Those familiar with the Kabbalah will no doubt be familiar with the ten sephirot of the Tree of Life. But have you ever wondered where the rabbis who penned the Kabbalah got the names of the sephirot from?
Well, having searched the scriptures and later tradition I believe the two key verses that inspired them were Proverbs 3:19-20 and 1 Chronicles 29:11.
The names of the first few sephirot are mentioned together in a number of verses including Exodus 31:3 and Proverbs 2:6 but I believe the verse to really pay attention to is Proverbs 3:19-20, which says this:
By wisdom [chokmah] the Lord [YHWH] laid the earth’s foundations [yesod], by understanding [binah] he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge [da’at] the watery depths were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew.
We find reference to the seven other sephirot in 1 Chronicles 29:11, though not all of them are mentioned explicitly. The context is a prayer of David, often recited by Jewish in morning prayer, which reads,
Yours, Lord [YHWH], is the greatness and the power [geburah] and the glory [tipharah] and the majesty [netsach] and the splendor [hod], for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom [mamlakah/malkuth]; you are exalted as head over all.
It’s even more obvious in the original Hebrew.
The most obvious omission to all of this is what in later kabbalistic systems is the first siphirot, the crown [keter]. The only biblical references I’ve found for that word however are in Esther, which don’t seem as suggestive in that context. It makes me wonder, consequently, if that innovation is less directly tied to kabbalistic exegesis (or should I say eisegesis)?
Many readers of the Bible have noted that the Hebrew word for God, Elohim, is plural given the -im ending and wondered how that squares with strict monotheism. Some, usually with a Christian agenda, have anachronistically read Trinitarianism into it. Some, usually with an counter-Christian agenda, have provocatively read polytheism into it. I would like to suggest both are mistaken.
Elohim is a plural word, but it functions as a plural or a singular word depending on the context. This is not as strange as it sounds. Consider the words: sheep, fish, squid, scissors and aircraft. They’re all words for which the plural and singular forms are the same.
Now let’s read Genesis 1:26-28, the source of this controversy, with this in mind.
Then Elohim said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness … So Elohim created humankind in his image, in the image of Elohim he created them; male and female he created them.
I would suggest that what we have here is a single person, God, addressing a group, the heavenly hosts or divine assembly, what these days we call angels. Then having made the announcement God goes ahead and acts – unilaterally. The others watch, just as they did when God laid the foundations of the earth (Job 38:4-7). Maybe that’s why Daniel calls them Watchers (Daniel 4:13,17).
I have been brushing up on Hebrew this summer and in the process I uncovered some interesting correspondences between the messianic prophecies of Isaiah 11:2 and the divine emanations of the Kabbalistic tree of life. In essence, the prophet foretold that the Spirit of Chokmah, Binah, Da’at and Gevurah would be found in the Messiah.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom (chokmah) and of understanding (binah),
the Spirit of counsel and of might (gevurah),
the Spirit of the knowledge (da’at) and fear of the Lord
Verify it for yourself by clicking through to the Strong’s Concordance numbers.
Nor do the correspondances end there. In the New Testament apostle Paul prays that, through the Messiah, these attributes may be unleashed in ourselves: “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives” (Colossians 1:9)
Some unexpected questions about the Hebew language came up for me today.
While researching Hebrew letter symbolism I came across a reference on Wikipedia which suggested that “In the traditional form, vowels are indicated [in the Hebrew language] by the weak consonants Aleph (א), He (ה), Vav (ו), or Yodh (י) serving as vowel letters … the letter is combined with a previous vowel and becomes silent, or by imitation of such cases in the spelling of other forms.”
Hang on a minute! I immediately recognized that three of those four “weak consonants” are the very same letters which make up the Hebrew name for God, YHWH (יהֹוה). Everything I have read before suggested there were no vowels in YHWH, yet here I read the name is nothing but pseudo vowels.
Being wary of ever taking Wikipedia at face value, I immediately sought external confirmation. Sure enough, I saw the same Hebrew letters being identified as vowel-consonant or semivowels or matres lectionis (mothers of reading) by other sources, including the ancient historian Josephus (Jewish Wars, Chapter 5). I will definitely have to research this further.
Those of you interested in the Kabbalah may find it interesting to read A Forward to Kabbalah Study for Christians, an article on Kabbalah written from a Hebrew Christian perspective. While ultimately concluding that, no, Jesus was not a Kabbalist in the modern sense of the word, the writer nevertheless commends the study of Kabbalah for anyone wanting to understand contemporary Jewish Spirituality. For those wanting more see Kabbalah and Mysticism: A Brief Overview For Christians.
If any of you would be interested in an engagement with the Hermetic Qabalah from a critical but sympathetic Christian perspective I would recommend “The Christ, Psychotherapy and Magic” by Anthony Duncan as a fine place to start. Here are a few comments that struck me while reading the book:
Light and fire feature very prominently in the imagery of the Merkabah mystics
[The Qabalists believed] the world [was] created through the language of god: Hebrew
Evelyn Underhill has expressed the difference aptly by stating that ‘magic wants to get, mysticism wants to give’.
The mystic seeks God. The magician seeks the things of God. The magician uses his intellect, the mystic uses his heart.
Mysticism seeks only ‘to be’. Magic seeks ‘to know’.
Our Lord will not fit into the Tree of Life; it must fit into him!
It is, alas, only too manifestly true that the faith and devotion of much of the Western Church has seemed to stop short at the crucifixion.
The Qabalist cannot really grasp the understanding that the Christ has transcended and fulfilled every symbol that the tree contains.
Recognizing the Qabalah for what it is, a pattern of symbols and archetypes, a guide to the structure of both the macrocosmic collective unconscious and the microcosmic individual unconscious, the Christian can probably make considerable use of it. In the detachment which is possible to him because he is in the Christ and a partaker of his Life, he is able to accept the monism of the Qabalah because he is not committed to it as theology. It is merely an understanding of the relationship between the one and the whole within the created order.
Doubts and questionings must always precede a newer, deeper understanding; the believer who has never doubted has never really believed; the ‘dark nights’ have a wider application than mere individual spirituality.
Prayer is an exercise of will; the self-surrender of the will to God in love.
Christian prayer is a dialogue of wills. The time of prayer is a time of giving the undivided attention of the will to God.
It is the opinion of the writer that nothing is likely to be more daunting to the occultist who seeks to become a Christian and to follow the Christian way of prayer than the utter lack of ‘experience’, the total absence of ‘results’ that is exceedingly likely to attend his attempts to pray.
The realm of the demonic is the collective unconscious.
Just a random thought that came to me while studying the Qabalah. In the Apocalypse of John, there are three visionary scenes where Christ reveals, “I am the Alpha and the Omega” (Rev 1:8, 21:6, and 22:13). Which as many would know, is equivalent to saying, “I am the A and the Z.”
But hang on, aren’t we forgetting something here? In the Hebrew language (and remember, Christianity came out of Judaism) this would have been equivalent to saying, “I am the Alef and the Tav.” Which also happen to be the first and last paths on the Qabalistic Tree of Life. Which you can see well enough for yourself if you click on this Qabalistic diagram to the left.
This is to be expected, as Qabalah began as meditations on the letters and numbers of the Hebrew language. This language being considered sacred, the very word of God, by Hebrew mystics.
So it may be said that the Apocalypse of John reveals that the Tree of Life is Jesus, the way to God from beginning to end.
Unicorns are a popular creature of mythology but did you know some people interpret them into the Bible? I recently came across a reference to unicorns which stated:
The word “unicorn” is based on the Hebrew word re’em (“horned animal”), in early versions of the Old Testament translated as “monokeros”, meaning “one horn”, which became “unicorn” in English.
I couldn’t let this one pass by, particularly since:
(1) the Old Testament was written in Hebrew not Greek, so the Greek transliteration monokeros is hardly authoritative,
(2) I have never come across a reference to unicorns myself in any of my translations of the Bible so this was news to me,
(3) but also since I find the mythological links between Christ and unicorns quite intruiging and am always open to learning more about mythology.
Anyway, with a bit of searching I came across a article on Unicorns, Satyrs and the Bible by Apologetics Press where it asserts unicorns do make an ‘appearance’ in the Bible, but only in the King James Version (KJV) where His Highness failed to go back to the original Hebrew and botched up the translation. Not the first time for the KJV translators made a mistake now is it! Anyway if you ever have a rainy day and feel like scanning the KJV Bible, try looking up Numbers 23:22; 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 39:9,10; Psalms 22:21; 29:6; 92:10; Isaiah 34:7 for a chuckle. Don’t bother with more contemporary translations that go back to the Hebrew as you’ll never find unicorns there.
The irony of all this fussing about the appearance or not of unicorns in the Bible is that real unicorns do exist, or at least in a fashion. I recently learned from Margot Alder’s book “Drawing Down the Moon” that a technique for ‘creating’ unicorns was recovered by a Dr W. Franklin Dove and commercialised by Neo-Pagan pioneers Morning Glory and Oberon Zell, the founder of the Church of all Worlds. You can find a synopsis of the process at Book of the Unicorn.
How do I approach this though? Well I don’t read unicorns into the bible myself, that’s for sure. But I think the unicorn myths themselves hint at Jesus, for the blood of the unicorn gives eternal life.