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 (one reader in the comments suggest this is only from Kabbalah texts, no matter, it is an interesting myth floating out there is some forms of Judaism).  And 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.




Filed under Philosophy & Religion

35 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.

  9. Thank you for this enlightenment. It’s quite interesting.

  10. I could show you where it is but I’d have to kill ya. World Tree is cracked off at around 12 feet the rest laying on it’s side and The Tree of Souls is petrified and hidden from the sun by the larger trees. Both are a sad sight so be ready.

  11. NONO


  12. @Nono,
    I named my sources — check it out.

  13. Chufi

    I have a question. If the woman has an abortion, what happen with the soul? It returns to the Chamber of Guf or what? (I apology for my english if I wrote something wrong…)

  14. Kathleen Fashempour

    Yes, this was an interesting illustration and the meaning of transcending souls to mature and store in the hall of souls. Enlightening concept 🙏🏼

  15. Dennis Belton

    I believe you are on the right track. However, I think the “tree” and the “Guf” are one and the same place.

  16. Nate

    Really impressed you cited some sources here.

    I would say it’s equally important to state that this concept of trees, chambers, souls, and Gabriel, is not normative Judaism in the slightest. If it would be considered a central tenet of Jewish ideology, which I doubt it is, it would be found in the Hassidic branch of Judaism, which has only been around for a few hundred years

  17. @ Nate: I’m use to “normative” used in the sense of being prescriptive, but it seems here you are using it to mean “common” or “normal”, correct?
    I’m not sure which of the flavors of Judaism, either now or in the past, have put forward the story, but it is interesting. Humans make such fun common stories when they don’t understand something.

  18. Nate


    Thank you for clarifying. When I said “normative” my primary intent was that it’s not a “normal” approach; but at the same time I was also using it in the classic sense that you would normally use the term.
    The citations you quotes are based on kabbalah (see the wiki link you posted). Kabbalah is a relatively recent form of esoteric teachings within Judaism, which did in fact become the source for more extreme aspects of Jewish observance, particularly within the hassidic branches of Judaism, hence the “prescriptive” aspect of my statement. While many go to lengths to justify that kabbalah originates from back in the times of the Talmud (approx 2000 years ago), it is heavily argued and the more rational/historical approach pins it to the last few hundred years. The guf-tree story, which stems from kabbalah, is therefore not an approach that the typical orthodox Jew abides by nor teaches their children.

  19. @ Nat Thanx for clarifying — Yes, I had not thought it a common thought at all in most of Judaism. As I wrote, this is just one of the myths that some Jews embrace. I would caution your prescriptive tendencies from making you fall into the “No True Scotsman” fallacy which would pretend to assume the writer know what “True Judaism” is or certainly should be.

  20. Nate


    Thank you for the caution. I think it’s fair to say that if a religion has been around for thousands of years and then a new shade within the religion introduces teachings that are radically different and unfounded, while there is much to learn from them, it is not the authentic form of the original.

    I would also like to point out that you group together “talmud and kabbalah” for the guf myth, while your citations point to kabbalah alone. Unless there is a Talmudic source for the guf tree, I’d kindly advise you edit this part of your article. Scholarly consensus places the kabbalah to an entirely different time period than that of the Talmud; it’s a fascinating topic to delve into.

  21. @ Nate:

    Your first paragraph is actually completely illogical. Astrology has been around for thousands of years, and it is nonsense supplanted by Astronomy. It is clear you are simply trying to protect your favorite religion. The bias is blatant. Buddhism supplanted Hinduism, Islam supplanted other Arab religions and on and on. Remember, I think all religions are mistaken of course. But even if I did feel gods were chatting with people or somehow the universe cared about humans more than it cares about viruses, your state still is objectively unreasonable. Maybe you should read it again.

    I will look above to on the Talmud Kabbalah issue. Thanks.

  22. Nate


    I see a significant difference between (1) a religion morphing into a new entity, and (2) a subset of a religion retroactively interpreting its teachings into the pre-existing framework/text of the original. The latter is what I am referring to in the discussion of “true” Judaism when it comes to kabbalah, and was also something I brought up about Xtianity on the other post.
    Your parallel of astronomy/astrology makes no sense when we are discussing kabbalah/Judaism, Buddhism/Hinduism, or Islam/Arab religions.

  23. @ Nate,
    Your claim seems to say that “No religion can be valid if it is a subset or offshoot of another religion which has existed for a long, long time prior to the new subset/offshoot.” Is that a fair restatement? If not, please restate shortly and clearly. Thank you.

  24. Nate


    No. Rather, no subset/offshoot can justly say “we are the new and true Judaism”. Rather, they have every right to say “we believe that Judaism is archaic and we are not attempting to replace it. While a lot of what we do/say may contain shades of earlier Jewish ideas, we recognize that we are an innovation that is breaking away from the traditional form of Judaism. What we practice is something new, and it is not Judaism”.

  25. @ Nate:
    But Nate, they actually believe that they have the NEW testament (I think it is hogwash), but remember, Jews use to believe animal sacrifice was needed but then a new form came along. I can imagine the horrified neck-slicer lament at such a modification of the true mass revelation.
    But thanks for clarifying — you just don’t want them trying to proselyte other Jews like they did in the first Century. You just want them to package it differently. Because you know what “true Judaism” is, correct. “The True Scotsman” Sorry, feeling a bit testy. Smile.

  26. Nate


    I find new forms of animal sacrifice, which is one ritual within an entire religion, very different from the entirety of the religion itself.

    I personally don’t care too much about the proselytizing; it’s not a significant issue anymore. I’m more perturbed by Jews presenting fluffy messages that ignore world/Jewish history, and “repentancizing” (yes I made up that word) other less affiliated Jews with a lot of senselessness.
    With regard to Xtians and my Bible, it’s more a feeling of “get your hands off my stuff” or “stop taking a dump in my backyard”. So, no, it does not have to do with what’s the “true” Judaism.

  27. @ Nate
    Your comments confirm a contention I make in this blog: Religion is not so much a matter of belief but a form of identity people use — a tribal flag — a way to feel “bigger than you are” — to enjoy membership in a larger community. And as with many identity methods, rationality is gladly sacrificed. Both religious folks and religion-free folks do this.

  28. Nate


    Respectfully, you seem to generalize quite often. While it may be comfortable, or perhaps rational, for you to simplify complex matters, IMHO a lot of your conclusions are largely a result of not being very familiar both with the mindset of the person you are chatting with nor the religion they are a part of– at least that’s the case with me. Perhaps 15 years ago, when I was more naive, I adopted the “bigger than I am” or “being part a community” when I approached religion. But I am a firm believer that individuals who deem themselves religious must mature in their relationship and understanding of their religion (perhaps to you that means to discard it?). While being part of a larger community is a huge plus, it’s far from the core of what motivates me in engaging with my religion.
    Please feel free to share which of my comments “confirm the contention on your blog”. Perhaps there was a miscommunication.

  29. @ Nate;
    Maybe it was when you wrote:

    With regard to Xtians and my Bible, it’s more a feeling of “get your hands off my stuff” or “stop taking a dump in my backyard”. So, no, it does not have to do with what’s the “true” Judaism.

  30. Nate


    You had made a comment earlier: “Because you know what “true Judaism” is, correct. “The True Scotsman”
    To this claim, I said that my criticisms of Xtianity are not based on me knowing what’s true. Rather, it’s based on their manipulation of a previously existing document and saying “hey, this is what it really means”. You had attempted to parallel this with animal sacrifice, but I commented that that’s one small aspect of an entire religion, as opposed to redefining a document that defines an entire religion. Therefore, the parallel is unjustified.
    I am really not seeing how my criticism of Xtianity’s view of the old testament, which has little to do with my commitment to Judaism, turns me into someone who embodies how “religion is not so much a matter of belief but a form of identity people use — a tribal flag — a way to feel “bigger than you are” — to enjoy membership in a larger community”. Please expand

  31. @ Nate: I don’t think we are going to go anywhere with this. (nor is it worth any further effort). Your religiosity is yours and framed however you wish. I wish you well.

  32. Keter Etzah

    Actually, there is a Biblical reference for the Guf. It is 1 Peter 3:18-20. Steve Bush

  33. @Keter: Sorry, I don’t understand. That verse is in the Christian Bible and speaks of a “prison”. Could you explain?

  34. When I asked OpenAI about “Guf”, I got the following explanation: n Jewish theology, “Guf” (also spelled “Guph” or “Guf ha-Mashiach”) refers to the concept of the “body of the Messiah”. According to Jewish tradition, the soul of the Messiah exists in a heavenly realm, and the body of the Messiah is in a state of waiting or “hibernation” in the Guf, which is sometimes described as a sort of spiritual treasure-house or storehouse.

    The Guf is believed to contain a finite number of souls that are predestined to inhabit human bodies throughout history. Once all of these souls have been born and lived their lives, the end of the world will come and the Messiah will appear to usher in a new era of peace and redemption.

    The concept of the Guf is not explicitly mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, but it has become an important part of Jewish mystical and eschatological traditions. The Guf is often associated with the idea of “heavenly storehouses” or “treasuries” that appear in various Jewish texts, and it has been the subject of much speculation and interpretation over the centuries.

Please share your opinions!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s