Thesis submitted for the Degree Doctor of Philosophy,
by Abraham Elqayam
Submitted to the Senate of the Hebrew University, December 1993
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
. Sabbatai Sevi's concept of the mystery of the God of his Faith was subject
Integrating both premises produces the third one:
. 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:  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;
 Qav Hayosher, which is Tif'ereth;  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
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
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 Sufism - The Treatise of the Dragons.
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