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Esoteric work on the dimensions of the body of God and of His several members. It exists apparently only in fragments, the largest, which often has been taken to be the entire work, being included in the "Sefer Raziel." These measurements are ascribed to R. Ishmael, the Hermes Trismegistus of this and similar mysticism, who received them secretly from Meṭaṭron, the angel of the Presence. The following translation of selected passages may serve to give an idea of the work:


"What are the measurements of God, who is hidden from all creatures? The soles of His feet fill the entire world, according to Isa. lxvi. 1, and their height is 3 myriad times 1,000 parasangs; the right foot is called 'parsimya atar ratatat,' and the left 'agtamon.' The distance between the sole and the ankle is 1,000 myriads and 500 parasangs." The size of the other members, the knees, thighs, hips, and neck, are equally gigantic, and mystical names are given to them also. Seventy names are enumerated as written on His heart. The description of the trunk is followed by that of the head, beard, face, nose, and tongue, which reaches from one end of the universe to the other. Divine names are inscribed also on His forehead, chiefly in groups of between two and five letters combined from the Tetragrammaton. The eye is described in detail; then the shoulders, arms, fingers, and toes. A second set of measurements of the nose, fingers, and other parts, however, gives the impression that the work is not altogether perfect in its arrangement ("Sefer Raziel," ed. Amsterdam, pp. 37b-38a). R. Ishmael said: "When I came and told these things to R. Akiba, he said to me: 'Whoso knoweth the measurements of this our Creator and the hymn of praise to God, who is hidden from all creatures, may be assured that he will share in the world to come, that the bliss of the future life will make him rejoice even on earth, and that his days will be prolonged, . . . yet only if he repeateth them daily, like a mishnah'" (ib.; see also Bloch, "Gesch. der Entwickelung der Kabbala und der Jüdischen Religionsphilosophie," Treves, 1894). The following passage, which conveys the same thought in simpler form, is found in "Raziel" (p. 37a), in "Hekalot Rabbati" (ed. Jerusalem, xi. 1), and in Jellinek ("B. H." iii. 91; the relation between the two recensions is discussed by Gaster in "Monatsschrift," xxxvii. 216): "Above the seat of the throne there are 118 myriads, and below it there are likewise 118 myriads; His [God's] height is 237 myriad times 1,000 parasangs; the distance between His right arm and His left is 77 myriads, and between His right eyeball and His left 30 myriads; the skull upon His head is 3 myriads, and His crowns 60 myriads."

Age and Sources.

In a discussion of the age and the sources of this work a sharp distinction must be drawn between its present form and its previous contents. It was known under the name of "Shi'ur Ḳomah" even before the time of Saadia, since Solomon b. Yeruham (b. 886), Bishop Agobard of Lyons (c. 820), and an Anglo-Saxon work of the eighth century ("Monatsschrift," viii. and xxxvii.; Zunz, "Literaturgesch." p. 606) mention it. It was known also in later times, for Sherira Gaon and Maimonides studied it, apparently to their mystification, the latter declaring it to be a forgery. The book; therefore, was redacted in its present form by the eighth century at the latest. It belongs to the mysticism of the Merkabah, and thus falls in the same category as the Hekalot, the Meṭaṭron-Enoch, and the Alphabet of R. Akiba. Which of these works was the original is a problem that defies solution.

On historical grounds, Zunz, Grätz, Jellinek, and Bloch assign the "Shi'ur Ḳomah" to the geonic period, and in harmony with this Grätz sought to trace it to Mohammedanism, finding its source among the Mushabbihites. It may be assumed, however, that the ancient mysticism of the Throne-Chariot, which flourished as early as the first century, did not disappear, but was transmitted from generation to generation, and finally, like other esotericisms, received literary recognition. As a matter of fact, the "Shi'ur Ḳomah" shows traces of ancient Gnosticism, and Gaster is probably correct in assigning it to a time preceding the Geonim, this view being shared by Kohler and Ginzberg (Jew. Encyc. i. 624, s.v. Anthropomorphism, and iii. 462, s.v. Cabala). Gaster declares of the "Shi'ur Ḳomah," a previously unknown passage of which he published ("Monatsschrift," xxxvii. 224 et seq.), that it "derives its origin from the theory of the world expressed both in the system of Valentinus and Marcus and in the mystical apocalypses and pseudepigrapha of the last century before and the first century after the common era." As magic and mysticism are not easily destroyed, it is highly improbable that the tannaitic esotericism perished, and it would therefore seem that it merely suffered some transformation; it may therefore be inferred that in essence the "Shi'ur Ḳomah," like kindred works, originated in antiquity. See Gnosticism.

  • Zunz, G. V. 2d ed., pp. 176 (note F), 418 (note A);
  • idem, Literaturgesch. p. 606;
  • Grätz, in Monatsschrift, viii. 67-78, 103-118, 140-153;
  • L. Löw, Gesammelte Schriften, ii. 49;
  • Jellinek, B. H. vi., p. xxxii.;
  • Gaster, Monatsschrift, xxxvii. 179-185, 213-230;
  • Eisenmenger, Entdecktes Judenthum, i., beginning (quotation of two passages of the Shi'ur Ḳomah, with a translation).
W. B. L. B.
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