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Abraham Abulafijia’s “Mystical” Reading of the Guide for the Perplexed

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Abstract The Spanish kabbalist Abraham Abulafia (d. 1291) wrote three Hebrew commentaries on the Guide for the Perplexed of Moses Maimonides (d. 1204). Abulafia’s third and final commentary, Sitrey Torah (The Mysteries of the Torah), is an uncovering and extended treatment of 36 “secrets” that he believed to be hidden within the text of the Guide. In this article I investigate the specificities of Abulafia’s mystical hermeneutic as he applies it to the Guide and how this mystical system is made to fit with Maimonides’ neoplatonic philosophy. I argue that Abulafia’s commentary is not actually a mystical text in and of itself. Rather, he intends the mystical text to be generated within the mind of the reader, who is meant to join experientially the text of the Guide with Abulafia’s commentary. The result is a paradoxical disclosure of secrets in which the linguistic mysteries must be disclosed discursively before they can become experiential mysteries to be disclosed mystically. Such a conception might offer scholars a new way of thinking about what constitutes a mystical text as well as problematizing the ways in which we categorize and analyze the “mystical.”

Affiliations: 1: Department of Religious Studies, University of Missouri 221B Arts and Science Bldg., Columbia, MO 65211 USA


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