Gershom ScholemAn Intellectual Biography

Gershom ScholemAn Intellectual Biography

Amir Engel

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9780226428635

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

This book discusses the life and work of the best-known Israeli scholar, the Kabbalah historian of German Jewish descent, Gershom Scholem (1897 – 1982). It offers a new perspective on this seminal figure and on major historical events and ideological struggles that took place during the first part of the 20th century in Europe and the Middle East. The book also makes a certain claim about how new knowledge is created. Scholem, it is here argued, is known beyond the narrow confines of his academic because, beyond being a capable philologist, he was a story-teller of unique talent. The two stories that make up Scholem’s fame are the story he told of himself and the story of Jewish history, told through the lens of his historiography of the Kabbalah. The objective of this book is therefore to critically retell these two stories thus that each story would shed light on the other. Pitting Scholem’s biography over and against his historiography, the book is able to approach questions about nationalism, spiritual revival, and colonialism in the 20th century. The discussion thus reflects the geo-political transformations that took place in Germany and in Palestine during this period. It gives a new perspective on Scholem’s life and his historiographical undertaking. And finally it shows that new knowledge is often the result, not of discovery but of re-reading and invention. Scholem, it is here argued, recreated Jewish mysticism in light of the political, social and spiritual questions of his time.