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A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

B

Bahir or Sefer Ha-Bahir סֵפֶר הַבָּהִיר (Hebrew, "Book of the Brightness") is an anonymous mystical work, attributed pseudepigraphically to a first century rabbinic sage Nehunya ben ha-Kanah (a contemporary of Yochanan ben Zakai) because it begins with the words, "R. Nehunya Ben Ha-Kanah said". It is also known as Midrash of Rabbi Nehunya Ben Ha-Kanah מִדְרָשׁ רַבִּי נְחוּנְיָא בֶּן הַקָּנָה.

It was first published in the 12th century, southern France. Historians suspect Rabbi Yitzhak Saggi Nehor, also known as Isaac the Blind, wrote it at that time. An important problem in this ascription is that "eyn sof" ("that which is without end") as a term naming God does not occur in the Bahir though it does in the works of Isaac the Blind.

It is an early work of esoteric Jewish mysticism which eventually became known as Kabbalah.

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Kabbalists ascribed authorship of the Bahir to R. Nehunya, a rabbi of the Mishnaic era, who lived around 100 CE. Medieval Kabbalists write that the Bahir did not come down to them as a unified book, but rather in pieces found in scattered scrolls and booklets. The scattered and broken nature of the Bahir's text, which sometimes ends discussion in mid-sentence, and which often randomly jumps from topic to topic, supports this tradition.

The historical critical study of this book points to a later date of composition. For some time scholars believed that it was written in the thirteenth century by Isaac the Blind, or by those in his school. The first sentence, "And now men see not the light which is bright in the skies" (Job 37:21), being isolated, and having no connection with what follows, was taken to be an allusion to the blindness of its author. However, modern scholars of Kabbalah now hold that at least part of the Bahir was an adaptation of an older work, the Sefer Raza Rabba. This older book is mentioned in some of the works of the Geonim; however no complete copies of Sefer Raza Rabba are still in existence. However, quotes from this book can still be found in some older works.

Many scholars of Kabbalah hold that the Bahir adds gnostic elements to the older work. The question of how much gnosticism has influenced Kabbalah is one of the major themes of modern-day research on Kabbalah, see the works of Gershom Scholem and Moshe Idel for more information.

There is a striking affinity between the symbolism of Sefer ha-Bahir, on the one hand, and the speculations of the Gnostics, and the theory of the "aeons," on the other. The fundamental problem in the study of the book is: is this affinity based on an as yet unknown historical link between the gnosticism of the mishnaic and talmudic era and the sources from which the material in Sefer ha-Bahir is derived? Or should it possibly be seen as a purely psychological phenomenon, i.e., as a spontaneous upsurge from the depths of the soul's imagination, without any historical continuity?
"Bahir", Encyclopedia Judaica, Keter Publishing

History

Kabbalists believe that oral tradition of The Bahir goes to 1st century AD. It is possible that some secret manuscripts existed before publication in the 12th century.
c. 1174 - The Bahir was published by the Provence school of Kabbalists and was circulated to a limited audience in manuscipt form.

  • 1331 - Earliest commentary on The Bahir is written by Rabbi Meir ben Shalom Abi-Sahula, a disciple of Rabbi Shlomo ben Avraham Aderet (Rashba), and it is published anonymously under the title Or HaGanuz.
    End of 15th century - The Bahir is translated into Latin by Flavius Mitridates but this translation is wordy and not useful.
  • 1651 - The Bahir is published in Amsterdam together with Mayin HaChakhmah in printed form.
  • 1706 - The Bahir is published in Berlin together with Mayin HaChakhmah.
  • 1784 - The Bahir is published in Sklav and Koretz.
  • 1800 - The Bahir is published in Lvov.
  • 1830 - The Bahir is published in Lvov.
  • 1849 - The Bahir is publishe in unknown place as part of Chamishah Chumshey Kabbalah.
  • 1865 - The Bahir is published in Lvov.
  • 1883 - The Bahir is published in Vilna.
    1913 - The Bahir is published in Vilna.
  • 1923 - German translation is published by Gershom Scholem.
  • 1951 - The Bahir is published in Jerusalem.
  • 1979 - English translation is published.