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How Daniel Matt translates

October 12, 2011

matt illuminationsBob MacDonald expressed interest in Daniel Matt’s translation of Zohar.  Matt translates the Zohar as poetry.  Here is a small part of the translation from Matt’s book of selections from the Zohar:

Rabbi Shim’on said,
“Woe to the human being who says
that Torah presents mere stories and ordinary words!
If so, we could compose a Torah right now with ordinary words,
and better than all of them!
To present matters of the world?
Even rulers of the world possess words more sublime.
If so, let us follow them and make a Torah out of them.
Ah, but all the words of Torah are sublime words, sublime secrets!

“Come and see:
The world above and the world below are perfectly balanced:
Israel below, the angels above.
Of the angels is written:  He makes His angels spirits (Psalm 104:4)
But when they descend they put on the garment of this world.
If they did not put on a garment befitting this world,
they could not endure in this world
and the world could not endure them.

“If this is so with angels, how much more so with Torah,
who created them and all the worlds,
and for whose sake they all exist.
In descending to this world,
if she did not put on garments of this world,
the world could not endure.

“Woe to the wicked who say that Torah is merely a story!
They look at this garment and no further.
Happy are the righteous who look at Torah properly!
As wine must sit in a jar, so Torah must sit in this garment.
So look only at what is under the garment.
All those words, all those stories are garments.”

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 12, 2011 8:17 pm

    This is an incarnational theology.

    How, I wonder, (and I occasionally ask at theological blogs like DET) can Christians avoid their apparently exclusive claims about theology.

    I won’t write more because it would be easier face to face with handwaving and the searching for words that do not need to be ‘read’.

  2. October 12, 2011 9:02 pm

    Bob, it is the famous Mishna “Ethics of the Fathers” (Pirkei Avot, Pirkei Avos) 3:14 that states the world was the precious instrument through which the world was created.

    He [Rabbi Akiva] would say, “Precious is the human being, who was created in the image [of God]. He was created in the image [of God], as it is said, ‘For in the image of God He made man (Gen. 9:6).’ Precious are Israelites, who are called children to the Omnipresent. It was an act of still greater love that they were called children to the Omnipresent, as it is said, ‘You are the children of the Lord your God (Dt. 14:1).’ Precious are Israelites, to whom was given the precious thing. It was an act of still greater love that it was made known to them that to them was given that precious thing with which the world was made, as it is said, ‘For I give you a good doctrine. Do not forsake My Torah (Prov. 4:2).’ “

    (See also Genesis Rabbah 1:1 “Torah says, ‘I was the artistic tool of the Holy One blessed be He.’ … The Holy One blessed be He looked into the Torah and created the world.”)

    However, most kabbalists today would not claim that Torah was a mediator, as some Christians view logos, and thus I am not certain that I would agree that this is an incarnational theology as the term is conventionally used by Christian theologians.

    Much closer to John 1:1 is Philo’s theory that God created the world through logos — however, although both the author of the fourth gospel and Philo were influenced by a common Greek philosophical background as well as a theological commitment to Jewish monotheism, and although at times they seem to be saying compatible things, I am not convinced that they mean the same thing by the Greek word logos. I have more to say on this, but time draws near, so I’ll just leave it at that for now.

    (See also Pirkei Avos 5:1 where it states that God created the world through ten utterances.)

  3. October 12, 2011 10:10 pm

    The logos is an area I have not yet fully wrestled with. Paul’s Romans and the anonymous Hebrews reconcile quite nicely with the Psalms. I must start thinking more about John’s poetry again.

    What I was thinking of as ‘incarnational’ re the above is that the Torah, like the angels, both had to appear to humanity in the form that could be apprehended in ‘the garment of the world’.

    I recall in Trembling the young man who loved Torah and who in effect wondered if his being gay was incompatible with his love. This in turn reminded me of the young gay Christian I know who said that the conservatives want to ‘take away his Christ from him’. Torah then is very much like Christ in its role and I add – the Anointing (Christ) of the poetry and indeed of all the Scriptures is something that is given to both traditions – even also the tradition of Islam, but it is not generally known how to read it.

    One spoke to me today saying, ‘I do not know how to read Scripture’. A half-hour later he got a 40 minute lesson in reading the psalms. (And he reads very well too and will present next week on readings that are outside his tradition but well within his grasp.)


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