Monday, May 14, 2012

How Beautiful Upon the Mountains: Jewish Interpretations of Isaiah 52, Pt. 1

After Sunday School yesterday, I decided it would be interesting to do a series of blog posts on Jewish interpretations of Isaiah 52. Walker Wright has already posted on both the Dead Sea Scrolls and LDS interpretations of the same chapter, so I'm going to refer the reader there rather than going over it again.
The first interpretation I'll discuss is less an interpretation than it is a use of Isa. 52:7. In the Babylonian Talmud there is a long list of various dream symbols and their range of meanings. A word on the psychology of dreams might be helpful. Carl Jung wrote that dream symbols, subliminal aspects of our daily lives, are "the almost invisible roots of our conscious thoughts." As a result, they play a crucial role in the interpretation of dreams. "That is why commonplace objects or ideas can assume such powerful psychic significance in a dream that we may awake seriously disturbed, in spite of having dreamed of nothing worse than a locked room or a missed train." Jung goes on to say that the reason dream symbols are so vivid is due to the dissimilarity between them and our conscious thoughts in which we "restrain ourselves within the limits of rational statements."[1]
Granted, my dream where I approached someone at night and began running past them as soon as I felt something wrong, too late though as a knife flashed in the dark, that dream disturbed me more than I ever was by any door, but Jung does have a point. Things we see in dreams can stand for something deeper. That being said, Trachtenberg, in his classic study of Jewish "magic," pointed out a different approach to dreams. I might as well mention that this approach is still favoured by many people around the world. Not everyone puts stock in Western psychological paradigms.
In the long pre-Freudian centuries, before the mystery of the dream was reduced to all too human terms, when men still listened for the voice of God in the still of the night, dreams played a greater role in shaping ideas and actions and careers than it is easy for us today to believe. If we have come to look upon these nocturnal visions as the products of experience, we have simply reversed the older, though not yet altogether discarded, view which made of them initiators of experience. The supernatural world communicated with man through the dream, and spoke words of counsel and command which he felt impelled to heed.[2]
There were many different approaches to dreams and their sources. Whether they be 1/60th of prophecy, or revelations to the soul in its nightly journey, dreams (though not all) were considered another form of interraction between this world and those beyond it, conveying information impacting the future.
Since unfavorable as well as favorable dreams come true, and the event therefore came to be regarded as the consequence of the dream, it was believed that if one could somehow nullify the dream itself in advance its effects would be obviated.[3]
Using much the same idea behind the Western scientific process, events were observed and the cause deduced from the effect. It seemed to work in many cases.

Once the dream has been experienced, however, other means must be adopted to forestall its consequences.[4]
Nothing, of course, is infallible. Very few people rely solely upon Plan A, without also having Plans B, C, and so on. Jewish dream interpreters had various methods in place for when the dream couldn't be avoided.

Still a third method is to recite, immediately upon waking, a Biblical verse suggested by the dream, which contains a promise of good.[5]
Here, then, is the talmudic passage.

One who dreams of a mountain should arise and recite, "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger of good tidings (Is. 52:7),"  before he is overtaken by another verse, "For the mountains will I take up a weeping and wailing (Jer. 9:9)."[6]
This use of the Bible to ensure a favourable outcome to the future, not to mention that it also controls the negative outcome, underscores both the centrality and the power of the Bible in early Judaism. Howard Schwarz's Tree of Souls expands on those themes. The Torah not only was the means for creating the world, but sustains its very existence.
Thus not only was the Torah created prior to the creation of the world, it was the vessel by which the world was created. Thus the universe was created through the letters of the Torah. So too did God declare, at the time of man’s creation, that the world was created only for the sake of the Torah, and that as long as the Jewish people occupy themselves with the Torah, the world will continue to exist. But if the Jewish people abandon the Torah, God will return all of creation to a state of chaos.[7]
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this method of assigning biblical verses to symbols in order to affect a dream's outcome doesn't appear to be a part of Christian dream-lore. At least, I was unable to find anything similar.

[1]Carl G. Jung, "Man and His Symbols," p. 43.

[2]Joshua Trachtenberg, "Jewish Magic and Superstition," p. 230.

[3]Ibid, p. 244.


[5]Ibid, p. 245.

[6]Babylonian Talmud, t. Berachot 56b. Further examples of the positive verses are found on p. 245 of Trachtenberg. " If one dreams of a well, he should say, "And there Isaac's servants digged a well" (Gen. 26:25); of a river, "Behold I will extend peace to her like a river" (Is. 66:12); of a bird, "As birds flying so will the Lord of hosts protect Jerusalem" (Is. 31:5); of a dog, "Against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog whet his tongue" (Ex. 11:7); of a mountain, "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger of good tidings" (Is. 52:7); of a shofar, "In that day a great shofar shall be blown" (Is. 27:13); of a bullock, "His firstling bullock, majesty is his" (Deut. 33:17); of a lion, "The lion hath roared, who will not fear?" (Amos 3:8); of shaving, "Joseph shaved himself and changed his raiment and came in unto Pharaoh" (Gen. 41:14); and so on. "

[7]Howard Schwartz, "Tree of Souls," p. 249.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Hugh Nibley and the Wisdom of the Zohar

Hugh Nibley. One the one hand, a brilliant, erudite man. On the other hand, well, let's just say I am far from being uncritical of Hugh Nibley's work. His methodology tends to be outdated now and has been for a while. His greatest weakness to me is what amounts almost to a disregard for historical developement and different cultural significances when choosing his parrallels. He seemed to presuppose an unchanging, universal perspective. The kind of approach heavily indebted to James Frazer's Golden Bough. Carl Jung and Mircea Eliade were probably the best known proponents of that school.
Not that such a universal approach can't yield valuable insights, but a nuanced approach which takes into account the differences as well as historical developments is going to yield far more valuable insights. Sure, one could use Lurianic texts to elucidate Ptolemaic hypocephali,  but unless care is taken with the differences, the results would be skewed.
This being said, Nibley's work was pioneering and important. Much of Mormon scholarship would not exist today if it weren't for his efforts. Nibley's greatest strength was not taking scriptures at face value. Perhaps I should say he looked beyond a Mormon point of view and tried reading them from an Ancient Near Eastern one. He also went into great depth, though not always in the right direction. Lehi as a Bedouin is a classic example. There is and was more to the Middle East than just Bedouins, indeed, there has always been a sharp distinction between them and the settled populations until just recently. I grew up near a Bedouin village in northern Israel and in my childhood the last of the great marauders had just begun dying off. Bedouins raids were a fact of life for farmers until the 1930s and 40s.
There are quite a few passages in 1 Nephi, such as the divine instruction to light no fires, or the panic surrounding the broken bow incident, that make little sense if Lehi were a desert adept.

It is nice to see Nibley referenced by non-LDS scholars.
In the introduction to part V, section I of the third volume of his "The Wisdom of the Zohar", Isaiah Tishby wrote, "These two tendencies: the positing of a Temple in the upper world, and interpretation of the Tabernacle, the Temple, and all their related equipment as symbols of cosmic and supernatural phenomena, are developed and expanded much further in rabbinic aggadah[3] and Christian theology[4]."
Footnote number four references H. Nibley, "Christian Envy of the Temple." Nibley's article is available online in its entirety. Definitely one of his better efforts.
"The Wisdom of the Zohar" is an important work in the study of Jewish mysticism, and won Tishby the Bialik and Nordau Prizes. It made available in accessible, Modern Hebrew important passages from the Zohar. The Zohar was originally written in arcane, obscure Aramaic, making it hard for the lay reader to understand. Even traditionally, many Jewish communities ritually recited the Zohar without an understanding of the text being considered necessary.
While there were other Hebrew translations with commentaries, such as R. Yehudah Ashlag's edition, Tishby's anthology provided scholarly introductions and notes. The essay on the development of Zohar criticism is particularly valuable. If you are looking for a way into the Zohar and Kabbalah in general, I would highly recommend Tishby's three volumes.
Appearing in a footnote like that is not bad for a complete hack and laughing stock of the academic world like Nibley, as some would have it.

N-Town and Writing on the Ground

And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,
They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
-John 8:3-9.
At least for me, this is one of the most enigmatic moments in the New Testament. Jesus, almost oblivious to the going-ons around him, crouches, scribbling something on the ground. Just what he wrote is never revealed and the text indicates that Jesus' spoken words- not the written words- were what affected the scribes and Pharisees. Yet, was the act of writing really unrelated to the events? From a literary point of view, I would have to say absolutely not. First off, the act of stooping and writing appears twice. It is obviously more than just an irrelevant aside, besides, I see no indication of the author of John being that execrable an author. Also, most early versions and references do not mention the act of writing.[1] An odd detail to add if it had no bearing on Jesus' words. Furthermore, is it reasonable to suppose that the scribes and Pharisees paid no attention whatsoever to Jesus' strange behaviour, that none even attempted to see what he was writing?
It seems likely to me at least that the writing had some bearing on the words Jesus spoke. The solution adopted by the author (or authors) of the N-Town play, The Woman Taken in Adultery, is as good a guess as any. By fleshing out the dry bones of a story, drama can often reveal important insights. A story has to be shown in order to be effective. Mere declamation wont do.
The N-Town author discovered an important plot device in the act of writing on the ground, using it to propel the story forward to its conclusion.

Jesus.     Look which of you that never sin wrought,
              But is of life cleaner than she;
              Cast at her stones, and spare her nought,
              Cleant out of sin if that ye be.

Here Jesus, again stooping down, shall write on the ground, and all the accusers, as if put to shame, shall go apart into three separate places.

Pharisee.     Alas, alas I am ashamed!
                    I am afeard that I shall die;
                    All my sins, even properly named
                    Yon prophet did write before mine eye.
                    If that my fellows that did espy,
                    They will tell it both far and wide;
                    My sinful living if they out cry,
                    I wot never where my head to hide.

Accuser.     Alas, for sorrow mine heart doth bleed!
                   All my sins yon man did write;
                   If that my fellows to them took heed,
                   I cannot me from death acquit.
                   I would I were hid somewhere out of sight,
                   That men should me me nowhere see ne know;
                   If I be take, I am afflight
                   In mickle shame I shall be throw.

Scribe.     Alas the time that this betid!
                Right bitter care doth me embrace;
                All my sins be now unhid:
                Yon man before me them all doth trace.
                If I were once out of this place,
                To suffer death great and vengeance able,
                I will never come before his face,
                Though I should die in a stable.[2]

As in John 8, Jesus invites the scribes and Pharisees to execute the law in its full severity, provided they are free from sin. Ashamed, the accusers all leave in different directions, each having seen Jesus write out the exact sins they were guilty of commiting. That, according to the N-Town play, was the purpose of writing on the ground. The play in its entirety, in the original Middle English is available online.[3] In terms of simplicity, immediacy and emotional impact, The Woman Taken in Adultery is one of the finest medieval plays.


[2]Adapted by A. C. Cawley, "Everyman and Medieval Miracle Plays," pp. 140-141.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Abraham's Divine Power of Speech

Hasidism preserved a remarkable tradition of the creative, divine powers of speech. The power of speech, of course, is connected to letter esotericism.
In Judaism there was an early and sustained fascination with letters, their power and meaning. The roots of letter esotericism could be said to go back as far as the book of Genesis itself. God commands, things obey. This process was accomplished by the medium of speech. In Pirkei Avot 5:1, one of the earliest rabbinic texts, we read that God created the world by ten utterances. As speech consists of sounds represented by letters, it is logical to conclude that letters themselves have power and intrinsic meaning. Letters have individual sounds and in different combinations yield different words with different meanings. Ayin-Nun-Gimel is oneg- delight. Change the sequence and you get nega- blight or disease. God didn't say "kartina maslom" and there was light. He said "wa-yehi or." For the ancient Jewish exegetes the word choice wasn't arbitrary or randomn.

As an example of this, the Tabernacle in the wilderness was believed to be modelled after the cosmos. Bezalel the architect and craftsman who constructed the tabernacle, knew,
How to combine the letters by which the heavens and earth were created. It is written here (Exod. 35:31): "And He hath filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom and in understanding, and in knowledge." It is written elsewhere (Prov. 3:19): "The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens."

It is also written (Prov. 3:20): "By His knowledge the depths were broken up."[1]
That is to say, Bezalel knew which letters were used in which combinations in order to bring about the desired results.
In 3rd Enoch the theme of mystical creation by letters is continued.
Rabbi Ishmael said: ‘Metatron said to me: “Let me show you letters out of which heaven and earth were created. Letters out of which oceans and rivers were created. Letters out of which mountains and hills were created. Letters out of which trees and grass were created. Letters out of which the stars and constellations, the moon and the sun, Orion and the Pleiades and all kinds of lights of the firmament were created. Letters out of which the ministering angels were created, each letter flashed time after time like bolts of lightning, time after time like torches, time after time like flames, time after time like the rising of the sun, moon, and stars.” I approached him, and he seized me with his hand, lifted me with his wings, and showed me all those letters that were engraved with a pen of fire on God’s throne, and fiery sparks and lightning were coming out of them and covering all the chambers of the seventh heaven.’[2] 
The five openings of the mouth is part of the classification system the Sefer Yetzirah uses for the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Each "opening" is a position of the tongue for producing speech.
In a discourse by the Hasidic master R. Menahem Nahum of Chernobyl (1730-1798), the letter heh, which changed Abram's name to Abraham, symbolised the five openings. Abraham was given mastery over the openings and the powers they regulated. According to the Chernobyler, in each letter of the alphabet is hidden some of the divine light which is what brings life and blessings into the world.

Abraham our Father so served God with love that he came to be called “Abraham My Lover” (Isa. 41:8). God gave over to him the conduct of all the worlds, placing within him this speech, centered in the five openings of the mouth. This is the meaning of God’s adding the heh [ = five] to Abraham’s name; it was through this that he became “father of many nations,” father and leader of the great host of the world’s peoples, by means of these five openings of the mouth…

His leadership is to be in all the worlds. That was why Abram did not father children; until he had reached the point at which speech was given to him, he could not yet be a father. Abraham did father children, for those openings of the mouth by which he conducted all the worlds had now been given him. Surely through that word he could draw forth offspring for himself as well.[3]
The power of procreation is linked to the power of creation, both being dependant upon the divine potency inherent in pure, divine speech. I did not include R. Menahem Nahum's discussion of the rung of sacred speech. Rungs of course are what allow one to climb a ladder.
Martin Buber, in his Ten Rungs, adapted a Hasidic interpretation of Jacob's ladder, emphasising the universal, ethical aspect.
Man is a ladder placed on the earth and the top of it touches heaven. And all his movements and doings and words leave traces in the upper world.[4]
The more traditional formulation is theurgic- by performing the commandments, man not only draws divine power into this world, but increases the power of Heaven above. In Joseph's dream, after all, the angels both descended and ascended upon the ladder.
The goal of man's coming to this lower world is to adapt himself to Torah and commandment[s], which are a ladder that stands on earth and the top of which reaches to Heaven, in order to draw down, by his performing the Torah and commandment[s], influx upon all the worlds, and to give power to the supernal retinue.[5]
For the Chernobyler, this is achieved primarily by means of pure, holy speech.
R. Meir ha-Levi of Apta, a later Hasid, provides another description of this process.
The supernal light is emanated into his heart, and the influxes go by his mediation, by the way of the five places of his mouth...[6]
Until Abraham perfected by loving service- acts of worship motivated by love- his ascent to the rung of sacred speech, he lacked the power to bring forth offspring. Having attained that rung, Abraham shared the divine power to create and to produce life. Menahem Nahum of Chernobyl's homily stops short of pursuing the implications to their logical, but radical conclusion. Man is capable of attaining a level of holiness in which not only is God's power delegated to him, he governs the worlds also. This form of theosis is not post-mortal, nor is it eschatological, but available in the here-and-now through elevating the profane and mundane to holiness.
[1]Babylonian Talmud, t. Berachot 55a.

[2]Rachel Elior, "Jewish Mysticism: The Infinite Expression of Freedom," p. 108.
[3]Arthur Green, "Menahem Nahum of Chernobyl: Upright Practices, The Light of the Eyes (Classics of Western Spirituality)," pg. 161-163.

[4]Martin Buber, "Ten Rungs: Collected Hasidic Sayings," p. 34.

[5]R. Aharon Shemuel ha-Cohen, translated in Moshe Idel, "Hasidism: Between Ecstasy and Magic," p. 143.
[6]Ibid, p. 204.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Council of Souls

Found something too good to pass up. In fact, it deserves to be posted in its entirety, dealing at it does with an obscure strand of Jewish thought on the preexistence and prehistory of the soul, or, at least, some souls.
This is from Howard Schwartz's "Tree of Souls: the mythology of Judaism".

           196. THE COUNCIL OF SOULS
The souls of the righteous existed long before the creation of the world.
God consulted these souls in creating the universe, as it is said, They dwelt there in the king’s service (I Chron. 4:23). God called upon the souls of the righteous, who sat on the council with the Supreme King of Kings, to come together. He then took counsel with them before He brought the world into being, saying, “Let us make man” (Gen. 1:26). So too did they help Him with His work. Some assisted in planting and some helped create the borders of the sea, as it is said, Who set the sand as a boundary to the sea (Jer. 5:22). Nor does God make any important decision without consulting the Council of Souls. So too did God take counsel with the souls of the righteous. He asked them if they were willing to be created. And that is how the souls of the righteous, including the souls of Abraham and the other patriarchs, came into being.

While there are traditions that God took council with the angels or a divine partner such as Adam in creating the world, here the phrase, “Let us make man” from Genesis 1:26 is said to refer to a Council of Souls (nefashot shel Tzaddikim), with whom God consulted before creating the world. These souls of the righteous are said to have existed before the creation of the world. In fact, it is not specified that they were created by God at all, but only called together by God before He created the universe.
Further, they not only give their consent for the creation of the world, but they participate in it, assisting God in planting and creating the boundaries of the sea. Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev interprets God’s consulting with the souls of the righteous to mean that He asked them if they were willing to be created.
Evidence of a divine council can be found in several biblical passages, such as Psalms 82:1, which states that God stands in the divine assembly; among the divine beings He pronounces judgment. Here the term for the divine assembly is “adat el.” In Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic, Frank Moore Cross describes this council as the Israelite counterpart of the Council of El found in Canaanite mythology, referring to El, the primary Canaanite god. It would thus seem that this obscure Jewish tradition is directly drawn from the Canaanite. Psalm 82 adds a strange twist to this myth: God appears to condemn the gods of the Council of Gods to death: “I had taken you for divine beings, sons of the Most High, all of you; but you shall die as men do, fall like any prince” (Ps. 82:6). This might be interpreted to mean that monotheism declares the death of polytheism.
Jeremiah 23:18 also describes a divine council: But he who has stood in the council of
Yahweh, and seen, and heard His word—He who has listened to His word must obey. Another reference to the divine council is found in 1 Kings 22:19-22, where God addresses the host of heaven, asking who will entice Ahab, and a certain spirit came forward and stood before the Lord and said, “I will entice him.” Other passages suggesting the existence of heavenly beings with whom God discusses His decisions include Isaiah 6 and Job 1-2.
Usually the term, “the souls of the righteous,” refers to the souls of the pious who have died, and whose souls have ascended to Paradise. By pre-existing, these souls become identified as primordial gods, such as are found in other Near Eastern mythologies. By calling them together as a council, God implicitly recognizes their power. It must be assumed that the council of souls gave its approval for the creation of the universe, since God proceeded with it after that. Another possible explanation would be to identify “the souls of the righteous” in this midrash with the angels. In other sources, God is said to have consulted with the angels before creating man, and there are traditions and countertraditions of the notion that the angels somehow participated in the creation of the world itself. See “Creation by Angels,” p. 116. However, it would be highly unusual to refer to the angels as “the souls of the righteous,” although Philo does refer to angels as “unbodied souls.” A prooftext for the existence of such a council of souls or angels can be found in Daniel 4:14: The matter is by decree of the watchers, and the sentence by the word of the holy ones. Both of these terms, the “watchers” and the “holy ones,” suggest some kind of supernatural figures from the heavenly realm, whether angels, souls, or additional divinities. The Council of Souls may also be identified with the heavenly court, and identified as the Watchers. See “The Heavenly Court,” p. 208, and “The Watchers,” p. 457. There are parallel myths about God consulting the angels, rather than souls, in the creation of Adam. The text of Genesis 1:26 states that God said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” But in the Pseudo-Yonathan Targum on Genesis 1:26, this is changed to read: “And God said to the angels who minister before him, who were created on the second day of Creation. `Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’” See “Creation By Angels,” p. 116. In Genesis Rabbah 8:9 the question of how many deities created the world is directly broached: “How many deities created the world? You and I must inquire of the first day, as it is said, For ask now of the first days (Deut. 4:32).” The rabbis subsequently debate whether the first sentence of Genesis describes creation by one God or by many, since Elohim is plural. Read this way, the first line of Genesis reads: “In the beginning Gods created the heaven and the earth.” That such a debate can take place at all is remarkable, considering the centrality of monotheism. But it is also a tribute to the open-ended willingness of the rabbis to explore even apparently heretical interpretations of the Torah. The existence of this discussion and the fact that it was recorded in a primary text such as Genesis Rabbah, indicates that the “heretical” had some advocates among the rabbis. Perhaps it harks back to a residual pagan myth, a Canaanite myth about a council of gods. Such divine councils rule in Mesopotamian, Babylonian, and Canaanite mythology. In the Babylonian epic Enuma Elish, Marduk is made head of the divine council by defeating Tiamat, the personification of the sea. It is likely that the existence of such a council in Jewish tradition is a remnant of such an ancient myth. Ugaritic texts describe the abode of El, the primary Canaanite god, and his council on the mountain of El, where the gods are seated at a table. El’s abode is said to be in the north. This setting and location is echoed in Isaiah 14:13: “I will sit in the mount of assembly, on the summit of Zaphon.” (Zaphon is Hebrew for “north.”) God’s perplexing use of the first person plural in verses such as Let us make man in our image (Gen. 1:26), Behold the man has become like one of us (Gen. 3:22), and Let us, then, go down and confound their speech there (Gen. 11:7) can be explained as addressing the divine council. This same usage is found in the Ugaritic texts. Most midrashic texts interpret “Let us” as God addressing the angels.
Genesis Rabbah 8: 7; Maggid Devarav le-Ya’akov 1; No’am Elimelekh, Bo 36b.
"Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic" by Frank Moore Cross, pp. 36-43, 186-190.
The Council of Yahweh in Second Isaiah” by Frank Moore Cross.
The Council of Yahweh” by H. Wheeler Robinson.
God and the Gods in Assembly” by Matitiahu Tsevat.
"Assembly of the Gods: The Divine Council in Canaanite and Early Hebrew Literature" by E. Theodore Mullen.

Moshe Idel and Joseph Smith

I'm always interested when references to LDS history appear in unrelated studies.
Moshe Idel's 2008, The Angelic World: Apotheosis and Theophany, has several references to Joseph Smith. Since the book has yet to appear in English, I'll quote the relevant bits.
After a short paragraph on Emanuel Swedenborg and his Jewish sources, Idel says the following on Joseph Smith.
I should remark that it is possible that angelologies from a Jewish source also influenced the founder of the Mormon faith, Joseph Smith. Hence, the founders of two new forms of Christianity, both with a clear revelatory form having to do with angels, religions in which the concrete dimension is obvious- needed this Jewish concept. If Jarl Fossum is correct in his conclusion that this ancient concept of the great angel, creator of the world and giver of the Torah, influenced the emergence of the gnostic movement, then here again there lies before us an example of the formative role of Jewish angelology in the developement of religious developements outside the world of Judaism. (Pg. 73)
See for now the controversial article by Owens, Joseph Smith and Kabbalah, pg. 117-194, which also contains a list of Kabbalistic sources which supposedly were in the library of Joseph Smith's teacher. The connection between Enoch-Metatron in Jewish tradition and Mormonism was first noted by Harold Bloom, in his book The American Religion, pg. 99, 105. I can't go into the details of the controversies created by Owens' article and the doubts about Smith's relationship to the Kabbalah. It seems that the matter of kabbalistic connections is more complicated and interesting than what can be learned from the currently published documents. (Pg. 156)
See the above, in the introduction, for Joseph Smith's studies with Alexander Neibaur, a figure of Jewish extraction who seemed to have known Kabbalah. See also the end of chapter 4. (Pg. 194)
Idel's source was Lance S. Owens' Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection, published in Dialogue, Fall 1994.  
I confess a certain fondness for Owens' article, despite disagree with much of its conclusions, particularly the portrayal of Neibaur as a kabbalist.
More on that later. 
Owens did attempt to fit Joseph Smith into the larger patterns of Western esotericism by utilising lesser-used sources. That in itself is an interesting, commendable venture, even when the degree of success is questionable. As Idel said, "the matter of kabbalistic connections is more complicated and interesting than what can be learned from the currently published documents."
William Hamblin's rebuttal of Owens is, I think, ultimately succesful, some minor points notwithstanding.
Also, one of my older blogposts deals with the supposed similarities between the Zohar and the King Follet Discourse.
I will post further mentions of LDS history in other works as I come across them. If you know of any, feel free to post them in the comments section.