Keter: The Crown of God in Early Jewish Mysticism

Arthur Green
Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 242
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Keteris a close reading of fifty relatively brief Jewish texts, tracing the motif of divine coronation from Jewish esoteric writings of late antiquity to the Zohar, written in thirteenth-century Spain. In the course of this investigation Arthur Green draws a wide arc including Talmudic, Midrashic, liturgical, Merkavah, German Hasidic, and Kabbalistic works, showing through this single theme the spectrum of devotional, mystical, and magical views held by various circles of Jews over the course of a millennium or more. The first portion of the work deals with late antiquity, emphasizing the close relationship between texts of what is often depicted as "normative" Judaism and their mystical/magical analogues. The mythic imagination of ancient Judaism, he suggests, is shared across this spectrum. The latter portion of the work turns to the medieval Jews who inherited this ancient tradition and its evolution into Kabbalah, whereketerplays a key role as the first of the ten divine emanations orsefirot.

    The nature of thesesefirotas symbols and the emergence of a structured and hierarchical symbolism out of the mythic imagery of the past are key themes in these later chapters. As a whole,Ketertakes the reader on an exciting tour of the interior landscapes of the Jewish imagination, offering some remarkable insights into the nature of mystical and symbolic thinking in the Jewish tradition.

    Originally published in 1997.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6460-7
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Ancient Israel: Crowns Above and Below
    (pp. 3-11)

    מלכותא דאדצא כצין מלכזחא דידקיעא say the rabbis (b.Berakhot58a); “Earthly kingdoms are like the kingdom of heaven.” The modern scholar of religion would certainly prefer to say it the other way around: “The kingdom of heaven is depicted in the image of the earthly kingdom.” Religious societies of the most varied sorts, existing at great temporal and geographical distance from one another, portray the realms of their deities or sacred beings awash with trappings familiar from the domain of this-worldly kingship. Various forms of correspondence between the cosmic or primal kingship of the gods and that of the...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Coronation and Qedushah
    (pp. 12-19)

    But it is not only on the New Year that divine kingship plays a major role in Jewish worship. The proclamation of God as ruler takes place repeatedly in every daily service. The Talmud in fact insists that each blessing, even if only of a single line, must include reference to the divine name and to God’s kingdom, constituting these as some sort of minimal base for a formal act of worship.¹ Each of the three daily services ends with the verse from Zechariah 14:9 that includes this same pair, but in an eschatological setting: “yhwh shall be king over...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Heavenly Coronation: Primary Texts
    (pp. 20-32)

    To understand how this rite is seen by the ancient sources and its place within the mythic structure of early Judaism, we turn to a number of sources.¹ Some of these are from the widely known and accepted Talmudic and midrashic collections of aggadah; others are from more obscure works including lesser known midrashim as well as merkavah sources. Dating of any of these materials, or particular reports contained within them, is extremely difficult, and we will not concentrate here on trying to establish dates for particular formulations of what is a rather fluid series of mythic images. Nor shall...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR God’s Crown and Israel’s Prayer
    (pp. 33-41)

    We return now to the more “properly” Jewish sources. From all of the texts thus far quoted, it would seem that the coronation of God is an adjuration rite performed by the heavenly hosts alone. The crown woven by Sandalphon is adjured with the power of heavenly names, rises to seat itself on the divine head, and is received by God who sets it in its place. But such a view is entirely incomplete and indeed distorting. We have already seen that the rite is connected to the human, and specifically Jewish, community of worshipers. Israel’sqedushahprayer is, at...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Name on the Crown
    (pp. 42-48)

    But coronation by means of the spoken word becomes caught up with another aspect of the description of God’s crown in this literature. A great many sources speak of a name of God or another phrase “engraved” or “inscribed” on the crown. Sometimes it seems that the crown itself is altogether made up of words.¹ This association goes back to a very early linking of “name” and “crown,” one possibly evidenced as early as the Mishnah. InAvot1:13 Hillel is quoted as saying, “He who uses the crown will pass away,” the meaning of which seems somewhat obscure.Avot...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Crowns, Tefillin, and Magic Seals
    (pp. 49-57)

    At least two other traditions exist as to the inscription on God’s holy crown. One says that it is the letters of the Hebrew alphabet that adorn the crown.¹ This view calls to mind the opening ofSefer Yeṣirah, a work that sees the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet and the ten primal numbers as the essential building blocks of the cosmos. The alphabet retains great theurgic power even after Creation, and knowledge of its secrets can give that power to humans.² One is reminded immediately of the aggadah about Bezalel, architect of the tabernacle, who was said to...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN The Angels Crowned
    (pp. 58-68)

    Crowns play a major role throughout the rich imagery of the merkavah sources and the related aggadot. Having explored the key motif of the coronation of God, we should now place this most sublime crown into the context of some broader uses of the theme. We shall first turn our attention to other crowns, in addition to the crown of God, envisioned in the heavens by merkavah voyagers. By far the richest source for these descriptions isSefer Hekhalotor3 Enoch. Its author(s) allowed freer rein to the imagination than did others, and it often offers significantly more expansive...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Israel Crowned at Sinai
    (pp. 69-77)

    Having surveyed something of the widespread use of crowns and the coronation motif throughout the upper worlds, including the crowns of humans who are seen there, we are ready to return to this world and to encounter the sacred coronation of certain humans who are still more or less resident in the earthly realm. We can begin our reentry into this world nowhere else but at Sinai, where we arrive to celebrate Israel’s coronation by the angels. We begin with the best-known text witness to this event, recorded in the Babylonian Talmud.

    Text #22

    “The Israelites stripped themselves of their...

  13. CHAPTER NINE Coronation and Marriage
    (pp. 78-87)

    But there is another aspect to the mutual coronation of God and Israel that we have not yet treated, and this too relates specifically to Sinai. “Go forth, O maidens of Zion,” says the author of the Song of Songs, “and gaze upon King Solomon, wearing the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his marriage, the day of his heart’s delight” (3:11). “The day of his marriage,” says the Talmud¹ refers to “the giving of the Torah.” Sinai is frequently depicted in the rabbinic imagination as the day of God’s marriage to Israel, a tradition...

  14. CHAPTER TEN Medieval Reconsiderations
    (pp. 88-105)

    The body of material with which we have dealt until this point may be said to originate roughly in the Judaism of the first millennium of the common era. I have made relatively few attempts to date particular traditions, mostly out of a belief that such specific dating of ideas or literary images is rarely possible, considerably more difficult than the already daunting task of dating the texts in which they appear. Believing that the culture of Jews in this era was a highly conservative one, and that later generations saw themselves mostly as transmitters rather than creators of sacred...

  15. CHAPTER ELEVEN The Hymn of Glory
    (pp. 106-120)

    Consideration raised by the discussion of these several texts have now prepared us for a reading of the best-known document in all the literature ofḤasidey Ashkenaz. I refer to that poetic masterpiece known as Shir ha-Kavod (The Song of the Glory), written by an anonymous Hasidic author probably in the thirteenth century and popularly attributed to Judah he-Ḥasid.¹ This song is still sung in the Sabbath liturgy of the traditional Ashkenazic synagogue.²

    The author of this boldly anthropomorphic hymn, shocking in its highly pictorial depictions of a radiant, youthful, masculine God-figure is deeply engaged, perhaps even infatuated, with images...

  16. CHAPTER TWELVE The Way to Kabbalah
    (pp. 121-133)

    No single issue in the history of Jewish mysticism has more fascinated and preoccupied scholars than the origins of Kabbalah, and the relationship of this seemingly new and highly original type of thinking to older strands of Jewish and other esoteric tradition. Gershom Scholem wrote the early history of Kabbalah at least three times in the course of his career.¹ In recent years a host of other scholars have made important contributions to our still somewhat dim understanding of this critical transition period in the history of Judaism.²

    It is now widely agreed that the most important part of this...

  17. CHAPTER THIRTEEN Sefer ha-Bahir
    (pp. 134-150)

    Sefer ha-Bahir, one of the strangest documents in the history of Jewish literature,¹ is a book that begins in the midst of nowhere and seems to wend its way through a path of highly disjointed midrashic fragments,² also to nowhere in particular. In the course of its meanderings, however, it gives voice to a dazzling array of myths and symbols; it specializes in a unique and remarkably arcane form of dialogic rhetoric.

    Gershom Scholem’s several treatments of Kabbalistic origins, to which we have referred above, point to various parallels between theBahirand esoteric works composed byḤasidey Ashkenazand...

  18. CHAPTER FOURTEEN The Early Kabbalah
    (pp. 151-166)

    Sefer ha-Bahirstands at an important transition point in the history of the coronation motif in Judaism. It may be considered both a beginning and an end. The document that marks the birth of what can be clearly designated as Kabbalah, itself a font for much of the later symbolic development, is also the end of the free flow of crown symbolism. The Bahiric symbols are joined to the developing traditions of Provençal and early Catalonian Kabbalah, and in these the crown ceases to function as an independent symbolic entity. As I have already indicated,keter ʿelyonbecomes fixed as...

  19. APPENDIX Original Texts of Principal Primary Source Citations
    (pp. 167-190)
  20. Bibliography
    (pp. 191-206)
  21. Selective Index of Texts
    (pp. 207-220)
  22. General Index
    (pp. 221-226)