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Joseph Smith and the Beginning


volgadon

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I just posted a new blog entry on the part of Joseph Smith's King Follett discourse dealing with the first three words of Genesis, on related Jewish traditions and the Zohar.

None of this to take away from Bill Hamblin's good work on Joseph Smith and the kabbalah. My focus is slightly different.

Comments, discussion and criticism (no matter how brutal) are welcome.

I shall comment on the very first Hebrew word in the Bible; I will make a comment on the very first sentence of the history of the creation in the Bible
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I think part of the reason there haven't been more replies is because this is so well put together that me just saying, "Man Volgadon, this is really interesting", would almost seems inadequate and better left to someone with more profound input. But, I do have a question. Do Sufis and Kabbalists overlap very much in ideas? and with both Muslim and Jewish presences in Medieval Spain, did that lead to some sort of Mystic studies hot spot?

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That is a very good question. I am tempted to say that there was no direct overlap at first, the kabbalists being centered in the Languedoc region of France and the Spanish kabbbalists in Christian Castile, Jewish mystics in Muslim lands adopted Muslim mysticism. Maimonides's son is a good example of this.

I don't know enough about Sufis to really answer your question. I have Idries Shah's book the Sufis, how reliable is it, does anyone know?

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That is a very good question. I am tempted to say that there was no direct overlap at first, the kabbalists being centered in the Languedoc region of France and the Spanish kabbbalists in Christian Castile, Jewish mystics in Muslim lands adopted Muslim mysticism. Maimonides's son is a good example of this.

I don't know enough about Sufis to really answer your question. I have Idries Shah's book the Sufis, how reliable is it, does anyone know?

I'm thinking Herr Professor Doktor Peterson would be the one to check with. He's good returning IMs.

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Very nice, and interesting article. As I know nothing about Hebrew I cannot really comment but I would like to pick one nit if you don't mind.

Jospeh Smith, in his so-called King Follett discourse,

I think the words 'so called' above are out of place. To me they get used in a derisory manner, when one looks down ones nose with contempt at the object. I know you are not doing this but just thought I'd mention it. Keep up the interesting posts, they give a numbskull like me some idea about Hebrew and these clever subjects.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Now that he is back from Egypt, bump for Bill Hamblin, in case he is still interested.

Several years ago I tried my hand at translating portions of the Elder Edda into English blankverse. It was quite a challenge, since, in order to get the meter to work out, I had to add a little here, deduct a little there from the text. I also added a Rahmen to the tales I chose out of the many there, focusing on the stories of the sisters chained to the mill, Gudrun, and Brynhild, ending it all with Gudrun burning down the house.

It's so easy to do that when you think you know the documents and the context. Ultimately, however, you don't.

Bentley once said of Pope's rendition of the Iliad: "It's a pretty poem, but it's not Homer." Or words to that effect. You try to translate the grandeur and context and beauty, and you inevitably lose the specifics.

Translation's tough stuff, and I sympathize with whoever it was JSJr claimed added a wee syllable to the initial word in Genesis.

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No.... Don't leave it out, just reword it to a more professional version. I.E. "what has become know as" or something similar.

I agree, that would be a better way of putting it. 'So called' always sounds like a put-down to me.

And bumping for Bro. Bill....

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I am sorry I didn't see this thread earlier.

The reason why Joseph Smith breaks down the first word of the Bible in the way that he does is because Seixas breaks down the word in exactly the same way in his Herbrew Grammar (1834 ed.), p. 85 - complete with calling the _it_ a termination. Ancient translators, not having the concern over ex nihilo creation were far more concerned with _tohu wabohu_ than they were with the first word.

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I was researching something else, and found this excellent post entirely by mistake. So I decided to join the forum so that I could respond.

I was interested in your claim that Joseph Smith might have believed or known something before he saw the above-quoted Zohar, and then found his idea confirmed as-it-were in the Zohar. Nachmanides (also known as the Ramban) gives an explanation of the first verse in the Torah, (B'reishit Barah...) substantially similar to the Zohar you brought. According to the Ramban, the original primordial matter (sometimes identified as a Heyuli, which is connected to the Greek word Helios) was no larger than a mustard seed, and that it began to expand after the initial moment of creation. Ramban also states (in his introduction to his commentary on the Torah) that his understanding of the Torah is often according to Kabbalah and that the reader may not be able to discern his statements from the text itself.

In other words (and in keeping with the general mode of exegesis that can be found in the Talmud, etc.), formal logic does not necessarily compel the reader of the Torah to come to the same conclusions as to its meanings as the Kabbalists, Rabbis, etc. Rather, the true understanding (whether Talmudic, or Kabbalistic, or otherwise) is part of an oral or written tradition that was given simultaneously with the Torah, but not written down until later.

There is another understanding of Kabbalah that is slightly more radical, but spiritually much more satisfying. That is the understanding that spiritual knowledge can sometimes be discerned by great people. This spiritual knowledge is akin to prophecy, and is sometimes called "Ruach HaKodesh" (the best literal translation of that term is "Holy Spirit" - but I don't meant to imply in giving that translation that the concept is connected to the Christian understanding of the Holy Spirit. I don't know anything about the Christian concept, and therefore can't comment on it). Under that understanding, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob kept the entire Torah (there are some obvious issues with this statement... many of your likely questions do have answers, but the answers are not immediately relevant here) even though the specific rules were not given to them. Rather, they discerned G-d's desire due to their high spiritual level. King David and King Solomon are identified as being people with this incredible discernment. We could therefore imagine both figures discerning some essential Truth, and then confirming their Ruach HaKodesh by looking into the Torah itself. So, while the verse "B'reishit Barah..." doesn't logically necessitate the belief that the Ein Sof "created" Elokim, that meaning is nonetheless hidden within the verse.

How the notion that Ein Sof "created" Elokim is understood is another matter entirely. I will try to return to this thread later (another day, another lunch break). As you may have gathered, I'm not Christian or Mormon. I apologize if anything I wrote is contrary to Mormon theology, or is otherwise offensive. I found the post interesting, and wanted to offer what I know.

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I was researching something else, and found this excellent post entirely by mistake. So I decided to join the forum so that I could respond.

I was interested in your claim that Joseph Smith might have believed or known something before he saw the above-quoted Zohar, and then found his idea confirmed as-it-were in the Zohar. Nachmanides (also known as the Ramban) gives an explanation of the first verse in the Torah, (B'reishit Barah...) substantially similar to the Zohar you brought. According to the Ramban, the original primordial matter (sometimes identified as a Heyuli, which is connected to the Greek word Helios) was no larger than a mustard seed, and that it began to expand after the initial moment of creation. Ramban also states (in his introduction to his commentary on the Torah) that his understanding of the Torah is often according to Kabbalah and that the reader may not be able to discern his statements from the text itself.

In other words (and in keeping with the general mode of exegesis that can be found in the Talmud, etc.), formal logic does not necessarily compel the reader of the Torah to come to the same conclusions as to its meanings as the Kabbalists, Rabbis, etc. Rather, the true understanding (whether Talmudic, or Kabbalistic, or otherwise) is part of an oral or written tradition that was given simultaneously with the Torah, but not written down until later.

There is another understanding of Kabbalah that is slightly more radical, but spiritually much more satisfying. That is the understanding that spiritual knowledge can sometimes be discerned by great people. This spiritual knowledge is akin to prophecy, and is sometimes called "Ruach HaKodesh" (the best literal translation of that term is "Holy Spirit" - but I don't meant to imply in giving that translation that the concept is connected to the Christian understanding of the Holy Spirit. I don't know anything about the Christian concept, and therefore can't comment on it). Under that understanding, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob kept the entire Torah (there are some obvious issues with this statement... many of your likely questions do have answers, but the answers are not immediately relevant here) even though the specific rules were not given to them. Rather, they discerned G-d's desire due to their high spiritual level. King David and King Solomon are identified as being people with this incredible discernment. We could therefore imagine both figures discerning some essential Truth, and then confirming their Ruach HaKodesh by looking into the Torah itself. So, while the verse "B'reishit Barah..." doesn't logically necessitate the belief that the Ein Sof "created" Elokim, that meaning is nonetheless hidden within the verse.

How the notion that Ein Sof "created" Elokim is understood is another matter entirely. I will try to return to this thread later (another day, another lunch break). As you may have gathered, I'm not Christian or Mormon. I apologize if anything I wrote is contrary to Mormon theology, or is otherwise offensive. I found the post interesting, and wanted to offer what I know.

Welcome!

Thank you for taking the time to register so you could comment on my post. Kol hamarbeh, harei zeh meshubach.

That understanding of Ruach haKodesh is also found in the Book of Mormon, in a vision contained in the book of 1 Nephi 13:12-13.

And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.

And it came to pass that I beheld the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters.

I've enjoyed your comments, but would just like to correct one assumption. I wasn't claiming that Joseph saw the passage in the Zohar, I doubt he ever did see it. What I was trying to do was give an overview of the problematic nature of Genesis 1:1 and its various interpretations, and placing Joseph squarely in that speculative tradition.

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Kol hamarbeh, harei zeh meshubach.

Until higia zman kriat shma shel Shacharit. I'm happy we're on the same page.

That understanding of Ruach haKodesh is also found in the Book of Mormon, in a vision contained in the book of 1 Nephi 13:12-13.

And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.

And it came to pass that I beheld the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters.

In order to understand how that passage understands Ruach HaKodesh the way I explained it, I would probably need to understand what this passage is saying. What's going on here?

I've enjoyed your comments, but would just like to correct one assumption. I wasn't claiming that Joseph saw the passage in the Zohar, I doubt he ever did see it. What I was trying to do was give an overview of the problematic nature of Genesis 1:1 and its various interpretations, and placing Joseph squarely in that speculative tradition.

I see. That makes sense. The quotes you brought certainly aren't the only ones that express those ideas. They are part of the assumptions that underly much of Lurianic Kabbalah (as I will try to explain in another post that I'm in the process of writing). If Joseph Smith had any involvement with Kabbalah (and, I'm certainly not the expert in that area) then he probably was exposed to some of the ideas contained within that passage of the Zohar. Whether or not he had any involvement with Kabbalah, based on what little I understand of some of his teaching (and I will not be weighing in on the controversy about whether "so-called" is the proper language to employ when referring to the King Follett Discourse pirate.png), some of his ideas certainly parallel some of those contained within Kabbalah.

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Until higia zman kriat shma shel Shacharit. I'm happy we're on the same page.

Ve'et lchal chefetz.

Me too.

In order to understand how that passage understands Ruach HaKodesh the way I explained it, I would probably need to understand what this passage is saying. What's going on here?

The LDS belief is that this refers to Columbus being inspired to set sail for the Americas. The point is that the Spirit is sent to the gentiles to put God's plans into effect, to open unto them new knowledge and wisdom.

I see. That makes sense. The quotes you brought certainly aren't the only ones that express those ideas. They are part of the assumptions that underly much of Lurianic Kabbalah (as I will try to explain in another post that I'm in the process of writing). If Joseph Smith had any involvement with Kabbalah (and, I'm certainly not the expert in that area) then he probably was exposed to some of the ideas contained within that passage of the Zohar. Whether or not he had any involvement with Kabbalah, based on what little I understand of some of his teaching (and I will not be weighing in on the controversy about whether "so-called" is the proper language to employ when referring to the King Follett Discourse pirate.png), some of his ideas certainly parallel some of those contained within Kabbalah.

Jewish thought is so vast that realistacally I could only have posted some of it.

Lurianic cosmogony is fascinating. I grew up near Safed, BTW. Looking forward to your post. There are several posters here who have quite an interest in Kabalah. There really isn't much evidence that Joseph Smith had much exposure to the Kabbalah. I'll have to get for you the link to an article by Bill Hamblin on just that issue.

Some of Joseph's ideas certainly parallel some Kabbalistic ones, but there are also important differences. Makes for some great conversations.

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Jewish thought is so vast that realistacally I could only have posted some of it.

Lurianic cosmogony is fascinating. I grew up near Safed, BTW. Looking forward to your post. There are several posters here who have quite an interest in Kabalah. There really isn't much evidence that Joseph Smith had much exposure to the Kabbalah. I'll have to get for you the link to an article by Bill Hamblin on just that issue.

Some of Joseph's ideas certainly parallel some Kabbalistic ones, but there are also important differences. Makes for some great conversations.

Right. I'm not suggesting that Joseph Smith had any knowledge of Kabbalah. That isn't my area of expertise. I've found that great people tend to intuit certain higher truths that are expressed in Kabbalah (if not the specifics thereof). So it is not surprising to me that someone who was seen as a prophet taught things that resonate in the Zohar, in Isaac Luria's works, and its progeny.

I wrote the following on my train ride from work to where I park my car each day.

--

I wanted to follow up and give an explanation of the sectionout of the Zohar that Calba Savua quoted. But before I do that, I think itsnecessary to bring the very first statement in the Zohar (after theintroduction), which comes to explain the first verse of the Torah. In fact, itreally comes to explain the first word: B

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