Mysticism, Magic, and Kabbalah in Judaism

Religion 313

Fall 2005

Prof. Mary Suydam

Office: Ascension 309

Office Hours T - Th. 10-12

PBX 5067

Required Books:

Blumenthal, David. Understanding Jewish Mysticism, vols. 1 and 2. NY: KATV Publishing.

Dan, J., and Keiner, P., trans. Early Kabbalah. NY: Paulist Press.

Holtz, Barry, ed. Back to the Sources. Boston: Beacon Press.

Martin, Luther. Hellenistic Religions. NY: Oxford University Press.

On Course Reserve and/or E-Res:

Idel, Moshe. Kabbalah: New Perspectives.

Jonas, Hans. The Gnostic Religion.

Scholem, Gershom. Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism

Link to Kenyon LBIS Home page and E-Res.

Course Requirements

All students will write 1-2 page papers each week to aid in preparing for discussions of the texts. Ongoing interpretation of mystical texts is an important part of this class. Active participation in discussions is a critical component of grappling with the texts. Missing more than two classes or two weekly papers will lower your final grade by one full point (B becomes C, for example). For study partners list, click here.

Midterm and final exam questions will be given in advance. The final exam will

be take-home and will be due on the day of the scheduled final exam. The final exam must be typed and double-spaced and will not exceed 5 pages.

Each student will select an aspect of the Jewish mystical tradition (e.g., the attitude towards Torah in the Zohar; female God-language, the Merkebah vision of God), explain it clearly, and relate it to the Jewish religious tradition: is there tension between the traditions, or does this aspect of Jewish mysticism evolve naturally from the rabbinic tradition? This is an opportunity for students to demonstrate their ability to understand, analyze, and write clearly about a facet of Jewish mysticism that interests them. Each student is expected to discuss his or her topic with the instructor no later than Friday, October 21. Papers will not exceed 7 pages and must be typed and double-spaced. The paper is due the last day of class. NO LATE PAPERS! For guidelines on papers, see The Ten Commandments of Essay Writing


Week 2: The Jewish World

Mon. Sept. 5: The early rabbinic period: The Mishnah

Wed. Sept. 7: Jewish Biblical interpretation: Midrash

Assignment 2

Fri. Sept. 9: Discussion: Mishnah and midrash

Assignment 3


Genesis 3

Midrash sampler

Mishnah sampler

Holtz, Back to the Sources, chapter 1

Week 3: Gnostic World Views

Valentinian Gnosis

Gnostic Glossary

Mon. Sept. 12: Judaism and Gnosticism

Wed. Sept. 14: Archons, divine sparks, and the pleroma

Fri. Sept. 16: Discussion: gnosticism

Assignment 4

-----Readings: Handout: The Hypostasis of the Archons

Week 4: Magic and the Roman World

Mon. Sept. 19: Divination

Wed. Sept. 21: Feminine powers

fri. Sept. 23: Discussion: Jewish magic

-----Readings: Martin, Hellenistic Religions, chapters 2 and 5

Holtz, chapter 2, pages 129-136

Swartz, Scholastic Magic (E-Res)

Driver, Transformation: The Magic of Ritual (E-Res)

Handout, The Sefer HaRazim

Assignment 5

Class Insights

Early Jewish Mysticism, 3rd to 9th centuries C.E.

Week 5: Merkavah Mysticism

Mon. Sept. 26: Thrones, chariots, and the vision of God

Ezekiel's Vision

Ezekiel Glossary

Wed. Sept. 28: Magic and revelation in merkevah texts

Fri. Sept. 30: Discussion of the Merkebah

Assignment 6

-----Readings: Blumenthal, Introduction to Jewish Mysticism, vol. 1, 47-91

-- Scholem, "Merkebah Mysticism and Jewish Gnosticism", pp. 40-63 (E-Res)

Class insights: the Merkebah

Week 6: The Shi'ur Qomah and the Sefer Yetsirah

Mon. Oct. 3: God's body: rabbinic and mysticalJudaism

Weds. Oct. 5:Creation and Speech

Fri. Oct. 7: Discussion: God's body, God's Speech

-----Readings: Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, 41-79 (E-Res)

Handout: excerpts from the Shi'ur Qomah

Blumenthal, Understanding Jewish Mysticism, vol. 1, 5-46

Hebrew Alphabet

Hebrew Numbers

Blumenthal: The Creator and the Computer

Aleph, Mem, Shin

Assignment 7

---------------------OCTOBER BREAK ----------------------------

Week 7: Talmudic Judaism

Wed. Oct. 12: The Talmudic Period:Judaism in the Christian and Islamic Worlds

Rabbinic Glossary

Timeline: Islamic History

Fri.. Oct. 14: Discussion: Talmud

-----Readings: Holtz, Back to the Sources, chapter 2

III Early Kabbalah

Week 8: Judaism in the Middle Ages

Mon. Oct. 17: Plotinus and Neoplatonism; Medieval Judaism


Wed. Oct. 19: Discussion: Medieval Bible Commentary

Derash and Peshat Examples

European Antisemitism in the Middle Ages

Fri. Oct. 21: The Bahir
-----Readings: Holtz, Back to the Sources, chapters 3 and 4

Assignment 8

Week 9: The development of Kabbalah, 1100-1300

Paper Topics Signup

Mon. Oct. 24: Isaac the Blind and the Gerona mystics

The Ten Sefirot

Wed. Oct. 26: Isaac the Blind and the Gerona mystics continued

Fri. Oct. 28: Discussion, early Kabbalah

-----Readings: Early Kabbalah, 28-31, 57-69 (the Bahir), 31-36, 73-86, 89-96, 97-99, 111-132, 153-182

Assignment 9


IV Kabbalah

Week 10: The Zohar

Mon. Oct. 31: Moses de Leon

Wed. Nov. 2: The cosmic system

Fri. Nov. 4: Discussion: Ein-Sof and Sefirot; the Jewish concept of God

Assignment 10

-----Readings: Blumenthal, Understanding Jewish Mysticism, vol. 1, 103-119, 121-125, 126-139

Holtz, Back to the Sources,305-329

Week 11: God, humans and actions according to the Zohar

Mon. Nov. 7: The Zohar and evil

Wed. Nov. 9: The human dimension

Fri. Nov. 11: Discussion: the Zohar and humanity

Assignment 11

-----Readings: Blumenthal, Understanding Jewish Mysticism, vol. 1, 141-157

Holtz, Back to the Sources, chapter 6, 329-340

Symbolism for Tiferet and Malkhut

Week 12: Ecstatic Kabbalah: Through a Mirror that Shines

Mon. Nov. 14: Maimonides and Jewish Mysticism

Reading: Blumenthal, Understanding Jewish Mysticism, vol.2, 3-35

Assignment 12

Maimonidean Philosophical Terms

Wed. Nov. 16: Abraham Abulafia: Mystical Techniques

Blumenthal, Understanding Jewish Mysticism, vol.2, 37-53

Abulafian Glossary

Fri. Nov. 18: Discussion: Jewish mystical techniques

-----Readings: 37-81

Moshe Idel, Kabbalah: New Perspectives, chapter 5 (E-Res)

Mandala Examples

Gallery of Pictorial Kabballah symbols
Blumenthal, Understanding Jewish Mysticism, vol.2, 54-79

Paper Topics Due

-----------------THANKSGIVING BREAK --------------

Week 13: Jewish gnosticism revisited: Isaac Luria (16th century)

The Expulsion from Spain:
A Chronicle

Mon. Nov. 28: Isaac Luria' s interpretation of the Zohar

Wed. Nov. 30: Repairing the breech: Kavannah

Fri. Dec. 2: Discussion: Lurianic Kabbalah

-----Readings: Blumenthal, Understanding Jewish Mysticism, vol.1, 159-176
Assignment 13

Week 14: Hasidism and Kabbalah

Mon. Dec. 5: The origins of Hasidism

Wed. Dec. 7: The way of Devekut

-----Readings: Blumenthal, Understanding Jewish Mysticism, vol.2, 127-147

The Nigun

Nigun Samples

Fri. Dec. 9, 12: Discussion: Hasidic Prayer

Tale of the Seven Beggars

Assignment 14

Papers due last day of class