Knorr von Rosenroth, Christian°

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

KNORR VON ROSENROTH, CHRISTIAN°

KNORR VON ROSENROTH, CHRISTIAN ° (1636–1689), Protestant theosophist and Kabbalah scholar. The son of a Protestant minister in Silesia, he traveled around Western Europe for several years. During his travels he came in contact with circles interested in mysticism, and was deeply influenced by the writings of Jacob Boehme. On his return, he settled in Sulzbach, in northern Bavaria, and from 1668 until his death was a close adviser and senior official in the service of Prince Christian August, who shared his mystical leanings. Knorr became known as an inspired poet, some of his poems being regarded among the finest in German religious poetry. While in Holland, he acquired an interest in Kabbalah, becoming engrossed in the study of the source material in the original. For some time he studied with rabbis such as Meir Stern in Amsterdam, and acquired manuscript copies of the writings of Isaac *Luria, coupling these inquiries with his interest in Christian mysticism. He was in close touch with the Cambridge philosopher Henry More and the Belgian mystic Franciscus (Frans) Mercurius van Helmont, who were likewise interested in Kabbalah as a theosophical system of great significance to philosophy and theology alike. In his lifetime Knorr was reputed to be the most profound Christian scholar of Kabbalah. His studies were summarized in the two bulky volumes of his main work, Kabbala Denudata: "The Kabbalah Uncovered, or, The Transcendental, Metaphysical, and Theological Teachings of the Jews" (Sulzbach, Latin, 1677–84). This work, which had a widespread influence, was superior to anything that had been published on Kabbalah in a language other than Hebrew. It gave non-Jewish readers a broad view of the first sources to be translated into Latin, and these were accompanied by explanatory notes. Here, too, appeared long disquisitions by More and Van Helmont on kabbalistic subjects (some of them anonymously), with Knorr's replies to them. In his translations Knorr aimed at precision, sometimes to the extent that the meaning is obscure to those not familiar with the original. Although the book contains many errors and mistranslations, particularly of difficult Zoharic passages, there is no justification for the contemporary Jewish claims that the author misrepresented the Kabbalah.

His book, which served as the principal source for all non-Jewish literature on Kabbalah until the end of the 19th century, opens with a "Key to the Divine Names of the Kabbalah," an extensive glossary of kabbalistic symbolism according to the *Zohar, Sha'arey Orah, Pardes Rimmonim, and some of the writings of Isaac Luria. He also made use of an Italian work on *alchemy and Kabbalah, Esh ha-Meẓaref, whose Hebrew original is no longer extant and is preserved only in the extracts translated by Knorr. This was followed by translations of some of Luria's writings, of the chapter on the soul in *Cordovero's Pardes Rimmonim, and selections from Naphtali *Bacharach's Emek ha-Melekh, an abridged translation of Sha'ar ha-Shamayim by Abraham Kohen de *Herrera, and a detailed explanation of the kabbalistic "Tree" according to the teachings of Luria, after the manner of Israel *Sarug. The "Tree" itself (which he possessed in manuscript form) he printed separately in 16 pages. To this were added several disquisitions by Henry More. The first part of the second volume opens with a translation of Mareh Kohen by *Issachar Berman b. Naphtali ha-Kohen (Amsterdam, 1673), followed by a translation of the first 25 leaves of Emek ha-Melekh, on the doctrine of ẓimẓum and the primordial world of chaos (tohu), as "an introduction to a better understanding of the Zohar." The second part includes translations of the Idrot of the Zohar, Sifra di-Ẓeni'uta and the commentary on it by Ḥayyim *Vital taken from a manuscript, the chapters on angelology and demonology from Beit Elohim of Abraham Kohen de Herrera, and a translation of Sefer ha-Gilgulim from a manuscript "of the writings of Isaac Luria." This manuscript includes precisely what was published in the same year, 1684, by David Gruenhaut in Frankfurt on the Main. The volume closes with a separate work – Adumbratio Kabbalae Christianae – a summary of Christian Kabbalah; although it was published anonymously, the author was Van Helmont. Apart from the translation from Beit Elohim, all the texts in the second part of the second volume have been translated into English or French: the Idrot and Sifra di-Ẓeni'uta by S.L.M. Mathers (The Kabbalah Unveiled, 1887, 5th repr. 1962), Sefer ha-Gilgulim by E. Jégut (Paris, 1905), and the Adumbratio by Gilly de Givry (Paris, 1899). Knorr's major anthology to a great extent determined the image of Kabbalah in the eyes of historians of philosophy until the close of the 19th century. The philosopher Leibnitz, impressed by Knorr's publication, visited him in 1687 and discussed kabbalistic subjects with him.

Late in life Knorr worked on a major book on the childhood of *Jesus, based on rabbinical and kabbalistic sources. The manuscript reached his friend Van Helmont, who promised to have it published in Amsterdam; the project, however, was not realized, and this lengthy work, Messias Puer, was lost. During his lifetime Knorr helped to establish a Hebrew publishing house at Sulzbach, and he had a hand in the edition of the Zohar that appeared in 1684. It includes a Latin dedication to Prince Christian August, the anonymous author of which was doubtless Knorr. He likewise played a role in the publication of Ḥesed le-Avraham by Abraham *Azulai (Amsterdam, 1685) which is mainly a summary of the Kabbalah of Cordovero.

bibliography:

Wolf, Bibliotheca, 1 (1715), 1140–43; 2 (1721), 1232–35; 3 (1727), 677–8; K. Salecker, Christian Knorr von Rosenroth (Ger., 1931); Scholem, Bibliographia Kabbalistica (1927), 86–88; F. Kemp, in: Neue Zuercher Zeitung (May 9, 1971), 51–52.

[Gershom Scholem]