[NB] The Concubine’s Story

I want to flag this for further consideration:

“Abraham was fully aware of the magical and idolatrous uses that could be developed from these mysteries. The Talmud thus says that Abraham had a tract dealing with idolatry that consisted of 400 chapters. There is also a Talmudic teaching that Abraham taught the mysteries involving ‘unclean names’ to the children of his concubines. This is based on the verse, ‘to the sons of the concubines that Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts, and he sent them away…to the lands of the east’ (Genesis 25:6). These gifts consisted of occult mysteries, which then spread in eastern Asia.”— Aryeh Kaplan, Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation in Theory and Practice (xiii–xiv)

This, combined with Kaplan’s observation that the work of creation ought to be undertaken by a pair of men, places this tale of origins alongside the rich vein of Tamar stories that I spoke about previously.

I would be inclined to read this Talmudic account as something of an obfuscation, concealing the derivation of these practices from a Babylonian context. That doesn’t vitiate the core point—that there is Judaic form of this practice that necessarily excludes a family of operations alien to it.

It does indicate that there is a complementary non-Judaic form of the work and that non-Judaic practice is invoked under the rubric of four (400).

That the concubine will appear again and again in the accounts of how the Jewish people become a nation indicates that while the concubine must be excluded from the Jewish people, she must return again and again for their regeneration. Consider, too, that Isaiah specifies that the concubine will work for Israel in the Messianic work.

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9 thoughts on “[NB] The Concubine’s Story

  1. Simon Tomasi

    A few questions…

    Q1. What makes you think that it needs to be done by a pair of men and not a man & woman?

    In Prof. Moshe Idel’s “Golem: Jewsh Magical and Mystical Traditions On the Artificial Anthropoid” pp16 he states: “…A second century Tanna, R. Yosei ben Zimra asserted, in relation to the verse in Gen. 12:5, that Abraham and Sarah made souls…”

    Some believes that making souls meant converting people to monotheism, whilst others believe that it meant making golems.

    Q2. The bible is pretty clear about Abraham & Sarah coming from Haran. But what do you base your understanding on that Sefer Yetzira is derived from Babylonian sources?

    1. Io

      Q1: I’m not committed to it being man & man and thanks for the reference to the work occurring between Abraham and Sarah. Are there other cases where the work was undertaken between a man and a woman cooperatively?

      Q2: My current working hypothesis is that something new gets started with Gobekli Tepi, though what exactly that is remains necessarily opaque at this distance. It seems to get preserved and developed down through the millennia through various scribal traditions and priestly dispersions.

      I haven’t seen much good textual evidence for the Judaic tradition having much claim to that prior to the Babylonian captivity; that seems the crucible. It obviously isn’t the same thing as the Babylonian material, but it is animated by responding to it.

      A lot of the material that claims older antecedents like pointing toward Haran seems…well, a little opportunistic. The region was esteemed as a source for astrological wisdom and a fictional genealogy through Abraham would be the sort of thing you would do if you were looking to raise your profile in the Babylonian world.

      I’m not dead set on that being the case and I’m willing to grant that it’s possible there is a Judaic root that goes directly back toward the region without Babylonian intermediary; I just haven’t seen it. I’m hardly an expert (though the field is littered with ideologically-motivated experts, so that makes expertise itself something problematic).

      For my purposes, the difference isn’t profound–either way, the Babylonian and Judaic are part of a family of ritual and theology with a clear shared horizon within which differentiations occur, one of which will provide insight into the other. And that is what this quote underlines, too, though it makes the Judaic material primary and the Babylonian secondary.

      1. Simon Tomasi

        Q1 continued…
        I don’t have any specific examples of women and men working together through Sefer Yetzira (SY). However, there are some clues that point to women being educated in spiritual advancement the same as men,

        There were the Jewish Prophetesses (Chuldah, Deborah, etc)… prophecy was something that people spent their entire lives training for as seen by the references to ‘sons of prophets’.. also in Jewish lore there is a well known saying “the patriarchs were inferior to the matriarchs in prophecy”. If there was a male and female prophet active at the same time period, the latter held higher authority.

        Rabbi Abraham Abulafia (13th century) taught men and women and wrote a commentary on SY.

        Rabbi Steinsaltz in “The Essential Talmud” in talking about women’s education states on pp141: “,,,This was one of the reasons the sages thought it worthwhile for a man to sell all his possessions in order to marry the daughter of a great scholar. The assumption was – and it is bourne out by many anecdotes in the Talmud – that such a girl had been well educated by her father, so that if her husband died or was exiled, she would be capable of educating her children alone, in the psirit of the Torah. The halakhic [jewish law] ruling that “the wife of a haver [scholar] is as he” reflects the degree of loyalty and of knowledge of halakhah attributed to women of scholarly families. The ruling was of considerable significant since, as a result, the wives of the sages were treated with the same respect as their husbands..”

        These, to me, are clues that wives and daughters have been educated in Jewish mystical techniques. For a modern example, see this video of Bobby Mcferin & Victoria Hanna (a rabbi’s daughter) in which she quotes directly from Sefer Yetzira: https://youtu.be/2UVzXiNbUOk

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