Monday, January 7, 2013

The Mystery of Abulafia

Abraham Abulafia is one of the more odd characters in Jewish religious history.  Born in 1240 into a vibrant Mediterranean world, he straddled many regions, cultures, and languages.   

A Jewish mystic, he lived at the tail end of the golden age of Jewish philosophy and the beginning of the rise of the Kabbalah, the branch of Jewish mysticism largely oopposed to it.  As such, Abulafia did such seemingly incommensurate things as write mystical interpretations of Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed. This complex man  incorporated nearly everything he came across into his convoluted and somewhat idiosyncratic form of mysticism.

Harvey J. Hames attempts to untangled the knot of Abulafia’s influences in Like Angel’s on Jacob’s Ladder: Abraham Abulafia, the Franciscans, and Joachimism.   Hames charts Abulafia’s travels, concentrates on his messianic and eschatology related mission, and makes connections between the Joachimist movement in Roman Catholicism and Abulafia’s sense of messianic self.    

He does an admirable job recreating a nearly 800 year old mystery, but the shreds of evidence he presents simply don’t stand up to the kind of harsh scrutiny historical studies hope to obtain.  Some of this is not Hames’ fault.  The historical records just don’t exist, at least to the point where his thesis can be firmly proved.

Yet, the books is well presented and cogent.  Anyone interested in getting their feet wet in Abulafia's hardcore series of mystical musings, should read this book.

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