Messianic Mystics

Messianic Mystics

Copyright Date: 1998
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 464
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  • Book Info
    Messianic Mystics
    Book Description:

    In this stimulating book, one of the world's leading scholars of Jewish thought examines the long tradition of Jewish messianism and mystical experience. Moshe Idel calls upon his profound knowledge of ancient and medieval texts and of Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and Eastern sources to uncover new perspectives on the nature and development of Jewish messianism. He shows that, contrary to Gershom Scholem's view that mysticism and messianism are incompatible religious tendencies, they are in fact closely related spiritual phenomena. Messianism regularly emerges from mystical experiences, Idel contends.Exploring the interplay of Jewish messianism and mysticism from the twelfth through the eighteenth centuries, the book looks closely at pivotal figures and movements, including Abraham Abulafia, Sabbatai Sevi, and hasidism. Idel discerns three types of messianism-theosophical-theurgical, ecstatic, and talismanic-and through these demonstrates that Kabbalah, from the very beginning, was messianically oriented. He counters the common belief that messianism typically arises as a response to such calamities as the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 and shows that messiahs often gain great popularity in times of political tranquility. Idel also finds that Jewish messianic and mystical experience bears a much greater resemblance to Christian messianism than has been recognized before.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14553-3
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Introduction The Sources of Messianic Consciousness
    (pp. 1-37)

    Messianism may be approached from various vantage points. The sociological approach emphasizes the expressions of messianism that appear in the various strata of the population, particularly the masses,¹ while the psychological approach is ideal for analyzing the messianic consciousness of the masses and the extraordinary personality of a Messiah. Messianism may also be studied as part of a complex of religious concepts, with the aim of integrating them into a certain theology or placing them within the framework of the history of ideas. Yet it is also possible to investigate the relationship between messianic awareness and an individual’s private mystical...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Pre-Kabbalistic Jewish Forms of Messianism
    (pp. 38-57)

    The treatment of messianic concepts and figures in Kabbalah and Hasidism conspicuously depends on earlier concepts of messianism, which evolved from the biblical, rabbinic, and Jewish philosophical literatures. Therefore, a brief survey of those concepts of messianism that inspired and nourished some Jewish mystical medieval and premodern developments is in order.¹

    Three models of messianic phenomena may be distinguished in the biblical literature:² (1) the Messiah as a person who maintains order—a king, priest, or (rarely) prophet—and who functions in the present; (2) the Messiah as an eschatological figure who will come in the future and typically is...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Abraham Abulafia: Ecstatic Kabbalah and Spiritual Messianism
    (pp. 58-100)

    The most prominent example of a profound synthesis of Kabbalah and messianism is embodied in the writings, experience, and life of Abraham Abulafia. Abulafia was the first Kabbalist to have seen himself explicitly, and apparendy also publicly, as a Messiah. He is also the first Kabbalist whose messianic calling arose in exactly the same year as he commenced his Kabbalistic studies. He combined the mystical path in the forms ofvia perfectioniswith a strong quest for apotheotic experiences, and regarded both apotheosis and theophany as having strong eschatological and messianic valences.

    Abraham ben Shmuel Abulafia was born in Saragossa,...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Concepts of Messiah in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries: Theosophical Forms of Kabbalah
    (pp. 101-125)

    The main stream of the classical Kabbalah, the theosophical-theurgical trend, did not arise after any historical crisis in Jewish life. It is not characterized, at least not at its inception, by a distinct interest in messianism. This form of Kabbalah started its historical career in a period of spiritual renascence in the intellectual environments of the Kabbalists. Indeed, Kabbalah in general, including the ecstatic Kabbalah, dealt with in the previous chapter, should be seen as part of the intellectual revival of Western Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries which affected Christians and Jews alike.¹ In both the Provencal and...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Messianism and Kabbalah, 1470–1540
    (pp. 126-153)

    Two models of Kabbalistic messianism had crystallized during the thirteenth century: the theosophical-theurgical and the ecstatic. A third model, the talismanic one, was not yet so articulated, appearing in only one discussion in R. Moses de Leon’sSheqel ha-Qodesh.The fourteenth century did not contribute much toward a new vision of messianism. Except for some calculations regarding the date of the eschaton that appear inTiqqunei ZoharKabbalistic literature in this period is relatively scanty on the subject of messianism.¹ The Black Plague, which ravaged the Christian and Jewish populations of Europe in the middle of the fourteenth century, left...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE From Italy to Safed and Back, 1540–1640
    (pp. 154-182)

    The sixteenth century witnessed a surge of interest in both mysticism and messianism in European culture. Michel de Certeau has proposed to see this century as the invasion of the mystics, an assessment that is appropriate not only for the Christian spirituality de Certeau addresses but also for Jewish spirituality.¹ The intense creativity of Christian mysticism, so evident at mid-century, invites a comparison to contemporaneous phenomena in Judaism. This comparison may offer another angle for inspecting some aspects of the efflorescence of Kabbalistic creativity in the last two thirds of the sixteenth century; in lieu of the “traumatic” explanation it...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Sabbateanism and Mysticism
    (pp. 183-211)

    None of the mystical figures mentioned in previous chapters has created a significant messianic movement. Interesting as the phenomenology of their mystico-messianic experiences may be, the popular acceptance of their messianic ideas and claims was limited. We will concentrate now on the most important messianic phenomenon in premodern Judaism, both in terms of the role Jewish mysticism played in Jewish history and in terms of the resurgence of Jewish popular eschatology: the Sabbatean movement.¹ I would like to highlight issues that have remained at the periphery of the available scholarly treatments of Sabbateanism. The brief exposition of this major phenomenon...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Hasidism: Mystical Messianism and Mystical Redemption
    (pp. 212-247)

    Eighteenth-century Hasidism combined extreme spiritual mystical elements with conspicuously messianic concepts and terminology, which were given to interpretations that moderated their apocalyptic aspects. Since Hasidism produced a huge literary output consisting of many hundreds of treatises written over a long period of time, it naturally displays a great variety of messianic views. Therefore I shall not attempt here to offer a unified view of messianism in Hasidism, nor a comprehensive survey of the various positions on this issue. Nonetheless, it is the most influential form of Jewish mysticism, a phenomenon whose messianic components have been widely disputed in modern research....

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Concluding Remarks
    (pp. 248-294)

    One of the main purposes of this book has been to underline the importance of mystical models that inspired some forms of Jewish messianism and their place within the development of both Kabbalah and Hasidism. Only by presenting a more balanced view of the different and sometimes diverging manifestations of messianism, in their originality and their affinities with the antecedent phenomena, can a more accurate picture of the various Jewish messianic types of thought be attained.

    Several models have informed Kabbalistic discussions on messianism. The Kabbalistic models I have discussed are stable enough to adopt messianic motifs from various Jewish...

  13. APPENDIX ONE Ego, Ergo Sum Messiah: On Abraham Abulafia’s Sefer ha-Yashar
    (pp. 295-307)
  14. APPENDIX TWO Tiqqun Ḥatzot: A Ritual between Myth, Messianism, and Mysticism
    (pp. 308-320)
  15. APPENDIX THREE Some Modern Reverberations of Jewish Messianism
    (pp. 321-326)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 327-428)
  17. References
    (pp. 429-442)
  18. Index
    (pp. 443-451)