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Through a speculum that shines : vision and imagination in medieval Jewish mysticism /
Elliot R. Wolfson.
imprint
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c1994.
description
x, 452 p. ; 25 cm.
ISBN
0691073430 (acid-free paper) :
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c1994.
isbn
0691073430 (acid-free paper) :
catalogue key
769321
 
Includes bibliographical references (p. [401]-437) and index.
A Look Inside
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Choice on 1995-05:
With the publication of this major study, Wolfson has confirmed his position as one of the leading students of medieval Jewish mysticism (Kabala) of this generation. The essence of Wolfson's argument is that kabalistic experience is first and foremost a visual rather than an aural experience as Gershom Scholem had contended. Yet, this visual experience is highly complex because of the necessary theological insistence of traditional Judaism that God cannot be seen. The sorts of experiential and literary consequences that this paradox generates provide the substance of this work. In separate chapters Wolfson traces the subject in rich detail, from its biblical origins through the mystical sources of the talmudic and posttalmudic era (Hekhalot literature), as the issue appears in early medieval kabalistic materials, in the works produced by the Hasidei Ashkenaz (German pietists), and as this type of experience culminates in what Wolfson calls the "Visionary Gnosis" of the Zohar. Though his argument for the sexual nature of much of this experience is not fully convincing, it is always thoughtful and provocative and could well be the most discussed and contested aspect of the book. The detailed discussion is supported by a full, learned, scholarly apparatus and bibliography. This important study should be in every library of any size serving religion or Judaica programs. Upper-division undergraduate through professional. S. T. Katz; Cornell University
Reviews
Review Quotes
"A learned, authoritative and scrupulously documented study of visionary experiences among medieval Jewish prophets and mystics."-- Earle J. Coleman, Menorah Review
"Arguing that kabalistic experience is first and foremost a visual rather than an aural experience . . . Wolfson traces the subject in rich detail, from its biblical origins through the mystical sources of the talmudic and posttalmudic era. . . . With the publication of this major study, Wolfson has confirmed his position as one of the leading students of medieval Jewish mysticism."-- Choice
"Energy and excitement . . . burst forth from page after page of this remarkably wide-ranging yet tightly argued work. . . . Wolfson's work is scholarship in the grand tradition--sweeping in scope and references, precise in analysis and argumentation."-- Everett Gendler, Theological Studies
"Massive, magisterial. . . . Wolfson has amassed an impressive array of texts to establish the foundational importance of seeing God for Jewish mysticism . . . and his book formulates many questions that will undoubtedly occupy subsequent investigators as they grapple with the significance of its findings. . . . This book comprises a manifold contribution to our appreciation of Jewish mysticism and Jewish intellectual history in the Middle Ages."-- Jeremy Cohen, American Historical Review
Winner of the 1995 Sarah H. and Julius Kushner Award, National Jewish Book Council One of Choice 's Outstanding Academic Titles for 1995 Winner of the 1994 Excellence in Book Publishing Award, American Academy of Religion
This item was reviewed in:
Choice, May 1995
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Summaries
Back Cover Copy
"Wolfson brilliantly shows that the visionary mode of religious experience is central to Jewish spirituality from antiquity through the late Middle Ages . . . . A landmark study from one of our most gifted scholars."-- Elliot Ginsburg, University of Michigan "The book is a dazzling accomplishment, a landmark study from one of our most gifted scholars."-- Elliot Ginsburg, University of Michigan
Main Description
A comprehensive treatment of visionary experience in some of the main texts of Jewish mysticism, this book reveals the overwhelmingly visual nature of religious experience in Jewish spirituality from antiquity through the late Middle Ages. Using phenomenological and critical historical tools, Wolfson examines Jewish mystical texts from late antiquity, pre-kabbalistic sources from the tenth to the twelfth centuries, and twelfth- and thirteenth-century kabbalistic literature. His work demonstrates that the sense of sight assumes an epistemic priority in these writings, reflecting and building upon those scriptural passages that affirm the visual nature of revelatory experience. Moreover, the author reveals an androcentric eroticism in the scopic mentality of Jewish mystics, which placed the externalized and representable form, the phallus, at the center of the visual encounter. In the visionary experience, as Wolfson describes it, imagination serves a primary function, transmuting sensory data and rational concepts into symbols of those things beyond sense and reason. In this view, the experience of a vision is inseparable from the process of interpretation. Fundamentally challenging the conventional distinction between experience and exegesis, revelation and interpretation, Wolfson argues that for the mystics themselves, the study of texts occasioned a visual experience of the divine located in the imagination of the mystical interpreter. Thus he shows how Jewish mystics preserved the invisible transcendence of God without doing away with the visual dimension of belief.
Unpaid Annotation
A comprehensive treatment of visionary experience in some of the main texts of Jewish mysticism, this book reveals the overwhelmingly visual nature of religious experience in Jewish spirituality from antiquity through the late Middle Ages. Using phenomenological and critical historical tools, Wolfson examines Jewish mystical texts from late antiquity, pre-kabbalistic sources from the tenth to the twelfth centuries, and twelfth- and thirteenth-century kabbalistic literature. His work demonstrates that the sense of sight assumes an epistemic priority in these writings, reflecting and building upon those scriptural passages that affirm the visual nature of revelatory experience. Moreover, the author reveals an androcentric eroticism in the scopic mentality of Jewish mystics, which placed the externalized and representable form, the phallus, at the center of the visual encounter.In the visionary experience, as Wolfson describes it, imagination serves a primary function, transmuting sensory data and rational concepts into symbols of those things beyond sense and reason. In this view, the experience of a vision is inseparable from the process of interpretation. Fundamentally challenging the conventional distinction between experience and exegesis, revelation and interpretation, Wolfson argues that for the mystics themselves, the study of texts occasioned a visual experience of the divine located in the imagination of the mystical interpreter. Thus he shows how Jewish mystics preserved the invisible transcendence of God without doing away with the visual dimension of belief.
Table of Contents
Acknowledgments
Introductionp. 3
"Israel: The One Who Sees God" - Visualization of God in Biblical, Apocalyptic, and Rabbinic Sourcesp. 13
Vision of God in Mystical Sources: A Typological Analysisp. 52
Visionary Ascent and Enthronement in the Hekhalot Literaturep. 74
Theories of the Glory and Visionary Experience in Pre-Kabbalistic Sourcesp. 125
Haside Ashkenaz: Veridical and Docetic Interpretations of the Chariot Visionp. 188
Visionary Gnosis and the Role of the Imagination in Theosophic Kabbalahp. 270
The Hermeneutics of Visionary Experience: Revelation and Interpretation in the Zoharp. 326
Conclusionp. 393
Appendix: Manuscripts Citedp. 399
Select Bibliography of Primary Sources Citedp. 401
Select Bibliography of Secondary Sources Citedp. 409
Indexp. 439
Table of Contents provided by Blackwell. All Rights Reserved.

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