Rabbinic Jewish sources from the 3rd Century CE onwards clearly describe the phenomenon of a ’pre-existing torah’, representing the idea that God had created a torah prior to creation and prior to its immanent manifestation at Mount Sinai. So far, Jewish Studies has dealt with the phenomenon by rendering the content of the relevant sources, whereas nobody has analysed or explained its function within a Jewish context. To counter this lack of knowledge and because the phenomenon emerges within the socalled axial age, Robert Bellah’s theory on cultural evolution is included as a frame of reference when central Rabbinic sources dealing with the preexisting torah are analysed. Furthermore, because the article draws upon a broad understanding of ’torah’ as divine ’instruction’, it extends the analysis to other axial conceptions of torah in early Judaism and Rabbinic Judaism where Jewish sources distinguish between different torot at different ontological levels. This procedure leads to the conclusion that the ’pre-existing torah’ behaves like a typical axial mediator of God’s transcendent wisdom whose function it is - seen from an explanatory perspective - to legitimise religious diversity among Jews through different exoteric as well as esoteric interpretations of divine instructions, claimed to be conceived by God prior to creation.
Præeksistens, 2014, p. 115-138
Pre-existence; Torah; Robert Bellah; Axial Age; Rabbinic Judaism