Reading along . . . I came upon the figure of Abraham Abulafia (1240–1291(?). Abulafia was an ecstatic Spanish mystic who is credited as the first to develop a systematic mysticism based on the characters of the Hebrew alphabet, which he viewed as an instrument of revelation. According to Abulafia, "all things exist only by virtue of their participation in the great name of God." He called his system 'hokmath he-tseruf' ("science of the combination of letters"). All jots and tittles, in this view, all curves and lines, have underlying symbolisms and meanings and functions that transcend their lexicographic utility as human language. The mathematicomusical aspect of Torah as a distinct and paralell expression of the divine was as real to him as the words the characters spelled out to tell the stories of God and his people. The Word of God was to Abulafia a music that permeates and transcends the entire world, with rhythms and harmonies and resonances and even thematic developments. It's very deep shit and he took it seriously.
"The Kabbalistic tradition is divisible into two parts... the first occupied with knowledge of the deity, obtained by means of the doctrine of the sefirot ("eminations," the ten spheres of the tree of life), as propounded by the sefer yetzirah... the second and more important part strives to know God by means of the twenty-two letters of the alphabet, from which together with the vowel points and accents, those names are combined, elevating Kabbalists to a degree of prophesy, drawing out their spirit, and causing it to be united with God to become one with the Deity."
So into the ubiquity of the music of the spheres was he that he eventually set out to erase the boundaries that divide Jew, Christian, and Muslim, to sit them all in the same orchestra pit, so to speak.Armed with a colossal quixotic näiveté and with the God-drunk temerity of irreproachable certitude, he set off to convert the pope. That's right. The pope!
In the Fall of 1280 Pope Nicholas III was vacationing in his palace in Soriano, near Rome, when he got the news that Abulafia was on the way to affect his Holiness's' conversion. Nicholas responded with the order to "burn the fanatic" as soon as he arrived. Indeed, the post to which he would be tied was erected and prepared at the city gate to celebrate his arrival.
Still, undaunted by the pope's threats to treat him to his own vivicremation, Abulafia arrived at the castle on the 22nd of August (the day before the Jewish New Year 5040). While entering the city he learned that the pope had just died of a stroke so that his execution order was never carried out. Abulafia was incarcerated for a month, after which he went south to Sicily and gathered a sizeable following which reportedly had explicit Messianic overtones and was involved in even more scandals yet.
Anyway, I had never heard of him before and I find him such a fascinating historical figure that I had to write about the man who dared to try to convert the pope to Kabbalah. It's rich.