Guf: a Jewish soul myth

GufAbove I have illustrated a Jewish myth for the origin of the soul. As you can see, it is a variant of the “Heavenly Bank of Souls” theme. This story does not come from the Tanakh (OT) but from other Jewish sacred sources but from the Talmud and the Kabbalah texts — remember my post which tries to weaken the narrow view many Christians (and those influenced by that culture) that sees “scriptures” in a narrow sense — a Protestant scriptura sola sense.

My graphics is labeled A-F which I use below to tell the Guf story:

(A) Tree of Souls: In Paradise (heaven) grows a tree of souls (a Tree of Life) upon which all the souls once began.  Some versions have the souls on the branches with birds, in others, they are on the roots. In some versions, this tree is still in the garden of Eden.
“I am like a cypress tree in bloom; your fruit issues forth from Me.” (Hos.14:9)
He drove the man out, and stationed east of the garden of Eden the cherubim and the fiery ever-turning sword, to guard the way to the Tree of Life” (Gen. 3:24).

(B) Falling Souls: When ripe, the souls they fall off the tree and descend to a chamber for holding.

(C) Guf: AKA, Treasury (Otzar) of Souls or Hall of Souls. called “Guf” or Guph or any of several other transliterations.  This if felt to exist in the Seventh Heaven.  There are those that say that Guf contains an infinite number of souls, while others insist there is only a finite number of sols in it, and that the Messiah will not come until the Guf has been emptied of every soul.  Others say that from the day the Temple was destroyed, no more souls entered the Guf, and when it has been emptied of all the remaining soulds, the Messiah will come.

(D) Angel Gabriel: The angel Gabriel reaches into the treasury (Guf) and takes out a soul, putting it into a human embryo.

(E & F) Angel Lailah & the Womb: The Angel Lailah then guards the embryo while it is in the woman’s womb.

There are many more Jewish myths to explain the origin and fate of the soul, but I thought you’d enjoy this one. So, if you think this is guff, look up your own. :-)

Questions to readers: Illustrations help me remember a story far better than dry black-and-white paragraphs. Did you enjoy this illustration?  Do you have another “soul origins” myth you think would be fun to illustrate?

My Sources: Tree of Soul: The Mythology of Judaism by Howard Schwartz (google books) & “Guf” (wiki)

Pic Credits: tree, Gabriel, Lailah, fetus, earth, the souls & Guf are mine.

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8 Comments

Filed under Philosophy & Religion

8 responses to “Guf: a Jewish soul myth

  1. mikespeir

    Yes. Helpful illustration describing something I didn’t know before.

  2. Earnest

    Nice drawing, very helpful.

  3. I would like to add.

    This only explains as to what additions (or subtractions) have been made by the scribes and the narrators in the original revelation to a prophet; just to impress the ordinary man.

    It has got nothing to do with any Jewish or any other messenger prophet of the One-True-God in any region of the world.

    Please don’t mind; one could of course differ with me

  4. I didn’t know that Angel Gabriel exists in Judaism. OK, now I know that not only he exists but that he’s also responsible for implanting one soul per embryo. I wonder at which stage this happens. When the sperm meets the egg, or at birth? Funny myths.

    As an aside, “soul” in Greek is “psyche” (ψυχή), whence the word “psychology”. A few Greeks take the word verbatim (like an old uncle of mine) declaring that there is no such thing as psychology because there is no such thing as soul. They are, of course, right about the latter, but it’s funny how they take the first word so literally. We also use the word “ensouled” (έμψυχο) as a synonym of the word “alive” or “living”. I think this stems from Classical Greece. I also think that Aristotle wrote (besides great things, he also wrote lots of nonsense) that both animals and vegetables have souls. (If soul existed then he would have been rather correct. Why shouldn’t other living things have souls? What is, after all, so unique about Homo Sapiens? Did Homo Heidelbergensis have a soul? These are questions that modern theologians must face, and I feel sorry for them for wasting their time.)

    P.S. The word “ψυχούλα μου” (my little soul) is a term of endearment in Greek. Rather like “my baby”, or “my dear” and can be intimate or used between close friends. Such is the influence of a mythical concept.

  5. Thanks for the linguistics, Takis — very fun anecdotes too.
    More on Plato’s ideas of soul coming.

  6. Sabio,
    I hope my intention is not misunderstood. I am not intending to “show off”, just to mention things that I know, by default, and which might be interesting to others. I would equally appreciate such comments from, say, a Russian.

  7. Oh, no, no! This is great stuff — love it.

  8. Such Is Life

    Very good. I enjoyed the picture. It helps put things into visual perspective.

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