‘Through a mirror, dimly’ – Can we trace 1 Cor. 13:12 back to rabbinic literature?

Do you think Paul (circa. 5-67 A.D) might have had a section from Babylonian Talmud (Yevamot 49B) in mind when he or an assistant (read: scribe), penned the first letter to the Christians in Corinth? To Christians through the ages the First letter to the Corinthians contain some of the most well-known verses from the New Testament. Chapter 13 is dedicated to the praise of love (agape) and is often quoted on weddings. In Pauline terms it’s not about any earthly love, but that of the spirit – agape. The message of the chapter is that love (agape) will survive prophecy. This post will focus on verse: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:12) + a very similar verse from the Talmud Bavli: “All the prophets gazed through a dim glass [literally: an ispaqlarya that does not shine], whereas Moses our Rabbi gazed though a clear glass [literally: an ispaqlarya that shine].” –Yevamot 49b.

I never read an N.T commentary which give a reference to Babylonian Talmud on the verse quoted which in a way can be fully understood since the Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) was finally a fixed “canon” about 600 when the Talmudic academies in Iraq finished it. But this fact doesn’t take away the possibilities of influence. We must also deal with some scientific context since the dimly mirror mentioned in both N.T and Bavli was a great scientific intervention in the first century and was made of polished glass rather than a speculum. In some translations, like the KJV the word “glass” instead of mirror is used.

I don’t know how established the Babylonian Talmud was as “text” when Paul was around but certainly he wasn’t unfamiliar with rabbinic commentary. I dare to say it contains traces of rabbinic literature and thought as Paul also was introduced to rabbinic scripture through the pharisee sect which was considered the most conservative. Religions also borrows themes and motifs from each other as they continue to develop. Paul presented his jewish background on several times in the N.T letters. “If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee[…]” — Philemon 3:5-7

The dating of the First Letter to Corinth is estimated to have been written about 50-60 A.D.I will exclude several verses in chapter 13 through these brackets […]. I put in some verses 8-10 to frame the context.

The New Revised Standard Version:

[…]”Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.”- 1 Cor. 13:8-10 […] “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” – 1 Cor. 13:12

Now, let’s compare the verse above to Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 49b. I use a translation of the BT quote from The Zohar – Pritzker edition vol. I (Matt, 2004 p. 268): “All the prophets gazed through a dim glass [literally: an ispaqlarya that does not shine], whereas Moses our Rabbi gazed though a clear glass [literally: an ispaqlarya that shine].” –Yevamot 49b

Now, we have some more context! Let’s take a look at the word * ispaqlarya [אִסְפַּקְלַרְיָא] mentioned. It’s in Aramaic with the following meaning:

  1. speculum; lens; mirror
  2. glass
  3. windowpane
  4. In Jewish mysticism, of a later date than antiquity, it refers to prophetic vision

I don’t have to remind you about 1 Cor 13, but it’s clear there’s a parallel between mirrors and prophecy, ok. Now, let’s take a look at Talmud Bavli and see for ourselves where Paul likely got his inspiration! It’s important to remind you dear reader that plucking out verses is not a jewish habit, it’s something Christians do in their bible study.  WE need to take a look at a the entire section were this small quote appear.

The Rabbinic context : Yevamoth 49b. (Soncino Babylonian Talmud)

Yevamoth 49b is a large section of text dealing with various topics. The entire tractate Yevamoth is mostly concerned with marriage and off-spring. Footnotes relating to various other verses opted here:

SAID R. SIMEON B. AZZAI etc. [A tanna] recited: Simeon b. ‘Azzai said, ‘I found a roll of genealogical records in Jerusalem and therein was written “So-and-so is a bastard [having been born] from a forbidden union with] a married woman” and therein was also written “The teaching of R. Eliezer b. Jacob is small in quantity but thoroughly sifted”. And in it was also written, “Manasseh slew Isaiah”‘.

Raba said: He brought him to trial and then slew him. He said to him: Your teacher Moses said, ‘For men shall not see Me and live’ and you said, ‘I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up’. Your teacher Moses said, ‘For what [great nation is there, that hath God so nigh unto them], as the Lord our God is whensoever we call upon him’, and you said, ‘Seek ye the Lord when he may be found’. Your teacher Moses said, ‘The number of thy days I will fulfil’ but you said, ‘And I will add on to your days fifteen years’. ‘I know’, thought Isaiah, ‘that whatever I may tell him he will not accept; and should I reply at all, I would only cause him to be a wilful [homicide]’. He thereupon pronounced [the Divine] Name and was swallowed up by a cedar. The cedar, however, was brought and sawn asunder. When the saw reached his month he died. [And this was his penalty] for having said, ‘And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips’.

[Do not] the contradictions between the Scriptural texts, however, still remain? — ‘I saw the Lord’, [is to be understood] in accordance with what was taught: All the prophets looked into a dim glass, but Moses looked through a clear glass. As to ‘Seek ye the Lord when he may be found [etc.’] one [verse] applies to an individual, the other to a congregation. When [is the time for] an individual? — R. Nahman replied in the name of Rabbah b. Abbuha: The ten days between the New Year and the Day of Atonement. Concerning the number of thy days I will fulfil, Tannaim are in disagreement. For it was taught: The number of thy days I will fulfil.

The verses on Moses and dim glass are further exploited in the medieval midrashim such as the Leviticus Rabbah, 1:14. It contains numeruous homilies on Leviticus and was composed in the 12th century. With a supposed reference to a first century Sage Leviticus Rabbah, 1:14 concludes: “All the prophets had a vision of God as he appeared through nine specula while Moses saw God through one speculum.”

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The Babylonian Talmud today.

Resources:

  • Epstein, Isidore, and Israel W. Slotki. 1936. The Babylonian Talmud. Vols. 1-2, Vols. 1-2. London: Soncino Press.
  • Frankel, Ellen, and Betsy Platkin Teutsch. 1992. The encyclopedia of Jewish symbols. Northvale, N.J.: J. Aronson.
  • Nestle Aland : Novum Testamentum Graece (N28)
  • New International Version (NIV)
  • Matt, Daniel C. 2004. The Zohar Vol. 1. Vol. 1. The Zohar. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  • Leviticus Rabbah – Hebrew version online here (Bar Ilan University).

 

 

“Al Aaraaf” – A poem by Edgar Allan Poe

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Edgar A. Poe in 1845 when he wrote his most famous poem “The Raven”.

Al Aaraaf is a poem written by the american gothic author Edgar A. Poe (1809-1849). In this post I write a little about what the poem is about and some of its origins. It’s considered to be one of the earliest poems written by Poe and it was first published in 1829. Two years earlier Poe published his first collection, Tamerlane and Other Poems under an assumed name. His writing career had just begun and behind him was a series of personal failures. First, he dropped out of the University of Virginia and second his career within the US Military would not fall out in good terms. As Poe was unable to support himself, he enlisted in the United States Army as a private on May 27, 1827 using the name “Edgar A. Perry”. He claimed that he was 22 years old even though he was 18. 1829 marked the death of his foster-mother Frances Allan and after much pressure the foster-father finally let Poe enroll as cadet at West Point. On February 8, 1831, he was tried for gross neglect of duty and disobedience of orders for refusing to attend formations, classes, or church. Poe tactically pleaded not guilty to induce dismissal, knowing that he would be found guilty.

Al-Aaraaf : Its origins and context

al_aaraaf_robinsonThe name al-Aaraaf [سورة الأعراف‎‎] is the name of chapter 7 in the Quran and refers to a place in heaven. Its title is “Al Aaraaf” from the Al Aaraaf of the Arabians, a medium between Heaven and Hell where men suffer no punishment, but yet do not attain that tranquil & even happiness which they suppose to be the characteristics of heavenly enjoyment.

The poem contains many references to the classical mytholgy of the Greeks and the Romans. It’s also filled with numerous allusions. It’s the longest poem Poe would ever write and later stated that he wasn’t in favour of long poems. Because of its heavy mix of historical context and different mythologies it was not considered to be either accurate or intelligible. It shows Poe’s possibilites to become a great poet, especially since Poe claimed he wrote some of it at the age of 15. It does have some rythm even if the text’s message and context seem to fail.

The poem Al-Aaraaf

Review : ‘A History of Scotland’ by Neil Oliver (2009)

IN THIS review I recommend Neil Oliver’s book A History of Scotland (2009) by Neil Oliver. Many of you readers may be familiar with Oliver since he’s hosted numerous BBC shows related to Scotland, Scottish history and landscape! Just open your YouTube and type a search! I’ve been to Edinburgh once and Aberdeen. Most of my travels in Scotland has been related to the Orkney Islands. Oliver touches briefly upon the history and nature of these islands.

THE Book consists of 14 chapters staring from the very beginning. He puts much effort to describe the natural environments of Scotland. Anyone interested in natural history would appreciate this.  Then, proceeding into the earliest history, the settlers, wanderers and then the Roman impact. He continues to write about the entire history of Scotland through the ages. And he is committed into telling it.

THE langauge is simple and makes it a smooth reading from start to finish! It’s not academic reading but still manage to produce sources to make it a credible reading. I appreciate that very much since I like details.  Next time I plan a trip to Scotland I will read this book once again.

Review: ‘Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde’ by Franny Moyle

WHILE WE continue to lament the downfall of Oscar Wilde it is easy to forget there were other victims in this Victorian tragedy. Wilde was in fact a married man with two children when he was sent to prison in Reading. As the scandal became fact his wife Constance Lloyd Wilde quickly got herself and their two sons out of England. She was equally exiled and she did change her family name back to Holland. As wife she remained loyal and never applied for a divorce. She even visited him occasionally while he was in prison. She also came and delivered the news his mother had passed away.

OSCAR WILDE was one of my favourite writers in my teenage years and later I got know most of his life thanks to Richard Ellman’s biography. His wife was less famous so it was really refreshing reading this biography on Mrs. Wilde by Franny Moyle. In this “review” I will slightly refer to other books and papers. As I took notice while reading about Oscar Wilde’s life over the years one do get the sense he wasn’t always a very nice husband. From one interview with his adventurous love Lord Alfred Douglas’, or Bosie the ageing lord spoke frankly about Wilde’s relation with Constance Wilde and remarked that he often saw him impatience with her. This was at least a reported fact in Ellman’s biography and repeated by Moyle as well. Despite this Lord Douglas choose not to honour lady Wilde and blamed Wilde’s downfall on her.

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Constance Lloyd prior her engagement to Oscar Wilde.

Constance Wilde (2 January 1859 – 7 April 1898), born Constance Mary Lloyd she did not have a happy childhood since her mother abused her verbally and physically. Her father died early and the negative experiences with her mother made her shy and a bit withdrawn. The Wildes and the Lloyds knew each other since the irish years so when Constance met Oscar they weren’t strangers. Moyle uses a lot of previous unpublished letters as she draws the story of Mrs Wilde. It’s a well-researched biography.

Despite her brother Otho’s warnings (he had heard “something” about Oscar) she got married to him in May 1884 and idolized him from the start. It seem to have been a love-match and they seemed happy together. They quickly started a family and she bore him two sons. Wilde seem to have been sexually uninterested in her after the birth of their second son. He often complained she had gained weight and the boy-girlish persona she possessed before the marriage was all gone.

Life with Oscar Wilde

WE don’t know when Constance found out her husband was gay but he lived a double-life with her and the family. Most of his time was spent at various hotels in the city and he would sometimes live with her and the children at Tite Street, Chelsea although this was not very common. SHE seemed to have accepted her husband’s busy lifestyle leavening her to take care of their home and children. Despite being an absent father she shared his interests in literature and fashion. Both were involved in the Victorian Dress Reform Movement.

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Constance looking at Oscar.

She must have known about his sexuality by 1895 when Wilde was tried and imprisoned for “gross indecency”, or homosexual acts. After Wilde’s imprisonment, Constance changed her and her sons’ last name to Holland to dissociate themselves from Wilde’s scandal. According to Ellman’s biography on Oscar Wilde this happened after Constance was denied to stay at a hotel because of the Wilde family name. The couple never divorced and though Constance visited Oscar in prison so she could tell him the news of his mother’s death, she also forced him to give up his parental rights and later, after he had been released from prison, refused to send him any money unless he no longer associated with Douglas.

The Final years and illnesses of Constance Wilde

A mysterious ill health—headaches, joint pains, weakness and trembling in the limbs, partial facial paralysis and exhaustion continued to plague her in the exile. According to The Guardian, “speculative theories [about her death] have ranged from spinal damage following a fall down stairs to syphilis caught from her husband.” However, again according to The Guardian, Merlin Holland, grandson of Oscar Wilde, “unearthed medical evidence within private family letters, which has enabled a doctor to determine the likely cause of Constance’s demise. The letters reveal symptoms nowadays associated with multiple sclerosis but apparently wrongly diagnosed by her two doctors”.

mrswildeConstance sought help from two doctors. One of them was a “nerve doctor” from Heidelberg, Germany who resorted to dubious remedies. The second doctor was a high-society surgeon named Luigi Maria Bossi and he conducted two operations (for uterine fibroid) in 1895 and 1898, the latter of which ultimately led to her death. According to The Lancet, “the surgery Bossi performed in December 1895 was probably an anterior vaginal wall repair to correct urinary difficulties from a presumed bladder prolapse. In retrospect, the actual problem was probably neurogenic and not structural in origin.”(Alberge 2015) Bossi was also a professor of gynaecology at Genoa University and a fellow of the British Gynecological Society. Bossi fell out with his colleagues for championing surgery to fix now-discredited “pelvic madness.”

During the second surgery in April 1898 Bossi probably “did not attempt a hysterectomy but merely excised the tumour in a myomectomy” (Robins 1995). However, shortly after the surgery Constance developed uncontrollable vomiting, which led to dehydration and death. The immediate cause of death was likely severe paralytic ileus, which developed either as a result of the surgery itself or of intra-abdominal sepsis (blood poisoning). “Ultimately, both Bossi and the hapless Constance met their ends tragically: he by the bullet of an assassin and she by the knife of an irresponsible surgeon.” (Robins 1995). Bossi was killed by a jealous husband of one of his patients.

Resources

Dalya Alberge (1 January 2015).”Letters unravel mystery of the death of Oscar Wilde’s wife”.

Robins, Ashley; Holland, Merlin (3 January 2015). “The enigmatic illness and death of Constance, wife of Oscar Wilde“. The Lancet.

Review: ‘The Zohar -Pritzker ed. vol I.’

THE ZOHAR is the most prominent work of Rabbinic literature within the kabbalistic tradition. The title “Splendor/Radiance”relates to several verses in Ezekiel 1:28; :2 and Daniel 2:31; 12:3 (Those who manifest wisdom will shine like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who turn many to righteousness will shine like the stars for ever and ever – Dan. 12:3). It follows the path of classical Midrash and is indeed a commentary on the Chumash (5 books of Moses).

THE ZOHAR deals with the mystical theories concerning creation, cosmogony and psychology of man in relation to the divine in this world and the coming world. There are many themes and endless discussions and homily on various topics such as the nature of G-d, creation, what the souls is and the cause and consequences of man’s actions (ethics). It contains numerous volumes and is written in an obscure Aramaic. The Ortodox or religious view of authorship states that Shimon bar Yohai (2nd century sage) was the true author while modern scholarship claims it has a much later autorship. Gerschom Scholem’s research proves that the Zohar was compiled and written down by a man called Moses De Leon in 1270.

THE ZOHAR – PRITZKER EDITION is a work of modern scholarship and pays attention to scientific methods concerning its history, origins and translation. The first volume was released in 2003. The final volume n:o 12 was released in 2017 so now you know how vast the entire text of the Zohar is in reality. Daniel C. Matt, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Jewish mysticism, has done the translation and commentary on the text. I only own the First volume which is enough for me since Genesis is sort of my favourite book when it comes to religious literature. Now we have a complete translation of all volumes available to anyone who which to learn more about the core text of Jewish mysticism. So how did it happen?

BACK IN 1995 Daniel C. Matt was contacted by Margot Pritzker who previously had studied the Zohar with her rabbi. She used a translation from the 1930’s and there was  a desatisfaction with the many available, but rather outdated, translations. Thoughts of a new translation of Zohar into English emerged. Matt warned it would take about 12-15 years to complete the task. But he agreed to carry out the project with the help of the Pritzker family who funded the entire project. Each volume was printed by the Stanford University Press.

THE FIRST VOLUME contains Margot Pritzker’s short foreword followed by translator’s introduction by Matt; acknowledgements, a foreword by Arthur Green on the contents of Zohar, theology of Zohar (10 sefiroth and so forth) and Zohar as text. The ingress consist of a longer text Haqadamat Sefer ha-Zohar. First lines: Rabbi Hizkiyah opened, “Like a rose among thorns, so is my beloved among the maidens (Song of Songs 2:2) Who is a rose? Assembly of Israel. For there is a rose, and then there is a rose! Just as a rose among thorns is colored red and white, so Assembly of Israel  includes judgement and compassion (Matt 2004, p. 1). To understand the context of these lines one needs to be familiar with the ten sefiroth, the divine emanations which connects the divine world with the earthly. These are core values within the Kabbalah and shows how G-d works within the divine and earthly worlds. In Kabbalah the functional structure of the sephirot in channeling Divine creative life force, and revealing the unknowable Divine essence to Creation is described. From the top of the Tree of Life resides keter (“crown”) which is the most divine, remote sefirah and it’s too difficult for any human to grasp. Only through kavannah, intense prayer a connection with the divine source can be established. The first sephirah describes the Divine Will above intellect.

img_0802The next sephirot describe conscious Divine Intellect, and the latter sephirot describe the primary and secondary conscious Divine Emotions. Two sephirot (Binah and Malchut) are feminine, as the female principle in Kabbalah describes a vessel that receives the outward male light, then inwardly nurtures and gives birth to lower sephirot. Corresponding to this is the Female Divine Presence, שְׁכִינָה‎‎, Shekhinah. Kabbalah sees the human soul as mirroring the Divine (after Genesis 1:27, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them”), and more widely, all creations as reflections of their life source in the sephirah. Every sefirah belongs to either a masculine or feminine quality. Duality in the verse above is clearly visible through the words judgement and compassion. The sefirah din (“judgement”) is associated with the feminine while rahamin (“compassion”) is a masculine quality. The verse which is about the Assembly of Israel, i.e the Jewish people, but also represent the shekinah, the tenth and final sefirah. The ingress is followed by Parashat Be-Reshit (Genesis 1:1-6:8) and Parashat Noah (Genesis 6:9-11:32).

The Zohar is not easy as a text. It’s full of symbolism, metaphors and allusions. Therefore, the commentary with explanations is greatly appreciated. And believe me, one needs them. Curious about the translator? Read more about Daniel C. Matt here (Questions & Answers).

Sources:

Matt, Daniel C. 2004. The Zohar Vol. 1. Vol. 1. The Zohar. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Zohar, Cover Comp

 

 

Saki’s creepy stories revisited

img_0793SAKI was a pen name used by british writer Hector Hugh Munro (1870-1916) and he’s well-known for his short witty stories often depicting the upper-class and satirize the Edwardian society. Most of them come with a twist and slight touch of creepiness. His writing was influenced by Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll and Rudyard Kipling. Hector Hugh Munro was born in Akyab, British Burma, which was then still part of the British Raj, and was governed from Calcutta under the authority of the Viceroy of India. Saki was the son of Charles Augustus Munro, an Inspector General for the Indian Imperial Police, by his marriage to Mary Frances Mercer (1843–1872), the daughter of Rear Admiral Samuel Mercer. After the death of his mother (killed by a cow…) the Inspector General sent his children to live permanently in England. This was not going to be a happy time since the children was sent to live with their aunts. In the works of Saki there are several stories depicting aunts as evil, amoral individuals and usually they end up as dead.

AT THE AGE OF 43 he decided to join the Army although he was considered too old he was accepted. The First World War had just begun and he would die two years later in The Battle of the Ancre. His final words were: “Put that bloody cigarette out!” He was killed by a German sniper.

GABRIEL-ERNEST is the name of a short story published 1909. I remember as being included in an anthology about ghosts? I was about 10 and thought it was a very scary story! It depicts a teenaged werewolf who abduct and kills a number of children in a sleepy village. It’s also slightly gay-themed as the narrator come face to face with the young beast in the woods a rather incredibly dialogue appears between them. There are a number of great adaptations of Gabriel-Ernest online if you search the podcasts.

  • My favourite adaptation of Saki’s Gabriel-Ernest, from TLS Voices.
  • VARIOUS stories by SAKI published by Project Gutenberg.
  • Interested in Saki’s works? I recommend Delphi Classics on Saki.

The Oscar Wilde Sculptures in Merrion Square, Dublin

IN SEPTEMBER 2010 I travelled to Dublin and of course I wanted to see the same sights and walk the same streets Oscar Wilde and James Joyce once trotted. I wasn’t able to make that much out of Joyce but I was determined I should go to Merrion Square. Oscar Wilde lived there for many years as his father, the famous eye surgeon had his home and practice at this place. I was able to take some photos. Perhaps not the best but here are 3 of them.

JUST ACROSS the busy street is a park with two lovely sculptures made by Danny Osborne. They were commissioned by Guinness Ireland Group and unveiled by Oscar Wilde’s great grandson, Merlin Holland on 28 October 1997.

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THE WOMAN is not named but I think it’s Wilde’s wife Constance Lloyd. That’s how I choose to interpret the scene. Oscar Wilde seems very dreamy while Constance looks away or maybe something has caught her attention? I thought her facial expression changed a lot depending from where I was standing. Sometimes she seems vulnerable, sometimes strong. I will quite soon write more about the life of Constance Lloyd on this blog.

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WHAT THE SCULPTURES looks like together. Quite a delight to watch and hang around. Too bad this little green haven is surrounded by the noise of traffic. Constance never lived at Merrion Square.  I think her socket was filled with various quotes.

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AND MR. WILDE HIMSELF looking relaxed.