ennui is for suckers (t3dy) wrote,
ennui is for suckers
t3dy

secondary sources on Pico's Kabbalah


Chaim Wirzubski Pico's Encounter

7 Almost all the demonstrable sources of Pico's Kabbalistic theses use symbolical language to a greater or lesser extent.



9 What cannot be seen in the Latin translation without recourse to the original is the way in which the truth that God is the cause of all that exists is discovered or rather recognized through the combination of divine names. But unless one can see how Kabbala discovers or recognizes truth -- and the ways of discovery or recognition are not always the same -- one has failed to see the essential quality of Kabbala.
If we bear in mind that the translations of Mithridates are shot through with Hebrew words and phrases and, occasionally, as in this instance, with whole passages in Hebrew, we can see now that even that modicum of Hebrew which Pico acquired in a month might improve his understanding of Kabbala. I am not suggesting that it removed or even eased all the difficulties Pico had to face. But it certainly helped him to see in detail how a Kabbalistic argument or interpretation proceeded. This is a matter of importance, because Pico's attraction by the Kabbalistic way of discovering or recognizing truth accounts for much that is entirely new in his Christian Kabbala.


58 It is certain Pico read the Bahir. Scholem proved it beyond doubt.
20 A significant number of Pico's theses unmistakably reflect not only recognizable doctrines but also identifiable passages of the Zohar.
55 Pico could not have had a better guide than Recanati... it was because he read it with the eyes of Recanati that Pico understood the Zohar so well.




53 source list for Theses 59 sources of first set of theses (Abulafia not yet)
60-61 six books which are direct sources of some of the most important theses of the second set. 64 sources list with Abulafia texts

64 sources of second set of theses



Wirszubski brings up a potential Dionysian connection when he speculates that the title of Gikatilla's book Portae Lucis may have been meant to recall the title Dionysius' text On the Divine Names.[10]





70 His skill as a translator and his knowledge of the Kabbala combined to produce readable, literal translations of a large body of texts few of which are easy and some of which are uncommonly difficult. To the latter class belong the writings of Abraham Abulafia, who, next to Recanati, matters most for the interpretation of Pico's Kabbalah. It is noteworthy that the translations of those difficult texts are -- interpolations notwithstranding -- remarkably good translations. Abulafia may well have been the translator's favorite. Mithridates, in his parentheses, treats everything and everybody with reckless disrespect. The only exception I have noticed so far is Abraham Abulafia.

70-71 What made the writings of Abulafia uncommonly difficult is his associative thinking and allusive, in fact cryptic, style: he thinks and expresses himself in scarcely indicated isopsephic equations. What makes those writings readable in translation is the translator's built-in interpretations of speculations founded on gematria or isopsephy. There are hundreds of them in the translations of Mithridates: many, it is true, are easy and trivial; some, however, presuppose specialist knowledge. Mithridates prided himself in his understanding of isopsephic speculations, and I believe that hangling gematria was in fact his forte.

64 as might be expected, Kabbala was transformed in the process. But the Kabbalah that Pico read is still recognizable in the Kabbala that Pico wrote.

80bot a sustained shift of emphasis from letters as elements of language to letters as representations of numbers thus makes itself felt in the presentation of Kabbalah by Mithridates. This shift of emphasis from language symbolism to number symbolism is a matter of singular importance in view of the paramount place that language as such holds in speculative and practical kabbalah, that is, in Kabbalist mysticism and Kabbalist magic.
[numbers of course great interest for comparison with np pythag]

81 And yet, unless I am mistaken, there is a significant difference between the Hebrew originals and the Latin translations in this respect. The Hebrew texts leave no room for doubt that the letters, the combinations of which recreate or recapture the creative energy of the Creator, are elements of language, whereas in the translations the very same letters tend to become representations of numbers.

81 The SY is the fountainhead both of combinatory Kabbala and a good deal of Kabbalist magic. It will be remembered that Pico read and quoted commentaries on that book.


81botWith regard to the texts with which Pico was demonstrably acquianted, it is, I think, true to say that in Pico's Kabbalistic Hebrew sources the medium of creation and of the magical application of Kabbala is language. This dominant view is by no means obscured in the Latin translations.

Wirszuvski found that the method of translation of the Kabbalist texts inclined Pico to overemphasize the importance of number symbolism for "Cabalistic Operations."

83 Pico's notion that "numeri sunt proprii operi cabalae" is for the most part out of tune with the Hebrew originals of his Kabbalistic sourrces, but quite in keeping with their Latin translations.[11]
81 numbers sometimes prevail over the elements of language in the symbolical interpretation of Scripture.[12]



95 Abulafia considered himself the prophet or apostle of a liberating and saving message discovered by his own efforts.99 a commentary that linked Maimonides with Kabbala eo ipso linked Kabbala with the Peripatetic tradition. Precisely for this reason it is not the least remarkable feature of the Latin translation of Abulafia's De secretiis Legis that it links Kabbala also with Platonism, though not principally through Maimonides but in an altogether different way.

105bot An emanationist interpretation of creation ex nihilo and the coincidence of all opposites in God are in themselves neither Jewish nor Christian, but mystical and Platonic. Precisely for this reason, their superimposition, by way of interpolation, upon Abulafia's mystical commentary on the Guide of the Perplexed is a matter of importance. What an extraordinary feat of transformation was wrought by Pico's Kabbalist translator within the confines of Abulafia's preface to his De Secretiis Legis: Maimonides became a Kabbalist, and coincidentia oppositorum a fundamental principle of Kabbala.

111 Gicatilla's Portae Iustitiae is a systematic interpretation of the ten sefirot in ascending order. Its guiding principle and central theme is the ascent of man to the vision of God through the sefirot. To make sure of the ascent it is necessary to know the gate through which to ente; hence the title Portae Iustitiae. The knowledge of that gate was granted to the patriarch Jacob.

164 Pico states that we can recognize the fourfold status of being in or through the combinations of the letter beth, the first letter of the Law, with the beginning, middle, and end of the alphabet.


165 What we see here is not an interpretation of Kabbalistic dicta but an application of the Kabbalistic ars combinandi. The method by itself is, of course, neutral; but its application need not be. I call this a Christianizing application, because for Pico, even if not for a Jewish Kabbalist, the results carry eminently Christian connotations.

165 Pico resorted to letter symbolism more often than to combination of letters

175 Hitherto I have considered what Pico said about the concealment of divine mysteries in the written Law. But the mysteries were concealed by Moses, or indeed by God; the business of Kabbala is to explain them. Kabbala, after all, is the science "nella quale le esposizione delli astrusi e absconditi misterii della legge si contiene." (Pico, commento, p

Wirszubski underscores a fundamental problem, also raised by Idel, in the Christian Cabalist vision of Kabbalah as a consistent, stable (if mystical and paradoxical) theological doctrine of symbols: "the symbolic language of Kabbala is neither rigid nor uniform."[13] Each Kabbalist made his own particular use, and developed constellations of meanings for the mystical terms which in many cases already had a wide, or at least multi-layered, semantic range. Wirszubski discusses an example (the "green line") of Pico's discovery of the Kabbalistic category of symbols that deal with more than one Sefirah, for example. Pico apparently did not make any systematic comparison of his texts so he did not realize that Kabbalistic symbolism was so varied and—from the point of view of his rigorous standards of humanism and scholasticism—inconsistent. He was likely encouraged by the Dionysian apology for the strangeness and apparent contradiction of sacramental symbols, which could be absurd or even "shameful" and yet nevertheless communicate the divine knowledge at some level. I am convinced that Pico's move in comparing Kabbalistic symbols to Dionysian sacramental symbols is an important moment in the move toward Angel Magic in Christian Cabala, which later Cabalists after Reuchlin and H.C. Agrippa will make much more explicit. By showing how magical figures and language—including Kabbalistic divine names—could be understood in the context of Christian sacramental signs, Pico laid the groundwork for theorizing a religious magic that gets around Thomas Aquinas' concern that magical signs which are not sacramental signs must actually be communicating with deceiving demons. If the signs of natural magic are part of the theurgic activity of "reading the book of God" which is really a divine spellbook or "instruction manual" that reveals the workings of Nature as Magician, then perhaps the complicated practices of ceremonial magic could also be interpreted as sacramental signs allowing for an angelizing participation in divine theurgy. Christian Cabalist Ceremonial magic, as evidenced in Agrippa's De Occulta Philosophia, will also build on Pico's "astrologization" of the Dionysian-Thomist and Kabbalistic angels in designing magical squares for invocations of planetary angels, involving Kabbalah-inspired cryptography.


182 like Abulafia before him, Pico assumed that the methodical combination of the letters of the Law unlocks the hidden mysteries.

222 Mysticism of language and mysticism of prayer sometimes shade into magic.
[as wirszubski puts it delicately... an ethical enough way to talk about it]

235 the ten sefirot made their first appearance in the Book of Creation, where their number is emphatically stated to be "ten and not nine, ten and not eleven." The interpretation of this dictum became the vehicle par excellence of discussions concerning the relationship of 'Eyn Sof and the sefirot. (Pico was acquainted with at least 3 discussions of the problem)

235-236 The artificial noun 'Eyn-Sof, created by the Kabbalists themselves, is masculine in Hebrew. In Pico's thesis it is feminine... the only other instance of 'Eyn-Sof as a feminine noun, before Pico's thesis, appears in the Latin translation of Abraham Axelrad's Corona Nomini Boni. That treatise... is in all likelihood the direct source of Pico's second thesis [according to the Kabbalists].

238 The Geronese pedigree of Pico's conception of Ensoph, and in particular his acquaintance with Azriel's Quaestiones super Decem Numerationibus is a matter of exceptional importance, because Azriel, as we have already seen, is the outstanding Jewish representative of the Neoplatonic doctrine that all opposites coincide in God. Johannes Reuchlin, as Scholem pointed out, noticed the similarity between Azriel's doctrine of 'Eyn Sof and Nicholas Cusanus' coincidentia oppositorum in God.

239 [move to top of Pico and KBL] The foundation of Pico's Kabbalistic confirmation of Christianity is a Christian interpretation or application, as the case may be, of the doctrine of the ten sefirot with a touch of ars combinandi.

[not to be used unless mentioning difference between current and later CBL] 239-240 Sefirot and combinations of letters are occasionally mentioned in the Adumbratio, but here they are subordinate to a different kind of Kabbala, the Kabbala of Isaac Luria, who had not yet been born when Pico died.

245 It is a noteworthy fact that Pico's Heptaplus begins and ends on the same note: the hierarchical sequence of three worlds, the angelic or intelligible, the celestial, and the sublunar. [bookended by the CH]

250-251 Pico's analogical representation of the three worlds is descended from a Kabbalistic source... However, the analogical likeness... is not the whole of Pico's doctrine. The analogical representation of the three worlds is almost immediately followed by what for want of a shorter description might be called the monadological conception of the three worlds... What looms behind this remarkable passage is not Kabbala, but late Neoplatonism, and in particular Proclus, The Elements of Theology, proposition 103. "All things are in all things, but in each according to its proper nature: for in Being there is life and intelligence; in Life, being and intelligence; in Intelligence, being and life; but each of these exists upon one level intellectually, upon another vitally, and on the third existentially. (See Pico's conclusion according to Proclus, 17 "Licet ut tradit theologia distinctae sint divinae hierarchiae, intelligendum est tamen omnia in omnibus esse modo suo.

[maybe move to "theology definition" discussion in prologue] 251 two motifs appear side by side in Pico's doctrine of the three worlds: the analogical motif and the monadological motif. The former is ultimately descended from Baruch Togarmi; the latter is descended from Proclus. A salient feature of Pico's Christian Kabbala can thus be see ut in votiva tabula: Jewish mysticism and Neoplatonic theology dwell peacefully side by side in the proem of Pico's Heptaplus

Wirszubski has an appendix discussing the role of Dionysius in understanding the term "theologia inferior" in Pico:
254 If it is true, as I have suggested, that Pico conceived of theologia inferior in contradistinction to the ineffabilis de supersubstantiali deitate theologia, it makes sense, considering that the latter is reminiscent of pseudo-Dionysius, to reckon with the possibility that Pico conceived of the Lower Theology after the manner of the Cataphatic Theology of pseudo-Dionysius Areopagitica. Pseudo-Dionysius, it is true, does not himself say that the Cataphatic Theology is "inferior." At the same time, he makes it abundantly clear that of the two ways of knowing God, the affirmative (cataphatic) and the negative (apophatic), the latter is superior. (DN 981AB CH314A) The Cataphatic theology is presented by pseudo-Dionysius in the treatise De Divinis Nominibus, divine names being the attributes which are affirmed of God as the Efficient Cause of the Forms. (see Sheldon-Williams The Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medieval Philosophy 460 PD)
Seen against this background, the third Kabbalistic thesis might be tentatively interpreted as follows: practical Kabbalah, conceived of as scientia semot, the science of sacred names, "practices" all formative principles (metaphysica formalis) and divine attributes (theologia inferior).

260 Considering that Abulafia applies the letter-combinatory method, represented by the Book of Creation, to the interpretation of the mysteries of the Law, his ars combinandi can be properly described as modus quidam procedendi in scientiis. Nor can it be denied that, like ars Raymundi, it was meant to be a universal method: Abulafia is quite explicit on this point. ... Combination of letters is also said to be a means of acquiring the knowledge of divine names. (De Secretiis Legis)

261 Divine names and in particular self-induced prophecy have brought us within sight of magic [or theurgy!], or, to be more precise, within sight of what Scholem called the magic of inwardness, magic which is a mystical experience that acts upon the practitioner's conciousness, as distinct from magic that acts, or intends to act, upon the external world. [like NP "internal theurgy" or "Plotinian contemplation" this magic of inwardness has been misunderstood due to rigid application of rationalist or misapplied theological criteria.]

261 It cannot be proved that Pico read every single page of Abulafia's DSL, but the possibility that he was aware of the magical side of ars combinandi ought to be reckoned with. This is particularly important because Pico identified ars combinandi with alphabetaria revolultio. The latter, according to his second Kabbalistic thesis secundum opinionem propriam, is the highest part of speculative Kabbala. It would seem therefore that we are faced with the choice between two alternatives: either Pico disregarded the magical aspects of Abulafia's letter-combinatory method, or esle... his own distinction between speculative and practical Kabbala s by no means as neat as it is usually thought to be. (see CW ch12)



Idel NP 179 The focus of Kabbalistic theurgy is God, not man; the latter is given unimaginable powers to be used in order to repair the divine glory or the divine image; only his initiative can improve Divinity... the Jew is responsible for everything, even God, since his activity is crucial for the welfare of the cosmos.



Studies in Ecstatic Kabbalah‎ - Page 20 1988
Abulafia's Sitrei Torah "became one of the cornerstones of Pico della Mirandola's Kabbalah"

Idel, Moshe. Absorbing Perfections.
489 "as true astrology teaches us to read in the Book of God, so the Kabbalah teaches us to read in the book of law." n.39
490 according to Henry du Lubac, Pico is conjugating two views found already in Bonaventure n.40
Pico's statement... seems analagous to Alemanno's views. The practical side of astrology can be identified with magia naturalis, for it teaches the way to way to receive the influx of higher powers. Kabbalah is a higher form of magic because its speculative formation is, as Pico emphasized here, superior to that of astrology... if we assume that Alemanno's stand was known to the young Pico, we may offer a more specific interpretation of Pico's thesis, which refers to the purpose of reading. In the count's thesis it is not very clear what the ultimate gain is from such a reading. A better understanding of the celestial world and the Bible? Or are those understandings instrumental for an additional purpose?



Idel Moshe. "Man as the "Possible" Entity in Some Jewish and Renaissance Sources." p. 33 in Hebraica Veritas?
By Allison Coudert, Jeffrey S. Shoulson
33 Yates's highlighting of the of the importance of the ascent of the ideal of action in the Renaissance has remained, to the best of my knowledge, unchallenged
34 Yates's thesis, which grants new roles to kabbalistic literature in the development of the ontology, epistemology, and anthropology of the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, has recently been extended to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by Allison Coudert. In fact, what seems to emerge from the studies mentioned above is the movement of certain theories, some of which originated in the Middle Ages or far earlier, from the margins of thought to the intellectual center, which then leads to their dissemination among audiences previously unacquainted with more activistic and optimistic views of human nature. Indeed, the Renaissance attitude toward man as expressed by Ficino and especially Pico has an interesting parallel in the emphasis on theurgy and magic characteristic of Kabbalah in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
39 As someone who had a profound interest in magic, both natural and demonic, Alemanno viewed the possibility of influencing the world as the highest human activity. Consequently, he reserved the study of magic for the most advanced level in his ideal curriculum. Moreover, in his commentary on the Song of Songs, he describes the achievement of Kin Solomon (the ideal king, according to Alemanno) as consisting of two levels: the magical... and a higher level dealing with forms of cognition. "The first is the rank to which he ascended in the book entitled Sefer Raziel, attributed to him... to ascend to the deed to change the entire world according to his will, so that the lower entities are subjugated to him, to innovate miracles and wonders, just as the body of man is subjugated by the powers of the soul to do what he wants."
39 Alemanno describes the nature of man as follows: "The body of man is composed from the powers that rule over the world. Behold, he is in the image of the constitution of the world in general, because all [those powers] operate on him and he is linked to the celestial host. And, behold, he is in the likeness of the Merkavah, to receive the divine power that is emanated on them and from them onto him when he actualizes his intellect, and he is holy like their holiness and pure like their purity."
43 Idel's summary "the emergence during the Italian Renaissance of an anthropology that emphasized the importance of activism and the flexibility of the status of man in the cosmos occured in a milieu where Jewish thinkers were active and the Kabbalah gradually became influential in Christian circles. The reception of the Kabbalah was significantly indebted to the growing diffusion of Neoplatonism and Hermeticism. I suggest that the parallel between the ascent of the more dynamic concept of man on the one hand and the wider influence of Kabbalah on the other is not a matter of lines of thought that never met; on the contrary, they intersected in Florence, and one of the major figures who facilitated this encounter was Yohanan Alemanno. However, while Alemanno's thought remained in the shadows in both Jewish and Christian culture, Pico's dynamic view of man moved to the center of European culture, where it had a profound effect. The wide reception of Pico's view of man contributed to the idea that he originated this way of thinking.... [open to debate] The separate dissemination of the activistic approaches derived from the blend of Neoplatonism and Hermeticism on the one hand, and the Kabbalah on the other, both having much earlier sources, prepared the ground for the wide reception of Pico's anthropology.
42 nice Alemanno passage on philosopher vs. Kabbalist "Let us come to wisdom and union only by the way of intellectual speculation or by sudden intuition, but not by magical actions, biuldings, vessels, prayers, vain things and many dreams, things which are unfounded in the eyes of the philosophers, the men of intellect and reason... all the things we said are the words of the ancients who knew the nature of the existing beings, the relations between them, the way in which they are linked with one another and how to prepare a receptacle for the reception of the influence of the superior bodies... just as it would be strange for someone who does not know the manner of cultivation and plowing and planting and grafting that produce things in such a manner, it will be strange in our eyes, if we did not see the light of those preparations of how the divine light and his goodness and mercy will be born in use by means of these preparations that the powers and sefirot will receive and emanate. And if you had studied or believed the preparations of the masters of the forms and secondary natures and the contrivances of nature, your spirit will not be confused by anything I told you because it is holy.


Carlebach, Elisheva "Intellectual History" in
The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies
By Martin Goodman, Jeremy Cohen, David Sorkin
p.367 Idel reimagined kabbalah as a theurgic system which differs greatly from the purely philosophical kabbalah of Scholem.

Dan, Joseph. Christian Kabbalah from Mysticism to Esotericism in Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion
By International Association for the History of Religions Congress, Antoine Faivre,

124 The main sources for the sefirotic concept which Pico and Reuchlin had before them were the works of Rabbi Joseph Gikatilla, who systematized and de-mythologized the Zoharic world.

124bot for the Christian kabbalists "there was no novelty or particular meaning in kabbalistic neo-Platonism. This aspect was used only occasionally to demonstrate the common ground between the kabbalah and other traditions, both the authentic Christian ones and other Hellenistic and eastern sources, all deeply integrated into the neo-Platonist worldview.

127 Many of the quotations presented in the works of the early Christian Kabbalists as kabbalistic principles, are actually simple, well-known talmudic and midrashic epigrams and commentaries.... because of this, the image of the kabbalah and the range of its ideas was completely distorted within the framework of the Christian Kabbalah: concepts, notions, ideas and terms which within Jewish culture were known as universal, were attributed in the Christian context particularly to the kabbalah.
What is true about terms and ideas is even more true concerning methodologies.





Charles Garfield Nauert

Humanism and the Culture of Renaissance Europe

Pico was not only looking into Kabbalah for material to construct a Magical Theology, he was also an early example of a modern critical scholar who,
though he was subject to the same sort of bias that led 19th and 20th cent.
scholars to unfairly treat kabbalah, made important discoveries about internal
differences between Abulafian and Theosophical Kabbalah, and contributed
to the "theologization" of Kabbalah that still infected 20th century scholarship.
He was a major force both for understanding and misunderstanding of KBL.

Pico was not an uncritical fan of the Neoplatonists.

seven5
"One significant difference," between Pico and Ficinian magic, is described by Charles Nauert, "rooted in Pico's Aristotelian background. In Aristotelian philosophy, the nature of any object determines what it is and hence imposes strict limits. For example, because
a newborn puppy is by nature a dog, it can never become anything but a dog.
From this perspective, Ficino's decision to place humanity at one specific point
in the hierarchical order of creation seemed deterministic. Man may hold an
especially honourable place as the one creature that consists of both soul and
body. But by being the middle link in the chain of being, man is bound and
limited. His potential is determined by his nature. Pico did not accept this view.
His Oration is a striking alternative. Presenting a hypothetical narrative of creation,
he declares that first God created the natures of all things, spiritual and material,
to form a complete and perfect universe. Only then did God create man. But
since the hierarchy of creation was already complete and all possible natures
had been given out, he gave man no fixed place in the hierarchy and no nature
at all. Instead of a nature, man -- and only man, not even the angels -- received
freedom, the freedom to choose his own place in the hierarchy and to choose
for himself andy created nature. The man who makes the right choice will
cultivate the spiritual part of his being and become spiritual."

[remember BPC: take care not to confuse this with kantian freedom, but nauert
in the end points out that it's freedom to do what you're supposed to do mystically]

James Bono emphasizes the element of mystical self-fashioning that he considers characteristic of Pico: "Man's dignity, for Pico, lay in his intrinsic ability to fashion his own innermost self, to act, in concert with God, as co-creator of his own nature.. This role as self-fashioner, creator, actor set man apart from other creatures. No longer a passive witness to God's creation, man actively manipulates and transforms his world and, in so doing, reshapes himself. Man's destiny rests then for Pico in his willingness to assume the mantle of his divinely endowed birthright: that of Man as Magus." While Bono puts a perhaps too Foucaultian spin with this emphasis on the "care of the self," it is interesting to consider this view of Pico's dignity in connection with Iamblichean theurgy, which also sought to understand man as a co-actor in synergy with the theurgic acts of the divine. Both Iamblichan theurgy and Renaissance Magic seeks to read the divine symbols, an activity that can also be interpreted as a hermeneutic process of self fashioning in the project of building a theology. Does Pico indeed make his philosophical decisions "too willfully" or in the inspired manner of Iamblichus or Pseudo-Dionysius? Does he have more or less "control" over his Neoplatonic sources on angel metaphysics than did Thomas? (see page n Hankey quote earlier)

Allen describes a moment in the early Pico which indicates he had not yet accepted the Neoplatonic vision of God as outpouring Goodness or Beauty:

Allen in Dougherty 92 Pico takes the further step of denying that our love for God is Platonically definable as "a desire for beauty" on the basis of the arresting argument that "there is no beauty in God, according to the Platonists, because of his infinite simplicity," beauty having been previously defined as an ordering of parts into a whole. Rather, says Pico, we can only love God "in Himself" and not "as the author of ideal beauty." All this suggests that Pico has not yet arrived at a coherent theory of the relationship of God to Beauty and of the soul's transition from sensible love to divine love, defined as the splendor or radiance of the Ideas seen collectively as the outpouring of Goodness.





388 [in the 900]
...Pico praises his subject-matter, theology, arguing that human beings fulfil the highest potentialities of their nature by contemplating divine things. Humans have a protean nature which parmits them to live like beasts or angels, but they have a moral duty to live the highest kind of life that they can. In order to achieve an angelic life of contemplation and love of



Hebrew to Latin, Latin to Hebrew By Giulio Busi, Freie Universität



181 Mithridates translated only genuine kabbalah. We must admit that, despite his past inclination for pseudo-mystic texts and forgeries, he almost always worked in a very sound way for Pico. Notwithstanding a few Christianizing interpolations, his versions are surprisingly good, even by modern standards, and remain faithful to the Hebrew sources.





Levenson explains one view of Pico as, in line with Iamblichean and Dionysian theurgy, a magical theorist who sees wonders as performed by God through nature, not the magus.

139 The true magician, Pico claimed, rejecting "the rites of evil spirits... embraces the deepest contemplation of the most secret things, and at last the knowledge of all of nature." The magus, "in calling forth into the light as if from their hiding places the powers scattered and sown in the world by the loving kindness of God, does not so much work wonders as diligently serve a wonder-working nature." Pico's magic, like Ficino's, is simply the expression of natural law. His magician, "having searchingly examined into the harmony of the universe, and having clearly perceived the reciprocal affinity of natures, and applying to each single thing the suitable and peculiar inducements, brings forth into the open the miracles concealed in the recesses of the earth... and as the farmer weds his elms to vines, even so does the magus wed earth to heaven, that is, he weds lower things to the endowments and power of higher things.[14]

Pico called this craft a science--and with his definition of natural magic he made explicit how his magic takes on the character of scientific investigation. First, like Ficino, Pico reaffirmed that every detail of nature matters. The magus's power depended on his understanding of the harmony of nature--how it all fit together. Pico's magus must pay attention to "each single thing." Without accounting for each of nature's parts, the magus could not coax out the secrets hidden within the welter of natural phenomena that generates the miracles to which Pico laid claim.


systematic ambitions of Thomas Aquinas and Proclus translate for Pico into scientific ambitions as a Magus

From this stand, Pico next took one giant step forward. Individual phenomena, he claimed, took place within nature, but a nature newly conceived: nature as an actor, an agent.











Moshe Idel New Perspectives
264 When used by Christian intellectuals, both the symbolic and the combinatory hermeneutics were employed in order to extract speculative religious or philosophical statements from the Scriptures rather to endorse a theurgic dromenon or an ecstatic experience [although I don't agree with his use of HPB to explain the CBL view, which is comparable to Dodds projecting his anti-spiritualist bias]


267 The theurgist had to concentrate both on the punctilious performances of the commandments and on their theurgic significance, and, according to some views, he had also to propel his energy, as structured by the acts he exercised, into the divine realm. In contrast to the ecstatic mystic, the theurgical Kabbalist fully activated both the spiritual and the corporeal components of his human existence, his activity thus becomes more comprehensive. Whereas the ecstatic kabbalist reduced man to his highest capacity alone, the theurgical one required the cooperation of all the variegated aspects of man in order to attain its goal.


Idel reminds us that the sefirot in the Bahir were not understood as the divine essence; "The earliest comprehension of the ten Sefirot as being divine entities and forming the divine structure seems to be found in the texts of R. Isaac the Blind and, under his influence, in the writings of other Kabbalists. [15]

161-166 Idel understands Kabbalistic theurgy as a continuation of the rabbinic notion, rather than a new development. Theurgy is not a Kabbalistic invention, although the theosophical-theurgical Kabbalists developed new techniques and language for understanding and doing theurgy.


209 relation between theurgy and symbolism


141 sefirot as instruments or vessels … According to R. 'Ezra of Gerona, the emergence of the Sefirot into existence from their hiddenness in the "darkness" or "nought" is tantamount to the formation of "attributes and instruments which are finite and can be apprehended. His contemporary, R. Asher ben David, envisions the "six extremities"--the six Sefirot--as "instruments of the inner spirit, which are its branches, its attributes, and it operates by them."

269 two types of Kabbalistic magic... First, under the influence of Hermetic elements, a conception of the halakhah as a powerful organon by which to attract the supernal powerss on man and the Temple was gradually elaborated by Jewish authors, culminating in the thought of Yohanan Alemanno. According to this conception, if natural magic is connected with natural sciences, such as agriculture and astonomy, supermagic depends on the knowledge of the supernatural science--Kabbalah. The perfect way to combine this higher gnosis with practice is by the Kabbalistic performance of the precise prescriptions of the halakhah. Man, therefore, does not disrupt the processes of natural causation, but transcends it by his consciousness and by the skillful employment of a higher order of causation that depends on the Sefirot. Halakhic man, conscious of the deeper meaning of his deeds, is a Kabbalistic archmagician. This magical interpretation of Jewish ritual waas similar to its theurgical conception in its all-comprehensive nature, which envisioned every human act as potentially fraught with occult meanings. Whereas the theurgists were mainly interested in the divine harmony and power, however, Alemanno focused on the human ability to use them for the welfare of the terrestrial world.
[for RM, doing "magic" so-called doesn't rule out possibility of calling it theurgy]
[need quote on need of higher for kabbalists to mend sefirot with mitzvot]



Idel KNP

A disentanglement of theosophy from theurgy recurred in the Christian version of Kabbalah…. One of the crucial differences between the original Kabbalistic texts and their perception by the Christian Kabbalists was the neutralization of the theurgical aspect, so central for the Jewish Kabbalah. It is easy to understand why such a neutralization was necessary before Kabbalah could be accepted into the Platonic-Pythagorean-Hermetic Renaissance synthesis. The working hypothesis of Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, and Johannes Reuchlin was that the appraisal and proof of Christian truths could transpire through the variegated garbs of the ancient theologies and philosophies. Since these truths had also to be corroborated by Kabbalah, its uniquely Jewish component, halakhic theurgy, had to be annulled in its Christian version on the ground of the Christian abrogation of the commandments. Thus, R. Menahem Recanati, a prominent representative of the theurgical understanding of the commandments and simultaneously one of the pillars of the Christian Kabbalah, was quoted selectively by the Christian Kabbalists so as to serve as a mine of theosophical teachings and hermeneutics but not as a theurgical author. Kabbalah was thereby transformed into a gnosis, including esoteric theosophy, comparable to other similar ancient lores. I want to emphasize the importance of this metamorphosis of Kabbalah: some precious tones of this lore were lost in the Christian key. 262-263



268 third approach to human action



269











Pico's main Jewish sources were Mithridates, Recanati, and Alemanno, who were well-informed about Kabbalah, knew the texts, and also knew the theurgic and magical aspects.







Idel warns us...

Moshe Idel "On the Theologization of Kabbalah in Modern Scholarship
in Religious Apologetics- Philosophical Argumentation: Philosophical Argumentation.‎ - Page 146
by Yossef Schwartz, Volkhard Krech

p145 V. Some Modern Understandings of Kabbalah
146 For a Christian Kabbalist, Jewish Kabbalah at its best reflects Christian theology. For Pico della Mirandola, the main criterion of judging a certain speculative corpus is not its correspondence with other lores, but solely with Christian theology. In his fifth Kabbalistic thesis he declares that: "Every Hebrew Cabalist, following the principles and sayings of the science of the Cabalah, is inevitably forced to concede, without addition, omission, or variation, precisely what the Catholic faith of Christians maintains concerning the Trinity and every divine Person, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." (n.95)
Thus, if to be accepted and studied, as indeed Pico did, Kabbalah must coincide with the tenets of Christianity. Then it could serve also as a missionary tool. This stance is but the most extreme example... that later thinkers appropriated Kabbalah to their intellectural concerns. A philosopher, for example, may assume that Kabbalah is an explanation of reality and a description of its source. So, we learn from Solomon Maimon, a late 18th century Jewish thinker, who was acquianted with Kabbalah in its original Hebrew: "In fact the Kabbalah is nothing but an expanded Spinozism, in which not only is the origin of the world explained by the limitations of the divine being, but also the origin of every kind of being and its relation to the rest, are derived from a separate attribute of God."

148-149 VI. Kabbalah as Symbolic Theology
"Kabbalah is simply (to use the Pythagorean vocabulary) symbolic theology, where words and letters are code things, and such things are themselves code for other things. This drew our attention to the fact that almost all Pythagoras's system is derived from the Kabbalists, and that similarly he brought to Greece the use of symbols as a means of communication." (n100)

Reuchlin was writing from the perspective of a theologian, who believed that he was unearthing an ancient theology found among the Jews, which was then adopted by Pythagoras and then lost. His emphasis of both theology and symbolism -- an issue emphasized already by Pythagoreans in the different phases of this lore -- is understandable and corresponds to the late 15th century Florentine attitude to religious knowledge known as prisca theologia. Already in the DVM he resorts to the syntagm divinitatis symbola, "the symbols of divinity." (n101) Elsewhere Reuchlin speaks about "the symbolic philosophy of Pythagoras and the wisdom of the Kabbalah". (n102) Symbolism is also evident in another important passage: "Kabbalah is a matter of divine revelation handed down to [further] the contem..." [need book]

151 Scholem celebrates symbolism not only as a very important issue in Kabbalah, but in fact the mode of accomodation of a certain "living center", which Kabbalah is, to the various historical circumstances. Here some form of perennial stance is implied: Kabbalah, again in singular, does change in accordance to changing circumstances, but the center still remains somehow constant. This monochromatic vision of the Kabbalah as a spiritual phenomenon and of the ultimate reality as an ontological entity represented by symbols reverberates in the writings of Scholem's followers, In short, the Kabbalists are, according to Scholem, "the main symbolists of rabbinic Judaism. For kabbalah, Judaism in all its aspects was a system of mystical symbols reflecting the mystery of God and the universe, and the kabbalists' aim was to discover and invent keys to the understanding of this symbolism." Again Kabbalah occurs in the singular and "the Kabbalists" are described in an unqualified manner as envisaging everything in a symbolic manner. [PD and Iamblichus certainly rule this out as a possibility, while still doing "symbolic theology" as theurgy takes care of the problem of symbols not being enough]
... the basis for such an understanding of the affinity between symbols and the symbolized is, ultimately, not only the post-Kantian German thinkers, but primarily the negative theology of Neoplatonism, which was conceived, together with Gnosticism, as formative components of the peculiar blend of theosophy embraced by most of the Kabbalists. In fact Scholem as well as Tishby, regarded the encounter between the Neoplatonic negative theology and the Gnostic pleroma that contributed the positive aspects of Kabbalistic theology, as the point where the most dominant aspects of Kabbalah, its theosophy, emerged. Thus, not only the theological speculations were conceived as the meeting between those two non-Jewish theologies, but also the specific [152] Kabbalistic way of prayer. Dealing with the earliest Kabbalistic texts Scholem wrote that the "gnostic way of seeing things likewise penetrated their prayer mysticism without being able to overcome it entirely." This is an interesting example of the subordination of the performative compnent, in our case prayer, to the theological, namely the allegedly Gnostic view of the sefirot. Indeed, as Tishby claimed, Scholem convincingly demonstrated that "As far as the doctrine of the sefirot is concerned, it can be established without a doubt that there is some reflection here of a definite gnostic tendency, and that it did in fact emerge and develop from a historico-literary contact with the remnants of Gnosis, which were preserved over a period of many generations in certain Jewish circles, until they found their way to early kabbalists, who were deeply affected by them both spiritually and intellectually."
153 This interpretative approach which generated Kabbalistic theosophy is also expressed later in the same book: "the mystical interpretation of the attributes and the unity of God, in the so-called doctrine of the Sefiroth, constituted a problem common to all Kabbalists, while the solution given to it by and in the various schools differ from one another.

153 the role played by mental construction, interpretation, or meditation, is prominent while practices or performances are absent. The meditation mentioned by Scholem and the sphere created by the Kabbalists are related to the issue of symbols, and this is the reason why I propose to designate Scholem's and his school's approach as pan-symbolic..." [Idel points out that ]"There are some Kabbalists' definitions of Kabbalah that do not addess the concept of symbolism at all"
However, even when symbols -- and this is indeed a matter of definition -- may be found, they are often related to modes of activities that accompany the modes of cognition. It is the relegation of those technical, ritualistic, linguistic modes of activities to the margin, which created the unbalance between the theological and the symbolic on the one hand, and the ergetic [theurgic?] or performative aspects of Kabbalah on the other.
[just as NP scholarship is finally benefitting from attention to the ritual aspects no longer biased-against, so does Idel with KBList theurgy]

153-154 I see this unbalance in Jewish scholars' perception of Jewish mysticism as the result of a vision that follows the Christian emphasis on theology and faith as central for understanding religion.
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