Life and Times of Jesus

The Theology
of Ancient Rabbis


Below is a chronological arrangement of the Halakhoth in the order of their supposed introduction or promulgation.

In the first class, or 'Halakhoth of Moses from Sinai,' tradition enumerates fifty-five, which may be thus designated: religio-agrarian, four; ritual, including questions about 'clean and unclean,' twenty-three; concerning women and intercourse between the sexes, three; concerning formalities to be observed in the copying, fastening, etc. , of the Law and the phylacteries, eighteen; exegetical, four; purely superstitious, one; not otherwise included, two. Eighteen ordinances are ascribed to Joshua, of which only one is ritual, the other seventeen being agrarian and police regulations. The other traditions can only be briefly noted. Boaz, or else 'the tribunal of Samuel,' fixed, that Deuteronomy xxiii. 3 did not apply to alliances with Ammonite and Moabite women. Two ordinances are ascribed to David, two to Solomon, one to Jehoshaphat, and one to Jehoida. The period of Isaiah and of Hezekiah is described as of immense Rabbinic activity. To the prophets at Jerusalem three ritual ordinances are ascribed. Daniel is represented as having prohibited the bread, wine and oil of the heathen (Daniel 1:5). Two ritual determinations are ascribed to the prophets of the Exile.

After the return from Babylon traditionalism rapidly expanded, and its peculiar character more and more clearly developed. No fewer than twelve traditions are traced back to the three prophets who flourished at that period, while four other important legal determinations are attributed to the prophet Haggai individually. It will readily be understood that Ezra occupied a high place in tradition. Fifteen ordinances are ascribed to him, of which some are ritual. Three of his supposed ordinances have a general interest. They enjoin the general education of children, and the exclusion of Samaritans from admission into the Synagogue and from social intercourse. If only one legal determination is assigned to Nehemiah, 'the men of the great Synagogue' are credited with fifteen, of which six bear on important critical and exegetical points connected with the text of the Scriptures, the others chiefly on questions connected with ritual and worship.

Among the 'pairs' (Zugoth) which succeeded the 'Great Synagogue,' three 'alleviating' ordinances (of a very punctilious character) are ascribed to Jose, the son of Joezer, and two, intended render all contact with heathens impossible, to him and his colleague. Under the Maccabees the feast of the dedication of the Temple was introduced. To Joshua the son of Perachya, one punctilious legal determination is ascribed. Of the decrees of the Maccabean High-Priest Jochanan we have already spoken in another place; similarly, of those of Simon the son of Shetach and of his learned colleague. Four legal determinations of their successors Shemayah and Abhtalion are mentioned. Next in order comes the prohibition of Greek during the war between the Maccabean brothers Hyrcanus and Aristobulus. This brings us to the time of Hillel and Shammai, that is, to the period of Jesus, to which further reference will have to be made in another place.

Canon of Scripture

Reference has been made in the text to the position taken by Traditionalism in reference to the written as compared with what was regarded as the oral Revelation. Still, nominally, the Scriptures were appealed to by the Palestinians as of supreme authority. The views which Josephus expresses in this respect, although in a popular and Grecianised form, were substantially those entertained by the Rabbis and by his countrymen generally (comp. Against Apion, i. 7, 8). A sharp distinction was made between canonical and non-canonical books. The test of the former was inspiration, which had ceased in the time of Artaxerxes, that is, with the prophet Malachi. Accordingly, the work of the elder Jesus the son of Sirach (Jeshua ben Sira, ben Eliezer) was excluded from the Canon, although it is not unfrequently referred to by Rabbinic authorities in terms with which ordinarily only Biblical quotations are introduced. According to the view propounded by Josephus, not only were the very words inspired in which a prediction was uttered, but the prophets were unconscious and passive vehicles of the Divine message ( Antiquities of the Jews iv. 6. 5, comp generally, Ant ii. 8. 1; vi. 8, 2; viii. 13, 3; ix. 3, 2, 8, 6; x. 2, 2; 4, 3). Although pre-eminence in this respect was assigned to Moses ( Antiquities of the Jews iv. 8, 49), yet Divine authority equally attached to the sayings of the prophets, and even, though perhaps in a still inferior degree, to the 'Hymns,' as the Hagiographa generally were called from the circumstance that the Psalter stood at the head of them (comp. Philo, De Vita contempl., ed. Mangey, voi. ii. p. 475; Luke 24:44). Thus the division of the Bible into three sections - the Law, the Prophets, and the other 'Writings' - which already occurs in the prologue to the work of Jesus the son of Sirach, seems to have been current at the time. And here it is of great interest, in connection with modern controversies, that Josephus seems to attach special importance to the prophecies of Daniel as still awaiting fulfilment ( Antiquities of the Jews x 10. 4; 11. 7).

That the Rabbis entertained the same views of inspiration, appears not only from the distinctive name of 'Holy Writings' given to the Scriptures, but also from the directions that their touch defiled the hands, and that it was duty on the Sabbath to save them from conflagration, and to gather them up if accidentally scattered, and that it was not lawful for heirs to make division of a sacred roll (Comp. Shabbath xvi. 1; Erub. x. 3; Kel. xv. 6; Yad. iii. 2-5; iv. 5 [where special reference is made to Daniel 6]). From what we know of the state of feeling, we might have inferred, even if direct evidence had not existed that a distinctive and superior place would be ascribed to the Books of Moses. In point of fact, the other books of Scripture, alike the Prophets and the Hagiographa, are only designated as Qabbalah ('received,' handed down, tradition), which is also the name given to oral tradition. It was said that the Torah was given to Moses (Jeremiah Sheq. vi. 1) 'in (letters of) white fire graven upon black fire,' although it was matter of dispute whether he received it volume by volume or complete as a whole (Gitt. 60 a). But on the question of its inspiration not the smallest doubt could be tolerated. Thus, to admit generally, that 'the Torah as a whole was from heaven, except this (one) verse, which the Holy One, blessed be He, did not speak, but Moses of himself' was to become an infidel and a blasphemer (Sanhedrin 99 a). Even the concluding verses in Deuteronomy had been dictated by God to Moses, and he wrote them down - not repeating them, however, as before, but weeping as he wrote. It will readily be understood in what extravagant terms Moses himself was spoken of. It is not only that the expression 'man of God' was supposed to imply, that while as regarded the lower part of his nature Moses was man, as regarded the higher he was Divine, but that his glorification and exaltation amount to blasphemy. So far as inspiration or 'revelation' is concerned, it was said that Moses 'saw in a clear glass, the prophets in a dark one' - or, to put it otherwise: 'he saw through one glass, they through seven.' Indeed, although the opening words of Psalm 75 showed, that the Psalms were as much revelation as the Law, yet, 'if Israel had not sinned, they would have only received the Pentateuch, and the Book of Joshua,' and, in the time to come, of all Scripture the Pentateuch alone would retain its place.

It was somewhat contemptuously remarked, that the Prophets uttered nothing as regarded practice that had not already been told in the Pentateuch (Taanith 9 a). It was but natural for Rabbinism to declare that the Law alone fully explained its meaning (at least according to their interpretation of it), while the Prophets left much in obscurity. To mark the distinction, it was forbidden to put the Law in the same wrapper with the Prophets, so as not to place perhaps the latter on the top of the former (Tos. Meg. iv. 20). Among the Prophets themselves there was a considerable difference, not only in style and training but even in substance (Sanhedrin 89 a), although all of them had certain common qualifications (comp. Ab. de R. Nathan, 37). Of all the prophets Isaiah was greatest, and stood next to Moses. Ezekiel saw all that Isaiah saw - but the former was like a villager, the latter like a townsman who saw the king (Chagigah 13 b). Jeremiah and Amos were, so to speak, scolding, owing to the violence of their temperament, while Isaiah's was the book of consolation, especially in response to Jeremiah.

The Hagiographa or 'Kethubhim' also bear in the Talmud the general designation of 'Chokhmah,' wisdom. It has been asserted that, as the Prophetic Books, so the Hagiographa, were distinguished into 'anterior' (Psalms, Proverbs, Job) and 'posterior,' or else into 'great' and 'small.' But the statement rests on quite insufficient evidence. Certain, however, it is, that the Hagiographa, as we possess them, formed part of the Canon in the time of Jesus the son of Sirach - that is, even of the latest computation of his authorship, about the year 130 b.c. Even so, it would not be easy to vindicate, on historical grounds, the so-called Maccabean authorship of the Book of Daniel, which would fix its date about 105 b.c. For, if other considerations did not interfere, few students of Jewish history would be disposed to assert that a book, which dated from 104 b.c., could have found a place in the Jewish Canon.

The question hitherto treated has been exclusively of the date of the composition of the Book of Daniel, without reference to who may have been its author, whether its present is exactly the same as its original form, and finally, whether it ever belonged to those books whose right to canonicity, though nor their age, was in controversy, that is, whether it belonged, so to speak, to the Old Testament. As this is not the place for a detailed discussion of the canonicity of the Book of Daniel - or, indeed, of any other in the Old Testament canon - we shall only add, to prevent misunderstanding, that no opinion is here expressed as to possible, greater or less, interpolations on the Book of Daniel, or in any other part of the Old Testament. We must here bear in mind that the moral view taken of such interpolations, as we would call them, was entirely different in those times from ours; and it may perhaps be an historically and critically no unwarranted proposition, that such interpolations were, to speak moderately, not all unusual in ancient documents. In each case the question must be separately critically examined in the light of internal and (if possible) external evidence. But it would be a very different thing to suggest that there may be an interpolation, or, it may be, a re-arrangement in a document (although at present we make no assertions on the subject, one way or the other), and to pronounce a whole document a fabrication dating from a much later period. The one would, at any rate, be quite in the spirit of those times; the other implies, beside insuperable critical difficulties, a deliberate religious fraud, to which no unprejudiced student could seriously regard the so-called Pseudepigrapha as forming any real analogon.

But as regards the Book of Daniel, it is an important fact that the right of the Book of Daniel to canonicity was never called in question in the ancient Synagogue. The fact that it was distinguish as 'visions' (Chezyonoth) from the other 'prophecies' has, of course, no bearing on the question, any more than the circumstance that later Rabbinism, which, naturally enough, could not find its way through the Messianic prophecies of the book, declare that even Daniel was mistaken in, and could not make anything of the predictions concerning the 'latter days' (Bereshith Rabba 98). On the other hand, Daniel was elevated to almost the same pinnacle as Moses, while it was said that, as compared with heathen sages, if they were all placed in one scale, and Daniel in the other, he would outweigh them all. We can readily understand that, in times of national sorrow or excitement, these prophecies would be eagerly resorted to, as pointing to a glorious future.

But although the Book of Daniel was not among the Antilegomena, doubts were raised, not indeed about the age, but about the right to canonicity of certain other portions of the Bible. Thus, certain expressions in the prophecies of Ezekiel were questioned as apparently incompatible with statements in the Pentateuch (Men. 45 a), and although a celebrated Rabbi, Chananyah, the son of Chizkuyah, the son of Garon (about the time of Christ), with immense labor, sought to conciliate them, and thus preserved the Book of Ezekiel (or, at least, part of it) from being relegated among the Apocrypha, it was deemed safest to leave the final exposition of the meaning of Ezekiel, 'till Elijah come,' as the restorer of all things.

The other objections to canonicity apply exclusively to the third division of the Old Testament, the Kethubhim or Hagiographa. Here even the Book of Proverbs seems at one time to have been called in question (Ab. R. Nathan 1), partly on the ground of its secular contents, and partly as containing 'supposed contradictory statements' (Shabbath 30 b). Very strong doubts were raised on the Book of Ecclesiastes (Yad. iii. 5; Eduy. v. 3), first, on that ground of its contradiction to some of the Psalms (Shabbath 30 a); secondly, on that of its inconsistencies (Shabbath 30 b); and thirdly, because it seemed to countenance the denial of another life, and, as in Ecclesiates 11:1, 3, 9, other heretical views (Vayyikra R. 28, at the beginning). But these objections were finally answered by great ingenuity, while an appeal to Ecclesiates 12:12, 13, was regarded as removing the difficulty about another life and future rewards and punishments. And as the contradictions in Ecclesiastes had been conciliated, it hopefully argued deeper study would equally remove those in the Book of Proverbs (Shabbath 30 b). Still, the controversy about the canonicity of Ecclesiastes continue so late as the second century of our era (comp. Yad. iii. 5). That grave doubts also existed about the Song of Solomon, appears even from the terms in which its canonicity is insisted upon (Yad. u. s.), not to speak of express statements in opposition to it (Ab. de. R. Nathan 1). Even when by an allegorical interpretation it was shown to be the 'wisdom of all wisdom,' the most precious gem, the holy of holies, tradition still ascribed its composition to the early years of Solomon (Shir haSh. R. 1). It had been his first work, and was followed by Proverbs, and finally by Ecclesiastes. But perhaps the greatest objections were those taken to the Book of Esther (Meg. 7 a). It excited the enmity of other nations against Israel, and it was outside the canon. Grave doubts prevailed whether it was canonical or inspired by the Holy Spirit (Meg. u. s.; Yoma 29 a). The books of Ezra and Nehemiah were anciently regarded as one - the name of the latter author being kept back on account of his tendency to self-exaltation (Sanhedrin 93 b). Lastly, the genealogical parts of the Book of Chronicles were made the subject of very elaborate secret commentation (Pesachim 62 b).

Two points still require brief mention. Even from a comparison of the Septuagint Version with our Hebrew text, it is evident that there were not only many variations, but that spurious additions (as Daniel) were eliminated. This critical activity, which commenced with Ezra, whose copy of the Pentateuch was, according to tradition, placed in the Temple, that the people might correct their copies by it, must have continued for many centuries. There is abundant evidence of frequent divergences - though perhaps minute - and although later Rabbinism laid down the most painfully minute directions about the mode of writing and copying the rolls of the Law, there is such discrepancy, even where least it might be expected, as to show that the purification of the text was by no means settled. Considering the want of exegetical knowledge and historical conscientiousness, and keeping in view how often the Rabbis, for Haggadic purposes, alter letters, and thus change the meaning of words, we may well doubt the satisfactory character of their critical labors. Lastly, as certain omissions were made, and as the Canon underwent (as will be shown) repeated revision, it may have been certain portions were added as well as left out, and words changed as well as restored.

For, ancient tradition ascribes a peculiar activity to certain 'Colleges' - as they are termed - in regard to the Canon. In general, the well-known Baraita (Baba B. 14 b, 15 a) bears, that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, the book (Prophecies?) of Balaam, and Job; Joshua the work that bears his name, and the last eight verses of Deuteronomy; Samuel the corresponding books, Judges and Ruth; David with the 'ten Elders,' Adam, Melchisedek, Abraham, Moses, Heman, Jeduthun, Asaph, and the three sons of Korah, the Psalter; Jeremiah wrote his prophecies, Lamentations, and Kings; King Hezekiah and his Sanhedrin compiled, or edited, the Prophecies of Isaiah, Proverbs, the Song, and Ecclesiastes; and the men of the 'Great Synagogue' the Prophecies of Ezekiel, of the twelve Minor Prophets, and the books of Daniel and Esther; Ezra wrote his own book and Chronicles, the work being completed by Nehemiah, the son of Chakaliah. The last verse of Joshua were written by Eleazar and Phinehas; the last chapters of Samuel by Gad and Nathan.

Loose and uncritical as these statements may appear, they so far help our investigations as to show that, according to tradition, certain portions of Scripture were compiled or edited by one or another Rabbinic 'College,' and that there were several 'Colleges' which successively busied themselves with the codification and revision of the Canon. By these 'Colleges,' we are not to understand gatherings of certain members, who discussed and decided a question at one or more of their meetings. They rather indicate the learned activity of the authorities during a certain period, which are respectively designed by the generic names of 'the Sanhedrin of Hezekiah,' 'The men of the Synagogue,' the 'Legal Court of the Maccabees,' and finally, 'Chananayah and his College,' We have thus somewhat firmer historical ground. If in Proverbs 25:1, we read of the activity about the Canon of 'the Men of Hezekiah,' and bear in mind the Scriptural account of the religious revival of that reign (for ex. 2Chronicles 29:25-30; 2Chronicles 30:1), we scarcely required the frequent and elaborate glorification of tradition to lead us to infer that, if the collection of the Book of Proverbs was due to their activity, they must have equally collated the other portions of Scripture then existing, and fixed the Canon as their time. Again, if we are to credit the statement that they equally collected and edited the Prophecies of Isaiah, we are obliged to infer that the continuance of that College was not limited to the life of Hezekiah, since the latter died before Isaiah (Tos. Baba Bathra; Yeb. 49 b).

What has just been indicated is fully confirmated by what we know of the activity of Ezra (Ezra 7:6, 10), and of his successors in the great Synagogue. If we are to attach credit to the notice in 2 Maccabees ii. 13, it points to such literary activity as tradition indicates. That the revision and determination of the Canon must have been among the main occupations of Ezra and his successors of 'the Great Synagogue' - whatever precise meaning may be attached to that institution - seems scarcely to require proof. The same remark applies to another period of religious reformation, that of the so-called Asmonaean College. Even if we had not the evidence of their exclusion of such works as those of Ben Sirach and others, there could be no rational doubt that in their time the Canon, as presently existing, was firmly fixed, and that no work of comparatively late date could have found admission into it. The period of their activity is sufficiently known, and too near what may be called the historical times of Rabbinism, for any attempt in that direction, without leaving traces of it. Lastly, we come to the indications of a critical revision of the text by 'Chananyah and his College,' shortly before the time of our Lord. Thus we have, in all, a record of four critical revisions of the Canon up to time of Christ.

The Kabbalah

Somewhat similar observations must be made in regard to the mystical Theology of the Synagogue, or the so-called Kabbalah. Its commencement must certainly be traced to, and before, the times described in these volumes. For a discussion of its origin and doctrines I must once more take leave to refer to the account given in the 'History of the Jewish Nation' (pp. 435, etc. ). The whole modern literature of the subject, besides much illustrative matter, is given in the Italian text annexed to David Castelli's edition of Sabbatai Donnolo's Hebrew Commentary on the Book Yetsirah, or the Book of Creation. For, the Kabbalah busies itself with these two subjects: the History of the Creation (Yetsirah, perhaps rather 'formation' than Creation), and the 'Merkabhah,' or the Divine apparition as described by Ezekiel. Both refer to the great question, underlying all theosophic speculation: that of God's connection with His creature. They treat of the mystery of Nature and of Providence, with especial bearing on Revelation; and the question, how the Infinite God can have any connection or intercourse with finite creatures, is attempted to be answered. Of the two points raised, that of Creation is of course the first in the order of thinking as well as of time - and the book Yetsirah is the oldest Kabbalistic document.

The Sepher Yetsirah is properly a monologue on the part of Abraham, in which, by the contemplation of all that is around him, he ultimately arrives at the conviction of the Unity of God.

'We distinguish the substance and the form of creation; that which is, and the mode in which it is. We have already indicated that the original of all that exists is Divine. 1st, We have God; 2nd, God manifest, or the Divine entering into form; 3rd, That Divine in its form, from which in turn all original realities are afterwards derived. In the Sepher Yetsirah, these Divine realities (the substance) are represented by the ten numerals, and their form by the twenty-two letters which constitute the Hebrew alphabet - language being viewed as the medium of connection between the spiritual and the material; as the form in which the spiritual appears. At the same time, number and language indicate also the arrangement and the mode of creation, and, in general, its boundaries. "By thirty-two wonderful paths," so begins the Sepher Yetsirah, "the Eternal, the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, the Living God, the King of the World, the merciful and gracious God, the glorious One, He that inhabiteth eternity, Whose Name is high and holy, has created the world." But these ten numerals are in reality the ten Sephiroth, or Divine emanations, arranged in triads, each triad consisting of two opposites (flowing or emanating from a superior triad until the Divine Unity is reached), and being reconciled in a middle point of connection. These ten Sephiroth, in the above arrangement, recur everywhere, and the sacred number ten is that of perfection. Each of these Sephiroth flows from its predecessor, and in this manner the Divine gradually evolves. This emanation of the ten Sephiroth then constitutes the substance of word; we may add, it constitutes everything else. In God, in the world, in man, everywhere we meet these ten Sephiroth, at the head of which is God manifest, or the Memra (Logos, the Word). If the ten Sephiroth give the Substance, the twenty-two letters are the form of creation and of revelation. "By giving them form and shape,. and by interchanging them, God has made the soul of everything that has been made, or shall be made." "Upon those letters, also, has the Holy One, Whose Name be praised, founded His holy and glorious Name." These letters are next subdivided, and their application in all the departments of nature is shown. In the unit creation, the triad; world, time and man are found. Above all these is the Lord. Such is a very brief outline of the rational exposition of the Creation, attempted by the Sepher Yetsirah.'

We subjoin a translation of the book Yetsirah, only adding that much, not only as regards the meaning of the expressions but even their translation, is in controversy. Hence, not unfrequently, our rendering must be regarded rather as our interpretation of the mysterious original.

The Book Yetsirah

Pereq I.

  • Mishnah 1. In thirty-two wonderful paths of wisdom, Jah, Jehovah Tsebhaoth, the God of Israel, the Living God, and King of the World, God merciful and gracious, High and Exalted, Who dwelleth to Eternity, high and holy is His Name, hath ordered [established, created?] (the world) by three Sepharim [books]: by Sepher [the written Word], Sephar [number, numeral] and Sippur [spoken word]. Others, pointing the worlds differently, render these mysterious terms: Number, Word, Writing; others Number, Numberer, Numbered; while still other see in it a reference to the threefold division of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, of which more afterwards.

  • Mishnah 2. Ten Sephiroth [emanations] belimah [without anything, i.e. before these, the sole elements out of which all else evolved], twenty-two letters of foundation (these constitute the Hebrew Alphabet, and the meaning seems that the Sephiroth manifest themselves in that which is uttered): three mothers (Aleph, the first letter of Avveyr, air; Mem, the first letter of Mayim, water; and Shin, the last letter of Esh, fire - although this may represent only one mystical aspect of the meaning of the term 'mothers,' as applied to these letters), seven duplex (Pronounced 'soft' or 'hard,' viz. Beth, Gimel, Daleth, Kaph, Pe, Resh, Tau, which are, or where in Hebrew capable of modification by a Dagesh - but this also must be mystically understood) and twelve simple ones (the simple letters of the Hebrew Alphabet).

  • Mishnah 3. Ten Sephiroth belimah (the analogy is now further traced in God and in man), the number of the ten fingers, five against five, and the covenant of the One Only (God) placed between them (the covenant relationship between God and man in the midst, even as it is symbolized in the person of man which is between the twice five fingers) by the word of the tongue (this, the relation Godward) and by the word of sexualness [nuditas] (the relation earthwards - the one has become dual.)

  • Mishnah 4. Ten Sephiroth belimah - ten and not nine, ten and not eleven - be informed in wisdom, and be wise in information; examine in them, search out from them, and put the thing in its reality (certitude, proper state?), and place again the Creator in His place.

  • Mishnah 5. Ten Sephiroth belimah - their measurement ten, which have no end (limitation): depth of beginning (past) and depth of ending (future), depth of good and depth of evil, depth of height and depth of profundity (or, above and beneath), depth of east and depth of west, depth of north and depth of south - One only Lord, God, the true (approved) King, Who reigneth over all from His holy dwelling and unto all eternity.

  • Mishnah 6. Ten Sephiroth belimah - their appearance like the sheen of lightning (reference here to Ezekiel 1:14), and their outgoings (goal) that they have no end, His word is in them (the Logos manifest in the Sephiroth), in running and in returning, and at His word like storm-wind they pursue (follow), and before His throne they bend (in worship).

  • Mishnah 7. Ten Sephiroth belimah - their end is joined to their beginning, like the flame that is bound up with the coal, for the Lord is One only, and there is no second to Him, and before him what countest thou?

  • Mishnah 8. Ten Sephiroth belimah - shut thy mouth, that is speak not, and thy heart, that it think not, and if thy heart run away, bring it back to its place, for on this account is it said (Ezekiel 1:14) 'they run and return,' and on this condition has the Covenant been made.

  • Mishnah 9 and 10. Ten Sephiroth belimah - One: the Spirit of the living God, blessed and again blessed be the Name of Him Who liveth for ever - Voice and Spirit and Word, and this is the Holy Ghost.

    Two: Wind (air, spirit?) from (out of) Spirit - thereby ordered and hewed He the twenty-two letters of foundation, three mothers, and 7 duplicate, and 12 simple ones, and one Spirit from (among) them. Three: Water from beneath (wind), He designed and hewed in them thou vavohu, slime and dung - designed them like a bed (a garden bed), hewed them like a wall, covered them like pavement. Four: Fire from water, He designed it and hewed in it the throne of glory, the Ophanim and Seraphim, the sacred living creatures, and the angels of service, and of these three He founded His dwelling place, as it is said, He maketh His angels breaths (winds), and His ministers a flaming fire.

  • Mishnah 11. Five: Three letters from out the simple ones: He sealed spirit on the three, and fastened them in His Great Name why (Jehovah, of which these three letters are the abbreviation; what follows shows how the permutation of these three letters makes the varied relationship of God to creation in time and space, and at the same time, so to speak, the immanence of His manifestation in it). And He sealed with them six outgoings (ends, terminations): He turned upwards, and He sealed it with why. Six: He sealed below, turned downwards, and sealed it with hwy. Seven: He sealed eastward, He turned in front of Him, and sealed it with wyh. Eight: He sealed westward, and turned behind, and sealed it with ywh. Nine: He sealed southward, and turned to His right, and sealed it with hyw. Ten: He sealed northward, and turned to His left, and sealed it with yhw.

  • Mishnah 12. These are the Sephiroth belimah - one: Spirit of the living God, and wind (air, spirit? the word ruach means all these), water, and fire; and height above and below, east and west, north and south.

Pereq II

  • Mishnah 1. Twenty-and-two letters of foundation: three mothers, seven duplex, and twelve simple ones - three mothers), their foundation the scale of merit and the scale of guilt, and the tongue of statute trembling (deciding) between them. (This, to be mystically carried out, in its development, and application to all things: the elements, man, etc. )

  • Mishnah 2. Twenty-two letters of foundation: He drew them, hewed them, weighed them, and interchanged them, melted them together (showing how in the permutation of letters all words - viewed mystically as the designation of things - arose), He formed by them the nephesh of all that is formed (created), and the nephesh of everything that is to be formed (created).

  • Mishnah 3. Two-and-twenty letters of foundation: drawn in the voice, hewn in the wind (air, spirit?) fastened on the mouth in five places: (the gutturals among the Hebrew letters), (the labials), (the palatals), (the linguals), (the dentals).

  • Mishnah 4. Twenty-two letters of foundation, fastened in a circle in 231 gates (marking how these letters are capable of forming, by the permutation of two of them, in all 231 permutations); and the circle turns forwards and backwards, and this is the indication of the matter: as regards what is good, there is nothing higher than gn( (oneg), 'delight,' and nothing lower than hgn (negah), 'plague' (stroke). In such manner He weighed them and combined them, with them all, and them all with ) with them all, and them all with ) b with them all, and them all with b, and thus the rest, so that it is found that all that is formed and all that is spoken proceeds from one Name (the name of God being, as it were, the fundamental origin of everything).

  • Mishnah 5. He formed from Tohu that which has substance, and made that which is not into being, and hewed great pillars from the air, which cannot be handled; and this is the indication: beholding and speaking He made all that is formed and all words by one Name - and the indication of the matter: twenty-two numbers and one body.

Pereq III

  • Mishnah 1. Three mothers: their foundation, the scale of guilt and the scale of merit, and the tongue of the statue trembling (deciding) between them.

  • Mishnah 2. Three mothers - a great mystery, marvellous and hidden, and sealed with six signets, and from them go forth fire and water, and divide themselves into male and female. Three mothers, #m) their foundation, and from them were born the fathers (rerum naturae semina), from which everything is created (fire is regarded as the male principle, water as the female principle, and air as combining the two: ) is the first letter of the Hebrew word for air, m for that of water, # the last for that of fire).

  • Mishnah 3. Three letters - in the world: air, water, fire; the heavens were created in the beginning from fire, and the earth was created from water, and the air trembles (the same word as that in regard to the tongue between the scales of the balance, indicating the intermediate, inclining to the one or the other) between the fire and the water.

  • Mishnah 4. Three mothers - in the year: fire, and water, and wind. Heat is created from fire, cold from water, and moderate from the wind (air) that is intermediate between them. Three mothers, #m) - in the nephesh: fire, water, and wind. The head was created from fire, and the belly from water, and the body from wind that is intermediate between them.

  • Mishnah 5. Three mothers - He drew them, and hewed them, and melted them together, and sealed with them the three mothers in the world, the three mothers in the year, and three mothers in the nephesh - male and female.

Pereq IV

  • Mishnah 1. Seven duplex letters, (it will here be noticed that we now proceed from the numeral 3 to the further mystic numeral 7), accustomed (habituated, adapted, fitted) for two languages (correlate ideas); life, and peace, and wisdom, and riches, grace, and seed, and government (the mystic number 7 will here he noted), and accustomed (fitted) for two tongues (modes of pronunciation) `bb `tt `rr `pp `kk `dd `gg, - the formation of soft and hard, the formation of strong and weak (the dual principle will here be observed); duplicate, because they are opposites: the opposites - life and death; the opposites - peace and evil; the opposites - wisdom and folly; the opposites - riches and poverty; the opposites - grace and ugliness; the opposites - fertility and desolation; the opposites - rule and servitude.

  • Mishnah 2. Seven duplex letters, ; corresponding to the seven out goings; from them seven outgoings: above and below, east and west, north and south, and the holy Temple in the middle, and it upbears the whole.

  • Mishnah 3. Seven duplex, ; He drew them, and hewed them, and melted them, and from them, in the world the stars (the planets), in the year the days, in the nephesh the issues, and with them He drew seven firmaments, and seven earths, and seven Sabbaths, therefore He loves the seventh under all heavens.

  • Mishnah 4. Two letters build two houses (here the number of possible permutations are indicated). Three letters build six houses, four build twenty-four houses, five build 120 houses, six build 720 houses, and from thence go onward and think what the mouth is not able to speak, and the ear not able to hear. And these are the in the world - seven: the Sun, Venus, Mercury, the Moon, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars. And these are the days in the year; the seven days of creation; and the seven gates of issue in the nephesh: two eyes, two ears, and a mouth, and the two nostrils. And with them were drawn the seven above all that is delight under the heavens.

Pereq V

  • Mishnah 1. The properties of the twelve simple letters (or their attributes) - - their foundation: sight, hearing, smell, speech, eating, concubitus, working, walking, anger, laughter, thinking, sleep. Their measurement twelve boundaries in the hypothenuse (points in transverse lines), the boundary N. E., the boundary S. E., the boundary E. upwards, the boundary E. downwards; the boundary N. upwards, the boundary N. downwards, the boundary S. W., the boundary N. W., the boundary W. upwards, the boundary W. downwards, the boundary S. upwards, the boundary S. downwards, and they extended and go on into the eternal (boundless space), and they are the arms of the world.

  • Mishnah 2. Twelve simple letters, . He drew them, and melted them, and formed of them the twelve constellations in the world (sign of the Zodiac): Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricornus, Aquarius, Pisces (these are expressed in the original in an abbreviated, contracted form). These are the twelve months of the year: Nisan, Iyar, Sivan, Tammuz, Abh, Elul, Tishri, Marcheshvan, Kislev, Tebheth, Shebhat, Adar (thus the number twelve is marked, first in the functions of man, then in the points of the compass, then in the starry skies, and then in the year). And these are the twelve leaders in nephesh (living beings): two hands, and two feet, and two kidneys, the spleen, the liver, the gall, the intestine, the upper stomach, the lower stomach (perhaps gullet, stomach, and intestine - at any rate, three organs connected with deglutition and digestion). He made them like a land (province), and set them in order like war, and also - this as against that, ordered God. Three mothers, which are three fathers, because from them issue fire, wind, and water. Three mothers, and seven duplicate, and twelve simple ones.

  • Mishnah 3. These are the twenty-two letters with which the Holy One has founded (all), blessed be He, Jah, Jehovah Tsebhaoth, the living God of Israel, high and lifted up, dwelling eternally, and holy is His Name, exalted and holy is He.

Pereq VI

  • Mishnah 1. Three fathers and their generations, seven subduers and their hosts (planets?), seven boundaries of hypothenuse - and the proof of matter: faithful witnesses are the world, the year, and the nephesh. The law (statute, settled order) of the twelve, and of the seven, and of the three, and they are appointed over the heavenly dragon, and the cycle, and the heart. Three: fire, and water, and wind (air); the fire above, the water below, and the wind (air) the statute intermediate between them. And the demonstration of the matter: the fire bears the water, m is silent, # hisses, and ) is the statute intermediate between them (all these have further mystic meaning and application in connection with words and ideas).

  • Mishnah 2. The dragon is in the world like a king on his throne; the cycle is in the year like a king in his land; the heart is in the nephesh like a king in war. Also in all that is pursued God has made the one against the other (opposite poles and their reconciliation): the good against the evil; good from good, and evil from evil; the good trying the evil, and the evil trying the good the good is kept for the good, and the evil is kept for the evil.

  • Mishnah 3. Three are one, that standeth alone; seven are divided, there as against three, and the statute intermediate between them. Twelve are in war: three loving, three hating, three giving life, three giving death. The three loving ones: the heart, the ears, and the mouth; the three hating ones: the liver, the gall, and the tongue - and God a faithful king reigning over all: one (is) over three, three over seven, seven over twelve, and they are all joined together, the one with the other.

  • Mishnah 4. And when Abraham our father had beheld, and considered, and seen, and drawn, and hewn, and obtained it, then the Lord of all revealed Himself to him, and called him His friend, and made a covenant with him and with his seed: and he believed in Jehovah, and it was imputed to him for righteousness. He made with him a covenant between the ten toes, and that is circumcision; between the ten fingers of his hand, and that is the tongue; and He bound two-and-twenty letters on his tongue, and showed him their foundation. He drew them with water, He kindled them with fire, He breathed them with (air); He burnt them in seven; He poured them forth in the twelve constellations.

The views expressed in the Book Yetsirah are repeatedly referred to in the Mishnah and in other of the most ancient Jewish writings.

Roll of Fasts

These are the days on which it is not lawful to fast, and during some of them mourning must also be intermitted.

I. Nisan.

  1. From the 1st day of the month Nisan, and to the 8th of it, it was settled about the daily sacrifice (that it should be paid out of the Temple-treasury) - mourning is prohibited.

  2. And from the 8th to the end of the Feast (the 27th) the Feast of Weeks was re-established - mourning is interdicted.

II. Iyar.

  1. On the 7th Iyar the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem - mourning is prohibited.

  2. On the 14th is the day of the little (the second) Passover - mourning is prohibited.

  3. On the 23rd the sons of Acra issued from Jerusalem.

  4. On the 27th the imposts were removed from Judaea and Jerusalem.

III. Sivan.

  1. On the 17th Sivan the tower of Zur was taken.

  2. On the15th and 16th men of Bethshean and of the plain were exiled.

  3. On the 25th the tax-gatherers were withdrawn from Judah and Jerusalem.

IV. Tammuz.

  1. On the 14th Tammuz the Book of Decisions ('aggravating ordinances') was abrogated - mourning is prohibited.

V. Abh.

  1. On the 15th Abh the season of wood-offerings (for the Temple use) of priests (comp. Jos. War ii. 17. 6) - mourning is prohibited.

  2. On the 24th we returned to our Law.

VI. Elul.

  1. On the 7th of Elul the day of the Dedication of Jerusalem - mourning prohibited.

  2. On the 17th the Romans withdrew from Judaea and Jerusalem.

  3. On the 22nd we returned to kill the apostates.

VII. Tisri.

  1. ON the 3rd Tishri the mention of the Divine Name was removed from public deeds.

VIII. Marcheshvan.

  1. On the 23rd Marcheshvan the Sorigah (a partition-wall in the Temple, supposed to have been erected by the heathen, comp. 1 Maccabees iv. 43-46) was removed from the Temple-court.

  2. On the 25th the wall of Samaria was taken.

  3. On the 27th the meat offering was again brought on the altar.

IX. Kislev

  1. On the 3rd the Simavatha (another heathen structure) was removed from the court or the Temple,

  2. On the 7th is a feast day.

  3. On the 21st is the day of Mount Garizim - mourning is prohibited.

  4. On the 25th the eight days of the Feast of Lights (Chanukah) begin - mourning is prohibited.

X. Tebheth.

  1. On the 28th the congregation was re-established according to the Law. (This seems to refer to the restoration of the Sanhedrin after the Sadducean members were removed, under the rule of Queen Salome. See the historical notes in Appendix IV.)

XI. Shebhat.

  1. On the 2nd a feast day - mourning is prohibited.

  2. On the 22nd the work, of which the enemy said that it was to be in the Temple, was destroyed - mourning is interdicted. (This seems to refer to the time of Caligula, when, on the resistance of the Jews, the statute of the Emperor was at last not allowed to be in the Temple.)

  3. On the 28th King Antiochus was removed from Jerusalem (supposed to refer to the day of the death of Antiochus, son of Antiochus Epiphanes, in his expedition against the Parthians).

XII. Adar.

  1. On the 8th and the 9th, days of joy on account of rain-fall.

  2. On the 12th is the day of Trajan.

  3. On the 13th is the day of Nicanor (his defeat).

  4. On the 14th and on the 15th are the days of Purim (Feast of Esther) - mourning is prohibited.

  5. On the 16th was begun the building the wall of Jerusalem - mourning is prohibited.

  6. On the 17th rose the heathens against the remnant of the Scribes in the country of Chalcis and of the Zabedaeans, and Israel was delivered.

  7. On the 20th the people fasted for rain, and it was granted to them.

  8. On the 28th the Jews received good tidings that they would no longer be hindered from the sayings of the Law - mourning is prohibited.

On these days every one who has before made a vow of fasting is to give himself to prayer.

Adapted from
The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
by A. Edersheim
Jewish World in First Century A.D.
Hellenism prepares
people for gospel
Jesus cleanses
the temple
John the Baptist killed
Five Thousand fed
Walking on Water
Parable of Great
Supper, Lost Sheep,
The Prodigal Son
Judas arranges betrayal
The Last Passover
Jews and the
Roman Empire
Jesus and Nicodemus
The Samaritans
The Bread of Life
Vain religious traditions
Lazarus resurrected
Jewish Burial Rites
The True Vine
Garden of Gethsemane
Arrested and betrayed
Coming of
John the Baptist
Jesus' First
Public Message
Four Thousand Fed
Demands for a sign
Is divorce allowed?
Blessing of Children
Peter denies Jesus
Judas commits suicide
Beaten and crucified
What Messiah did
the Jews Expect?
The Sermon
on the Mount
Jesus rebukes Peter
The Transfiguration
The Triumphal Entry
Barren Fig Tree cursed
Forsaken and stabbed
Death and Burial
Birth of Jesus
Visit of the Magi
Jesus heals man
and forgives sins
The Good Shepherd
Jesus pays temple tax
Parable of Vineyard
and Wedding Feast.
Spies try to entrap Jesus
Jewish views on Angels,
Demons, Fall of Angels,
Magic and Magicians
A Voice in
the Wilderness
Jesus selects apostles
Widow's Son resurrected
Seventy sent to preach
The Good Samaritan
Marriage - Resurrection
Is Christ son of David?
The Widow's Mites
Old Testament verses applied to Messiah
in Jewish Writings
Jesus' First Disciples
and First Public Miracle
Jesus attends Feast
Parables of Sower, Tares,
Mustard Seed, Pearl
The foolish Rich Man
Jesus almost stoned
End Time prophecies
Parable of the Ten
Virgins and Talents
The Theology
of Ancient Rabbis
Temptation of
Jesus by Satan
A Legion of demons Ruler's daughter raised

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