Kabbalah after Joseph: A Legacy Misunderstood
Kabbalistic theosophy was, if nothing else, complex. Different interpretations abounded among Christian Kabbalists removed from the original Kabbalistic foundations of Jewish culture and halakhic observance. We can imagine how easily such ideas might have been misunderstood by a concretely minded Yankee disciple of Joseph Smith. This may help explain a troubling conundrum of early Mormon theology: Brigham Young's assertion that "Adam is God." Brigham claimed that Joseph had taught him this doctrine--although there is no evidence that Joseph ever publicly avowed such a view.147
In Kabbalah the theme is, however, prominent: Adam Kadmon
is indeed "God," and His form is in the image of a Man--as noted earlier. Given the evidence that Joseph did know some elements of Kabbalah and had access both to the Zohar
and to a Jew familiar with a wide range of Kabbalistic materials, it seems probable that Brigham heard this concept in some form from Joseph. The Adam-God doctrine may have been a misreading (or simplistic restatement) by Brigham Young of a Kabbalistic and Hermetic concept relayed to him by the prophet.
More than one element in early Mormon theology suggests that subtle visions could be made grossly concrete. Perhaps the most striking example is sacral nature of marital sexual union and the human potential for multiple sacred marriages, a potential shared in Joseph's time by both women and men. As Bloom noted, in Kabbalah and perhaps in Smith's practice "the function of sanctified human sexual intercourse essentially is theurgical."148
This was an important undertone in the wider circles of Christian occultism, eventually manifest in several occult Masonic societies. How Joseph interacted with this tradition and vision is the single most interesting and important issue awaiting historians of Mormonism. That this was an issue early in his life is witnessed by the need to marry and have Emma with him prior to obtaining the golden plates of the Book of Mormon.149
That the preoccupation persisted throughout his life needs little argument. Ideas of sacred sexuality permeated Kabbalah, Hermeticism, and alchemy, perhaps touching even the mystical vision of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in his overtly Masonic opera, The Magic Flute: "Mann und Weib, Weib und Man; Reichen an die Gottheit an!"
("Man and Woman, Woman and Man, Together they approximate the Divine!").150
By investigating in depth the legacy of ideas and experiences of Kabbalah and Christian occultism, we might begin to understand this perplexing vision shared by the prophet Joseph Smith.
That Kabbalistic ideas persisted among Joseph's disciples is suggested in an intriguing piece of evidence appearing three years after the prophet's martyrdom. To understand this item, a more detailed understanding of Kabbalah as Joseph may have heard it is necessary. Briefly summarized: the most important symbolic representation of the structure of "the Kingdom of God" in Kabbalah was the "Tree of the Sefiroth
" (See Figure 1
.). The Tree was re-drawn by Robert Fludd (an important English Kabbalist and Rosicrucian of the seventeenth century) in a slightly different fashion.151
(See Figure 12
.) In his figure, Fludd uses the allegorical image of a Tree with roots in heaven above and palm-like "branches" at the bottom (in the Sefirah
meaning "Foundation"), extending into the earth. The tree is crowned; the crown representing Kether
(meaning "Crown"), the first Sefirah
and primal god-image. Below this crown, the tree branches into the other nine Sefiroth.
In the Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star
in 1847 an interesting figure appears, titled "A Diagram of the Kingdom of God" (Figure 12).152
The artist and author of this small piece was probably Orson Hyde. Hyde's tree is also crowned, and branches in precisely the fashion of Fludd's tree. The only difference is that the Hyde tree has twenty-two branches. This is a remarkable choice of numbers, as any student of Kabbalah will recognize. In Kabbalah there are two important numerical aspects of the Tree of Sefiroth:
the first is the number ten, the number of Sefiroth,
the second is the number twenty-two, the number of paths between the Sefiroth,
one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Thus Joseph Smith may have conveyed to one his apostles--or Hyde may have independently found compatible with the prophet's teachings--the most essential symbolic element of Kabbalah, the "mystical shape of the Godhead" contained in the image of the Sefiroth
as redrawn by a principal and very influential seventeenth-century Christian Kabbalist, Fludd.
That interest in the subject of Kabbalah and Hermeticism persisted in at least one disciple of Smith's is witnessed by William Clayton. Clayton was Smith's personal secretary and one of his intimate associates during the prophet's last years in Nauvoo.153
Few, if any, individuals had a closer view of Joseph Smith in the Nauvoo period. This may explain Clayton's otherwise unusual interest in Kabbalah and alchemy manifest in his later years. In 1864 someone in Utah loaned Clayton a guidebook of "Cabala," a tract apparently containing several advertisements for esoteric materials relating to "Cabala" and alchemy. As one of Clayton's biographers write, "Though the record is not clear, it may be that . . . he wanted . . . something akin to the so-called Philosopher's Stone of the ancient alchemists--a substance that supposedly enabled the adept, when applied correctly, to transmute metals." Clayton subsequently organized an alchemical society in Salt Lake City, with himself as corresponding secretary, and purchased several mail-order alchemical outfits. The group, which numbered at least twenty-six members, spent months attempting to transmute metals without success before finally abandoning their project.154
Though it appears Clayton was simply duped by a mail-order shyster, his esoteric interests and his faith in them might also be explained by some recollection he harbored about Kabbalah and the prophet in Nauvoo.
Reference : http://www.gnosis.org/jskabb3.htm