What are the major ancient literature on Judaic mysticism and spiritual development? By ancient I mean B.C.E.

I also would appreciate if you can also provide links to online English translations if it is possible.

  • Are you also interested in later works of kabbala? Commented Dec 12, 2011 at 3:50
  • @H' Gabriel, not in this question. I asked this to be to compare it with early Christian mysticism.
    – Kaveh
    Commented Dec 12, 2011 at 17:03

3 Answers 3


Here are a few in Hebrew:

  • 2
    The Ramak says that Sefer Yetzira was written by Rabbi Akiva, and it's impossible for Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai to have written all of the Zohar, since it mentions rabbis who lived hundreds of years after he did. And it is known that the Zohar was actually composed by Moshe ben Shemtov D'leon. Which sections are from Rabbi Shimon bar yochai and which parts are not, is not known. So putting him as the author is just not correct.
    – avi
    Commented Dec 7, 2011 at 7:52
  • 2
    @avi: many people greater than me have discussed these issues and have explanations for them. For example, about the later rabbis mentioned in the Zohar: some say that these were their future souls discussing these matters in Gan Eden. (Or, more simply, they might well be otherwise unrecorded namesakes of later scholars; there are thousands of sages throughout the generations whose names are unknown even though there is evidence that they existed.) It's certainly incorrect to say dogmatically that "it is known" that R. Moshe composed the Zohar, when there are well-known arguments against that.
    – Alex
    Commented Dec 7, 2011 at 15:28
  • 2
    Nobody denies that R. Moshe composed the Zohar... Just because someone has an explanation doesn't mean it's true. Otherwise I have some silver bracelets to sell you...
    – avi
    Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 7:02
  • 4
    @avi Nobody is an extreme phrase. Most in the Chareidi world (and in the general Jewish world since the time of the Rishonim until recently) believed that R' Shimon Bar Yochai wrote the Zohar. Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 19:09
  • 1
    Maybe I should word this another way... Would anybody accept the statement that Moshe wrote the Talmud? But there are those who say that all Torah Shbal peh comes from Sinai! Ah, but we know that Rav Ashi and Ravina compiled the Talmud, even if everything once came from Moshe.
    – avi
    Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 20:19

The Dead Sea Scrolls prove that the Jewish mystical tradition of divine union went back to the first, perhaps even the third century B.C.E. Jewish mysticism has its origins in Greek mysticism, a system of belief which included reincarnation. Among the Dead Sea Scrolls, some of the hymns found are similar to the Hekhaloth hymns of the Jewish mystics. One text of hymns gives us clear evidence of Jewish mysticism. The text is called "Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice." Fragments of 1 Enoch, which is considered the oldest text of Jewish mysticism, were also found with the Scrolls. Since evidence shows Jewish mysticism existed in the third century B.C.E., as Enoch indicates, then it would certainly have existed in first-century Israel.

Quote from: Jewish Afterlife Beliefs


The books you are looking for are called "Merkavah" and "Heichalot" literature. These are based on the "Merkava" (Chariot) described in Ezekiel.

The earliest work is the Sepher Yetirah, however none of these works are actually from BCE. Sepher Yetirah likely comes from the 1st century, and Heichalot literature from the 7th century.

The earliest mystical writings in Judaism of course though belong to specific passages of Tanach. (the saphire brick work mentioned in the passages of the 10 commandments, the Seraphim and angles of Bereshit and the Prophets etc.)

Some quick links I found from wikipeida..




Link to the text of Sepher Yetrirah in English here: http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/yetzirah.htm http://www.psyche.com/psyche/txt/kaplan_sy_short.html While a link to Aryeh Kaplan's translation plus commentary and context is here: http://www.amazon.com/Sefer-Yetzirah-Creation-Aryeh-Kaplan/dp/0877288550

  • See wikipedia for example about the dating. Neither Heichalos nor Sefer Yetzira necessarily date from that period.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Jan 28, 2015 at 3:20
  • "saphire brick work mentioned in the passages of the 10 commandments"?
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 5:09

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