The Books of Contemplation

Medieval Jewish Mystical Sources

By Mark Verman

Subjects: Jewish Studies
Series: SUNY series in Judaica: Hermeneutics, Mysticism, and Religion
Paperback : 9780791407202, 282 pages, February 1992
Hardcover : 9780791407196, 282 pages, February 1992

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Table of contents



1. Introduction to The Book of Contemplation, The Fountain of Wisdom, and The Book of Unity
• Jewish Prophecy and Mysticism
• Historical Overview
• Medieval Jewish Mysticism in Western Europe
• Tradition, Esotericism, and Pseudepigraphy

2. The Books of Contemplation and The Fountain of Wisdom
• Symbols Used in the Apparatus
• Contemplation-Short
• The Fountain of Wisdom
• Contemplation-Long
• Contemplation-Thirteen Powers
• Contemplation-Standard
• I am R. Hammai
• The Book of Unity of R. Hammai

3. Cosmological Theories of the "Circle of Contemplation"
• The Cosmology of The Books of Contemplation
• The Cosmogony of The Fountain of Wisdom

4. Historical Dimensions
• Scholem's Historiography of Early Kabbalah
• Scholem's Historiography and R. Isaac Cohen's Legends
• The "Circle of Contemplation"
• Linguistic Evidence

5. Historical Connections
• R. Azriel and The Books of Contemplation
• The Hasidei 'Ashkenaz and the "Circle"
• R. Meshullam the Zadokite

Appendix I The Book of Contemplation's Subtexts
3:1 Midrash of R. Simon the Righteous
3:2 Commentary on the Thirteen Attributes
3:3 Thirteen Powers
3:4 The Secret of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy
3:5 Pseudo-Rabad's Twelve Attributes
4:1 Contemplation-Burgos
4:2 Contemplation-J. T.S. 1884
4:3 Contemplation-Standard/Inner Attributes
4:4 Contemplation-Standard/Magic
4:5 R. Hasdai's Book of Contemplation

Appendix II Textual Relationships

Selected Bibliography



The earliest medieval Jewish mystical writings, or kabbalah, date from the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. This is the first book to focus on the most prodigious group active at that time—the 'Circle of Contemplation'.

The 'Circle of Contemplation' generated a mystical theology that differs radically from mainstream kabbalistic theosophy. Two of this group's penetrating speculations on God and the origins of the universe are The Book of Contemplation and The Fountain of Wisdom. A meticulous and systematic study of these writings forms the core of this book.

Verman discovered that the 'Circle of Contemplation' produced a series of distinct treatises, each entitled The Book of Contemplation and attributed to the same fictitious author. These treatises, embodying one of the most intriguing puzzles of medieval literature, are included here.

The author concludes that these writings were a product of thirteenth-century Spain, not France, as claimed by Gershom Scholem. His conclusion engendered a critical evaluation of the premises of Scholem's historiography of early medieval Jewish mysticism.

Mark Verman is Jay Phillips Chair in Jewish Studies at St. John's University, Collegeville, Minnesota.