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Heavenly Powers Hardcover – September 8, 1998

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Editorial Reviews Review

Heavenly Powers: Unraveling the Secret History of the Kabbalah gives a political history of Jewish mysticism. Neil Asher Silberman says the goal of his book is to describe "how kabbalistic rituals--at least in their initial stages--expressed symbolic yearnings for down-to-earth political ideals, formulated under particular historical conditions, with particular earthly injustices in mind." Silberman argues that Kabbalah inspired concrete economic, religious, and political movements in Babylon during the time of Ezekiel, in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus, in Istanbul at the time of Suleiman the Magnificent, and in Renaissance Venice. His saga sometimes stretches credibility in its aspiration to historical sweep, but he's entitled. A person can get carried away when he or she has discovered a secret, and Neil Asher Silberman, by describing the political effects of Jewish mysticism, has certainly done that. --Michael Joseph Gross

From Booklist

Kabbalah is hot. Even Madonna is supposedly looking into that most enigmatic of mystical traditions. There are now many how-to books available on the once-secret topic, often with a simplified or New Age slant. Silberman does something that has long been needed. He offers a historical review of Kabbalah's complex history, tracing its origins to the Babylonian diaspora and then following the movement's evolution as it spread through the Roman and Byzantium empires, France, Spain (where it reached dazzling new heights), and eventually on to Eastern Europe and the mystical city of Safed in what is now Israel. Silberman does not just reel off names and events. He manages to put this very complicated topic into a readable framework that encompasses time, place, and ideology. Unfortunately, Silberman chooses not to discuss the methodology of Kabbalah, and he barely speaks about its current incarnation other than to say that, despite being diluted by New Age philosophies, contemporary Kabbalah still contains "some Jewish roots." He is more clear on how Kabbalah is relevant for the modern day: "At the hidden heart of the Jewish mystical tradition lies our shared responsibility of looking beyond surface appearances, and . . . helping restore balance to the world." Ilene Cooper

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 271 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult; First Edition edition (September 8, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039914448X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399144486
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,038,479 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I was born in Boston and trained in Archaeology in Jerusalem, and I've spent most of my career writing and thinking about the politics and contemporary meanings of archaeological discoveries. After completing a series of books about the history of Archaeology in the Middle East, I teamed up with my good friend and colleague Israel Finkelstein to see what we could accomplish in the re-construction of modern views of biblical history and the ancient societies in which the Hebrew scriptures arose. We hope that our theories stimulate thinking and reflection about the origins of the Judeo-Christian tradition. No less important, they offer an example of the kind of far-reaching archaeological transformation of our conventional view of the past that is now affecting modern understandings of nearly every historical period, in nearly every region of the world.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Harold McFarland HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on February 11, 2002
Format: Hardcover
In recent years it seems that most books on the Kabbalah seem to concentrate on the mystical aspects. Especially with it's growing popularity with various New Age movements. Silberman takes a different direction and concentrates on the historical and political factors that influenced the development of the Kabbalah and it's rituals. He takes the reader back to the beginnings or many of the rituals and discussed the political and historical influences of that time and how they worked together to weave a rich tapestry of religious tradition.
He has a remarkable ability to take a complex subject and put it into a readable style as he takes the reader on a journey from the Babylonian empire through the Roman and Byzantine empires, through Europe and to Israel. For the new age reader who is more interested in the rituals and methods of the Kabbalah this will probably not be their favorite book, but for those desiring an understanding of the roots of the religious tradition this is an excellent book with a perspective that others do not offer. A recommended read for any student of history, religion, or political sciences or others who just want to understand such things.
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