Sefer Yetzirah – 15th Century Armenian Manuscript

On a recent trip to the south coast, we found a wonderful book in a secondhand book shop titled “Mapping the World” by Caroline and Martine Laffon. One map in particular caught our eye, from a 15th century Armenian Manuscript, titled Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation).


Sefer Yetzirah - from 15thC Armenian manuscript

Sefer Yetzirah (Hebrew, Sēpher Yəṣîrâh “Book of Formation,” or “Book of Creation,” ספר יצירה) is the title of the earliest extant book on Jewish esotericism. “Yetzirah” is more literally translated as “Formation”; the word “Briah” is used for “Creation”.

The Sefer Yetzirah exists in multiple versions, including:

1) The Short Version,
2) The Long Version,
3) The Saadia Version, and
4) The Gra Version, among others.

The differences among these versions tend to be minor.

1) and 2). The Short Version comprises about 1300 words while the Long Version about twice that. In the 13th century CE, Abraham Abulafia noted the existence of both of them.
3). In the 10th century, Saadia Gaon reorganized the Longer Version for his commentary on the Sefer Yetzirah, now called the Saadia Version.
4). In the 16th century, the Ari (Isaac Luria) redacted the text to harmonize it with the Zohar, and then in the 18th century, the Gra (Eliyahu the Gaon of Vilna) further redacted this, now called the Gra Version

The Istanbul University Library will be a definite place to visit, to see this and other early manuscripts and maps.