ThZoharirteenth-Century Spanish Jewish mystic Moses de León claimed that he transcribed the Zohar from an ancient book of wisdom by Rabbi Shim’on, a famous teacher who lived in the land of Israel in the second century. According to scholar Daniel Chanan Matt, “The Zohar refashions the Torah’s narrative into a mystical novel”, often far removed from the original. No one has yet found a complete text.

Despite questions about its authenticity, the Zohar was widely accepted as ancient wisdom. By the 16th century it ranked (for a time) with the Bible and the Talmud as a sacred text.

The Zohar codifies the oral tradition of esoteric teachings, meditation techniques and mystical literature known as Kabbalah, which scholar Gershom Scholem says derives from Jewish Neoplatonism and Gnosticism.

In Zohar: The Book of Enlightenment, Matt explains that the Zohar and the work of Jewish scholar Maimonides (roughly a contemporary of Moses de León) have many parallels. Both adopted a Neoplatonic framework. Both sought union with higher spheres. Both expressed dissatisfaction with the literal meaning of Torah and sought to spiritualise its content. However, Moses de León criticised Maimonides’s rationalism, which may have fueled the more mystical Zohar. In the intervening centuries, the Zohar has offered strength and hope to its readers. The passages below hint at the mystical significance of sex.

Availability

Zohar: The Book of Enlightenment (1983)

The Zohar (2003) [Far more extensive, multi-volume work]

Excerpts

Here’s an excerpt from Zohar: The Book of Enlightenment (1983), without notes. It alludes to Adam’s androgynous state when created.

Zohar

Below is a notated version of some of the same text (from 2003). The notes below say,

Rabbi Shim’on is also alluding to the original androgynous nature of Adam, reflecting the divine union of male and female, Tif’eret and Shekhinah. … “When the blessed Holy One created Adam, He created him with two faces. Then He sawed him and gave him two backs, one on this side and one on that.”

Zohar

Here’s a hint that the earthly use of sex played a role in the splitting of the androgynous divine couple, also from the notes in the 2003 version:

Also, from the notes pictured earlier:

“In Kabbalah the destruction of the Temple symbolizes the separation of the divine couple. See Zohar 1:70b, 134a; 3:74b.”