Esotericism in Classical Rabbinic Culture

Interpretive Problems and Prospects

In: Aries
Joshua Ezra Burns Marquette University

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This essay addresses the function of the Talmud and other classical rabbinic writings in the study of Western Esotericism. It begins with an overview of the Talmud with reference to other postbiblical Jewish texts occasionally cited by contemporary scholars as ostensible witnesses to the esoteric practices of the ancient rabbinic sages. Next, it asks whether these texts actually support such a thesis. Finally, it considers how the Talmudic sages were misunderstood to be esoteric exegetes by Christian Kabbalists, such as Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and Johannes Reuchlin, so as to validate their respective pursuits of the prisca theologia, a revelation of pre-Christian divine secrets. The contribution thereby proposes a revised empirical basis upon which to assess the contributions of the Talmudic sages to discourse about Western esotericism.

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