Why the Kabbalah grew out of the Provencal Jewish community of the 12th Century

From Arthur Green’s A Guide to the Zohar:

“The Provencal Jewish community in the twelfth century was one of great cultural wealth, forming something of a bridge between the spiritual legacy of Jewish creativity in Spain of Muslim times and the rather separate world of Jewry in the Ashkenazic or Franco-Rhineish area. Here the great works of Jewish philosophy, including those of Moses Maimonides, were translated into Hebrew, so that a Jewry not conversant with the Arabic original could appreciate them…

A Guide to the Zohar by Arthur Green

“In this cultural area there appeared in about the middle of the twelfth century a previous undocumented sort of theosophic speculation, known in later literature as Kabbalah. The origins of this spiritual and literary movement are obscure and still much debated. There were clearly elements of Near Eastern origin in the earliest Kabbalah, materials related to the merkavah and late midrashic texts that were present in the Holy Land in the ninth or tenth centuries.  There were also influences from elements that were to appear in Rhineland Hasidim as well, indicating that at some early point these two movements had a common origin.  But here in Provence, a new sort of religious discourse began to emerge in circles of mystics who combined knowledge of these various traditions.  These groups, which may have been several generations in formation, are known to us as the editors of one of the strangest and most fascinating documents in the long history of Hebrew literature.  This slim volume is known as Sefer ha-Bahir, awkwardly renderable as The Book of Clarity.  We first find reference to it in Provencal works of the latter twelfth century, and from that time forward it has a continuous history as a major shaper of Jewish mystical ideas.”

A Guide to the Zohar [full text]

Advertisements