Coming soon: next month marks both the publication of The Zohar: Pritzker Edition, Volume Six (Stanford University Press and the Zohar Education Project, Inc., $55.00) and the midpoint of a monumental project: the authoritative new English translation of the masterpiece of the Jewish mystical tradition. The 12-volume Zohar: Pritzker Edition, translation and commentary by Daniel C. Matt, is based on a newly constructed critical text—the only modern text that draws on many variants in the early Aramaic manuscripts—and brings a hidden treasure of Western Culture to lay readers, spiritual seekers, scholars and the Jewish community.
Sefer ha-Zohar (The Book of Radiance) has amazed and overwhelmed readers ever since it emerged in medieval Spain toward the end of the thirteenth century. Written in a unique, lyrical Aramaic, this masterpiece of Kabbalah exceeds the dimensions of a normal book; it is virtually a body of literature, comprising over twenty discrete sections. The bulk of the Zohar consists of a fascinating mystical commentary on the Torah, from Genesis through Deuteronomy. In it a group of rabbis wander the hills of Galilee, discovering and sharing secrets of Torah, interpreting the actions of biblical figures while encountering various astonishing characters.
This sixth volume of The Zohar: Pritzker Edition completes the Zohar's commentary on the book of Exodus. Some of the volume focuses on the Dwelling (or mishkan) built by Moses and the Israelites in the Sinai Desert. The mishkan symbolizes Shekhinah, the feminine presence of God who "dwells" on earth. The construction of the mishkan is intended to ensure Her intimacy with the people—and especially with Moses, who is actually called Her husband.
The dramatic episode of the Golden Calf receives special treatment. The worship of the calf is seen as a rejection of Shekhinah. Normally, She would have restrained the wrath of God's masculine aspect and prevented Him from striking Israel; but having been rejected, She instead departed, leaving the people vulnerable. Whereupon the blessed Holy One hinted to Moses that it was up to him to defend Israel from divine destruction. By invoking the three patriarchs, Moses pinned God's arms, as it were, and immobilized Him, saving his people.
Translating this keystone of Kabbalah presented enormous challenges for Daniel C. Matt, who is one of the world’s foremost authorities on Jewish mysticism. Not only was there no complete, reliable manuscript of the Zohar in the original Aramaic in existence anywhere in the world, but in all likelihood, none ever existed. Though the precise history of the Zohar is still shrouded in mystery, it is known to have originally circulated in fragments as a series of pamphlets or notebooks. Moses ben Shem Tov de Leon is thought to be the main creative force behind the Zohar, writing much of it himself, perhaps parts in collaboration with other Kabbalists. No complete Zohar existed until the middle of the 16th century, nearly 300 years later, when the booklets were gathered and printed as a single work in Italy. Unfortunately, the editors of the printed versions of the Zohar often rejected or revised original readings in the earlier handwritten manuscripts.
To prepare his translation, Daniel Matt had to pore over surviving Aramaic manuscripts and compare variant readings. He has sought to restore both the content and lyrical flavor of the original, and has scraped away centuries of scribal errors and editorial doctoring of the text. As the reviews for the first two volumes indicate, Daniel Matt has produced the most authoritative translation we have ever had of the Zohar—a literal yet poetic rendering that is worthy of this mystical masterpiece.
Features that distinguish THE ZOHAR: PRITZKER EDITION:
• The first English translation of the Zohar by a recognized academic scholar.
• The only modern edition that goes directly to the source, unearthing many of the major surviving manuscripts in the original language. Working with these, Daniel Matt was able to produce, in addition to the translation and commentary, the first modern critical, authoritative Aramaic text of the Zohar (available here).
• It restores the sacred passion of the original, much of which was censored out by the genteel prose of the old English translation. A luxuriant garden of holy eros, the Zohar overflows with love between the souls of Israel and Shekhinah (God’s lovely bride), and especially between the male and female aspects of God.
• It is faithful to the literal content of the Zohar yet true to the lush imagery and colorful poetic voice of the original.
• It provides a running commentary side by side with the text that makes the mysteries of the Zohar accessible to the reader. The old English translation composed in the 1930s offers no running commentary, leaving the reader without any help in penetrating the Zohar’s unique terminology, multiple meanings, cryptic connotations, and esoteric symbolism.
• It corrects misunderstandings of the text, restoring terms and even entire sections that were omitted from the old English translation because they were unfamiliar or difficult.
About Daniel C. Matt
Daniel C. Matt is a leading authority on Jewish mysticism. For over twenty years, he served as Professor of Jewish Spirituality at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. He has also taught at Stanford University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has published numerous books, including The Essential Kabbalah; Zohar: The Book of Enlightenment; Zohar: Annotated and Explained; and God and the Big Bang: Discovering Harmony between Science and Spirituality. Matt spent the years 1998-2002 in Jerusalem working on this translation and currently lives in Berkeley, California.
THE ZOHAR: PRITZKER EDITION
Translation and Commentary by Daniel C. Matt
Volume One: 536 pages - $49.95 - ISBN 0-8047-4747-4
Volume Two: 496 pages - $49.95 - ISBN: 0-8047-4868-3
Volume Three: 600 pages - $49.95 - ISBN: 0-8047-5210-7
Volume Four: 592 pages - $55.00 – ISBN: 0-8047-5712-7
Volume Five: 656 pages - $55.00 – ISBN: 0-8047-6219-8
Volume Six: 472 pages - $55.00 – ISBN: 0-8047-7663-6
See also: A Guide to the Zohar, by Arthur Green, $17.95 – ISBN: 0-8047-4908-6
The projected Volumes VII-IX will complete the Zohar's main commentary on the Torah. Volumes X-XII will include the Zohar's commentary on various other books of the Bible (such as Ruth and Song of Songs) as well as several independent compositions.