Moses de León

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Statue of Moshe in Guadalajara, Spain.
Title page of first edition of the Zohar, Mantua, 1558. Library of Congress.

Moses de León (c. 1240 – 1305), known in Hebrew as Moshe ben Shem-Tov (משה בן שם-טוב די-ליאון), was a Spanish rabbi and Kabbalist who is considered the composer or redactor of the Zohar. It is a matter of controversy if the Zohar is his own work, or if he committed traditions going back to Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai in writing. His other works include Sefer ha-Rimon, written in Hebrew.


He was born in León, Spain, Kingdom of León, then in the Crown of Castile[1] (his surname comes from his father, Shem-Tov de León), and spent 30 years in Guadalajara and Valladolid before moving to Ávila, where he spent the rest of his life. He died at Arévalo in 1305 while returning to his home.


Moses was familiar with the philosophers of the Middle Ages and with the whole literature of mysticism, including the Treatise on the Left Emanation of R. Isaac b. Jacob Ha-Kohen,[2] and knew and used the writings of Solomon ibn Gabirol, Yehuda ha-Levi, Maimonides, and others. He knew how to charm with brilliant and striking phrases without expressing any well-defined thought. He was a ready writer and wrote several mystical and cabalistic works in quick succession. In the comprehensive Sefer ha-Rimon, written in 1287 and still extant in manuscript, he treated from a mystical standpoint the objects and reasons for the ritual laws, dedicating the book to Levi ben Todros Abulafia. In 1290 he wrote Ha-Nefesh ha-Hakhamah, or Ha-Mishqal (Basel, 1608, and frequently found in manuscript), which shows even greater cabalistic tendencies. In this work he attacks the philosophers of religion and deals with the human soul as "a likeness of its heavenly prototype," with its state after death, with its resurrection, and with the transmigration of souls. Shekel ha-Kodesh (written in 1292), another book of the same kind, is dedicated to Todros ha-Levi Abulafia. In the Mishkan ha-Edut or Sefer ha-Sodot, finished in 1293, he treats of heaven and hell, after the apocryphal Book of Enoch; also of atonement. He wrote as well a kabbalistic explanation of the first chapter of the Book of Ezekiel.



  • Ahimaaz Chronicle, ed. London, pp. 95 et seq.;
  • Adolf Jellinek, Moses b. Schem-Tob de Leon und Seine Verhältniss zum Sohar, Leipsic, 1851;
  • Grätz, Gesch. vii. 231 et seq.;
  • Geiger, Das Judenthum und Seine Geschichte, iii. 75 et seq., Breslau, 1871;
  • Giovanni Bernardo De Rossi-C. H. Hamberger, Hist. Wörterb. p. 177;
  • Moritz Steinschneider, Cat. Bodl. cols. 1852 et seq.;
  • idem, Hebr. Bibl. x. 156 et seq.
  • Avishai Bar Asher, R. Moses de León - Sefer Mishkan ha-Edut, Los Angeles: Cherub Press, 2013