Torah and Talmud imagery in the Tarot de Marseilles


I am a longtime student of the Hebrew Bible who stumbled upon the Tarot de Marseilles about a year ago. After careful study of the Tarot de Marseille I began to see a pattern of Jewish beliefs and ritual depicted in the 22 trump cards.

Either I have revealed a very consistent Jewish theme in the Tarot de Marseille or I have successfully demonstrated the amazing creative power of wishful thinking.

In short I believe the imagery of the Tarot de Marseille was created in response to the outlawing and burning of the Talmud and other Jewish religious books throughout Europe and specifically to the Spanish Inquisition in 1478 which led to many wealthy Jewish Families moving to Northern Italy.

Explicit connections to Jewish texts seem far less present in other versions of the Tarot. But in the Tarot de Marseille I believe I have found too many connections for this to be a mere coincidence.

Regardless I would really appreciate the thoughtful feedback and criticism of Tarot scholars who can place my observations in a historical context.

Looking for feedback that either debunks my theory or that would help me develop it further.

Thank you in advance for any words of wisdom either for or against my thesis.

**** UPDATE 12/2019: Since this earlier post two years ago I have conducted a tremendous amount of additional research on this topic. Whereas I originally suspected that the Tarot de Marseille in general was connected to Judaism - I found instead that the Jean Noblet Tarot de Marseille in particular contains a great deal of intentional Judaic content and that later decks contain only echoes of what was apparently originally placed in the Jean Noblet.

I now have a website dedicated to this topic at :

Warm regards,

Stav Appel

Re: Torah and Talmud imagery in the Tarot de Marseilles

Thank you for your kind words.

Yes, I concede it is nearly all circumstantial. But, arguably, it's a large portion of circumstantial.

If you see specific holes in the timeline or thesis please do let me know. Critical feedback appreciated.

(Actually there is one piece of evidence that may be beyond circumstantial: On the House of God of the Noblet there are 8 spikes in the crown and 30 globes in the air. The Temple stood in Jerusalem for 830 years - and this is discussed only in the Talmud and not in the Bible. ?)

Re: Torah and Talmud imagery in the Tarot de Marseilles

(Actually there is one piece of evidence that may be beyond circumstantial: On the House of God of the Noblet there are 8 spikes in the crown and 30 globes in the air. The Temple stood in Jerusalem for 830 years - and this is discussed only in the Talmud and not in the Bible. ?)
For what it's worth (perhaps nothing), if you look up the term "maison-dieu" in the Grand Robert Dictionnaire de la Langue Francaise, (Paris: Robert, 1986), you will see that for "maison de dieu", "temple de Jerusalem" is the primary meaning given. Here is the entry, for religious meanings attached to "maison".
The meaning of "Maison -Dieu", however, seems to be that of "Hotel-Dieu", that is, a hospital or hospice:
It had the same meaning in England, as can be verified in the Oxford English Dictionary. An "ostensoir" is a monstrance (; I can't see how that fits the card.

Re: Torah and Talmud imagery in the Tarot de Marseilles

If we proceed with the assumption that my theory is correct the primary languages of concern to the people making the first template of the Tarot de Marseilles would be Hebrew first and foremost and secondly Spanish and perhaps Portugese. (The Marrano Jews in Ferara were from the Iberian Peninsula and there are a few signs in the cards that explicitly show an affiliation to Sephardic and not Ashkenazi Judaism.) Proper buttoned up French and certainly English would not have been a consideration in their design.

In Hebrew the House of God, as it appears in 1 Kings 6 and many other places in the Hebrew Bible is: "הַבַּיִת, לַיהוָה" Literally "The House to God."

While it is interesting to ponder whether this should be translated as "The House of God" - "The House to God" or "The God House" - I would suggest what is more noteworthy is that it is THE God House - a very specific and special House of God - the one temple in Jerusalem.

All of this, however, misses the larger point: The cards were explicitly intended to be confusing to a non-Jewish audience. Marranos and crypto-Jews were literally being burnt at the stake at this time for possessing Jewish Holy books. Hence it was of utmost importance to give the cards a good disguise. So, yes, the descriptions and pictures are indeed confusing.

And this is why so many different people see something radically different in this card. The Tower of Babel? A monastery? Ego? An exploding penis? And so on.

But if you show this card to any Jew with a traditional Talmudic education - when they see a tower exploding, a crown being thrown asunder (Ezekiel 21:26) , with two people falling out, with 8 spikes, 30 globes and the words "The House" and "God" they will 100% of the time think "Oh, the two Temples in Jerusalem that together stood for 830 years and that were destroyed. And this is the event that led to our current state of terror in Europe and for which we fast and mourn on Tisha B'Av." Religious Jews will be the ONLY group you can find that will provide a consistent reading of this card - and for all the other cards as well.

Re: Torah and Talmud imagery in the Tarot de Marseilles

The first evidence of the title "Maison-Dieu" for the card is 17th century France. Before that, in Italy, it was "fire" or "lightning-bolt" or "house of the devil". Likewise there is no evidence of Jews producing or sponsoring tarot cards, or even using them. Suddenly it becomes "God-House", with no evidence of Jewish involvement. Whatever the explanation, such as a misreading of "maison de feu" (Depaulis's suggestion) I would think it more probable that, if your 8 + 30 is not a coincidence, that it was information from a Jewish source conveyed to Christians. It would not be the first time extra-biblical Jewish information showed up in Christian art. The example that occurs to me is the bird in the Queen of Sheba panel of Ghiberti's so -called "Gates of Paradise" doors of Florence Baptistry, which apparently comes from the Second Targum of Esther, a 12th century work written in Aramaic. No Christian in 1430s Florence would have had access to that work, much less known Aramaic. See my post at viewtopic.php?p=15800#p15800.

Since you seem knowledgeable about orthodox Jewish customs, perhaps you can tell me whether Jews of the 15th-16th centuries would have produced images of the type seen on the cards, due to the belief in aniconism, that is, that images of the sort that were considered as of idols in pagan times, regardless of whether they were actually used for that purpose. Wikipedia says (
Despite the semantic association with idols, Halakha ("Jewish law") as taught by the Shulkhan Arukh ("Code of Jewish Law") and practiced and applied by Conservative Judaism and Orthodox Judaism today, interprets the verses as prohibiting the creation of certain types of graven images of people, angels, or astronomical bodies, whether or not they are actually used as idols. The Shulkhan Arukh states: "It is forbidden to make complete solid or raised images of people or angels, or any images of heavenly bodies except for purposes of study".[1] ("Heavenly bodies" are included here because the stars and planets were worshipped by some religions in human forms. Astronomical models for scientific purposes are permitted under the category of "study.")
The question is how far back such prohibition goes. While zodiacs have been found in Jewish floor mosaics from ancient times, the "Tree of Life" diagrams from Kabbalah, and the well known marriage contract (in Hebrew) with a picture at the top of a marriage ceremony, including the rabbi and all the guests, from mid-15th century Cremona, perhaps done by the Bembo workshop that did the earliest extant tarot cards, my impression is that the prohibition against angels and celestial bodies (except for study) goes back at least to the late Middle Ages. Or would the cards count as "study"? If you have evidence about this, it would be worth sharing it with us.

Re: Torah and Talmud imagery in the Tarot de Marseilles

I am very knowledgeable about Torah, Talmud and Jewish history but my knowledge of Tarot history is rudimentary at best.

Here is what I see:

In earlier Trifoni decks pre-1500 I see nothing uniquely Jewish in any of the decks I have seen online.

In the ~1500 Tarot that Robert Place says was commissioned in Ferrara there is a vague Judaic theme. (22 cards, the last card is now the World, Prudence is removed and so on.) But in this deck there is just a suggestion of a Judaic influence. Nothing else really. It's more of a head nod than anything else. ... -tarocchi/

And then the next deck in the timeline I have seen is the 1650 Noblet. And when I see that I say "Wow! This is a clandestine Torah!" It's packed with distinctly Jewish imagery and numbers. (see

After the Noblet there seems to be a gradual forgetting of a Jewish moment and by RWS it's just another animal all together.

There are examples of Jewish religious books with Christian style art at that time.

But you are right that in general that style of art was forbidden among truly traditional communities.

However I do not think think the Tarot was intended for the traditional Jewish population but was intended for the crypto-Jewish and Marranos communities.
Traditional Jews would never use Tarot cards if they had an actual live Torah in their hands.

In 1492 the largest Jewish community in the world was in the Iberian Peninsula. Many Jews were given the choice of leaving all of their property or convert to Christianity. And Jews who did not convert were also targeted with torture and killing. Many Jews opted to practice Christianity in public while maintaining Judaism in secret. They had Christian names, went to mass and did everything Christian in public while maintaining Judaism in secret. They were called crypto-Jews, Marranos or clandestine Jews by different groups. Those who converted in public were also seen as somewhat tainted by the hardcore traditional Jewish community.

The Duke of Ferrara intentionally recruited many of these crypto-Jews to come to Ferrara as part of his economic development program. The crypto-Jews had access to a very lucrative trade network by virtue of their connections to Christian, Jewish and Muslim merchants.

In Ferrara was a collection of Jewish activists, former Marranos, who re-adopted their Jewish names and who printed a number of books to try to convince the secret Jews of Spain and Portugal to preserve their Jewish identity. At this time Jews who had converted to Christianity under duress were often killed if they were discovered practicing Judaism in secret. You could be burnt at the stake if you had a book with Hebrew prayers on you. Hence they had a real need for secret Jewish books. For a brief time Ferrara was the only place in all of Europe where a Jew who had undergone baptism could practice Judaism in public without fear of the inquisition.

But in 1550 even Ferrara was not totally safe as the Catholic Church burnt all copies of the Talmud in all of Italy.

So, yes, this type of art was forbidden to Orthodox Jews. But so was church attendance, baptism, refraining from circumcision and eating pig - all things that the secret Jews of the Iberian Peninsula were doing publicly while practicing Judaism in secret.

My theory is that the Tarot was a clandestine Torah that would allow people some connection to Judaism while avoiding detection by the Inquisition.

I have zero hard evidence for this theory. But it does provide a very consistent narrative to every single card and symbol of the Tarot de Marseille - especially for the Noblet Tarot de Marseille. (See )

It is a historical fact that Ferrara was the European center for Jewish activism against the Spanish Inquisition in the 16th century. Is it just a coincidence that this is also the birth place of Tarot?

A question I have is - are there any known copies of Tarot between 1500 and the 1650 Noblet? Or is this historical record empty between these two dates?