I have tried to find some info about kabbalah on your site and didn’t find any. If I understand correctly, Kabbalah is an invention of the Middle Ages from Jewish people who were involved in the occult.  I even saw something about a kabbalistic upside down Christmas tree which troubled me. I have interacted with some followers of this teaching. I told them that it is a later invention–much later then rabbinic Judaism. His answer was to send a link to an old Jewish encyclopedia about Jewish Gnosis. He wanted to say that this ancient Jewish Gnosis is Kabbalah. This seemed highly contrived  to me as it seems inconceivable that some teaching existed in ancient times, then disappeared for more then 1000 years and suddenly appeared again. I would ask you do you know anything about Kabbalah, Jewish Gnosis etc?


As for the Kabbalah, this is an interesting topic.  Kabbalah is a mystical/esoteric form of belief that rose out of Judaism.  The term Kabbalah can be pretty hard to establish.  Exactly what is it?  For the sake of simplicity, let me give Kabbalah the following definition.  Kabbalah is the system of mysticism and esoteric belief which had its heyday during the high Middle Ages in Europe among Jews in Western Europe.  Strains of mysticism have developed in all major world religions.  Islam has its Sufis.  Judaism has Kabbalah.  Obviously, Buddhism and Hinduism have many forms of mysticism.  Christianity does as well. Christian mysticism was especially influential in the Middle Ages in Western Europe.  Important figures in this movement are St. John of the Cross and Theresa of Avila.  The Jesuits were highly influenced by mysticism. The important figures in this movement were French or Spanish.  It is no coincidence that the most important center of Jewish mysticism in the Middle Ages–of Kabbalah–were French and Spanish.

You ask if early Jewish esoteric mysticism is Kabbalah.  This is a question more of definition than history.  Like I said already, all world religions have strains of mysticism and esoteric belief. This is as true in Judaism as it is in Christianity or Hinduism.  Of course, there were earlier forms of esoteric Judaism, especially in the Roman period, but to say that this is Kabbalah is to push the definition.  It is more accurate to say that Kabbalah is a particular form of Jewish mysticism which appeared in the Middle Ages and has been influential and broken out at various times and places since.

So, with this limited definition, what is Kabbalah?  For that matter what is mysticism?  Mysticism is a form of religion which is highly individually focused which emphasizes a personal inner religious experience.  It focuses on methods to achieve an ecstatic religious experience through specific practices such as meditation, mantras, rituals.  It typically involves special “hidden” forms of knowledge.  For this reason, mysticism and Gnosticism tend to be intimately associated, especially in Christian and Jewish forms of mysticism.  Kabbalah is the specific form of esoteric mysticism that emerged in France and Spain in the 12th through 14th centuries.  The Kabbalist believes that there are three or perhaps four levels of meaning in the Hebrew text.  The levels of meaning are (from the wikipedia article on Kabbalah)

  • Peshat (Hebrew: פשט‎ lit. “simple”): the direct interpretations of meaning.[15]
  • Remez (Hebrew: רֶמֶז‎ lit. “hint[s]”): the allegoric meanings (through allusion).
  • Derash (Hebrew: דְרָשׁ‎ from Heb. darash: “inquire” or “seek”): midrashic (rabbinic) meanings, often with imaginative comparisons with similar words or verses.
  • Sod (Hebrew: סוֹד‎ lit. “secret” or “mystery”): the inner, esoteric (metaphysical) meanings, expressed in kabbalah.
It is this fourth level that is gained through esoteric practices.  If you look into kabbalistic sources you may find yourself thinking that you are reading something from Hindu yogis.  This is not an accident. Mysticism in all religions have elements in common.  Kabbalistic writings will be extremely philosophical and you will find their interpretations to have almost no connection to the literal meaning of the text.  This is the nature of Jewish mysticism.
I am not sure how relevant Kabbalah is to Christianity.  More relevant are Christian forms of mysticism.  You may want to do some research into the teaching of John of the Cross or Therese of Avila.  You might even find some of their suggestions for how to achieve a stronger sense of the presence of God to be helpful to your own Christian experience, but I suggest you continue to keep the Bible as the principle source of Christian truth.
John Oakes

Comments are closed.