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Magical Letters, Mystical Planets: Magic, Theosophy, and Astrology in the Sefer Yetsirah and two of its Tenth-century Commentaries

Magical Letters, Mystical Planets: Magic, Theosophy, and Astrology in the Sefer Yetsirah and two of its Tenth-century Commentaries

By Marla Segol

Societas Magica Newsletter, Issue 21 (2009)

Introduction: In this essay I discuss the treatment of two important themes in the late antique work, the Sefer Yetsirah, and in two of its tenth-Century commentaries, Sa’adya Gaon’s Commentary on the Sefer Yetsirah, and Shabbetai Donnolo’s Sefer Hakhmoni. These themes are the effective power of symbols, and of the Hebrew letterform specifically, and theosophy, the belief that the created world can be used to learn about the divine. The Sefer Yetsirah expresses an effective view of symbols and a theosophic view of the universe. This theosophic view is intrinsic to the astrological outlook that informs the work. The commentaries on the Sefer Yetsirah take different positions regarding these themes, relying on non-Jewish sources and cosmological models to reinterpret the magical function of the Hebrew letterform, and the theosophic significance of the created world. In so doing, the commentators reinterpret the Sefer Yetsirah in light of contemporary debate.

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