The Origins and History of Kabbalah

kaballah

Kabbalah claims a divine authorship, though it probably originated in the 12th century A.D.  Allegedly, the truth of Kabbalah was first given to the angels before God created the world.  Mankind then received it on three separate occasions through three different men. Adam was the first to receive the teaching through the Archangel Raziel as Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden. But, because people were more interested in the ways of the world than the things of God, the truth of Kabbalah was eventually lost.  It is said that Kabbalah is derived from ancient Hebraic priesthood practices that has the goal of human transformation.1

Abraham (around 1700 B.C.) was the second to receive the truth of Kabbalah.  Abraham was supposedly initiated into Kabbalistic mysticism by Melchizedek.  Kabbalah was part of the covenant that God made with Abraham.  After his descendents became enslaved in Egypt, Kabbalah was once again lost.

The third and final revelation of Kabbalah was given to Moses when he went to Mount Sinai to meet God. The first time Moses went up he received the 10 Commandments.  The second time he went up he received the Kabbalah.2 "When Torah was transmitted to Moses, myriads of celestial angels came to scorch him with flames from their Mouths, but the blessed Holy One sheltered him."3

Kabbalists refer to the Mosaic encounters as the outer and inner teaching.  The first encounter of Moses with God is when he received the 10 Commandments. This is called the outer teaching.  It was upon the second encounter with God that Moses received the Kabbalistic truths.  This is referred to as the inner teaching.

Throughout history, Kabbalists have chosen to keep their esoteric interpretations of the Torah hidden from the general populace and religious leaders of the day.  Many of the Kabbalists were persecuted and many others knew that their teachings contradicted accepted Jewish and Christian theologies.  Therefore, they practiced a self-imposed silence.

Nevertheless, Kabbalah survived and was passed down through the centuries.  Originally, only Jewish men who were at least 40 years old could study Kabbalah.  But later this restriction was abandoned by many people.

The earliest documented Kabbalistic writing is called the Sepher Yetzirah, or the book of formation. One tradition is that Abraham wrote the book, placed it in a cave, and it was discovered later and published as the Sepher Yetzirah. Another tradition says that the Rabbi Akiva wrote it. He is supposed to be one of the greatest Kabbalists of all time.

Moses De Leon, a 14th century Spanish Kabbalist presented the Zohar, an extremely influential book in Kabbalistic philosophy.  De Leon originally claimed that he found the scrolls that had been written much earlier, more than a thousand years earlier.  Recent scholarship supports the idea that he is the one who wrote the Zohar.

Present-day Kabbalah is said to have descended through John Dee (1527-1608) who was a mathematician and geographer and Isaac Luria (1534-1572) who he is commonly referred to as the greatest Kabbalist of modern times.  Contributers were Chayim Vital (1543-1620), Shabbetai Zvi (1626-1676), Gaon of Vilna ( 1720-1797), Rabbi Ashlag (1886-1955), and others.

Today

Today Kabbalah has become popularized by such writers as Yehuda Berg and spread by the internet and TV.  Many traditional Jewish cabalists condemn contemporary Kabbalah movements as fanciful and overly popularized misrepresentations of authentic Kabbalistic philosophy. Whichever the case, today's Kabbalah is definitely more new age than biblical.  Even though modern popularized Kabbalah has been condemned by traditional cabalists,  readings from the Zohar, which is several hundred years old and is at the heart of Kabbalah, reveals theology reminiscent of the new age:  reincarnation, inner divinity, pantheism, etc.

The truth is that Kabbalah has evolved.  But it has evolved from one heresy deeper into another.  It is not biblical and it is not true.

  • 1. Leet, Leonora, The Secret Doctrine of the Kabbalah, Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 1999, p. 2.
  • 2. Hopking, C.J.M., The Practical Kabbalah Guidebook, New York: Sterling Publishing, 2001, p. 8.
  • 3. The Zohar, available: http://www.sup.org/zohar/, p. 27.

 

 

 

 
 
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