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How About Some Kabbalah Discussion?

To: alt.magick.tyagi,alt.magick
From: (Colin Low)
Subject: Re: How About Some Kabbalah Discussion?
Date: Tue, 7 Feb 1995 09:27:59 GMT

In article <3gpr9v$> you wrote:
: Colin Low: That was an excellent response. I admire your scholarship and 
: even-mindedness.
: What do you think about the relationship between Gnosticism, 
: Neoplatonism, and the Kabbalah. Do you think that Kabbalah grew from 
: Jewish gnosticism. The Merkabah mystical texts and practices seem to have 
: many things in common with the pagan and Christian gnosticism of their time.

I don't know about the scholarship (I'm not convinced that just buying books
and reading them counts as scholarship).

>From your question, I wonder whether you have read a little book by Scholem
called (amazingly enough) "Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and the
Talmudic Tradition". I suspect you have.

In the same way that Christian scholars can manage to interpret the Bible
without referring to (or even acknowledging the existence of) the Talmud or the
Mishnah, so Scholem expresses his surprise that Christian authors study
gnosticism as if it was a purely Christian phenomenon, and confine their
scholarship to texts in the Christian tradition, ignoring completely a
large body of Jewish gnostic texts in a variety of languages that don't
happen to be Greek or Coptic. He comments:

"One is often left wondering about the methods used in this approach;
 and one is no less amazed by the stupendous ignorance of Jewish sources
 that warps the conclusions and even the basic approach of some of the
 finest scholars."

I have no independent opinion about this, but it seems to me that there
is strong evidence that gnosticism was a Jewish phenomenon, and the 
conflict within Christianity was a conflict between a bunch of Jewish
heretical offshoots, with very little to be said for any of them, other
than the fact that the victors wrote the histories.

Kabbalah seems to be prone to highly gnostic theosophies, and while there
might be some transmission of gnostic ideas from early times, I am satisfied
in my own mind that many of these outbreaks are spontaneous and evidence that
Kabbalah was (and is) an ecstatic and mystical tradition, not just a literary
tradition. I have experienced several powerfully gnostic "apprehensions"
of reality in my own work and have no problem with the idea that a mystic
experiences something objective, and that spontaneous revelations of
a gnostic character are often very similar in content. 

In addition to spontaneous outbreaks, it is also clear that Kabbalah has
been influenced by Greek philosophical ideas, including neoplatonism. Jews
were expelled from Spain at approximately the same time as the founding
of Ficino's Platonic Academy in Florence. Not only were Jews important
as translators, but the traffic of exiled Jews through Italy en-route
to any place that would have them provided an excellent opportunity for
mixing Kabbalistic and neoplatonic ideas - it is no accident that Christian
Kabbalah has its origin at this time, in and around the court of the Medicis.

As an example, the sixteenth century kabbalist Israel Sarug pirated 
the ideas of Isaac Luria (via an illicit copy of Chaiim Vital's
"Etz Chaiim") and combined them very successfully with neoplatonism,
marketing the result as the authentic teaching of Isaac Luria.

When Kabbalah is presented as a form of philosophic mysticism it tends
to take on a neoplatonic character; when it is encountered in the form
of revelation ( with the evocative use of metaphor and allegory
so characteristic of mystical relevation) it is much closer to gnosticism.

A wonderful example of modern "Kabbalistic revelation" is Dion Fortune's
rarely-read "The Cosmic Doctrine". My Kabbalah teacher insisted that I
write a detailed commentary on this work, and at the time my cursing and
swearing could be heard from several blocks away. Over the years I have
come to appreciate that this work is profoundly gnostic in character, and
what is more important, authentic. It may seem a strange work to the rational,
modern reader, but the more I immerse myself in gnosticism and traditional
Kabbalah, the less strange it seems, to the point of being excellent. It is
a most sophisticated and well-developed gnostic theosophy. For example,
Fortune's treatment of the opposing currents within the Unmanifest (En Soph)
exactly parallels the ideas of Nathan of Gaza some hundreds of years earlier,
and I am prepared to bet several pints of Uley Bitter that there was no
literary transmission.

My own treatment of Kabbalah has been strongly influenced by my experience
of mathematics and programming, particularly object oriented programming,
which has become a dominant specification and implementation paradigm. In
its use as a specification methodology, OO design is like a mirror for
the human mind: it reveals in detail what Kabbalah and neoplatonism hint
at in outline.

To conclude, if you haven't read Scholem (I suspect you have), then you
will find that gnosticism was a major interest of his, and everything
he has written about Kabbalah is informed with comparisons with gnosticism.
He is also an excellent writer as well as being an excellent scholar.


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