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Solov'ev's Androgynous Sophia and the Jewish Kabbalah

  • Judith Deutsch Kornblatt (a1)


The revival of Russian Orthodoxy at the turn of the century coincided with a wave of anti- Semitism, and many Russian intellectuals of the time, following Vladimir Solov'ev, understood the defense of the Jews as their Christian duty. For Solov'ev, however, interest in the Jews went beyond ethical considerations and ran deeper through his philosophy than even his Utopian vision of a theocracy based on Hebrew Scriptures. Indeed, the expression of what may be Solov'ev's central concept–the Divine Sophia–achieved clarity through his selective reading of the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah. The argument that follows does not seek to prove influence, for Solov'ev approached the study of Kabbalah with well-formed philosophical convictions. Rather, Solov'ev's fascination with Jewish mysticism arises from affinity and recognition, as the Russian theologian sought a vocabulary with which to explain his own mystical intuitions.



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A shorter version of this article was first presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, Chicago, 1989.

1. La Russie et I'eglise universelle (Paris: Librairie Nouvelle Parisienne, 1889). Translated in 1911 by Rachinskii, G. A., this work was included in Sobranie Sochinenii Vladimira Sergeevicha Solov'eva, 12 vols. (Brussels: Zhizn’ s Bogom, 1969) 11: 139348 . Unless otherwise stated, all quotations from Solov'ev will be from this edition and will be indicated in the text in parenthesis.

2. Gintsburg, David, “Kabbala, misticheskaia filosofiia evreev,” Voprosy filosofii i psikhologii 33 (1896): 279300 . The introduction alone is reprinted in the Brussels edition of Solov'ev (12: 332-334). The encyclopedia article is found in 10: 339-343.

3. Luk'ianov, S. M., O Vladimire Solov'eve v ego molodye gody: materialy k biografii, 3 vols. (Petrograd: Gosudarstvennaia, 1916-1921) 3: 64 . Drawing heavily on Luk'ianov, Sergei Solov'ev describes his uncle's stay abroad in Solov'ev, S. M., Zhizn’ i tvorcheskaia evoliutsiia Vladimira Solov'eva (Brussels: Zhizn’ sBogom, 1977), 114152 .

4. Hebrew was taught in the seminary, and the seminary library contained books on Jewish as well as other medieval mysticisms. Furthermore, Solov'ev probably had read Eliphas Levi, a major source on esotericism in general, including references to Kabbalah. Interest in and translation of Jewish texts was high during the reign of Alexander II (see Rizhskii, Nikolai, Istoriia perevoda Biblii v Rossii [Novosibirsk: Nauka, 1978], 155–170, esp. 158164 ) and mystical societies proliferated.

5. Ianzhul, I. I., “Vospominaniia 1.1. Ianzhula o perezhitom i vidennom,” Russkaia starina 141 (1910): 481482 .

6. de Vogue, E. M., “Un docteur russe Vladimir Solovief,” Sous I'horizon: Hommes et choses d'hier, 2nd ed. (Paris, 1905), 1525 ; this article is reproduced in Nikiforaki, A, “Inostranets o russkom,” Russkoe Obozrenie 1 (1901): 117123 and also cited in Luk'ianov, “Vospominaniia,” 260.

7. Solov'ev, Vladimir, Stikhotvoreniia i shutochnye p'esy, Biblioteka poeta series (Leningrad: Sovetskiipisatel, 1974), 61 . See also the description of his visions of Sophia in “Tri svidaniia,” ibid., 125-132.

8. The prayer was discovered by S. M. Solov'ev and first published by him in “Ideia tserkvi v poezii Vladimira Solov'eva,” Bogoslovskii vestnik (January 1915), 74. Sergei Bulgakov reprinted it in “Vladimir Solov'ev i Anna Shmidt,” Tikhie Dumy (Moscow: Leman i Sakharov, 1918), 74, and argues, I believe incorrectly, that the prayer was copied from a Gnostic text, perhaps found by Solov'ev in the British Museum. The text may be found in the Brussels edition (12: 148-149).

9. This second line was not printed in S. M. Solov'ev's first publication of the prayer but was added in the sixth edition of Solov'ev's poetry. See commentary by Luk'ianov, “Vospominaniia,” 146.

10. La Sophia et les autre Merits francais, ed. Francois Rouleau (Lausanne: La Cit-L'Age d'Homme, 1978), 18, 79 (the article “Sophie” is not included in the Brussels edition). The reference to Kabbalah in this invocation has been recognized by Luk'ianov, “Vospominaniia,” 146, and by subsequent scholars, including Dmitrii Stremooukhoff, but has never been fully analyzed. For references to Solov'ev's use of Kabbalah, see Stremooukhoff, Dmitrii, Vladimir Soloviev and His Messianic Work, trans. Meyendorff, Elizabeth, ed. Guilbeau, Phillip and MacGregor, Heather Elise (Belmont, Mass.: Norland, 1980), 5051, 83, 201-204, 306-307, 343n, 365n; Losev, A. F., VI. Solov'ev (Moscow: Mysl', 1983), 6777 ; and Klum, Edith, Natur, Kunst undLiebe in derPhilosophic VladimirSolov'evs: Eine religionsphilosophische Untersuchung (Munich: Sagner, 1965), 20, 32, 255257 .

11. Gershom G. Scholem is the foremost scholar of Kabbalah: See Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (New York: Schocken, 1954); Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1960); On Kabbalah and its Symbolism (New York: Schocken, 1965); and Kabbalah (New York: Dorset, 1974), among others. Moshe Idel, who has specifically studied gender and eroticism in Kabbalah, recently challenged some of Scholem's assumptions in Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988). For a very readable introduction to Kabbalah, see Lawrence Fine, “Kabbalistic Texts,” in Back to the Sources: Reading the Classic Jewish Texts, ed. Barry W. Holtz (New York: Summit, 1984). I would like to express my thanks to Daniel Matt for his assistance in the study of Kabbalah.

12. This house with seven pillars from Proverbs opens Solov'ev's Sophianic poem that begins: “U tsaritsy moei est’ vysokii dvorets, / O semi on stolbakh zolotykh” (Stikhotvoreniia, 62). Solov'ev wrote the poem during his stay in Egypt. Other speculations on Wisdom appear in Job 28: 12-28, and a series of apocryphal books, including the Slavonic book of Enoch. See Scholem, Gershom, “Schechina; das passivweibliche Moment in der Gottheit,” Von der mystischen Gestalt der Gottheit: Studien zu Grundbegriffen der Kabbala (Frankfurt a.R.: Suhrkamp, 1977), 135140 ; and Patai, Raphael, The Hebrew Goddess (New York: KTAV, 1967), 139 .

13. The sefirot in descending order are Keter (crown), Hokhmah (wisdom), Binah (understanding), Gedulah or Hesed (kindness), Gevurah or Din (harsh judgment), Tiferet (beauty), Netsah (triumph), Hod (glory), Yesod (foundation), and Malkhut or Shekhinah (kindgom or indwelling of God).

14. Stremooukhoff, Soloviev and His Messianic Work, 343, convincingly speculates that the book in question is Christian Knorr von Rosenroth, Kabbala denudata 1 (Sulzbach: Lichtenthaler, 1677) and 2 (Frankfurt: Zunneri, 1684).

15. Later Lurianic Kabbalah refers to this process as a contraction into Itself. Although the Zohar rarely uses the names of the sefirot, the terms it chooses for the ten manifestations of God correspond to the traditional ones, and medieval commentators on the Zohar inserted them with no difficulty. For a table of correspondence, see The Zohar, trans. Harry Sperling and Maurice Simon, 5 vols. (London: Soncino, 1984) 1: 385.

16. A similarity might be noted between Solov'ev and Kabbalah, for neither postulate a female mystic. Scholem writes, “one final observation should be made on the general character of Kabbalism as distinct from other, non-Jewish, forms of mysticism. Both historically and metaphysically it is a masculine doctrine, made for men and by men,” Scholem, Major Trends, 37.

17. “The emphasis placed on the female principle in the symbolism of the last Sefirah heightens the mythical language of these descriptions. Appearing from above as ‘the end of thought, ’ the last Sefirah is for man the door or gate through which he can begin the ascent up the ladder of perception of the Divine Mystery,” Scholem, Kabbalah, 112.

18. Idel, Moshe, “Metaphores et pratiques sexuelles dans la Cabale,” in Lettre sur la Saintete: Le Secret de la relation entre I'homme et lafemme dans la Cabale, trans. Mopsik, Charles (Paris: Verdier, 1986), 336–338, 344, 347.

19. “Thus, man is conceived of as an active factor able to interact with the dynamic Divinity. Kabbalistic anthropology and theosophy, then, are both similar and complementary perceptions,” Idel, New Per-‘ spectives, 166.

20. See Dan, Joseph, Gershom Scholem and the Mystical Dimension of Jewish History (New York: New York University, 1987), 221 . Solov'ev claims: “[The Jews] alone understood true redemption … in the sanctification and renaissance of the entire human essence and all of its being by the way of living moral and religious activism, in faith and deeds, in prayer, in work and charity” (11: 322).

21. For an analysis of Solov'ev's attitude toward eastern mysticism, see Sutton, Jonathan, The Religious Philosophy of Vladimir Solovyov: Towards a Reassessment (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988), 161178 . Samuel D. Cioran argues for the influence of Gnosticism in Vladimir Solov'ev and the Knighthood of the Divine Sophia (Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1977), 17-21. The late Donald C. Gillis began a project on “Gnosis and Cabala in the Early Works of Vladimir Solov'ev,” and I am thankful for the use of his short unpublished manuscript. Valentinian Gnosticism includes an “upper” and “lower” Sophia that probably influenced Solov'ev's own sometimes dual Sophia, but unlike Solov'ev's, the Valentinian Sophia always remained a troublemaker in the created world. See Jonas, Hans, The Gnostic Religion: The Message of the Alien God and the Beginnings of Christianity, 2nd ed. (Boston: Beacon, 1962), 176199 . On Boehme and Kabbalah, see Scholem, Major Trends, 237-238.

22. Solov'ev never married but might have agreed with the Kabbalist: “The mystery of sex … has a terribly deep significance. This mystery of human existence is for him nothing but a symbol of the love between the divine T and the divine ‘You, ’ the Holy one, blessed be He and His Shekhinah… . In God there is a union of the active and the passive, procreation and conception, from which all mundane life and bliss are derived” (Scholem, Major Trends, 227).

23. See also “Smysl liubvi,” 7: 45.

24. See, for example, Solov'ev's introduction to the third edition of his poetry, reprinted in Stikhotvoreniia i shutochnye p'esy (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 1968), xii-xiii and “Tvorenie Platona” (12: 391): “Eros is not a god, but something divine, halfway between eternal and mortal nature, a powerful demon who unites heaven and earth.” See also my manuscript, “The Transfiguration of Plato in the Erotic Philosophy of VI. Solov'ev” (forthcoming). On Philo see Wayne Meeks, A, “The Image of the Androgyne: Some Uses of a Symbol in Earliest Christianity,” History of Religions 13 (1973): 176 , and Baer, Richard A. Jr., Philo's Use of the Categories Male and Female (Leiden: Brill, 1970), 4044 .

25. Zohar: The Book of Enlightenment, trans. Daniel Chanan Matt, preface by Arthur Green (New York: Paulist Press, 1983), 55-56. Scholem considers the introduction of a female aspect of God, in Shekhinah, “one of the most important and lasting innovations of Kabbalism” (Scholem, Major Trends, 229).

26. See Scholem, Kabbalah, 98, 101. Solov'ev, “Sophie,” 79 n. 2.

27. Reshit is actually a noun in the possessive form, and has caused biblical scholars difficulty since at least the Tahnudic period. Perhaps it should be translated “In the beginning of,” so that the first line of Genesis would read “In the beginning of the creation of heaven and earth … ,” a translation that raises serious questions about the doctrine of creation ex nihilo.

28. Compare Losev, Solov'ev, 73.

29. The system of sefirot, made even more elaborate in Lurianic Kabbalah, was collapsed in Hasidism, so that Hokhmah was easily equated with Shekhinah. See Green, Arthur, trans., Menahem Nahum: Upright Practices, The Light of the Eyes (New York: Paulist Press, 1982), 13 .

30. Scholem, “Schechina,” 140-141.

31. Shekhinah is formed from the Hebrew root ShKhN, meaning to dwell, as in the Mishkan, the sanctuary in which God dwells when among men. Only in the Targum Onkelos, an Aramaic paraphrase of the Bible, did Shekhinah begin to suggest a separate being. Where Exod. 25: 8 states: “Let them make Me a Sanctuary that I may dwell [v'shakhanti] among them,” Targum Onkelos interpolates: “Let them make before Me a Sanctuary mat I may let My Shekhinah dwell among them” (see Patai, Hebrew Goddess, 140-141).

32. This idea differs from neo-Platonism: “Although there is a specific hierarchy in the order of the Sefirot, it is not ontologically determined: all are equally close to their source in the Emanator” (Scholem, Kabbalah, 98, 101).

33. See Idel, “M6taphores et pratiques sexuelles,” 353-354.

Solov'ev's Androgynous Sophia and the Jewish Kabbalah

  • Judith Deutsch Kornblatt (a1)


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