Greek Philosophy and The Kabbalah
Firstly let me state I am a fan of Kabbalah, I have bought and read a number of Kabbalistic books. Most of these book are published by the Kabbalah Centre. I found myself liking the philosophy and ideas proposed in the books I read. This blog is not an attack on the philosophy, tradition or beliefs of Kabbalah. This blog is aimed at revealing the light on some misinformation on how old the tradition is and the proposed influence Kabbalah has had on other cultures through out time. As a tarot reader, Kabbalah is a area of study many readers explore due to the connections between the Tarot and the Tree of Life. This is why I feel, I can post this on my Tarot blog.
The Kabbalah Centre claim the tradition of Kabbalah dates back to time of Eden. That the Zohar (The book of Splender) was created 2000 years ago. It is also believed that all the great philosophers like Plato and Aristotle studied Kabbalah and their philosophies are a result of Kabbalah.
This is were I stop and say Bullshit! Not simply because I am Greek and I am bias towards my heritage but because what is being stated by the Kabbalah Centre is false and a manipulation of history.
Lets look at the facts, The Zohar first appear in Spain in the 13th century when it was published by Moses de Leon. de Leon credited Simeon bar Yochai (a 1st century rabbi in Israel) as the author of the Zohar. However, In the mid-20th century, the Jewish historian Gershom Scholem contended that de Leon himself was the most likely author of the Zohar. Among other things, Scholem noticed the Zohar’s frequent errors in Aramaic grammar, its suspicious traces of Spanish words and sentence patterns, and its lack of knowledge of the land of Israel. Yeshayahu Leibowitz, noted professor of philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, claimed that “It is clear that the Zohar was written by de Leon”.
The Zohar and Kabbalah did not influence Greek philosophers, it was the reverse. Greek philosophy, specifically Platonic philosophy influenced the development of Kabbalah. In Kabbalah there is the assertion that there is an inner Torah, that holds hidden mystical meanings. This idea of an “inner Torah” appears with Philo of Alexandria, a Hellenized Jewish Neoplatonist who interpreted the Torah through Greek philosophy. This idea also reappears later in Rabbinic Judaism, which started after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (70AD). After the Temple was destroyed all focus went from Temple to the Rabbis who started the tradition of Midrash (a way of interpreting biblical stories that goes beyond simple distillation of religious, legal or moral teachings).
There are concepts that are in Kabbalah which originate from Greek philosophy, the concept of “emanation” proposed by Kabbalah that God created the world in successive emanations is originally Greek. The philosopher Plotinus spoke about emanations in his work “Enneads”. Kabbalah states that the human soul has three parts. Nefesh(lower self/animal nature), Ruach (middle soul, spirit, contains morals) and Neshamah (super-soul, holds intellect). This comes from Plato who said that the soul had three parts. Eros (cravings and desires), Themos (spiritedness, emotion)and Logos (reason and intellect, highest self).
There is important observation which I also noticed, to the Kabbalist God is not really how God is portrayed in the Bible. In the Bible it is clear that God is a personal being that one has a relationship with. God has feelings, thoughts and does things. However while reading the books published by the Kabbalah Centre, they say that God is an impersonal being, the source of creation, simply called the “Creator”. This idea is originates in Greek philosophy with the concept of the “One”, the first principle, the source of everything.
During the conquests of Alexander The Great, the middle east became a part of the Hellenic Empire. The Jewish people along with other groups were exposed to Greek culture. It also during this time that the Torah was translated into Greek during the 3rd century BCE. During the Middle Ages Neoplatonist ideas influenced Jewish thinkers, such as the Kabbalist Isaac the Blind, and the Jewish Neoplatonic philosopher Solomon ibn Gabirol, who modified it in the light of their own Jewish background. It is my belief that if the Zohar was in fact a much older document, existing in the ancient world, than would have most likly have been translated into Greek as the Torah was. However it was not and there is no historical mention of the Zohar.
Another major reason why Kabbalah did not influence Greek Philosophy and the most important reason is that Kabbalah is only taught to Jewish males over the age of 40. You must be a Jew to study and learn Kabbalah. Until the 1700′s there was much speculation around Kabbalah, very little was known. So how could the Greeks have learned about Kabbalah? They would never have been allowed to learn the material because they were Gentiles. That is the main underlying reason why I think that Neo-platonism had an influence because these philosophies would have been available to Kabbalists during and after the Hellenic Empire and during the middle ages when Kabbalah was becoming more public.
In my view, most of Kabbalah is the result of the combination of Hellenistic philosophies and Judaism. There is no evidence of The Zohar in the historical record prior to the middle ages. If anything, Kabbalah existed as an oral tradition, however we do not know how the original ideas differ from the ideas recorded during the middle ages are. The Zohar is actually a creation from the 13th century and Neo-platonism had an influence on its creation. The claim that Kabbalah influenced the great thinkers such as Greek philosophers is faulty and is mainly used as a way to vindicate and validate the teachings of Kabbalah to be older and “original” to other traditions and cultures.
To be fair, the Greek people did travel around the world and came into contact with the east. What the Greeks learned and adopted into their philosophies is difficult to determine. For example, it is said that Pythagoras travled all around the known world, as far as India. Pythagoras and his followers the Pythagoreans were vegetarians and believed in reincarnation and the possible release from the “wheel of birth” which is very Hindu/Buddhist in philosophy. Was Pythagoras influenced by Eastern Philosophy? No doubt. Kabbalah also teaching reincarnation as well. Reincarnation is a native idea to Hinduism in their texts the Rig Veda which is one of the oldest extant texts from 1700–1100 BC.