This introductory chapter provides an overview of Kabbalah. A Hebrew term one can render as “tradition” or “reception.” Kabbalah referred to a mode of reading, a library of texts, a series of concepts, and a range of practices. As a mode of reading, Kabbalah encompassed a set of interpretive assumptions adopted by an initiate in the course of approaching a sacred text. Kabbalists assiduously applied these methods of exegesis to the most sacred of texts, the Bible, and relied on mystical symbolism to uncover its theological content. The term Kabbalah also encompassed a series of ritual practices. For the religious adept, however, Kabbalah also referred to something beyond these rituals of practice, modes of exegesis, bodies of literature, and new theological concepts. Throughout the medieval and early modern periods, the term Kabbalah referred to a putative tradition of esotericism, to secrets that God had revealed to Moses at Mount Sinai.
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