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Heavenly Powers: Unraveling the Secret History of the Kabbalah (1998)

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Heavenly Powers: Unraveling the Secret History of the Kabbalah gives a political history of Jewish mysticism. Neil Asher Silberman says the goal of his book is to describe "how kabbalistic rituals--at least in their initial stages--expressed symbolic yearnings for down-to-earth political ideals, formulated under particular historical conditions, with particular earthly injustices in mind." Silberman argues that Kabbalah inspired concrete economic, religious, and political movements in Babylon during the time of Ezekiel, in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus, in Istanbul at the time of Suleiman the Magnificent, and in Renaissance Venice. His saga sometimes stretches credibility in its aspiration to historical sweep, but he's entitled. A person can get carried away when he or she has discovered a secret, and Neil Asher Silberman, by describing the political effects of Jewish mysticism, has certainly done that. --Michael Joseph Gross

About the author

I was born in Boston and trained in Archaeology in Jerusalem, and I've spent most of my career writing and thinking about the politics and contemporary meanings of archaeological discoveries. After completing a series of books about the history of Archaeology in the Middle East, I teamed up with my good friend and colleague Israel Finkelstein to see what we could accomplish in the re-construction of modern views of biblical history and the ancient societies in which the Hebrew scriptures arose. We hope that our theories stimulate thinking and reflection about the origins of the Judeo-Christian tradition. No less important, they offer an example of the kind of far-reaching archaeological transformation of our conventional view of the past that is now affecting modern understandings of nearly every historical period, in nearly every region of the world.