The Diagram of the Supreme Pole and the Kabbalistic Tree

Religion East and West (9):89-109 (2009)
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This paper discusses similarities of both form and meaning between two symbolic structures: the Diagram of the Supreme Pole of Song Neo-Confucianism and the Kabbalistic Tree of medieval Jewish mysticism. These similarities are remarkable in the light of the many differences that exist between Chinese and Judaic thought, which also manifest in the two symbols. Intercultural influence might account for the similarities, but there is no historical evidence for such influence. An alternative explanation would attribute the similarities to the ubiquity of religious-philosophical ideas about hierarchy, polarity, and macrocosm-microcosm parallelism, but this does not adequately account for the similar overall structure of the symbols. The question of how to understand these similarities remains open.

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Martin Zwick
Portland State University


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