The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Alpha-Beta shel Ha-Shemot and the Dynamic Database of Hebrew Holy Names

R. Moses Zacuto’s lexical work in the field of Kabbalah of holy names (kabbalat hashemot) was a definitive stage not only in the development of this branch of Jewish esoteric lore but also in the field of practical Kabbalah (kabbalah ma’asit). His original treatise, Alpha-beta shel hashemot (Ms Jerusalem, NLI 4° 615), was conceived by later copyists as an open text to which they added more and more information regarding holy names and their use. This treatise, known today in a highly expanded, printed version as Sefer shorshei hashemot, started its way in the middle of the seventeenth century as part of Zacuto’s enterprise of collecting, organizing and transmitting kabbalistic knowledge. It contains 443 entries, arranged in alphabetic order, each of which explains the origin of the name, the system of creating it, its relation to the heavenly worlds, and its use (in many cases Zacuto also indicated the origin of this information). In this regard Alpha-beta shel hashemot is a systematically structured junction between theoretical and practical kabbalah.

Together with the preparation of a critical edition of the text, the Israeli team of a German-Israeli collaboration working on Zacuto’s writings, is creating a digital dynamic database of Hebrew holy names (DHHN). Our database will provide readers and scholars with state-of-the-art search and comparison tools in the field of the Kabbalah of names and its links with both theoretical and practical Kabbalah. It will enable future users not only to retrieve information about holy names and their meaning, but also to grasp their various contexts in different kabbalistic branches and expose the mutual relationships between them. Our method involves the encoding and tagging of the texts in XML-TEI format. This tagging method enables the creation of an open and expandable database with high data connectivity and therefore a sophisticated and broadly diverse range of search options. In our lecture we will introduce both the text and its digitization in DHHN.