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Mirror of His Beauty : Feminine Images of God from the Bible to the Early Kabbalah - Peter Schafer

Mirror of His Beauty

Feminine Images of God from the Bible to the Early Kabbalah

Paperback Published: 17th October 2004
ISBN: 9780691119809
Number Of Pages: 328

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In this beautifully realized study, Peter Schafer investigates the origins of a female manifestation of God in Jewish mysticism. The search itself is a fascinating exploration of the idea of a feminine divinity. And Schafer's surprising but persuasive conclusions yield deeper understanding of the complex but frequently intimate relationship between Christianity and Judaism--and of the development of religious concepts more generally.


Toward the end of the twelfth century, a small book titled the Bahir (Light) appeared in Provence. The first document of Judaism's emerging kabbalistic movement, it introduced a completely new view of God, one that included a divine potency that was essentially female. This female divinity was portrayed both as a mediator between Jews and God and as part of the Godhead itself. Examining Judaic history from the biblical Wisdom tradition to the Middle Ages, Schafer finds some precedents for the Kabbalah's feminine divinity. But he cannot account for her forceful appearance in twelfth-century southern France without reference to the immediate Christian environment, particularly the flourishing veneration of the Virgin Mary. Indeed, twelfth-century Jews and Christians were simultaneously rediscovering the feminine as an aspect of the Godhead after having abandoned it in favor of either an abstract, disembodied God or an exclusively male one.


In proposing that the medieval cult of Mary--rather than eastern Gnosticism--is the appropriate framework for understanding the feminine elements in Jewish mysticism, Mirror of His Beauty represents a sea change in Kabbalah and Jewish-Christian cultural studies. It shifts our attention from the Byzantine East to the Latin Christian West. And in contrast to histories that treat the development of Judaism and Christianity in isolation, it leads us to a fuller understanding of Jews and Christians living in proximity, aware of each other.

Peter Schafer, Winner of the 2007 Distinguished Achievement Award from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Winner of the 2002 Award for Best Professional/Scholarly Book in Religion, Association of American Publishers "This work deals with esoteric ideas that are bold and complex, but it is also culturally important, providing a wonderful antecedent for feminist theological speculation today. Schafer supports his thesis admirably, showing its importance for understanding medieval Jewish-Christian relationships and the cultural environment's influence on religion."--Library Journal "Schafer's book is clearly written and forcefully presents an interesting and plausible thesis for the presence, survival and re-emergence of the feminine in the Jewish divine from antiquity to the middle ages."--Tal Ilan, Journal of Jewish Studies

List of Figuresp. xi
Acknowledgmentsp. xiii
Abbreviationsp. xv
Introductionp. 1
From the Bible to the Bahir
Lady Wisdomp. 19
Job: Wisdom Cannot Be Foundp. 19
Proverbs: Wisdom as God's Little Daughter and His Embodiment on Earthp. 23
Jesus Sirach: Wisdom as God's Torahp. 29
Wisdom of Solomon: Wisdom as the Medium of Divine Energy and God's Beloved Spousep. 33
Philo's Wisdomp. 39
God and His Wisdomp. 40
Wisdom and Logosp. 41
Wisdom's Genderp. 45
God's Daughterp. 48
Divine and Human Wisdomp. 50
Summary--and Once Again Genderp. 54
The Gnostic Dramap. 58
The Creation Myth According to the Apocryphon of Johnp. 60
Barbelop. 61
The Self-Generated/Christp. 64
Sophia and Her Offspringp. 65
Sophia's Descentp. 68
Sophia and Barbelop. 69
The Valentinian Creation Myth According to Irenaeusp. 73
Passionate Sophiap. 74
Sophia and Achamoth, Upper and Lower Wisdomp. 76
The Rabbinic Shekhinahp. 79
Wisdomp. 79
God the Only Creatorp. 81
Israel, God's Spouse, Daughter, Sister, and Motherp. 83
Shekhinahp. 86
Personification of the Shekhinahp. 93
The Shekhinah of the Philosophersp. 103
Saadia Gaonp. 104
Judah ben Barzillai of Barcelonap. 107
Judah ha-Levip. 110
Moses Maimonidesp. 113
The Shekhinah in the Bahirp. 118
The Ten Sefirotp. 120
Sexual Symbolismp. 123
The Position of the Shekhinah in the Sefirotic Systemp. 125
Mediatrix between Heaven and Earthp. 128
The Quest for Origins
Gnosisp. 137
Christianityp. 147
Eastern Churchp. 148
Western Churchp. 152
Peter Damianp. 153
Herman of Tournayp. 155
Bernard of Clairvauxp. 157
Godfrey of Admontp. 162
Hildegard of Bingenp. 163
Peter of Bloisp. 169
Mary and the Shekhinahp. 169
Counter-Evidence: Mary and the Jewsp. 173
Anti-Jewish Legends and Imagesp. 173
The Jews Disturb Mary's Funeralp. 173
The Image of Mary in the Latrinep. 191
The Jewish Boy in the Furnacep. 197
Jewish Polemics against Maryp. 209
Rabbinical Evidence and Toledot Yeshup. 209
The Apocalypse of Zerubbavelp. 212
How Much "Origins," Or: The Anxiety of Influencep. 217
Mythical Originp. 218
Femininityp. 224
Influencep. 229
Historyp. 235
Notesp. 245
Bibliographyp. 289
Indexp. 301
Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.

ISBN: 9780691119809
ISBN-10: 0691119805
Series: Jews, Christians, and Muslims from the Ancient to the Modern World
Audience: Tertiary; University or College
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 328
Published: 17th October 2004
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Country of Publication: US
Dimensions (cm): 23.5 x 15.2  x 1.98
Weight (kg): 0.48