A Judeo-Egyptian Kabbalah, c.100 BC???

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billd89
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A Judeo-Egyptian Kabbalah, c.100 BC???

Post by billd89 »

Perhaps the most influential history of philosophy from the late 18th through the mid-19th Century, Enfield’s The History of Philosophy [1791] summarizes a number of important ideas regarding the Jewish intellectual background of the Therapeutae. Following the settlement of Jewish communities in Egypt after 586 BC, and in Alexandria particularly (300 BC – 250 BC), the establishment of philosophical/mystical Jewish schools evolved in a predictable synthetic or blending process over about 300 years. See LINK:

“From this period {c.280 BC - }, there can be no doubt that the doctrine of the Jews was known to the Egyptians; and, on the other hand, that Pagan philosophy was known to the Jews. Grecian wisdom, corrupted by being mixed with the Egyptian and [Chaldean] philosophy, assumed a new form in the Platonic {Neo-Pythagorean} school of Alexandria. This school, by pretending to teach a sublimer doctrine concerning God and divine things, enticed men of different countries and religions, and among the rest the Jews, to study its mysteries, and to incorporate them with their own. The symbolical method of instruction, which had been in use from the most ancient times among the Egyptians, was adopted by the Jews; and it became a common practice among them to put an allegorical interpretation upon their sacred writings. Hence, under the cloak of symbols, Pagan philosophy gradually crept into the Jewish schools {c.250 BC - }; and the {Middle} Platonic doctrines, mixed first with the Pythagoric, and afterwards with the Egyptian and [Chaldean], were blended with their ancient faith in their explanations of the law and the traditions. The society of the Therapeutae {c.25 BC-40 AD?} (of which we shall presently speak more fully) was formed after the model of the {Neo-} Pythagorean discipline: Aristobulus {c.180-125 BC}, Philo {c.25 BC-50 AD}, and others, studied the Grecian philosophy, and the Kabbalists {Merkabah mystics: c.100 BC-700 AD} formed their mystical system upon the foundation of the tenets taught in the Alexandrian schools {viz., c.300 BC - }. The practice of clothing the precepts of the Mosaic law in a Platonic dress, and mixing Platonic notions with the doctrine of the Jewish religion, seems to have given birth to the ancient Jewish book, ‘The Wisdom of Solomon’ {c.75 BC}, a work which abounds with Platonic language1, and was probably written after the Kabbalistic philosophy was introduced among the Jews. […] This corruption, which begun in Egypt about the time of Ptolemy II Philadelphus {c.250 BC - }, soon spread into Palestine, and everywhere disseminated among the Jews a taste for metaphysical subtleties and mysteries. […] In the time of Alexander Jannæus {c.103-76 BC}, […] Simeon ben Shetach {c.140-60 BC}, a learned Jewish doctor [i.e. Rabbi] who had, for some political offence, been banished [from] Judea, was recalled, with his disciples, from Alexandria {85 BC}, “and with him,” as Judah Halevi relates, “the Kabbalah, or oral tradition, recovered its pristine vigour.”2 And there can be little doubt that this Kabbalah included the theoretical as well as preceptive doctrines received by the Alexandrian Jews under the notion of traditions; especially since we have so many proofs of the early prevalence of these doctrines among the Jews, in the writings of Philo and others {c.150 BC-50 AD}. The result of the facts already related is, that the mystical, or Kabbalistic, doctrine of the Jews arose in the time of the first Ptolemys {c.315-215 BC}. The Jewish mystics, indeed, […] boast that their oldest Kabbalistic books were written by the patriarch Abraham. But it will be evident to anyone, who compares these books with the system compounded of [Chaldean], Pythagoric, and Platonic doctrines, which the Jews at this time began, as we have seen, to mix with the Mosaic law, that the leading tenets of the Kabbalah and the Alexandrian philosophy are the same. The ancient book entitled Sefer ha-Kuzari, writtten by Judah Halevi {1140 AD} before the compilation of the {Babylonian} Talmud {c.475 AD; 1177 AD, oldest ms.}, describes in allegorical and mystical language the philosophy which passed over from the Alexandrian schools into Judea. The same philosophy is found in the Kabbalistic books of the Sefer Yetzirah (c.175-250 AD), mentioned in the Talmud […] and in the Sefer HaBahir {c.100 AD}, said to be of still greater antiquity. Although the age of these books is not certainly known, there is great reason to conclude from their contents, that the seeds of the Kabbalistic doctrine were first sown under the Ptolemys {viz., c.250-50 BC}, when the Jews began to learn the Egyptian and [Chaldean] theology, and to incorporate these foreign dogmas with their ancient creed.3

1. See especially Stella Lange’s “The Wisdom of Solomon and Plato” in The Journal of Biblical Literature Vol. 55, No.4 (Dec.1936), pp. 293-302. Note 2, p.294: “[Friedrich] Focke decides on the years 88-86 B.C. He believes that chs.1-5 inclusive were written in Palestine during the struggles between the Sadducees and Pharisees in the reign of Alexander Jannaeus, and that these chapters were translated and the rest of the work composed very shortly after by an Alexandrian Jew: see esp. {Die Entstehung der Weisheit Salomos: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des jüdischen Hellenismus (Goettingen, 1913)} pp.65-6”
2. See Judah Halevi's Liber Cosri (‘Sefer Kuzari’), composed in 1140 AD and re-published in Switzerland in 1660, Part 3, p.241: “in exilium relegando Sapientes, inter quos etiam fuit Simeon ben Schetach … ejusque discipuli, & cum eo Cabala seu Traditio oralis pristinum suum vigorem recuperavit.”
3. For clarity, I have edited language and added dates to the archaic text of William Enfield’s The History of Philosophy from the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Present Century; drawn up from Brucker's Historia Critica Philosophiae [1791], pp.66-7.



I'm not certain the Sefer ha-Kuzari was as old as the Babylonian Talmud, and there is no direct implication by Enfield (or Brucker) that Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach imported an Egyptian Kabballah or Talmud from Alexandria, is there? This unsupportable suggestion seems too vague, I suppose, so is there more evidence or recent theory otherwise? On the whole, the trend outlined oversimplifies the certain exchange of ideas which must have occurred between the Judeo-Greek metropolis and neighboring Judea. However, and despite minor criticisms, the account declares something intriguing: that a Judeo-Hellenistic syncretism had appeared, and that philosophical trend toward both radical Jewish spirituality and occult metaphysical innovation originated in the metropolis of Alexandria. This would be the broader context of heterodox and philosophical Judaism existing throughout Egypt in the c.100 BC - 100 AD, if Goodenough's theory of mystical Judaism is correct.

What supports the possible existence of a (Judeo-)Egyptian Kabbalah, c.100 BC??? Which scholars have discussed or explored this theory in the last century or so? What is the standing of this idea?
andrewcriddle
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Re: A Judeo-Egyptian Kabbalah, c.100 BC???

Post by andrewcriddle »

billd89 wrote: Fri Aug 12, 2022 9:35 am The same philosophy is found in the Kabbalistic books of the Sefer Yetzirah (c.175-250 AD), mentioned in the Talmud […] and in the Sefer HaBahir {c.100 AD}, said to be of still greater antiquity. Although the age of these books is not certainly known, there is great reason to conclude from their contents, that the seeds of the Kabbalistic doctrine were first sown under the Ptolemys {viz., c.250-50 BC}, when the Jews began to learn the Egyptian and [Chaldean] theology, and to incorporate these foreign dogmas with their ancient creed.3[/b]”

a/ The date given for the Sefer Yetzirah is probably a bit early.
b/ The Sefer Yetzirah is only a kabbalistic text in the sense that later kabbalistic works beginning with Sefer HaBahir reinterpreted it to support their ideas. At face value it does not support kabbalistic doctrines.
c/ The date given for the Sefer HaBahir (probably the ealiest kabbalistic work) is impossible, it must be after the development of Hebrew vowel points, which is after 600 CE.

Andrew Criddle.
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billd89
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Dating the Sefer_HaBahir

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Link:
Sefer HaBahir (Book of the Brightness) is an anonymous mystical work, attributed to a 1st-century rabbinic sage Nehunya ben HaKanah because it begins with the words, "R. Nehunya ben HaKanah said". It is an early work of esoteric Jewish mysticism which eventually became known as Kabbalah. Medieval Kabbalists write that the Bahir did not come down to them as a unified book, but rather in pieces found in scattered scrolls and booklets.

'Firsts' usually aren't; there's often smthg older, if you search carefully. The oldest copy is never the oldest work, and smthg translated is likewise later. Enfield's thesis is intriguing, although he may not have presented the best evidence either.

Dating Nehunya ben HaKanah to 60-150 AD does not seem implausible, however.
Last edited by billd89 on Sun Feb 25, 2024 6:03 am, edited 1 time in total.
Secret Alias
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Re: A Judeo-Egyptian Kabbalah, c.100 BC???

Post by Secret Alias »

It is worth noting (from memory) that an older edition of the Bahir seems to have existed which was "corrected" because of numerous doctrinal challenges to Judaism (or so it would appear).
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