By: Kaufmann Kohler
The allegorical use of the name "Bride" for "Israel" is based upon Hosea ii. 19-20: "I will betroth thee forever," and, in conjunction with Ezek. xvi. 8, gave rise to the allegorical interpretation of the Song of Solomon as typifying the espousal of God as the King of Peace (Solomon) and Israel (the Shulamite), at the redemption from Egypt and the erection of the tabernacle (see Pesiḳ. 1a, 6a; Pesiḳ. R., ed. Friedmann, v. 17b, 21b; Cant. R. to lv. 8-12, where the expression "kallah" [bride] is referred to Israel). However, according to Origen ("Cantic. Canticor." Homily iv.; compare also "Teḥilat Perush Shir ha-Shirim" in "Steinschneider Festschrift" and Allegorical Interpretation), the Palestinian Jews gave the Song of Solomon a mystical interpretation, allowing it to be studied only by men of mature age. This would indicate that, like the "merkabah" of Ezekiel andthe Creation story, the Song of Solomon served as a basis for Gnostic mysteries such as Paul suggests in Eph. v. 32, where he finds in the union of husband and wife "a sacred mystery," obviously of cosmological character. Accordingly, the bride and bridegroom were important in the Gnostic mysteries. See Irenæus, "Adversus Hæreses," i. vii. 1: "Hakamot (Sophia), the mother, after all her seed had been perfected, enters the pleroma as bride and receives the Savior or Demiurge as her spouse," which "mystery of conjunction" these heretics dramatically imitated in their illicit marriages.
Yet these mysteries borrowed the anthropomorphic form of the Deity from the Song of Solomon (Schmidt, "Gnostische Schriften in Koptischer Sprache," 1892, pp. 279-281, where Cant. iii. 11 is quoted), exactly as did the Jewish cabalists when measuring the dimensions of the Deity in the "Shi'ne Ḳomah" (Gaster, "Monatsschrift," 1893, p. 216).
In conformity with this idea Malkut, "the Kingdom," the lowest of the Ten Sefirot, is called the bride, because she desires, but has not attained, the union with Ze'er Anpin, the creative power or "Microprosopus" (the Lesser Countenance); where-as Binah ("the Intelligence"), as the Mother Supernal, is actually united with the Father, "the Ancient One," the Erek Anpin ("the Vast Countenance," or "Macroprosopus")in the Upper Sphere of the Ten Sefirot (Zohar, in Idra Zuṭṭa, pp. 267-279). See Sefirot.
The union therefore of the bride or matron ("matronita") with her celestial spouse, that is to lift the created world into the sphere of the supreme fulness of glory (the pleroma of Paul in Eph. iii. 19), by doing works of goodness and holiness, is the object of life, according to the cabalists—a truly spiritual view in itself, yet one which led the erring to all sorts of abuse, exactly as the ancient Gnostic mystery of Simon Magus and many Christian heretics had done in the second and third centuries. Shabbethai Ẓebi and his followers in the seventeenth century were entangled in sensualism of the worst character. Compare Sabbath. See also Betrothal.