From Zohar: The Book
of Splendor by Gershom G. Scholem, Schoken Books, 1949, 1963
book of Splendor (Zohar) is the basic work of Jewish mysticism, the
profoundest achievement of the Kabbalah. Above all other works, it
stood for centuries as the very expression of the innermost recesses
of the Jewish soul. It played the great role of sacred text,
supplementing, on a new level of consciousness, the Bible and the
volume is a selection, culled by the greatest living authority on
Jewish mysticism, from the extensive writings which make up the vast
Book of Splendor.
From 1963 paper back ed, Back Cover
The book of Zohar,
the most important literary work of the Kabbalah, lies before us in
some measure inaccessible and silent, as befits a work of secret
… from about 1500
to 1800, (it was) a source of doctrine and revelation equal in
authority to the Bible and Talmud, and of the same canonical
rank—this is a prerogative that can be claimed by no other work of
Jewish literature. This radiant power did not, to be sure emanate at
the very beginning from “The Book of Radiance” or, as we usually
render the title in English, “The Book of Splendor.” Maimonides’
“Guide for the Perplexed,” in almost every respect the antithesis
of the Zohar, influenced its own time directly and openly; from the
moment of its appearance it affected peoples minds, moving them to
enthusiasm or consternation. Yet, after two centuries of a profound
influence, it began to lose its effectiveness more and more, until
finally, for centuries long, it vanished almost entirely.
page 7 (Introduction)
The main part of
the Zohar, which is arranged by Pentateuch portions, purports to be
an ancient Midrash, and in many details it imitates the form of the
ancient midrashic works of the first centuries C. E. On the whole,
indeed, it breaks through this form and assumes the quite different
one of the medieval sermon.
page 12 (Introduction)
As implied above, works by Maimonides tend toward a rational
approach, while the Zohar speaks from a more intuitive stance. There
are perhaps, a hundred, or even hundreds of books lying about my home
that view reality from this more feeling perspective. Among these I
find Zohar: The Book of Enlightenment, a translation and
introduction by Daniel Chanan Matt, Paulist Press, 1983. Persons
named in the editorial board listed in the first two pages lead me to
believe this is a reliable translation. Namely, Joseph Dan, Professor
of Kaballah at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and Huston Smith,
Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Syracuse, N. Y.
other 99+ volumes I cannot comment on at this time, because they belong to my
wife, and I have not examined them sufficiently. There exists a vast collection
of information about mysticism that has become available since around
1940. The majority of this is what I would call New Age Mysticism.
This literature puts a heavy burden on the task of delineating what
we should put in categories such as mysticism, religion, and science.
Because of this, I have thus far avoided the study of Kaballah,
instead focusing on the two early forms of Jewish Mysticism. Each of these is comprised of a collection of documents; one called Work of
Creation (Ma’aseh Bereshit), and the other Work
of the Chariot (Ma’aseh Merkabah).