Gershom Scholem was President of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities and a Professor of Jewish mysticism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem until his death in 1982. He wrote the standard collage textbook on Jewish mysticism ('Major Trends...'). He is also the author of 'Origins of the Kabbalah', 'Kabbalah', 'On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism', 'On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead', 'The Messianic Idea in Judaism', and 'Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah'. Every book is a treasure in and of itself. Mr. Scholem put the Kabbalah back on the 20th century map. His studies on the 'Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation)', The Bahir (Bright)', and 'The Zohar (Splendor)' show the brillance of this unique individual.
'Major Trends...' is broken down into nine lectures. He covers everything from the beginings of Jewish mysticism up to modern times. He traces its origen from the Second Temple era, through the apocalyptic/pseudepigrapha period, and right into Jewish gnosticism with the Thrown (merkabah) mysticism. The 'Hekhaloth Books' (hekhaloth: the heavenly halls or palaces the visionary passes through on his way to the seventh heaven where there rises the thrown of divine glory) are well known for the their similarity to standerd gnostic works. The caves around Khirbet Qumran are another (Dead Sea Scrolls). He covers all aspects of this; the 'Song of Songs' and its mystical meaning (it was banned until a man reached 40 years old), the Shi'ur Komah (Measure of the Body of God), and all the magical elements that encompassed this, also theurgy, and so on.
All of this, of course, was several hundred years before the epoch 'Sefer Yezirah' was conceived of. The Jewish nation had to suffer through the loss of their Second Temple, the messianic revival of the infamous Bar Kokhba (the Star of Jacob) and Rebbe Akiva's endorsment of him, the loss of their country to the Romans, the loss of their 'restablished' country under Mar Zutra (in their 'new' capital of Mahoza, near Bagdad) in 502, and so on.
He covers the mystic Abraham Abulafia and his prophetic Kabbalism (and how it broke Kabbalism in two), the Zohar and Moses de Leon, En-Sof (the hidden God), the ten Sefiroth (numbers) and Sefirotic development through the years (from Sefer Yetzirah to the Zohar), also the Shekhinah (the female side of God), Isaac Luria (the Lion) and his students (his Cubs), and the stunning impact the exile from Spain had on the Kabbalah in general.
The last two lectures cover Sabbatai Sevi and the disaster he brought on the Jewish people. He very nearly destroyed Judaism itself for 250 years afterwards. The impact is still felt to this day. He also shows the modern Hasid's (the Ultra-Orthadox Jews) and how the Kabbalah and the Zohar influance their teachings and beliefs. He also shows why regular Orthadox Jews avoid the Kabbalah (calling it Jewish witchcraft) and why they considear the Hasid's to be cultists of a sort (even though the Kabbalah WAS Orthadox Judaism for 300 years before the advent of Sabbatai Sevi - which Mr. Scholem painfully points out).
I have only scrached the surface of the things this book contains. If you can buy one book on Jewish mysticism, this is it. It is well worth the purchase.
Sincerly, Shawn W. Ooten