The Zohar is a work containing Jewish mysticism and that is heavily concerned with varying interpretations and understandings of the original Jewish Torah. The Zohar seeks to take a step further beyond the teachings of the Torah and instead employs mysticism as the catalyst for understanding ideas like the personality of God, the stasis of souls, the nature of sin, and the motives of Satan. All of which are encompassed in God’s willingness for us to truly understand them, for without His will, we can understand nothing. Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra is a video game concerned primarily with the concept of control, or, rather, who exactly is in control. Within the game is a dualistic object revered to be capable of both ultimate destruction and an unequivocal realization of the universe’s nature; it’s origin, purpose, and the reason for its being a harbinger of life.
The intention of the game’s writers seems to have been to make this object synonymous with the original Zohar, as this dualistic object shares its name as the Zohar. There is a disparity, however, between the achievement of the object in the game and the actual Jewish Zohar. The problem stems from a lack of purposive design concerning the object whereas the literal, textual Zohar answers questions in a concise manner and it does so in way that would be fulfilling to its readers. The object present within Xenosaga should not have been called the Zohar and the purpose of this essay is to expose that this name is inaccurate and namely to detail the differences between this object’s effects on the game’s world versus the purpose of the written Zohar.
To properly understand the function of the original Zohar, a basic knowledge of the Torah is elicited. The Torah has long been considered by Jews to be the proverbial word of God which was handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai and within the holy place of worship known as the Tabernacle (predated temples proper). It is a work that to many represents law, wisdom, and the beginning of all order, which in turn exemplifies the origin of life itself. Some who actually subscribe to Kabbalah believe that God (or Yeshuah) detailed its words after having used it as a blueprint to create the universe. Its veritable contents trickled down through generations of Jewish genealogy through the oral tradition and was later penned upon scrolls. Scribes, who have meticulously carried on the task of copying the original Torah for thousands of years, have painstakingly attempted to keep each copy as true to the original text as possible. This has made copies available that are said by some to be more truly authentic to an original account of almost any ancient text.
The Zohar was created in the wake of the Torah and the desire for its followers to attain a more tangible understanding of the divine itself, and not merely of the teaching it imparts. Kabbalah is a way of life induced within Jewish communities from the Zohar and indeed the Zohar is thought to reveal Kabbalah as an undisclosed or curtained portion of the Torah. This idea of a curtained powerfulness is present in Xenosaga which is one of the only accurate portrayals of the original book’s function. In the first scene of Xenosaga, an excavation team is unearthing an unknown object near Lake Turkana in Kenya. Upon the insertion of a key-like relic, the ground begins to shake and the object that would come to be known as the Zohar rises out of the lake. Following years of studying this artifact, humanity eventually learns how to abandon earth through harnessing a portion of its power before the device is eventually lost from mankind altogether.
Where the device’s power deviates from that of the original Zohar comes later in the game when an individual touches the Zohar, consequently turning into dust and then disappearing. It is later discovered in the game that anyone who touches the device loses their place in the collective human conscience and becomes one with the gnosis which are creatures that live in a dimension separate from humanity. Generally, when a person touches one of these creatures, they are immediately killed by being turned into a pillar of salt. If they manage to escape this fate, they are turned into a mindless gnosis. Shion, the main character of the game, is touched by a gnosis and she is not turned into salt or into a gnosis. This event is borrowed from a concept that Nietzsche compiled in his work on gnosticism. In the journey toward enlightenment and a heightened existence, one either dies because they are unworthy mentally (turning into salt), unworthy physically (turning into a gnosis), or they remain unaffected and become enlightened (Shion survives a gnostic attack). The problem with this in relation to the textual Zohar is that it is later revealed that the object is the source of the gnosis. This combination of Jewish mysticism and Nietzchean concepts is, in a way, insulting to the respective philosophies.
The writers of Xenosaga were clever in the way they intertwined these beliefs but their dismissal of the basic function of these philosophies makes the intermingling of these concepts somewhat invalid. The Zohar itself simply does not impart a kind of wisdom that could possibly lead one to the philosophical state of mind that Nietzsche detailed, nor does it seek to do this. Nietzsche was an outspoken atheist and he felt quite strongly that the ideologies presented by texts like the Torah and Zohar were to be considered, as Marx did, the opium of the masses. Additionally, the idea that the Zohar could do harm to a reader similar to the way that the object kills individuals in Xenosaga is a misstep toward derision of people’s strong beliefs. The object within the game simply should not have been labeled as the Zohar. The concepts that were coupled to describe this game’s device undermine the value of the original concepts and therefore it should be avoided to look at the game as strictly philosophical and instead to be viewed as a commentary on philosophy (as well as a decent console RPG).
3. Scholem, Gershom and Melila Hellner-Eshed. “Zohar.” Encyclopaedia Judaica. Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. Vol. 21. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 647-664. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale.