(also Ein Sof; En Sof; Ayn Soph; etc.)
a. “The Mystic Quest” by David S. Ariel
“The Kabbalists introduced a distinction between the hidden and revealed aspects of God. The hidden, infinite aspect of God is called Eyn Sof (without end). This name came to be understood as the proper name for the hidden aspect of God: The Infinite. It only suggest that God exists without implying anything about His character. In fact, according to the Kabbalists, God should be referred to as It rather than He, although there is no neuter gender in the Hebrew language. Because of the great sublimity and transcendence of God, no name at all can be applied to It. The term Eyn-Sof only conveys that God is unlike anything we know. According to these mystics, Eyn Sof is not the object of prayers, since Eyn Sof has no relationship with His creatures…..Eyn Sof…..is absolutely impersonal and beyond all characterization. All that can be said about this God is that He is above everything and is called Eyn Sof.
b. “Innerspace” by Aryeh Kaplan
“One of the basic axioms of the Kabbalah is that nothing can be said about God Himself. It is for this reason that God is called Ain Sof, which means literally, the One without end or limit. God is infinite and therefore undefineable and uncharacterizable. He is limitless Being and Existence before the act of creation as well as subsequent to it. Even conceptually, there is no category in existence which can define God. This is what the Tikuney Zohar means when it says ‘Not thought can grasp Him.’
On the level of Ain Sof, therefore, nothing else exists. Every concept and category associated with existence must be created from nothing…..
Since no quality can be ascribed to Ain Sof, it follows that if God has or uses ‘Will,’ He must have created it. The Zohar explicitly states that God does not have ‘will’ in any anthropomorphic sense. Rather, to the extent that we can express it, in order to create the world, God had to will the concept of creation into existence. In order to do this, He had to create the concept of ‘will.’ This, of course, leads to an ultimate paradox, for if God is going to create ‘will,’ this in itself presupposes an act of will. This means that going back to Ain Sof, to God Himself, involves an infinite regression…..
Ain-Nothingness…..This is not a nothingness which implies lack of existence. There is no deficiency in the Ain, only fullness beyond the capacity of any created being to experience directly. Rather, it is nothingness because of the lack of a category in the mind in which to place it. Ain is therefore only ‘nothingness’ relative to us. It is the nothingness of ineffability and hiddenness. It is no-thing because it is so much more rarified than the some-thing of creation. In this sense, like God Himself, it is ultimately unfathomable and beyond our ability to comprehend.
On the other hand, God’s Will permeated the entire system of creation. The continued existence of creation, in fact, depends entirely on God’s willing it. Since only God exists in an absolute sense, everything else exists because God wills its existence continually. A human architect can design and construct a building and then forget about it. But God’s creation is more than that. Nothing can exist without God constantly willing it to exist. Without this, it would utterly cease to exist.”
c. “Jewish Mysticism” by Gershom Scholem
“The Zohar expressely distinguishes between two worlds, which both represent God. First a primary world, the most deeply hidden of all, which remains insensible and unintelligible to all but God, the world of En-Sof; and secondly one, joined unto the first, which makes it possible to know God, and of which the Bible says: ‘Open ye the gates that I may enter;, the world of attributes. The two in reality form one, in the same way – to use the Zohar’s simile – as the coal and the flame; that is to say, the coal exists also without a flame, but its latent power manifest itself only in its light. God’s mystical attributes are such worlds of light in which the dark nature of En Sof manifests itself…..
To the Kabbalist the fundamental fact of creation takes place in God…..The creation of the world, that is to say, the creation of something out of nothing, is itself but the external aspect of something which takes place in God Himself. This is also a crisis of the hidden En-Sof who turns from repose to creation, and it is this crisis, creation and Self-Revelation in one, which constitutes the great mystery of theosophy and the crucial point for the understanding of the purpose of theosophical speculation. The crisis can be pictured as the break-through of the primordial will, but theosophic Kabbalism frequently employs the bolder metaphor of Nothing. The primary start or wrench in which the introspective God is externalized and the light that shines inwardly made visible, this revolution of perspective, transforms En-Sof, the inexpressible fullness, into nothingness.”
d. “Kabbalah” by Gershom Scholem
“All kabbalistic systems have their origin in a fundamental distinction regarding the problem of the Divine. In the abstract, it is possible to think of God either as God Himself with reference to His own nature alone or as God in His relation to His creation. However, all kabbalists agree that no religious knowledge of God, even of the most exalted kind, can be gained except through contemplation of the relationship of God to creation. God in Himself, the absolute Essence, lies beyond any speculative or even ecstatic comprehension. The attitude of the Kabbalah toward God may be defined as a mystical agnosticism, formulated to a more or less extreme way and close to the standpoint of neoplatonism. In order to express this unknowable aspect of the Divine the early kabbalists of Provence and spain coined the term Ein-Sof (‘Infinity’). This expression cannot be traced to a translation of a Latin or Arabic philosophical term. Rather it is a hypostatization which, in contexts dealing with the infinity of God or with His thought that ‘extends without end’ (le-ein sof or ad le-ein sof), treats the adverbial relation as if it were a noun and uses this as a technical term. Ein-Sof first appears in the writings of Isaac the Blind and his disciples, particularly in the works of Azriel of Gerona, and later in the Zohar, the Ma’arechet ha-Elohut, and writings of that period. While the kabbalists were still aware of the origin of the term they did not use it with the definite article, but treated it as a proper noun; it was only from 1300 onward that they began to speak of ha-Ein-Sof [the Ein Sof] as well, and generally identify it with other common epithets for the Divine. This later usage, which spread through all the literature, indicates a distinct personal and theistic concept in contrast to the vacillation between an idea of this type and a neutral impersonal concept of Ein-Sof found in some of the earlier sources. At first it was not clear whether the term Ein-Sof referred to ‘Him who has no end’ or to ‘that which has no end.’ This latter, neutral aspect was emphasized by stressing that Ein-Sof should not be qualified by any of the attributes or personal epithets of God found in Scripture, nor should such eulogies as Baruch Hu or Yitbarach [respectively “blessed be He” and “may He be blessed”] (found only in the later literature) be added to it. In fact, however, there were various attitudes to the nature of Ein-Sof from the very beginning. Azriel [of Gerona], for example, tended toward an impersonal interpretation of the term, while Asher ben David employed it in a distinctly personal and theistic way.
Ein-Sof is the absolute perfection in which there are no distinctions and no differentiations, and according to some even no volition. It does not reveal itself in a way that makes knowledge of its nature possible, and it is not accessible even to the innermost thought (hirhur ha-lev) of the contemplative. Only through the finite nature of every existing thing, through the actual existence of creation itself, is it possible to deduce the eixtence of Ein-Sof as the first infinite cause. The author of Ma’arechet ha-Elohut put forward the extreme thesis (not without arousing the opposition of more cautious kabbalists) that the whole biblical revelation, and the Oral Law as well, contained no reference to Ein-Sof, and that only the mystics had received some hint of it. Hence the author of this treatise, followed by several other writers, was led to the daring conclusion that only the revealed God can in reality be called ‘God,’ and not the hidden ‘deus absconditus,’ who cannot be an object of religious thought. When ideas of this kind returned in a later period in Shabbatean and quasi-Shabbatean Kabbalah, between 1670 and 1740, they were considered heretical.
Other terms or images signifying the domain of the hidden God that lies beyond any impulse toward creation occur in the writings of the Gerona kabbalists and in the literature of the speculative school. Examples of these terms are mah she-ein ha-machshavah masseget (‘that which thought cannot attain’ – sometimes used also to describe the first emanation), ha-or ha-mit’allem (‘the concealed light’), sefer ha-ta’alumah (‘the concealment of secrecy’), yitron (‘superfluity’ – apparently as a translation of the neoplatonic term hyperousia), ha-achdut ha-shavah (‘indistinguishable unity,’ in the sense of a unity in which all opposites are equal and in which there is no differentiation), or even simply ha-mahut (‘the essence’). The factor common to all these terms is that Ein Sof and its synonyms are above or beyond thought.A certain wavering between the personal and the neutral approach to the concept of Ein Sof can also be seen in the main part of the Zohar, while in the later stratum, in the Ra’aya Meheimna and the Tikkunim, a personal concept is paramount. Ein-Sof is often (not always) identified with the Aristotelian ’cause of all causes,’ and, through the kabbalistic use of neoplatonic idiom, with the ‘root of all roots.’ While all the definitions above have a common negative element, occasionally in the Zohar there is a remarkable positive designation which gives the name Ein-Sof to the nine lights of thought that shine from the Divine Thought, thus bringing Ein-Sof out of its concealment and down to a more humble level of emanation (the contrast between the two concepts emerges through comparison between various passages, e.g., e:21a and 2:239a with 2:226a). In later cevelopment of Lurianic Kabbalah, however, in distinct opposition to the view of the earlier kabbalists, several differentiations were made even within Ein-Sof. In Kabbalah, therefore, Ein-Sof is absolute reality, and there was no question as to its spiritual and transcendent nature. This was so even though the lack of clarity in some of the expressions used by the kabbalists in speaking of the relationship of the revealed God to His creation gives the impression tht the very substance of God Himself is also immanent within creation. In all kabbalistic systems, light-symbolism is very commonly used with regard to Ein-Sof, although it is emphasized that this use is merely hyperbolical, and in later Kabbalah a clear distinction was sometimes made between Ein-Sof and ‘the light of Ein Sof.’ In the popular Kabbalah which finds expression in ethical writings and chasidic literature, Ein Sof is merely a synonym for the traditional God of religion, a linguistic usage far removed from that of the classical Kabbalah, where there is evidence of the sharp distinction between Ein-Sof and the revealed Divine Creator. This can be seen not only in the formulations of the early kabbalists (e.g., Isaac of Acre in his commentary to the Sefer Yetzirah) but also among the later ones; Baruch Kosover (c. 1770) writes: ‘Ein-Sof is not His proper name, but a word which signifies his complete concealment, and our sacred tongue has now word like these two to signify his concealment. And it is not right to say “Ein-Sof, blessed be He” or “may He be blessed” because He cannot be blessed by our lips’ (Ammud ha-Avodah).
The whole problem of creation, even in its most recondite aspects, is bound up with the revelaiton of the hidden God and His outward movement – even thought ‘there is nothing outside Him’ (Azriel), for in the last resort ‘all comes from the One, and all returns to the One,’ according to the neoplatonic formula adopted by the early kabbalists. In kabbalistic teaching the transition of Ein Sof to ‘manifestation,’ or to what might be called ‘God the Creator,’ is connected with the question of the first emanation and its definition. Although there were widely differing views on the nature of the first step from concealment to manifestation, all stressed that no account of this process could be an objective description of a process in Ein-Sof; it was no more than could be conjectured from the perspective of created beings and was expressed through their ideas, which in reality cannot be applied to God at all. Therefore, descriptions of these processes have only a symbolic or, at best, an approximate value. Nevertheless side by side with this thesis, there is detailed speculation which frequently claims objective reality for the process it describes. This is one of the paradoxes inherent in Kabbalah, as in other attempts to explain the world in a mystical fashion.
The decision to emerge from concealment into manifestation and creation is not in any sense a process which is a necessary consequence of the essence of Ein-Sof, it is a free decision which remains a constant and impenetrable mystery (Cordover, at the beginning of Elimah). Therefore, in the view of most kabbalists, the question of the ultimate motivation of creation is not a legitimate one, and the assertion found in many books that God wished to reveal the measure of His goodness is there simply as an expedient that is never systematically developed. These first outward steps, as a result of which Divinity becomes accessible to the contemplative probings of the kabbalist, take place within God Himself and do not ‘leave the category of the Divine’ (Cordovero). Here the Kabbalah departs from all rationalistic presentations of creation and assumes the character of a theosophic doctrine, that is, one concerned with the inner life and processes of God Himself. A distinction in the stages of such processes in the unity of the Godhead can be made only by human abstraction, but in reality they are bound together and unified in a manner beyond all human understanding. The basic differences in the various kabbalistic systems are already apparent with regard to the first step, and since such ideas were presented in obscure and figurative fashion in the classical literature, such as the Bahir and the Zohar, exponents of widely differeing opinions were all able to look to them for authority.”
a. Ain Sof in the Teachings of Isaac the Blind
and the First Kabbalists in Provence
(from “Origins of the Kabbalah” by Gershom Scholem)
“The path of the mystic, described by Isaac at the beginning of his commentary on the Yetzirah, is…..that of systematically uncovering the divine—by means of reflective contemplation and within the innermost depths of such contemplation. Isaac postulates three stages in the mystery of the deity and its unfolding in creation and revelation. They are called in his works the Infinite (‘en-sof), Thought, and Speech…..But what is entirely new is the emphasis laid on the domain of the divine that is above all reflective contemplation, indeed above the divine Thought itself, a domain called by Isaac ‘the cause of Thought’ and designated by a new term: ‘en-sof.
The birth of this concept is of great interest for the history of the Kabbalah. This designation is usually explained as a borrowing from Neoplatonism. Christian Ginsburg…..says:
‘Any doubt upon this subject must be relinquished when the two systems are compared. The very expression En Sof which the Kabbalah uses to designate the Incomprehensible One, is foreign, and is evidently an imitation of the Greek Apeiros. The speculations about the En Sof, that he is superior to actual being, thinking and knowing, are thoroughly Neo-Platonic.’
Ginsburg, however, proceed on the completely erroneous assumption that the oldest document of the authentic Kabbalah was the Neoplatonic catechism on the sefiroth composed by Azriel, Isaac’s disciple. There the notion is in fact explained in a manner that comes particularly close to Neoplatonic thought. But this says nothing about the origin of the concept. Indeed, the expression is strange, by virtue of its very grammatical formation. It certainly is not a rendering of a fixed philosophical idiom…..The form ‘en-sof is altogether unusual, and Graetz had good reason to see it in a proof of the late origin of the term. However, he should have added that in the Hebrew literature of the Middle Ages, too, it represents a completely isolated phenomenon…..
How, then, are we to understand the origin of the term ‘en-sof. It did not result from a deliberate translation, but from a mystical interpretation of texts that contain the composite term ‘en-sof in a perfectly correct adverbial sense, and not as a specific concept. The doctrine of Saadya Gaon, in particular, abounds with affirmations of the infinity of God—in fact, it is asserted at the very beginning of his well-known ‘Supplication‘ (Siddur R. Saadia , 37), and is the old Hebrew paraphrase, known among the Provençal Kabbalists as well as the German Hasidim, it is reiterated incessantly. Tobias ben Eliezer, who wrote around 1097, also stressed precisely this quality of God, in the context of a referee to the mystical Hekhalot writings. For him God is ‘the first up to the unfathomable, the primordial beginning up to the infinite (‘ad ‘en-takhlith), among the last up to infinity (‘ad ‘en-sof). The adverbial construction is perfectly correct. ‘Up to infinity’ results from a combination of ‘up to there, where there is no end.’ Expressions of this kind, in which ‘en-sof has the function of an adverbial complement, are found with particular frequency in the writings of Eleazar of Worms. We find the same usage in the Bahir. Thus, Eleazar writes, for example: ‘When he thinks of that which is above, he should not set any limit to this thought, but thus [should he think of God]: high, higher up to the Boundless [‘ad ‘en-qesh]; down deep, who can find him and the same above in the expanse of all the heavens…..and outside the heavens up to the infinite [le’en-sof].’ Or: ‘in the Throne of Glory are engraved holy names, which are not transmitted to any mortal, and which sing hymns unto infinity [meshorerim shiroth le’en-sof].’ The transition here from the innumerable hymns sung by holy names and angels to a hypostasis that, as a mystical reader might perhaps conceive it, ‘sings hyms to ‘en-sof‘ seems easy enough. The term ‘en-sof came into being when one of the Provençal kabbalists read this combination of words that actually represents a phrase as a noun, possibly influenced by the aforementioned kind of adverbial composites and perhaps also by some expressions in the Bahir. The sentence now referred to an elevation or orientation of the thought toward a supreme degree of being for which the appellation is ‘en-sof. It is, after all, one of the principles of mystical exegesis to interpret all words, if possible, as nouns. This emphasis on the noun character, on the name, may be taken as an indication of a more primitive attitude in the mystics’ conception of language. In their view language is ultimately founded on a sequence of nouns that are nothing other than the names of the deity itself. In other words, language is itself a texture of mystical names.
We cannot determine with certainty the combination of words or specify the contexts from which ‘en-sof was elevated to the rank of a concept, a technical term designating the absolute essence of God itself…..One could…..assume that the notion was formed under the influence of Saadyanic theology, the kabbalists conferring a specific meaning on the new word. It does not present itself so much as a negative attribute of the deity within the framework of an intellectual knowledge of God, but rather as a symbol of the absolute impossibility of such knowledge. This motif can be detected quite clearly at the time of the earliest appearance of ‘en-sof in the writings of the kabbalists. The transformation of rational concepts into mystical symbols in the transition from philosophy to the Kabbalah is a normal phenomenon. On the other hand, we should not overlook the fact that despite the threads connecting the German Hasidim with the kabbalists in Provence, no major influence on Isaac the Blinc can be ascribed to Saadyanic ideas, even if they played some role in Provençal circles close to him…..Isaac is a contemplative mystic who combines Gnosticism and Neoplatonism. I would therefore avoid making any definitive statements as to whether the concept of ‘en-sof was derived from certain phrases in the Bahir or from Saadyanic sentences. We can delineate with certainty only the process by which this new concept came into existence.
This process left its mark on a state of affairs that merits special attention: in many kabbalistic writings, up to and including the Zohar, we still frequently encounter sentences containing the composite word ‘en-sof in adverbial usages of the kind indicated. Often it is difficult to decide whether a given sentence speaks of ‘en-sof in the new sense of the term or whether it refers to the ascension of a divine middah [aspect] ‘up to infinity’ and the like. It is particularly interesting to note in this regard that Isaac the Blind himself as well as the majority of his disciples were not at all prone to speak of a supreme and hidden reality whose name would be simply ‘en-sof. They do so only rarely and under special circumstances in which adverbial determinations are completely renounced and, as in Azriel, ‘en-sof appears as an actual proper name (without an article) of the supreme essence. However, most of the allusions to ‘en-sof here are still couched in a veiled and obscure language. It seems evident to me that this silence and obscurity of expression are not unintentional. Azriel’s chatechism is in no way characteristic of the phraseology current among the oldest kabbalists. Nevertheless, with him as well as others, the absence of the article together with the word ‘en-sof indicates the origin of the notion. In the case of an artificial philosophical coinage, nothing need have prevented a construction combining the new noun with the definite article. In fact, such a usage is attested only in a much later period, when the sense of the original meaning (‘without end, infinite’) had already become blunted, and nobody was conscious any longer of its origins. Isaac himself uses the ‘infinite cause,’ the ‘infinite being’ [Hawwayah be’en-sof], and similar phrases, especially in his commentary on the Yetzirah. But certain passages unmistakably betray the new, hypostatizing terminology. Thus, for example: ‘The creature has not the strength to grasp the inwardness of that to which the Thought, the machshabah, alludes, to grasp ‘en-sof.’…..This conception of ‘en-sof as a fixed term finds support in his explanation of the notion of ‘omeq, depth, in Yetzirah 1:5, which describes the ten depths of the primordial numbers, ‘whose measure is ten, but which have no end.’ Isaac’s commentary not only says that ‘depth is the intelligere [haskel] up to the ‘en-sof‘ (which could also signify, simply ‘unto infinity’), but we also read there of the ‘depth from ‘en-sof,’ that is, the depth of each sefirah that comes from ‘en-sof. Isaac nowhere mentions any positive function of this ‘en-sof envisaged as the cause of the creative machshabah, nor does he ever posit its personal character, which would permit us to say that this is simply the Creator God of whom all the other degrees are but middoth or qualities. Not ‘the infinite one’ but ‘the infinite’ is apparently intended here.”
b. Azriel of Gerona on Ain Sof
(quoted in “The Early Kabbalah Kabbalah” by Joseph Dan)
“1. If a questioner asks: Who can comple me to believe that the world has a Ruler?
Answer: Just as it is inconceivable that the world be without a captain, so too is it impossible that the world be without a ruler. This Ruler is infinite (eyn sof) in both His Glory and Word, as in the matter that is written: ‘I have seen an end to every purpose, but Your commandment in exceedingly immense’ (Psalm 119:96), and it is written: ‘For God shall bring every act into judgment—every hidden is without end and limit; it is unfathomable and nothing exists outside it.
The philosophers admit to this fact that the Cause of all causes and the Origin of origins is infinite, unfathomable, and without limit. According to the way of the Ruler we see that the end of every act is hidden from the probing of an investigator, as in the matter that is written: ‘So that no man can find out the work which God has made from the beginning to the end’ (ibid. 3:11). And it is further recorded: ‘Should the wise man can say that he knows, even he will not be able to find it’ (ibid 8:17)…..
2. If a questioner asks: Who can compel me to believe in Eyn-Sof?
Answer: Know that everything visible and perceivable to human contemplation is limited, and that everything that is limited is finite, and that everything is called Eyn-Sof and is absolutely undifferentiated in a complete and changeless unity. And if He is [truly] without limit, than nothing exists outside Him. And since He is both exalted and hidden, He is the essence of all that is concealed and revealed. But since He is hidden, He is both the root of faith and the root of rebelliousness. Regarding this it is written: ‘In his faith a righteous man shall live’ (Habakkuk 2:4). Furthermore, philosophers are in agreement with these statements that our perception of Him cannot be except by way of negative attribution. And that which radiates forth from Eyn-Sof are the ten sefrirot. [And this is sufficient for the enlightened.]
3. If the questioner persists: By what necessity do you arrive at the assertion that the sefirot exist? I rather say that they do not exist and that there is only Eyn-Sof!
Answer: Eyn-Sof is perfection without any imperfection. If you propose that He has unlimited power and does not have finite power, then you ascribe imperfection to His perfection. And if you claim that the first limited being that is brought into existence from Him is this world—lacking in perfection—then you ascribe imperfection to the force which stems from Him.
Since we should never ascribe imperfection to His perfection, we are compelled to say that He has a finite power which is unlimited. The limitation first existentiated from Him is the sefirot, for they are both a perfect power and an imperfect power. When they partake of the abundant flow stemming from His perfection they are perfected power, and when the abundant flow is withdrawn they possess imperfect power. Thus, they are able to function in both perfection and imperfection, and perfection and imperfection differentiate one thing from another…..”
c. Ain Sof in the Kabbalah of Azriel of Gerona
(from “Origins of the Kabbalah” by Gershom Scholem)
“If…..there was at first a great deal of uncertainty about the use of the term ‘en-sof, no such ambiguity exists any longer in the mystical vocabulary of the school of Gerona [13th century]. ‘En-sof there is a technical, indeed artificial, term detached from all adverbial associations and serving as a noun designating God in all his inconceivability. Here it is well to remember that the determination of God as the Infinite served for for the thinkers of antiquity and the Neoplatonists…..precisely as a symbol of his inconceivability, and not as an attribute that can be grasped by reason (such as it became with the Scholastics). Among the kabbalists, God is regarded as Infinitude no less than as the Infinite One. The inconceivability of the hidden God and the impossibility of determining him, which, occasionally seem to point to a neutral stratum of the divine nature, are nevertheless those of the infinite person on the whole, the latter being the theistic reinterpretation of the Neoplatonic ‘One.’ Azriel himself introduces him as such at the beginning of his questions and answers on the sefiroth, for he identifies ‘en-sof—a word he employs often and without hesitation—with the leader of the world and the master of creation…..
Azriel’s…..spoke of ‘en-sof as the God whom the philosophers had in mind, and whose sefiroth were but aspects of his revelation and of his activity, the ‘categories of the order of all reality.’ Precisely the most hidden element in God, that which the mystics had in mind when they spoke of ‘en-sof, he transformed into the most public. In doing so he already prepared the personalization of the term ‘en-sof, wich from the designation of an abstract concept begins to appear here as a proper name. Whereas in general, and even in Azriel’s own writings, ‘en-sof still has much of the deus absconditus, which attains anapprehensible existence in the theosophic notion of God and in the doctrine of the sefiroth only, the commentary on the ten sefiroth already presents the ‘en-sof as the ruler of the world, which certainly suggests an image of the government of the world that is very different from that of the theosophy of the Infinite and its sefiroth. For Azriel the highest sefirah is evidently the unfathomable or unknowable and especially the divine will, which in this circle is elevated above the primordial idea. In the abstract the latter could be distinguished from ‘en-sof, but in the concrete it constitutes a real unity with it. The hidden God acts by means of this will, clothes himself in it, as it were, and is one with it. In order to express this, the kabbalists of Gerona readily speak of the ‘will up to the Infinite,’ the ‘height up to the Infinite,’ the ‘unknowable up to the Infinite,’ by which they evidently mean the unity in which the supreme sefirah, represented in each case by the corresponding symbol, extends up to the ‘en-sof and forms with it a unity of action…..
Azriel is fond of referring Job 11:7 : ‘Can you find out the depth of God?’ to this primordial depth of God, which can signify both the fathomable as well as precisely that in the will that is unfathomable and beyond the grasp of all thought. From this primordial depth flwow all the paths of wisdom and it is this primordial depth that in the ‘Chapter on the kawwanah‘ is literally called ‘the perfection of the depth that is one with ‘en-sof,’ a phrase that can also be translated equally literally as ‘that unites itself with ‘en-sof,’ that is, that extends up to its infinity. Thus the terminology of cheqer, the primordial depth, at which all contemplation of the divine is aimed, changes at the same time into that of the ‘undepth’ (Hebrew: ‘en-cheqer), this primordial depth proving to be precisely the unfathomable, and thereby a perfect analogy, in its linguistic form as well, to the Infinite, ‘en-sof.
The will as primordial depth thus becomes the source of all being, and the deity, insofar as it can be envisioned from the point of view of the creature, is conceived entirely as creative will…..The fact that this creative will is then understood by Azriel, in the context of the ideas analyzed in the foregoing, as the Nought, is by no means an isolated instance in the history of mistical terminology. Jacob Böhme, whose Ungrund is reminiscent of Azriel’s formulations, considers the will that eternally emerges from this Ungrund as the Nought. It is therefore no wonder that in these writings the will never appears as something emanated, but rather as that which emanates…..
A state in which ‘en-sof would be without the will accompanying it is thus inconceivable. This again raises the problem of the necessity of the emanation versus the freedom of ‘en-sof in the primordial act of the creation…..
It can be said of ‘en-sof as well as of the Will that nothing exists outside it.
‘All beings come from the incomprehensible primordial ether, and their existence [yeshuth] comes from the pure Nought. However, this primordial ether is not divisible in any direction, and it is One in a simplicity that does not admit of any composition. All acts of the will were in its unity, and it is the will that preceded everything…..And that is the meaning of (Job 23:13): “He is One”—He is the unity of the will, outside of which nothing exists’ [Perush Aggadot, 107)…..
Neither is ‘en-sof nor in the will is there any differentiation; both are designated as the indistinct root of the opposites. For this indistinctness…..the ‘Iyyun circle and Azriel use the Hebrew hashwa’ah; unseparated and indifferent is there called shaweh, literally ‘equal,’ a word that is never used in this snese elsewhere in the Hebrew literature. ‘En-sof as well as the will are ‘indifferent with regard to the opposites.’ They do not conjoin the opposites…..but no distinctions are admitted at all; since the opposites in these supreme principles are ‘equal,’ that is, indistinct, they coincide in them. It is in this sense that mention is often made of the ‘indistinct unity’ or of the ‘indifference of unity’ in which apparent opposites coincide…..The oppoistes are abolished in the infinite…..
‘En-sof is the absolute indistinctness in the perfect unity, in which there is no change. And since it is without limits, nothing exists outisde of it; since it is above everything it is the principle in which everything hidden and visible meet; and since it is hidden, it is the [common] root of faith and unbelief, and the investigating sages [the philosophers] agree with those who say that our comprehension of it can take place only through the path of negation’ [Sha’ar ha-Sho’el].”
a. IT Exists
(from “Paradigm Shift” by Zalman Schachter-Shalomi)
“We define the It dimension of God as the concept of the Supreme Being, the philosopher’s God, all powerful and all fulfilled. This God of consummate Equilibrium, not needing, not seeking not wanting anything, is traditionally called Ein Sof (the Endless) in the Kabbalah. In the Ein Sof there is no distinction between Creator and creature, since in It neither of these terms applies. There is no differentiation between ‘space’ and ‘time,’ since the Infinite fills and is all. The Ein Sof existed before the ‘Prime Mover’ moved anything, for in movement time began and space was ‘made’; the endless remains the very same Ein Sof.
The simplicity of the One rules supreme; He is the God who was and who will be, without change and without peer. This is the God of the mystic and the atheist. While the atheist insists that the God in whom he does not believe could only be an It, the mystic is intoxicated with an Absolute that the It concept of God implies.”
b. There is only One
(from “EHYEH: A Kabbalah for Tomorrow” by Arthur Green)
“In the beginning there was only One. There still is only One. That One has no name, no face, nothing at all by which it can be described. Without end or limit, containing all that will ever come to be in an absolute, undiferentiated oneness, that reality can only be referred to by a negative phrase: Eyn Sof, ‘that which has no end.’ Endless is the first, and in some sense the only, thing one can say about this most primal mystery of Being.
Eyn Sof includes all that ever was, is, will be. All of this is united in a state that does not yet distinguish ‘potential’ from ‘actual,’ the realizable from the real. It represents a fullness of energy beyond all description. Out of that energy comes forth all that is, a transforming explosion that in each instant makes the full journey from Being to beings, from the infinite mystery of Y-H-W-H to the infinite realities of existence.
Why does the explosion take place? Why did, or does, Being emerge from the ‘black hole’ that precedes existence? To answer such a question would be to say more about Eyn Sof than we can. ‘Will’ and ‘desire’ are concepts far too human for us to project onto the ‘face’ of faceless mystery. Perhaps ‘anticipation’ is a slightly more neutral term. The first stirring within the One that leads toward the existence of the many is the sense of time, a drawing forth of the future from within the timelessness of Being. A the potential examines itself (and how could Eyn Sof not be self-reflective?) and realizes its own potency, the thought emerges of a future in which that potential might be realized. Thus is born a linear sense of time, a sequential before-and-after that pulls forth from the closed timeless circle of Eyn Sof.”
c. The Nature of God
(from “God is a Verb” by David A. Cooper)
“What is God? In a way, there is no God. Our perception of God usually leads to a misunderstanding that seriously undermines our spiritual development.
God is not wht we think It is. God is not a thing, a being, a noun. It does not exist, as existence is defined, for It takes up0 no space and is not bound by time. Jewish mystics often refer to It as Ein Sof, which means Endlessness.
Ein Sof should never be conceptualized in any way. It should not be called Creator, Almighty, Father, Mother, Infinite, the One, Brahma, Buddhamind, Allah, Adonay, Elohim, El, or Shaddai, and It should never, never be called He. It is none of these names, and It has no gender.
When we call It God, what are we talking about? If we say that It is compassionate, full of lovingkindness, the source of love, we may be talking about our image of what we think the divine nature ought to be, but we are not talking about Ein Sof. In the same way, if we say that the God portrayed in the Bible is vindictive, jealous, angry, cruel, uncaring, or punitive, we cannot be referring to Ein Sof. Ein Sof includes every attribute but cannot be definite by any of them individually or all of them combined…..
The idea of Ein Sof was first described by the twelfth-century Kabbalist, Isaac the Blind. He taught that Ein Sof precedes thought (machshavah), and it even precedes the Nothingness (ayin) out of which thought is born. Nothingness is viewed as a level of awareness that is the result of the ‘annihilation of thought.’
The idea of the annihilation of thought, of course, is paradoxical. Can we imagine a void without beginning or end? Can we, limited by minds that are finite, imagine infinity? The answer is no, we cannot think of Nothing. Anything that we can imagine has some kind of boundary—Kabbalists call it garment or vessel—and boundaries are containers. All thoughts, including all imagination, are garments or vessels.
By definition, a boundary sets limits. We may be able to put a name to infinity, we can draw a symbol of a figure eight on its side and say that this represents infinity, but no matter how much we may believe that our imagination is limitless, we remain confined by the boundaries of our own reality. If it can be imagined, it is not infinite.
As infinity is beyond the imagination, what about that which transcends infinity—that which created it? Ein Sof is not ‘restricted’ by infinity. Indeed, we have suddenly run out of words because the idea of ‘trans-infinite’ is a logical absurdity. What can go beyond infinity? Moreover, what can go beyond the Nothingness that surrounds infinity? This is Ein Sof.
Although we are informed that Ein Sof is inaccessible through any intellectual endeavor, we may still ask if there is a ‘knowing’ that surpasses the intellect. Did Isaac the Blind have access to a level of awareness through which he could sense, somehow, the imperceivable?
The answer is yes. Jewish mysticism teaches that we can know Ein Sof in ways that transcend thought. This aspect of developing a relationship with Endlessness, the source of creation, is the key to all Kabbalah and the lifeblood of all Jewish practice. The secret teaching in developing this relationship with the Unknowable is hidden in the mystical foundation of the nature of relationship itself.
The word ‘God,’ and each of Its various names in Judaism, such as El, Elohim, Adonoy, Shaddai, and so forth, represent aspects of Ein Sof. The exploration of these aspects gives us insight into the nature of Ein Sof . Thus, whenever God is discussed…..we are not talking about a thing in itself, but a representation of a far deeper mystery…..
We can relate to God as an interactive verb. It is God-ing…..Many names of God are included in Ein Sof; God-ing is one name—a name that happens to be a verb rather than a noun…..What would we be without the awesomeness of the unknowable God?
There is no answer to this question; we cannot prove anything about Ein Sof. Rahter, it is a self-reflecting inquiry. Yet when viewed from the perspective of our dynamic relationship with the Divine, it is a self-fulfilling question, for paradoxically the source of the question is the answer it seeks. ‘What would I be without God?’
Consider this question from your inner awareness. Not you the noun, the person you may think you are, but you the verb, the process of being in full relationship, continuously, with its creator. When a question arises wthin you, who is asking the question, and to whom is the question addressed? Assume that there is no ‘me’ to ask the question, and there is no God out there to answer it. The question is part of the process of David-ing and God-ing in a mutual unfolding.
Try to do this in a way that melts all barriers or separation. No subject and no obuect. Simply an ever-opening process. No past, no future; only the Now. Each moment is a fresh opening. Each breath we draw, each move we make, is only Now. This is my dance with God-ing. It is an awesome experience…..
Perhaps you will take a few moments to close your eyes and allow yourself to sink into this idea. Meditate on this thought: The teaching of the mystery of Ein Sof is that the center of our being, out of which awe arises, is that about which we are awed. It is It! When we contemplate our continuous process of opening, right here, right now, we realize that God-ing is always with us…..
The Unknowable can be discerned. Beginning at an indefinable point as sharp as a needle. It radiates in various ways which can be perceived—only in the context of process and interaction. We are not an audience watching the God-ing process onstage. We are onstage, ourselves. We mysteriously begin to get a glimmer of God-ing when we succeed in merging with the continuous process of unfolding creation…..
The intrinsic definition of Limitlessness is that It lacks nothing and can receive nothing, for It is everything. As It is everything, theoretically It is the potential to be an infinite source of giving.
The question arises, however, that there is nothing for It to give to because It is everything. It would have to give to Itself. This has been a major conundrum in philosophy and theology for thousands of years.
Kabbalah suggests one way of dealing with this issue. It says that as long as the infinite source of giving has no ‘will’ to give, nothing happens. However, the instant It has the will to give, this will initiates a ‘thought.’ Kabbalah says, ‘Will, which is [primordial] thought, is the beginning of all things, and the expression [of this thought] is the completion.’
That is, the entire creation is nothing more than a thought in the ‘mind’ of Ein Sof, so to speak. Another way to express this idea is that the will to give instantly creates a will to receive…..”
Ayin: The Concept of Nothingness
in Jewish Mysticism
Daniel C. Matt
(from “The Problem of Pure Consciousness”
edited by Robert K.C. Forman)
There is allure and terror in mystical portrayals of nothingness: Meister Eckhart’s niht, John of the Cross’s nada, the Taoist wu, the Buddhist sunyata. Despite appearances, these terms do not express an identical meaning, since each mystic names the nameless from within a discursive realm shaped by his own training, outlook, and language. Here I wish to trace the development of the concept of ayin (“nothingness”) in Jewish mysticism. In medieval Kabbalah ayin functions as a theosophical symbol, the beginning of the elaborate system of sefirot, the stages of divine manifestation. Everything emerges from the depths of ayin and eventually returns there. Proceeding from Kabbalah to Hasidism, the focus changes. Now the psychological significance of ayin dominates; it becomes a medium for self-transformation. The mystic experiences ayin directly and emerges anew.
The word nothingness, of course, connotes negativity and nonbeing, but what the mystic means by divine nothingness is that God is greater than any thing one can imagine, no thing. Since God’s being is incomprehensible and ineffable, the least offensive and most accurate description one can offer is, paradoxically, nothing. David ben Abraham ha-Lavan, a fourteenth-century kabbalist, corrects any misapprehension: “Nothingness (ayin) is more existent than all the being of the world. But since it is simple, and all simple things are complex compared with its simplicity, it is called ayin.” David’s mystical Christian contemporaries concur. The Byzantine theologian Gregory Palamas writes, “He is not being, if that which is not God is being.” Eckhart says, “God’s niht fills the entire world; His something though is nowhere.”
Mystics contemplate the void, but not in a vacuum. The kabbalists were influenced not only by Jewish philosophers but also, directly or indirectly, by pagan and Christian Neoplatonic thinkers: Plotinus, Pseudo-Dionysius, and John Scotus Erigena. Philo, the mystical philosopher who straddled the first centuries BCE and CE, was unknown to the kabbalists, but it was he who introduced the concept of the unknowability and indescribability of God. Philo paved the way for negative theology, emphasizing the unlikeness of God to things in the world. “God alone has veritable being…..Things posterior to him have no real being but are believed to exist in imagination only.” The goal of religious life is to see through the apparent reality of the world and to shed the consciousness of a separate self. “This is the natural course: one who comprehends himself fully, lets go totally of the nothingness that he discovers in all creation, and one who lets go of himself comes to know the Existent.” One of the great mysteries is the contrast between the power “of the Uncreated and the exceeding nothingness of the created.”
Philo’s nothingness (oudeneia) refers to the unreality of creation in the face of the only true reality, the divine. Here, nothingness has a purely negative quality; it describes a fundamental lack. In the overwhelming discovery that everything is an expression of the divine, creation as an independent entity collapses and is reduced to nothing. By contemplating this basic fact, one is transported into the presence of God. “For then is the time for the creature to encounter the Creator, when it has recognized its own nothingness.” The ideal is “to learn to measure one’s own nothingness.”
God is immeasurable, nameless, and ineffable. In this, Philo foreshadows the Gnostics, some of whom surpass him in applying negative language to God. The Gnostic God, as distinct from the creative demiurge, is totally different, the other, unknown. He is “the incomprehensible, inconceivable one who is superior to every thought,” “ineffable, inexpressible, nameable by silence.” Trying to outdo his predecessors in negative theology, Basilides, the second-century Alexandrian Gnostic, opposes even the term “ineffable” as a predicate of God. His words are preserved by Hippolytus of Rome, who cites him in his attack against various prevalent heresies: “That which is named [ineffable] is not absolutely ineffable, since we call one thing ineffable and another not even ineffable. For that which is not even ineffable is not named ineffable, but is above every name that is named.”
God transcends the capacity of human language and the category of being. Basilides speaks of the “nameless nonexistent God.” This negation is clarified in another Gnostic treatise, Allogenes: “Nor is he something that exists, that one could know. But he is something else…..that is better, whom one cannot know….. He has nonbeing existence.”
Nonbeing best describes God’s incomprehensible otherness. For Basilides a distinct but related nonbeing is also the source of creation.
“The nonexistent God made the cosmos out of the nonexistent, casting down and planting a single seed containing within itself the whole seed-mass of the cosmos….. The nonexistent seed of the cosmos cast down by the nonexistent God contained a seed-mass at once multiform and the source of many beings….. The seed of the cosmos came into being from nonexistent things [and this seed is] the word that was spoken: “Let there be light!”
Basilides thus offers an extreme formulation of creation ex nihilo, a theory whose mystical career entwines with negative theology. In the Hellenistic age it was widely held that the stuff of which the world is made is amorphous hyle, formless matter. Thales and Parmenides had taught that nothing can arise from what does not exist, and Aristotle writes: “That nothing comes to be out of that which is not, but everything out of that which is, is a doctrine common to nearly all the natural philosophers.” Until the rise of Christianity there was apparently no Greek, Roman, or Jewish Hellenistic thinker who asserted creation from nothing.
The theory of creation ex nihilo first appears in second-century Christian literature, evoked by the confrontation with Gnostic heresy and Greek philosophy. It represents a denial of the prevailing Platonic notion that creation was out of eternal primordial matter, a notion that compromises the sovereignty of God. As Augustine writes, “Nor had You any material in Your hand when you were making heaven and earth.” Theophilus, bishop of Antioch, points out that if God made the world from uncreated matter, He would be no greater than a human being who makes something out of existing materials.” The formula creatio ex nihilo, in fact, may have been coined in opposition to the philosophical principle that nothing is made from nothing, nihil ex nihilo fit. Christian thinkers also felt challenged to refute the Gnostics, who had set up other powers alongside God and asserted that one of these created the world. (Basilides’ apparent attribution of creation to the hidden God is unusual for a Gnostic). Creation ex nihilo provided a defense for the belief in one free and transcendent Creator not dependent on anything. It became the paradigm for God’s miraculous powers and served as the chief underpinning for the supernatural conception of deity. Its denial was tantamount to the undermining of revealed religion. In the words of Moses Maimonides, “If the philosophers would succeed in demonstrating eternity as Aristotle understands it, the Law as a whole would become void.”
There is little if any evidence that the normative rabbinic view was of creation ex nihilo. The passage from Sefer Yetsirah (“The Book of Creation”) later exploited as an expression of ex nihilo is ambiguous: “He formed something actual out of chaos and made what is not (eino) into what is (yeshno). He hewed enormous pillars out of the ether that cannot be grasped.”Sefer Yetsirah was composed sometime between the third and sixth centuries. Here is the first time in Hebrew literature that we find mention of creation from ayin, or rather, the adverbial eino. The noun ayin appears in an ontological sense only much later. “What is not” may refer to hyle, primordial matter, which the Platonists called “the nonexistent” (to me on). The intent would then be not absolute nothingness but rather that which is not yet formed or endowed with qualities.
Though the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo was not indigenously Jewish, under the influence of Christian and Moslem thinkers it penetrated Jewish philosophical and religious circles. The phrase yesh me-ayin (“something out of nothing”) came to describe the process of Creation, though the theory was both less venerated and less theologically crucial than in Christian thought. Creation from nothing was accepted by Maimonides; yet he suggests that various obscure passages in the Torah seem to prove the validity of the Platonic theory. According to the philosopher Joseph Albo, the denial of yesh me-ayin is mistaken but does not render one liable to a charge of heresy.
The theory of ex nihilo inevitably collided with the theory of emanation taught by Plotinus, a master of negative theology whose God creates without will. Plotinus denies the biblical story of creation by design. Everything that exists emerges from the One in a gradated yet eternal process of emanation, and everything aspires to return to the One.
Plotinus established negation as a type of divine attribute, which he included in a formal classification. He employs the technique of aphairesis (“removing, abstraction”) to negate predicates of God, which means not that the opposite can be predicated but that God is excluded from that realm of discourse. The One is “something higher than what we call ‘being’.” “Even being cannot be there.”
The mystic experiences the One not as some transcendent substance but in an objectless vision: “The vision floods the eyes with light, but it is not a light showing some other object; the light itself is the vision….. With this, one becomes identical with that radiance.”As the spiritual explorer discovers that the One is beyond images, his own image of a separate self also dissolves: “One formed by this mingling with the Supreme…..becomes the Unity, nothing within him or without inducing any diversity….. Reasoning is in abeyance and all intellection and even, to dare the word, the very self: caught away, filled with God….. He is like one who, having penetrated the inner sanctuary, leaves the temple images behind him.”
Plotinus’s conception of simplicity (haplosis) requires the abolition of all difference between oneself and the One. In the ultimate bliss of the “flight of the alone to the alone,” the One is no longer other. “How can one describe as other than oneself that which, when one discerned it, seemed not other but one with oneself?” The mystic shares the sublimity of nonexistence. “The essential person outgrows being, becomes identical with the transcendent of being.”
Medieval Christian, Moslem, and Jewish philosophers were deeply influenced by Plotinus’ negative theology and his theory of emanation. The contradiction between creation ex nihilo and the eternal emanation of the world from God was unmistakably clear. Augustine, defending the traditional Christian position, writes, “They were made from nothing by Thee, not of Thee.” Though ex nihilo was widely espoused, certain Christian thinkers more enamored of Neoplatonism attempted to resolve the contradiction between emanation and creation from nothing. They reinterpreted ex nihilo as implying the temporal generation of the world from the essence of God. The troublesome Plotinian element of eternity was eliminated, and “creation from nothing” was transformed into a mystical formula for emanation from the divine.
The apophatic theology of Dionysius the Areopagite contributed to this transformation. The fifth-century Syrian monophysite who wrote under this pseudonym calls God hyperozasion (“beyond being”). God is the “cause of being for all, but is itself nonbeing, for it is beyond all being.” Ecstatic experience matches this theological insight. “By going out of yourself and everything…..you will raise yourself to the ray of divine darkness beyond being.”
From the ninth century on, both Islamic and Christian sources offer a Neoplatonized, mystical version of ex nihilo. The Irish theologian redundantly known as John Scotus Erigena was the first Christian to teach such a theory and the first Latin thinker to focus on negative theology. His thinking was deeply influenced by Dionysius, whom he translated from Greek into Latin, though John’s pantheistic tendencies go far beyond his Dionysian sources. He applies the name nihil to God, intending by this not the privation but the transcendence of being. Because of “the ineffable, incomprehensible and inaccessible brilliance of the divine goodness…..it is not improperly called ‘nothing’.” It “is called ‘nothing’ on account of its excellence.”
John takes the expression ex nihilo to mean ex Deo; the nothing from which the world was created is God. In bold imagery he interprets the entire first chapter of Genesis according to this new sense of ex nihilo. Creation is the procession of the transcendent nihil into differentiated being, into the division of nature. In its essence, the divine is said not to be, but as it proceeds through the primordial causes, it becomes all that is. “Every visible creature can be called a theophany, that is, a divine appearance.” “God is created in creation in a remarkable and ineffable way.”The nihil is the ground for this divine self-creation. God descends into His own depths, out of which all proceeds and to which all eventually returns. Unknowable in itself, the divine nature becomes knowable in its manifestations.
Medieval Christian mystics who speak of divine nothingness, for example, Meister Eckhart, the Franciscan Petrus Olivi, the anonymous author of Theologica Deutsch, and Jacob Boehme, are indebted to John Scotus and Dionysius. John’s impact would have been even greater if the exploitation of his work by Albigensian heretics and philosophical pantheists had not resulted in its condemnation by Pope Honorius III in 1225.
Meanwhile, in the world of Islam, Neoplatonic emanation theory engendered a similar reinterpretation of ex nihilo. Plotinus’ doctrine became widely known under the guise of The Theology of Aristotle, an Arabic synopsis of Neoplatonism based on the Enneads and the teachings of Porphyry, Plotinus’ disciple. In the long version of the Theology the divine word (kalima) is said to transcend the conflict of the categories, to be beyond motion and rest. It is called “nothing” (laysa)—a nothing from which creation stems. A similar view is found among the Shiite Isma’iliya: God and the Nothing-with-him are one unity. This nothing is not outside of God but rather a manifestation of His hidden essence from which all proceeds.
1. See Steven T. Katz, “Language, Epistemology, and Mysticism,” in Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis, ed. by Steven T. Katz (New York: Oxford, 1978), 51-_54
2. See David ben Abraham’s Masoret ha-Berit, ed. by Gershom Scholem, Qovets ‘al yad n.s. 1 (1936): 31. On Gregory and Eckhart, see Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (London: Clarke, 1957), 37; and Scholem, “Schöpfung aus Nichts und Selbstverschrankung Gottes,” in Über einige Grundbegriffe des Judentums (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1970), 74.
3. Philo, Deterius 160; cf. David Winston, Philo of Alexandria (Ramsey, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1981), 132-33.
4. Philo, Somniis I:60.
5. See Winston, “Philo’s Doctrine of Free Will,” in Two Treatises of Philo of Alexandria, ed. by Winston and John Dillon (Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1983), 186-89.
6. Philo, Heres 24-30.
7. “The Gospel of Truth,” in The Nag Hammadi Library in English, ed. by James M. Robinson (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1981), 38; and Hans Jonas, The Gnostic Religion (Boston: Beacon Press, 1963), 287.
8. Hippolytus, Refutatio Omnium Haeresium 7:20; see John Whittaker, “Basilides on the Ineffability of God,” Harvard Theological Review 62 (1969): 367-71. Cf. Augustine, Christian Doctrine 1:6: “God should not be said to be ineffable, for when this is said something is said….. That which can be called ineffable is not ineffable.”
9. Hippolytus, Refutatio Omnium Haeresium 7:26; Allogenes, in The Nag Hammadi Library, 450-51.
10. Hippolytus, Refutatio Omnium Haeresium 7:21-22; see Harry A. Wolfson, The Philosophy of the Church Fathers (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1956), 1:551.
11. See Aristotle, Metaphysics II:6:1062b; Winston, “The Book of Wisdom’s Theory of Cosmogony,” History of Religion II (1971): 185-202; Jonathan A. Goldstein, “The Origins of the Doctrine of Creation ex nihilo,” Journal of Jewish Studies 35 (1984): 127-35; and the exchange between Winston and Goldstein in JJS 37 (1986): 88-97; 38 (1987): 187-94; Gerhard May, Schöpfung aus dem Nichts (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1978).
12. Augustine, Confessions II:7; Theophilus, To Autolycus 2:4. See Robert M. Grant, Miracle and Natural Law in Graeco-Roman and Early Christian Thought (Amsterdam: North Holland Publishing Company, 1952), 135-52.
13. Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed 2:25.
14. See Bereshit Rabba 1:9; and Samuel Yafeh Ashkenazi, Yefeh To’ar ad loc. Jonathan Goldstein claims that in this midrash Rabban Gamaliel II is attacking the theory of creation from primordial matter and defending creation ex nihilo; see his article and the exchange with Winston referred to above, n. II. Cf. Alexander Altmann, Studies in Religious Philosophy and Mysticism (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1969), 128-29.
15. Sefer Yetsirah 2:6. See Yehuda Liebes, “Sefer Yetsirah etsel R. Shelomoh ibn Gabirol u-Ferush ha-Shir Ahavtikh,” in Re’shit ha-Mistiqah ha-Yehudit be-Eiropa, ed. by Joseph Dan, Mehqerei Yerushalayim be-Mahashevet Yisra’el 6:3_4 (1987): 80-82.
16. Aristotle, Physics 1:9:192a.
17. Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed 2:25; Joseph Albo, Sefer ha-‘Iqqarim 1:2. The phrase yesh me-ayin appears for the first time at the end of the eleventh century in the anonymous Hebrew paraphrase of Saadia Gaon’s Kitab al-Amanat wa’l-l’tiqadat; see Ronald C. Kiener in AJS Review II (1986): 10-12.
18. See Plotinus, Enneads 5:3:14; 5:5:13; 6:7:41; 6:9:3-4.
19. See Plotinus, Enneads 4:8:1; 6:7:36; 6:9:4.
20. Plotinus, Enneads 6:9:11. Gregory of Nyssa writes (Life of Moses 2:165): “Every concept that comes from some comprehensible image by an approximate understanding and by guessing at the divine nature constitutes an idol of God and does not proclaim God.” Cf. Eckhart, “On Detachment“: “Detach yourselves from the image, and unite yourselves to the formless being.” In the Rinzairoku the ninth-century Zen patriarch I-Hsüan offers this advice: “If you meet the Buddha, kill him!”
21. Plotinus, Enneads 6:9:10-11; cf. 6:8:11: “To see the divine as something external is to be outside of it; to become it is to be most truly in beauty.” Cf. Eckhart’s report of his mystical journey (cited by C. F. Kelley, Meister Eckhart on Divine Knowledge [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977], vii): “There God-as-other disappears.”
22. Confessions 13:33.
23. Pseudo-Dionysius, The Divine Names 1:1; cf. 4:3.
24. Pseudo-Dionysius, Mystical Theology 1:1.
25. John Scotus, Periphyseon 634d, 680d_681a; see Donald F. Duclow, “Divine Nothingness and Self-Creation in John Scotus Eriugena,” Journal of Religion 57 (1977): 110.
26. John Scotus, Periphyseon 678c-d, 681a.
27. Scholem, “Schöpfung aus Nichts,” 70-71.