World  Sacred  Scriptures

Onelittleangel > Judaism > The Zohar
A- A A+

The Zohar : Authenticity

The Zohar Acceptance of authenticity
Over time, however, the general view in the Jewish community came to be one of acceptance of Moses ben Shem-Tov's claims; the Zohar was held to be an authentic book of mysticism passed down from the second century.

The Zohar spread among the Jews with remarkable celerity. Scarcely fifty years had passed since its appearance in Spain before it was quoted by many cabalists, among whom was the Italian mystical writer Menahem Recanati. Its authority was so well established in Spain in the fifteenth century that Joseph ibn Shem-Tov drew from it arguments in his attacks against Maimonides. It exercised so great a charm upon the cabalists that they could not believe for an instant that such a book could have been written by any mortal unless he had been inspired from above; and this being the case, it was to be placed on the same level with the Bible.

Even representatives of non-mysticism oriented Judaism began to regard it as a sacred book and to invoke its authority in the decision of some ritual questions. They were attracted by its glorification of man, its doctrine of immortality, and its ethical principles, which are more in keeping with the spirit of Talmudical Judaism than are those taught by the philosophers. While Maimonides and his followers regarded man as a fragment of the universe whose immortality is dependent upon the degree of development of his active intellect, the Zohar declared him to be the lord of the Creation, whose immortality is solely dependent upon his morality. According to the Zohar, the moral perfection of man influences the ideal world of the Sefirot; for although the Sefirot expect everything from the En Sof (Heb. ??????, infinity) , the En Sof itself is dependent upon man: he alone can bring about the divine effusion. The dew that vivifies the universe flows from the just. By the practice of virtue and by moral perfection man may increase the outpouring of heavenly grace. Even physical life is subservient to virtue. This, says the Zohar, is indicated in the words "for the Lord God had not caused it to rain" (Gen. ii. 5), which mean that there had not yet been beneficent action in heaven because man had not yet given the impulsion.

The Zohar was quoted by Todros Abulafia, by Menahem Recanati, and even by Isaac of Acco, in whose name the story of the confession of Moses de Leon's widow is related. Isaac evidently ignored the woman's alleged confession in favor of the testimony of Joseph ben Todros and of Jacob, a pupil of Moses de Leon, both of whom assured him on oath that the work was not written by Moses. The only objection worthy of consideration by the believers in the authenticity of the Zohar was the lack of references to the work in Jewish literature; and to this they answered that Simeon ben Yohai did not commit his teachings to writing, but transmitted them orally to his disciples, who in turn confided them to their disciples, and these to their successors, until finally the doctrines were embodied in the Zohar. As to the references in the book to historical events of the post-Talmudic period, it was not deemed surprising that Simeon ben Yohai should have foretold future happenings.

Rejection of authenticity
The first attack upon the accepted authorship of the Zohar was made by Elijah Delmedigo. Without expressing any opinion as to the real author of the work, he endeavored to show, in his "Bechinat ha-Dat" that it could not be attributed to Simeon ben Yohai. The objections were that:

if the Zohar was the work of Simeon ben Yohai, it would have been mentioned by the Talmud, as has been the case with other works of the Talmudic period;
the Zohar contains names of rabbis who lived at a later period than that of Simeon;
were Simeon ben Yohai the father of the Kabbalah, knowing by divine revelation the hidden meaning of the precepts, his decisions on Jewish law would have been adopted by the Talmud; but this has not been done;
were the Kabbalah a revealed doctrine, there would have been no divergence of opinion among the Kabbalists concerning the mystic interpretation of the precepts ("Bechinat ha-Dat" ed. Vienna, 1833, p. 43).
These arguments and others of the same kind were used by Leon of Modena in his "Ari Nohem". A work devoted to the criticism of the Zohar was written, "Mi?pa?at Sefarim," by Jacob Emden, who, waging war against the remaining adherents of the Sabbatai Zevi movement, endeavored to show that the book on which Zevi based his doctrines was a forgery. Emden demonstrates that the Zohar misquotes passages of Scripture; misunderstands the Talmud; contains some ritual observances which were ordained by later rabbinical authorities; mentions the crusades against the Muslims (who did not exist in the second century); uses the expression "esnoga", which is a Portuguese corruption of "synagogue,"; and gives a mystical explanation of the Hebrew vowel-points, which were not introduced until long after the Talmudic period.

In the mid 20th century the Jewish historian Gershom Scholem contended that de Leon himself was the most likely author of the Zohar. Among other things, Scholem noticed the Zohar's frequent errors in Aramaic grammar, its suspicious traces of Spanish words and sentence patterns, and its lack of knowledge of the land of Israel. This finding is still disputed by many Orthodox Jews.

Even if de Leon wrote the text, the entire contents of the book may not be fraudulent. Parts of it may be based on older works, and it was a common practice to ascribe the authorship of a document to an ancient rabbi in order to give the document more weight. It is possible that Moshe de Leon considered himself inspired to write this text.


♥ Our Project ♥ ⇄ ♥ Your project ♥