Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia was one of the earliest kabbalists. Born in Spain, a student of the writings of Moses Maimonides and of Hillel, from twenty years of age he began a life of ceaseless wandering.
His first prophetic book Sefer ha-Yashar (Book of the Righteous) was written in 1279. Abulafia dreamed of dissolving the differences between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In the next year he went to Rome in order to convert Pope Nicholas III. The Pope, then in Suriano (now called Soriano in Viterbo province), heard of it and issued orders to burn the fanatic as soon as he reached that place. Close to the gate, the stake was already erected in preparation but not in the least disturbed, Abulafia set out for Suriano and reached there on August 22, 1280.
While passing through the outer gate, he heard that the Pope has succumbed to an apoplectic stroke during the preceding night. Returning to Rome, he was thrown into prison by the Minorites, but was liberated after four weeks. A short time later, Abulafia compiled his Sefer ha-Ot (The Book of the Sign) on the little island of Comino, near Malta, in years 1285-1288. His last and probably the most intelligible book Imre Shefer (Words of Beauty) was written in 1291 and after this, all trace of him is lost.
Abulafia is closely associated with gematria, the symbolical employment of letters as numerals.