About this project

Maps of God is a platform for the research and presentation of kabbalistic trees Ilanot. Ilanot were unstudied in the first century of Jewish mysticism research. Despite having been created by kabbalists around the Jewish world for over 600 years and being regarded as a distinct genre of mystical expression, ilanot did not merit even a mention in the Encyclopaedia Judaica.

The University of Haifa Ilanot Project, founded and led by Prof. J. H. Chajes, is the first academic project dedicated to the study of visual Kabbalah. Numerous publications in leading journals, invited lectures around the world, the development of a database of over 700 artifacts, and the assembly of a vast collection of images are among the accomplishments of the project to date.

Basic research requires an assessment of scores of ilan scrolls, which present complex integrations of diagrammatic images and texts. Many ilanot are over ten meters long and present textual anthologies of 15-30,000 words. Furthermore, as “iconotexts,” the images and texts of ilanot are inseparable. Prof. Chajes soon came to two realizations:

  1. The metadata generated by the analysis of these artifacts — in particular, the ideas they visualized, the images they used, and the texts they incorporated — would only be useful were they embedded in images of the ilanot.
  2. The scrolling of ilanot, fundamental to the mimesis of their enactment, would be lost were scientific editions of the ilanot published in conventional book form.

From these insights, the vision of Maps of God was born.

Project description

Kabbalah has been the dominant expression of Jewish esotericism since the thirteenth century.

The fundamental esoteric axiom of the kabbalists is that the Divine is revealed as ten networked sefirot, luminous emanations that express distinct qualities. The light of God that flows through the structured sefirotic array through its endless pathways generates all of reality. This array, the predominant visualization of which has been in the form of a tree, is the kabbalistic map of God.

Because the sefirot are thought to generate reality and to respond to its vicissitudes, tikkun, the enhancement and reparation of the cosmos, requires the intentional intervention of the kabbalist. This fundamental kabbalistic work demands that the contemplative imaginatively engage with the sefirotic tree. The centrality of this practice gave rise to the emergence of the genre of Ilanot (lit., trees) in the 14th century. Ilanot are defined by kabbalists as parchment sheets upon which arboreal diagrams of the sefirot are inscribed.

Despite their centrality to kabbalistic practice and their production by kabbalists throughout the Jewish world for over half a millennium, ilanot were not studied systematically until Prof. J. H. Chajes of the University of Haifa founded The Ilanot Project with the support of the Israel Science Foundation. In 2019, the Volkswagen Foundation provided “proof of concept” support for the development of a platform tailor-made for the research and presentation of ilanot. The development is a cooperative venture of The Ilanot Project and the Göttingen State and University Library (SUB).

The Digital Editions

The digital editions of the Ilanot involve a range of tools that allow us to encode each Ilan using XML and an image annotator tool (VIA). The relationships between portions and concepts of each Ilan are defined using a digital ontology, which comprises of a defined set of classes, object and data properties and individuals. The ontology allows the dynamic visualisation of the Ilanot and truly embodies the potential of digital editions.

Participating institutions and funding agencies

"Israel Science Foundation logo   "University of Haifa logo   "University of Göttingen and SUB logo   "Niedersächsisches Ministerium für Wissenschaft und Kulturlogo   "VolkswagenStiftung Logo