Research Project


Verbal and Visual Vistas: Differentiating two modes of Prophetic Revelation and Prognostication in Medieval Jewish Mysticism

Michael Miller

This project examines the visual - verbal axis in medieval Jewish mystical approaches to and descriptions of prophecy. This binary is a fundamental one for Jewish thought, and for the exchange of information between God and humans within the Jewish tradition; biblical prophets report visions of God and angels, but God is represented by a Name rather than an image, and the principle revelation is the written Torah. This distinction was much exercised by the medieval European kabbalists, basing their thought on the work of the Arabic philosophers. These two ways in which divinity can manifest to human beings, two methods of revelation, then reveal some crucial differentiation, although it is not clear at this stage whether these are facets of the source (God), the medium (revelation), or the receiver (human consciousness).
It is kabbalistic thinkers such as Abraham Abulafia, Yosef Gikatilla, Moshe de Leon, and the Ashkenazi Hasidim who form the base of this research; the questions I shall answer are whether the verbal and the visual ways of thinking have led to different concepts of prophecy; whether different categories or varieties of prophecy been expected or received via these methods; and where the locus of differentiation into verbal and visual lies - in the human, in God, or in the mechanism of prophecy.

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