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The Kabbalah

By Adolphe Franck

Relation of the Kabbalah to Christianity

Since the Kabbalah is indebted neither to philosophy nor to Greece, nor to the capital of the Ptolomeans, it necessarily must have its cradle in Asia. Judaism must have brought it forth through its own efforts; or it must have sprung from some other religion born in the Orient, and so near to Judaism as to exert an unquestionable influence upon it. Is it possible that Christianity is that religion?

Notwithstanding the extreme interest aroused at first by this question, the solution of which is to be found in what has been previously said, we can not pause to consider it for any length of time. It is evident to us that all the great metaphysical and religious principles underlying the Kabbalah antedate the Christian dogmas. It is not, however, within the scope of our work to. compare these.

But no matter what meaning we may ascribe to these principles, their form alone explains to us a fact which, we believe, is of very great social and religious interest. A great many Kabbalists converted themselves to Christianity; we mention among others, Paul Ricci, Conrad Otton, 1 Rittangel, editor of the Sefer Yetzirah. In more recent times, towards the end of the eighteenth century, we see another Kabbalist, the Polish Jew Jacob Frank, pass into the bosom of Catholicism with several thousand of his adherents, after founding the sect of the Zoharites. 2 The rabbis have long since noticed this danger, and many among them have openly shown their hostility to the study of the Kabbalah; 3 while others protect it even today as the holy ark, as the entrance to the Holy of Holies, to keep the profane from it. Leon de Modena, who wrote a book against the authenticity of the Zohar, 4 doubts very much the salvation of those who gave to the press the principal Kabbalistic works. 5 Christians, like Knorr of Rosenroth, Reuchlin and Rittangel after his conversion, on the other hand, saw therein the most potent means of lowering the barrier that separates synagogue and church. In the hope of bringing about some day this fervently desired result, they collected in their works all the passages of the Zohar and of the New Testament which present some similarity to one another.

We are far from any religious polemics, and instead of following these footsteps and thus becoming their echo, we shall rather investigate whether there is anything in common between the Kabbalah and the most ancient organs of gnosticism. We shall thus be able to ascertain whether the principles, whose influence and origin we endeavor to know, were not spread outside of Judea; whether they did not exert their influence also upon other people who were entire strangers to the Greek civilization; and whether, accordingly, we are not justified in regarding the Kabbalah as a precious remnant of a religious philosophy of the Orient which, transplanted to Alexandria, mingled with the doctrines of Plato, and under the usurped name of Dionysius the Areopagite 6 was able to penetrate even into the mysticism of the Middle Ages.

Without departing from Palestine, we first meet at Samaria, in the days of the apostles, and probably in an advanced age, a very singular person--Simon the Magician (Magus). Who was this man who enjoyed such incontestable power (Acts. VIII, 10.) and such boundless admiration among his fellow citizens? 7 He may have had a base view of the motive which prompts us to divide the highest gifts with others, but he surely was not an impostor, for he looked up to the apostles and endeavored to obtain from them for money the power to impart the holy spirit (Acts, VIII, 18, 19). I go still further and maintain that his authority would have been in vain were it not supported by a well known and long accredited idea in the minds of the people. We find this idea very clearly expressed in the supernatural role attributed to Simon. The entire people, say the Acts, from the highest to the lowest, considered him the personification of the great power of God: Hic est virtus Dei quae vocatur magna (This man is the great power of God). (Ibid, 10.)

Now St. Jerome tells us that our Samaritan prophet understood by it nothing else but the Word of God (Sermo Dei). 8 In this quality he must have necessarily united in him all the other attributes; for according to the religious metaphysics of the Hebrews the Word or Wisdom includes implicitly the lower Sefiroth. St. Jerome also gives us as authentic the following words which Simon 9 applied to himself: "I am the divine word, I possess the real beauty, I am the comforter, I am the Almighty, I am all that is in God." 10 Every one of these expressions corresponds to one of the Sefiroth of the Kabbalah, the influence of which we find again in the following fact reported by another church-father: 11 "Simon, the Magician, who considered himself the visible manifestation of the Word, wanted to personify also its correlating female principle, its spouse--the Divine Thought--in a woman of bad repute."

This strange conception, which finds no support either in the Platonic philosophy or in the Alexandrian school--if the latter existed already at that time--agrees wonderfully, although at the same time disfiguring it, with the Kabbalistic system where 'Wisdom, that is the Word, represented as the male principle, has, like all other principles of the same order, its half, its spouse which in this case is the Sefiroh that bears the name of "Intelligence" (‏????‎--Beenah), 12 and which has been taken by several gnostics for the Holy Spirit, being always represented by them in the form of a woman. Among these gnostics is the Jew Elxai who has many traits resembling the prophet of Samaria. His name even--which he surely chose himself--suggests the role he had taken upon himself. 13 This heresiarch not only conceives the Holy Spirit as a female principle, as just remarked, but he looks upon Christ as a divine power only which clothes itself at times in a material form and whose colossal proportions he describes in minute details. 14

We remember having found in the Zohar a similar description of the "White Head," and that another work, very famous among the Kabbalists, the pseudonymous "Alphabet of Rabbi Akkiba," 15 speaks of God in nearly the same terms. Along with this manner of conceiving the Word, the Holy Spirit, and in general the divine pairs of which the Pleroma 16 is composed, we find also in the monuments left by the Syrian Bardasanes the principle of the Kabbalistic cosmogony. The unknown father who lives in the centre of the light has a son; this is Christ, or the heavenly man. Christ again, by uniting with his companion, his spouse, which is the Holy Ghost (τ? πλε?μα), produces successively the four elements, air and water, fire and earth. These elements and the external world in general are thus here, as in the Sefer Yetzirah, a simple emanation or the voice of the spirit. (Ephrem, hymn 55, p. 755.)

But we need not persist in painfully gathering some scattered memories in the Acts of the Apostles or in the Hymns of St. Ephrem. There is a monument of great value from which we may draw quite liberally. We refer to the Codex Nazareus, 17 that bible of purely oriental gnosticism. We know that St. Jerome and St. Epipahnius date back the sect of the Nazarenes to the time of the birth of Christ. 18 Now then, the similarity of a great many of their dogmas with the most essential elements of the Kabbalistic system is so great, that when reading them in the work just mentioned, we believe we have found some stray fragments of the Zohar. Thus, God is always called the king and the master of the light; He is Himself the purest splendor and the infinite and eternal light. He is also beauty, life, justice and mercy. 19 All forms that we perceive in this world emanate from Him; He is the creator and the architect, but no one knows His own wisdom and His own essence. 20 All creatures ask one another for His name, and they are compelled to answer that He has no name. As the king of the light, the infinite light, He has no name that can be invoked, nor is He of a nature that can be known; we can reach Him only through a pure heart, an upright spirit and a faith full of love. 21 The steps by which the Nazarene doctrine descends from the highest being to the furthest limits of the creation are the same used in a passage of the Zohar which has been quoted several times in this work: "All genii, kings and creatures praise vyingly, with prayers and hymns, the supreme king of light who emanates five rays of marvelous brilliancy. The first is the light that illumines all the beings; the second is the mild breath that animates them; the third is the melodious voice that expresses their cheerfulness; the fourth is the word which instructs them and elevates them to bear witness to their faith; the fifth is the type of all forms under which they develop, like fruit which nourishes by the action of the sun." 22

We can not fail to recognize in these lines--to the translation of which we confined ourselves--the different degrees of existence which the Kabbalists represent by the thought, breath or spirit, voice and word. Here are other pictures, just as familiar, which express the same idea: Before any creature existed at all, life was hidden within itself, eternal and incomprehensible, without light and without form (ferhi). From its bosom developed the luminous atmosphere (aver zeevo--‏???? ????‎) which is also called the "Word," the "Garment" (L’vushah--‏?????‎, M’malelo--‏?????‎), or the symbolical river that represents wisdom. From this river flow the living waters, or the great waters which, to the Nazarenes as well as to the Kabbalists, typify the third manifestation of God, the Intelligence or the Spirit. This again produces a second life which, however, is far removed from the first one. 23 This second life is called "Yushamin" (‏?? ???‎--Yesh Moon, or ‏?? ???‎--Min, the place of the forms, of the ideas); "in its bosom the idea of the creation was first conceived, and it is the loftiest and purest type of the creation."

The second life gave birth to a third which is called the "excellent father" (abatur, ‏?? ???,‎--Av Yathar), 24 the "unknown old one" and "the ancient of the world" (senem sui obtegentem et grandaevum mundi). (Ib., vol. II, p. 88.) When the excellent Father looked into the abyss, the darkness of the black waters, he left his image there, which under the name of "Fetahil" became the Demiurge or the architect of the universe. 25 From then on begins an interminable series of Eons, an infernal and a celestial hierarchy which does not interest us any more. It is enough for us to know that these three lives, these three degrees in the Pleroma hold the same rank as the three Kabbalistic faces, whose very names (Parsufo--‏??????‎) are often met with in the mouth of these sectarians; 26 and we may place so much the more confidence in this interpretation, as we find also among them the ten Sefiroth divided, as in the Zohar, in three superior and seven inferior attributes. 27

What concerns the singular accident which brought forth the Demiurge, and as to the more and more imperfect generation of the subordinated genii, these are mythologic expressions of the principle that darkness and evil are but the gradual weakening of the divine light (caligo ubi extiterat etiam extitisse decrementum et detrimentum), which is also very clearly formulated in the Nazarene code. (Ib., vol. I, p. 145.) Hence the name "body" or "matter" (‏???‎--lea or guf--‏???‎) is given to the prince of darkness. (Ib., III, Onomasticon.) This name does not differ from the one carried by the same principle in the Kabbalistic system (‏??????‎--Klipoth, shells, matter).

The Nazarenes also recognized two Adams, one a celestial, and the other earthly, the father of humanity. Because of his body, the latter is the work of the subordinated genii, the stellar spirits; but the soul is the emanation of the divine life. 28 This soul, which was to return to its father in the heavenly regions, was detained in this world because it was seduced by evil powers. The message, then, entrusted by the Kabbalists to the angel Raziel is given for execution by our heretics to Gabriel, who plays quite an important role in their belief. It was the angel Gabriel who brought to our first parents, in order to raise them from their fall and to open to them the way to the bosom of their father, the true law, the word of life mysteriously spread by tradition until the advent of John the Baptist, the true prophet according to the Nazarenes, who promulgated it aloud on the shores of the Jordan. (Vol. II, p. 25-26-117.) We could cite other traditions which could be taken to have been borrowed from the Midrashim and the Zohar; 29 but we are content with having pointed out that which has the best claim for the attention of the philosopher.

Were we now to meet with the same principles in Egyptian Gnosticism, in the doctrine of Basilides and Valentin, it would be unjust to attribute them to the Greek philosophy, or even to Alexandrian Neoplatonism. And, in fact, it would be very easy for us to demonstrate in what we have still left from the two celebrated heresiarchs just mentioned the most characteristic elements of the Kabbalah, as the unity of substance, 30 the formation of things, first by concentration, then by gradual expansion of the divine light, 31 the theory of pairs and of the four worlds, 32 the two Adams, the three souls, 33 and even the symbolic language of the numbers and the letters of the alphabet. 34 But we have nothing to gain from demonstrating this similarity; for we believe we have reached the aim we have set for ourselves in the last part of our work. After having previously established that the metaphysical ideas which make up the foundation of the Kabbalah were not borrowed from Greek philosophy; that, instead of being born either in a Pagan school or in the Jewish school of Alexandria, they were brought thither from Palestine, we have finally proven that its cradle is not as yet to be found in Palestine, or at least, in the so-called Judea.

For in spite of impenetrable mystery with which the teachers of the synagogue surround them, we find them in a less abstract and not so pure form, it is true, in the infidel capital of the Samarians and with the heretics of Syria. It matters little that here they were taught to the people as the foundation of the religion, and assumed thereby the character of mythological personification, 35 while there, having become the property of the elite intelligences, they made up rather an extensive and profound metaphysical system. The basis of these ideas remains the same; their interrelation, whether in the formulas with which they are clothed, or in the more or less phantastical traditions that accompany them, remain unchanged. We still have to investigate, therefore, from what part and from what religion of the Orient they may have come to penetrate directly into Judaism, and from there into the different systems we have mentioned. It is this last step we still have to make in order to fully accomplish our task.

271:1 Author of "Gali Razia" (Unveiled Secrets). Nurenberg, 1605. The aim of this work, which is composed entirely of Hebrew quotations translated into Latin and German, is to prove the Christian dogma by different passages from the Talmud and Zohar.

272:2 Peter Beer, History of Jewish Religious Sects, vol. II.

272:3 See Ari Noham of Leon de Modena, pgs. 7, 79 and 80.

272:4 Ari Noham (the Roaring Lion), published by Julius Fuerst, Leipzig, 1840.

272:5 Ib. supr., p. 7. ‏??? ????? ?? ????? ?? ???? ?????? ???? ??????‎ "I do not know whether God will forgive those who published these books".

272:6 One of St. Paul's converts at Athens. Transl.

273:7 It is the prevailing opinion that Simon came from Githoi, a small Samaritan town. The historian Josephus is the only one who mentions a Jew, originally from Cyprus, who pretended to be a magician.--Antiquities, Book XX ch. VII.

273:8 St. Jerome Commentar. in Matthaei ch. XXIV, in vol. VII of his work according to the Venetian edition.

273:9 On Simon Magus and his wife Helen compare Irenaeus I, 23: "Simon--Helenam quandam--secum circumducebat, disens, hanc esse primam mentis ejus conceptionem, matrem omnium, per quam initio mente concepit, angelos facere et archangelos. . . Transmigrantem autem de corpore in corpus, ex eo et semper contumeliam sustinentem in novissimis edam in fornice prostitisse."--Jellinek

274:10 "Ego sum sermo Dei, ego sum speciosus, ego paracletus, ego omnipotens, ego omnia Dei."--Ib. supr.

274:11 Clement., Recognitiones, liv. II. Iren., liv. 4, ch. XX.

274:12 See second part of this work following note 42.

274:13 ‏?? ???‎, perhaps also ‏??? ???‎, * the mysterious power.--Epiphanius, 19th heresy.

274:* Instead of refuting this unfortunate construction of the name Elxai, we shall quote the following words of Delitsch ("Orient," 1841, col. 297-298): "Many conjectures, some conflicting apparently with the custom of Jewish nomenclature, some with the Greek phonetic rules in the transcription of Hebrew names, have been put forward about the name Elxai, on the orthography of which the ancients differed wonderfully (see variants of Coteler, Monum. I, p. 775), Little note has been taken of Rhenferd's conjecture (De fictis Judaeorum haeresib., p. 98) which doubts the personality of Elxai and which explains the name as merely that of some sect by ‏???????‎ or ‏??????‎ (the deniers); but the first is un-Arabic and the second is un-Hebraic. Besides, the construction which, according to Epiph. (Haeres. XIX, 2), the sect itself puts upon the name, forbids accepting the Ελ (Ηλ) in the beginning of the word as an Arabic form of the article. The followers of Elxai pretend that his name means vim abstrusam (hidden power), and the p. 275 Judeo-Christian Epiphanius adds: 'because Ελ means power and ξαι means hidden.' There is no doubt that this construction is only a Midrash of the same name, as is often met with in old Jewish writings. It was not at all intended to prove the grammatical root, but to support mnemonically or even to establish ostensibly any accepted passage (like the one here of the high personality of Elxai). We must, therefore, inquire first into the proper Hebrew form of the name and then attempt to prove the possibility of putting a double meaning upon it. For, the transcription ‏??? ???‎ (Goerik, K. G. I, p. 143), which has no other meaning than: 'strength which has covered,' is, in any case, miscarried. The heresy of the Elxaites shaped itself in the trans-Jordanic region. There, in Galilee (Hier. ad Nahum I, 1), ε?ς Βηγαβ?ρ ?κ φυλ?ς Ζυμε?ν (Epiph. de Vitis Proph. 18), was a small hamlet Elcesi (?λκεσε?), well known to the Jews at the time of St. Jerome, to whom the ruins of old houses were pointed out by his companion. Possibly the prophet Nahum was born here, and also the spurious prophet Elxai (?λκεσα?ος, ?λκεσα?ς). The surname ‏??????‎ added to Nahum, which is rendered in the Greek translation by ?λκεσα?ος, is identical with that of Elxai, which can be better established phonetically and historically if space would permit. All the Greek variants go back to ‏??????‎ or ‏??????‎. The Greek letter Η used in writing the name enjoins thinking of the Hebrew ‏??‎, just as the ξ and χ (?λχασα?ος with Methodius) point to the emphatic 'Qoph' of the Hebrew alphabet. It is to this name that the followers of Elxai attached their symbolic interpretation, and they could well afford to do it, because the modus operandi of the original operation perhaps did not escape from the language consciousness (according to the Masoretic commentary of Minchat Sha the spelling is found in two words ‏???-???‎). They translated (power of difficulty i.e., a power difficult to understand. secret power), or, what is not strange, with the Galileans (who, according to the Gemara Erubin pronounced the guttural ‏?‎ like ‏?‎), ‏?? ????‎ (covered, hidden power)."--Jellinek

275:14 Ib. supr.

275:15 ‏?????? ??? ?????‎ (Otiot d’Rabbi Akiba). Here is a translation of a passage from this book: "The body of the divine presence (‏???? ?? ?????‎--Goofo shel Shekinah) has an extension of 236 times 10,000 parasangs (Persian road measure), to wit: 118 times 10,000 from the loins down, and just as much from the loins up. But these parasangs are different than ours. Each divine parasang has 1,000 times 1,000 cubits (‏????‎); each divine cubit has four zereth (spans) and one palm; each zereth p. 276 represents the length between the two opposite extremities of the universe."--Letter ‏?‎, p. 151, Krakau ed., 1579.

276:16 In Gnosticism it signifies the spiritual divine nature with all the eons emanating from it.--Transl.

276:17 Codex Nazareus, 3 vol. in 4to, 1815. Pub. and trans. by Matthew Norberg.

276:18 This opinion, accepted by most of the theologians, is to be preferred to that of Mosheim. To better refute Toland's objections to the unity of the Christian faith, Mosheim places the origin of the sect of the Nazarenes in the fourth century. See Mosheim, Indiciae antiquae christianorum disciplinae, I, 5.

277:19 "Rex summjs lucis, splendor purus, lux magna. Non est mensura, numerus et terminus ejus splendori, luci est majestati. Totus est splendor, totus lux, totus pulchritudo, totus vita, totus justitia, totus misericordia," etc.--Cod. Naz. vol. I, p. 5.

277:20 "Creator omnium formarum, pulchrarumque artifex, retinens vero suae sapientiae, suique obtegens, nec sui manifestus.--Ib., p. 7.

277:21 "Creaturae omnes tui nominis nesciae. Dicunt reges lucis, se invicem interrogantes: nomenne sit magnae luci? iidimque respondent: nomine caret. Quia autem nomine caret, nec fuerit qui illius nomen invocet, noscendaeque illius naturae insistat, beati pacifici qui te agnoverunt corde puro, mentionem tui fecerunt mente justa, fidem tibi integro affectu habuerunt." Cod. Naz., vol. I, p. 11.

277:22 "Omnes genii, reges et creaturae, precationi et hymno insistentes, celebrant regem summum lucis, a quo exeunt quinque radii magnifici et insignes: primus, lux quae illis orta: secundus, flatus suavis qui eis adspirat: tertius, dulcedo vocis qua excellant: quartus, verbum oris quod erigit et ad confessionem pietatis instituit: quintus, species formae cujusque, qua adolescunt, sicut sole fructus."--Ib. supr., p. 9.

278:23 "Antequam creaturae omnes existere, Ferho dominus existit per quem Jordanus existit. Jordanus dominus vicissime existit aqua viva, quae aqua maxima et laeta. Ex aqua vero viva, nos vita existimus."--Ib., vol. I, p. 145.

278:24 Perhaps the "Avatar" of Hindoo mythology.--Transl.

278:25 "Surrexit Abatur et, porta aperta, in aquam nigram prospexit, Fictus autem extemplo filius, sui imago, in aqua ista nigra, et Fetahil conformatus fuit."--Ib., vol. I, p. 308.

279:26 Ib., vol. III, p. 126. Onomasticon.

279:27 "Ad portam domus vitae thronos domino splendoris apte positus. Et ibidem tria habitacula. Parique modo septem vitae procreatae fuerunt, quae a Jukabar Zivac (‏??? ???‎ the great splendor) eaque clarae sua specie et splendore superne veniente lucentes."--Ib., vol. III, p. 61.

279:28 Ib., vol. I, p. 190-200. Ib., p. 121 and 123.

280:29 We shall cite among others how the Nazarenes explain the formation of the foetus and the part attributed by them to both parents.--Vol. II, p. 41, of the Codex Nazareus.

280:30 "Continere omnia petrem omnium et extra pleroma esse nihil, et id quod extra et id quod intra secundum agnitionem et ignorantiam." Iren., II, 4.

280:31 At the head of things is the "Bythos" or Ineffable, from whose bosom spring in pairs all the Eons that constitute the Pleroma. But all these emanations would lose themselves in the limitless infinite, if there were not a vessel (?ρος) which gives them solidity and consistency.--Iren., ib. supr. Neander, Genetic History of Gnosticism, article Valentin.

280:32 Matter is the lowest world. Immediately above it are the Demiurge and the human soul (Olam Yetzirah). One step higher we meet the spiritual things, πνευματικο? (Olam Bree-ah), and finally the Pleroma (Atziluth).--Ib. supr.

280:33 See Neander, work cited, p. 219.

280:34 Neander, p. 176, Doctrine of Marcus.

281:35 Plotinus with his usual profoundness had already noticed that Gnosticism generally compares the intelligible things to sensual and material nature: Naturam intelligibilem in similitudinem deducunt sensibilis deteriorisque naturae.--Enneade, liv. IX, ch. 6.



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