Decoding the Decalogue: theosophical re-engraving of the Ten Commandments in thirteenth-century Kabbalah

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Early kabbalistic exegetical literature, dedicated to revealing theosophical knowledge, largely avoided connecting the ten divine elements (sefirot) with the traditional division of God’s words during the revelation on Mount Sinai into ten commandments. This article focuses on two kabbalistic homilies on the Decalogue that were preserved in Aramaic among the pages of the printed Zohar and in early Hebrew versions recently discovered in manuscript. These texts emphasize an essential trend in kabbalistic biblical exegesis that opposed formulistic and static patterns in favor of a dynamic mode of interpretation. This preference for dynamism undermined the one-to-one correspondence of the ten commandments and the ten sefirot. This approach resulted from theological concerns that are indicative of a specific phase in the evolution of kabbalistic discourse, a phase characterized by the development of theosophic-theurgic instructions for effecting the divine sefirot. The turn to dynamism is part and parcel of a new type of kabbalistic exegesis, one which characterizes large homiletic passages from the Zohar’s commentary on the Torah and, more specifically, the rationales of the commandments in various texts in the zoharic corpus.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAccounting for the Commandments in Medieval Judaism
Number of pages1
StatePublished - 2021

RAMBI Publications

  • Rambi Publications
  • Bible -- Pentateuch -- Criticism, interpretation, etc., Jewish -- History -- To 1500
  • Cabala -- History -- To 1300
  • Ten Commandments -- Criticism, interpretation, etc., Jewish -- History
  • Zohar -- Criticism, interpretation, etc


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