Friday, August 31, 2012
Friday, August 17, 2012
Adam Kadmon I: Spiritual Man, Primordial Being
A reader asked if the Jewish concept of Adam Kadmon that I mentioned in my earlier posting was the inspiration for the Christian concept of the “Mystical Body of Christ.” It’s an excellent question. In fact, we see what appears to be a statement by Paul (I Corinthians 15:45-50) about the Christ that has strong echoes of the Adam Kadmon tradition:
So, too, it is written, "The first man, Adam, became a living being," the last Adam a life-giving spirit. But the spiritual was not first; rather the natural and then the spiritual.
The first man was from the earth, earthly; the second man, from heaven. As was the earthly one, so also are the earthly, and as is the heavenly one, so also are the heavenly.
Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one.
What is most striking to me is Paul’s insistence on the “order” of being. Paul pointedly states the “spiritual Adam” was not first. I take that to mean that Paul is making sure his readers understand that what he is teaching is markedly different from what they might assume. And that indicates to me that Paul is both aware of and modifying for his own theologic purpose an already well-known doctrine of a “spiritual Adam” that people believed preceded the earthly Adam. Since Jesus came millenia after human creation, Paul finds it necessary for the spiritual Adam be the culmination of humanity, rather then its origin. So in response to the question, all in all, I would think that this idea of being incorporated into the "body of Christ" is likely a specifically Christian re-retooling of the Jewish esoteric doctrine.
The concept that there is a primordial man that encompasses all humanity (indeed, the entire universe) probably has its first basis neither in Judaism or Christianity, but in the Platonic theory of “forms,” the belief that there exists an ideal form of all the varied forms that manifest themselves in the material world. Thus, while there may be many types of chairs (swivel, French provincial, Stichley, folding, La-Z-boy), they all share an essential “chairness,” a quality that Platonic thought would say emanates from the ideal form of “chair.” Likewise, despite the obvious enormous variety of humans (Male, female, caucasian, negroid, dwarf, giant, etc.), there must be an essential, transcendant model of humanness that encompasses all these possibilities.
Esoteric Judaism developed this in the most elaborate and imaginative way:
The [human] body is composed in two worlds: the Lower World and the Supernal World (Zohar 2:23b)
and discovers it to be present in the two Biblical narratives of the creation of humanity (Gen. 1 vs. 2:6 >). Thus the Adam Kadmon (“Primordial Human”) - Also called Adam Elyon or Adam Ila’ah - the supernal, first creation of God that is made in the divine image is specifically described in Gen 1:26-27 (and not to be conflated with the humans created in 2:6-24). It is he that is the true “image of God,” a majestic vessel of divine glory, the ideal human (Deut. 4:32; PdRK 4:4, 12:1, Lev. R. 20:2). All earthly humans (Gen. 2-3) are in his image (B.B.58a). When he was created, in fact, he was so awesome the angels mistook him for God and began to worship him
Said Rabbi Hiyya: "When the Holy One created man to dwell upon the earth, he formed him after the likeness of Adam Kadmon, the heavenly man. When the angels gazed upon him [Adam Kadmon], they exclaimed: 'You have made him almost equal to God and crowned him with glory and honor.' After the transgression and fall of Adam, it is said the Holy One was grieved at heart because it gave occasion for repeating what they had said at his creation, 'What is man that You should be mindful of him, or the son of man that You should visit him.'" (Ps vii. 5.)
According to the Midrash, Adam Kadmon is androgynous, incorporating all the aspects of both genders (Gen. 1:27 can actually be translated thus, though it usually isn't). Inspired by the description of man extending from one end of heaven to the other (Deut. 4:32), he is also a macrocosm, extending from one end of the universe to the other and containing all creation:
The rabbis taught: The creation of the world was like the creation of humanity, for everything that God created in the world, God created in the human being. The heavens are the head of humankind, the sun and the moon are the human eyes, the stars are the hair on the human head (Otzar haMidrashim, Olam Katan 406).
For more on the rabbinic understanding of Adam Kadmon, see Gen. R. 8:1; Lev. R. 14:1, Chag. 12b, 14b.
To learn more, read the EJMMM, available at amazon.com. Click here - http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050/sr=1-1/qid=1159997117/ref=sr_1_1/002-7116669-7231211?ie=UTF8&s=books
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Wednesday, August 08, 2012
The Barren Shall Rejoice: Battling Infertility With Jewish Rituals
Its been a while since I've added an entry. And recently it occurred to me that I have only addressed issues of infertility tangentially, through the themes of Sukkot, or the fabulous stories of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. So here is something more on point:
Fertility and infertility is a major issue in any traditional culture, and Jewish culture is no different. In fact, infertility is a central theme in the book of Genesis, starting with the divine command to be "fruitful and multiple," right through the growing pathos arising from the contrast between God's promise to make Abraham a great nation and the constant struggles with infertility he and his family endured (Gen. 30:1).
Over the centuries, Jews, and especially Jewish women, developed a whole arsenal of folk cures, rituals, and devices to combat prolonged bouts of infertility (this is aside from wedding rituals encouraging fertility, aphrodisiacs and treatments for male impotence, things I explored in an earlier entry). These include -
- Mandrakes, which have a biblical warrant (Gen. 30:14-16). This root is incorporated into varied cures across the centuries.
- Consuming rubies was another popular treatment in medieval medical texts.1
- Visiting the grave of Rachel outside Bethlehem, to ask for the Matriarch's intervention. The burial places of other deceased worthies, such as Hasidic masters, are also sought out.
- Mizrachi (Asian) Jews would place a cup of water under the chair set out for Elijah at a circumcision ceremony (Brit Milah). Following the ceremony, barren women would drink this water in hope of aiding in pregnancy. A related practice would be to drink from a kiddush cup that had just been used at a Brit Milah. In Europe, women would meditate upon the knife used to perform a circumcision. All this was inspired by the hope that the fertility embodied in the newborn boy that permeated the ritual would prove contagious. 2
- The exact reverse of this association, and one probably adopted from surrounding gentile cultures, involved having a woman stand in close proximity to a corpse, or sprinkle themselves with the water used to purify a corpse (European gentile women would stand under a gallows or even a hanging criminal).
- Incantations and kamiyot (amulets) were common and widely circulated. Most amulets included verses from Scripture that promise to counter barrenness (Isaiah 30:19, for example, or Exodus 23:26).3
- Most startling is a practice forbidden by the rabbis, but nevertheless reported in several communities - infertile women consuming the foreskin tissue from a circumcision (perhaps not so weird if we think of the occasional modern practice of women eating the afterbirth, but still shocking). Not surprisingly, keeping the foreskin as a talisman was more common. 4
1. Klein, A Time to Be Born, 41.
2. Sperber, The Jewish Life Cycle, 16, 452.
3. Naveh and Shaked, magic Spells and Formulae, 160-161.
4. Patai, "Folk Customs and Charms Related to Childbirth" (Heb.), Talpiot 6. Fascination with foreskins in not unique to Judaism. Historian Frances Stonor Saunders reports that at one point, a relic of Jesus' foreskin could be petitioned in 18 different cathedrals of Europe. The monastic movement took that one better with the "cult of the holy foreskin," a belief that the foreskin of the savior was the wedding ring of every novice who took holy orders. One saint had a vision of Jesus circumcising himself before placing the ring of flesh on her finger.