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Table of contents
- The Jewish Spiritual leader who made Malta home
- Abraham Abulafia
- Sefer Ha-Ot - The Book of the Sign
- Sefer Ha Ot The Book Of The Sign
- Abraham Abulafia
A difference of one in numerical value between words or phrases is unimportant as one is omnipresent. Temurah is essentially an anagram or the substitution of other letters for the original letters that make up the word according to systematic rules. For instance, an anagram of Elohim one of the names of God makes male yah the plentitude of YH — another name of God and the first two letters of the Tetragrammaton when the order of the letters is changed.
Temurah can also be the substitution of one letter with another which is its equivalent in the order of the alphabet that is chosen. For instance, one of the most famous of these series is called Atbash which means that the first and last letter of the alphabet are interchangeable Aleph — Taf , the second letter and the second from last Bet — Shin , the third and the third last Gimel — Resh , etc.
Temurah goes hand in hand with tzerufei ottiyot — letter combi- nations or permutations, which implies that the words of the Torah can be divided differently in order to get at their truest meaning and inner essence. The whole Torah is made up of letter combina- tions that imply that there is much scope for uncovering the per- mutations which allow one to discover the Divine names. A Note to the Reader xiii Notrikon is taking the letters of a word or the first or last letters of a series of words and forming from the letters a new word that has significant meaning or implications for the subject under dis- cussion.
Acknowledgments This book started life as a lecture. In , I was invited to take part in a group at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Jerusalem studying Apocalypticism and decided to present a paper on Abraham Abulafia and Joachim of Fiore. I had long sus- pected that there was a story to be told, and this was a perfect op- portunity to present some of the material I had gathered. Follow- ing the seminar and encouraged by the comments of the participants, I started to write it up as an article. Due to other com- mitments, however, it was duly put aside.
I returned to the topic at the start of my sabbatical year at Clare Hall, Cambridge, intending to finish the article and send it off and move on. Reading the paper again made me realize that there was much that needed to be fleshed out, and that there were major gaps in my argument. There is definitely something to be said for the "longue duree" when it comes to academic writing, and the result is what you are now holding in your hands. It was the timely publication in of Robert Lerner's Feast of St. Abraham: Medieval Millenarians and the Jews which made this book easier to write.
For a considerable period of time, I had been reading widely about Joachim and his Franciscan followers, but had felt a bit like the blind person trying to visualize an elephant by feeling it. I knew that there was something there and could feel the contours, but I lacked the necessary tools to conceptualize it.
Lerner's book was a revelation! It felt a little like the elder Tobias having his sight restored, as in a wonderfully clear and concise manner, he set out the issues that aided in contextualizing Abra- ham Abulafia and clarifying much of what he did. He is singlehandedly re- sponsible for making Abulafia s Kabbalah comprehensible, and any serious student of the subject must start from Idel's textual analysis and presentation of Abulafia's corpus. While not always agreeing with my reading of Abulafia, Moshe Idel has always been willing to answer questions, tell me about new sources, and discuss the issues at hand.
It is always a pleasure to acknowledge those who helped this book along at different stages. Other members of the fellow- ship listened, read, and commented on earlier drafts of this book. My friend and colleague here in Beersheba, Elena Lourie, read the whole manu- script and in her usual amicable way, made incredibly insightful comments. Robert Lerner also agreed to read the manuscript and made important and astute comments as did Eve and Tony Bonner and Joan-Pau Rubies. My sincere thanks to them all and any re- maining errors are, naturally, mine.
Twice a year, a group of historians with different interests and nothing better to do, get together for a couple of days in Zichron Ya'akov, a small town in the foothills of the Carmel mountain range overlooking the Mediterranean. While enjoying each other's company, hearing good music, eating tasty food, and drinking good wines, these historians engage in intense reading and discus- sion of texts. The insights from those discussions are truly enlight- ening and the whole experience is uplifting. I had the pleasure of sharing some of the texts in this book with that incredible group of scholars and their penetrating comments and questions helped clar- ify some of the arguments presented here.
A picture is worth a thousand words, and being able to travel to Sicily and wander around Palermo and Messina also helped bring Acknowledgments xvii the subject of this book to life. Walking through what was the Jew- ish area in thirteenth-century Palermo and seeing the Franciscan church built in the middle of that century right next to the Jewish quarter made me realize just how difficult it would have been for Franciscans and Jews to avoid one another even if they had wanted to. Indeed, one could easily picture Abulafia making his way to the church, or standing in the narrow alleys around it deep in conversa- tion with a friar holding a manuscript of the Liber figurarum.
Authors are not always the easiest people to work with, and they made the whole process of bringing this book from manuscript to press enjoyable. This book would probably have been completed sooner, had not my two daughters, Ya'ara and Talya, rightly demanded that I spend lots of time with them.
They, together with my wife, Tiran, have incredibly enriched my life, and have taught me to put every- thing into perspective and recognize what is truly important. They both adore books and I hope that eventually, they will like this one as well, and consider the time away from them working on it well spent. Introduction Joachite eschatology had only marginal impact, if any, on the Kabbalistic forms of eschatology.
Abula- fia likened anyone seeking perfection and knowledge of the Divine intellect to the ascending and descending angels on Jacob's ladder. Each person, like the angels, is able to achieve the truth according to their capabilities and desire and some are closer than others to perfection. Abulafia saw himself as having reached the highest rung of the ladder and therefore, as chosen by God to reveal the Divine truth, concealed over time, because of the fast approaching end. These messianic aspirations, how they were conceived, developed, interpreted, and practiced are the focus of this book and they reveal a fascinating tale of fusion between Jewish and Christian apocalyp- tic ideas, which burst onto the historical stage at a particularly pregnant moment.
A time of heightened expectation for some Christians who had adopted and adapted the teachings of a Cala- brian abbot, Joachim of Fiore, and for Jews just entering the sixth millennium and hoping that it would signal the end of the exile and the start of the redemption. Although this book focuses on a particular figure, the thirteenth-century Kabbalist Abraham Abulafia, it is primarily an attempt to show how ideas move between religions and cultures, and how permeable the boundaries erected between them are.
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Even in a society where there was no equality and the dominant 2 Like Angels on Jacob's Ladder faith influenced and limited the life of the minority faiths in many areas and diverse ways, there was still much scope for the exchange and interpenetration of ideas and this was not by any means one- way traffic. That there were contacts between the intellectuals of the three monotheistic faiths in the later Middle Ages is well docu- mented. Christian scholars worked together with Jews and Mus- lims translating works from Arabic to Latin, sometimes also via He- brew. Indeed, this translation activity was going on during Abulafia's lifetime in the courts of Frederick II and Charles of Anjou and some of the characters who appear in this book, such as Hillel ben Samuel of Verona, were involved, even translating Latin scholastic works into Hebrew.
However, Abulafia's interaction with his Christian contemporaries was of a totally different nature. He adopted and adapted current Christian apocalyptic ideas, trans- lated them into his own religious, historical, and moralistic world- view, and then repackaged them and tried to sell them back to his Jewish and Christian contemporaries. Abulafia's works show that he was in constant dialogue with Christianity, or more precisely, with a mode of Christianity highly influenced by the thought of the twelfth— century Calabrian abbot, Joachim of Fiore.
Some of the issues involved were intimately con- nected to the traditional and ongoing polemic between Christians and Jews. This debate had been growing in sophistication, scope, and ferocity since the twelfth century, and reached new heights in the thirteenth century with the trial and burning of the Talmud, the Barcelona Disputation of , and Ramon Marti's enormous Pugio fidei. However, unlike many of his Jewish and Christian con- temporaries who polemicized over eschatological themes, Abulafia focused on apocalypticism.
Both he and his Joachimite contempo- raries were convinced that the world was on the brink of a major change, the start of a new eon, and this made their polemic more immediate and vibrant because it was not dealing with questions that would be settled at some undetermined time in the future. The expected apocalypse was inevitable, was going to happen in the here and now, and therefore it was imperative for each side to show that the truth was with them.
Abulafia sets out a counterhistory Introduction 3 whereby the portrayal of Jesus, the Church, and the place of the Jews is the opposite of how they are depicted by Christians.
The Jewish Spiritual leader who made Malta home
He also gave himself a central role, as a serious challenger for the position of redeemer. The focal point of Abulafia's interaction with Christians was the Franciscan Order, or the friars who adopted and adapted the teachings of Joachim of Fiore, and read St.
Francis and themselves into his predictions regarding the period leading up to the third status. These friars who, by the middle of the thirteenth century, were to be found in places as diverse as Palermo, Paris, Narbonne, and Rome, read the genuine and pseudo-Joachimite treatises that they, along with the Florensians and Cistercians, contributed to, and saw themselves as one of the orders sent to lead the way into the age of the Holy Spirit.
Abulafia's encounter with the friars would have taken place mainly in Sicily and southern Italy where he spent a considerable amount of time from the early s, where he wrote most of his books, and where he conceived and developed his messianic expectations and apocalyptic framework. In his works, Abulafia mentions the Franciscans and it is this geo- graphical location and historical context that gives life and meaning to much of what he did and wrote.
Abraham Abulafia has been the subject of attention by scholars from the mid-nineteenth-century onward. Moshe Landauer sug- gested that he was the author of the Zohar, and Heinreich Graetz wrote about Abulafia's life and mission. In ad- dition, Elliot Wolfson has written an important study which takes a different stance on some of Abulafia's central teachings, particularly regarding his attitude toward the Sefirot and the commandments. He referred to Jew- ish history as an internal dialectic of contradictory forces, and those undercurrents as emerging from within it, with little or no external influences.
Hence, his approach to apocalypticism and messianism, which he saw as predominantly part of the mystical tradition, was as something inherently Jewish. This places more importance on ideas and their transmission to other texts than in the historical context of the authors and their ideas. This means that while Abulafia is recognized as a major figure in the field of Kabbalah, and his teach- ings and methods resonate in the writings of later Kabbalists, the historical context of his works have not been closely examined. His place as the founder of the ecstatic school of Kabbalah and his in- fluence on subsequent generations of Kabbalists in Spain, Italy, Safed, and elsewhere has been well attested, yet, the milieu in which he lived and developed his teachings is, surprisingly, almost totally ignored one example being the opening quotation of this Introduction.
The historical-contextual issue is compounded by another fascinating element. Almost from his immediate students onward, the apocalyptic-messianic elements of Abulafia's life and Introduction 5 work were set aside, and though many of his works were copied re- ligiously, it was his methods for attaining spiritual perfection, prophecy, and mystical experience which were emphasized and propagated.
Modern scholarship has continued this long tradition of almost totally ignoring Abulafia's messianic claims and focusing on his Kabbalistic teachings, a process made easier by the adoption of the phenomenological approach. This might also explain why hardly any of Abulafia's overtly prophetic works have survived, and those that have can be interpreted in multifarious ways.
This has allowed many Kabbal- ists over the centuries to ignore the messianic ramifications of Abulafia's teachings and concentrate on the techniques by which high levels of mystical experience and prophecy can be achieved. Yet Abulafia saw himself, first and foremost, as the expected Mes- siah who would bring the exile to a close, and his Kabbalistic teachings can only be fully appreciated if seen as part of that worldview. Internal redemption goes hand in hand with the ex- ternal historical redemption that will bring humanity into true knowledge of God.
Abulafia's reading of the biblical text is what informs his understanding of his times and mission, and is what allows him to receive the revelations that are the pivotal moments of his life. It is his claim to be the Messiah that gives him the au- thority to reveal the true meaning of the biblical text and the es- sence of Judaism.go to site
Hence, while Abulafia is primarily known as a Kabbalist, it is those teachings that inform his primary function as a messianic figure. Apocalyptic ideas are heavily dependent on a particular historical context, and Abulafia's messianism has to be 6 Like Angels on Jacob's Ladder understood in relation to the historical circumstances that condi- tioned him. It is Abulafia himself who provides the clues that can help make sense of his life, and which show just how involved he was within his particular historical context, and how neither his teachings nor his activities can be divorced from the specific reli- gious, intellectual, political, and geographic surroundings in which he flourished.
What causes someone to pronounce himself Messiah? Is it possible to identify the forces of history, or moments of catas- trophe, that motivate individuals to swim against the current and take up the mantle of prophet or redeemer? In a fascinating dis- cussion of the 'Isawiyya, a Jewish messianic movement in early Islam ca. First is the attempt at accommodation with the majority faith where the 'Isawiyya were able to appear to be true believers to Muslims, but also be accepted as Jews by their co-religionists.
The second stage, the apocalyptic, was stirred by anti-Umayyad movements and a resurgence of hope that with the fall of the crumbling dynasty, the messianic era would start. Ac- cording to both Muslim and Jewish sources, Abu 'Isa, the mes- sianic figure, had an ascension experience, which led him to take on the mantle of Messiah. This may go some way in shedding light on what motivated Abraham Abulafia to pronounce himself Messiah. The apocalyptic expectations among the Franciscans and others in Italy, coupled with age-old Jewish expectations for redemption and revelation, may shed light on Abulafia's psyche.
Yet, though aroused to go and find the Sambation River when he was twenty, an act with clear messianic undertones, he did not proclaim himself Messiah until By that time, Abulafia had traveled widely, and spent time in close proximity with Christians who were expecting major events to occur in the near future. Abulafia's adoption of as the year of redemption can only be understood in the broader historical context. As we shall see, Abulafia's apocalyptic calculations came from within his own tradition though with some connection to the Christian Anno Domini , using accepted methods and authoritative texts.
However, the importance of , given that it was already fifty years into the sixth millennium can only be appreciated when seen in the Christian context. The first chapter deals with that Christian context, introducing Joachim of Fiore and explaining some of the central concepts in his writings.
Central tenets of Joachimism that resonate in Abulafia's writing are also set out. Joachim died in , but his teachings were passed on via the order he established, the Florensians, the Cistercians, and the Franciscans.
Sefer Ha-Ot - The Book of the Sign
All these orders were instrumental in the copying of manuscripts of Joachim's works and in the com- position of pseudo-Joachimite works that were to be of major im- portance in the late thirteenth century. The Franciscans play a piv- otal role in this story, and their fascination with Joachim is also elaborated, as well as the teachings that would be so instrumental for their relationship with Abulafia. A detailed biography of Abraham Abulafia is the subject of the second chapter. Unlike most other medieval mystical authors, Ab- ulafia was relatively forthcoming with biographical details, though what is told is accidental and related to the purpose of the given work.
However, looking at the broader historical context and using his works carefully, it is possible to piece together a reason- ably detailed portrait of Abulafia's life, influences, motivations, ideas, and activities. It is also possible to see how his thought de- veloped over some twenty years of creative activity. A picture emerges of a man who came to believe that he was the expected Messiah, that his mission was to prepare both Jews and Christians 8 Like Angels on Jacob's Ladder for the fast approaching end, and that he had been given the key to the true interpretation of the biblical text and knowledge of the Divine name.
The next chapter deals with Abulafia's views on universal sal- vation, a theme with great relevance to Joachim's teachings on the coming together of Gentiles and Jews in the third age. In contradis- tinction to many of his Christian and Jewish contemporaries who focused on the particularistic aspects of messianic times, Abulafia develops a theory of universal salvation based on a rather sophisti- cated understanding of history, political entities, and language.
He suggests that the Divine economy planned for different religions and this leads him to posit a coming together of the nations of the world in a state of spiritual knowledge of the Divine name in a way very reminiscent of the Calabrian abbot. This implies that for Ab- ulafia, contemporary Judaism was also in a transient phase, and though the closest to perfection, it would also be surpassed.
One particular historical event that has been the focus of some discussion is Abulafia's famous attempt to have a papal audience in August This episode has been analyzed from different per- spectives with disagreement among scholars as to where he got the idea from and what exactly he intended to say to the pope.
Much has been made of the sudden death of the pope on the very night before Abulafia intended to have his audience. However, the signif- icance of the date he chose, and of this event in the broader histor- ical context has not been examined. Hence, the penultimate chap- ter reexamines Abulafia's visit to Rome in in some detail. Abulafia's attitude toward Christianity is crucial for understanding what he intended to achieve from his papal audience. A close read- ing of the texts shows that the audience was to occur on a very pre- cise day at a very auspicious moment, and the death of the pope on that very day, after his refusal to receive Abulafia, was a clear sign that he was the Messiah, that the power of Christianity was on the wane and that the end of days was fast approaching.
The previous chapters have established just how dependent Abulafia's messianic ideas were on his historical context and his ap- propriation of Joachimite concepts. The last chapter attempts to set Introduction 9 out possible reasons why elements in the Franciscan order may have been interested in helping Abulafia see the pope. A Jew preaching the end of Christianity and other blasphemies would surely not have gained much sympathy from his Christian contem- poraries, yet brief comments in Abulafia's works allow us to con- struct a network of people, both Jewish and Christian, that Abula- fia, directly or indirectly, was in touch with who could have been in a position to help him arrange the audience.
While these Chris- tian and Jewish figures may have had different motivations for help- ing, or at least not hindering, Abulafia, and while not, in any way, conclusive, this chapter shows that there may have been some method to his madness. The writing of this book was facilitated by the sudden appear- ance of reasonably good and reliable editions of almost all of Abulafia's extant works.
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Though found in hundreds of manu- scripts, aside from the publication of a few short works and ex- cerpts in the late nineteenth and twentieth century, nothing had been published. This ban was so ef- fective, that it was only toward the end of the last decade of the twentieth century, some six hundred years after the ban was placed, and some four hundred years after the invention of the printing press, that ultra-orthodox Jews in Jerusalem, students of Abulafian Kabbalah, decided to print his works.
In order to do so, they had to find ways to circumvent the ban of a figure still considered within the orthodox world as a major Halachic authority. The editor of the series does this in the introduction to the first volume by show- ing that many other great rabbis over the generations had ignored the ban and studied Abulafia's works. The editor names and cites many of these sources to justify his project. His reasoning is that if those great luminaries over the ages could ignore the ban, then surely, it is permissible for him to do the same.
I have also compared the editions with the manuscripts and have found them to be of a high standard. Clearly, great care was taken when preparing the works for printing because Abulafia's Kabbalah is de- pendent on letter combinations and if these are not copied accu- rately, it is impossible to follow the teachings.
Thus, there is a vested interest in good editions of the works, and where mistakes have been discovered new editions of that work have been made avail- able. However, where serious discrepancies between the printed text and the manuscripts appear this has been pointed out. Joachim and Joachimism in Itaty And once more the understanding of Scripture, or revelation, or the key of David, will be given to a person or multitude, and I think rather to a multitude.
Bonaventure, Collationes In his sermons on the six days of creation, St. Bonaventure iden- tified Francis as the founder of the order of contemplatives that will flourish at the end of time. This followed his identifi- cation of Francis in the Legenda maior, the official biography of the saint, as "the angel of the sixth seal" of Revelation. The above cita- tion is suggestive of the important role given to both the founder and the Franciscan order itself in the events leading up to the end of days; events which, according to Bonaventure, had already been set in motion.
It is not really known how and when elements in the Francis- can order became aware of the teachings of the Calabrian abbot Joachim of Fiore and their ramifications for that order. The incred- ible success and growth of the Franciscans was seen as a mixed blessing by some in the order who felt that the teachings of their founder had been set aside in the pursuit of glory and power. The simplicity, humility, poverty, and devotion of St. Francis had been trampled over in the larger context of papal politics and the needs of an all-powerful Church.
Yet, the encounter with Joachim and his writings suddenly gave new meaning to the events of the past years, and seemed to give a central role to the Franciscans in the years leading up to the end of time. Francis became a harbinger of the end of time, the angel of the sixth seal, and his order, or at least those of the order who followed his teachings, represented one of the two orders of "spiritual men" leading others into a new age. Though for reasons self-evident, these ideas were not expressly 12 Like Angels on Jacob's Ladder set out in the writings of the Calabrian abbot, the central themes could be teased out of them, and they were given more impetus in works attributed to Joachim written in Italy in the coming decades.
Joachim of Fiore ca. However, it was with the gift of "spiritual intelligence," granted him in the other two visions at the Cistercian monastery of Casa- mari in 1 , that he realized that he possessed the key to interpret- ing the biblical texts that revealed the patterns of history and its progression toward the end of times. Though already engaged with the idea of concordance between the Old and New Testament in a work written prior to the visions in Casamari, it was those visions that provided him with the mature understanding present in his central works: the Liber concordia Novi ac Veteris Testamenti, Expositio in Apocalypsim , Psalterium decern chordarum, and the Liber figurarum.
Joachim's close reading of the Old Testament led him to see it as a key for understanding the events of the New Testament down to the current times.
Sefer Ha Ot The Book Of The Sign
The methodology was one of concordance, which he explained as being a harmony that reflects similarity in character, but not in dignity between the two periods, meaning that the New Testament was more perfect than the Old. He envisioned the Testaments as two trees, the first growing from Adam and end- ing with the birth of Christ, the second starting from Uziah, king of Judah and ending with Christ's second coming.
According to Joachim's detailed calculations, each tree contained sixty-three gen- erations divided into three groups of twenty-one, though the gen- erations on each tree differed in duration, the first being carnal, the second more spiritual. The Old Testament tree was divided as fol- lows: from Adam to Isaac, and then forty-two generations from Joachim and Joachimism in Italy 13 Jacob to the first coming of Christ.
The New Testament tree, with its trunk starting from King Uziah, the king of Judah and contem- porary of the prophet Isaiah who, according to Joachim, started preaching the Gospel, also had three groups, two of which, imply- ing forty-two generations were to pass from the coming of Christ until the onslaught of the Antichrist. The length of a New Testa- ment generation was thirty years, because this represented the age of Christ when he started to have disciples, his spiritual children, im- plying that the coming of the antichrist would be in forty- two generations of thirty years' duration each.
The twelve tribes and the twelve churches seven in Asia and the five metropolitan churches of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jeru- salem are the branches of the trees emerging from Jacob and Christ respectively 3 In the same way that it was from the branch of the tribe of Judah that Christ emerged, so it will be from the branch of the Roman Church that the second coming will issue.
He understood the seven seals of the book Revelation 5 to represent seven peri- ods tempora of persecution of the Jews in the Old Testament, which, using the idea of concordance, implied that there would also be seven persecutions of the church. That left two more persecutions, with the last, represented by Antiochus in the Old Testament, being the Antichrist.
However, the last two persecutions the sixth and seventh seals would have to happen concurrently as the second coming was close at hand. The Trinitarian pattern of three was probably the outcome of the second of his visions at Casamari in 1 , and resulted in a sig- nificant departure from previous understanding of the apocalypse. Augustine had proposed that the thousand-year reign of the saints with Christ was the present time of the Church, and that 14 Like Angels on Jacob's Ladder therefore, all that was expected in the future was the second com- ing and final judgment.
Thus, Joa- chim outlined the history of the world as one divided into three statuses, each one connected to one of the three persons of the Trinity, and reflecting the relationship within the Trinity. Because there is progression in history toward salvation, the first status, that of the Father, is one in which "men lived according to the flesh," the second, that of the Son, "in which men live between two poles, that is between the flesh and the spirit," and the future third status, that of the Holy Spirit, "in which people live according to the spirit.
The third status has its roots in both the first and second status; Eli- jah or his disciple Elisha along with St. Benedict signifying the mo- nastic spiritual way of life that will dominate in the third status. Elijah is a pivotal figure in that he is the symbol of the Holy Spirit in both the first and third status. He is identified with fire in that he brought down the Divine fire on Mount Carmel when he confounded the prophets of Ba'al and he was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire.
He announces the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father, and he will announce the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Son as the second status comes to an end.
He is linked with Moses in that they both spoke with Jesus when he transfigured on Mount Tabor the very mountain upon which Joachim's first vision supposedly took place , 7 and his connection with John the Baptist is also intimated in the Gospels in that the lat- ter was the herald of Jesus' first coming. The pattern of twos or the historical is more tradi- tional in that it presents history progressing from the time of the Old Testament to the New Testament, which will last till the end of time in the second coming.
The Trinitarian pattern is innovative Joachim and Joachimism in Italy 15 in that it places the third status within history, and posits a spiritual progression toward a more perfect state of being emerging from, but not replacing, the New Testament with its roots in the Old Testament as well. In his reading of Revelation in his commentary on the Apoca- lypse, Joachim shows how the Alpha and Omicron represent the Trinity and Unity.
He does this using the Tetragrammaton which appears as a unity in the Omicron, and divided into IE at the apex of the Alpha, and EU and UE respectively at the bottom of the two uprights of the letter. For Joachim, this was proof that the Trinity had been revealed to the biblical Jews from within their most holy of Divine names. Indeed IEVE is one name, but it cannot simply be possible to refer to the Father alone or the Son alone or the Holy Spirit, but at the same time to all three.
This double procession is in- dicated in history, as can be seen beneath the Omega. Moses inau- gurates the first status; Elijah announces the roots of the second status within the first. Most notable are his encounters with angels, which are narrated in the usual author's prophetic style This is one of the rare autobiographic books in kabbalah. Specifications Publisher Euniversity. Pub, Fabrizio del Tin. Customer Reviews. Write a review.
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Cancel Submit. Letters of the alphabet, numerals, vowel-points, all became symbols of existence to him, and their combinations and permutations, supplementing and explaining one another, possessed for him an illumining power most effectively to be disclosed in a deeper study of the divine names, and especially of the consonants of the Tetragrammaton.
With such auxiliaries, and with the observance of certain rites and ascetic practises, men, he says, may attain to the highest aim of existence and become prophets; not in order to work miracles and signs, but to reach the highest degree of perception and be able to penetrate intuitively into the inscrutable nature of the Deity, the riddles of creation, the problems of human life, the purpose of the precepts, and the deeper meaning of the Torah.
He soon left for Castile, where he disseminated his prophetic Kabbalah among figures like R. Moses of Burgos and his most important disciple, R. Joseph Gikatilla. Some time around he taught the Guide of the Perplexed and his Kabbalah in a few cities in Greece. That same year he made his way through Trani back to Capua, where he taught four young students. The pope, then in nearby Suriano, heard of it, and issued orders to "burn the fanatic" as soon as he reached that place.
Close to the inner gate the stake was erected in preparation; but not in the least disturbed, Abulafia set out for Suriano and reached there August While passing through the outer gate, he heard that the pope had died from an apoplectic stroke during the preceding night. Returning to Rome, he was thrown into prison by the Minorites, but was liberated after four weeks' detention. He was next heard of in Sicily, where he supposedly appeared as a prophet and Jewish Messiah.
He remained active in Messina for a decade —91 , presenting himself as a "prophet" and "messiah". He had several students there as well as some in Palermo. The local Jewish congregation in Palermo energetically condemned Abulafia's conduct, and around they addressed the issue to R. Solomon ben Abraham ibn Adret of Barcelona, who devoted much of his career to calming the various messianic hysteriae of the day. Solomon ben Adret subsequently wrote a letter against Abulafia. Abulafia had to take up the pilgrim's staff anew, and under distressing conditions compiled his Sefer ha-Ot "Book of the Sign" on the little island of Comino, near Malta, between and In he wrote his last, and perhaps his most intelligible, work, the meditation manual Imre Shefer "Words of Beauty" ; after this all trace of him is lost.
More influential are his handbooks, teaching how to achieve the prophectic experience: Chayei ha-Olam ha-Ba , Or ha-Sekhel , Sefer ha-Cheshek , and Imrei Shefer The spiritualized understanding of the concepts of messianism and redemption as an intellectual development represents a major contribution of the messianic ideas in Judaism.
As part of his messianic propensity, Abulafia become an intense disseminator of his Kabbalah, orally and in written form, trying to convince both Jews and Christians. Some of the elements of those techniques stem from commentaries on Sefer Yetzirah of Ashkenazi. In his writings expressions of what is known as the unio mystica of the human and the supernal intellects may be discerned.
Much less concerned with the theosophy of his contemporary kabbalists, who were interested in theories of ten hypostatic sefirot, some of which he described as worse than the Christian belief in the trinity, Abulafia depicted the supernal realm, especially the cosmic Agent Intellect, in linguistic terms, as speech and letters.