Pardes: Scholem and Idel

cvThe first known writing on the Pardes technique is in the Sefer Pardes, attributed to Moses de Leon, and dated about 1290. At the time, de Leon claimed to have discovered the text, but scholar Gershom Scholem (19xx) is convincing when he argues that the most likely author of the text was de Leon himself. (De Leon's wife and daughter in fact made this claim after de Leon's death). Another work, known simply as Pardes, by an unknown author, appeared shortly after the Sefer Pardes. These works reflected the interest of a number of Jewish scholars of the mystical tradition (and others) in the perceived levels of meaning in the Torah and other holy texts and commentaries.

The Pardes system was much in favour for a couple of centuries, an interest that reflected a more general cultural and individual desire for deeper understanding, and was written about mostly by Kabbalists. At the same time, similar "levels of meaning" models were developed in Christian and Islamic writings.   At the time of the rise of scientific rationalism, Pardes (and similar models) fell out of favour for a variety of reasons, which this analysis identifies. The link to mystical experience was emphasised as a means of denigrating such systems, and the review of literature clarifies the distinction between the Pardes model, and the way it has at times been employed, sometimes by charlatans, especially since the 16th century (and continuing to the present day).

Pardes was largely left alone by scholars until Gershom Scholem legitimised its study as an academic discipline in his writing on the Kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism. The Kabbalah has strong links to a scientific and psychological understanding of meaning, as evidenced in some recent serious works.1 Pardes, in particular, has been further explored in the writings of modern scholar and (list his uni etc)   Moshe Idel. His work has paved the way for serious academic work on Pardes.

Gershom Scholem and Moshe Idel are giants in...