Download PDF printer friendly version of this section

3. Primary Written Sources of the Mystical Qabalah

D. Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Formation)

The Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Formation) attracts heated debate about its authorship and date of origination. Many scholars attribute a medieval or Hasmonean date to the book. It is not in the scope of the present work to delineate the varied opinions that attribute a medieval date to the book's inception. The references to the "Book of Abraham" in the Qur'an (see Surahs 87:19 and 53:37) may allude to this book or some version of it. If that is the case, since the Qur'an predates the medieval period by centuries, it would at least substantiate that the Sefer Yetzirah is not of medieval origin.

The Work of the Chariot Trust version was made using all six known textural sources.The Hebrew text used for the Work of the Chariot Trust translation of the Sefer Yetzirah was a composite of the translator’s opinion of what the common text must have been to give rise to the following six versions:
a. The Genizah text (940 CE),
b. The Saadia Gaon text (950 CE),
c. Two fifteenth century texts in the Jewish Theological Seminary (believed to be from Spain),
d. Luria’s text, considered to be the best of the six,
e. A text of unknown origin published by Lewin-Epstein, Ltd.
Some of the versions contain considerable addenda whose language points to the Hasmonean period, circa 130 BCE, and later. The additional material was left out of the redaction the Work of the Chariot used as the basis for its translation. Based upon astronomical information in the book itself, the Work of the Chariot translator attributed authorship of the Sefer Yetzirah to Master Abraham in the nineteenth century BCE. An adjunctive note to the translation points out that the Procession of the Equinoxes acts as an unforgeable clock, allowing us to determine that the correspondence of the constellations given in the sixth chapter to the twelve Hebrew months (with no variations in the six texts considered) occurred during the time of Abraham, circa 4000 years ago. Allowing for an optimal variation of plus or minus 800 years ago, it is still not anywhere within the range of medieval times. A check on the data logs of the old Chaldeans, Egyptians, and Greeks indicated that no one had astronomical knowledge of the Procession (until about 1700 CE).

The Sefer Yetzirah is the first mystical manual on, and possibly the source text for, the original Hebrew alphabet. Its chapters explain the significance of the twenty-two letters and ascribe various attributes to them. It is second only to the Sefer HaShmoth as the most prolific source of distinct forms of the Tree of Life. The first chapter of the book is the earliest known textual source for the six-pointed symbol known as the "Star of David." The Six-Pointed Star has come to be seen as a flat, two-dimensional symbol of two interlocking triangles. The Sefer Yetzirah, however, presents the Star as a three-dimensional, six-pointed form of the Tree of Life comprised of two interfacing pyramids. The Sefer Yetzirah provides one of the two vastly different sets of names commonly found in the Qabalah for the spheres (called Sefiroth) on the Tree (the other set comes from the Sefer HaZohar). The names for the Sefiroth in the Sefer Yetzirah are based on elements (Spirit of Living Elohim, Air, Fire, Water), on four "Celestial Heads of Messiah," and on the six directions.

Like the three innermost core texts of the Sefer HaZohar, the Sefer Yetzirah stands out within primary qabalistic literature for the depth, terseness, and obscurity of its language, and for its wealth of mystical allusions. For a Mystical Qabalist, the book's power and value are valid independent of academic considerations regarding its origins. The full range of ideas and allusions presented in the Sefer Yetzirah will be discussed in the course of this book.

Back Next Home