Goldberg, Oscar

Updated About content Print Article Share Article
views updated


GOLDBERG, OSCAR (1885–1952), scholar and author, born in Berlin. Goldberg first studied medicine, but on the basis of personal parapsychological experiments he turned to esoteric mysticism. After Hitler's rise to power he immigrated to France and subsequently to the United States. He later returned to France and died in Nice. His first work, Die fuenf Buecher Mosis, ein Zahlengebaeude (1908) is an attempt to prove (in accordance with kabbalistic opinion) that the entire Torah is based on the letters of the Tetragrammaton. His basic theories are expressed in the works: Die Wirklichkeit der Hebraeer (vol. 1, 1925; no more were published); Maimonides (1935); and articles on Greek mythology in the monthly Massund Wert (1937). Goldberg assumed that there were "metaphysical" peoples whose biological center was their "god" as opposed to peoples or groups who had lost their metaphysical power and were merely biological groups. Die Wirklichkeit der Hebraeer ("The Reality of the Hebrews") shows the Hebrews to be the outstanding example of a metaphysical people, which activates the vital link between it and its "center," i.e., its god, via the magical power of ritual and makes its god dwell within the world. The metaphysical reality of the genuine Hebrews consisted in the activation of the laws and statutes of the Torah (which must be understood in its most literal and exact interpretation). Later Judaism, beginning with "the religion of the prophets," was based on the deterioration of the magical powers of the Hebrews and the loss of the basic tools for the activation of their magical reality: the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant. Every metaphysical people has a national god, and among these gods, which had perfect reality, the God of Israel is but the strongest. As the real magical power of metaphysics was weakened, there begins the process of the transformation of the ritual which possessed formal and material precision into an abstract universal "religion." The histories of religions constitute decline and not progress. The decline of true Hebraism, which worked miracles not according to circumstance but by order and fixed ritual, began during the reigns of David and Solomon. It reached its nadir in the "religiosity" of the Psalms. The transition from worship in the Temple to that in the synagogue typifies the decline of the metaphysical power to nothingness.

Goldberg accepted only the Pentateuch as a divine document in all its details and signs, and interpreted it magically, not "theologically." The Revelation of God is not an act of free grace to His creatures, but springs from the need of God Himself to find a dwelling place (mishkan) on earth. Goldberg views the system of Maimonides as the final expression of complete alienation from the true mission of the Hebraic existence, and as an intended blurring and abolition of the realistic principle which is the power to work miracles in favor of moralistic and abstract prattle. According to this system, Goldberg interpreted all details of other mythologies. He advocated the organization of the remnants of magical power which remained here and there, in order to find a way for the renewal of divine revelation. He stated his magical views in a clearly rationalistic way and linked them with modern biological philosophy. The kabbalistic origins of his thought are conspicuous and Goldberg himself recognized this despite his attempts to define specific differences between the spheres of the Torah and that of Kabbalah. Goldberg was hostile to Zionism, which he viewed as a secular renewal of a Jewish people without a metaphysical basis according to his definition.

For many years Goldberg led a small group which propagated his views in writing and orally. His most important disciple in philosophy was Erich Unger (d. 1951 in London). For some time his works and thoughts had considerable influence on circles of both Jewish and gentile intellectuals, scholars and writers such as the paleontologist E. Dacque, and the writer Thomas Mann. The latter depicted Goldberg in his novel Doctor Faustus (1947) as the character Dr. Chaim Breisacher.


J. Schechter, Mi-Madda le-Emunah (1953), 213–29; E. Unger, Politik und Metaphysik (1922); idem, Das Problem der mythischen Realitaet (1926); idem, Wirklichkeit, Mythos, Erkenntnis (1930); A. Caspary, Die Maschinenutopie (1927).

[Gershom Scholem]