD diss., Harvard University, 1994). They are discussed from pp. 32–52, but especially on 52.Google Scholar
  16. 21.
    There is a large body of literature on the sefirot and their significance, and so it is not necessary to fully describe them here. See especially Isaiah Tishby, Wisdom of the Zohar. vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989).Google Scholar
  17. 24.
    Elliot Wolfson, “The Tree That Is All: Jewish-Christian Roots of a Kabbalistic Symbol in Sefer ha- Bahir,” Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy 3 (1993): 31–76. Wolfson treats the sefirot and the world-tree separately. He argues that the world-tree symbols developed in the midrashic traditions, and in a separate article he argues that theosophic attitude characterizing sefirotic kabbalah, as it appears in the Zohar, was developed in Shabbetai Donnolo’s Sefer Yetsirah.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 27.
    A. Peter Hayman, ed., Sefer Yesira: Edition, Translation and Text-Critical Commentary (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2004), SY12–13, 84–85.Google Scholar
  19. 34.
    See Elliot Wolfson, Through a Speculum That Shines (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997).Google Scholar
  20. 35.
    This refers to the brilliance of the Shekhinah protecting Moses. This interpretation is expressed in the third-century sermons of Joshua ben Levi (Southern Palestine, first half of the third century). Barbara Holdrege writes: “The details changed from time to time, but the essential point stayed the same. Moses braves the terror of the angels in order to take the Torah from Heaven with his own hands. The angel, violently hostile at first, became supporters and benefactors of Moses and the whole Israelite people. This was a popular motif among the Hasidei Ashkenaz.” Barbara Holdrege, Veda and Torah (Albany: SUNY Press, 1996), 520n171.Google Scholar
  21. 40.
    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
  22. 48.
    This common image indicates a closer relationship between Italian and German Jewish traditions than is usually thought. Robert Bonfil writes that “the world of the Hasidei Ashkenaz appears to be much more closely related to the reality of Southern Italy than is usually assumed… not only were the Hasidei Ashkenaz genealogically related to Italian Jewry; their cultural tradition, up to now considered as unique and essentially rooted in German soil, included also elements from the heritage of Italian Jews.” Bonfil, Robert. “Can Medieval Storytelling Help Understanding Midrash?” in Midrashic Imagination, Michael Fishbane, ed. (Albany: SUNY Press, 1993), 234.Google Scholar
  23. 49.
    Klaus Herrmann, “An Unknown Commentary on the Book of Creation (Sefer Yezirah),” in Creation and Re-creation in Jewish thought: Festschrift in Honor of Joseph Dan on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday, ed. Rachel Elior and Peter Schaefer (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005), 103–112.Google Scholar
  24. 59.
    Giulio Busi, Qabbalah Visiva (Torino: Einaudi, 2005), 135–136.Google Scholar
  25. 62.
    See Hayyim Soloveitchik, “Piety, Pietism and German Pietism: Sefer Hasidim and the Influence of Hasidei Ashkenaz,” Jewish Quarterly Review 92, no. 3–4 (2002): 468 [455–493].Google Scholar
  26. 63.
    Giulio Busi, Qabbalah Visiva (Torino: Einaudi, 2005), 135–136. Busi writes: “Perhaps because it represents a transitional phase, the tree of the wisdom of this Roman manuscript does not seem to have had a later tradition and remained a lone episode…” (133). The tree does appear in one single later manuscript, but its significance is in its pairing with the round model of the sefirot, as well as in the way the tree itself it models two cosmographic modes side by side.Google Scholar
  27. 64.
    See Isaiah Tishby, Wisdom of the Zohar, vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989). He discusses this in the sefirot section beginning p. 269.Google Scholar
  28. 66.
    Michel Foucault, The Order of Things (New York: Random House, 1994). “The fundamental codes of a culture—those governing its language, its schemas of perception, its exchanges, its techniques, its values, the hierarchy of its practices—establish for every man, from the very first, the empirical orders with which he will be dealing and within which he will be at home” (xx). “Thus, in every culture, between the use of what one might call the ordering codes and reflections upon order itself, there is the pure experience of order and of its modes of being” (xxi).Google Scholar

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© Marla Segol 2012

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