Center for Interdisciplinary Study of Monotheistic Religions(CISMOR)Doshisha University

> Past Research Activities > Kabbalah and Sufism – Esoteric Beliefs and Practices in Judaism and Islam in Modern Times

Past Research Activities

Study Meeting 2014

Kabbalah and Sufism – Esoteric Beliefs and Practices in Judaism and Islam in Modern Times

Date: 2015/02/28 15:30~17:30
2015/03/01 9:00~12:00, 15:30~17:30
Place: Room G31 Shingaku-kan, Doshisha University
  • Prof. Boaz Huss (Ben Grion University)
  • Prof. Mark Sedgwick (Aarhus Univrersity)
  • Hajime Yamamoto (Research Fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, Kyoto University)
  • Koji Osawa (Research Fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, Tokyo University)
  • Aiko Kanda (Ph.D candidate of Doshisha University)
  • Shinichi Yamamoto (Research Fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, Kyoto University)
  • Doron B. Cohen (Lecturer, The Institute for the Liberal Arts, Doshisha University)
  • Teruaki Moriyama (Associate Professor, School of Theology, Doshisha University)

II -3/1 (Sun.)
Session C: Religious issues in Historical and Textual Perspective
(Young Scholars’ Workshop)
- Mr. Hajime Yamamoto
Research Fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science
(Kyoto University)
“Communication between the Gods and the Hittite King”

The king acted as the mediator between the ancient Hittite kingdom and the divine world. It was believed that the gods chose him as their representative to rule their land and was evaluated based on whether or not he served the gods. The king viewed himself as the gods’ priest and played an important role in the festivals of holy cities.
The Hittite king’s responsibility was to lead the people living in the kingdom and deciphered the gods’ demands through texts, which can be deduced from the usage of the Hittite noun išhiul. Yamamoto elucidated that based on his research, he discovered that the primary meaning of this word was “the law of the gods” regarding their worship. The gods issued išhiul texts that specified the people’s obligations. Such texts were a means by which the king mediated with the gods when administering his kingdom and it can be inferred that politics were based on divine rights.
How was the king in contact with the gods? Judging from the use of the noun išhiul, it appears that there were two ways to receive the gods’ laws. The first was dreams; according to the beginning of the Prayer of a King to the Sun God (CTH374), the Hittite king prayed to the Sun god, asking that his plea be transmitted to his own personal god. In the Second Plague Prayer of Muršili II (CTH378), the King, who understood that a plague spread throughout the country due to his father’s behavior, asked the Storm god to reveal to him in a dream what he, as the son, needed to do.
The second way to receive the gods’ law was oracular inquiry. In Hittite, people used lot oracles to read the internal organs of an animal’s entails. By reading a sheep’s liver, a diviner attempted to understand which god caused the illness of the king, and what rites were necessary.
-Mr. Koji Osawa
Research Fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science
(Tokyo University)
“The Interpretations of the Golden Calf Story in Exodus 32: Exploring Jewish-Christian Relationships in Late Antiquity”
There is little doubt that the Golden Calf story in Exodus: 32 is important for both Judaism and Christianity. Osawa’s presentation introduced various interpretations of this incident in both religions. For example, according to the ca. 5th century Leviticus Rabbah, which was compiled in Palestine, Israelites first asked Hur to make them a God, but he refused. They killed him, and Aaron, a priest of the Lord, upon seeing this made them a calf so they would not kill him as well. This interpretation appears to downplay Aaron's responsibility in this incident. In Christian interpretations, the Golden Calf is generally viewed as a representation of Jewish greed; it is held that God abandoned the Jewish people.
Based on his analysis of existing research regarding interpretations of the Golden Calf story, Osawa pointed out that in future research there is a need to limit interpretative analyses to specific times and places. Having said this, he then both proposed that Tannaitic/Amoraic interpretations and those of Syriac Christianity church fathers, such as Aphrahat and Ephrem, be compared and presented an example.

- Ms. Aiko Kanda
(Th.D candidate of Doshisha University)
“ Conditions for attaining the true knowledge of God: according to the Guide of the Perplexed III:52-54”

In the final three chapters of his Guide for the Perplexed, Maimonides, one of the greatest medieval Jewish thinkers, discusses the conditions for acquiring God’s true knowledge.
He analyzes four aspects of the perfect human, and asserts that the first three (possession, body and mind, and ethics) are inadequate. The fourth aspect - the completion of rational virtues - is the truly necessary condition for acquiring proper understanding related to divine matters. Maimonides states that okhmah (wisdom) has four meanings: 1) understanding true reality; 2) acquiring moral virtues; 3) acquiring skills for practical work; and 4) an aptitude for strategy and tactics. He argues that knowledge of the Law and the wisdom of the Sages are different, and that one must make necessary behavior clear after knowing both. On the other hand, Maimonides holds that those whose goal is human perfection should know that the intellect always connects people and God. Through this light from above, God protects humans and understand Him. In other words, with the assistance of knowledge of the Law and Sages’ wisdom, humans reach their true knowledge of God through intellect.
Based on the above, it can be concluded that knowledge regarding the Law is necessary. Maimonides maintains that the Law teaches that the goal of the commandments is to fear and love God. By carrying out the Law’s orders, one fears God and through the understanding of God taught by the Law, one loves Him as well. This is the preparatory stage for reaching the true knowledge of God.
Furthermore, he then provides an explanation of the words hesed (loving-kindness), tsedaqah (righteousness), and mishpat (judgment). Hesed is excessive beneficence, tsedaqah is positive acts for moral virtue, and mishpat is reward or punishment. These are attributes of God, as well as what God expects of humans. Maimonides states that “The perfection of man, that may be truly be gloried in, remains in the one who has achieved the apprehension of God according to his faculty, and knows His providence over the creatures manifested in the act of being created and governed. After one understood this, his way of life will always be seeking loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness through assimilation to His actions.”

-Dr. Shinichi Yamamoto
Research Fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science
(Kyoto University)
“A Comparative Analysis of Kabbalistic and Isma’ili World Cycles”

Isma’ilism and Kabbalah share various characteristics such as Neoplatonic emanationism and the Gnostic beliefs of the first humans and letter-based creation. The most interesting commonality is their cyclic view of world history. While there has been some comparative research on this subject, these studies only consider a small aspect of the similarities between the two, primarily because there is very little historical basis for linking them. In other words, no texts exists that warrant research on the topic, both philologically and historically speaking. Thus, the primary goal of this presentation is not to define a historical relationship between the two, but rather to analyze the logical structure of their cyclic views of the world. One finds similarities and differences in their views on a cyclic nature of the world based on the sacred number seven; these views connect religious law with a historical paradigm, and anti-normativism relativizes this law.
I then describe how this logical structure subsequently grew into movements with a strong anti-normativist personality. The Isma’ilist and Kabbalistic cyclic view of the world resulted in a real-world meaning in the messianic movements of the Isma’ilist Nizari branch and the Kabbalistic Sabbatean branch. The former arose in the 11th to 12th century in Northern Iran, and the latter is the eschatological thought of Kabbalists that spread to various Jewish communities from the Ottoman Empire during the 17th and 18th centuries. They are both broke up after being unable to acquire the earthly authority they envisioned. These failures were the inevitable result of attempting to incorporate their cyclic worldviews into practice. This presentation is the first study to shed light on the similarities between the Nizari and Sabbatean branches.