The Zohar as Exegesis

Moshe Idel

in Mysticism and Sacred Scripture

Published in print December 2000 | ISBN: 9780195097030
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199848805 | DOI:
The Zohar as Exegesis

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The Zohar is the canonic work of Jewish mysticism. The work represents one of the most elaborate and influential attempts in any tradition, to interpret the Bible, and certainly the most important effort among Jewish mystics. Like many other kabbalistic commentaries on the Bible, the Zohar surmises that what happens during the exegetical enterprise is the retrieval of the ancient truths that comprise the esoteric core of the Jewish tradition, as these are embodied in a paramount way in the Bible. That is, these “secrets” are not innovations contrived by a medieval group of Kabbalists. In fact, what seems to be unique about the status of the Zohar is that it is seen as having transformed a literature that is interpretive in a deep sense—in fact, a conglomerate of esoteric interpretations on various parts of the Bible—into a canonic literature. However, despite the very substantial resort of the various parts of the verses, its special status was not derived from its being printed together with the biblical text, or from the fact that, due to the more usual form that biblical commentaries take, the Zohar was studied as part of the weekly regimen of studying the Bible. Rather, biblical verses have been absorbed into the mystical text and recycled as part of a mythical parable and theosophical interpretations that only very rarely assume the form of a linear commentary. It is significant, for the understanding of the interpretive nature of Jewish traditional culture, that a commentary indeed became a canonic writing. This chapter attempts to discern the most important exegetical devices that were characteristics of the bulk of the Zohar and that informed the highly imaginative hermeneutics of this book.

Keywords: Jewish mysticism; Bible; exegetical devices; hermeneutics; Zohar; Kabbalists

Chapter.  8340 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Religions

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