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The Sefer Zohar

The Sefer Zohar or "Book of Splendour" is supposed to be the most authoritative Kabbalistic work, but this massive series of books is so obscure and symbolic as to be practically incomprehensible.  Although traditionally said to date back to the first century C.E., in its present form the Zohar is most likely of 13th Century Spanish vintage, compiled by the Kabbalistic writer Moses de Leon (c.1240-1305) from a combination of his own ideas and contemporary Kabbalistic elements [Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, chapter 5].  Moses de Leon was a brilliant homilectical rather than a systematic thinker.  He was concerned not with formulating a coherent metaphysical system, but with the elaboration and interpretation of verses of scripture from the Torah, often in the form of obscure mystical allegorizations [Scholem, Ibid, p.158].  It was this rich mass of imagery and allegory that the Zohar contains that served as the inspiration for all subsequent generations of Kabbalists.

plain format web page The Zohar - a compilation of quotes.  By Richard Shhand.

Difficulties in Translating the Zohar

Professor Pinchus Giller

Like the Koran, I am told, and the Tanakh, the Zohar ceases to be what it is when it is translated, because of the symbolization of the language. It comes from some basic midrashic principles, not least of which is the difference between the hermeneutics of Hebrew reading as opposed to that of the Greco-Christian tradition (c.f. a number of essays in G. Hartman Midrash and Literature and T. Boeman, Hebrew Thought as Opposed to Greek). A few years ago I was involved in an abortive project in the Hebrew University, to make a full critical Zohar and translate it into Hebrew, and we had heated debates when some of the translators, big semiticists all, changed the roots of the original Aramaic in their Hebrew translations, thereby obliterating the connections with the Judaeo-Arabisms that had been incorporated into the original...

It also has to do with the nature of the Zohar's notion of spiritual practice, which is contained in the contemplative reading of texts and free symbolic interpretations. This has been explored by many scholars, Wolfson, Idel, Scholem; etc.

Now the Lubovitcher Rebbe had his educational ideas, but R. Nachman of Breslav represents a far more "zoharic" point of view, and I doubt that he or the Ba'al Shem Tov would have suggested a Zohar translation. It's a whole world...

P. Giller
from a post to the Donmeh forum
Tue, 8 Jun 1999

Further comments on translating the Zohar
by Prof. Giller
Comments on translations of the Zohar
by Prof. Elqayam

The Theology of the Zohar

The Kabbalah presents a similiar account of successive emanations of the Godhead to those of Tantra and Gnosticism.  These are called Sefirot.  In the Zohar, the following stages of the unfolding and self-revelation of the Godhead are referred to:

En Sof, "the Infinite", the inconceivable, unknowable, transcendent Godhead.

Keter or "Crown". is the first manifestation of  the En Sof and sometimes referred to as identical  with it.  It is described both as the Void or nothingness from which all the other Sefirot emerge, and  as the Divine Will, the original impetus of Creation  [Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, p.217].

Hokmah or "Wisdom" is the first conceivable manifestation of the En Sof, represented as a single dimensionless point.  The primordial point - comparable to the Tantric Bindu (drop) or Bija (seed) -  more precisely the Para-Bindu, the centre around  which the processes of Divine manifestation crystallise.  The Kabbalists of the thirteenth century call it "the Origin of Being".  It is the wisdom of God, the ideal thought of Creation, which springs from  the original will (Keter) [Ibid p.218-9].

The idea of a primordial point or seed persisted in the later Lurianic cosmology, according to which after the withdrawl of the Divine Light (En Sof) there remained in the primordial space (tehiru) a residue  of the Light of En Sof intermingled with the darkness.  "Into this inchoate mixture there descends  from the En Sof a yod, the first letter of the Tetragrammaton (Divine Name), which contains a  "cosmic measure", that is, the power of formation  and organisation, which belongs to the attribute of overflowing mercy" [Gershom Scholem, Kabbalah, p.130].  The Yod is a simple point-like letter, like a comma '.  As the "cosmic measure", the origin of all creation, it can be compared to the Tantric Bindu, the seed-point from which all subsequent manifestation unfolds.

Binah or "Intelligence".  Binah is the expansion or development of Hokhmah, and the "Womb" of the Cosmos; containing all phenomena  in latent or seed form.  As Gershom Sholem explains:

 "...What was hidden in the point [Hokhmah]  is now unfolded....What was previously undifferentiated in the divine wisdom [Hokhmah] exists in the "Womb" of the Binah,  the "supernal mother", as the pure totality  of all individuation"..."
[Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, p.219]

The next seven Sefirot.

The fundamental archetypes that are behind, and that oversee, Creation.  In the Zohar, the Ocean of Binah becomes seven rivers, which are the seven Sefirot, seven primordial cosmic archetypes, represented by the seven days of Creation.

An Alien Artifact?

In their book The Manna Machine - two engineers, George Sassoon and Rodney Dale, claim that the description of the 'Ancient of Days' In the Zohar appears to refer to a device that could be taken to pieces and reassembled.  Although this hypothesis is almost certainly incorrect, it would be fascinating to imagine that maybe, just maybe, it is true.  It certainly would explain a lot of the bizarre symbolism to be found in much of Kabbalah.  It'd also make a great science fiction story (actually I remember reading a rather mediocre novel some years back on this theme)

Jewish Mysticism Jewish Kabbalah The Ten Sefirot Lurianic Kabbalah Knoor von Rosenroth Qabalah (Hermetic/Magickal)


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