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De Moor IV:17: The Rabbis on the Attributes of God

After the Nature of God, His Attributes ought to be regarded, so called because they are attributed by us to God: which same things are called Perfections, since they not only remove any Imperfection from God, but also denote in Him positive and real predicates; even if often, from the poverty of our conceptions and vocabulary, they be represented by a negative notion, expressed by a negative word. Those divine Perfections are also pure perfections, which have no mixture of the imperfect, as do those perfections that obtain in creatures; indeed, among creatures To Walk is a perfection, but it denies Omnipresence: to perceive matters most expeditiously, and to penetrate from things known to things unknown, is a great perfection to mortals; but at the same time it denies Omniscience; and so in the rest.

[And the Jews appear chiefly to have had regard to these in their אזילות/Aziloth/Emanations, and ספירות/Sephiroth/Enumerations.] Concerning these Aziloth and Sephiroth of the Jews, see HOTTINGER’S Thesaurum Philologicum, pages 455, 456; HOORNBEECK’S contra Judæos, book IV, chapter I, pages 301-303, in which he evinces that these Sephiroth, as described by the Jews, are falsely and absurdly referred to the divine Perfections: and especially JOHANN CHRISTOPH WOLF’S[1] Bibliothecam Hebraicam, part II, book VII, chapter II, § 7-11, pages 1221-1229, in which according to his accustomed care and diligence he reviews the exceedingly diverse opinions both concerning the word Sephiroth, and especially concerning the thing signified by that.

[That they refer those to the Messiah, solely from the ordering of those in their writing according to the Form of Man, is not at all able to be solidly gathered.] Not at all solidly, says our AUTHOR, because, as he adds in the Dutch Version of his Compendium, even to God considered οὐσιωδῶς/ essentially, the Members of the human Body in a figurative sense are wont not infrequently to be attributed. Nevertheless, this is the opinion of the Most Illustrious VITRINGA,[2] who concerning the Sephiroth of the Kabbalists treats in his Sacrarum Observationum, book I, dissertation II, pages 118-166. He discloses his opinion, which he then attempts to commend at length, chapter II, § 4, 5, pages 133, 134: “What if,” says he, “we should then show that these very Sephiroth are able to be considered as a certain compendium of that Doctrine of Grace! But we seem to be able to obtain this, if we assume this hypothesis, that the Sephiroth of the Kabbalists represents to us the DIVINE PERFECTIONS and VIRTUES, which are especially DEMONSTRATED and ILLUSTRATED in the PERSON and KINGDOM OF THE MESSIAH. Thus in Youthful age we were sometimes amusing ourselves, and appearing to ourselves to have some reasons that at least are able to commend this opinion as probable. 1. In all the printed characters these—the Sephiroth depicted with the same figure—were always meeting me…. For which reason, I, judging, indeed easily judging, this matter not to be without mystery, nor without reason, and considering these more attentively, was observing that these Kabbalistic Sephiroth were clearly distributed according to the figure of a human body: and, since the Prophets, treating of the Kingdom of Messiah, that that Messiah was at length to be made manifest among men as a man, were not infrequently exhibiting Him to us in human appearance; it was appearing probable that they perceived this mystery concering the Messianic King, the God-man, and that some hand this on to others in this symbolic σχήματι/fashion. 2. It was appearing altogether likey to us, comparing this figure of the ספירות/Sephiroth/Enumerations with the Attributes, which are everywhere proclaimed concerning Christ in John’s Apocalypse, that in the Apocalypse itself in the description of the Person of Christ, clothed with a Human Nature, there is a manifest allusion to these Sephiroth. Even now I certainly judge, that I am able to demonstrate this with a great appearance of truth, etc.” Nevertheless, with this modest clause the Most Illustrious VITRINGA concludes his Dissertationem concerning the Sephiroth, chapter IV, § 10, page 166, “In accordance with the present plan and arrangement, let these words suffice to illustrate the Sephirotic table. Let those things be esteemed as an amusement of my Youthful Age, if by stricter geniuses they are not able to be approved as true or probable.”

[1] Johann Christoph Wolf (1683-1739) was a German Lutheran Hebraist and scholar. His Bibliotheca Hebræa (published in four volumes, 1715-1733) was a standard reference work on Jewish literature for more than a century.

[2] Campegius Vitringa Sr. (1659-1722) was a Dutch Reformed theologian and Hebraist. He was a critical Cocceian, and heavily influenced by his pastor, Herman Witsius. He served the university at Franeker, first as professor of Oriental languages (1681), then of Theology (1682) and Church History (1697). He is remembered for his work in Jewish antiquities, and for his commentaries on Isaiah and Revelation.

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