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Refashions The Torah's Narrative Into A Confessional Book

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The Zohar refashions the Torah’s narrative into a mystical novel. On one level, the biblical heroes are the protagonist, and the rabbis interpret their words, their personalities, and their encounters with holy or demonic forces. The commentary is often far removed from the literal meaning of the biblical text. The words of Torah are a starting point, a springboard for the imagination. At times the commentators become the main characters, and we read about dramatic study sessions with Rabbi Shim’on or about the rabbis’ adventures on the road. Moses’ remained in Guadalajara until at least 1291, and from there he began circulating the Zohar. He did not distribute entire copies of the book, just portions. This is indicated in the diary of Isaac…show more content…
This is the Sef ha-Zohar written mainly between 1280 and 1286 by Moses b. Shem Tov de Leon in Guadalajara, a small town northeast of Madrid. In this city there also lived two kabbalist brothers, Isaac and Meir b. Solomon ibn Sahula, and it is in Isaac’s books that the first quotations are found from the earliest stratum of the Zohar, dating from 1281. Many kabbalists were active at this time in the small communities around Toledo, and there is evidence of mystical experience even among the unlearned. An example of this is the appearance as a prophet in Avila in 1295 of Nissim b. Abraham, an ignorant artisan, to whom an angel revealed a Kabbalistic work, Pil’ot ha-Hokhmah, and who was opposed by Solomon b. Abraham Adret. This was the community where Moses de Leon passed the last years of his life. The Zohar is the most important evidence for the stirring of a mythical spirit in medieval Judaism. The origin of the book, its literary and religious character, and the role that it has played in the history of Judaism, have been subjects of prolonged argument among scholars during the analysis. In an analysis of this kind we can establish a precise place for the Zohar so doing we must resist continually recurring apologetic attempts to antedate its composition by turning its late literary sources into evidence for the earlier existence of the book, or by proclaiming ancient strata in it. The mingling of these two currents-the Kabbalah of Gerona and the Kabbalah of the “Gnostics” of Castile-became in the mind of Moses de Leon a creative encounter which determined the basic character of the Zohar. Instead of the brief allusions and interpretations of his predecessors he presents a broad canvas of interpretation and homiletics covering the whole world of Judaism as it appeared to him. He was far
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