Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Who wrote the Zohar? Not Rashby

An update of a post with 54 comments that first appeared on TUESDAY, JULY 12, 2005

There's a book we call the Zohar that is attributed to someone who lived long ago. For those unfamiliar with the background, the Zohar is a work of Jewish mysticism alleged to have been written in the second century by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (ie Rashby) and passed, teacher to student, until the 13th century when Moses de Leon published it.

From the very beginning, questions have been raised about the authorship of the Zohar. Yitzchak of Acco, a kabbalist and student of the Ramban, met de Leon's widow, reviewed the manuscript, and determined that the Zohar was, in fact, written by de Leon. (See Sefer HaYuchasin by Rabbi Avraham Zacuto 1425- c. 1515 CE in which Mrs. de Leon admits the fraud.)

Rabbi Yitzchak's conclusion was supported by later scholars, including Elijah Delmedigo, Yakov Emdem, and Gershom Scholem, the 20th century Hebraist. They observed that the Zohar:

1 - contains names of rabbis who were born after Bar Yochai had already died;
2 - misquotes passages of Scripture and misunderstands the Talmud;
3 - contains ritual observances which were ordained by rabbinical authorities who were born after Bar Yochai had already died;
4 - mentions the crusades against the Muslims (who, inconveniently, did not exist in the second century);
5 - Creates a drasha on the word "esnoga", which is a Spanish / Ladino word for "synagogue;"
6 - gives a mystical explanation of the Hebrew vowel-points, which were not introduced until after the Talmudic period, and anyway, the system the Zohar know is one of three that were used in different times and different places.
7 - contains suspicious marks of Spanish and Spanish sentence patterns
8 - is riddled with Aramaic errors

I admit to not having read the Zohar  but I have read Scholem and Emdem and I find their arguments compelling. I've also read Josh of Parshablog, and his recent discussion of merely one issue, the appearance of the word esnoga, appears to seal the case. Read his post here

The section of the Zohar where esnoga appears
Three days laster, in a response to an illogical rebuttal from some haredi rabbi too deeply in the grips of a cherished idea to recognize evidence, Josh adds:
Once [we see the text itself] we see that the Zohar immediately preceding was talking about Nogah (Venus/brightness) and Esh (fire), and so ends with a derasha and a pun, by noting that a shul is called Es(h) Nogah. So it is NOT simply the use of the word in passing. The word, in its particular form, is darshened. Go ahead. Try to substitute "synagoga" for Esh Noga at the end. Does the derasha work? Where do we get Esh, fire, from? Where do we got Noga from?
His point is that the use of esnoga is not a scribal substitution but something inherent to a particular teaching itself. If esnoga was added by a copyist, then the drash on which it depends was also added by the copyist.

Now, its important to add the its not unheard of for someone to make a drash on a secular language. Aramaic is often darshaned, and so is Greek. It would not be impossible to say that Rashby also darshaned a secular language, in this case Spanish - except for one thing: the language did not exist in his time.

Side questions: Why does any of this matter? Why can't the Zohar be,an awfully good book of great importance, written by someone in the 13th century? Why is the back story about Rashby necessary? What does it add? Why do people who can hardly even spell the word Zohar cling to this story? Does anyone seriously believe that the value of the Zohar would be reduced if we put aside the myth that it was written by Shimon Bar Yochai?

Search for more information about the Zohar  at


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