This essay brings a fresh approach to the early kabbalistic work, the Sefer Bahir (the Book of Clarity, tenth to twelfth century, Hebrew). It does a close reading of its imagery, focusing on water, to illuminate its contested provenance and to challenge prevailing conceptions of its function. Most scholars agree that the work was composed in two layers (tenth and twelfth centuries), which together articulate the sefirotic cosmos at the heart of kabbalah. Close study reveals significant differences in the two layers, as the first is set in a dry and rocky landscape with water supplied by springs and cisterns, and the second in a lush and stormy place with a sophisticated plumbing system. Composed in different milieus, they articulate different cosmologies to cultivate different experiences: the first confounds taxonomic categories to cultivate an affect of mystical unity, while the second creates categories for an orderly cosmological system.

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