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I believe I heard HaRav Yitzchak Breitowitz (but please don't quote me on this) say at some point that it's been shown that the concepts from Zohar date back to the 2nd temple period. I am not sure where this is from, so I'd like to ask: what time period do the concepts from Zohar date back to? Zohar has been accepted as one of the foundations of Jewish mysticism, but I'm curious as to what the scholarship says regarding its legitimacy and dating.

EDIT: Just to clarify, I'm not asking about when the Zohar was being written or when it was compiled, but whether the concepts in Zohar trace back to the 2nd Temple Period. I know that Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai in the second century is said to have written down the concepts of the Zohar, but he given the nature of the mysticism, it was likely something passed down in secret for generations (at least this is the way its taught I think). Therefore, he likely didn't create the important concepts, but merely formulated them and put them down if we are to believe this. From this, I'd like to know how long have the concepts that he formulated in Zohar been passed down for? When do they trace back to in their origin?

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    Does this answer your question? Did Rashbi Write the Zohar? Commented May 20, 2023 at 19:35
  • @יהושעק Not exactly. I've edited my post to provide further explanations. Thanks.
    – setszu
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 19:47
  • The short answer is there's no evidence for nearly any of it before ~1000 years ago but the referenced claims generally include the meta-claim that they date back to Sinai and/or Creation
    – Double AA
    Commented May 21, 2023 at 1:31
  • @YaacovDeane Oh that's actually very interesting! This would constitute internal evidence that the Zohar traces back to the 2nd Temple Period. I do wonder if Rabbi Dr. Samuel Belkom's standards for comparison would meet a professional academic standards of today though. Nevertheless, thank you for sharing that!
    – setszu
    Commented May 21, 2023 at 3:27
  • @YaacovDeane Thank you so much for that. If you wish to put it in an answer form, you can do so and I'll mark it as the correct answer.
    – setszu
    Commented May 21, 2023 at 4:24

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Rabbi Dr. Samuel Belkin in his Midrashei Philon says that in particular Midrash HaNelam contains very close language to the language of Philo. He suggests that Philo is one of the sources for the teachings of the Zohar (המדרש הנעלם ומקורותיו במדרשים האלכסנדרוניים [The Midrash Ha-Ne'elam and Its Sources Among the Alexandrian Midrashim], Sura, vol. 3, pp. 25-92).

Philo predates the Rashbi and actually visited the Temple while it was still standing and functioning.

In other words, Rabbi Akiva, who taught the Rashbi, was transmitting, at least partially, the teachings of Philo ( AKA Yedidyah HaKohen) of Alexandria, one of the leaders of the Jewish community in Alexandria, Egypt who lived in the 1st century BCE.

Rabbi Belkin was the 2nd President of Yeshiva University and received his ordination from the Chofetz Chaim. He was a renowned expert in the writings of Philo.

There is a story I have seen that in the last trip by Professor Gershom Scholem to the United States, they met & discussed Rabbi Belkin’s conclusions about the Zohar. The story reports that Scholem conceded to Rabbi Belkin that his conclusions were likely correct.

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  • @Harel13 Thank you so much for tracking down this link to Rabbi Belkin’s article. It should be included in the answer I posted. Would you please be so kind as to add your valuable contribution. I’m assuming you are an alumnus of YU. There is an unpublished, but complete manuscript by Rabbi Belkin that is the remaining 4 volumes of his life’s work, מדרשי פילון. Rabbi Elazar Hurvitz still has it. I would love to arrange for its publication. If you can help me to make that happen, I would be in your debt. Commented May 21, 2023 at 12:27
  • Hi, you're welcome. I'm not a YU almnus. I studied at a hesder yeshiva here in Israel and I'm currently studying archeology and Jewish history at Bar Ilan. I've seen you refer to the Belkin manuscripts before on MY. It would be exciting to assist with it, but I assume you were hoping for someone to make contact with Rabbi Hurvitz.
    – Harel13
    Commented May 21, 2023 at 20:40
  • @Harel13 I reached out to him during Covid unsuccessfully. I’ve been trying to reach out to some associates of mine who are alumni to make the connection. This task appeared on my path through Divine Providence. G-d willing, I will be blessed with success in keeping the Torah of Rabbi Belkin alive. Commented May 21, 2023 at 23:38
  • "Rabbi Akiva, who taught the Rashbi, was transmitting, at least partially, the teachings of Philo" How does that follow? Assuming there is an identification in ideas, this could be due to either 1) a medieval author who read Philo/Greek literature (Peshitta from Syriac bible of Wisdom of Solomon) replicating those ideas, 2) Rashbi having a parallel tradition to Philo that was in circulation at that time. Unless I am missing something in the presentation (which well may be), it does not logically follow that it must have been a direct inheritance from/through Philo. Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 13:56
  • It is also worth noting that R. J. Z. Werblowsky wrote a refutation of R. Belkin's thesis, available to subscribers of the Journal of Jewish Studies: Philo and the Zohar: A Note on the Methods of the Scienza Nuova in Jewish Studies, Part I and Part II Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 13:57

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