Moses De Leon

Moses de Leon

(ben-Shem-Tob), a Jewish philosopher, poet, and theologian of repute, was born at Leon about 1250, and died at Arevolo, A.D. 1305. He is best known as the author of the Cabalistic book called the Sohar, which he first published and sold as the production of R. Simon b.-Jochai. We do not agree with Etheridge, who states that "the opinion that ascribes it (viz. the Sohar) as a pseudo-fabrication to Moses de Leon in the 13th century has, I imagine, but few believers among the learned on this subject in our own day," for Moses's wife and daughter admitted that he was the author of it, as will be seen from an account of it in the Book Juchassin (pages 88, 89, 95, ed. Filipawski, London, 1857), which Ginsburg (Kabbalah, page 99) gives in the following abridged form: When Isaac of Akko, who escaped the massacre after the capture of this city (A.D. 1291), came to Spain and there saw the Sohar, he was anxious to ascertain whether it was genuine, since it pretended to be a Palestinian production, and he, though born and brought up in the Holy Land, in constant intercourse with the disciples of the celebrated Cabalist, Nachmanides, had never heard a syllable about this marvellous work. Now Moses de Leon, whom he met in Valladolid, declared to him with a most solemn oath that he had at Avila an ancient copy, which was the very autograph of Rabbi Simon ben-Jochai, and offered to submit it to him to be tested. In the mean time, however, Moses de Leon was taken ill on his journey home, and died at Arevolo, A.D. 1305. But two distinguished men of Avila, David Rafen and Joseph de Avila, who were determined to sift the matter, ascertained the falsehood of this story from the widow and daughter of Moses de Leon. Being a rich man, and knowing that Moses de Leon left his family without means, Joseph de Avila promised that if she would give him the original MS. of the Sohar from which her husband made the copies, his son should marry her daughter, and that he would give them a handsome dowry; whereupon the widow and daughter declared that they did not possess any such MS.; that Moses de Leon never had it, but that he composed the Sohar from his own head, and wrote it with his own hand. Moreover, the widow candidly confessed that she had frequently asked her husband why he published the production of his own intellect under another man's name, and that he told her "that if he were to publish it under his own name nobody would buy it, whereas under the name of R. Simon ben-Jochai it yielded him a large revenue." Now this account is confirmed by the fact that the Sohar contains whole passages which Moses de Leon translated into Aramaic from his other works, as the learned Jellinek has clearly proved in his very elaborate and learned essay, Moses ben-Shem-Tob de Leon, und sein Verhaltniss zum Sohar, pages 21-36. Moses de Leon also wrote a book on the soul and its destiny, entitled נֶפֶשׁ הִחָכמָה, i.e., the Soul of Wisdom (Basle, 1608): —the Weight of Wisdom, מַשׁקִל הִחָכמָה, which contains the sayings of various philosophers, which he ably criticises: סֵפֶר הִשֶּׁם, on the ten Sephiroth and the thirty-two ways of Wisdom: — מַשׁכִּן הָעֵדוּת , On Hell and Paradise: — סֵ רַמּוֹן , The Book of Pomegranates, composed in 1287, which is a Cabalistic explanation of the Mosaic precepts. See Furst, Bibl. Judaica, 2:232; De Rossi, Dizionario (Germ. transl.), page 177; Gratz, Gesch. d. Juden (Leips. 1873), 7:216-234; Lindo, Hist. of the Jews in Spain, page 113; Finn, Sephardim, page 303 sq.; Steinschneider, Jewish Literature, page 113; Etheridge, Introd. to Hebr. Literature, pages 276, 314; Ginsburg, The Kabbalah, page 90 sq.; Ueberweg, Hist. of Philosophy (Morris's transl. N.Y. 1872), 1:417; A. Jellinek, Moses ben-Shem-Tob, u.s. Verhaltniss zum Sohar (Leips. 1851); Jost, Gesch. d. Juden. u.s. Sekten, 3:78; Cassel, Leitfaden zur jud.Gesch. u. Literatur (Leips. 1872), page 71. (B.P.)

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