A collection of lectures on the features of the movement of mysticism that began in antiquity and continues in Hasidism today.--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
In numerous places, Scholem compares the various schools of Jewish mysticism to Gnosticism. Like the Gnostics, most of the Kabbalists -- even really strange thinkers like Sabbatai Zevi -- pursued hidden knowledge, rather than faith, as a means of establishing a direct relation with God. And like the Gnostics, many Kabbalists assumed that the soul of man exists in a state of exile from the true God, as a result of a primordial cosmological imbalance. The Sabbatians went as far in Gnostical thinking as to assume the existence of two Gods, a hidden one and a revealed one; although the Sabbatians reversed the traditonal Gnostic interpretation by preferring the revealed God (the God of Israel, whom the Gnostics opposed) to the hidden God. This striking set of similarities between Gnosticism and Jewish mysticism was the strongest impression I came away with from reading the book.
I found the Jewish mystics to be a colorful and profound group of thinkers. While just a bit dry in a few places, this book engagingly describes an impressive, energetic theological tradition.
Despite the esoteric topics, Gershom Scholem is fairly easy to understand, and the book is organized into logical topics. It also has a good index and tons of bibliographical references. A must for your reference shelf.
The author's concept or purpose is to dispel many of the misleading, and speculative notions on the nature of Jewish mysticism. In the process, taking the mystical/magical portions for the most part out of the equation.
What I like best about Scholem's work is that he is not so concerned with what the meaning of each Kabbalistic notion but is primarily concerned with where it originated and what circumstances allowed for the development of an idea. This allows for an objective and unbiased consideration of the concept being studied.
What you won't get in this book that you will find in most others about this subject is the promotion thereof. No evangelical tendencies exist which make for a more throrough reading.