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We know that historically Joseph Smith taught himself Hebrew (as to how well, I'm not sure), and that he held beliefs similar to Jewish mysticism (degrees of heaven, preexistence, fall of angels, etc.), but do we know if he had access to and was familiar with Kabbalah writings? Did he study them in the original Hebrew?

How familiar would the average American Christian leader at that time be with Kabbalah? Is Joseph Smith exceptional in this regard?

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In short:

Do we know if he had access to and was familiar with Kabbalah writings?

There is no documentation of him having access to the Kabbalah writings.

Did he study them in the original Hebrew?

Again there is no record of Joseph Smith having access to them.

There is a longer article entitled "Everything is Everything": Was Joseph Smith Influenced by the Kabbalah that goes more in depth, but basically says the same thing.

How familiar would the average American Christian leader at that time be with Kabbalah?

There doesn't seem to be any documentation of American Christian leaders being any more/less familiar with it then current average church leader.

Is Joseph Smith exceptional in this regard?

If he had knowledge of the Kabbalah then yes he would be more exception than the average American Christian church leader in this regard.

In regards to:

Joseph Smith taught himself Hebrew (as to how well, I'm not sure)

Joseph Smith started a Hebrew School in Kirtland Ohio and started teaching himself and others Hebrew as best he could. Later he hired a teacher for seven weeks for 320$ (JSHC 2:356) taught by Professor Seixas who did say that the students were 'we were the most forward of any class he ever instructed for the same length of time.' (JSHC 2:396) Joseph Smith later learned more Hebrew (JSP) and German (JSHC 6:426) from his friend Alexander Neibaur. The longer article from above mentions that Alexander did cite the Kabbalah in Times and Seasons in the article 'The Jews' (TS 4:220-22 and TS 5:233-34), but goes on to say he could've cited it from a second source....we don't know.

  • Unfortunately, the answerer is misinformed. – Andrew Sep 8 '16 at 16:50
  • @Andrew how am I misinformed? do you have reference that tells otherwise? – depperm Sep 8 '16 at 16:51
  • @depperm Please see my answer below. – Andrew Sep 8 '16 at 17:07
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It is certain that Joseph Smith was influenced by Kabbalah.

In his 1992 Book The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation Harold Bloom writes:

What is clear is that Smith and his apostles restated what Moshe Idel, our great living scholar of Kabbalah, persuades me was the archaic or original Jewish religion. . . . My observation certainly does find enormous validity in Smith's imaginative recapture of crucial elements, elements evaded by normative Judaism and by the Church after it. The God of Joseph Smith is a daring revival of the God of some of the Kabbalists and Gnostics, prophetic sages who, like Smith himself, asserted that they had returned to the true religion. . . . Either there was a more direct Kabbalistic influence upon Smith than we know, or, far more likely, his genius reinvented Kabbalah in the effort necessary to restore archaic Judaism.

Unlike Bloom, this answerer is less optimistic that the similarities between Smith's writings and the Kabbalists were spontaneous, especially given that it is very well known that Smith's family was active in the Order along with the wealth of influence that Kabbalism and Hermeticism had on Masonic practices and philosophy.

In The Mormon Church and Freemasonry (2001), Terry Chateau states of the Smith family:

[The family] was a Masonic family which lived by and practiced the estimable and admirable tenets of Freemasonry. The father, Joseph Smith, Sr., was a documented member in upstate New York. He was raised to the degree of Master Mason on May 7, 1818 in Ontario Lodge No. 23 of Canandaigua, New York. An older son, Hyrum Smith, was a member of Mount Moriah Lodge No. 112, Palmyra New York.

In his article Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection, published in 1994 and named the best article in Mormon studies by the Mormon History Association the following year, Lance S. Owens says,

While I would not diminish the inventive genius of Joseph Smith, careful reevaluation of historical data suggests there is both a poetic and an unsuspected factual substance to Bloom's thesis. Though yet little understood, from Joseph's adolescent years forward he had repeated, sometime intimate and arguably influential associations with distant legacies of Gnosticism conveyed by Kabbalah and Hermeticism—traditions intertwined in the Renaissance and nurtured through the reformative religious aspirations of three subsequent centuries. Though any sympathy Joseph held for old heresy was perhaps intrinsic to his nature rather than bred by association, the associations did exist. And they hold a rich context of meanings. Of course, the relative import of these interactions in Joseph Smith's history will remain problematic for historians; efforts to revision the Prophet in their light—or to reevaluate our methodology of understanding his history—may evoke a violently response from traditionalists. Nonetheless, these is substantial documentary evidence, material unexplored by Bloom or Mormon historians generally, supporting a much more direct Kabbalistic and Hermetic influences upon Smith and his doctrine of God than has previously been considered possible.

Through his associations with ceremonial magic as a young treasure seer, Smith contacted symbols and lore taken directly from Kabbalah. In his prophetic translation of sacred writ, his hermeneutic method was in nature Kabbalistic. With his initiation into Masonry, he entered a tradition born of the Hermetic-Kabbalistic tradition. These associations culminated in Nauvoo, the period of his most important doctrinal and ritual innovations. During these last years, he enjoyed friendship with a European Jew well-versed in the standard Kabbalistic works and possibly possessing in Nauvoo an extraordinary collection of Kabbalistic books and manuscripts. By 1844 Smith not only was cognizant of Kabbalah, but enlisted theosophic concepts taken directly from its principal text in his most important doctrinal sermon, the "King Follett Discourse.".

  • 1
    I'm still under the same impression as the last sentence of your first quote 'Either there was a more direct Kabbalistic influence upon Smith than we know, or, far more likely, his genius reinvented Kabbalah in the effort necessary to restore archaic Judaism', since there is no record of Smith having in possession or reading the Kabbalah – depperm Sep 8 '16 at 17:26
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    That statement in particular is debated by the remaining citations, which establish a clear influence of Kabbalah on Smith. As I said, I think contrary to that author's statement that it is far less likely that Smith spontaneously, "in his genius", recreated a 1500 year old philosophy that his family was steeped in throughout his life than that the exposure to the same had a heavy influence on his writings. By this answer I mean to establish that 1) Smith's writing closely follow the Kabbalists, 2) Smith was directly exposed to Kabbalah through Freemasonry. – Andrew Sep 8 '16 at 18:24

protected by Community Aug 2 '18 at 11:48

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