Take the 2-minute tour ×
Christianity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

There is a form of Jewish mysticism called “Kabbalah”. There is also a Christian form of this, called “Cabalah” or “Christian Kabbalah”. What is specifically Christian about Christian Kabbalah? How does it diverge from its Jewish roots to give a specifically Christian flavour to this form of mysticism?

share|improve this question
    
Cabalah is simply an alternative spelling of Kabbalah. There is something called Christian Kabbalah but they are not distinguished by the spelling. –  DJClayworth Jan 10 at 15:34
    
Cabalah is Christian Kabbalah / Christian Mysticism - loosely based on Kabbalah. –  The Freemason Jan 10 at 15:35
    
@DJClayworth. A bit of quick poking around on Wikipedia seems to suggest that Cabalah is the usual term for Christian Kabbalah. (Meanwhile, Cabala is a disambiguation page.) –  TRiG Jan 10 at 19:26
1  
@TheFreemason. I've completely rewritten your question. I think this is an improvement to the clarity, but if you're at all unhappy with it please feel free to roll back. –  TRiG Jan 10 at 19:30
    
@TRiG I dig it, thanks. I was trying to be less than verbose. If you put too much information in a question then sometimes it appears that the OP leans one way or another. I may have gone to the extreme in a bad way. You did a great job doing both. –  The Freemason Jan 10 at 20:07
add comment

1 Answer

up vote 4 down vote accepted

As luck would have it, last year I read the theses of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494), who tried to integrate Kabbalah with a broadly Christian worldview. I don't know how much his approach is typical of later Christian use of Kabbalah - it strikes me as rather idiosyncratic, though I wouldn't be surprised if other writers followed his basic line of thought. I'm afraid I don't know enough about Kabbalah to identify specific differences between Christian and Jewish practitioners; my impression is that they are doing the same sort of thing at a broad level, even if their conclusions are different.

For Pico, recall that the scholastic project, associated par excellence with Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus, was an effort to provide an integrated system of knowledge encompassing Christian revelation, classical philosophy, and the laws of nature. All of these present aspects of the divine law. Scholastic procedure is based on rational dialogue about texts and authorities, including the Bible, certain truths accessible to human reason, and the world itself. (For the universe as a book, compare Galileo in Il Saggiatore, though the concept is much older.) The method "works" - it allows us to learn true things and reject false things - because our reasoning faculties are founded in the divine order.

One of Pico's aims was to add Kabbalah into the mix. He saw it as a unique and powerful form of knowledge, revealed to Moses by God. It was intimately connected to the structure of the natural world, and to the Bible text, through gematria of the Hebrew language, and other forms of numerology. I think that for Pico, Kabbalah was not about the mystical journey of the soul; it was more like a new intellectual tool that could be applied to philosophical and theological problems. His "Cabalistic conclusions" (the last section of the Conclusiones sive Theses DCCCC) asserts that Kabbalah is a practical form of metaphysics (3rd thesis), and can only be worked through rational intellect (12th thesis). He thought that anyone who follows his procedures would be forced to admit the veracity of Christian doctrine on the Trinity and on Jesus, just as one is persuaded by any argument in scholastic disputation (5th thesis).

An example is the 32nd thesis, deriving a reference to Jesus from three OT texts (with my translation):

Si duplex aleph quod est in textu, Non auferetur sceptrum, etc. coniunxerimus ad duplex aleph, quod est in textu, Deus possedit me ab inicio, et ad duplex aleph, quod est in textu, Terra autem erat inanis, per viam Cabale intelligemus, ibi Jacob de illo vero Messia locutum, qui fuit Iesus Nazarenus.

If we join the double aleph which is in the text The sceptre will not be taken away, etc. [Genesis 49:10] to the double aleph which is in the text God possessed me from the beginning [Proverbs 8:22] and to the double aleph which is in the text But the earth was empty [Genesis 1:2], we may understand by the method of Kabbalah, that Jacob spoke there of the true Messiah, who was Jesus of Nazareth.

We see that the passage in Genesis 49, commonly understood as Messianic, is connected through a "Kabbalistic" hermeneutic to two other verses which both contain two aleph letters. The link is meant to show that the Messiah foreseen by Jacob is identified with Wisdom (the "me" of Proverbs 8:22) and with the creation (Genesis 1); this means he has to be a Messiah on the cosmic level, rather than a mere political hero. I imagine that the numerology of two alephs in three verses is also meant to indicate the two natures of Christ and the three persons of the Trinity - Pico doesn't spell this out, but it's very much the kind of thing he does elsewhere.

Pico also builds Christian interpretations into the Kabbalistic "Tree of Life". I don't know enough about the scheme to give any helpful comment on it. The whole thing is incredibly obscure - one might even say "esoteric".

In summary, this instance of Christian Kabbalah is about incorporating the "vocabulary" and methods of Kabbalah into the service of (1) Christian metaphysics, and (2) apologetics. It is seen as a sort of secret key to the way that the world works, beyond the traditional doctrinal and philosophical sources. Therefore, Kabbalistic practice is held to be useful in supporting Christian doctrine and convincing others of its truth. This obviously differs from the Jewish view.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.