Philosophy and kabbalah were highly variegated programs for the interpretation of rabbinic Judaism. Although kabbalah was rooted in the esoteric traditions of late antiquity, it became a self-conscious program for the interpretation of Judaism at the end of the twelfth century, to counter Maimonidean intellectualism. Nonetheless, kabbalists addressed the theoretical issues of concern to the rationalist philosophers and theorized within the conceptual framework of contemporary philosophy. In the second half of the thirteenth century, two types of kabbalah were consolidated: theosophic kabbalah mythologized philosophical categories while articulating a comprehensive alternative to rationalist philosophy. Prophetic (or ecstatic) kabbalah, by contrast, developed a full-fledged intellectual mysticism on the basis of Maimonides' theory of knowledge and gave kabbalistic doctrines a philosophical reading. During the fourteenth century a few Jewish philosophers, especially those who cultivated the study of astrology and astral magic, viewed kabbalah and philosophy as compatible schemas that give different names to the same entities. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the philosophic reading of kabbalah was prevalent in Italy where kabbalah was viewed by Jews, and even by some Christian humanists, as ancient speculative lore necessary for intellectual perfection. In Spain and in the Spanish diaspora the mythical aspects of kabbalah were more prominent. While some kabbalists had a very negative view of philosophy, the dominant attitude toward kabbalah among Iberian philosophers was quite positive. They considered that kabbalah revealed knowledge that completes and perfects human reason and went on to recast medieval Aristotelianism in accord with the teachings of kabbalah.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to Medieval Jewish Philosophy
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages40
ISBN (Print)9781139000055, 9780521652070
StatePublished - Jan 1 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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