Wednesday, 5 January 2011

The Zohar

There's been some recent talk recently on the blogosphere about how old the Zohar is. Jewish mysticism and the Zohar in particular happen to be personal interests of mine so i thought I'd add some thoughts.

Before one even looks at Isaiah Tishby's impressive array of arguments against Tannaitic authorship of the Zohar (Introduction to Mishnat HaZohar) one has to ask a more basic question. Which is why did a book which was purportedly written in the 2nd century not get quoted directly or even mentioned until the late 13th century?

Unless there was an incredible consensus, on the level of a conspiracy, to keep a well known work out of any written work for hundreds of years, then its fairly safe to assume that no one or almost no one knew about the Zohar until the days of Moshe De Leon.

Which would make sense if it weren't written until his days. 

But no fear. There are various stories about how Moshe De Leon obtained the heretofore forgotten book. And it's even accepted among various mekubalim that the Zohar was "revealed" after a period of being "lost". I forget who said it but it was something to the extent of "How fortunate I am to be born in a generation when the Zohar was revealed"

This is all well and good but one should generally not trust mysterious texts found in caves and delivered by ship to Spain. How did Moshe De Leon know that the text he "revealed" was written by Rashbi? How did anyone know that it was written by Rashbi? Mesora? But we've already pointed out that there was clearly a long period of time when the book was generally not known as attested to by its absence in hundreds of Rabbinic texts over a time span of almost a thousand years. (Again I mean direct quotations, books have been written trying to find "Zoharic" concepts in earlier Rabbinic literature)

Is it possible that the ideas of the Zohar were always around from the times of Rashbi and that it was merely put in writing in the 13th century? Is it possible that a chain of secret mekubalim handed down the Zohar secretly over thousands of years only "revealing" it in the 13th century?

Anything is possible. But I find it quite unlikely.

Perhaps more discussion to follow.....


Undercover Kofer said...

The Zohar was of course orally transmitted until De Leon wrote it down. All 1700 pages of it! ;)

Emden said...

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