The Mystery of Faith in the Writings of Nathan of Gaza

Thesis submitted for the Degree “Doctor of Philosophy”,

by Abraham Elqayam

Submitted to the Senate of the Hebrew University, December 1993

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Part A of this dissertation deals with methodical and methodological aspects of Nathan of Gaza's thought, and delineates the study's subject matter as the Mystery of Faith in all of Nathan of Gaza's works. The discussion of this subject falls into two principal categories: one is the belief in Sabbatai Sevi himself, and the other ­ understanding the God of Sabbatai Sevi's Faith.

The Sabbatian movement was a movement for spiritual redemption and religious renewal, whose principal aim was to deliver religion from its petrification and its errors, and revive religion, faith and the true Godhead. Sabbatianism is thus one of many such trends that sought to remedy the crisis of faith which beset Jews in the late 17th century. The central role of faith in Sabbatian ideology stemmed both from the crisis of faith experienced by Sabbatai Sevi himself, and the rise of scepticism and crisis of faith endured by the Jews in the 17th century.

The present study shows that Nathan of Gaza strove to set up a Sabbataio­centric experience of redemption; i.e., a redeeming religious experience centered on a concrete messiah ­ Sabbatai Sevi. Sabbatai Sevi was thus not an abstract notion, but, in his person, embodied both the foundation and the ultimate end of the redeeming religious experience. Therefore it can maintained, that Nathan of Gaza's most prominent contribution lay in shaping a fideist, heterodox prototype of "The Man of Faith", whose religious experience revolves around the sacramental belief in a flesh­and­blood messiah, Sabbatai Sevi.

The ideology formulated by the Sabbatian prophet was centered not only on reshaping the religious experience in a Sabbataio­centric form, but also on reforming the Jewish nation's religious consciousness of the God of its faith. Sabbatai Sevi was the messiah who, exposing the real identity of the God of religion and faith, delivered the Jewish religion from its shameful petrification and saved the people of Israel from a grave flaw in its faith. The spiritual redemption of the individual would henceforth be contingent upon his or her knowing the God of Sabbatai Sevi's Faith.

However, as Nathan of Gaza's thought entered its last phase, the belief in Sabbatai Sevi and the belief in The God of Sabbatai Sevi's Faith became one and the same, for Sabbatai Sevi was by then considered an incarnation of the god of his Faith.

Generally speaking, Nathan of Gaza's thought was subject to major changes throughout his writing. However, Scholem and Wirszubski's main contribution to understanding this issue seems to lie rather in exposing the continuous aspects of Gazati Sabbatianism. The present study shows that Nathan of Gaza's s thought should be analyzed in the light of two compatible and complementary pivots: change on the one hand, continuity on the other.

The axis of continuity should be associated with the methodological level, whereas change is best understood on the conceptual one. Aspects of continuity on the methodological level are the inherent bond between the mystery of creation and the mystery of the messiah's soul, the mythical, paradoxical quality of Nathan of Gaza's Sabbatian thought, and its interpersonal sources.

The major part of the analytical endeavour in this study is dedicated to revealing the aspects of change in Nathan of Gaza's writings, aspects which research literature has largely ignored. The study follows both the terminological and conceptual changes to which his thought was subjected, and shows the theological developments that took place during the years 1665­1666, developments which cannot be interpreted as mere paraphrases. Moreover, the changes occurred not only between the pre­apostasy phase and the post­apostasy one, but also within the post­apostasy phase in itself.

Among the causes of change in Nathan of Gaza's mythological vistas and theology are those inherent to the method, apparently motivated by the wish for greater methodical coherence; the ones stemming from the historical internal dynamics of the Sabbatian Movement; those deriving from the interpersonal dynamics between messiah and prophet; the ones arising from the mystical experience of Nathan of Gaza himself; and above all, those originating in the new revelations presented by Sabbatai Sevi to his prophet.

According to the personality hypothesis, the Gazati myth is derived from the historical biography of both Sabbatai Sevi and Nathan of Gaza. The personality hypothesis involves a position referred to as "the parallelistic position", suggesting correlation between Sabbatai Sevi's personality and Nathan of Gaza's ideology and Theology. This position, starting with an insight of Scholem's, is mirrored in various positions adopted by subsequent researchers of Sabbatianism: Wirszubski, Schatz, Liebes.

The hermeneutic line shared by Scholem, Wirszubski, Schatz, and Liebes, is their basic agreement that there is, phenomenologically speaking, a correlation between the myth of Godhead and creation and the historical personality of Sabbatai Sevi. Liebes presents an additional correlation, between the Gazati myth and the historical personality of Nathan of Gaza and his self­perception.

The historical development of Kabbalah research displays two differentiable schools within the parallelistic position. The first one, originating in Scholem, perceives symbol and myth as prior to personality, while the other one, originating in Weiss, perceives personality as prior to symbol and myth.

Scholem tends to focus discussion on the Kabbalistic symbol per se, perceiving it as a Jungian archetype, originating in the collective unconscious. He, and those following him, maintain that the symbol precedes personality ontologically, logically and psychologically. Such a stance counters much of the main thrust of the parallelistic position, since it leads the researcher to isolate his discussion of the myth, neutralizing its personality­related contents.

The parallelistic insight can only be brought to its methodological conclusion if we proceed from the opposite assumption, i.e., that the personality forms the basis, while myth is merely the derivative. Such insight can be found in another Kabbalah research school, the one originating in Weiss. This school, which can be termed "the personality school", tends to focus discussion on concrete, flesh­and­blood individuals, and base discussion of symbol and myth on their biographical personality precursors.

The methodological model put forward in this study is basically that the Gazati myth should be interpreted as stemming both from the individual personality of the messiah and the extreme changes to which it was subjected, and from ideologizing his antinomistic behavior. Hence, the source of dialectics in Nathan of Gaza's thought is neither the Godhead, the creation, or the world; rather, it emanates from the paradoxical person of Sabbatai Sevi.

Furthermore, the personality of Nathan of Gaza himself is reflected in this dialectic and affects it. Thus, the foundation of the Gazati myth can be said to be a mythical personality enhancement, whose double dialectic is rooted both in the individual personalities of the messiah and the prophet and their self­perceptions, and ideologizing the Sabbatai Sevi antinomism and the Nathan of Gaza nomism.

Accepting Sabbatai Sevi's personality as the hermeneutic key does not limit us to a specific analytic path. Sabbatai Sevi's personality can be analyzed with various tools: psychiatric ones, emphasising the pathological disorder as the central key to this personality; or mystical ones, emphasising as the dominant element Sevi's position as a mystic, who deals personally and intimately with the God of his faith.

The dominant position among the researchers accepting the psychiatric insight of Sabbatai Sevi is Scholem's, who diagnosed Sevi as a bipolar psychotic. Sadeh and Liebes are the prominent representatives of the other school, the one emphasising Sabbatai Sevi's mystical qualities and perceiving him as homo religiosus.

The present study maintains that a researcher striving to comprehend an intricate, multi­faceted such personality as Sabbatai Sevi's, should use each and every hermeneutic key that comes to hand, so as to build complementary analyses from various angles. Accordingly, the analyses offered in this study use both the psychiatric and the mystical analyses, as complementary rather than opposed approaches.

The personality hypothesis is not restricted to Sabbatai Sevi's personality; it is also relevant to his prophet. However, beyond general phenomenological depictions of Nathan of Gaza, Sabbatian research has not come up with any comprehensive theory ­ psychiatric or mystical ­ that encompasses the personality of Nathan of Gaza. The only scholar who tried to delineate a personality model of Nathan of Gaza is Ostow, who regards him as a "hypomanic personality".

At present, no mystical model of Nathan of Gaza's personality has appeared in research literature. To complete the portrayal the present study proposes a mystical personality analysis of Nathan of Gaza, to facilitate interpretation of his personality by both psychiatric and mystical means.

Part B of this study discusses the mystery of "the God of Sabbatian Faith" in Nathan of Gaza's works before Sabbatai Sevi's apostasy, i.e., in the years 1665­1666. Those of his pre­apostasy works that relate to the mystery of the God of Sabbatian Faith are analyzed diachronically, focussing on the trends of development apparent in them. The discussion is based on two premises:

[I]. The new understanding of the God of Sabbatian Faith did not originate in Nathan of Gaza; rather, it was formulated by Sabbatai Sevi himself.

[2]. Sabbatai Sevi's concept of the mystery of the God of his Faith was subject to development.

Integrating both premises produces the third one:

[3]. The changes in Sabbatai Sevi's concept of the mystery of the God of his Faith were the prime cause of the shifts and changes in the mystery of the God of Faith in Nathan of Gaza's writings.

The Vision of R. Abraham the Pious, an apocalyptic essay, first suggests that Sabbatai Sevi's messianic mission is not merely political, but involves both restoration [Tiqqun] of the Godhead in general and the God of faith in particular, and reforming the false faith of the Jewish nation, restoring it to faith in the "true God". Nathan of Gaza suggests that restoration of the Qelippah (shell) involves the restoration of the God of faith, which, in its turn, subsumes the mystery of the messiah's deification. He also hints at a highly significant inherent bond between dynamic processes in Sabbatai Sevi's mystery of faith and his bipolar personality. However, he does not discuss this bond extensively in his apocalypse, and it is only clarified in his latest works.

The apocalypse The Vision of R. Abraham the Pious contains two verses that were soon to become the manifesto of Sabbatian ideology:

The first verse is "The just shall live by his faith" (Habbakkuk 2:4). The Qumran Sectaries was the first to interpret this verse personally, namely, as relating to the faith in the "Teacher of Righteousness". But it seems to have acquired its sacramental meaning only in the New Testament, where it became a maxim of Christianity, expressing the sacramental belief in Jesus. In the Middle Ages, Jewish thinkers tried to counter this exegesis, using, among others, irony and sarcasm. But in the 17th century this verse became the motto of the Sabbatian ideology of sacramental belief in Sabbatai Sevi (excluding only the Kardozian school).

The second verse is "Now for a long time Yisrael has been without the true God" (Chronicles 2, 15:3). This verse, which served previously as the watchword of the Karaite ideology, now became the manifesto of all the various schools of the Sabbatical movement, and a central element of its testimonia.

Hence, both Christianity and Karaism made a significant contribution to

criticism of Jewish faith in the main streams of Sabbatian movement in the late 17th century, and to shaping their ideological direction.

In The Penitential Devotions, Nathan of Gaza delineates a praxis of reform for the penitent, consistently underlining the behavioral implications of both faith and repentance: Just as repentance is defined behaviorally, not as an inner experiential process, so is faith defined in behavioral, action­oriented terms, rather than experiential or cognitive ones.

In The Penitential Devotions Nathan of Gaza attempts unsuccessfully to harmonise Lurianic Kabbalah with the mystery of The God of Sabbatai Sevi's Faith. His failure is a result of the Lurianic thinking schemas, of which he is unable to rid himself, and which color his understanding of Sabbatai Sevi. Of Sabbatai Sevi's theory he can only grasp that element which the Lurianic schemas prepare him to receive: the structural one. He does change the Lurianic structure, but he keeps its structural orientation. Sabbatai Sevi's personal­emotional, rather than structural orientation, he fails to comprehend. The end product is a concept of Godhead based in its essential outlines on Lurianic Kabbalah, affected by Sabbatai Sevi only as to the outward formulation, and not as to either content or essence of the concept of Godhead.

In his Letter to Raphael Joseph Nathan of Gaza maintains that the God of Faith is `lllath Ha`illoth Vesibbath Hasibboth (Cause of All Causes). In keeping with the spirit of The Penitential Devotions, he sees significant messianic meaning in the belief in `lllath Ha`illoth Vesibbath Hasibboth, but he digresses from that essay when trying to reduce the theurgical aspect of the mystery of Godhead and perhaps to eliminate it completely.

In his Letter, Nathan accepts Sabbatai Sevi's radical demand to reject the Lurianic theory of kawwanoth (mystical intentions), but does so out of Lurianic Kabbalah's inner logic. He does succeed, this way, to meet his messiah's wishes, but the gap between their primary motivations remains as wide as ever.

In the Letter the belief in Sabbatai Sevi has a sacramental value, which shows traces of Luther and Calvin's reformation. Nathan of Gaza maintains unequivocally that the belief in Sabbatai Sevi is a necessary condition to redemption in this world and in the afterworld. In this way he shapes the Jewish faith as a messaio­centric experience, and the Sabbatian religion as a "religion of faith". This phase of his thought still incorporates a tension between the belief in Sabbatai Sevi and the belief in the God of his Faith. This tension is to be resolved in identifying the messiah with the God of his Faith.

Nathan of Gaza wrote four separate essays, which thematically make up one essay, that systematically elaborates The God of Sabbatai Sevi's Faith. These essays include The Prophecy of Jonah's Ship; The Short and The Long Exegesis that interpret it, and The Intent of the Faith of our Lord that summarises it.

The Prophecy of Jonah's Ship is a sort of commitment note for the individual who wishes to join the Sabbatian movement. It rephrases the mystery of the God of Sabbatian Faith as a query regarding the identity of the worlds' Ruler (upper world and other worlds).

In this essay, Nathan of Gaza first introduces the essential inherent bond between the mystery of the God of Sabbatian Faith and initiation into the Sabbatian movement. This bond implies that the initiate has to embrace The God of Sabbatai Sevi's Faith. Furthermore, the essay assumes the implicit conception of Sabbatai Sevi himself as corpus Christi, presenting the initiation as incorporation in the messiah's body, and consequently incorporation in the God of the messiah's Faith. This position is fully developed only in the second part of The Book of Creation.

In The Prophesy of Jonah's Ship, Nathan of Gaza reinforces Sabbatai's Sevi's centrality to the believers' messianic religious experience. In the Letter to Raphael Joseph, Nathan of Gaza has introduced the sacramental value of the belief in Sabbatai Sevi; now he develops this idea further still, giving it the meaning of incorporation into Sabbatai Sevi's body. But at this stage, Nathan of Gaza has not yet freed himself from the conflict between belief in Sabbatai Sevi and belief in the God of his Faith, so that he is unable to integrate them into a single, unique and unified whole.

The Intent of the Faith of Our Lord is Nathan of Gaza's last formulation of Sabbatai Sevi's mystery of the God of his Faith before the latter's apostasy, designed to establish the normative mystery of the God of Faith required from the Sabbatian believer.

The Intent of the Faith of Our Lord evinces Nathan of Gaza's intent to solve the diachronic changes in Sabbatai Sevi's object of faith, or, alternately, the synchronic difference between Sabbatai Sevi's object of faith and that of other believers. This he does in two fashions: The first one is a function of Sabbatai Sevi's unique personality. The God of Sabbatai Sevi's Faith does not compel Nathan of Gaza or any other believer, for psycho­mythological reasons particular to Sabbatai Sevi's own personality.

Sabbatai Sevi is the only one who "greatly labored", until "he caused the king... to sit on his throne", and thus was granted "exaltation"; that is to say, his psycho­theurgic structure was transfigured, allowing him to nurse directly from from `Attiqa Qaddisha (the Holy Ancient One). Still, in The Intent of the Faith of Our Lord, the theme of the root of the messiah's soul is not as pivotal to fathoming the relationship between Sabbatai Sevi and the God of his Faith, as it was to become in The Treatise on the Dragons.

The second way Nathan deals with this discrepancy is by trying to synthesise, neutralising the difference by metaphysical means. The synthesis he suggests centers on the relationship between existence and epistemology in the Godhead world: Any differentiation among the powers making up the emanated structure of Godhead, or between the emanating and emanated concept of Godhead, is practically an illusion. Hence, the difference between the God of Sabbatai Sevi's Faith in the first or second phase, or between Sabbatai Sevi t s and that of other believers, is actually an illusion.

Apparently, the first approach, emphasising the intimate relationship between Sabbatai Sevi and his God, reflects Sabbatai Sevi's own thought, while the second one, which regards the difference between the powers of Godhead as illusory, reflects Nathan of Gaza's own mystical experience.

In The Treatise on the Dragons, Nathan of Gaza argues unequivocally that parsuf Ze`ir Anpin (configuration of the Holy One Blessed Be He) is the obligatory God of faith of Judaism, and anyone praying to any other configuration ­ e.g., to parsuf `Attiqa Qaddisha (configuration of the Holy Ancient One) ­ should be termed "he who abhors God".

As he did In The Penitential Devotions, Nathan of Gaza derives the identity of the God of Faith from the mystery of The God of Sabbatai Sevi's Faith, but ignores the personal bond between believer and God suggested by his messiah's conception, and interprets the mystery of the God of Faith in Lurianic messianic terms.

Throughout The Treatise on the Dragons are numerous hints of the relation between the mystery of faith, the soul root, the restoration of the tehiru (the vacuum produced by the contraction of the Godhead) and leadership of the worlds. Restoring the soul root is part of the process of restoration of the tehiru, causing a psychophysical transfiguration. The process begins with the restoration of Sabbatai Sevi's soul. This results in the exaltation of Sabbatai Sevi to the rank of the sefirah (one of the ten different stages of emanation) of Tif'ereth (Holy One Blessed Be He), and Tif'ereth's consequent restoration. The end product is the exaltation of Tif'ereth to The Cause of All Causes. Since the process of Sabbatai Sevi's restoration is a model of imitation for the believers, the corresponding transfiguration for them means shifting from belief in Ze`ir Anpin to belief in The Cause of All Causes.

Nathan of Gaza proposes two different personality models of faith in The Treatise on the Dragons. One model, represented by the faith of Abraham and probably based on his own sort of faith, is viewed by Nathan of Gaza as striving to separate the good from the bad, and to utterly destroy the bad; while the other one, represented by Job and ostensibly based on Sabbatai Sevi's personality, is seen as striving to assimilate the bad into the good.

Thus, in the double­edged relationship between faith and heresy, Nathan chooses faith alone. His is a firm, steady, unvarying faith, one unthreatened by heresy or doubt. But Nathan of Gaza is aware of his faith's limitations and weaknesses. His faith belongs only to the upper tehiru. It is unable to complete the messianic restoration: to enter the lower tehiru, to pull out souls to the upper tehiru, and assimilate the bad into the holy. This is the striking weakness of his faith.

In contrast, the model of faith based on Sabbatai Sevi's personality, is a paradoxical, bipolar one. Faith and heresy are not two theoretical models, but two mental dispositions, confronting each other within Sabbatai Sevi's tormented soul. Sabbatai Sevi's personal dualism becomes a paradigm for an ontological dualism of faith, in which his bipolar personality serves as the basis and cornerstone of the myth of the two parts of the tehiru. The upper part of the tehiru is a projection of his mental state during "enlightenment" (=mania), while the snakes' pit, which is the lower part of the tehiru, symbolises his mental state during the periods of "withdrawal of enlightenment" (=depression).

The upper tehiru represents, therefore, the powers of faith and constructiveness, while the lower one represents the powers of heresy and non­being.

While in a state of "enlightenment" ( = mania), Sabbatai Sevi feels the presence of his God directly, so that his increasingly powerful faith expresses this special bond between them. Conversely, when he falls to a state of "withdrawal of enlightenment", he is acutely aware of God's absence, and thus evinces scepticism.

The source of weakness in Sabbatai Sevi's fluctuating faith is also its source of power and strength. Only by Sabbatai Sevi's paradoxical faith can the lower tehiru be restored, the holy souls elevated, and the bad assimilated into the good. This means that, contrary to Nathan of Gaza's unipolar faith, reflected only in the upper tehiru, Sabbatai Sevi's paradoxical faith, associated with both parts of the tehiru, is the only sort of faith that can produce the needed change and restoration for the Jewish faith.

Part C of this study discusses the mystery of the God of Sabbatian Faith in Nathan of Gaza's works after Sabbatai Sevi's apostasy and until his death, i.e., in the years 1666­1676. In this part, as in the previous one, those of his post­apostasy works that relate to the mystery of the God of Sabbatian Faith are analyzed diachronically, focussing on the trends of development apparent in them.

In The Mystery of the Messiah King, Nathan of Gaza strives to explain Sabbatai Sevi's conversion to Islam. This he does by means of a powerful mythical portrayal of an epic struggle between Serpents: the mythical struggle of Sabbatai Sevi ­ presented as "the holy serpent", against the qelippoth (shells) of his soul, represented by two serpents ­ "the crooked serpent" and "the piercing serpent".

On the historical­typological level, this myth can be interpreted as striving to explain Sabbatai Sevi's messianic faith­centered struggle, both against Christianity ("crooked serpent") and Islam ("piercing serpent"). Nathan of Gaza gives Sabbatai Sevi's redeeming activity in the domain of faith a universal significance. The messiah is charged with restoring the faith of the three positive religions, rather than merely that of the Jewish religion.

The struggle for the mystery of faith, represented on the overt level of history as the messiah's apostasy, is just an outward manifestation of an inner mythological struggle, whose arena is the messiah's soul itself, inasmuch as, according to Nathan of Gaza, Christianity and Islam are the shells of the messiah's soul. Thus can the Lurianic myth of the "breaking of vessels" be deciphered on the psychological level as referring to Sabbatai's Sevi's own personality. The "breaking of vessels" expresses more than the trauma of a broken Godhead, more than the historical trauma of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain ­ above all, it is the deep existential shock of the apostatic shattering of the messiah. It is "the messiah of the God of Jacob" who has disintegrated through apostasy. Interpreting the apostasy as a personality "breaking of vessels" shows how perceptive Nathan of Gaza was of Sabbatai Sevi's deepest feelings during this phase of his life.

Even though the apostasy was a traumatic breakdown experience for Sabbatai Sevi, nonetheless Nathan of Gaza perceives it as a necessary phase in the process of restoring his bipolar personality.

The Book of Zemir `Arisim shows a significant shift in the way Nathan of Gaza perceives the mystery of the God of Faith. He has now a crucial metaphysical distinction, derived from Sabbatai Sevi's bipolar personality, between ma`aseh bereshith (M.B.) (work of creation) processes, and ma`aseh merkavah (M.M.) (work of the chariot) processes. M.B. processes refer to the building of tehiru as a vessel, whereas M.M. processes are the flowing of divine emanation into this vessel. The God of Faith, while in the sefirah of Tif'ereth, is merely in the capacity of M.M.; the God of Faith is truly perfected only after the light of Qav Hayosher (straight line) emanates into Tif'ereth.

In The Book of Zemir `Arisim, as in The Treatise on the Dragons and The Mystery of the Messiah King, the serpents' position is one of gnostic dualism. But The Book of Zemir `Arisim introduces a novel approach to this myth: the serpents' designs in the lower tehiru are now on par with the will of En­Sof (Infinity). Hence, though the serpents' belief amounts to heresy in Tif'ereth, it no longer means a rebellion against the will of En­Sof, not only from the serpents' viewpoint, but from En­Sof s as well.

In The Treatise on the Dragons, Nathan of Gaza featured the messiah's paradoxical faith as derived from his bipolar personality. The emphasis in The Book of Zemir `Arisim differs somewhat. Sabbatai Sevi is now perceived as upholding gnostic­dualist faith as "a holy deceit", a weapon in his struggle against the serpents (to whose temptation he almost succumbs). Sabbatai Sevi's messianic mission, on the level of faith, is to restore the gnostic­dualist faith, a mission which he can only achieve by paradoxical means. The messianic era is portrayed as the ultimate triumph of harmonist faith over gnostic­dualist faith.

Nathan of Gaza's phrasing in The Book of Zemir `Arisim leaves much that needs clarification: does he see the will of En­Sof as antagonistic toward Tif'ereth, or as consonant with it? If the first interpretation is correct, it means that, for the first time in his writings, Nathan of Gaza lays the foundations for a position of gnostic dualism between En­Sof and Tif'ereth, actually envisioning En­Sof itself as "the other side". This introduces into The Book of Zemir `Arisim grave inherent contradictions, which are only to be resolved in The Book of Creation, by means of the distinction between thought­some vs. thought­less light.

In the first section of the first part of The Book of Creation, in accordance with what we have already seen in The Treatise on the Dragons, Nathan of Gaza asserts that the root of belief is derived from the soul's root. He delineates a typology of souls' belief, based on identifying the ontological roots of the souls, and depicted against a background of various developmental phases in the history of the people of Israel.

The connection between the mystery of faith and the messianic process is as follows: The faith of "the intelligent souls", who lack the nether root, cannot contribute significantly to the messianic process, while the gnostic belief of the "souls of the middle generations" can only disrupt this process. A small minority of these souls ­ i.e., those of the converted ones ­ can actually exercise the gnostic­dualist faith as a tactic of "the holy deceit", but such a practice can only be considered a temporary provision.

The faith of "the wise souls" is not exclusively derived either from the facial root or from the nether root, but is a harmonious combination of both. Consequently, the mystery of the faith of "the wise souls", like that of the messiah, is neither a gnostic dualism, or a reversed gnostic dualism, but a harmonious combination of M.B. and M.M. In other words, the transcendent God, in His immanent aspect, is the personal God of "the wise souls'" faith.

The second section of the first part of The Book of Creation lays out a harmonist model of the God of Faith, unprecedented by anything presented in the first section. This model depicts the God of Faith ­ namely, the scorch of Tif'ereth ­ as containing as an aspect of its essence the light of llana Yaqira (precious tree), created by the union of two opposing forces: thought­some light, embodying the powers of Asiluth (emanation) and creation; and thought­less light, embodying the powers of non­being and negation. It should be noted, however, that both lights emanate from En­Sof itself. The Sarah of Tif'ereth, into which the Ilana Yaqira emanates, represents the harmonious union of these two opposing forces, a union considered necessary, since the thought­less light has the powers of creation, whereas the thought­some light, in spite of its desire to create, is impotent, and has to employ the creative forces of the thought­less light.

The psycho­mythical parallelism was never before, in the writings of Nathan of Gaza, given such concise expression as it receives in this dichotomy: thought­some light represents Sabbatai Sevi's phases of mania, while thought­less light represents the time of depression.

In The Treatise on the Dragons, Nathan of Gaza portrayed Sabbatai Sevi in his time of distress, when, in the depth of depression, he felt forsaken by the God of his Faith. There the serpents were the alternative to the God of Faith; here Nathan of Gaza introduces a whole new conception of the experience of faith. No longer are the destructive forces of Godhead (i.e., thought­less light) demonized; now, at last, Nathan of Gaza can afford a model of appeasement and reconciliation, one that accepts the destructive aspects as an indivisible part of the God of Faith, and not an external demonic alternative. If in The Treatise on the Dragons he adopted Sabbatai Sevi's viewpoint of depression as a separation experience, now he launches a different model, in which depression and abandonment are no less a testament to God's living presence.

However, in spite of his sincere wish to build a model of faith containing harmoniously the forces of being and non­being, in the model of Ilana Yaqira Nathan had resolved in favor of "the holy faith" over the faith of the serpents. The coupling between thought­some and thought­less light, and the birth of llama Yaqira, imply no less than a concession to the powers of Asiluth and creation, at the expense of the powers of non­being and negation.

The second part of The Book of Creation shows that Nathan had retrospectively (apparently after the year 1675) come to the tragic conclusion that he had written most of his works without a true knowledge of the mystery of the God of his messiah's faith. The first signs of this conclusion can be discerned in the weak agnostic position in the second part of The Book of Creation, revealed by his admission of ignorance of the mystery on the one hand, and his detailed discussions of this very same mystery throughout the book on the other hand.

In the second part of The Book of Creation Nathan of Gaza elaborates on the model of Mana Yaqira, which plays the major part in the discussion of the identity of the God of faith, linking between the God of Faith and Sabbatai Sevi's apotheosis Mana Yaqira is an emanated force of Tif'ereth in the worlds of BYA ­ Beriah (creation), Yesirah (formation) and `Asiyyah (making). The mystery of the God of Sabbatian faith is therefore Tif'ereth in the world of Asiluth and Mana Yaqira in the worlds of BYA. Mana Yaqira's main chore in the messianic restoration is related to the mythological struggle between Tif'ereth in the upper tehiru and the serpents in the lower one. Both Tif'ereth and the serpents contend over the ultimate position of the tehiru lights which went astray in the worlds of BYA: Tif'ereth strives to purify them and elevate them to his level, while the serpents try to draw them into their great rebellion against him. Tif'ereth emanates Mana Yaqira for the purpose of using it in his struggle to subdue the serpents.

Mana Yaqira is the mystery of the God of Sabbatian Faith (i.e., "the God of Israel"), only in a state of being filled with the light of life, that emanates into it from the world of Asiluth, that is, a state of being "complete Godhead", in the capacity of M.M. Mana Yaqira is not present in the state of a dry, empty vessel, devoid of the light of life, in the capacity of M.B. Raza de­meheimanuta ­the mystery of Faith applied to Mana Yaqira ­ means a full union between vessels and essence.

This sort of dynamic is not novel in Nathan of Gaza's works: it recurs in his writings, from the Treatise on the Dragons to The Book of Zemir Arisim. Yet, in The Book of Creation, the parallels drawn between the mystery of the God of faith, and Sabbatai Sevi's bipolar personality, were significantly altered. In the Treatise on the Dragons, Sabbatai Sevi was conceived as in danger of being tempted by the serpents. In the second part of The Book of Creation, however, Sabbatai Sevi is no longer depicted that way, but is said to have had "the prerogative of knowing his Creator even while apparently in the state of a dry vessel". This assertion is fully in accord with the de­demonizatory trend of the depression states revealed, as mentioned above, in the second section of the first part of The Book of Creation, and signifies that, just as Mana Yaqira becomes complete in the harmonious abundance of lights emanating in it, so is Sabbatai Sevi healed and completed in the harmony between the pole of depression and the pole of mania.

Mana Yaqira integrates into the messianic process of restoring the upper half of the tehiru, by purifying the BYA worlds and elevating them to a state of "complete Godhead". Thus, the theory of Mana Yaqira knowingly defuses the borderline between the world of Asiluth and the worlds of BYA, and perceives the ultimate end of the messianic restoration as a state of mystical pantheism.

It would seem the drive to develop the Mana Yaqira theory comes mainly from the wish to expand the range of the messiah's mystery of faith beyond the Asiluth world, to his emanation in the BYA worlds. The cosmological messianic restoration of the BYA worlds, which is the basis of the Mana Yaqira theory, is but a shoot and branch of the theory of Sabbatai Sevi's own Godhead.

One can relate the emanation of Mana Yaqira in the worlds of BYA not only in neoplatonic terms, as a process of "emanation of being", but in incarnation terms as well. Mana Yaqira not only emanates in BYA, but is also incarnated in Sabbatai Sevi, elevating him to a level of "complete Godhead". Thus Mana Yaqira becomes an aspect of Sabbatai Sevi, since the God of his Faith is incarnated in him.

Only in the second part of The Book of Creation does Nathan of Gaza decide to array his arguments through philosophical method, directly attacking the philosophers' God. Nathan of Gaza has one battle, which he wages against the self­same pattern of faith, only this time he chooses to assail it by philosophical means, rather than by his favorite method of mythological designs. The analogy which can be drawn between the way he portrays the philosophers' God, and his depiction of the serpents' God, may imply that Nathan of Gaza regards philosophical belief as implicitly gnostic.

His religious interests lie in affirming the principle of creation, which he interprets as affirmation of the emanated Godhead. If the central issue in the mystery of the God of Sabbatai Sevi's faith is the identity of the God of Faith, and if Sabbatian theologians desire above all to locate the God of Faith on the level of essence, this part of The Book of Creation focuses on the very possibility that the God of faith and religion is the emanated Godhead. Nathan of Gaza thus contends in favor of the emanation principle, both on the mythological level and the philosophical one.

Nathan of Gaza is first and foremost a mythologist, and throughout his works he presents a mythological portrayal of the serpents' pattern of belief, which is, as mentioned above, a gnostic dualism. In the second section of the first part of The Book of Creation the serpents represent the thought­less light, which opposes the emanation principle, which is the essence and duty of thought­some light. The serpents think, not unreasonably, that the emanated forces are rebellious ones, which rose against En­Sof, so the campaign against them should be waged to its bitter end. Here Nathan defends the emanation principle by mythological means: by coupling the forces of non­being and negation (thought­less light) with the forces of creation and emanation (thought­some light). This coupling permits the process of creation within the tehiru space, and the emanation of divine forces, which is no longer perceived as metaphysical rebellion against En­Sof.

On the philosophical level, he objects to the philosophers' belief, which, in his mind, rejects the principle of emanated Godhead out of the concept of absolute being and absolute oneness. The equivalence between the serpents' and the philosophers' belief is that both utterly oppose the emanation principle. On the philosophical level, Nathan strives to save this principle, by bringing up the element of will as a solution to the emanation paradox, a solution which he deems consistent with the philosophical premises of absolute being.

As already mentioned, one of the main themes of the present study is the psycho­mythological parallelism between Sabbatai Sevi's paradoxical personality and the thought­some / thought­less light dichotomy. However, this psycho­mythological parallelism is not the only one. As the dichotomy between the lights reflects the contrasts within the messiah's person, so it reflects another contrast: the one between messiah and prophet.

It has already been related that Nathan of Gaza's personality is reflected in the thought­some light aspect of the messiah's personality, both because Nathan of Gaza projects his own personality onto his conception of his messiah, and because he perceives him as multi­faceted and all­embracing. But the angle suggested now differs somewhat. Now the dichotomy between the lights reflects Sabbatai Sevi as purely thought­less light, and Nathan of Gaza ­ as purely thought­some light.

The suggested hypothesis is that the theory of faith propounded in The Book of Creation is based on two religious prototypes, which are not only different, but contradictory. The dichotomy between the light categoriess implies an outline of two different religious prototypes: one is a thought­some light type, based on Nathan of Gaza's personality; the other, a thought­less light type, is based on Sabbatai Sevi's personality. This typology, though not wholly explicated, runs throughout the discussion of faith in The Bock of Creation.

One can draw a correspondence between Weiss's classic typology ­ the one distinguishing between mystical, contemplative Hasidism, and Hasidism of faith ­ and the typology based on the two­light dichotomy in The Book of Creation. The personality prototype derived from thought­some light, and based on Nathan of Gaza's personality, corresponds to the "mystical Hasidism" prototype, while the one derived from thought­less light, and based on Sabbatai Sevi's personality, corresponds to the "Hasidism of faith" prototype. It goes without saying that Weiss's typology does not exhaust the variety of nuances in each light­derived personality type, but it affords a chance to understand them.

The features common to the thought­some light religious prototype and to mystical Hasidism are: a conception of the immanence of God in the world, within the tehiru space, up to and including pantheism; an impersonal conception of Godhead; a striving toward monism and rejection of dualism; a largely optimistic anthropology; a generally impersonal relationship between man and God; and a mystic religious experience based on contemplation and ecstasy.

The features common to the thought­less light religious prototype and the Hasidism of faith are: a blatant negation of the immanence principle and a notion of total Divine transcendence that tends to empty tehiru space from His presence; a personal, even voluntaristic conception of God; a paradoxical, anti­rational theism, and consequently paradoxical behavior by God's absolute will; an extreme dualism penetrating all the systems of being; a pessimistic anthropology; and a religious experience based on the relating of a personal man to a personal ­ though far­away ­ God.

Nathan of Gaza, the psycho­mythical source of thought­some light, can be classified as a mystical religious type, whereas Sabbatai Sevi, the psycho­mythical source of thought­less light, can be classified as a religion­of­faith type. Such is the essence of difference between messiah and prophet. Nathan of Gaza, ostensibly aware of the weaknesses of both prototypes, just as he was aware of their advantages, strove to integrate them.

The complete prototype of homo religiosus is a product of the harmonious reconciliation between thought­some and thought­less light, unifying in his person the acute contradictions between mystical religiosity and faith religiosity, giving up neither. Yet, just as Nathan of Gaza, in his theosophical model, failed to portray a true harmony between the lights, so does he fail with the personality model. Critical observation of the whole prototype shows that, though Nathan of Gaza attempts to achieve harmony, eventually he ends up assimilating the "man of faith" into the "mystical man".

Deserving of an extended study is the relationship between faith and antinomism, a central aspect of faith­religiosity in Nathan of Gaza's depiction. Weiss did not elaborate on the implications of his theorising to the issue of nomism, except to note the anti­rational will of the voluntaristic God of the Hasidism of faith may be "sometimes even antinomian". In Nathan of Gaza's portrayal of both prototypes, however, the antinomian motive is a central typological feature.

Nathan of Gaza portrays thought­some light according to his own ascetic, nomistic, non­paradoxical personality, whose main tendency is to maintain the limits of Law (mythically represented by the vessels). The structures of the upper tehiru had been built by thought­some light, and creation, in its entirety, owes its existence to that light. Though the mystical prototype is a radical sort, not devoid of some potential anarchistic element, his tendency to keep within the limits of tehiru and vessels, and avoid destructive exceeding beyond the tenure, is a central characteristics of this prototype in The Book of Creation.

Not so with the faith­religiosity prototype derived from Sabbatai Sevi. The root of Sabbatai Sevi's soul is in thought­less light, which means it mehader betar hurbana ­ courts destruction: its nature is to strive to destroy the tehiru constructions and reunite with the En­Sof. Even though the wish to be united with its source in En­Sof conceals a latent mystical element, mysticism is, in this instance, the domain on the edge of faith.

The faith­religiosity prototype is by nature antinomian and nihilistic. Thought­less light's history shows it was cut off from its source in En­Sof and imprisoned within the tehiru space. Nathan of Gaza thinks the simsum (contraction) took place only within thought­some light, while thought­less light took extreme exception to the process of emanation and creation. During this process thought­some light succeeded in outwitting thought­less light and imprisoning it within the tehiru space, so that it may accomplish its end of creation.

Thus, in the tehiru space thought­less light finds itself cut off from its source. While thought­some light, in its embodiment within tehiru space, is linked to its source by means of Qav Hayosher, thought­less light, in contrast, has no functional equivalence of Qav Hayosher to keep it in touch. The imprisoned, chained thought­less light longs to escape its cosmic tehiru prison and return to its source in En­Sof. But this dream of homecoming can only be realized by destroying its prison, actually blasting the tehiru.

So it is with Sabbatai Sevi. The tehiru, symbolising in the Gazati myth the Torah, is also a more general symbol, of Law. Sabbatai Sevi's antinomian, anti­Law drive, stems from his destruction­courting nature. The conservative trends of Judaism are, for him, the Law, the tehiru: a cosmic prison, a closed claustrophobic space, completely severed from En­Sof, without his own Qav Hayosher (i.e., castrated; Qav Hayosher ­straight line ­ is obviously a phallic symbol), and devoid of all means of communication with the God of his faith.

But Sabbatai Sevi, the "man of faith", is seeking the God of this faith, is longing for the live, immediate touch, for the relationship between "I" and "Thou". But the God of his faith is far away, residing beyond the space of tehiru, beyond Law; and so is Sabbatai Sevi, imprisoned in tehiru, stifled by Halakhah, chained by Law, condemned to yearn, from his metaphysical prison, to the God of his faith.

The existential motives apparent in this tehiru­as­prison description reverberate with the power of agony. Sabbatai Sevi feels imprisoned in a foreign world, a world alien to his faith. No longer can he wish for the reshaping of Halakhah exegesis, to make it function as a sort of Qav Hayosher, a personal intimate vehicle of communication with the God of his Faith. This bond can only be reestablished with the destruction of Halakhah. Nihilism is his major tool in overcoming alienation, loneliness and distance: in overcoming tehiru.

While Scholem perceives Sabbatai Sevi's nihilism as deriving from his psychopathological personality, Nathan of Gaza does not think it a product of mental disorder, but of his driving need to reunite with the God of his faith. The destructive forces in Sabbatai Sevi's personality, the powers of non­being and annulment, are inseparable from his faith: faith is the basis of Sabbatai Sevi's nihilism.

The element Nathan of Gaza innovates in The Treatise of Principles is the mystery of Math Qishrei de­Meheimanuta ­ the Three Knots of Faith. The mystery of Sabbatai Sevi's faith in his last years was apparently the mystery of the Three Knots of Faith. Sabbatai Sevi's interest in the Three Knots appears to be, firstly, a personal­psychological one, focussing on his intimate bond with his God, a bond culminating in his incarnation as "son of God", included in the trinity of the Three Knots of Faith. Another motive seems to be the syncretistic one: Sabbatai Sevi uses the Three Knots of Faith as an ideological common ground between the three positive religions.

A close examination of the Zohar's approach to the Three Knots of Faith shows, that neither the Three Knots of Faith nor the relationship between it and the messiah as "son of God" can be considered a novel contribution to Kabbalistic thought. However, it seems it was Sabbatai Sevi who reinstated the Zohar's Three Knots of Faith in the late 17th century, and ­ his own innovation ­ gave it a sacramental value.

Nathan of Gazes previous works showed an acute dualism, culminating in The Book of Creation s thought­some / thought­less light dichotomy. In The Principles, in contrast, the dualist approach is strikingly absent; in its stead appears a unifying approach, no longer emphasising the opposition and polarity within the Godhead and within Sabbatai Sevi's person. Hence the marked absence of the discussion of thought­less light, and the basic tension between opposing elements of creation (culminating in the cosmic drama described in The Book of Creation), so typical of Nathan of Gaza's other work. The same trend can be discerned in the way he portrays Bera Bukhra ­ the Elder Son, as he nicknames the messiah ­ onefold, without the internal tension and the acute dualist aspects previously characteristic of him.

The assertion of Sabbatai Sevi as God's elder son does not suffice Nathan of Gaza. He strives further than that: his wish is to present Sabbatai Sevi as an incarnation of the God of his Faith. The designation of Bera Bukhra in The Principles means more than a personal, intimate messianic relationship between messiah and God; the conception it reflects is a conception of identity.

The designation of Bera Bukhra does not refer only to the concrete messiah Sabbatai Sevi, but also to aspects and levels in the Great Chain of Being, presented in The Principles mythologically, as links in the chain of the messiah's soul. The process of creation is a messianic one, in the sense that it refers to the actualisation of the messiah's soul, from its primordial, eternal mode of being in the En­Sof ha­Klali (global infinity), through its emanation in the tehiru worlds, and ending with its incarnation in a flesh­and­blood messiah, Sabbatai Sevi. Assuming the Chain of Being closes to a circle, one can also describe the process in the other half of the circle: Sabbatai Sevi's therapeutic ascent to the level of Tif'ereth, and the consequent ascent of Tif'ereth to the level of Mif`al Qadmon (primordial act). But this was not explicitly written in The Principles, but orally cited from Nathan of Gaza, by his students' evidence. Nevertheless, it would not be an exaggeration to assert that Nathan deemed Sabbatai Sevi God's elder son, in the sense of being His incarnation.

Doctrinally put, this mythical position means one should believe in the Three Knots of Faith, of which Bera Bukhra is an element. The T.K.F. mechanism includes the following elements: [1] The light of En­Sof, which is equivalent to Makhshavah Qedumah (primordial thought), which is equivalent to Mif`al Qadmon, which is equivalent to Bera Bukhra; [2] Qav Hayosher, which is Tif'ereth; [3] the sefirah of Malkhuth (kingdom). The first element is the domain of En­Sof, which is transcendent to the tehiru, while the second and the third ones belong to the space of simsum, which is the immanent aspect of En­Sof.

The prime issue in The Principles is therefore the assertion that the mystery of the God of Faith is the Three Knots of Faith, a mystery hidden and concealed in the Holy Writ, from the Bible to the Zohar. The Principles' aim is to decipher this mystery, and offer a hermeneutic key to reveal it in the Zohar and Tiqqunei Zohar.

However, one can suggest a much more far­reaching assertion: that The Principles contain the implied position that Sabbatai Sevi is himself the God of faith and religion, in the sense that he contains the Three Knots of Faith in his person, or that he is one of the Three. In The Principles, Nathan of Gaza apparently holds the implicit position that Sabbatai Sevi is an incarnation of the God of faith. Even though nothing is explicitly said of the Three Knots of Faith being one in the person of Sabbatai Sevi, or of his being one of the Three, still, since The Principles depict Sabbatai Sevi as Bera Bukhra, he must be, consequently, one of the Three Knots of Faith.

This, put together with Tishby's premise, that Nathan of Gaza thought Sabbatai Sevi would depose Tif'ereth and rule the worlds in his stead, means that The Principles contain the esoterically hidden assumption that Sabbatai Sevi, already an incarnation of Tif'ereth, is going to be elevated, in his lifetime, to the level of Tif'ereth, and rule the worlds. This links the Three Knots of Faith theory with the theory of God's incarnation in the messiah.

The Sabbatian movement was only just beginning when Nathan of Gaza first introduced the sacramental value of the belief in Sabbatai Sevi. Then, it was the belief in the messiah, rather than the God of his Faith, which was sacramental. Later, in the last phase of his writing, Nathan of Gaza identified Sabbatai Sevi with the God of his Faith, granting the belief in Three Knots of Faith a sacramental value. Apparently, by Nathan of Gaza's conception of Sabbatai Sevi as an incarnation of the God of his faith, he realized the wish to have a personal God, since, at that point, Sabbatai Sevi himself became, in a way, the God of faith and religion.

It has already been noted that The Principles are a hermeneutic system affording a new reading of the sacred texts of Judaism, with the Three Knots of Faith as the internal guide. The mystery of Three Knots of Faith in The Principles is that Sabbatai Sevi is included in the Three Knots of Faith. Thus, the sacred texts can be said to be a mythological biography of Sabbatai Sevi. Such is the hermeneutic key Nathan of Gaza suggested in the twilight of his life to interpret the Jewish Canon, and such is the hermeneutic key to the Gazati myth itself.

Copyright Avraham Elqayam

See also: Sabbatai Sevi and SufismThe Treatise of the Dragons

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