ABSTRACT: The Hebrew Book of Creation and the Syriac Treatise of Shem

ARAM, 24 (2012), pp. 203-218  Meir Bar-Ilan


The aim of this paper is to draw attention to a number of similarities between the Hebrew Book of Creation and the Syriac Treatise of Shem that have heretofore never been discussed.

In the first section, the Treatise of Shem is discussed. It is shown that the attribution of this astrological Syriac book to Shem, son of Noah, is based on a scribal error, and that the book in fact has nothing in common with pseudepigrapha. An analysis of the geographical names and meteorological phenomena in the book shows its provenance to be in Syria, and after comparing the book to other astrological texts and Mesopotamian omens it can be claimed that the Treatise of Shem was composed by a non-Jew.

Unlike the Treatise of Shem, that has only recently been published, the Hebrew Book of Creation, also known as Sefer Yesira, was to a certain extent a best seller. Some 60 commentaries have been written on it since the 10th century, and the book is generally considered to be the foundation document of the Kabala, the Jewish mystical tradition.

It is argued that these books share some common characteristics, such as astrology that correlates one’s fate to his name, as well as approximately the same publication date, in the 5th-6th century C.E.