As Light Before Dawn explores the mystical thought of Isaac ben Samuel of Akko, a major medieval kabbalist whose work has until now received relatively little attention. Through consideration of an extensive literary corpus, including much that still remains in manuscript, this study examines an array of themes and questions that have great applicability to the comparative study of mysticism and the broader study of religion. These include prayer and the nature of mystical experience; meditative concentration directed to God; and the power of mental intention, authority, creativity, and the transmission of wisdom.
About the author
Eitan P. Fishbane is Assistant Professor of Jewish Thought at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City.
"Fishbane presents a carefully parsed analysis of Issac's world view, which remain in many respects a template for the spirituality of the Zohar in which the kabbalist is enmeshed in a consciousness defined by the interactions of the tropes of the Jewish canon, the images of the phenomenal world, the demands of the law, and the larger sweep of history."
—Pinchas Giller, AJS
"Eitan P. Fishbane's compelling study of Isaac of Akko shines a light on one of medieval kabbalah's most unique thinkers. Fishbane's book contributes mightily to a wide range of issues in kabbalah scholarship: sociology of knowledge, kabbalistic hermeneutics, mystical practice, mystical experience, and mystical union. Throughout, Fishbane treats the reader with his engaging and sophisticated style, a fecund reading of this kabbalist's oeuvre, and impressive erudition. Moreover, the author brings a wide variety of methodological approaches that deepen and enrich the scholarly conversation."
—Joel Hecker, H-Net
"Isaac of Acre, a fascinating, even unique medieval kabbalist, finally receives the broad scholarly treatment that he deserves in As Light Before Dawn. Eitan Fishbane's work is marked by extraordinary erudition, sophisticated methodologies, and a richly textured, nuanced analysis of this important contemplative mystic. This superb book is a distinguished contribution to the study of medieval Jewish mysticism."
—Professor Lawrence Fine, Irene Kaplan Leiwant Chair of Jewish Studies, Mt. Holyoke College
"Isaac of Akko, a seminal figure in the history of Jewish mystical thought, is here rescued from obscurity. The richness of his teachings combines with Fishbane's deeply creative scholarship to offer a true delight to students of Kabbalah, of meditative practice, and of the transmission of esoteric traditions in prior ages. Critical and comparative perspectives are well used to bring ancient wisdom to life in this model scholarly work."
—Arthur Green, Irving Brudnick Professor, Hebrew College
"Isaac of Akko is one of the few early kabbalists who described, and reflected on, his own mystical experiences. Here Eitan Fishbane presents a dazzling, erudite analysis of Isaac's writings, exploring his theory and practice of contemplation. This book captures the excitement and creativity of Kabbalah by expertly presenting one of its boldest pioneers, who spanned the Mediterranean world and imbibed wisdom wherever he journeyed. A superb work of scholarship, sophisticated yet fully accessible."
—Daniel Matt, editor and translator of The Zohar: Pritzker Edition
"Eitan Fishbane's As Light Before Dawn: The Inner World of a Medieval Kabbalist is a major contribution both to the study of Jewish mysticism and to the wider world of comparative mystical research. Although Isaac of Akko has long been known as an important Kabbalist, this is the first systematic presentation of one of the most challenging and rewarding mystical teachers of Kabbalah. With impressive command of the sources, penetrating analysis of difficult texts, and, above all, with a masterly ability to to reveal the inner dynamics of Isaac's spiritual teaching, Fishbane presents us with a full account of a mystic whose teaching on topics such as authority and tradition, theurgy and devotion, as well as contemplation and union with God, show him to be a true sage of Judaism, as well as a significant conversation partner for students of other mystical traditions."
—Bernard McGinn, Naomi Shenstone Donnelley Professor Emeritus, Divinity School, University of Chicago