on 1 September 1999
I originally bought this book for its excellent chapter onreincarnation (gilgul), while researching my own book, "Jewish Tales of Reincarnation" (Jason Aronson, 1999.) And indeed, Scholem's book is well worth the price for this chapter alone.
But in addition, I was pleasantly surprised to find that "Godhead" was not only clear and readable about reincarnation, it also explained basic concepts like the astral body, the Tzaddik, Shekhinah, soul groups, reincarnation, etc. more openly than in any of his better-known works.
While Scholem had mentioned the existence of Jewish reincarnation teachings in such works as "Kabbalah" and "Sabbetai Zevi," it was only in passing, and he did not go into any depth there about how reincarnation works, or how central it is to the kabbalistic understanding of the universe. In "Godhead," he does.
In the chapter on "The Righteous One" (Tzaddik), he also explains the Jewish equivalent of "soul groups," i.e., how souls are connected to a particular Tzaddik (holy teacher), who, in turn, is connected to a higher soul group that is, in turn, connected to the mystical "body" of Adam Kadmon, the archetypal soul of all humanity. This is, of course, a central concept within Hasidism, which draws many of its teachings from kabbalah..
The accessibility of this book is also due to the excellent translation by Joachim Neugroschel, who uses more "new age" English terms, such as correctly translating "tselem" as "astral body" instead of "image," which makes the book and its concepts accessible to modern readers. But the difference between this and earlier Scholem works goes beyond that. As Joseph Dan explains in the introduction to "Godhead," many of Scholem's first lectures focused on the problems mystics encountered within mainstream Judaism. So, for example, in "On The Kabbalah and its Symbolism," a great deal of space is devoted to discussing theological conflicts between kabbalists and mainstream Judaism as to how they understood the Torah, etc.. (I found myself wondering if this focus in his early works was partly due to Scholem's own struggle to see his field accepted in the world of academe.)
In "Godhead," however, we read a series of lectures where Scholem has moved beyond the apologetics, to present us with basic concepts of kabbalah in a confident, straightforward manner. The same level of careful academic scholarship is there, to be sure, but the focus is not on convincing us that kabbalah is something worth studying. Rather, it is on helping us to understand how our souls were created, how they reincarnate, and how they complete their "tikkun" (soul repair), within a Jewish context.
This book immediately became my favorite among the Scholem books, and I highly recommend it to any serious student of reincarnation studies or kabbalah. I find myself returning to it again and again.