The Book Bahir

by Daniel Abrams

The Book Bahir is widely considered to be the first known work of medieval Kabbalah. Its author or authors are unknown, but modern research has shown that the work took on its present literary form somewhere in Germany and/or Provence, in the twelfth or early thirteenth centuries. Many manuscripts and thirteenth century Kabbalists attributed the work to the first century Rabbi Nehuniah ben ha-Kanah, transforming the work into an authoritative source. It therefore served as the basis for much of the symbolic language of many Kabbalistic works in the thirteenth century, including the Zohar, and to a degree, later works as well.

Although many scholars have written studies about the book, particularly Gershom Scholem, the basic textual work has been a longtime desideratum of the study of Jewish mysticism. This new study completes the most basic gaps of the scholarship and advances the research in the following four areas:

(1) The introductory study reviews the attempts to edit the Hebrew text of the Bahir in this century and investigates the various scholarly methods employed to penetrate the veil of the Bahir's final redaction. The 'ancient' literary roots of the Bahir are brought into question through a reappraisal of certain known parallels recorded by medieval figures. All textual evidence of the early history of the work is discussed and presented to the reader and detailed examples are brought to show the evolution and reworking of key passages of the Bahir in the works of later Kabbalists.

(2) A critical edition of the Bahir is offered for the first time. The edition is based on the earliest dated manuscripts and is arranged page by page opposite a facsimile of the Munich manuscript which Scholem translated into German. Transcriptions of indirect witnesses of passages not found in the manuscript version of the Bahir are offered separately as are facsimiles of the first printed edition(s) and transcriptions of passages printed in other Kabbalistic collectanea which are based on manuscripts of the Bahir.

(3) The reception history of the Bahir is charted through annotated listings of numerous medieval works in print and manuscript which quote and comment on the Bahir as well as listings of all translations and commentaries to the Bahir.

(4) The final section of the bock offers a wide-ranging bibliography of approximately nine hundred entries, directing the reader to discussions concerning the Bahir in primary and secondary sources in all languages. The indices include a conversion table for the passage divisions according to Scholem's and Margalioth's editions, an index by passage number to Scholem's analyses of the Bahir in his Origins of the Kabbalah, an index of biblical verses cited in the Bahir and a listing of all manuscripts cited in the study.

This volume is therefore intended as a textbook for course instruction of one of the most central works of the Kabbalah as well as a guide to future academic research. Moreover, the extended discussions of Kabbalistic works (and studies) throughout the centuries permit the student of Jewish mystical literature to use this volume as a tool for research not directly related to the Bahir.

Daniel Abrams received his Ph. D. from New York University and is currently a research fellow at The Hebrew University.

"Without question one of the most important documents and medieval forms of Jewish mysticism is the enigmatic Sefer ha-Bahir. In the last decades there have been several important studies on this seminal work, but scholars have been hampered by the lack of a reliable critical edition. At long last that situation has been remedied by the assiduous and painstaking work of Daniel Abrams. For the first time we are presented with a scholarly edition of this foundational text of medieval kabbalah based on the earliest dated manuscripts and the first printed editions. With a critical edition in hand, scholars can begin to ask the serious questions regarding the nature of this text and its redactional history. The perplexing issues that surround this work, including the problem of the so-called origins of the kabbalah, can now be tackled on firmer textual ground. In addition to providing an introductory study and critical edition, Abrams has charted in a methodological way the impact of the Bahir on subsequent authors through the Middle Ages. I am certain that this book will quickly emerge as a major research tool for students of Jewish esotericism. " Elliot Wolfson, New York University.

"Abrams' edition is the most comprehensive and critical presentation of all the known facts related to one of the classics of Kabbalisfic literature. The book is a must for everyone interested in the study of Kabbalah. " Moshe Idel, The Hebrew University

"Sefer ha-Bahir, the first Kabbalistic work, is one of the most difficult texts of Kabbalistic literature, an accurate edition being a major desideratum of the study of Kabbalah. The present edition endeavors to fill this need with a critical text and a philological introduction. " Yehudah Liebes, The Hebrew University.

The Book Bahir by Daniel Abrams with an introduction by Moshe Idel, 16 pp. + 344 pp. + 15 English pp. Cloth, 24 x 18 cm. ISBN 0-9640972-0-6. Cherub Press, 9323 Venice Boulevard, Culver City, California 90232, USA.

Répertoire bibliographique / Bibliographic Repertory