The Primordial Adam

And above the expanse that was over their heads, like the appearance of a sapphire stone, was the likeness of a throne, and on the likeness of the throne, was a likeness like the appearance of a man ....

                                                                                                                                                Ezekiel 1:26, Tanakh

The Primordial Adam

One of the oldest ideas in Kabbalah is a correspondence between the sefirot of the Tree of Life and the human body. The sefirot represent the active, creative potency of the divine names, and their relationship to the body emphasises that we should view the sefirot as components of a single organism. The human shape is the "form" of this dynamic, and is the prototype, shape, or image at the largest scale (macrocosm), and at the human scale (microcosm).

The sefirot of Keter is the crown of the King. Chokhmah and Binah correspond to the cerebral hemispheres of the brain, and perhaps more properly to the mind. Chesed and Gevurah correspond to the right and left arm respectively, Tipheret to the trunk, Yesod to the genitals, and Netzach and Hod to the right and left legs. Note that the figure faces into the Tree - when viewed from the front the sefirot have to be flipped around the middle pillar.
The Kabbalistic lore concerning Adam Kadmon, the Primordial Adam, derives from the most ancient strata of Jewish mysticism. The full extent of this archaic lore is now lost to us, but remnants of related lore can be found in texts that derive from Egypt, from the Holy Land, from Syria and Eastern Turkey, from Iran, and from India. The most relevant and interesting survivals come from the intersection of Judaism, Hermeticism, Zoroastrianism, and Islam in a belt that stretched from the ancient city of Harran in Turkey, to the equally ancient city of Babylon in a region that was once called Chaldea, then Mesopotamia, and now Iraq.

A synthetic, composite outline of this lore might be composed as follows:

In the beginning of all things, the first creation was a configuration of primordial light-energy with the "shape" of a human being. This configuration was the archetypal pattern for all that followed. The pattern of light-energy (or spiritual being) has many names, most of them secret. The most common name is Adam, which in Semitic dialects simply means "human being". The secret names vary according to time and place and culture and the circumstances in which this light-energy-being manifests its energy. In Kabbalah a "well-known" secret name for this energy is YHVH, or YHVH-ALHIM. 

Because this Adam is not an actual human being, but a primordial light-energy-pattern, the name Primordial Adam, or Light-Adam, or Man of Light, or Anthropos is used. The Primordial Adam is vast beyond comprehension and contains uncountable worlds of light. The Primordial Adam is dual and androgenous - that is, considered in terms of human biology, Primordial Adam is neither male nor female, but both. 

The primordial light-energy-being known as Adam was the first emanation of an unknowable first cause. Just as we distinguish between the mind and body of a person, so we can think of the light-energy-Adam as the "body" of a mind that is beyond our understanding. As a "body" it can "act", and its "actions" are creative. The light-energy-Adam is dual, and as a consequence of its duality, it is demiurgic, and it manifests worlds of duality.

Some internal parts of light-energy-Adam are entranced by the created worlds and fall into a dualistic relationship with "patterns of created energy". These fragments of light-energy-Adam are called "souls", and the relationship of souls with "patterns of created energy" is called the World (or Reality). Souls "fall" because they forget their origin. This relationship with "patterns of energy" (called "everyday life") seems so real and solid that it is taken as a fundamental truth, and not a consequence.  The Biblical story of the expulsion and fall of Adam and Eve is interpreted as a secret teaching on the fall of souls into "matter".  The Fall has a fractal or holographic quality - each soul manifests the dynamic light-energy-pattern of the Primordial Adam.  Each soul retains its relationship with light-energy-Adam, and so it can, through secret knowledge or grace, retrieve the knowledge of its origin and reunite with its source.

Because light-energy-Adam is the archetypal pattern for all that exists, knowledge of the "parts" of Adam - eyes, ears, hair, beard, nose, lips, arms, fingers, torso, penis, legs - conveys great mystical and magical power. One might use it, for example, to create a body of light for the soul, so that it might survive death.

The light-energy-Adam exists outside of time and fate and necessity.  In gnostic systems of belief, the world of time and necessity is ruled by evil beings. Adam, as a timeless being, exists equally at the beginning and end of time, and has been identified with the end times in which evil powers will be subdued, and souls redeemed to worlds of light. In this sense Adam becomes identified with the Messiah, or Christ, or the Redeemer.

The sources for this lore are many. Some of it can be found in the Hermetic lore of Hellenistic Egypt. Some of can be found in ancient Iranian religion. It surfaces in many gnostic writings attributed to sects that are now nothing more than names. Much of it survives to this day in an ancient baptismal sect whose history tells of a migration from the Jordan valley to the marsh region of Iraq in the vicinity of Basra. It surfaces in Kabbalah in ways that have prompted searches for gnostic influences.

Bride and Groom

Christian and Jewish mysticism draw from many of the same texts and metaphors. St. Paul envisaged Adam and Christ as duals, the one leading humankind into mortality through sin, the other leading humankind into eternal life through sacrifice. He even refers to Jesus (1 Cor 15:47) as the "Last Adam".

As the Divine Son, Jesus Christ is a spiritual intermediary occupying a similar place to the Ze'ir Anpin in Kabbalah (see Partzufim), and Christian interpretations of Kabbalah place Christ in Tiferet (with the divine name YHShVH) in a manner that has many parallels with the Jewish tradition.

The symbolism of the Bride and Groom comes directly from many passages in the New Testament. Christ is the Groom, and the Christian community is the Bride - hence the well-known phrase "Bride of Christ". In a traditional Jewish marriage the groom first enters into a covenant with the bride and her family, and then, after a period of time that can last several months, during which the bride prepares for marriage, the groom returns and claims the bride. This is interpreted in terms of the second coming of Jesus, who comes to claim his bride.

Christian mystics have interpreted this more directly and personally, viewing themselves as the Bride. For example, St. Bernard of Clairvaux writes in his extensive commentary on the Song of Songs:

"With good reason then I avoid trucking with visions and dreams; I want no part with parables and figures of speech; even the very beauty of the angels can only leave me wearied. For my Jesus utterly surpasses these in his majesty and splendor. Therefore I ask of him what I ask of neither man nor angel: that he kiss me with the kiss of his mouth. "
The oldest source within the Jewish tradition is not an obvious choice, but it is one of the most quoted sources in Kabbalah. It is the Song of Songs. Taken at face value, the Song of Songs appears to be a compilation of erotic poetry of indeterminate age. Its traditional association with King Solomon might place it as far back as 900BC. It is a strange document, simultaneously beautiful, moving, erotic, and engimatic. In places it is disjointed,  in others repetitious, as if verse fragments have been deleted and other fragments copied and transposed. Some sections are connected and sustained. It is written in the first person, but the viewpoint is female one moment and male the next. Attempts to ascribe an overall meaning are unconvincing - we do not know whether it is a complete work, a complete work that has become jumbled, a single work with portions missing, or a collection of fragments from complete works now lost.

The world it evokes is one of fixation with the beloved, a youthful love filled with a passionate intensity. Everything in the sensual world leads back to the beloved, even a sight as unlikely as a flock of goats or sheep. There is a backdrop of luxury: precious stones, metals, fragrances, spices, wine, food, time. The Song expresses an overwhelming and unreasonable passion - there is nothing measured about it.

Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, he would be utterly despised.

It is unclear why this work became part of the sacred canon. Modern commentators agree that it is likely to be exactly what it appears to be: erotic poetry. Nevertheless, when it first appears in history, it is already being read allegorically by Jewish commentators.  The early Christian scholar Origen (185-254 CE), who lived for a time in Caeserea on the coast of what is now Israel, knew that the Song of Songs was  interpreted as an allegory of God's love for the people of Israel, and that its study was restricted. It was through Origen's commentary on the Song of Songs that it came to be interpreted allegorically within the Christian Church.

It is possible to surmise that there must have been some ancient controvery over the allegorical interpretation because R. Akiva is recorded as stating:

R. Avika declared, "Heaven forbid that any man in Israel ever disputed that the Song of Songs is holy. For the whole world is not worth the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the Writings are holy and the Song of Songs is the holy of holies." 

R. Akiva,, who was contemporaneous with the first generation of Christians following the death of Jesus, is one of the most famous figures in the Jewish mystical tradition. He is a leading figure in various traditions concerning the generation of Jewish saints who were able to ascend to through the heavenly palaces to behold, seated upon the Throne of Glory, a likeness like the appearance of a Man (literally, Adam). Akiva's disciple was Shimon ben Yohai, reputed author of the Zohar. It is approximately from this period that we find quotations from the Song of Songs appearing in mystical literature, for example in the Shiur Komah, or "Measure of the Body". The Shiur Komah is a description of a gigantic divine figure and the Throne of Glory described in terms that clearly derive from the visions of Ezekiel and Isaiah. The physical parts of the divine figure are listed, and nonsensically vast dimensions are given, along with secret names whose meanings are now lost (although they may never have been intelligible - Scholem suggests they may be glossalia). The Song of Songs is quoted directly, in a context that makes it clear that the lyrical description of the male lover, the bridegroom, is the likeness of God:

"His cheeks are like a bed of roses
As banks of sweet herbs;
His lips are as lilies,
Dropping with flowing myrrh.
His hands are as rods of gold, set with beryl.
His body is as polished ivory, overlaid with sapphires.
His legs are as pillars of marble,
Set upon sockets of fine gold.
His aspect is like Lebanon,
Excellent as the cedars.
His mouth is most sweet.
Yea, He is altogether lovely.
This is my beloved, and this is my friend,
O daughters of Jerusalem."

Divine Syzygies in Kabbalah
Divine Syzygies in Kabbalah

A syzygy is male-female pair that may be regarded as a dual manifestation of a single being (or cause of being). The Zohar orients much of its discussion of divine dynamics around three pairs of syzygies.

The first pair is Abba-Imma, literally "Father and Mother". Abba and Imma, although exhibiting some degree of separation, exist in an eternal state of sexual union. If their coitus was interrupted for a moment, the universe would cease to exist. On the Tree of Life, Abba corresponds to Chokhmah, and Imma to Binah.

The second pair is Ze'ir Anpin and Nukva Ze'ir. Ze'ir Anpin is the son of Abba and Imma, and Nukva is simultaneously his emanation and the daughter. Ze'ir and Nukva sometimes embrace, and sometimes turn away from each other. The flow of divine energy from the higher to the lower worlds depends on the condition of their relationship. It is this pair that is most commonly associated with the Song of Songs, hence their epithets of King and Queen, or Groom and Bride. Ze'ir Anpin is associated with six sefirot on the Tree of Life (Chesed, Gevurah, Tiferet, Netzach, Hod, Yesod) and Nukva with Malkhut.

The third pair are Adam and Eve, the progenitors of the human race.  Adam and Eve are initially one being (the Primordial Adam) that separates and then falls into a condition of complete separateness. It appears that the impetus for the metaphoric use of divine couples in Kabbalah derives from several ancient traditions about Adam and Eve merged with the symbolism of the Song of Songs.

Much of the discussion of syzygies in Kabbalah relates to the manifestation of separateness and evil. It is often unclear whether these ideas are being used allegorically, or relate to the literal existence of an intermediate level of reality (sometimes called a pleroma) that has a quasi-autonomous existence within the divine Glory (kavod).

Syzygies are commonplace in ancient cosmogonies, especially those that attempt to explain how structure and duality emerge from a single source. They can be found in Egyptian cosmologies such as the Heliopolitan Ennead, and in many gnostic cosmologies. A related idea from modern physics is symmetry breaking.

Kabbalistic speculation has also accrued around Abraham and Sarah, and Jacob and the sisters Rachel and Leah.
At first sight there is little here that refers explicitly to Adam. According to Genesis, Adam was the first man, created by God in his image. Adam fell, was cast out of the Garden of Eden with his mate Eve, and became the progenitors of the human race. That is the basic Biblical story, but there are other ancient traditions. One of the most important is that there were two Adams. The first Adam is a gigantic spiritual archetype that spans the universe, and exists eternally outside of time. This first Adam is androgenous, male and female combined. The second Adam is the Adam of time and history, partner to Eve, the Adam that broke God's injunction and was cast out of the timeless Eden into the domain of Fate and Necessity.

It is the gigantic, cosmic, first Adam that is the Primordial Adam of Kabbalah. The Primordial Adam is a conflation of ideas that may appear to be distinct, but become surprisingly muddled and interrelated when many sources are considered. Who is the vast figure on the divine throne, the appearance of a man? Is it God, or an aspect of God, or a subordinate created being, and if a subordinate being, which created being? The Shiur Komah suggests the figure on the throne is the yotzer bereshit, the "creator of the beginning", that is, the creator of the world as described in Genesis, a tantalising (and blasphemous) idea that suggests a subordinate demiurge. Other sources suggest the figure is an angel, Akhatriel, or Metatron. The verses from Isaiah 6:3, "And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory" suggest that there is something outside of God - his Glory (kavod) - and medieval German pietists, the Ashkenazi Chassidim, saw the figure on the throne as the visible externalisation of God's Glory. It is a figure in the shape of a Man.

Early Kabbalah, culminating in the Zohar, developed these ideas in depth.  The obscure and mysterious Sepher DeTzeniuta, one of the texts included in the Zohar, succeeds in playing with most of these ideas, seguing from one to another effortlessly, slippery as a serpent in its elusiveness. Its most radical suggestion is an interpretation of the word bereshit - "In the beginning" as "created six" - that is, the first creation was the complex of six sefirot known in Kabbalah as Ze'ir Anpin, who is known by the name YHVH, and who is both the God of the Bible, and the yotzer bereshit, the "creator of the beginning". This figure is essentialy dual, a divine syzygy, a union of two parts, male and female, groom and bride, and is simultaneously the two lovers of the Song of Songs and a supernal archetype of Adam and Eve as one androgenous being split into two parts.

When the circuit of spiritual and creative energy flows through the worlds, from Heaven to Earth and back again, the two lovers cleave together. When the flow of energy is perturbed (e.g. by the failure of humankind to channel this energy through ethical and religious action) then the two lovers are separated, and the flow of divine energy is disrupted. There is much here that has parallels in gnosticism (e.g. Christ and Sophia) and literature (e.g. William Blake's giant anthropos Albion and his spiritual emanation Jerusalem).

The culmination of these ideas occurs in the teachings of R. Isaac Luria. Luria taught that the initial creative act was a withdrawal of divine being, creating a perfectly circular space into which a beam of light ignited the first positive configuration of divine energy. This first configuration, created prior to the sefirot, prior to the Four Worlds, was Adam Kadmon. From the head of Adam Kadmon spring untold complex patterns of light-energy that provide the dynamical impetus to Lurian cosmogony: emanation, shattering, the death of the kings, pregnancy, all leading to a stable configuration of "faces" or partzufim set against a backdrop of cosmic catastrophe.