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Kabala Library

General Studies

Kabala... Jewish or Greek?
(Part 1)

by Jack Courtis

People assume that kabala is Jewish and any other variety is either not possible or not authentic. Is this true?

The word kabala is spelt QBL in Hebrew and means something like, "that which is received". Further, most terminology used in kabala is Hebrew and there are numerous books that speak of Jewish kabala. However we need to consider the very close relationship between the Greeks and the Jews after the conquest of Palestine and Egypt by Alexander the Great. This relationship lasted from approximately 332 BCE until at least the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, by the Romans. In this nearly 400 year period a number of developments occurred which are important in answering our question:

  • The Jews of Egypt lost their ability to read their scriptures in Hebrew. The Torah was translated into Greek for their benefit. This is the Septuagint version.
  • The Jewish philosopher Philo Judeus (his name is Greek and means 'friend of the Jews'), a contemporary of Jesus, wrote an explanation in Greek of the Torah, in which he explained the Jewish scriptures according to Greek philosophy.
  • Another Jewish contemporary of Jesus, Josephus, wrote a number of books including The Wars of the Jews and The Antiquities of the Jews, in Greek so that the Romans could read them. Again, he used Greek philosophy to explain Jewish beliefs.
  • The Greek and Jewish alphabets have a common origin and some commonality in their individual letters.
  • The central notion of kabala is that letters stand for numbers and numbers can be 'translated' into letters. There is some evidence that this notion was given by the Greeks to the Jews. This concept is called gematria and comes from the Greek word geometria (geometry). In his Dialogues, Plato hints at gematria as a means of direct knowledge of Reality.
  • Another kabalistic concept is called notariqon and comes from Latin, not Hebrew. The Romans were heavily influenced by the Greeks.
  • In terms of kabala itself, technical words such as Macroprosopos (the Vast Countenance), Microprosopos (the Lesser Countenance) and Tetragrammaton (the Four-lettered Name of God), are Greek. So are the names of the archangels Metatron and Sandalphon.
  • In the New Testament and Gnostic scriptures, the technical Christian words and titles of Christ, are kabalistic. There is considerable scholarship available on this point. The primary example is The Apocalypse of John. The entire New Testament is written in Greek.
  • The concept of the Tree of Life as a diagram, is a Greek concept. It emerges naturally from geometry, which is a Greek mathematical discipline. Both Pythagoras and Plato used geometry to teach their more abstract material. It is contrary to Orthodox Judaism because it portrays images of God. This is blasphemous to Orthodox Jews.

The central kabalistic teaching is the doctrine of emanation. It has no place in traditional Jewish thought. However, it is a central teaching of Plato and the Neo-Platonists.

We are not saying that kabala is a Greek invention. There is certainly a Jewish kabala. However, there is a genuine Greek kabala that emerged in the New Testament and passed into the Gnostic scriptures. Subsequently, it merged into the Hermetic Revival of the Renaissance and together with Hebrew kabala, appeared in the Rosicrucian Manifestoes of 1614-16 CE. Today, kabala appears in Jewish form, but has a Greek substance. If we understand this principle, it enriches our ability to use kabala as a means to spiritual liberation because it opens up the whole wisdom and knowledge of the Mystery tradition.