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Re: [sacredlandscapelist] Torah/Kabbalah

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  • Dan Washburn
    ... Here is my brief history of gematria, taken from my hidden wisdom in early christianity paper. You can find a page on the history of gematria at
    Message 1 of 2 , Aug 14, 2000
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      mikebispham@... wrote:

      > I tried to watch a tv programmme (UK) a couple of days ago on the six most
      > important numbers. I missed the beginning, and had to deal with a family
      > crisis in the middle, but I did catch a part where an Orthodox Jewish scholar
      > was talking about the gematria of the Torah. Apparently gematria is a
      > fundamental part of this tradition, and is therefore the presumably the
      > source of the later kabbala. Can anyone elaborate on this at all?
      > Mike

      Here is my brief history of gematria, taken from my hidden wisdom in early
      christianity paper.

      You can find a page on the history of gematria at


      Finally there is a new book just out called The Greek Qabalah by Kieren Barry
      (Weiser, 1999) which covers the historical territory in some depth.

      As to how (and if) Kabbalah emerged out of gematria, I am not sure. I think you
      would have to review the place of the Sepher Yetzriah, the first Jewish book
      about the esotericism of numbers and letters (300-600 ad) in the development of
      Jewish mysticism.

      Dan W.

      Numbers were used to write words and syllables in cuneiform as early as c. 2300
      B.C.E. There is evidence dating from the eighth century B.C.E. that a device
      similar to gematria was known in cuneiform hermeneutics. There is also an
      inscription dating from the same period stating that the Assyrian king Sargon II
      built the wall of Khorsabad 16,283 cubits long to match the numerical value of
      his name.
      Greek letters came into official use as numbers in the third to second
      centuries B.C.E., although the system of correspondences was invented earlier.
      By the time of the first two centuries of the Common Era gematria using the Greek
      alphabet was being practiced in a variety of ways. "I love her whose number is
      545," is one of several examples found scribbled as graffiti on the walls of
      Pompeii. Leonidas of Alexandria wrote poems in which the sum of the numerical
      values of the letters is identical in each couplet. Artemidorus Daldianus
      recommended its use in dream interpretation. For instance, if a sick man dreams
      of an old woman, it is a symbol for death, since the letter values for 'old
      woman' and 'corpse removal' both equal 704.
      S. Lieberman has reviewed the evidence for when the Hebrew letters were first
      used as numbers in a recent paper and has concluded that a date for this event
      cannot as yet be determined. Archaeologically, the clearest early use was on
      coins dating from the reign of Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 B.C.E.), though there
      is a great deal of earlier evidence awaiting further clarification. The
      conventional view is that Hebrew alphabetic numeration was taken over from Greek
      usage during the Hellenization of Palestine sometime prior to the first century
      B.C.E. Lieberman, however, thinks it reasonable to believe that Hebrew gematria
      was derived from its Mesopotamian parallel and that it is possible that the
      technique was employed in biblical texts.

      C. Levias, writing in The Jewish Encyclopedia, argues that the existence of
      atbash, the permutative cyphering of letters, in Jeremiah makes it likely that
      gematria also exists in OT scripture, and cites Gen 14:14, Deut 31:1-6, and Ezek
      5:2 as probable examples. A. G. Wright has suggested that examples of gematria
      can be found in the Book of Qoheleth (c. 250 B.C.E.) and P. W. Skehan has
      identified possible instances in Proverbs (c. 600 B.C.E.). Skehan's reply to
      those who argue for a late assignment of numerical values to the Hebrew letters
      is illuminating:
      "...which is more likely: that the Greeks established this system for their
      borrowed alphabet by the 6th century B.C. (when digamma, or waw, and qoppa, or
      qoph, ceased to be functional for them except as the numbers 6 and 90), and then
      handed back their little invention to their Semitic neighbors at least three
      centuries later; or that they found the Semitic alphabet, including waw and
      qoph, already being used in this way when they borrowed it about 800 B.C.?"
      Interpretations based on gematria were in use among the Tannaim of the second
      century. As a method of interpreting the Torah it was listed as number 29 in the
      Baraita of 32 Rules of Rabbi Eliezer b. Jose, the Galilean (c. 200 C.E.).
      Gematria was a significant element in Kabbalistic thought from the 12th through
      the 19th centuries, where it underwent a complex elaboration. Moses Cordovero
      (1522-70 C.E.), the great systematic theologian of the Safed Kabbalah, lists nine
      different types of gematria. For example, Gershom Scholem writes that one of
      these variations mentioned by Cordovero was, "The addition of the number of
      letters in the word to the numerical value of the word itself, or the addition of
      the number "one" to the numerical value of the word."
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