The Hekhalot and Merkavah Literature and Its Mystical Tradition. Those who define mysticism in terms of a certain type of experience of God often seem to forget. Heikhalot Literature. Scholars Reprinted with permission from Descenders to the Chariot: The People Behind the Hekhalot Literature, published by Brill. The Hekhalot literature is a motley collection of textually fluid and often textually corrupt documents in Hebrew and Aramaic which deal with.
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Mary’s College University of St. Scholars Press, Minor corrections have been made in the online version.
Translations are my own unless otherwise indicated. Transliterations of Hebrew and Greek, as well as diacritics of European languages, follow the conventions of Ioudaios-Review http: The following additional diacritical marks are used:.
The Hekhalot literature is a bizarre conglomeration of Jewish esoteric and revelatory texts produced sometime between late antiquity and the early Middle Ages. The documents have strong connections with earlier apocalyptic and gnostic literature and claim to describe the self-induced spiritual experiences of the “descenders to the chariot” that permitted these men to view Ezekiel’s chariot vision the Merkavah for themselves, as well as to gain control of angels and a perfect mastery of Torah through theurgy.
The citation “para s. The citation G with a number e. These divisions are for convenience only and do not imply a theoretical statement about the textual boundaries of the Hekhalot literature.
The study of the Hekhalot literature raises the obvious question of whether and to what degree the texts reflect actual mystical experiences. Two approaches have developed on this issue. Morray-Jones, understand the Hekhalot texts to describe actual theurgical practices and typical visionary experiences of the group that produced the documents. Halperin reconstructs a tradition of synagogue exegesis associated with Shavuot sermons that he believes generated the traditions found in the Hekhalot literature.
He allows for the possibility that the writers sometimes had visionary experiences or “hallucinations,” but he sees the major developments as literary. I take no position in this paper on the date of composition and redaction of the Hekhalot literature or on its precise relationship to Second Temple apocalyptic and esoteric literature on the latter question, see the discussion in the last two sections of this article.
See especially Halperin’s comments on p. Halperin has traced the interpretation of Ezekiel 1 and related passages through many centuries and has illuminated this exegetical tradition a great deal. I believe, however, that more can be done with the experiential element in the texts and that the concept of “Merkavah mysticism” has some reality behind it. However, the term “mysticism” seems to me to be something of a misnomer when applied to the esotericism found in the Hekhalot literature.
Our understanding of these documents can be advanced by focusing on shamanism rather than mysticism as a paradigm for what they claim to be about. In order to follow up this assertion it is necessary to define a number of terms and draw some important distinctions. First, there is “mysticism. This tendency, in great mystics, gradually captures the whole field of consciousness; it dominates their life and, in the experience called ‘mystic union,’ attains its end.
Although this union is an absorption of an individual into the divine, the unitive life of the highest mystics is generally intensely social: Meridian, [1st ed.
I am well aware that “mysticism” is often used in the more general sense of esoteric spiritual experience. For my purposes it is more useful to use the term in the restricted sense of mystical union. Macmillan, andrespectively. She says that magic “claims to be a practical, intellectual, highly individualistic science; working towards the declared end of enlarging the sphere on which the human will can work, and obtaining experimental knowledge of planes of being usually regarded as transcendental.
Underhill considers it inferior because it falls short of what she holds to be the real goal of esotericism — the mystical union with the Absolute. Again, definitions of magic are notoriously difficult, since the word “magic” is often used merely to mean religious cult that is disapproved of by the speaker. The comments of John Middleton are useful here: But there is a wide consensus as to what this content is. Most people in the world perform acts by which they intend to bring about certain events or conditions, whether in nature or among people, that they hold to be the consequences of these acts.
If we use Western terms and assumptions, the cause and effect relationship between the act and the consequence is mystical, not scientifically validated. The acts typically comprise behaviour such as manipulation of objects and recitation of verbal formulas or spells. In a given society magic may be performed by a specialist. The quotation is on p. The definitions of Underhill and Middleton apply well to the ancient and medieval Jewish magical texts whose relationship to the Hekhalot literature will be explored later in this paper.
This stage, shamanism, is found, like mysticism and magic, in religious traditions all over the world.
This ecstatic state usually involves the perception that the soul of the shaman is ascending or descending to levels outside of mundane reality. Like the magician, the shaman uses spirit intermediaries and seeks not mystical union, but esoteric knowledge and power. But, again like the mystic, the beneficiary of the esoteric experience is the community, not just the individual practitioner or clients.
The quotation is from p. I accept Hultkrantz’s description hekhaolt a working definition that can, as we shall see, be widely applied cross-culturally. Space does not permit a detailed discussion of other attempts to define shamanism.
There is no thought of mystical union. God is nearly as remote in the heavenly throne room as he is on earth. Nor is Hekhalot esotericism merely magic: I propose therefore that the most illuminating framework for these experiences is shamanism. Using Hultkrantz’s definition as a basis, the rest of this paper will test this approach by organizing the Hekhalot literature according to the component elements of shamanism as generally hehkalot by anthropologists.
There is no one way that a person becomes convinced of his or her call to shamanhood. We can, however, make some significant generalizations about the range of experiences that lead to this conviction. First, the call may be either imposed from an external source usually the spirits or a voluntary decision of the future shaman. If the call is imposed, it may come from compelling dreams or revelations from the spirits, who may bring an illness upon an initiate until the initiate agrees to accept the call.
Hereditary or “marked” shamans usually do not resist the call. He was four years old when the spirits first called him. When he was nine, they struck him unconscious for twelve days, during which he received his “Great Vision” to be discussed below John G. University of Nebraska, originally published in ] Nick was one of the eleven spiritual “grandfathers” of Wallace Black Elk, who was groomed to hekhalit a shaman from childhood in accordance with a prophecy of nineteen generations before Wallace Black Elk and William S.
HarperSanFrancisco, ] xviii-xx, Shamans’ marks among Siberian shamans are discussed by V. Sharpe,esp. However, a closely related and overlapping genre of literature, the physiognomic texts, seems to indicate that certain physical characteristics are required of initiates in order for them to be accepted hhekhalot the group.
Hekhzlot is literaturee Hebrew text originally published from several manuscripts by Gershom Scholem, who dates it to the Talmudic period. Presented as a revelation to R. Ishmael by the angel Suriah as in the Hekhalot literatureit describes the outward physical characteristics hekbalot indicate to the initiated whether a person is righteous or wicked and what that person’s fate shall be.
A number of the descriptions of the righteous tend to indicate that they are numbered among the descenders to the chariot. They are repeatedly described as “meriting from one to four crowns” PRI paras. One description indicates that the subject is “a son of two worlds” PRI para.
Hekhalot literature – Wikipedia
Scholem points out that “binders of crowns” seem to be a category of angel mentioned twice in the Hekhalot Rabbati. The text is discussed on pp. Scholem also published another article on this text with an improved German translation that took into account a new litegature Studies in Honor of Professor Dr. Citations from the Physiognomy of R.
Ishmael hereafter PRI follow the paragraphing of the latter article. The text is introduced on pp. Essentially the same material is found in 3 Enoch 1 and paras.
Ishmael the twelve constellations and begins reciting a horoscope:. Mohr [Siebeck] It should also be noted that, in addition to the three documents discussed in this section, a number of medieval Jewish writers ascribed esoteric physiognomic wisdom to the descenders to the chariot see Scholem, “Physiognomy” [n. And he shall piterature a sign on the fingers of his hands and the toes of his feet, or an extra finger [or “toe”] on his hands or on his feet.
And this man shall be a ready. And three lines in the form of crowns are on his forehead and the middle one is broken into three, and they are wide lines. And he is one of the good. And at the age of seven loterature and ten days he shall become sick and shall be in hot water.
They shall ascend upon him and anyone who sees him says that he shall not be saved from this. This text combines a Hekhalot vision with physiognomic and astrological speculation.
Hekhalot | Old Testament Pseudepigrapha – School of Divinity, University of St Andrews
The righteous man described here, whose character is indicated by physical markings and the time of his birth, is also if we accept the emendation a “ready ,” that is, one skilled in Torah. Finally, the illness of his childhood is reminiscent of childhood illnesses that sometimes presage the onset of a shamanic call.
Thus, the “call” of the descenders to the chariot seems to be connected with physiognomic, and perhaps astrological, criteria, just as is sometimes true for shamans. Frequently a candidate will gain shamanic powers during a visionary experience in which he or she undergoes some form of death or personal destruction and disintegration at the hands of divine beings, followed by a corresponding resurrection or reintegration that purges and gives a qualitatively different life to the initiate.
For example, the Siberian Tagvi Literatire Sereptie, in his long and arduous initiatory literture on which see belowwas at one point reduced to a skeleton and then was hekhallt with a hammer and anvil.
My bay had lightning stripes all over him and his mane was cloud. And when I breathed, my breath was lightning.
Indiana University, The forging episode is on p.