Prophets, Magicians and Rabbis: Giordano Bruno and the Kabbalah

Karen DeLeón-Jones

Advisers: Ioan Culianu, Professor of History of Christianity and Emilio Speciale, Professor of Italian Literature

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In Cabala del cavallo pegaseo Bruno utilizes the Kabbalah to expound his mystical doctrine. He is an extreme example of the philosophical syncretism current in Christian Neoplatonic circles of the 1580s, who incorporated not only Jewish thought, but alternative religious systems in their philosophy. Bruno adopted Kabbalistic elements in his cosmological system because of the mystical efficiency of the Kabbalistic approach to God. Theosophical or speculative Kabbalah was most influential on Christians, because of its theurgic and prophetic elements: elements Bruno was influenced by and developed.

Theosophical Kabbalah is based on meditation on the sefirot or ten emanations, qualities, or Names of God. The are crucial to Bruno's cosmological structure, for meditation on the sefirot leads to the mystical union of the human intellect with that of God, that leads to prophecy. Prophecy, for Bruno, is both a means of establishing a direct mystical relationship with God, and a means of empowering the mystic, who acquires God-like qualities.

Mystical union transforms the individual by revealing the truth of the inevitability of metempsychosis. Constantly regenerated, the enlightened mystic becomes immortal. This new, immortal prophetic being has the ability to influence God, through the manipulation of the sefirot.

Bruno believed that the mystic-prophet could ultimately manipulate earthly events. Bruno hoped, through his mystical doctrine, to unite the splintered Christian sects in a universal spiritual reform, of which he would be the main prophet. To avoid the sectarianism of the Post-Reformation Churches, Bruno turned to an alternative model of spirituality, the Kabbalah, that provided a cosmological and hermeneutic structure for his theological discourse.

Both Bruno's mysticism and prophecy are inexorably linked to his understanding of Jewish thought. His examples of prophecy are grounded in Old Testament figures such as Moses, Balaam and Solomon; whose prophetic link with God Bruno believes derived from the Kabbalah. Bruno's emphasis on the Old Testament is the application of one of the fundamental techniques of the Kabbalah to his own philosophy: biblical exegesis. Biblical exegesis introduces a strong "Judaic" element to Bruno's prophetic discourse on ecclesiastic reform. Ultimately, Bruno's polemical syncretic religious views lead not to a general reform, but to his sentencing and condemnation for heresy.

Copyright Karen DeLeón-Jones