Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Tzohar: Gem of Noah, Light of Heaven

So what was that glowing, explosive rock stuff in Aronofsky's film Noah? Was it just a a lazy author's device of convenience, or does it actually have some authentic roots in Noah traditions? Based on it's movie name, zohar, I suspect it's the screenwriter's adaption the similar, but linguistically distinct tzohar, which actually APPEARS IN GENESIS. In Gen. 6, God instructs Noah to illuminate the ark by tzohar taaseh/ "A "brightness you will make." This term, (transliterated as either tzohar or tsohar), which literally means "Bright/glittering/noon light" (The Hebrew word for noon, tzohoriyim, is derived from the same root), is not further defined in the Hebrew Bible. Some translate this simply as "window." Jewish esoteric tradition, however, regards the tzohar to be a kind of luminous gemstone holding the primordial light of creation.

Much of the ambiguity and the imaginative use of the word tzohar is grounded in its status as a hapax legomenon, a word that appears only once in the Bible, and therefore lacking any further point of comparison for the purpose of fixing its meaning. By comparison, for example, the word hesed is used hundreds of times, in many different contexts, in many books of Bible, allowing philologists to observe all its semantic nuances. All we have to go on with tzohar is one context, and that context is Genesis 6:16. In this verse it seems at first glance to refer to a structural feature. Based on this, some translators propose “roof.” Others use “window,” “skylight,” or simply “opening.” Each translation presents a problem in that we already have elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures other words for these objects. There are also logic problems: why put an opening in a structure that will subject to torrential rain for 40 days? And since the day and night provided little or no natural light during the Flood (Gen. 8:22; Gen. R. 25:2, 34:11), what would be the purpose? All this invites speculation the tzohar was something as unique as the word itself (Genesis Rabbah 31:11).

The fact that the word for “noon/zenith,” tzohoriyim, shares the same root, but especially because of its linguistic similarity to the word zohar (“shine/radiant”), triggered an assumption that it is a form of light source rather then an aperture to let light in.

Targum Yonatan may be the first source to claim the tzohar was a luminous stone, pulled from the primordial river Pishon (T. Y. Genesis 6:16). This is elaborated on in Genesis Rabbah 31:11:

During the entire twelve months that Noah was in the Ark he did not require the light of the sun by day or the light of the moon by night, but he had a polished stone which he hung up – when it was dim, he knew it was day, when it was bright, he knew it was night.

Another version of this idea appears in the Talmud, Sanhedrin 108b:

Make a tzohar for the ark.” R. Johanan said, The Blessed Holy One instructed Noah: 'Set there precious stones and jewels, so that they may give you light, bright as the noon [in Hebrew, this is a play on words between tzohar and tzohoriyim].The same idea is reiterated in the medieval Midrash Pirkei de Rabbi Eliezer 23.

The matter might rest there, but elsewhere in the Talmud, there is another tradition that Abraham also had a miraculous stone:

R. Shimon b. Yochai said, Abraham had a precious stone hung round his neck which brought immediate healing to any sick person who looked on it, and when Abraham our father left this world, the Blessed Holy One hung it from the wheel of the sun. (Baba Batra 16b)

This naturally led to speculation that that the stones of Noah and Abraham were one and the same. And given Genesis Rabbah’s allusion to the river Pishon that flowed through the Garden of Eden, the logical origin for this tzohar would be with there, where God hid the supernal light of the first day for the sole use of the righteous:

It was taught, the light which created in the six days…cannot illumine by day, because it would eclipse the light of the sun. Where is it? It is stored for the righteous in the messianic future...He set it apart for the righteous in the future Gen. R. 3:6


The Holy Blessed One created many things in His world, but the world being unworthy to have the use of them, He hid them away...the example being the light created on the first day, for Rabbi Judah ben Simon said: Man could see with the help of the first light from one end of the world to the other. Ex. R. 35:1

(also see Talmud Hagigah 12a; Lev. Rabbah 11:7, Gen. Rabbah 41:3 and Zohar I:31b, all homiletically based on Gen. 1:3, Ps. 97:11 and Job 38:13).

Those who possessed the tzohar not only had illumination, but access to the secrets of the Torah and all its powers. Thus the "chain" narrative that emerges from this various threads is that God created it, but then hid it away for the sole use of the righteous. The angel Raziel gave it to Adam after the Fall. Adam gave it to his children. It passed to Noah. While in the passage we read, Abraham returned the tzohar to heaven and hung it on the sun, other traditions track its continued use by the righteous of each subsequent generation: Joseph used it for his dream interpretations. Moses recovered it from the bones of Joseph and placed it in the Tabernacle.

A text known today as "The Queen of Sheba and Her only Son Menyelek," translated by Sir E. A. Wallis Budge includes this verse:

"How the House of Solomon the King was illuminated as by day, for in his wisdom he had made shining pearls which were like unto the sun, the moon and the stars in the roof of his house."

Even that is not the end of the matter. The Zohar claims that Simon Ben Yochai possessed it in the Rabbinic era (Sanh. 108b; B. B. 16b; Lev. R. 11; Gen. R 31:11; Zohar I:11; Otzer ha-Midrash).

Zal G'mor: To learn more, consult the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism - http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Spawns of Satan, Children of Cain

One of the least known but very persistent Jewish folkloric beliefs is that of “changelings,” that there are human-appearing demoniods, offspring of human-demon couplings, that move among us. Darren Aronofsky's Noah plays with this by suggesting the lines of Seth and of Cain are of fundamentally different kinds of humans, though he posits both to be fully human.

                                     [Illustration: E.M. Lilien bookplate featuring satyr and woman]

This belief has its roots in a rabbinic tradition that believes demons (sheidim, creatures more akin to the Islam djinn than the earth-trembling terrors of Christian imagination) are unable to procreate without human “seed.” Thus Judaism has a robust tradition of succubae, seductive female demons who are the cause of male erotic dreams and nocturnal emissions. Adam was the first progenitor of demons:

When Adam, doing penance for his sin, separated from Eve for 130 years, he, by impure desire, caused the earth to be filled with shedim, lilin, and evil spirits (Gen. R. 20; Er. 18b).                                                                                                                                                                    
Since, like humans, sheidim are subject to death (Chagigah 16a), these “semen demons,” such as Lilith, Naamah, and Igrat, periodically re-populate the demonic realm through these sexual-spiritual assaults.

The flip side of this coin is a parallel tradition that mortal women are occasionally impregnated by incubae:

Rabbi Hiyya Said: “sons of divinity” (Gen. 6:2-4) were the sons of Cain. For when Samael mounted Eve (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 146a), he injected [semen of] filth into her, and she conceived and bore Cain. And his aspect was unlike that of the other humans and all those who came from his side [of the human family tree] were called “sons of divinity” (Zohar I:37a;also see I:54a).

According to this version of the nefilim tradition, Cain was descended from an angel (Samael is called the "Prince of Heaven" in Pirkei de Rabbi Eliezer 13) but at the same time a “bad seed,” as were his descendants. The female descendants of Eve similarly can find themselves periodic victims of a kind of “Rosemary’s Baby Syndrome,” usually unknowingly. The changelings that result from such "spirit rapes" move among us largely undetected, until their evil nature is revealed through gross crimes or other evil enterprises.

Given the spiritual source of their malevolence, it was sometimes thought necessary to combat them by spiritual means alongside the usual police and judicial methods. Thus we see in some Hebrew amulets of protection that the person seeking angelic protection against evil spirits will identify him- or herself as “So-and-So, son/daughter of So-and-So, from among the children of Adam and Eve…” (Sefer ha-Razim). The implication being the amulet is directed against beings not from among the children of both primordial ancestors.

This belief in demi-demon progeny persisted from Talmudic times right up to the start of the modern era, no doubt because this legend offers a ready explanation for why certain people are “bad to the bone,” much in the way we still today declare heinous serial killers and other violent criminal “monsters” (and therefore somehow not fully human).

To learn more, look up the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism available at Amazon. 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