Joseph Dan is one of the world's leading authorities on Jewish mysticism. In this superb anthology, Dan not only presents illuminating excerpts from the most important mystical texts, but also delves into the very meaning of mysticism itself. Dan takes readers through the historical development of Jewish mysticism, from late antiquity to the modern period. He explores the Kabbalah, the esoteric tradition that delves into the secrets delivered by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, the emergence of Hasidism, and much more. He presents the great texts, from Hekhalot Rabbati, "The Greater Book of Divine Palaces," set in the temple in Jerusalem; to the apocalyptic vision of Abraham Abulafia in the thirteenth century; to the Zohar, perhaps the best-known volume of all. For each piece, he offers an extended introduction that deftly places the work in the context of its time and its antecedents.
"Mysticism is that which cannot be expressed in words, period," Dan writes. In this remarkable volume, he guides us through that seemingly impenetrable barrier to show how the inexpressible has been expressed in some of the most profound and challenging writing in existence.
From its very first page, it's obvious that this lucid, authentically Jewish and scholarly work is different from the numerous recent titles that have jumped on the kabbalistic bandwagon. Dan, an expert on Jewish mysticism and winner of the 1997 Israel Prize, carefully explodes several misconceptions. He begins by separating religion from mysticism. In current usage, he says, "someone who prays is religious; someone who really means it is a mystic." But the basic attitudes of mysticism often contradict those of established religion: the mystic distrusts language, logic and thought, certain that those vehicles cannot lead to the revelation of God's nature. "Mysticism is that which cannot be expressed in words, period," states Dan succinctly. He further distinguishes between mysticism and Kabbalah, noting that though many mystics were Kabbalists, Jewish mysticism began a thousand years before Kabbalah. Mysticism, he stresses, is a Christian term that has no parallel in Judaism; Jewish mysticism is the "invention of contemporary scholars dealing with comparative study of religion." A comprehensive introduction explains the historical development of mysticism from antiquity to modern times, and delineates its leaders, texts and theology. Over 25 selections reflect the remarkable scope of Jewish mysticism, from the visions of Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Ishmael to the secrets of the Zohar; from apocalyptic, messianic and magical texts to the vibrant writing of four contemporary Israeli poets an unconventional inclusion. This volume will appeal to any serious reader of mysticism. (Jan.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.