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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
It is an early work of esoteric Jewish
mysticism which eventually became known as
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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
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
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
"Bahir", Encyclopedia Judaica, Keter
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
- 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
- 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
- 1923 - German
translation is published by Gershom
- 1951 - The Bahir is
published in Jerusalem.
- 1979 - English
translation is published.