Qabbalah: Writings of SolomonThe Philosophical Writings of Solomon Ben Yehudah Ibn Gebirol
Isaac Myer
Judaism
19:11 h
Solomon ibn Gabirol was an 11th-century Andalusian poet and Jewish philosopher in the Neo-Platonic tradition. He published over a hundred poems, as well as works of biblical exegesis, philosophy, ethics and satire. Qabbalah: Writings of SolomonThe Philosophical Writings of Solomon Ben Yehudah Ibn Gebirol is devoted to a short account of the life and writings of the philosopher, Solomon ben Yehudah Ibn Gebirol or Avicebron; proofs of the antiquity of the Zoharic writings and the Qabbalah, a condensed statement of some parts of the Qabbalistic philosophy, quotations from the Zoharic books, and various articles pertaining to the same.
Qabbalah
The Philosophical Writings of
Solomon Ben Yehudah Ibn Gebirol, or Avicebron
Translated by
Isaac Myer, LL. B.

Introduction

“God hath spoken once; two-fold is what I heard.”

THE following pages are devoted to a short account of the life and writings of the philosopher, Solomon ben Yehudah Ibn Gebirol or Avicebron; proofs of the antiquity of the Zoharic writings and the Qabbalah, a condensed statement of some parts of the Qabbalistic philosophy, quotations from the Zoharic books, and various articles pertaining to the same, in Appendixes.

The investigation of the antiquity and content, of the Qabbalah and Zoharic writings, has been neglected by the learned, and, with the exception of a very few in England, Germany, Russia and France, has been almost wholly ignored by the writers of this century. To the student of the origin of religions or their philosophy, especially of the origin of the formulations, dogmas and doctrines of early Christianity; a study of the Hebrew Qabbalah and of the Zohar is of great value and importance, and has not received the attention it justly merits and demands. It is apparent from the many similarities in this Qabbalistic philosophy, to the doctrines in the New Testament and early Patristic literature; that both of the latter, most probably, have had a common germ and origin in the esoteiic teachings of the Israelites, as well as in the more open and exoteric teachings of the Hebrew Holy writings.

It was these striking similarities which struck my thought in the course of my reading, and caused an examination of the subject; the more the investigation proceeded the more manifest to me appeared many of these similarities, and the more satisfied I became, that a common origin existed. Many learned theologians have endeavored, without much success, to find these origins in the Talmud, but the latter treats almost entirely of the Ha-la’khah or Common Law, Customs and Ritual, considered essential to the outward life of the Israelite; however it sometimes, gives in explanations, short Ha-gadic statements, which most probably, were taken from the Secret Learning, the ancient Sod, i. e., Mystery, of the Hebrews; but one might as well study the English Common Law Reports and the Digests of the same, in order to ascertain the content of English philosophy, as to expect to find the full content of the inward esoteric metaphysics and philosophy of the ancient Israelites, in the Talmudic writings. It was through the spirituality of the doctrines of the Secret Learning, that many of the ideas and dogmas, set forth by the Evangelists in the New Testament as those of Jesus and his Apostles, found so ready an entrance and acceptance, in the Jewish thought of their period.

The New Testament taken in connection with cotemporary writings, especially those of Philo Judaeus, many of whose writings have reached our day; shows that the Jewish mind at the epoch of its formulations, was prepared to accept, without much questioning, many of its doctrines and conclusions. At that period, many of the Jews were daily expecting the appearance of a Messiah, coming to them through the generations from David; but all did not accept Jesus as that Anointed One, as that Messiah who was daily expected. It is in the study of the Jewish Disciplina Arcana, that we must hope to find the higher spiritual ideas of the cotemporaries of Jesus and the Apostles, and not in the outward law, ritual and forms, of the Pharisees; whose religious convictions stuck too much in the bark, and did not penetrate very deeply, into the heart and core of the tree of spiritual religious truth. But outside of the importance of the Qabbalistic philosophy to the theologian, to the philosophic mind; “Any form of speculation which has at any time powerfully influenced human thought, will repay the study which is spent in understanding it, and, sooner or later claim fresh regard. The variations of human nature are too limited, to place any of its developments wholly beyond the pale of interest.”

At the present time, the great foes to any rapid advance in the spirituality of religion, are materialism and formalism. The first tends to merge itself into agnosticism, pantheism or atheism; the latter, into the formuations in creeds and dogmas, and in ritualism. Like the formalism of the Pharisees in the time of Jesus, the second would see in the mere performance of ritual, the repetition of creeds or fixed forms, the letter of the law; and through mere attendance at the house of worship, a compliance with the true inner faith and requirements of real spiritual devotion. Against these phases of so-called religion, the free inward consciousness and liberty of the true spiritual and higher man, always rebels; the inner man, drawn by the Deity, desires to see, a worship from the heart, sentiment and soul, and not a mere formal observance of creeds and books, a mere repetition of words and genuflexions of the body as a saving Grace and a true road to Salvation. To such, the spiritualistic philosophy of the higher phases of the Qabbalistic system, when truly searched for, contemplated, and understood; opens her arms, and from its great height in the Unknown Essence of the Supreme Deity, the Eternal Boundless One, to its depth, in the lowest materialism of evil; gives an opportunity for the reception, and acquisition of the grandest and noblest ideas, to the highest and most subtile order of religious spiritual thought. The greatest Mystics of the past, be they John Tauler, Thomas A’Kempis (Hamerken), Saint Theresa, or Dionysios, the Areopagite, have all been under the influence of ideas which are fully included in those of the Qabbalistic philosophy. As to the materialists: “What are they finding, more and more below facts, below all phenomena which the scalpel and the microscope can show? A something nameless, invisible, imponderable, yet seemingly omnipresent and omnipotent, retreating before them deeper and deeper, the deeper they delve, namely; the life which shapes and makes. More and more the noblest-minded of them, are engrossed by the mystery of that unknown and truly miraculous element in nature, which is always escaping them, though they cannot escape it.”

It is my desire to awaken a higher spiritual feeling towards the investigation of the Mysteries of Ancient Israel, in which, the Mysteries of the New Covenant lie hidden; Which shall help to awaken in Christian Mysticism its fundamental elements, faith and belief in the True; to animate it to study the metaphysics of the great Fathers of the Church, especially the great Greek Fathers, the most erudite thinkers of the early Christian church; and establish the vast edifice of theology on deep philosophical principles and belief in the True, and not on man’s alterable creeds and formulations: and by so doing; prepare a common centre for the reunion of all the, at present divided, religious sects. I also believe that such researches and investigations are calculated to pave the way to an understanding of the true principles in the primitive history of mankind, and be an assisting guide, in the dark labyrinth of myths, mysteries and archaic religions; and that they will place much, which is now uncertain, on a firm foundation and in a stronger and clearer light, and so prepare the way, for that which the Deity never intended should be separated, the union of sound reason and correct philosophy with true religion.

We cannot in this connection forbear quoting the words of a great German thinker: “Whenever in religion, or polity, or civilization, in art or science; the inner element is developed most strenuously in its outward productions and tJie spiritual earnestly sought after, be it with more or less modifications of existing institutions, there is progress at hand; for it is from within that life issues forth into the external, from the centre to the circumference. This therefore is the pathway which leads to life, that on which there are ever opening new outlets for the Spirit, and on which Genius, can unfurl its wings with god-like self-assurance. If this be true, the contrary result must also happen, wherever the external or material life is continually exalted,— wherever the symbol supersedes and stands more and more for the essence; a form of words or an external work for the mental act or for conscience; where the symmetrical superfices is accepted for the inner content, and the outer uniformity for vital unity, and appearances for truth. In every such happening the luckless future must be impending whatever be the aspect of the present. When such a path is once entered upon, the necessity very soon becomes apparent, of treating the dictates of the common conscience as apostacy, of putting down conscientious objections as insubordination, and suppressing personal freedom as sedition. And then tyranny, either ecclesiastical or political, becomes a necessity, etc.” To-day around us this latter feeling appears to be getting the upper hand, there is too much desire for wealth and the gratification of the present and not enough of the Divine Afflatus. Too much of the spirit of Voltaire, Condillac and Descartes, and not enough thought of our future existence, nor of the feelings which animated the Qabbalists, true Theosophists and Mystics, of the past. We want more men influenced with the same feelings as were Savonarola, Tauler and Jacob Böhme.

In the Hebrew Holy Scripture, the visible or creation, is regarded as the manifestation of the Divine Glory or She’kheen-ah. The attributes of the Deity are therefore seen through His works, so St. Paul says: “For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and glory.” (Rom. i, 20.)

But the human mind obtaining its ideas in this matter-world, can never whilst existing in it, raise the veil to its full height nor thoroughly understand in their full purport, the mysteries concealed behind it. Even the words used in the most abstract sciences and in religion and philosophy, to signify the most perfect abstractness, have only a partially definite meaning, and in most minds, are vague and tinctured by the grasp of individual intellect, surroundings, modes of thought, imagination, experience; yes, even by the prejudices, dislikes and sentiments of thought, in the minds of those who use them; and so mar the tendency to the true, the abstract, and the real. There is an endeavor on the part of enlightened abstract thinkers to avoid this as much as possible, and they frequently seize upon foreign words and the “mixed modes” of one tongue, to express through them the pure simple ideas of another language, for in their new position these words are clear of the alloy of experiences and the mistakes caused by the senses of their old masters. The naturalism therefore of the Hebrew Old Testament has been largely merged into the Greek language, as a greater idealization and abstraction; first we see this in the Septuagint or Greek translation, and then, more thoroughly, in the New Testament, a fusion of Hebrew and Hellenic thought. We can imagine a language in its first beginnings, in which every act and operation of the mind, every idea and relation, was expressed by a matter-image or symbol, a language at once based purely on the senses and the material, its words only mental pictures like its written symbols, of which, the archaic Egyptian hieroglyphics may be considered as example; higher than this we can imagine a language with the world of mind and the world of matter distinct, but such cannot in this matter-world, exist. All language exists between two extremes and is passing continually from one to the other, it is never, no more than are the stars and the universe at anytime standing still.

The language and words in the Holy Scripture are intermediaries between the seen and the unseen, thoughts are the winged angels which partake of both the visible and invisible as did the angels of the Bible. They are spirits which may be clothed in the aether of man’s breath and so become visible, but not always, for language cannot always define and formulate, those things which are within the veil; there are things we feel which we cannot formulate into words, the sigh of sorrow, the cry of despair, the exclamation of anger, the ecstasy of heavenly bliss, of love and hope and earthly happiness, are a few of the thoughts we can never formulate into words.

The nearest approach that man can make to the unseen, is that inner communion which works silently in his soul but which cannot be expressed in absolute language nor by any words, which is beyond all formulations into word symbolism yet is on the confines of it and the unknown spiritual world. This is conceptualism. We experience these feelings only in our hearts and inner thoughts, that which strikes our consciences as right or wrong comes unbidden to us and without any logical sequence, is like a dream. The more intensely man feels the highest intellectuality, the more thoroughly does his spirit enter into this spiritual communion and the more difficult is it to express to others, these emotions and this undefined consciousness, this converse with another world; formulate them, express them, in words; and we draw them down to a gross, dark and material plane. Silence, meditation, intercommunion with self, this is the nearest approach to the invisible. They are sublimations. Many of our ideas are only negations, the Highest Deity is clothed, as to Its essence and appearance, in darkness to the finite thought. Yet even these negations are affirmations and we only leave the opposition to the negation, a condition to our thoughts, of vagueness and uncertainty. “There is a spiritual body and there is a natural body,” but this does not take us out of the material-world, a spirit can only be conceived of as something vague, dim, in opposition to matter, yet the inner motor of us, is spirit. The Deity and Its attributes cannot be defined, they are to us an absolute negation of all our so-called absolute knowledge, for all our absolute knowledge is based, raised upon, centred and carried on, through our matter-world knowledge and symbolism, e. g. Eternity is not the past, present, future, these are in Time, Eternity can be conceived of, only as an absolute negation of all thought of Time, so only can spirituality by the absolute negation of all matter-world thought and matter-world existence. The Non Ego is the nearest approach to the invisible, the Ego is a manifestation.

From a want of knowledge of the Qabbalistic philosophy, the translations of many statements in both the Old and New Testaments are frequently erroneous, and this is especially evident in numerous of the asserted improvements in the revised versions, e, g. Ephesians iii, 15, the older versions of which evidence the fact, that it is in agreement, with both the Qabbalah and Talmud, in the use of the words “family in heaven:” to signify, the Upper angels and spirits who are near the Deity; also Matt, vi, 13, where the desire to be delivered from the Ye’tzer ha-rah, i. e. the evil inclination, which is asserted in the Qabbalah to accompany every human being through life, is referred to the Devil.

The reader may be sometimes startled by my statements, which may be at times contrary to his conventional religious ideas, as to this I can only say, that I have stated the subject as I have found it, and, as this is not a polemical work, do not criticize it.

The student of Assyriology and ancient Babylonian thought, will find many similarities between it and the ancient Hebrew Qabbalah. Both are Semitic but in germ derived, I think, from other sources. The student of archaic Hindu Aryan thought will also notice many similarities, especially in the Upanishads of the Vedas, in old Hindu Mythology, also in the Bhagavad-Gita and the Vedantas. Much of the mystery of the Practical Qabbalah will be undoubtedly discovered in the Tantras, but I have not as yet had an opportunity of seeing any of the latter.