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The Kabbalah

By Adolphe Franck

Preface to the German Translation of the First French Edition

None of the gnostic systems has so often been compelled, under the hands of the critics, to change its birthplace as the so-called Kabbalah; no monument of Oriental Philosophy 1 has called forth such conflicting hypotheses as to the time and place of its composition, as the universal code of the Kabbalists, the Zohar; finally, no writer of the history of philosophy has until now undertaken to translate the picturesque, metaphorical language of Jewish gnosis into the reasoning mode of expression of abstract thinking.

I shall leave out of consideration the great array of Jewish and Christian disciples of the Kabbalistic system; it is too strongly dominated by the essential mysticism that prevails in all parts of the Kabbalistic system, to be able to reach the necessary sobermindedness. The opinion of a Pico de la Mirandola, of a Reuchlin, has as much critical value as that of an ordinary Zoharist or of a Hassid; the presumptive higher illumination does not permit the intellect to come to its senses.

Those critics who stand outside the sanctum of the Kabbalah have, indeed, brought to light wonderful conjectures bearing on the age and the origin of the same. Some (Buddeus, Kleuker, Osiander) set the Kabbalah in the age of the patriarchs, and let it march, side by side with the Mosaic teachings, on the road of oral tradition as an esoteric teaching, a Secret Doctrine. The Talmudic tradition (‏???? ???? ??‎) claims no less, indeed, for itself; it is maintained that this, too, is an oral part of the divine revelation descended from Moses (compare Maimonides, Introduction into the Mishnah). Yet, this tradition which bears only on the material, sensual side of the Law, could never have paved its way to the people, were it not sanctioned by descent and religious national custom.

Others, (Basnage, Brucker) believed they had found the cradle of the Kabbalah in Egypt. This opinion is, as it were, a continuation of the one which holds that the Mosaic Law and Mosaic Doctrine is a property pilfered from the Egyptian priesthood. Richard Simon and Berger let the founders of the Jewish gnosis, in company with the Greek creators of the doctrine of Numbers and Ideas, be schooled by the Chaldeans; Wachter, Joachim Lang and Wolf (author of Bibliotheca Hebraea) looked for the source of the Kabbalah in Pagan philosophy. Yet, these opinions lack a definite historic foundation, and have justly been rejected by the author of this work. (Compare Tholuck, "de Ortu Cabbalae," p. 3-4.)

In company with another author of a French work (Matter, "Histoire Critique du Gnosticisme") Franck defends the view that the Kabbalistic science evolved from the theology of the Parsees. 2 Against this opinion Gieseler (in the review of Matter's work, theologic studies and criticisms, year 1830, I, 381-383) made some objections referred to also by Baur (p. 70). "Although," says Gieseler, "we fully recognize the proven influence of Parseeism upon Judaism, yet we would not explain it by any syncretic inclination of the latter, in so far as syncretism refers to an external union of materials innerly strange to one another. Never, indeed, were the Israelite people further away from mixing strange opinions with their religious belief, nor of recognizing any relationship to any other religion, like the Persian for instance, as just since the exile. The influence of the Persian system upon the Jews consisted in that it induced them to a development of analogous seeds resting in their doctrine by representing itself to them as a complete system in some points; at which the Persian doctrine development, unknown to them, surely helped to influence as a pattern. It is always the more developed doctrinal system which acts upon the less developed one, even when the latter places itself to the former in the most decided contrast. . . . We first take side with Massuet against Buddeus by denying the pre-Christian origin of the Kabbalistic philosophy. The exegetic quibblings which developed later into the so-called Kabbalah Symbolica are older, it is true; but we are obliged to doubt that the philosophic system of the Kabbalists originated from such early times, because neither Josephus nor Philo mention it, because the system of Philo relates to the Kabbalistic system evidently as the earlier to the later, and because the historical traces of the Kabbalah are so very young. Accordingly, we can not consider the Kabbalah (which, by the way, does not seem to us of such close relationship to the Zoroastrian system) as a source of the Christian gnosis."

It is indisputable that the Jews resisted the invasion of strange opinions into their religious belief, especially since the exile; yet, it can be proven to the contrary, that they looked for and found in the Bible every wisdom otherwise unknown to them or not indicated therein by clear words. Philo endeavored to prove in the Scriptures the wisdom of all peoples; the Talmudists (R. Gamaliel, R. Joshua ben Hananiah, R. Johanan in the name of R. Simeon ben Yohai, R. Meir, R. Joshua son of Levi, R. Chiya son of Aba in the name of R. Johanan, Mar Sutra, Rabbina, R. Ashi.--See Babyl. Talmud, Tract. Sanhedrin, last chap.) demonstrated the resurrection from the Bible; the entire line of Jewish religious philosophers, from Saadia the Fayumite to Dr. Hirsch of Luxembourg, have piled upon the Bible strange elements in the endeavor to view it in the light of the prevailing philosophy of the times.

The influence of the Persian system upon the Jews must appear further on more powerful than any other. With the first cessation of political independence of the Jewish state, with the first exile, the Jewish spirit awakened; doubts arose, problems were created, the solution was attempted. The most important questions of the "when" and "how" of the genesis of beings, of the destiny of the universe were not satisfactorily answered by the simplicity of the Mosaic records; on the other hand, though, they clung still closer to the old belief. A new change of ideas took place in Babylon; every conflict with previous conceptions could be avoided by the use of the Kabbalah Symbolica. And what doctrine could better be brought in accord with the Mosaic tradition than the Persian? Johannsen (the Cosmogenic Views of the Hindoos and Hebrews, Altona, 1833) was really in earnest when he represented the Mosaic cosmogony as a system of emanation! The Hindoo designation of God before the creation of the world by svajambhu and tad, as given by Johannsen, p. 10, is, in fact, found with the Kabbalists in the explanation of the ‏???? ??? ????‎--I Am that I Am.

The Kabbalist--to retain this term--had to shrink from the new and dangerous ideas easily exposed to misinterpretation, and which underwent considerable modifications at his hands and under the influence of Judaism; and it is only natural that the Kabbalistic doctrine, just because it is so similar to the Persian, should have become a secret instruction, did not press itself forward, and was known to only a few during its first stage. It originated gradually, however, and stayed free of the Greek elements that influenced Philo. With reference to the not very clear relationship of the Kabbalah to Parseeism, this counts as a merit of the Kabbalistic system; the Kabbalah is not a copy of Zoroastrism--as Mr. Matter maintains--but rather an evolution of the latter connected with various modifications.

The question of the origin and age of the Kabbalah is most closely connected with the inquiry as to the time and place of the composition of the Zohar. This question does not seem to us to have been sufficiently answered. The Zohar, in its entire range, contains no less than an uniform system; 3 repetitions are often found there; passages are met with which have been borrowed from the Talmud and Midrash; the language is of various coloring; 4 and because the system developed gradually, there must of necessity be found therein graduations. From the Zohar, then, we are to be shown what doctrines formed its original elements; how it developed under the hands of various teachers; what elements of other writings are found therein; in short, a criticism of the entire Zohar according to its individual passages would have to be given. This we shall attempt in a future work: "The Composition of the Zohar." (Unpublished--Transl.)

I have now to say something about this work, my translation, correction and addition.

The source from which the historical writers of philosophy have until now drawn their knowledge of the Kabbalistic system, is Knorr v. Rosenroth's "Kabbala Denudata;" "from this rich and voluminous work, though"--as Molitor (The Philosophy of History, II, 9) judges--"the reader will get only a hazy inkling but not a clear and distinct conception of the Kabbalah." The real philosophic value of the Kabbalah is, on the whole, neglected in Rosenroth's work. Moliter's erudite work, "Philosophy of History or on the Tradition," does not contain, as yet, in the three volumes which have appeared at this writing, an objective representation of the Kabbalistic system. The author himself says (II, 12) that "for the present the whole should be considered merely as a free philosophic attempt," and promises to develop the Kabbalah with the Kabbalists' own words in the fifth volume.

Besides, an impartial representation is hardly to be expected from Moliter, who "studio disciplinae Judaeorum arcanae ipse prorsus factus est Judaeus Cabbalisticus--himself became a Jewish Kabbalist through the study of the ancient doctrine of the Jews" (Tholuck, p. 4), and who had great faith in the younger Kabbalistic works and commentaries. The work of Mr. Franck, where the Kabbalah is developed impartially and commensurate with our times, from the oldest fragments of the Zohar, must be welcome to the writer of the history of philosophy and to all those who want to know the philosophy of the Kabbalah. The investigation on the age of the Kabbalah, the authenticity of the Kabbalistic main works, as well as the investigation on the relationship of the Kabbalistic system to other systems of philosophy and religion, is also given here for the first time in detail and complete.

In the translation of the French original I have endeavored to render its contents faithfully. The translated passages from the Sefer Yetzirah, the Zohar and the Talmud and the new-hebraic works I have always compared with the originals. The Spanish quotations from Jacob Abendana's translation of the Cuzari by Judah-ha-Levi, as well as the appendix, have been omitted; the first ones are of no use to the German reader, the latter contains only a translation of Solomon Maimon's report on the sect of the Hassidim (see Maimon's biography, part I, ch. 19) and Peter Baer's representation of the Zoharites (Peter Baer, History, Doctrines and Opinions of all past and present religious sects of the Jews and of the Secret Doctrine or Kabbalah II, 309 ff.).

The correction referred to, I would rather call an outward one. The quotations from the Kabbalistic works were so corrupt, 5 the reference to page numbers full of mistakes (at times absent altogether), the annotations were so often misplaced, 6 that I was compelled to spend much time upon correction. Believe me, it is only necessary to look at the folio volume of the Zohar, edition Sulzbach, to see that it is no small trouble and loss of time to look there for a given passage.

Yet, in carefully comparing the translation with the original, other corrections will be found which I have not expressly indicated by a footnote. Thus, for example, there is nothing more contrary to the spirit of Kabbalism than to translate ‏??????‎ with "Law" (loi). To the allegoric method of the Kabbalah even the Law is so familiar as to lose its inherent rigidity.

The annotations and the appendix make up the addition. For the completion of the "Biographic Notes on the Zohar" I have made use, besides the Kabbalah Denudata, also of "Die Gottesdienstliche Vorträge der Juden" (Devotional Sermons of the Jews) by Zunz, the book ‏?????‎ by Milsahagi, and the seventh volume of the new-Hebrew annual ‏??? ???‎. The representation of the so-called Kabbalistic tree was also added first to the translation.


May 20th, 1844.

xv:1 This term introduced by Mosheim is still to be put forward in the investigations of gnosticism, "for"--as Baur (the Christian Gnosis, p. 4) justly remarks--"the very name is to express at once the demand to place oneself in an entirely new and peculiar atmosphere, and to make use of an entirely different gauge than the usual one of our critical reason and phantasy for the speculations that present themselves here." This viewpoint of orientalism should generally be adhered to in religious philosophy.

xvi:2 Though Mr. Franck agrees with Matter in the turning point of the investigation--in the pre-Christian, Zoroastrian origin of the Kabbalistic philosophy--yet there prevails the great difference between them in that, while the latter considers the relation of the Kabbalah p. xvii to the Zoroastrian system as that of a copy to the original (la Kabballe se montre auprès du Zoroastrisme comme la copie auprès de l’original), the first one proves the great advance of the Kabbalah on Zoroastrism. Besides, the mode of investigation of our author is quite a different one.

xix:3 Thus we find on the very first page of the Zohar--according to the Sulzbach edition and generally all those bearing the name of ‏??? ????‎--traces of the Hindoo cosmogony which, though, have been modified by the author through the influence of Judaism. In explaining the creation, it speaks there of the "seed" (‏???? ????? ?????? ????? ???? ?????? ???‎) which is immediately modified by transmutation in the "letters." .(‏??? ???? ???? ????? ????? ????‎)

xix:4 It is noteworthy that in the old passages the Jerusalemean ‏????‎ appears for the Babylonian Kane,. Comp. Nedarim, 66b; Fuerst, "Lehrgebaeude der aramaeischen Idiome," p. 17.

xxi:5 Compare only for example p. 155, note 1, of the French original.

xxi:6 P. 142, note ** is to be struck and part of note 3 must refer to p. 143.



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