Sefer Ha-Razim

Contributed by Rabbi Geoffrey W. Dennis

"Book of Secrets", "Book of Amulets." A Jewish magical manual that has circulated in a number of versions, including a manuscript found among the documents of the Cairo Genizah. The text found in the Genizah is fragmentary, but other parts have been recovered and a larger text reconstructed. Elements of the book were published in 1701 as part of the Sefer Raziel HaMalakh.

The book attests that it was revealed to Noah by the angel Raziel. The book then passed through the generations of worthy until it became Solomon's most prized book of magic.

Sefer ha-Razim is mostly focused on power that can be derived from astrological forces. It is divided into seven sections, mirroring the seven days of Creation and the seven heavens. It describes in great details the hosts of heavens, the angelic commanders, and their powers. It also delineates the twelve months, their zodiacs, governing angels, and the like. It is particularly interested in the power of the sun as a numinous source of revelation.

It also provides a list of useful incantations. These spells are very characteristic of Greek magical texts of late antiquity: they feature repetitions, reversed language, foreign and nonsense words and names. More surprising is the number of references to Greek gods, such as Helios, Hermes, and Aphrodite. Disregarding the stricter Biblical and Rabbinic attitudes toward idols, the implications seems to be that the author has simply demoted these pagan gods to another class of angels subordinate to the God of Israel. Like the Hechalot literature, it emphasizes the need for performing all deeds in a state of strict ritual and spiritual purity. Unlike the Hechalot texts, Sefer ha-Razim includes magical practices that the more rabbinic texts eschew, such as the use of ritual objects (lamps, knives) and animal sacrifices.

Article copyright © 2004 Geoffrey Dennis.