Jewish Mysticism and Kabbalah: New Insights and Scholarship

Jewish Mysticism and Kabbalah: New Insights and Scholarship

Jewish Mysticism and Kabbalah: New Insights and Scholarship

Jewish Mysticism and Kabbalah: New Insights and Scholarship

Excerpt

Why would someone who does not identify as a Jewish mystic want to study Jewish mystical texts? All modern academics who have chosen to examine texts and ideas from the Jewish mystical tradition have had to address this question in one way or another. As we shall see, a wide range of answers to this question can be inferred from the history of scholarship, but a general feature that academic studies of Jewish mysticism share is the assumption that a detailed examination of Jewish mystical texts and discourse, as it has taken shape in different locations over the course of history, has something important to contribute to our understanding of humanity.

The studies in this volume represent the current state of research in the various subfields of the study of Jewish mysticism. In order to better appreciate their contributions, it is important to understand both the history of Jewish mystical literature and the history of academic scholarship about Jewish mystical texts. To that end, we provide a sketch of the history of Jewish mysticism followed by an overview of the main concerns and ideas that gave rise to the academic study of Jewish mysticism as it exists today.

A Brief History of Jewish Mysticism

Biblical Precursors

The Hebrew Bible is a primary source of reflection and inspiration for virtually all branches of Jewish mysticism. Although we must be careful not to conflate the religion of the ancient Israelites with later periods of Jewish history, it remains clear that there are certain elements of continuity. One of the most important ideas of biblical religion that impacted Jewish mysticism is the phenomenon of prophecy and revelatory experience. The texts relating the revelations to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, the people of Israel as a whole at Sinai, and the prophetic inspirations and visions of Ezekiel, Dan-

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