Mystical Atheism, Idolatry, and the Nothingness of God in the Kabbalah


Maass Chemistry Building Room 217, 801 rue Sherbrooke Ouest, Montreal, QC, H3A 0B8, CA
Free Admission

A lecture by Prof. Elliot Wolfson

In this lecture, I will turn my attention to one the potentially subversive theological repercussions of medieval kabbalistic literature related to the routine distinction between Ein Sof, the unfathomable infinity, and the ten sefirot, the luminous emanations configured through the prism of the imagination, the names by which the nameless is proclaimed. I am particularly interested in reexamining the question of the apophatic dimension of the kabbalah as it pertains to the infinite transcendence and the possibility that what is implied thereby is a form of mystical atheism that would render all theistic portrayals of God as conceptual idolatry.  The lecture will grapple with the extent to which the discernment that the final iconoclastic achievement of monotheism, which one may elicit from kabbalistic literature,  calls for destroying the idol of the very God personified as the deity that must be worshipped without being idolized.  As Henri Atlan deftly expressed the paradox, “the ultimate idol is the personal God of theology . . . the only discourse about God that is  not idolatrous is necessarily an atheistic discourse. Alternatively, whatever the discourse, the only God who is not an idol is a God who is not a God.”