Moses de Leon

acrylic, ink and collage on canvas
40" x 30"
Moses de Leon

Moses de Leon (1250-1305 C.E.) was a Spanish Jew and redactor of the most important Kabbalistic tract of the middle ages, the Zohar. For a period of several medieval centuries, the Zohar ranked with the Bible and the Talmud as one of the canonical Jewish texts. The work itself purported to "rediscover" lore from the second century C.E., though, in fact, the whole 2400 pages was compiled by de Leon himself. His specific influences - well hidden beneath the double-talk, historical allusions and mystical patina of Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai's (c. 150) circle (into whose mouth de Leon had put his novel ideas) - comprised the now familiar basket of medieval spiritual sources, including many Sufi influenced Jews such as Abraham Ibn Ezra, Moses Maimonides, Judah Halevi, Bahya Ibn Pakuda, Solomon Ibn Gabirol, the Sefer Yetzirah and the Sefer Bahir, as well as the Sufis themselves.

Indeed, the epic Sufi scholar, Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi (d. 1240 C.E.) presaged many of the ideas that became central to the Zohar. Specifically, both Ibn Arabi and de Leon:

Used the same poetic style and mystical imagery to limn the spiritual quest.

Considered mystical revelation as superior to all other oral religious tradition.

Continued to develop a system whereby letters and numbers had mystical values.

Believed that dreams offered a window into the shrouded mystery of death - and spiritual realization.

Believed that creation took place from a point or a circle emanating from the Infinite. Herein lay the genesis of the Kabbalistic idea of the Tree of Life.

Considered that stars exerted an influence on human life.

De Leon even went so far as to utilize ideas from some of the most important myths surrounding Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, to expound on the Jewish mystical ideal! Ultimately, the Zohar threaded Sufi inspired ideas into its 2400 pages from a variety of sources, some of them authentically Islamic, and others via Sufi-inspired Jews. By the time of de Leon's writing, Sufism had become so endemic to Jewish mysticism, and the burgeoning Kabbalistic system, that it would be impossible to continue developing the new Jewish spiritual path without touching on Sufi precursors. But far from simply accepting Sufi ideas, Moses de Leon seems to have been especially drawn to the beautiful manner of Sufi worship, and enthusiastically drew on its precursors