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G.W.F. Hegel:

Kabbalah and Gnosticism

[An excerpt from Hegel's Lectures on the History of Philosophy, translated from G.W.F. Hegel's Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie ii , (Theorie Werkausgabe, Bd. 19), Frankfurt a.M., Suhrkamp Verlag, 1977, 426-430]

translation and notes by Scott J. Thompson

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Kabbalah and Gnosticism


Kabbalistic Philosophy and Gnostic theology are also occupied with the concepts of Philo. The first of these concepts is Being: abstract, unknown and nameless. The second is disclosure: the concrete which emanates from Being. The return to unity is also accepted to a certain extent, particularly with the Christian philosophers. This return, which is considered third, approaches Logos. [1] According to Philo, Wisdom is the teacher, High Priest, which leads the third back to the first, and thus to the vision (hóros) of God.


Kabbalistic Philosophy


Kabbalah is called the secret wisdom of the Jews. Much has been fabled concerning its origins, and much of it is enigmatic. It is said to be embodied in two books: the Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Formation) and the Sefer ha-Zohar (Book of Splendor). The Sefer Yetzirah is the same primary book which has been attributed to Rabbi Akiba. A completed edition is soon to appear from Herr von Mayer in Frankfurt. [2]

There are ideas in the book which lead into Philo to a certain extent, but they do so in a very enigmatic way, and are presented more for the Phantasie. It is not as venerably ancient as is claimed by those who revere it, for they suppose that Adam was given this heavenly book as a consolation for his fall. It is an astronomical, magical, medicinal, prophetic brew. An historical pursuit of its traces indicates that it was cultivated in Egypt.

Akiba was born soon after the destruction of Jerusalem. In 132 A.D. the Jews revolted against Hadrian with an army of 200,000 men. The Rabbis were also active in the revolt. Bar Kokhba had passed for the Messiah and was flayed alive.

The second book, Sefer ha-Zohar, is said to have originated from a pupil of Rabbi Simeon b. Yochai. He was called the Great Light, the Spark of Moses. Both Sefer Yetzirah and Sefer ha-Zohar were translated into Latin in the 17th Century. [3]

In the 15th Century a speculative Israelite, Rabbi Abraham Cohen Herrera, also wrote a book Puerto del Cielo (The Gate of Heaven) which is connected to Arab and Scholastic philosophy. [4] It is an enigmatic mixture, but the book does have foundations which are universal [allgemeine Grundlage]. The best within it travels along a conceptual path similar to Philo. There are certainly some genuinely interesting determinations of a fundamental nature [Grundbestimmungen] in these books, but they tend to lead to enigmatic fantasizing. In the early history of the Jews one finds nothing concerning the notion of God as Being of Light, or of an opposition between light and darkness (seen as a struggle between good and evil); one finds nothing in early Jewish history on good and evil angels, or of the rebellion of evil, its damnation and sojourn in hell; nor anything concerning the future world judgment over good and evil, and the corruption of the flesh. In these books of the Kabbalah the Jews first began to develop their thoughts about their reality and to unveil to themselves a spiritual, or at least spirit-world, whereas they had previously been absorbed in the mire and self-importance of their existence and in the preservation of their people and race.

Concerning the particulars of the Kabbalah, the following can be said here: the One is declared the principle of all things, for this is the primeval source of all numbers. Just as the totality of numbers is itself no number, in the same way God is the foundation of all things, Ain Sof (without limit). The emanations associated with Ain Sof proceed from this first cause through contraction of that original boundlessness; this is the hóros (boundary) of the first. In this first single cause everything is preserved eminenter, not formaliter but rather causaliter.

The second main point is Adam Kadmon, the first man, Keter, the first generated, highest crown, the Macrocosmos- Microcosmos, to which the emanated world is connected as the flux of light. Through further emanation the other spheres become the circles of the world, and this emanation is represented as a stream of light. Ten streams of light issue from the primal source, and these emanations, Sefirot, compose the pure world of Azilut (world of divine emanations), which is itself without variability; second, the world of Briah (world of creation), which is variable; third, the formed world of Yetzirah (the pure souls which are deposited in the material, the souls of the stars; the pure spirits are further differentiated as this enigmatic system proceeds); and fourth, the established world of Asiah (world of activation), which is the lowest vegetative and sentient world.




Fundamental notions similar to those of the Kabbalists constitute the determinations (Bestimmungen) of the Gnostic theology. Herr Prof. Neander has given us an erudite collection of the Gnostics, which he has explained in detail. Some of these forms accord with those discussed above.

One of the most outstanding Gnostics is Basilides. According to Basilides, the first is the unspeakable God, theós arretos, the Ain Sof of the Kabbalah, which as tó ón, o ón [Being] is nameless ('anonómastos), and immediate, as with Philo.

Second is noús (spirit, mind), the first born, Logos Sophía (Wisdom), the active dynamis (power) which differentiates more precisely into justice (dikaiosyne), and harmony (eiréne). These are followed by further developed principles which Basilides calls Archons, the heads of the spirit realms. A central issue in this schema is again the return, the soul's process of clarification, the economy of purification, oeconomía katharoeon, from the hyle (materia). The soul must return to Sophía and harmony. The primeval essence contains all perfection within itself, but only in potentia; the spirit (noús), which is the first born, is only the first manifestation of what is veiled, and created beings can only obtain true justice in harmony with it through connection to God.

The Gnostics, for example Markos, call the first the unthinkable, anennóetos, and even non-existence, anoúsios. It is that which proceeds into the determinate, monótes. They also call it the pure stillness, sigé (silence). From it proceed Ideas, angels and the aeons. These are the roots and seeds of the particular fulfillment: lógoi (words), rízai (roots), spérmata (seeds), plerómata (plenitudes), karpoí (fruit); and each aeon contains its own world within itself.

According to other Gnostics, for example Valentinus, the first principle is also called Aeon or the unfathomable, the primeval depth, the absolute abyss, bythos, in which everything is sublimated (aufgehoben) before the beginning (proárche) or before the Father (propátor). Aeon is the activator. The transition or unfolding of the One is diáthesis (arrangement), and this stage is also called the self-conceptualizing of the inconceivable (katálepsis toú akataléptou), which we have encountered in Stoic philosophy as katálepsis (grasping, conceiving). These concepts are the Aeons, the particular diáthesis, and the world of the Aeons is called the pléroma (plenitude). The second principle is called the hóros (boundary), the development of which is to be grasped in contraries, the two masculine and feminine principles. The one is the pléroma of the other, and the plerómata (plenitudes) emanate from their union, syzygía. The union is the foremost reality. Each opposite has its own integral complement, syzygos; the sum of these plerómata is the entire world of Aeons all together, the universal pléroma of the bythos (abyss, depth). The abyss is thus called Hermaphrodite, the masculine-feminine, arrenóthelys.

Ptolemaios attributes to the bythos two pairs (syzygous), two arrangements or dispositions (diátheseis) which are presumed through all existence: will and thought (thélema kaí énnoia). Colorful forms and ornamentation then enter into the picture. The essential determinate is the same: abyss and unveiling. The manifestation as a descent is also dóxa (splendor), Shekhinah of God, Sophía ouránios (heavenly wisdom), which refers to the vision of God (horasis toú theoú): dynámeis agénetoi (uncreated force), "the light about him flashes brilliantly" (ai péri autón oúsai lambrótaton phos apastráptousi), the Ideas, lógos, or pre-eminently the name of God (tó ónoma toú theoú), the name of the many-named God (polyónymos), the Demiurge, i.e., God's appearance. All of these forms pass into the enigmatic. In general, the fundamental terms of these different Gnostic theologies are the same, and at their core is an attempt to conceive and determine what is in and for itself. I have mentioned these particular forms in order to indicate their connection to the universal. Underlying this, however, is a deep need for concrete reason.

The Church repudiated Gnosticism because it remained in the universal, and grasped the Idea in the form of Imagination, which then opposed the actual self-consciousness of Christos in the flesh, Xpristós én sarkí. The Docetists say that Christos had merely an apparent body and an apparent life. The thought was a cryptic one. The Church stood firmly opposed to this in favor of a definite form of the personality, and it adhered to the principle of concrete reality.


[1] Hegel is referring to the Neoplatonic triad of moné (Being or 'abiding'), próodos (the procession from the cause) and epistrophé (the return to the cause).--SJT

[2] Das Buch Jezira, die älteste kabbalistische Urkunde der Hebräer (The Book Yetzirah, The Oldest Document of the Hebrews). Published by Johann Friedrich von Mayer, Leipzig, 1830.

[3] Hegel is referring to the volume Liber Jezirah. Qui Abrahamo Patriarchae adscribitur, uno cum commentario Rabi Abraham Filii Dior super 32 Simitis Sapientiae a quibus liber Jezirah incipit. Translatus et Notis illustratus a Joanne Stephano Rittangelio. Amsterdami 1642. [For a more complete bibliography of Sefer Yetzirah, see Sefer Yetzirah Bibliography]--SJT

[4] Regarding Herrera, Gershom Scholem writes the following in his encyclopaedic Kabbalah (1974): "Abraham Herrera, a pupil of Sarug who connected the teaching of his master with neoplatonic philosophy, wrote Puerto del Cielo, the only kabbalistic work originally written in Spanish, which came to the knowledge of many European scholars through its translations into Hebrew (1655) and partly into Latin (1684)." In another context Scholem mentions Herrera's rôle in the discussion of Spinoza and Kabbalah: "The question of whether, and to what degree, the Kabbalah leads to pantheistic conclusions has occupied many of its investigatior from the appearance in 1699 of J.G. Wachter's study Der Spinozismus im Judenthumb, attempting to show that the pantheistic system of Spinoza derived from kabbalistic sources, particularly from the writings of Abraham Herrera."

In the context of Hegel's short entry on kabbalah, the following passage is worth quoting from Herrera's book Puerto del Cielo (included in a Latin translation in Christian Knorr von Rosenroth's Kabbala denudata: "Adam Kadmon proceeded from the Simple and the One, and to that extent he is Unity; but he also descended and fell into his own nature, and to that extent he is Two. And again he will return to the One, which he has in him, and to the Highest; and to that extent he is Three and Four" (Kabbala denudata I, Part 3, Porta coelorum, ch. 8, paragraph 3, p. 116).--SJT

Hegel Links:

Hegel Society and Links

The Owl of Minerva [Official Journal of the Hegel Society]

Works by Hegel in German: Books

G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenologie des Geistes [text on-line in German from Projekt Gutenberg]

Works by Hegel in English: Books

G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Mind, trans. J.B. Baillie

G.W. F. Hegel, Science of Logic, trans. A.V. Miller, London, George Allen & Unwin/ New York, Humanities Press, 1969, 844 pp.

G.W. F. Hegel, The Logic of Hegel (1873) [From the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences], trans. William Wallace, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1963, 439 pp.

G.W. F. Hegel, Philosophy of Right, trans.T.M. Knox, London, Oxford University Press, 1967,382 pp.

G.W. F. Hegel,Lectures on the Philosophy of World History: Introduction, trans. H.B. Nisbet, intro. Duncan Forbes, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1975, 252 pp. [J. Sibree trans. of the Introduction]

G.W. F. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy (3 vols.), trans. E.S. Haldane & Frances H. Simson (1892-1896), Lincoln, Nebraska, University of Nebraska Press, 1995, 487pp. (I), 453 pp. (II), 571 pp. (III). Articles on Anaximander by G.W.F. Hegel [c/o Charles Taylor's course on the Presocratics 1998]

Secondary Works on Hegel in English: Essays, Articles and Reviews

Martin Heidegger, "Hegel and the Greeks" [From the Conference of the Academy of Sciences in Heidelberg, July 26, 1958

Lloyd Spencer, Hegel for Beginners (Icon Books, 1996) [Selected Excerpts]



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