Moshe Idel

Various Forms of Kabbalah in Castile: 13th to 15th Century

1. Alfonso el Sabio’s Castile:
Two types of Renaissance
2. The Apotheosis of Myth
3. Angelological Theories

4. Theories of Evil

5. The Emergence of the Zoharic Literatures

We are pleased to present the seminar «Various Forms of Kabbalah in Castile: 13th to 15th Century» taught by Prof. Moshe Idel (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) in September 3-12, 2019. Professor Idel is the world leading expert in the study of Jewish mysticism. The sessions (September 3, 5, 10, 11 and 12) dealt with:

– Alfonso Sabio’s Castile: Two Types of Renaissance

The second part of the thirteenth century constitutes the emergence and the flourishing of Kabbalah in Castile. It coincides with the Alfonsine Renaissance, and it seems very plausible that the two phenomena are related to each other, as in the two cases, Jewish persons have been involved either as translators or as importers of views and texts from the outside. The Alfonsine interest in the occult triggered visits of a variety of persons who were dealing with Jewish esoteric knowledge, coming, e.g., from Ashkenaz and Catalonia.

– The Apotheosis of Myth

Unlike the other forms of medieval Jewish esotericism, we witness in Castile a renaissance in Kabbalistic literatures of some earlier Jewish myths. From this point of view the Castilian Kabbalists differ from what is known in the Kabbalistic literature prior to the emergence of Castilian schools of Kabbalah, either in Provençal and in Catalan forms of Kabbalah, or from Abraham Abulafia’s prophetic Kabbalah. I shall discuss some of the possible sources of this mythical revival.

– Angelological Theories

Again, more than in other forms of Kabbalah, the Castilian ones are concerned with angelology, a topic that has earlier sources, but reaches one of its peaks in Castile of the thirteenth century and again in an important Kabbalistic corpus written in the late fifteenth century. Part of this revival has to do with various elaborations upon traditions related to the ancient myth of fallen angels and their relations with women.

– Theories of Evil

Another outstanding feature of various forms of Kabbalah in Castile, again different from other forms elsewhere in the first centuries of Kabbalah, is the concern with problems related to the emergence and role of evil powers. This is not just a problem of demonology, but it concerns questions which are more theological, namely theories explaining how evil appeared within a system of divine emanations –the ten sefirot– and how it is possible to encounter evil powers by Kabbalists.

– The Emergence of the Zoharic Literatures

Last but not least: questions related to the authorship and the emergence of the vast and variegated corpus of what is described as the Zoharic literature in Castile. This is mainly an Aramaic literature, different from the mostly Hebrew treatises written by most of the Kabbalists. I shall survey the various theories in older and more recent scholarship in the field, as to the nature and the engage the problems they address and the many quandaries that still remain for the scholarly approaches to this Kabbalistic literature.

Cartel Idel