Tuesday, May 1, 2012

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. https://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V27N03_131.pdf  
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. http://calba-savua.blogspot.com/2010/01/joseph-smith-and-beginning.html
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.

1 comment:

  1. I found it odd that Hamblin was so emotionally involved with this issue, describing the work of Dr. Lance Owens with as “sheer fantasy,” “smoke and mirrors,” engaging in “legerdemain" to bolster his “flimsy case,” creating “history out of nothing” and pulling a “magic rabbi out of his hat.” Bear in mind, Owen’s work held Mormonism in quite a positive light, describing it as "intrinsically American,” even citing the praise of Bloom, who has admired the “imaginative vitality of Joseph Smith’s revelation.”

    It appeared to me that the sheer mass of Hamblin’s (70 plus page) rebuttal (plagued by superfluous detail, citation dumping and a bombardment of tangential minutiae) was intended to convince via intimidation (rather than reason) was made clear by his handling, which was far more concerned with casting Owens in a dim light more than anything else, inferring Owen’s work contained absolutely nothing of value, begging the question of why Hamblin never saw fit to explain how the Mormon History Association would grant Best Article Award (1995) to something that far off the mark.  No doubt, RLDS historian, Paul M. Edwards, was correct when he stated that there exists a "fundamental deficiency of Mormon historical studies,” characterized by "methods and interpretations have become so traditional that they can only reinforce the fears of yesterday rather than nurture the seeds of tomorrow's dreams.”