Segol (2013 Congress)

Marla Segol
(University of Buffalo)
“Cosmogony, Astrology, and Power in the Late-Antique Yotzer

Abstract of Paper at the 48th International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo, 2013)

Session on “Astrology and Magic”
Sponsors: Societas Magica and the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence
Organizer: David Porreca
2013 Congress

[First published on our first website on 16 May 2013]

The Yotzer is a Hebrew poem of praise describing the divine creation of the universe and its order, often written for incorporation into the Jewish prayer service.  The Jewish prayer service contains poems on three major themes, in this order:  creation, love, and redemption.  The “creation” poems serve to identify God as the addressee of prayers, and to establish divine power.  The “love” prayers establish a relationship between the congregation (composed of individuals praying), and the redemption poems include the request for redemption.  This occurs once the Yotzer establishes divine power, and the ‘love’ poems situate it in the context of a human-divine relationship with obligations.  Thus, the Yotzer poem uses cosmogonic and cosmological narrative, coupled with astrological images, to establish divine power and then to activate it in the form of theurgy.  Interestingly, it is often the case that the Yotzer includes in the same poem divergent cosmogonic and cosmological accounts, which the author does not attempt to reconcile.

In this paper I explore the question of the function of this diversity, and how it contributes to the theurgical goals of the recitation of the poem.  Similarly, I seek better to understand the relation of the astrological images to the cosmogonic account.  Do their significance and their power differ according to different versions of the creation story?  In short, in this paper I explore the relation between cosmogony, astrology, and theurgy in the late antique Yotzer poems of Elazar ben Kallir and Yossi ben Yossi.

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