The Doctrine of the Divine Name

An Introduction to Classical Kabbalistic Theology

by Steven Wald

My primary goal in this study is to present the main elements of kabbalistic thought in a form which is both intelligible and authoritative. The study is built around texts, mostly deriving from the closing decades of the thirteenth century, the crucial period in which kabbalistic thought first coalesced into a fairly coherent and unified intellectual tradition. The centerpiece of the exposition is a detailed analysis of the doctrine of the Divine Name as presented in a text titled The Secrets of the Letters of the Divine Name - one of the most complete, systematic, and authoritative presentations of the elements of kabbalistic theology to be found in classical kabbalistic literature.

The text of The Secrets of the Letters is difficult, as difficult as any to be found in the entire Zoharic literature. But it is the only text which presents in a systematic way the totality of the Zohar's doctrine of the divine middot, or, as they are better known, the ten sephirot - their procession one from the other, their metaphysical nature, and their spiritual content.

Because of this text's difficulty it has never before been translated, not even into Hebrew. Moreover, many of the more common printed texts have become corrupted through the negligence or the misunderstanding of the printers. Manuscripts, on the other hand, have preserved much better texts. Similarly, certain printed editions preserve significantly better readings, some of which were based on manuscripts not available to me.

The body of this work includes four parts:

1) a newly edited Aramaic text of The Secrets of the Letters in its entirety (placed at the very end for the use of the Judaica scholar), and

2) an annotated translation of the systematic section of the The Secrets of the Letters, lines 1-334, (approximately one half of the text) with critical notes.

These two sections provide the necessary critical foundation for the conceptual analysis.

The conceptual analysis, which is the heart of the bock, is divided between the two remaining parts:

3) a presentation, preceding the translation, of the essential elements of the Doctrine of the Name in abstract, systematic form, and

4) a running commentary and paraphrase of the translation, which follows it, including references to those sections of the systematic presentation which are necessary for the proper understanding of any given passage.

The purpose of this analysis is to present the essential contents of kabbalistic theology to the non-expert in a manner which is both authoritative and intelligible. This theology is placed within its proper historical setting in the introduction to the work, and its concrete religious significance within that context is also clarified there.

The work may be read on a number of different levels, depending upon how deeply or how critically one wishes to approach it. The introduction and the systematic section can be read independently of the translation, which fills them out with concrete content. The translation can be read with or without the commentary, which justifies the systematic presentation. Similarly, one who is intimidated by the difficulty of the text can use the commentary as a paraphrase in place of the literal translation. The critical notes and Aramaic text are intended for the scholar who wishes to check my readings and interpretations. Regardless of the level on which the reader approaches this material, I hope my presentation will afford him some glimpse into the intellectual and spiritual riches which this tradition contains.

Répertoire bibliographique / Bibliographic Repertory