"Sonship" and Its Relevance for Jewish and Non-Jewish Mystical Literatures

By Stefan-Sebastian, Maftei | Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

"Sonship" and Its Relevance for Jewish and Non-Jewish Mystical Literatures


Stefan-Sebastian, Maftei, Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies


Key Words:

Mysticism, Jewish Mysticism, Kabbalah, Sonship, Son of God, Son of Man

Moshe Idel's book is a comprehensive account of a religious topos, which is common to both Jewish and Christian religious teachings, namely the figure of the Son of God. Yet, the emphasis of Idel's book is on the idea of "sonship" as extant in Jewish religious thought, beginning with the earliest written accounts of Jewish religious life from the Hebrew Bible. This book is also a historical account of the occurrence of the term "Son" (Ben) in all the key stages of Jewish religious literature, beginning with the story of the creation of Man from the Hebrew text of the Book of Genesis and ending with the latest contemporary Hasidic commentaries, which pertain to the idea of the "Son of God." Alongside with the Jewish sources cited and analyzed here, this book entails an outstanding gathering of texts from Biblical literatures parallel to the Jewish traditions, such as Christian and Gnostic literatures. What is also contributing to the understanding of the term Ben at the various stages of its developments is the various non- Biblical literature, such as Hellenistic and Arab Neo-Platonic and Neo- Aristotelian theological and philosophical literatures, Hermeticism, Sufism, Pythagoreanism, and astrology. Special attention is given to the theological and philosophical treatises of the Renaissance.

The present approach is to closely follow the text by means of a stepby- step analysis of the key religious and philosophical ideas in this book. The paper will proceed by defining the subject and the method of analysis outlined in the Introduction and by commenting on the main topics brought forth by each of the seven chapters of the book.

The Introduction debates on the topic and the main sources of the book. The book begins with the distinction between the "theophanic" and the "apotheotic" vectors, a distinction which is used in other contexts of Idel's writings1. Idel founds his main view about religious experience on the idea of a continuous circulation between the "high" and the "low," the divine and the human. Religious experience, therefore, is bound to promise a continuous flow between these realms: "The continuous existence of an open circuit between the divine and the human worlds is part and parcel of most religious worldviews. With movement between these worlds achieved either by humans ascending to the divine realm or by the divine intervention in the earthly world below, the belief in such open channels is vital in sustaining an intense religious life" (p. 1).

This is the moment where the concept of sonship steps in, because the relation between the divine realm and the human realm may take the form of a relation concerning a divine Father, a divine or a higher Son, and the humans, who are considered the lower "sons." In this case, the emerging "sonship" entails not two, but actually three factors: God, the (hypostatic) Son of God and the humans, "the recipient(s) of the message or revelation." The hypostatic Son represents a "manifestation and a proclamation of the Father's will or being" and performs many functions: "creator of the world," "revealer of divine truth," "messenger of the divine," "door to the father" (Philonic horos), "path to the divine, in whose image the son has been created" (Christian), "seal or stamp of the divine," "redeemer sent by the divine Father" (p. 2). Generally, the concept of sonship is circumscribed by the "similarities that define the connections between the three factors" (p. 2).

Actually, Idel speaks here of a "double" sonship, between the Father and the Son and between the Son and the recipients (p. 2). The double sonship, however, stimulates not only the higher towards the lower, substituting the latter to the former, but also the lower towards the higher. Therefore, the double sonship envisages not only the "resemblance of the lower to the higher," but also of the higher to the lower, i. …

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