Kabbalist history has many versions. This is one...
Kabbalah is the Earth's earliest form of metaphysics, and Kabbalism is the most precise science of god. The complex methodologies which were used to understand early scripture have produced the world's longest-lasting, scientifically correct cosmology.
Kabbalists argue that their theosophical roots trace all the way back to Adam, and their tradition was passed orally among their people for several millennia. Over the thousands of years between Adam and Moses, the first book of the Bible, Genesis, was constructed as a history of the people. The words used to comprise Genesis were passed along from generation to generation with exacting, tedious precision. But, many of the stories, such as the creation story and Adam and Eve, were mysterious with respect to their meanings. Some 4000 years ago, the early Kabbalists noticed that there was a precise phonics being used in the biblical stories, and this phonics contained some twenty two sounds. Early Aramaic was most probably the language being used, but it was not a written language, and would not become written for hundreds of years. The early Kabbalists analyzed the phonics of Genesis for centuries, and eventually deduced explanations for the mysterious passages of Genesis, as well as mystical answers to questions such as what is God, what are angels, and what are the substances that comprise God, angels, and creartures of this creation. These explanatory teachings differed considerably from the explanations given by other Jews, so they kept their oral tradition among themselves. They had faith that eventually the human race would learn enough about the natural world to discover verifications for the Kabbalist teachings. This faith transcended Moses, the burning of Solomon's temple by the Babylonians, Herod, the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, centuries of persecution, the Roman Inquisition, and most recently the Holocaust of World War Two. Their faith in their teachings never wavered.
Kabbalists believe that Moses was the first great Prophet to bring Kabbalist teachings to Judaism at large. The knowledge of Kabbalism was subsequently imparted to all the great ancient leaders and Kings of Israel. The first written Bible (Torah) is believed to have been undertaken by Moses after his experience on Mt Sinai, some 3,500 years ago. The Bible of Moses included the oral tradition of Genesis, the Exodus (the story of Moses), Deuteronomy, Numbers, and Leviticus. It was kept with the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple of Jerusalem for several centuries before it was somehow lost. However, the words of Moses' Bible were passed along orally from generation to generation with the same exacting precision as was the case before Moses.
When the Bible (Torah) was again written down in Babylon ~575 BC, it was literally a group Rabbinical effort from the severely kept oral tradition. It was not yet written in Hebrew, which was not yet a formal written language. It was written in the scholar's language of Babylon, Aramaic. All the while, in parallel to the re-writing of Moses' Bible, the Kabbalists kept their own oral tradition active in order to maintain explanatory detail not found in the Torah, an oral tradition which is believed to have begun at least 500 years before Moses. When Zohar was first written in the second century AD, it included explanations of the most ancient stories of Moses' Bible not to be found in the Book of Genesis itself. Not that the Torah is incorrect in any way. It isn't. Rather, Zohar adds important information to what we find in Genesis, and gives considerable insight into the questions of God and angels which helps explain the other four Books of the Torah and much of the rest of the rest of the Old Testament. This additional information effectively removes much of the mystery surrounding traditional organized scriptural teachings.
After the second burning of the Temple and destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 72 AD, a Kabbalist, Rabbi Simeon ben Jochai, had escaped the carnage and taken refuge in a cave. He supposedly stayed hidden for six days, during which he received an insight telling him to keep the oral tradition alive, but with the greatest caution and secrecy. The Romans would not tolerate any Jewish religious practices other than Herodean orthodoxy. In the public eye, conformance with Roman law must be practiced, but out of the public eye the old teachings were to be kept. The Rabbi was not to write anything down himself, but when his descendents felt the time was right, writing of the Kabbalist tradition in the ancient tongue (Aramaic?) could occur. The Rabbi and his son Eleazar, himself a Rabbi, shared their oral tradition with other Rabbis that Simeon trusted. One of these Rabbis found Simeon's harsh criticism of the Romans horrifying, and reported him to the local Roman Magistrates. Simeon and Eleazar fled, but not before they were sentenced to death for heresy. This proved to them that extreme caution must be exercised in order to keep the tradition alive. Both of them remained in hiding until the Emperor Hadrian died, many years later. Though ultra-cautious about revealing the source of their insights, Simeon and Eleazar eventually became well known among many Jews, and a considerable following ensued. It is said that some 300 pages of Talmud came directly from the mouth of Simeon. Where he got this profound understanding of scripture must have been kept to him and his son. After his father died, Eleazar and other most-trusted Rabbis wrote down the teachings of Simeon, and this became the Book of Zohar.
It should be noted that there seems to be considerable parallels between Kabbalism and the teachings of the Gnostic Jews of Egypt, as written in the texts found in Nag Hamadi and Ethiopia. This does not mean the Gnostics should be viewed as purely Kabbalist, or vice versa. There are some key, critical differences in the teachings. The Gnostics were clearly influenced by Hermetic Theosophy, in addition to their Jewish influences. But, it makes no sense to think that there were no Kabbalists among the Gnostics.The Gnostics were Jews who rejected the Roman influences taking shape in Jerusalem and Alexandria during the first century BC, and they must have included some Kabbalists among their numbers. It makes perfect sense that some Kabbalist ideas were absorbed by the Gnostics, thus some similarities exist. Thus, we find the inclusion of Kabbalist teachings in the Gnostic texts, as well as the teachings found in The Hermetica.
For the most part, Kabbalism remained a quite secretive adjunct to mainstream orthodox Judaism for many centuries after the writing of Zohar. The secrecy began to weaken with the emergence of the Renaissance. In the 13th and 14th centuries AD, Raymon Lull tried to use Kabbalism to bring followers of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism into one grand spiritual gathering. This seems to have been largely due to his repugnance toward the Catholic church and its use of torture as a tool for spiritual conversion. He was also troubled by the violent fanaticism displayed by some Moslems. His work was successful while he lived, but had little lasting impact after his death. In the 15th century, Italian theosophist Giovanni Pico della Mirandola believed Kabbalism was a lost revelation given to us by God, and he had many writings about Kabbalah translated into Latin. He taught his ideas in Rome, hoping to bring further proof to the divinity of Christ. His public debates were quite popular, and he was careful not to cross the line into abject heresy in the eyes of the Vatican. But, outside of a fragmented written record of his debates, his work was of little lasting consequence.
In the 16th century, Rabbi Isaac Luria went public with his writings on Kabbalism and Zohar, which spread to a few important Christian scholars on the continent. Luria believed that Roman influences had shattered God's intent for the spiritual direction of the Jews about the time of Herod the Great, and Kabbalism was intended to bring theosophical repair to the world. Luria's theosophy went far beyond this one notion, but it was this singular idea which appealed to many non-Jewish scholars. The work of Luria was widely esteemed among Kabbalists, and is to this day. His influence on non-Jewish scholars spread as well, but was not widely disseminated. It was passed among Christian scholars in secret, much the same as the astronomical works of Brahe, Kepler, and Galileo were shared among Pre-enlightenment theorists. It should be noted that the 16th century also witnessed perhaps the first scientific verification of Kabbalist teaching with the book written by Copernicus. The Kabbalists never taught the Earth to be the center of the universe, and Copernicus' discovery proved them right.
During the Pre-Enlightenment period of the 17th century, Kabbalism had its first major impact on Christian western civilization. A German Scholar, Christian Knorr von Rosenroth, undertook the monumental task of translating Zohar into Latin (Kabbalah Denudata), so all Christian scholars could benefit from its teachings. He did much of his work in England, and was assisted there by Henry More, the great Cambridge Platonist, and Viscountess Anne Conway, perhaps the greatest female philosopher of all time. Their close intellectual association with many Pre-Enlightenment figures, including Hon. Robert Boyle, John Locke, and Isaac Newton, brought knowledge of Kabbala to some of the most important people of that era. Conway's treatise, Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, is saturated with Kabbalist ideas. And, Newton was so strongly influenced by Kabbalism that his theory of the mutual property of gravitation may well have been derived from Zohar! He spent the last three decades of his life in relative seclusion in order to try to solve hidden codes and messages in the Bible, suggested by his reading of von Rosenroth's translation. The Pre-Enlightenment attempt to bring Kabbalism out of its primarily Jewish domain ended with disaster. Conway's treatise was branded heresy by the college that “claimed” her, Cambridge, and effectively condemned her work (Indexed as Prohibited) in the 1690s. Newton and Locke were brought before Parliament and charged with heresy in 1693, largely because they refused to take Christian vows, but also because of their known association with Viscountess Conway, who's heretical Kabbalist treatise was published in London the previous year. Locke escaped punishment by penning On the Correctness of Being Christian in 1694. Newton was embarrassed by the charges on him, abdicated his Lucasian Chair at Cambridge as well as resigning his position as accountant to Parliament, also in 1694, in order to protect his reputation among scholars. The heresy charges on Newton were dropped about the time of Conway's formal prohibition, which made one of the key pieces of evidence against him inadmissible in court. Clearly, the world outside Judaism was not ready for Kabbalism in the 17th century.
In the early 18th century, Yakov Leib Frank brought many Jews into Catholicism using Kabbalist ideas in Poland. In the process, he became a favorite of Empress Teresa of the Holy Roman Empire. But, once again, this attempt to expand knowledge of Kabbala had little lasting impact on history. There were also a few additional attempts to bring Kabbalism to the world outside Judaism in the 19th century, but each attempt soon dwindled and died with the passing of time. Early in the 20th century, a few scholars in Europe attempted to blend Kabbalism with a revival of Hermetic theosophy. In 1912 in England, S.L. Macgregor Mathers translated three sections of von Rosenroth's Latin translation of Zohar into english, hoping to use it as proof of what was believed to be an important connection between Kabbalism and Hermeticism. In Spain in 1914, mystic Nurho De Manhar translated nearly all of Zohar into English, hoping to expand on the work of Mathers. With the subsequent start of World War I, these efforts to increase knowledge of Kabbala largely dwindled into forgotten history.
Along the way, two additional verifications of Kabbalist teachings descended out of scientific discovery. The first was Darwin's theory of evolution, which so closely parallels the description of the process of species' change over vast periods of history found in the Books of Kabbala, it can be said they are synonymous. The next vindication came with the genetic theory of Gregor mendel, who's notion fits the 4,000 year old Kabbalist teaching on inheritance. Both are entirely phenotypical. In fact, the Kabbalist description of the structure and content of "tiny bodies" of physical and mental inheritance found within the reproductive seeds of males and females, can be positively compared to chromosomes! In the 20th century. These and other scientific discoveries have further verified Kabbalist teachings written more than 1800 years ago, and which trace their oral origins back more than 4000 years. These include chaos theory, quantum mechanics, temporal theory, and, perhaps most disarming, is a description of the creation story that fits the big bang theory perfectly! These amazing anticipations, derived entirely from the Torah, give sound foundation to the claim that Kabbalism is the revealing science of God.
Now, in our modern era of world-wide communication, and the quantum leap given by the emergence of the internet, Kabbalism can be brought to the non-Jewish world at large in a way unprecedented in human history. Non-Jewish Kabbalist web sites such as this one and precious few others, provide an opportunity for all who feel there is more to be known than traditional, institutionalized teachings have to offer, to find the alternative path they may well be seeking. In this website, there is no attempt to concretely connect Kabbalism to Hermetic Theosophy, Tarot, Astrology, or any other arcane western practice, though some of the teachings of Kabbalah resemble most all of these occult philosophies at one point or another, and bear mentioning. It is intended to keep the information as specific to Kabbalism itself as is humanly possible, so that we all might be enlightened without prejudice. Hopefully, all of us might be brought out of the cloud of mystery created by traditional dogmatic Judeo-Christian teachings. Hopefully all people, Christian, Moslem and Jew, might end their destructive differences and live in peace and harmony.
No history of Kabbalism, no matter how brief, would be complete without addressing the possibility that the time for Kabbalah to be discovered by and absorbed by Western Spiritualists, is now! Clearly, the historical attempts to bring Kabbalism out of it's Jewish domain occurred when, quite bluntly, the world wasn't ready for it. By analogy, there were historic attempts to bring the notion of evolution to the world before Darwin, from Anaxagoras in ancient Greece, through the Roman poetic philosopher Lucretius, and the largely unknown but none-the-less significant work of Vizcountess Anne Conway in the 17th Century. All attempts failed because the world wasn't ready to hear the truth. Darwin presented his work when there was a sufficient audience ready to accept the reality of species evolution. Darwin was in the right place at the right time in history, or else his work would have failed, too. Similarly, historic attempts to bring Kabbalism to Christianity occurred when a sympathetic audience was too small and too unimportant to make the effort successful. But, today, in the first decade of the 21st century, there is a considerable audience emerging that questions the institutions and teachings associated with dogmatic organized Judeo-Christian orthodoxy. The thirst for a viable alternative is considerable. It seems the world is ready for Kabbalism. In fact, the translator of Zohar into English in 1914, Nurho De Manhar, makes a startling prophetic prediction near the end of his preface to Zohar,
"There are, however, looming up in the mental horizon of the world, indications of a deep and earnest desire and craving after a learning that shall ennoble human nature and not lead it into bypaths of error and illusion. Men are observing and detecting in the study of past systems of religion and philosophy something that was true, and therefore worth retaining and cherishing, and also recognizing that the end, the aim, and object of all of them, was the renovation and purification of human nature and its exaltation to a higher plane of thought and experience. This was their chief raison d'etre as formulated and expressed in The Zohar."
He saw it coming. It has come. The time for The Revealing Science of God is imminently at hand. The age of universal Kabbalism has begun.
1. Manhar, Nurho; Preface: The Sepher Ha-Zohar (Book of Light); Edited by H.W. Percival; Theosophical Publishing Company, New York; 1914. http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/zdm/zdm001.htm
2. Kalish, Isidor, Phd.; Preface: Sepher Yezirah; L.H. Frank and Co., New York; 1877. http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/sy/sy01.htm
3. Laitman, Rav Michael, PhD; Foreward: Kabbalah Revealed; Laitman Kabbalah Publishers, Toronto, Ontario; 2006. http://www.wholejoy.com/wholeness/kabbalah.html
4. Dubov, Nissan Dovid; The Zohar; from "Key to Kabbalah"; Chabad-Lubavich Media Center; 2010. http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/361877/jewish/The-Zohar.htm
5. Chapter 4 : The History of the Kabbalah and The Zohar; from "The Wisdom of the Kabbalah"; Bnei Baruch Kabbalah Education and Research Institute; 2010. http://www.kabbalah.info/engkab/book_1/book1eng_ch04.htm
6. History; The Kabbalah Centre. http://www.kabbalah.com/about/history
7. Kazlev, M. Allen; Christian and Rosicrucian Kabbalah; http://www.kheper.net/topics/Kabbalah/ChristianKabbalah.htm
8. Gonzalez-Whippler, Migene; The Christian Kabbalah; The Llewellyn Journal; http://www.llewellyn.com/journal/article/724
9. The Other Bible; edited by Willis Barnstone; Harpers Collins Publishers, New York; 1984
10. Conway, Vizcountess Anne; The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy; edited by Peter Loptson; Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague; 1982. http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/conway/principles/principles.html (Also, may be found on Past Masters CD, British Philosophers 1600-1900)
11. White, Michael; Isaac Newton : The Last Sorcerer; Perseus Books, Reading, Massachusetts. 1997