Mystical teachings were passed down from the very earliest generations, even prior to receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai in the year 2448 (1313 BCE). From that point on, there is a clear tradition of transmission of the Oral Torah that was given to Moses at the same time that he was given the Written Torah.

We have based the sequence of transmission on Maimonides' Introduction to Mishna Torah, with certain significant additions. There is no reason to believe that the mystical tradition was perpetuated a different way from the rest of the Oral Torah. Nonetheless, just as different sages became renowned experts in specific exoteric aspects of the Oral law, so too regarding the esoteric teachings - not all the sages were well known as experts in this field. Indeed, the Talmud records that many sages were learned in the esoteric traditions and many of them performed wonders and miracles, as we will record in the appropriate entries. Yet, not all of these sages were renowned as bearers of the esoteric tradition.

At some point, these esoteric teachings were concealed…

In his era, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, compiler of the Zohar, and several of his colleagues, were the acknowledged masters of Kabbala. At some point, these esoteric teachings were concealed, for fear that they would pass into the wrong hands.

We have attempted to identify and clarify the unbroken chain of kabbalistic tradition from authentic traditional sources. The list below generally contains biographical data of the most important masters, as well as a translation of selections from one or more of their important works. We have also tried to clarify the unique or innovative points found in the teachings of some of the luminaries of Kabbala.

(Note: Dates are listed according to the years from the beginning of Creation of the World, followed by the dates in the Gregorian calendar in parentheses. BCE is used for "Before the Common Era" instead of a negative value; CE denotes the Common Era, which began in the year 3760 of Creation.)

The next article in this series on the History of Kabbala:
Pre-Sinaic Prophecy .