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Religion, Language, and the Human Mind$
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Paul Chilton and Monika Kopytowska

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780190636647

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190636647.001.0001

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A Composite Countenance

A Composite Countenance

The Divine Face as Mixed Metaphor in Jewish Mysticism

(p.169) Chapter 7 A Composite Countenance
Religion, Language, and the Human Mind

Ellen Haskell

Oxford University Press

The thirteenth-century Spanish Jewish mystical classic Sefer ha-Zohar is known for its elaborate divine imagery. This chapter explains how the Zohar invests the traditional anthropomorphic metaphor of the divine countenance with new meaning in order to define both divine and human faces as sites of spiritual revelation and transformation. The Zoharic authors’ goals are twofold. First, the mystics’ own human faces are divinized, becoming vehicles of mutual revelation accessed through spiritual fellowship. Second, the divine face is defined as an abstraction beyond human understanding, since human features are but one fragment of a transcendent whole that inspires contemplation through unusual image juxtapositions. This dual usage mirrors the Zohar’s broader mystical theology, which understands God as both revealed to and concealed from human beings. Further, reworking an ancient divine metaphor from within by manipulating its metonymic associations allows the mystics to transform their religious culture without overtly defying traditional scriptural authority.

Keywords:   Judaism, mysticism, Kabbalah, medieval, metaphor, metonymy, face, Zohar, religious imagery, contemplation

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