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Sefer Ha- Razim

RAZIM, SEFER HA- (Heb. סֵפֶר רָזָא רַבָּא; "Book of Secrets"), early work of Jewish mystical literature. Sefer ha-Razim is remarkable for its systematic treatment of magic, witchcraft, incantations, and supernatural remedies, on which no special works have otherwise been preserved in Hebew literature. In the midst of deliberations on the angels, their names, and their functions in the six heavens which precede the supreme heaven, the book interweaves about 30 magical counsels for suppliants–who might include those seeking to know the future, to sway the hearts of the great, to have their enemies overtaken by misfortune, to be healed, to have their dreams interpreted, to overcome an enemy or a wild animal, to see the sun during the day or the night, or to speak with the moon and the stars. The general contents of this work have long been known, especially from the extracts scattered in the Book of *Razi'el, but most of its magical terms became known only through Mordecai Margalioth's discovery, as he probably succeeded in restoring Sefer ha-Razim to its original form. On the basis of fragments from the genizah and Hebrew, Latin, and Arabic manuscripts, he organized the work into a preface and seven short chapters describing the Seven Heavens. The work is relatively short (about 800 lines), but it is of considerable literary and historic interest. Written in a beautiful midrashic Hebrew containing hardly any Aramaic, it is however inlaid with transliterated Greek words–some of which are termini technici of Greek magic–as well as a short Greek prayer. The names of about 700 angels are listed (some having a Greek etymology); several have specified "characters" (symbolic figures, which form a quasi-magical alphabet). The chapter on the Seventh Heaven, dealing with the Divine Throne, the Throne of the Great Light, praises God in an exalted liturgical style. The chapters dealing with the heavens are skillfully constructed to form one unit (but it cannot be ascertained if the preface in the Margalioth edition belongs to the work because it differs widely in content from the seven chapters). Nor is it at all certain that the original name of the work in its original context was Sefer mi-Sifrei ha-Razim. It may perhaps have been entitled Razi'el ha-Malakh or possibly Razei Ḥokhmah, or some other name.

In this work, Raziel is mentioned as the angel who stands on the seventh step of the Second Heaven. Scholars differ on the extent of the role and influence which mystical doctrines wielded over the rabbis and their schools, but it may definitely be assumed that these doctrines, which were accepted in the Orient as well as by the Greeks and Romans, were not basically foreign to the Jews of Palestine during the Second Temple period and the generations which followed the destruction of the Temple. According to *Origen (third century), such Hebrew names as Ẓeva'ot, Eloha, etc. were mentioned along with the names of the archons, and Gabriel, Raphael, Michael, and Soriel with the demons of the Gnostic sect of the Ophites (Contra Celsum I, 22, 26; II, 6; IV, 33–34; V. 9, 42, 45, etc.). Those engaged in magic recited the prayer to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob while invoking demons (Contra Celsum, IV, 33). Greek amulets which have been preserved show a marked relation to Jewish concepts. The pagans even attributed the worship of the sun and the moon to the Jews, but Origen pointed out their error. Some of the themes of the Sefer ha-Razim are also discussed in the apocryphal books of the Bible, especially in II *Enoch (the Slavonic version), and in the Apocalypse of *Baruch: others are mentioned in talmudic literature (Seven Heavens, dreams, amulets in Shab. 8:2; remedies in Ber. 40a; and "Hezekiah burned the Book of Remedies" in Pes. 4:8), while parallels to them can be found in various Midrashim, Heikhalot, *Merkabah, and Ma'aseh Bereshit literature.

On the grounds of contents and style, his work should be dated to no later than the talmudic period, a dating corroborated by the chronology of Greek kings mentioned in it, which A.S. Rosenthal explained as referring to the Indictio of the middle or possibly the beginning of the fourth century. However, further study may perhaps reveal the later inclusion of Greco-Egyptian magical texts to eighth-century Arabic literature.


M. Margalioth (ed.), in: Sefer ha-Razim (1966), 1–62; H. Merhavia, in: KS, 42 (1967), 297–303; E.E. Urbach, in: Studies in Mysticism and Religion presented to G.G. Scholem (1968); G. Scholem, Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism and Talmudic Tradition (19652), 101–17; idem, Kitvei Yad be-Kabbalah (1930), 12; J. Dan, in: Tarbiz, 37 (1968), 208.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.