THE JEWISH ENCYCLOPEDIA
CABALA.—Name and Origin (Hebrew form Kabbalah [[Hebr.] = to receive”; literally, “the received or traditional lore”)]: The specific term for the esoteric or mystic doctrine concerning God and the universe, asserted to have come down as a revelation to elect saints from a remote past, and preserved only by a privileged few. At first consisting only of empirical lore, it assumed, under the influence of Neoplatonic and Neopythagorean philosophy, a speculative character. In the geonic period it is connected with a Mishnah-like text-book, the “Sefer Yezirah,” and forms the object of the systematic study of the elect, called “mekubbalim” or ‘ ba‘ale ha-kabbala” (possessors of, or adepts in, the Cabala). These receive afterward the name of “maskilim” (the wise), after Dan. xii, 10: and because the Cabala is called [Hebr.] (“hokmah nistarah” = the hidden wisdom), the initials of which are [Hebr.] they receive also the name of [Hebr.] (“adepts in grace”) (Eccl. ix. 11, Hebr.). From the thirteenth century onward the Cabala branched out into an extensive literature, alongside of and in opposition to the Talmud. It was written in a peculiar Aramaic dialect, and was grouped as commentaries on the Torah, around the Zohar as its holy book, which suddenly made its appearance.
The Cabala is divided into a theosophical or theoretical system, Kabbalah ‘Iyyunit [Hebr.] and a theurgic or practical Cabala, [Hebr.]. In view of the fact that the name “Cabala” does not occur in literature before the eleventh century (see Landauer, “Orient. Lit.” vi. 206: compare Zunz, “G.V.” p. 416), and because of the pseudepigraphic character of the Zohar and of almost all the cabalistic writings, most modern scholars, among whom are Zunz, Graetz, Luzzatto, Jost, Steinschneider, and Munk (see bibliography below), have treated the Cabala with a certain bias and from a rationalistic rather than from a psychologico-historical point of view; applying the name of “Cabala” only to the speculative systems which appeared since the thirteenth century, under pretentious titles and with fictitious claims, but not to the mystic lore of the geonic and Talmudic times. Such distinction and partiality, however, prevent a deeper understanding of the nature and progress of the Cabala, which, on closer observation, shows a continuous line of development from the same roots and elements.
Cabala comprised originally the entire traditional lore, in contradistinction to the written law (Torah), and therefore included the prophetic and hagiographic books of the Bible, which were supposed to have been “received” by the power of the Holy Spirit rather than as writings from God’s hand (see Ta‘an. ii. 1; R. H. 7a, 19a, and elsewhere in the Talmud; compare Zunz, “G. V.” 2d ed., pp. 46, 366, 415, and Taylor, “Early Sayings of the Jewish Fathers,” 1899, pp. 106 et seq., 175 et seq.). Each “received” doctrine was claimed as tradition from the Fathers
How old the Cabala is, may be inferred from the fact that as early a writer as Ben Sira warns against it in his saying: [Hebr.] — “Thou shalt have no business with secret things” (Ecclus. [Sirach] iii. 22; compare Hag. 13a; Gen. R. viii.). In fact, the apocalyptic literature belonging to the second and first pre-Christian centuries contained
That many such books containing secret lore were kept hidden away by the “wise” is clearly stated in IV Esdras xiv. 45-46, where Pseudo-Ezra is told to publish the twenty-four books of the canon openly that the worthy and the unworthy may alike read, but to keep the seventy other books hidden in order to “deliver them only to such as be wise” (compare Dan. xii. 10); for in them are the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom, and the stream of knowledge (compare Sotah xv. 3). A study of the few still existing apocryphal books discloses the fact, ignored by most modem writers on the Cabala and Essenism, that “the mystic lore” occasionally alluded to in the Talmudic or Midrashic literature (compare Zunz, “G. V.” 2d ed., pp. 172 et seq.; Joel, Religionsphilosopie des Sohar,” pp. 45-54) is not only much more systematically presented in these older writings, but gives ample evidence of a continuous cabalistic tradition; inasmuch as the mystic literature of the geonic period is only a fragmentary reproduction of the ancient apocalyptic writings, and the saints and sages of the tannaic period take in the former the place occupied by the Biblical protoplasts, patriarchs, and scribes in the latter.
So, also, does the older Enoch book, parts of which have been preserved in the geonic mystic literature (see Jellinek, i.e., and “Z. D. M. G.” 1853, p. 249), by its angelology, demonology, and cosmology, give a fuller insight into the “Merkabah” and “Bereshit” lore of the ancients than the “Hekalot,” which present but fragments, while the central figure of the Cabala,
More instructive still for the study of the development of cabalistic lore is the Book of Jubilees written under King John Hyrcanus (see Charles, “The Book of Jubilees.” 1902, Introduction, pp. lviii. et seq.)—which also refers to the writings of Jared, Cainan, and Noah, and presents Abraham as the renewer, and Levi as the permanent guardian, of these ancient writings (ch. iv. 18, viii. 3, x. 13; compare Jellinek, “B. H.” iii. 155, xii. 27, xxi. 10, xlv. 16)
[page 458] “Bezalel knew how to combine [Hebr.] the letters by which heaven and earth were created” (Ber. 55a), and the saying of R. Judah b. ‘Ilai (Men. 29b), quoted, with similar sayings of Rab, in Bacher, “Ag. Bab. Amor.” pp. 18, 19-is here proved to be an old cabalistic conception. In fact, the belief in the magic power of the letters of the Tetragrammaton and other names of the Deity (compare Enoch, lxi. 3 et seq.; Prayer of Manasses; Kid. 71a; Eccl. R. iii. 11; Yer. Hag. ii. 77c) seems to have originated in Chaldea (see Lenormant, “Chaldean Magic,” pp. 29, 43). Whatever, then, the theurgic Cabala was, which, under the name of “Sefer (or “Hilkot”) Yezirah”, induced Babylonian rabbis of the fourth century to “create a calf by magic” (Sanh. 65b, 67b; Zunz, “G. V.” 2d ed., p. 174, by a false rationalism ignores or fails to account for a simple though strange fact!), an ancient tradition seems to have coupled the name of this theurgic “Sefer Yezirah” with the name of Abraham as one accredited with the possession of esoteric wisdom and theurgic powers (see ABRAHAM, APOCALYPSE OF, and ABRAHAM, TESTAMENT OF’; Beer, “Das Leben Abrahams,” pp. 207 et seq.; and especially Testament of Abraham, Recension B, vi., xviii.; compare Kohler, in “Jew. Quart. Rev.” vii. 584, note). As stated by Jellinek (“Beiträge zur Kabbalah,” i. 3), the very fact that Abraham, and not a Talmudical hero like Akiba, is introduced in the “Sefer Yezirah,” at the close, as possessor of the Wisdom of the Alphabet, indicates an old tradition, if not the antiquity of the book itself.
The “wonders of the Creative Wisdom” can also be traced from the “Sefer Yezirah,” back to Ben Sira. l.c.; Enoch, xiii. 1, xlviii. 1, lxxxii. 2, xcii. 1; Slavonic Enoch, xxx. 8, xxxiii. 3 (see Charles’s note for further parallels); IV Esdras xiv. 46; Sotah xv. 3; and the Merkabah-travels to Test. Abraham, x.; Test. Job, xi. (see Kohler, in Kohut Memorial Volume, pp. 282-288); and the Baruch Apocalypse throughout, and even II Macc. vii. 22, 28, betray cabalistic traditions and terminologies.
But especially does GNOSTICISM testify to the antiquity of the Cabala. Of Chaldean origin, as suggested by Kessler (see “Mandæans,” Gnosticism in Herzog-Hauck, “Real-Encyc.“) and definitively shown by Anz
The whole dualistic system of good and of evil powers, which goes back to Zoroastrianism and ultimately to old Chaldea, can be traced through Gnosticism; having influenced the cosmology of the ancient Cabala before it reached the medieval one. So is the conception underlying the cabalistic tree, of the right side being
It stands to reason that the secrets of the theurgic Cabala are not lightly divulged; and yet the Testament of Solomon recently brought to light the whole system of conjuration of angels and demons, by which the evil spirits were exorcised; even the magic sign or seal of King Solomon, known to the medieval Jew as the MAGEN DAWID, has been resurrected (see Conybeare, in “Jew. Quart. Rev.” xi. 1-45; also EXORCISM).
To the same class belongs the “Sefer Refu‘ot” (The Book of Healing), containing the prescriptions against all the diseases inflicted by demons, which Noah wrote according to the instructions given by the angel Raphael and handed over to his son Shem (Book of Jubilees, x. 1-14; Jellinek, “B. H.” iii. 155-160; Introduction, p. xxx.). It was identified with the “Sefer Refu‘ot” in possession of King Solomon and hidden afterward by King Hezekiah (see Pes. iv. 9, 56a; “B. H.” l.c. p. 160; Josephus, “Ant.” viii. 2, § 5; compare idem, “B. J.” ii. 8, § 6, and the extensive literature in Schürer, “Gesch. des Volkes Israel,” 3d ed., iii. 2, 99 et seq.), whereas the secret of the black art, or of healing by demonic powers, was transmitted to heathen tribes, to “the sons of Keturah” (Sanh. 91a) or the AMORITES (compare Enoch. x. 7).