1290, a set of mysterious writings began to circulate in the Jewish community of Castile, an area in what is now modern-day Spain. Written in a lyrical, abstruse Aramaic, they were disseminated by a man named Moses ben Shem-Tov de León, a member of the region’s circle of Jewish mystics. De León claimed that the work was not his own — that he had copied an ancient manuscript in his possession, which had been composed in Palestine in the second century by the legendary sage Rabbi Shim’on bar Yohai. These writings had remained secret for centuries, de León claimed, and were only now being revealed to the world at large.
After decades of work, Matt has left a permanent mark on the world library of mystical literature, and the Zohar has left a permanent mark on him. “The Zohar forces you to look into yourself,” he told me, describing the effect of translating day in and day out, for years on end. “In trying to decipher what the text means, you’re actually engaged in an inner spiritual search.” Through that search, the “new-ancient” teachings of the Zohar have been renewed yet again.
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