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154 SHOFAR Spring 2000 Vol. 18, NO.3 Giordano Bruno and the Kabbalah: Prophets, Magicians, and Rabbis, by Karen Silvia de Leon-Jones. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997. 273 pp. $37.50. There have been many Giordano Brunos over the centuries: the martyr to the cause of science and liberal thinking, the Magus, the Hermeticist, the homosexual, the spy. Karen Silvia de Leon-Jones presents a somewhat new picture by establishing Bruno's knowledge and utilization of the Kabbalah. Leon-Jones considers her book unique because it is the first to fully bring out the kabbalistic elements in Bruno's thinking. She makes the important point that it is only by considering Bruno's "moral dialogues," Lo spaccio della bestia tronfante [The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast] (1584), La cabala del cavallo pegaseo [The Kabbalah of the Pegasean Horse] (1585), and De gli eroci furiori [On the Heroic Frenzies] (1585), as a single unit, and not as separate entities, that an appreciation of the kabbalistic content emerges. She clearly shows that Bruno did have considerable knowledge ofbasic elements ofkabbalistic thought: the concept of Ein sol, the highest and virtually unknowable divine element; the sejirot, the ten emanations of Ein sol, which acted as a link between the divine and natural realms; kabbalistic language theory with its emphasis on the power inherent in the Hebrew alphabet and Hebrew names; and kabbalistic concepts that contributed to Bruno's concept of"asinita," a kind ofleamed ignorance (symbolized by the Ass) that provided the only entree to divine illumination. In emphasizing the kabbalistic elements ofBruno's thought Leon-Jones rejects the view put forward by Frances Yates in Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition that Bruno was a Hermetic magus, whose goal was to proselytize for a revival ofthe ancient Egyptian religion encapsulated in the Corpus Hermeticum. Instead, she sees him as a mystic and Kabbalist who actually practiced Kabbalah: "Nowhere has it been observed that Bruno does not merely 'define' or 'use' the Kabbalah in his writings. Rather, his dialogue Cabala is exactly what its title claims it to be: a work of Kabbalah" (p. 17). This is perhaps to claim too much. While Leon-Jones discusses the various kabbalistic elements of Bruno's philosophy exhaustively and convincingly, she herself admits the syncretistic nature ofBruno's thought and his indebtedness to many different traditions including Hermeticism, Pythagorianism, Neoplatonism, Platonism, and Aristotelianism. Leon-Jones concedes that Bruno did not read Hebrew. Consequently his knowledge of the Kabbalah came through secondary sources (the translations of Ficino, Pico, and Flavius Mithradites and the writings ofAgrippa and Reuchlin). In fact, as Leon-Jones points out, Bruno believed the sources of the Kabbalah lay in the Old Testament; he therefore "does not distinguish much between Kabbalistic texts and biblical ones" (p. 118). It is therefore problematic to think of him as a practicing Kabbalist in his own right rather than as a syncretistic philosopher who borrowed elements of Kabbalah to suit his own purposes. Leon-Jones appears to admit this at the end ofher book when she writes: "Bruno is not a Kabbalist in the strictest sense of the word, but instead the Book Reviews 155 example of Renaissance syncretism at its most extreme: in reality Bruno is Bruno; he proselytizes his own philosophy" (p. 181). While de Leon-Jones certainly makes a case for kabbalistic elements in Bruno, she, like Frances Yates, stresses the mystical and magical side of Bruno's thought at the expense of the progressive scientific aspects that recent Bruno scholarship has increasingly stressed. Hilary Gatti describe this new approach: Some of the most recent work on Bruno shows a marked reaction against such a primary emphasis on his mysticism and magic. His Copemicanism has been reexamined and revalued. His interest in, and knowledge of the scientific enquiries of his times, such as the study of comets, has been underlined. In general, it is precisely where Bruno breaks away from the Neoplatonic magi to establish a new cosmic vision that he is attracting the attention of many scholars today. I This is not to dismiss the importance of interest of Leon-Jones's investigation of the kabbalistic elements in Bruno's philosophy, but...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 154-155
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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