Suggested Reading for The Esoteric Quest

Below is a list of suggested reading to help you expand your knowledge of this extraordinary period. None of the reading is required. We extend our thanks to Frank Donnola on his assistance in compiling this list.

The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain
Maria Rosa Menocal

The Ornament of the World tells of a time and place—from 786 to 1492, in Andalusia, Spain—that is largely and unjustly overshadowed in most historical chronicles. It was a time when three cultures—Judaic, Islamic and Christian—forged a relatively stable (though occasionally contentious) coexistence. Such was this period that there remains in Toledo a church with an "homage to Arabic writing on its walls [and] a sumptuous 14th-century synagogue built to look like Granada’s Alhambra." Long gone, however, is the Cordoba library—a thousand times larger than any other in Christian Europe. Menocal's history is one of palatine cities, of philosophers, of poets whose work inspired Chaucer and Boccaccio, of weeping fountains, breezy courtyards and a long-running tolerance "profoundly rooted in the cultivation of the complexities, charms and challenges of contradictions," which ended with the repression of Judaism and Islam the same year Columbus sailed to the New World.

Moorish Culture in Spain
Titus Burckhardt

A unique study of the Moors' arrival on the Iberian peninsula in 711 until the Renaissance, examining the manner of life and the achievements in architecture, poetry, philosophy, religion and music that developed in Andalusia, the center of the North African Arab empire on the European continent. The Arab contribution to human progress—astronomy, mathematics, cosmology, the variety and magnificent wealth of architectural form—is a remarkable legacy of a people who entered the land as conquerors and became peaceful masters. From the establishment of the first mosque in Cordova in 785 until the time of their expulsion by the Catholic kings in 1492, the Moors dominated the intellectual life of the area and had a profound impact on European civilization, which assimilated many of their ideas.

The Rise and Fall of Paradise
When Arabs and Jews Built a Kingdom in Spain
Elmer Bendiner

Arabs and Jews together once built an elegant kingdom in the southern half of Spain. Jewish merchant-adventurers brought treasure from across the Himalayas, from China, India, Persia, from the wild forested frontiers of northern Europe and the cultivated cities of the Mediterranean. Arabs legislated to keep the market scales honest and the silk from being watered. Jewish physicians practiced and taught the profession that even then was ancient and respected among their people, and Jewish diplomats brought glory to the Arab rulers. Elmer Bendiner describes Cordoba at its zenith in the beneficent reign of Abdar Rahman III and his Jewish diplomat and physician, Hasdai ibn Shaprut. He gives us the tastes and smells of Cordoban banquets and the sounds of music that accompanied them.
 
Spain Under The Crescent Moon
Angus Macnab

This is one of the most entrancing books on Moorish Spain since Washington Irving's Tales from the Alhambra. It is composed of a series of historical sketches so readable that they might have been lifted straight from the Arabian Nights—except that, unlike Scheherazade, he quotes historical sources for every wonder he recounts. The book is highly relevant to the pressing contemporary problem of how to relate to the Islamic world. The history of Moorish Spain shows that the question is not a new one, and it seems beyond doubt that the solutions reached during the many centuries of Christian-Muslim co-existence have a lot of wisdom to offer us today.

A Vanished World: Medieval Spain's Golden Age of Enlightenment 
Chris Lowney

To organize Spanish history from the Muslim conquest of 711 to the completion in 1492 of the Catholic Reconquista, Lowney deploys a set of minibiographies. The author's main concern, however, is not biographical: writing with contemporary religious strife in mind (Lowney's first words are about the Madrid terrorist atrocity of March 2004), the author explores the thoughts and actions of his subjects—Muslim, Christian, and Jewish—toward the religious other. His portraits are vivid and moving.

The Seven Days of the Heart
by Ibn Arabi. Pablo Beneito and Stephen Hirtenstein (Translators)

These fourteen prayers, revered within the Islamic world for centuries, include expressions of devotion and contemplation and provide a precious glimpse into the real practice of the mystical life within the Sufi tradition.

The Unlimited Mercifier
The spiritual life and thought of Ibn 'Arabi
Stephen Hirtenstein

The Unlimited Mercifier presents a comprehensive portrait of Ibn 'Arabi's life and thought, highlighting his special place in history and his particular relevance in the modern world. The book is a unique arrangement of biographical chapters alternating with chapters on major themes in his work. Divided into five sections, it includes:

• a full and up-to-date biography, drawn from Ibn 'Arabi's writings
• a historical overview of the times in which he lived
• an exploration of key themes in his teachings
• many new translations, with samples of his handwriting
• detailed maps and photographs of the places he visited
• appendices on his major works and contemporaries
• suggestions for further reading
• full notes, bibliography and index

Doctor Illuminatus
Ramon Llull (Author), Anthony Bonner (Editor)

For this anthology, Anthony Bonner chose central texts from his acclaimed two-volume compilation Selected Works of Ramon Llull ( Princeton, 1985). Available for the first time in an affordable format, these works serve as an introduction to the life and writings of the Catalan (properly, Majorcan) philosopher, mystic and theologian who lived from 1232 to 1316. Founder of a school of Arabic and other languages, Llull was also a poet and novelist and one of the creators of literary Catalan. This volume contains three prefaces on Llull's life, thought, and reputation. Of Llull's works, it offers the Book of the Gentile and the Three Wise Men, his seminal Christian apology; the Ars Brevis, a summary of his philosophical system; The Book of the Lover and the Beloved, a celebration of mystical love in the courtly tradition; and his wittily scathing Book of the Beasts.

A Guide to the Zohar
Arthur Green

The Zohar is the great medieval compendium of Jewish esoteric and mystical teaching, and an important basis of the kabbala. It is, however, a notoriously difficult text, full of hidden codes, concealed meanings, obscure symbols and ecstatic expression. This illuminating study, based upon the last several decades of modern Zohar scholarship, unravels the historical and intellectual origins of this rich text and provides an excellent introduction to its themes, complex symbolism, narrative structure and language. A Guide to the Zohar is a valuable companion to the Zohar itself, as well as a useful resource for scholars and students interested in mystical literature, particularly that of the west, from the Middle Ages to the present.

The Zohar: Pritzker Edition
Daniel C. Matt (Editor, Translator)

Daniel C. Matt brings together in one place the most important teachings from the Zohar, the cornerstone of Kabbala—described as a mixture of theology, mystical psychology, anthropology, myth and poetry—alongside facing-page stories, notes and historical background that illuminate and explain the text. This book has been described as ideal for the first-time reader with no prior knowledge of Jewish mysticism.

My Sentence Was a Thousand Years of Joy: Poems
Robert Bly

My Sentence Was a Thousand Years of Joy is Robert Bly's second book of ghazals. The poems have become more intricate and personal than they were in "The Night Abraham Called to the Stars," and the leaps even bolder. This book includes the already famous poem against the Iraq War, "Call and Answer": "Tell me why it is we don't lift our voices these days / And cry over what is happening.” The poems are intimate and yet reach out toward the world: the intensity of flamenco singers, the sadness of the gnostics, the delight of high spirits and wit. Robert Bly is writing the best poems of his life, and this book reestablishes his position as one of the greatest poets of our era.

Lorca & Jimenez: Selected Poems
Robert Bly (Editor)

A unique gathering of poems by two great twentieth-century poets, with the original Spanish versions and powerful English translations on facing pages. In a new preface, editor and translator Robert Bly explores what the poems reveal today about politics, the spirit and the purpose of art.

Night and Sleep 
Jalal Al-Din Rumi (Author), Rita Shumaker (Illustrator), Robert Bly (Translator), Coleman Barks (Translator)

Seventeen poems of Rumi, a 13th-century Persian mystic, in English versions by Robert Bly and Coleman Barks. These poems express a longing for the "Mystical Friend," a spiritual guide, or brother.

The Interior Castle 
Mirabai Starr (Author), Teresa of Avila (Author)

Celebrated for almost five centuries as a master of spiritual literature, St. Teresa of Avila is one of the most beloved religious figures in history. Overcome one day by a mystical vision of a crystal castle with seven chambers, each representing a different stage in the soul's spiritual quest for union with God, Teresa recorded her vision in this now classic text. Probably her most important and widely studied work, The Interior Castle guides the spiritual seeker through each chamber of the castle to the center and the soul's final union with the divine. Free of religious dogma, this contemporary rendering is a beautiful and practical set of teachings for seekers of all faiths in need of guidance. Mirabai Starr's introduction places this classic in a contemporary context, reasserting its spiritual and literary importance close to five hundred years after it was first published.

Dark Night of the Soul
John of the Cross (Author), Thomas Moore (Foreword), Mirabai Starr (Translator)

In St. John’s vision of spiritual life, the pain of separation from God is to be embraced, not avoided. "The dark night is about being fully present in the tender, wounded emptiness of our own souls," explains translator Mirabai Starr—although she grants that modern culture makes such acceptance hard to attain. "We tend to see difficult feelings as a form of illness, which we hope to conquer, cure, and expel. [St. John of the Cross] has a far greater imagination of human life: his goal is not health but union with the divine." Several fine English translations of Dark Night already exist; Starr’s, however, is distinguished by its ecumenism. Minimizing the explicit scriptural references of the original text, she makes the treasures of Dark Night more accessible to readers of all religious traditions.

Teresa of Avila: The Book of My Life
Mirabai Starr

Mirabai tackles Teresa's better-known autobiography, which has not seen a new English translation in four decades. Starr is the first woman, and one of the only non-Catholics, to translate the memoir. These vantage points give her a fresh perspective on the mystic, and crisp, contemporary language puts Teresa's famous passion for God in stark relief. Carmelite hermit and author Tessa Bielecki provides a brief but engaging foreword, while Starr pens a helpful introduction, highlighting Teresa's life and placing her work in historical context.

Convivencia: Jews Muslims & Christians in Medieval Spain
Articles & Exhibition Catalog
Thomas Glick & Vivian Mann

This beautifully illustrated and produced catalog examines the cultural coexistence (convivencia) of the Islamic, Jewish and Christian populations in Islamic Spain, who jointly created a civilization that was one of the most glorious in Islamic history. The topics range widely. In a provocative and insightful essay, convivencia is examined through Sephardic eyes. Other essays consider Hebrew poetry and Hebrew illuminated manuscripts that use Islamic motifs. All the topics examined are important to the history of medieval Spain, and the volume as a whole is an important addition to the scholarly literature on the subject. The items reproduced here are of the highest quality, and the reproductions themselves are very well done. A valuable bibliography is included. This volume effectively complements the exhibition yet can stand alone, for it offers a unique perspective on the cultural history of Spain.

A History of Jews in Christian Spain
Yitzhak Baer

One of the century’s great classics of Jewish historiography, A History of the Jews in Christian Spain traces the economic, social, legal and political life of the Spanish Jewish community from the 11th-century re-conquest of Iberia from Muslim rule to the expulsion of 1492. The second volume of Professor Baer’s monumental work tells the tragic story of the dissolution of the great Spanish Jewish community. An unusual feature of the volume are the many and sometimes extensive quotations from medieval Jewish writings never before rendered into English. They provide an opportunity to savor the work of the mystics and rationalists, the poets and religious disputants of the era.

Studies in Ecstatic Kabbalah
Judaica, Hermeneutics, Mysticism and Religion
Moshe Idel

The Mystical Experience in Abraham Abulafia
SUNY Series in Judaica 
Moshe Idel

Online Articles:
 
Exotericism and Esotericism in 13th Century Kabbalah
Harvey J. Hames

Click here to read the article

Islamic and Christian Spain in the Early Middle Ages
Comparative Perspectives on Social and Cultural Formation
Thomas F. Glick

Click here to read the article

Related Articles from Gnosis Magazine (see www.lumen.org for more information):

The Code of Love: Troubadours, Cathars and Ezra Pound!
John Kimsey

Gnosis #18

Fire, Breath and Silence
Avram Davis
An introductory article on Abraham Abulafia

Gnosis #18

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