"Sefer Yetsirah and Jewish Mysiticsm Time Line

Compiled by Robert Zucker (c) All rights reserved.

"Sefer Yetzirah" Time Line Home Page




10th Century (900AD-1499AD)

"Sefer Yetzirah" re-emerged in 900 AD and flourished through 1499 AD.

In 913-982, Rabbi Shabbati Donnolo (Italy) "Long" recension of the "Sefer Yezirah." In his "Commentary on Sefer Yezirah", fol. 69c: "He [Gd] permuted the speech according to its letters and its vocalizations. [niqqudav]." (Idel, "Golem," p.75)

In 931 Sa'adiya Gaon publishes the first rendition of "Sefer Yetzirah" in Egypt. The first recession of text becomes available in Oxford 1533. a commentary published in Hebrew at Mantua with the "Sefer Yetsirah" (Bartilocci, iv.267, ref: Waite, Lit of Kab, 175). Now preserved in the Bodleian Library. The original Arabic version was republished in Paris by Lambert in 1891/1892

In 955 or in 956 or 958, Abu Sahl Dunash ibn Tamin wrote the recession of "Sefer Yetzirah" published with Gaon's commentary on the short version by Tanin. Made in Kairiun. Parts of this Arabic original were found in the Cairo Genizah. It was preserved in various editions from a later revision and an abbreviated form of the original Hebrew. One version repubished in 1902, (2ns pub. Oxford Ms. 2250, Grossberg. published by A.M. Haberman (1947). Short version used in Commentary by Tanin. In the 10th century several versions existed. Divided into 6 chapters of mushnayot or halakot. This is the earliest written form of the "Sefer Yetzirah."

It was during this period, the following commentators blended the original "Sefer Yetzirah" with an earlier commentary, called "Sefer Yetzirah" II. All commentaries written on "Sefer Yetzirah" since beginning of 10th century are based on this commentary and not the original "Sefer Yetzirah" II. (Mordell)
2nd by R. Abraham ben Dior Halevi
3rd by R. Moses ben Nachman
4th by Elieser of Germisa
5th by Moses Botarel
6th by R. Eliah Wiln

Three Recensions of "Sefer Yetzirah"

There are 3 main recensions of the book, except for one (Se'adian, published by Scholem and Vajda) they are all defective (the "long" and "short" recension). They mainly differ from each other in length of the text and organization of the material. There are not that many differences between them. Two versions of "Sefer Yetzirah" from 9th century mixed the original ""Sefer Yetzirah"" with an early commentary, referred to as ""Sefer Yetzirah" II"

Shorter & longer version (longer printed as an appendix) Existed in 10th c. Its earliest written form was about the 11c (?), found in Cairo Genizah, published by AM Haberman in 1947. It is divided into six chapters of mishnayot or halakot.

1. SE'ADIAN recension, known through commentary of Se'adia Ga'on (899-942). Commentary probably finished in 931. This recension is shorter than the long one and longer than the short one (Gruen). Published by M. Lambert (Paris in 1891) from Ms Oxford 1533, six centuries later. Most relaible version. He begins the Arabic prefacer with "This book is called "Book of Beginnings" (ALMBADY) It is attributed to our father Abraham. Peace be with him." Saadiah describes the book as an authoritative text. He introduced changes and new division on the basis of the longer version which he had used as his basis.

2. DUNASH BEN TAMIM recension, end of 9th c, N. Africa after 958. The"short" recension. Tamim knew Gaon's work. A defective version. Published from MS Oxford 2250 by M. Grossberg, London 1902. Arabic fragments of the commentary published by G. Vajda in REJ CXIII (1954), p38ff CXXII (1963), p 149ff.

3. SHABBATAI DONNOLO recension (Italy, in 913 through 982) "Hakmoni" "Long" recension, the basis of many commentaries. A defective version. Commentary published by D. Castelli, Firenze in 1880.

11th Century (1000-1099AD)

In 1021 through 1069 (or in 1058), Jewish poet (A decend. of R. Eljah, Zevi Ashkenazi told a similar story: Jacob Emdem, ("Megillath Sefer,"Warsaw, 1896 p4) told the story to his son. Jacob E. except the Rabbi only received scratches.

In 1040-1105 the Talmudic exegist Rashi of Troyes, France, discusses creation techniques of "Sefer Yetzirah" with the creation of man in the Talmud. He says: "They used to combine the letters of the Name (Shem Ha-M) by which the universe was created. This is not to be considered forbidden magic. For the words (works) of Gd were brought into being through His Holy Name." In his treastie "Erubim," he mentions the "Sefer Yetzirah."

In 1060, R. Solomon ibn Gabirol was said to have created a woman, a maid servant ("Mimekor Yisrael, p. 752). He was denounced bv other Jewish leaders for his heathenism. R. Byron L. Sherwin tells a similar story. In 1092-1167 "I have heard it said that Ibn Ezra created a creature earlier than Rabenu Tam (R. Jacob Tam the Tosafist) and said: "See what the Holy and Blessed One has given by means of the Holy Letters!" And he said" "Turn back!" And it became what it had been before ("Mimekor Yisrael, p.752).

12th Century (1100-1199AD)

In the beginning of the 12th century, as a reaction against the rationialsim of the previous era, Jewish masters began to elaborate on the golem. A work by Judah ben Barzilai, Judah ben, discussions of the golem of Barcelonia, or southern France or Catalonia wrote a book on the "Sefer Yetzirah" citing many old versions. It also bore the the title "Each man who looks at it [i.e., who contemplatively immerses himself in it, tzafah], his wisdom is beyond measure,"- that is, comparable to the creative wisdom of Gd." At the beginning and end bears the title "Hilkhoth Yetsirah" and also "Alphabet of Our Father Abraham." "Othioth de-Abraham Avinu."

Discussion about the i.golem creation began appearing in commentaries on the "Sefer Yetzirah" during this period. In these commentaries, the word "Golem" also began to appear as a technical term for an artificially creatred being by applying the mysteries of the "Sefer Yetzirah." Medieval Jews and Christians believed that man has the power to create human life- "matter without form."

In 1100 through 1200 German Hasidic Ashkenazi (Piestist) movement in German develops the golem legend. From them comes the word "Golem." It was used to designate the creature made by the invocation of names during mystical rites. It was essentially a symbolic spiritual experience. The Hasidics attained a successful creation as a culmination of their studies of the "Sefer Yetzirah" and other texts. The golem eventualy developed into an actual creatue as a servant to his master and dulfilling mineal tasks, such as housework.

In 1100 a golem was reportedly fashioned at the time of the Crusades in France by R. Samuel, the Kabalist, father of Judah Chassid, and author of the "Book of the Pious" ("Sefer Chasidim"). He claimed he could make a golem, but could not make it talk. It accompanied hm wherever he went as a servent and bodyguard.

In 1160-1238 R. Eleazar of Worms wrote a commentary on the "Sefer Yetzirah" called "Pe'ullah ha-yetsirah" ("practice or practical application of...") along with R. Yehuda he-Hasid, both leading Ashkenazi Hasidic leaders. Eleazar wrote down recipies for creating a golem. Dust is molded into the shape of a body and the letters are permutated (according to the "Sefer Yetzirah."

Late 12th c. The Book "Bahir" ("Sefer Bahir") was written. It may be a reflection of earlier traditions (Scholem, "Origin of the Kabalah" p. 49-198 Idel, "Kabalah, New Perspectives" p. 122-127 and i..J. Dan, "The Problem of the Sources of the Bahir," "The Beginnings of the Jewish Mysticism in Medeivsal Europe", p. 55-72, 1987) Provides elaborations on the Talmud and the Sanhedrin passages about the Golem.This coincides with the emergence of Kabalah in Provence and Spain. Only a small number of other works during this discussed the creation of a Golem and its techniques.

13th Century

"Sefer Yetzirah" recension (Gruenwald) was copied in 1531. Early 13th century text, originating with the early Kabbalists of Languedoc, indicating ties between this group and the Hasidim of the Rhineland and northern France, write about Jeremiah and his son Ben Sira in a pseudo-epigraphon attributed to the Tannaite Judah ben Bathyra. (MS Halberstam, 444 (in Jewish Theological Seminary NY). This, or a copy of it, is the source for J. Reuchlin's Latin translation in 1603.

A 13c writer castigated those who said they could duplicate the feat of Hanina and Oshaya by saying that "they themselves are dumb calves."

3 statements written in the 13th century say the creation of an artifical man follows the same pattern as that of a calf, or a cow, with the latter being consumed as food, The practical purpose of the practice was not attenuated in the medieval period in Northern Europe.

13thc. William of Auvargne wrote "Men have tried to produce, and thought that they succeeded in producing human life in other ways than by the usual generative process"

In 1200 AD Germany, the Ashkenazi Hasidism movement emerges. At the end of the 12th c. there was a virtual explosion of discussions on the golem. The "Pseudo-Sa'adyah" text was printed in Jerusalem.

The early Provencal and Catalan Kabbalists were not especially interested in the nature of the golem or the way of his creation. Only Abulafia, among the Spanish Kabbalists, was interested in this issue. He was the only Spaniard to produce a detailed recipe to create a "creature."

1200-1250 in Northern France, the circle of the Special Cherubim engaged in lengthy discussions on creating golems. The difference between these French techniques and of Ashkenazi are: they both use combinations of Hebrew letters recite letters with moving in a circle around molded dust and the golem is destroyed by reciting the original combination backwards and circling in opposite direction ("Golem!" p. 12)

In 1210, the death of R. Isaac of Dampierre the younger, a member of the circle of the Special Chrub. After his death, stories about him creating a golem emerged. (Idel, "Golem" p. 92)

(died in 1217) Students of Rabbi Judah the Pious of Speyer in Regensburg write down a version of the legend regarding Ben Sira in "Sefer Gematrioth". Reprinted in 1887.

1230-1284 Alfonso X ruled Spain, Judeo-Christian Moselm atmopshere. Cabalah came into contact with Christianity. Cabalistic, Talmud texts translated into Spanish.

In 1240 Elhanan b. Yakar of London publishes a commentary on "Sefer Yetzirah", republished in 1966.

In 1263 "Sefer Yetzirah" "Z" Oxford Bodleian Library, 1533 (L) Paper. 'Adina-Baghdad. Published by Lambert. Hebrew compared with National Library in Jerusalem's microfilm proves almost faultless of Sa'adian recension, 300 years later. Published by Lambert in 1891.

In 1268 "Book of Life" ("Sefer Hayyim" attributed to R. Ezra whose commentary on Sefer Yetzirah is now lost) appears with a similar story as ""Sefer Yetzirah"" creating a man with earth as its basic element. It also connects the golem with the influence of the planets. (trans. Gershom, MSS Munich 207, Fol. 10d-11a, and Cambridge, Add 6431, Fol 9a, Wien, 1880, p 169 ("Kabal. Symb," p. 183)

late 13th c. R. Joseph ben Shalom Ashkenazi, wrote in a manuscript (Sassoon 290) a unique recipe for creating a golem including color visualization as part of the techinque ("Golem!" p. 12)

1279-1348 Abner de Burgos Christian apologist and Spanish Christian Cabalist, interpreted his own dreams in a Cabalistic manner as a sign of the truth of Christianity. Talks about the divine names and their pluarity. He wrote sseveral apologetic works in Hebrew under the Christian name Alfonso de Valladolid. "More Zedeq" was used to convert Jews who did not read Hebrew well.

In 1280, Abraham Abulafia, Spanish Kabalist, discussed at length the golem and was interested in the techniques to achieve ecstatic experiences, but not in the creation of a golem, per se. He borrowed the techniques of letter combination from the Ashkenazi Hasidim.

In 1280 "Pugio fidei" written by Spanish Christian Cablaist Pedro Alfonson, Ramon Martin (1230?-1300?). He describes the YHVH, pluarity of the sacred names and attributes also favoring the Christian Trinity. He does not mention any texts, but does use the word Cabala by name and mentions his predecessor Petras Alphonsi.
1286 An anyonmous fragment attributed to Abulafia called "Hayei ha-'Olam Ha-Ba" [Ms Parma in 1390, Italy] describes who to create a creature ["livro' beriyah"] attributed to Abulafia? [Ms Paris 763, copied in 1286, six years after the composition of "Hayei' Olam Ha-Ba" in Italy.] where Abulafia discusses how to create a creature using the 24 circles, vocalization and formation.

14th Century (1300-1399AD)

"Sefer Yetzirah" recension "G" British Museum (Cat, Margoliouth) 752 (5), foll 79b-81a. Vellum. Franco-German square writing. Donnolo long recnesion of 913AD. Full of mistakes, corrupt reading, but preserves some old and important readings. Also another text at the beginning of the codex. Mistakes not re ed in Gruenwald.

"Sefer Yetzirah" "L" Paris 802 (4), foll 57b-59b. Vellum. Italian writing. Short versions, Tamim (9thc)

"Sefer Yetzirah" "M" Paris 726 (2), foll. 44b-46b. Vellum. Spanish writing of short recension, Tamim.

A comprehensive commentary on "Sefer Yezirah" was written by R. Joseph b. Shalom Ashkenazi, in Spain. But it was erroneously attriibuted to R. Abraham b. David (Scholem, "Kabalah" p. 29).

1316/17 "Sefer Yetzirah" "I" Parma De Rossi, 1390, foll. 36b-38b. Italian writing.

In 1325 R. Jacob ben Shalom, who came to Barcelona from Germany, said the law of destruction is nothing more than a reversal of the law of creation.

In 1331 commentary on "Sefer Yezirah" by Meir b. Solomon ibn Sahula (Rome, Angelica library, Ms. Or. 45).

1332-78 The rite of enchantment of the Egyptians are similar: historian Ibn Khaldun describes an enchantment he saw performed in Moslem Egypt. "We saw with our eyes one of these magicians fashion the image of the person he desired to bewitch."

c. 1350 The whole passage of Jeremiah and Ben Sira is copied in the Kabbalistic book "Peli'ah", but one changed is made. The phrase "YHWH Elohim Emeth" is crossed out leaving the word emeth, cf. ed Koretz, 1786, 36a.

c.1365 Moroccan philosopher Judah ben Nissim ibn Malka in his Arabic commentary on "Sefer Yetsirah" that students of the book were given a magical mansucript named "Sefer Raziel" and consisting of seals, magical figures, secret names, and incantations (Gershom, Kabbalah, 177 George Vajda , Juda ben... , philosophe juif maroacian, Paris, 1954, p171.)

1365-1393 "Sefer Yetzirah" "L" Paris 764 (1), foll. 1a-3a. Paper, written in Spanish (N. Africa) (Gruenwald, 136)

1390 "Sefer Yetzirah" "K" Parma De Rossi, foll 36b-38b. Italy, 1316/7. short version of Tamin (from 9thc)

1391 Laventian Codex 14 fol. 79 verso-100 recto (Florence, medici collection, catalogue Plutoeo44). This Ms. version of "Sefer Hohkmah" by Donollo.

15th Century (1400-1499AD)

During the 15th and 16th centuries, German Ashkenaski Hasidic scholars further devloped the Golem legends. An interest in the Golem among both Jewish and Christian authors began to develop during the Renaissance, especially in Italy where Jewish cultures developed in the 15th and 16th centuries after the expulsion from Spain. Before the Expulsion, Kabalists introduced the concept of the Golem as a way to demonstrate their superiority over Greek science and philosophy. (idel, "Golem" p 165).

In the late 15th century, recipes for creating golems were collected in N. Italy, translated into Latin, and entered into the Christian Kabalah. By the end of the 15th century, Lodoico Lazzarelli, a Christian Kabbalist, described the creation of a golem.
After the 15th c. the legends began to become more widespread among non-Jews. Goethe's "Sorcerer's Apprentice" was developed from this legend.

1405 circa, Moses Botarel wrote a commentary about "Sefer Yezirah" citing false quotations among his predecessors.

1433 or later, "Sefer Yetzirah" "N" British Museum 600 (l) foll 2a-3b. Paper. Greece (?) Short recension of Tamim (end of 9th c), 500 years later.

1486-1535 Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim, acquainted with the Jewish creation of a Golem. He writes: "But who can give soul to an image, life to stone, metal, wood or wax? And who can make children of Abraham come out of stones (hzv, carve from a stone)?" ("De Occulta Philosophia" II, ch. 50).

15th c. "Sefer Yetzirah" "P" Cincinnati 523. No pagination. Spanish character. short recension of Tamim. 1400ad

15th c. "Sefer Yetzirah" "Tz" British Museum, Gaster 415, foll. 29a-32a. Spanish writing. Short recension of Tamim.

late 15th c., Italy. "Sefer Yetzirah" recension "D" Firenze Mediceo-Laurentiana Pluteo II codex V (8), foll. 227a-229b, long recension of Donnalo (913)

late 15th or beginning 16th c. "Sefer Yetzirah" "Q" Moscow Ginzburg collection 133, foll. 198a-199a. Germany, uses both Tamim and Se'adian versions.

Next: 1600-1899AD


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"Sefer Yetzirah"

"The Book of Formation" or "The Book of Creation"

By Aryeh Kaplan

The authoritative English text on the study of the "Sefer Yetzirah" or Book of Formantion (Book of Creation). Kaplan's explanations are easy to understand and make sense. A must have manual for anyone ready to decifer this ancient manuscript.

• Paperback: 398 pages
• Publisher: Weiser Books; Rev Sub edition (May 1997)
• Language: English

Book of Formation
or Sepher Yetzirah: Attributed to Rabbi Akiba Ben Joseph

Author: Knut Stenring

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Sefer Yesirah (Yezirah) en espanol (in Spanish)

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Author: Phineas Mordell

Robert Zucker's "Spirit of Kabbalah (Qabalah)" copyright 1976Kabbalah Index

My Top Choice Sefer Yetzirah Books

These are the most popular, and available, books on Sefer Yetzirah. Although other editions have been printed by other authors, it is getting harder to find them.

The authoritative text on the study of the "Sefer Yetzirah" or Book of Formantion (Book of Creation). Kaplan's explanations are easy to understand and make sense. A must have manual for anyone ready to decifer this ancient manuscript.
• Paperback: 398 pages
• Publisher: Weiser Books; Rev Sub edition (May 1997)
• Language: English

Book of Formation or Sepher Yetzirah: Attributed to Rabbi Akiba Ben Joseph

by R. A. Gilbert (Foreword),
Arthur Edward Waite (Editor, Introduction),
sKnut Stenring (Translator)

Stenring has made a word-for-word translation from several texts, choosing only those parts which he believed to be authentic. He reveals the text’s secrets in his diagrams, tables, and extensive notes. His "Master Key to the Theoretical and Practical Kabala" is a diagram of the correspondences between the English and Hebrew alphabets and is not found in other translations of the Sepher Yetzirah. Also unique in this translation is Stenring’s assignment of certain tarot cards to the paths on the Tree of Life. Several authors have done this before, but Stenring asserts that he arrived at his correspondences on his own. The introduction by Waite surveys the historical background of the Sepher Yetzirah translations and the import of this foundational Kabbalistic text.

About the Author
R. A. Gilbert's foreword provides background information on Waite's interest and involvement with Stenring's translation.
Knut Stenring was a Swedish Hebrew scholar. He published this work in 1923.

A selection from INTRODUCTION: The "Sepher Yetzirah," or "Book of Formation," is perhaps the oldest Rabbinical treatise of Kabalistic philosophy which is still extant. The great interest which has been evinced of 1ate years in the Hebrew Kabalah, and the modes of thought and doctrine allied to it, has induced me to translate this tractate from the original Hebrew texts, and to collate with them the Latin versions of mediaeval authorities; and I have also published An Introduction to the Kabalah which may be found useful to students. Three important books of the "Zohar," or "Book of Splendour," which is a great storehouse of Kabalistic teaching, have been translated into English by S. L. MacGregor Mathers, and the "Sepher Yetzirah" in an English translation is almost a necessary companion to these abstruse disquisitions: the two books indeed mutually explain each other.

Sepher Yetzirah (Paperback: 48 pages)
Publisher: Kessinger Publishing (December 30, 2005)
Language: English

Sepher Yetzirah (Kindle) (Format: Kindle Edition)
File Size: 226 KB
Print Length: 112 pages
Publisher: Oak Grove (March 20, 2008)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services

The Sepher Yetzirah
or Book of Creation

by Charles F. Horne (Editor)

Paperback: 48 pages
Publisher: Kessinger Publishing (December 30, 2005)
Language: English

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