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The Renaissance saw the birth of Christian Kabbalah/Cabala (From the Hebrew קַבָּלָה "reception", often transliterated with a 'C' to distinguish it from Jewish Kabbalah and Hermetic Qabbalah), also spelled Cabbala. Interest grew among some Christian scholars in what they saw to be the mystical aspects of Judaic Kabbalah, which were compatible with Christian theology. Although somewhat obscure, the tradition of Christian Cabala or Catholic Cabala still persists today.
The movement was influenced by a desire to interpret aspects of Christianity even more mystically than current Christian Mystics. Greek Neoplatonic documents came into Europe from Constantinople in the reign of Mehmet II. Neoplatonism had been prevalent in Christian Europe and had entered into Scholasticism since the translation of Greek and Hebrew texts in Spain in the 13th century. The Renaissance trend was a relatively short-lived phenomenon, ending by 1750.
After the 18th century, Kabbalah became blended with European occultism, some of which had a religious basis; but the main thrust of Christian Kabbalah was by then dead. A few attempts have been made to revive it in recent decades, particularly in relation to the Neoplatonism of the first two chapters of the Gospel of John, but it has not entered into mainstream Christianity.
The franciscan Ramon Llull (ca. 1232-1316) was "the first Christian to acknowledge and appreciate Kabbalah as a tool of conversion", though he was "not a Kabbalist, nor was he versed in any particular Kabbalistic approach". Not interested in the possibilities of scholarly Jewish influence, which began later in the Renaissance, his reading of newly emergent Kabbalah was for the possibilities of theological debate with the Jews.
An early expression of Christian Kabbalah was among the Spanish conversos from Judaism, from the late 1200s to the Expulsion from Spain of 1492. These include Abner of Burgos and Pablo de Heredia. Heredia's "Epistle of Secrets" is "the first recognizable work of Christian Kabbalah", and was quoted by Pietro Galatino who influenced Athanasius Kircher. However, Heredia’s Kabbalah consists of quotes from non-existent Kabbalistic works, and distorted or fake quotes from real Kabbalistic sources.
Christian Kabbalah fully arose during the Renaissance as a result of continuing studies of Greek texts and translations by Christian Hebraists. The invention of the printing press also played its part in the wider dissemination of texts.
Among the first to promote the knowledge of Kabbalah beyond exclusively Jewish circles was Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494) a student of Marsilio Ficino at his Florentine Academy. His syncretic world-view combined Platonism, Neoplatonism, Aristotelianism, Hermeticism and Kabbalah.
Mirandola's work on Kabbalah was further developed by Athanasius Kircher (1602–1680), a Jesuit priest, hermeticist and polymath; in 1652, Kircher wrote on the subject in Oedipus Aegyptiacus. Though they both worked from within the Christian tradition, both were more interested in the syncretic approach. Their work led directly into Occult and Hermetic Qabalah.
Johann Reuchlin, (1455–1522), was a German humanist and a scholar of Greek and Hebrew. For much of his life, he was the centre of Greek and Hebrew teaching in Germany. Having met with Mirandola in Italy, he later studied Hebrew with a Jewish physician, Jakob ben Jehiel Loans, producing thereafter De Arte Cabbalistica in 1517.
Balthasar Walther, (1558 - before 1630), was a Silesian physician. In 1598-1599, Walther undertook a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in order to learn about the intricacies of the kabbalah and Jewish mysticism from groups in Safed and elsewhere, including amongst the followers of Isaac Luria. Despite his claim to have spent six years in these travels, it appears that he only made several shorter trips. Walther himself did not author any significant works of Christian kabbalah, but maintained a voluminous manuscript collection of magical and kabbalistic works. His significance for the history of Christian Kabbalah is that his ideas and doctrines exercised a profound influence on the works of the German theosopher, Jacob Böhme, in particular Böhme's Forty Questions on the Soul (c.1621).
The following century produced Athanasius Kircher, a German Jesuit priest, scholar and polymath. He wrote extensively on the subject in 1652, bringing further elements such as Orphism and Egyptian mythology to the mix in his work, Oedipus Aegyptiacus. It was illustrated by Kircher's own adaptation of the Tree of Life.
Christian Knorr von Rosenroth, (1631–1689), was a Christian Hebraist who studied Kabbalah, in which he believed to find proofs of the doctrines of Christianity.
Kemper, formerly known as Moses ben Aaron of Cracow, was a convert to Lutheranism from Judaism. During his time at Uppsala, he wrote his three-volume work on the Zohar entitled Matteh Mosche (The Staff of Moses). In it, he attempted to show that the Zohar contained the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.
This belief also drove him to make a literal translation of the Gospel of Matthew into Hebrew and to write a kabbalistic commentary on it.
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