How Greek Philosophy Influenced Both Christian and Jewish Theology

A Common Link Between Christianity and Kabbalah

Powers of 10: For Jewish and Hellenistic philosophers, 10 is a very spiritual number.
THINKSTOCK
Powers of 10: For Jewish and Hellenistic philosophers, 10 is a very spiritual number.

By Philologos

Published June 02, 2013, issue of June 07, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

The great scholar of Kabbalah Gershom Scholem was of the opinion that there was no connection. As he pointed out in a lengthy article, we first find the idea of the 10 sefirot in the Sefer ha-Yetsirah or “Book of Creation,” one of the most gnomically enigmatic of all Jewish texts.

Written, most probably in the third century C.E., by an anonymous author, the “Book of Creation” begins with the statement that God “engraved” the universe with “32 mystical paths of wisdom,” which are the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet and “10 sefirot of nothingness [b’limah].”

The Book of Creation links the word sefirot to the Hebrew verbs safar, “to enumerate,” and siper, “to tell” or “to narrate,” and also to the Hebrew noun sefer, “book,” saying: “He created His universe with three books [sefarim]: with text [sefer], with number [s’far], and with narration [sippur].”

Scholem suggested that the inspiration for this might have been the statement in the Mishnaic tractate of Ethics of the Fathers, “With 10 utterances [of God] the world was created.” Yet in the same article he wrote, “The sefirot [of the Book of Creation]… are merely the primordial numbers of the later Pythagoreans.”

The “later” or neo-Pythagoreans, who viewed themselves as the intellectual followers of the sixth-century-B.C.E. Pythagoras, depicted the universe as consisting of 10 sphaerae or spheres, which had both a numerical and an astronomical aspect. Numerically, 10 was the symbol of unity, being the sum of the basic building blocks of 1, 2, 3 and 4. Astronomically, there were 10 rotating cosmic orbs in the heavens, one for the sun, one for the moon, one for the seven planets and one for the fixed stars.

It’s certainly true that Hebrew was capable of generating the term sefirah by itself, without any help from Greek philosophy. But can it be a pure coincidence that the neo-Pythagoreans spoke of a world of 10 sphaerae and Jewish mysticism of one of 10 sefirot?

True again, these 10 were nothing like the sphaerae. They were, according to the “Book of Creation,” composed of five paired couples or “depths” — “a depth of beginning, a depth of end, a depth of good, a depth of evil, a depth of above, a depth of below, a depth of east, a depth of west, a depth of north, a depth of south,” which in medieval Kabbalism became Ḥokhmah (“Wisdom”), Binah (“Understanding”), Keter (“Crown”), Malkhut (“Kingship”), Netzaḥ (“Victory”), Hod (“Splendor”), Gevurah (“Strength”), Ḥesed (“Love”), Tiferet (“Beauty”) and Yesod (“Foundation”). They are, however, even less like the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Questions for Philologos can be sent to philologos@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.