“Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism” A COLLAGE OF WORKING DEFINITIONS

April D. DeConick, editor
Illinois Wesleyan University

A number of scholars have contributed their personal working definitions of “Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism” to this article. The purpose of this piece is to provide a basis for a roundtable discussion when the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism Group meets at the 2001 Society of Biblical Literature convention. I hope that this discussion will be fruitful, bringing together in the same space a number of scholars who have been engaged in the study of early Jewish and Christian mysticism over many years. Since the study of this subject is still in its infancy, there is a great amount of diversity in our understanding of this subject as well as an astounding number of similarities. This article and the consequent discussion in Denver is not meant to create some definitive statement on the subject like the conference on the “Origins of Gnosticism” tried to do for the terms “gnosis” and “Gnosticism” in Messina, Sicily, 1966. Our agenda is less ambitious. The hope is that we can come together for a few hours and begin to analyze differences and similarities in our working definitions. The piece only contains the views of scholars who chose to participate in the discussion and therefore is not exhaustive or necessarily representative of all contemporary opinions. Since scholars were asked to compose short concise working definitions that reflected their own opinions, interaction with other scholars’ works or opinions was discouraged. Each scholar’s definition is presented in alphabetical order. At the end of the collage, a select bibliography of the major works of each scholar has been provided, works in which the scholar’s ideas about early Jewish and Christian mysticism are expressed more fully.

Daphna Arbel
University of British Columbia
Maintaining the view that scholarly analysis of mystical phenomena is primarily textually based, my discussion of early Jewish mysticism focuses on the mystical tradition of the Hekhalot literature of late antiquity. None of its writings introduces a coherent mystical doctrine conveyed in a methodical fashion. Yet, despite some inconsistency, its diverse statements do not create a controversial tension. Rather, they complement each other, disclosing interconnected experimental and theoretical aspects of one tradition. Its goals, religio-spiritual attitudes, practices, revelations, and exegetical perceptions demonstrate specific mystical traits which, despite its non-canonical status, endured over a long period of time. These aspects could be illustrated, in a concise manner, in a question which Rabbi Akiva, a central figure of the Hekhalot literature, poses:

Journeys are described as contemplative or ecstatic processes of crossing conceptualspiritual boundaries. This mode of expression is applied to convey new spiritual notions in the Judaism of late antiquity. it speaks of visionary voyages to heaven in which adepts behold and perceive the divine. These dimensions are expressed through the application of pictorial images and concrete imagery. and speak of his spiritual and inconceivable nature. frequently used in rabbinical or in later kabbalistic traditions. Two notions are significant in this mystical tradition . repeat secret pass-words. they are rather interiorized. These revelations do not unfold in isolation. and horses of fire wander.spiritual journeys and the divine revelations which they entail. enter blocked gates. exceptional beauty. gaze at his beauty. are likewise prominent. It employs mythological imagery to formulate this conception. God's spiritual character. Yet at the same time they depict them in a concrete manner by utilizing mythological language. it denotes how these experiences and their attendant revelations are expressed through wording and sayings. and reinterpreted through mystical lenses. It is noteworthy that mythological images are not present in their original form. while divine beings praise him. Perhaps it is also applied to impart mystical teachings which. by their nature. their human perception coincides with that of the divine. initiated by humans. They cross bridges over rivers of fire.Rabbi Akiva said: Who is able to contemplate the seven palaces and to ascend and behold the heaven of heavens and to see the palace's chambers of chambers and to say: "I saw the chamber of YW?"(Synopse #554) This question suggests an outlook which transcends traditional approaches by replacing the concept of divinely initiated revelation with a mystical one. huge in body and size. These are also depicted as actual. and tangible supremacy. and are able to interpret the meaning of these visions. Adepts are portrayed as heroes embarking on dangerous voyages out of this world. which take place in the adepts' imagination and mind. These are often depicted in a dialectical manner. pass paradoxical tests. It posits a spiritual process in which able adepts contemplate and meditate upon seven celestial palaces. exclusive kingship. They behold visions of God. glorify his name and accept his rule in unison. all far beyond human or angelic perception. They tour unknown paths of bright heavens in which winged sacred beasts roam. The shift of awareness and consciousness is often presented by applying mythological patterns of a symbolic death and rebirth and of corporeal transformation. anthropomorphic figure of God is revealed only to qualified adepts when they reach the end of their journey. spiritualized. Thus they conceive God's transcendent essence behind his physical appearance. Early Jewish mysticism offers qualified individuals a contemplative-spiritual path which leads to the attainment of God. soul and the breath of life". Descriptions present abstract and spiritual dimensions of these notions. are not clearly represented by . as well as through mythological near eastern themes such as enormous physical size. They are rather dependent upon spiritual comprehension and exegesis. spiritual difficulties are made tangible. transcendent nature and sublime qualities. biblical and Mesopotamian. are addressed. Instead. Feelings of fear and awe are personified. It is these aspects of early Jewish mysticism that I wish to address. He sits on his glorious throne in his celestial palaces. The concrete. Echoes from familiar ancient near eastern mythological traditions. experience merciless ordeals. corporeal ascents to heaven which take place in a mythological cosmos. it becomes an integral part of the mystical content. God of the Hekhalot is a king. Such imagery is not deciphered by traditional midrashic or symbolic methods. pictorial images. and tangible illustrations. visual metaphors. The mystical concept of the divine is also formulated in a mythological language. glowing angels fly. describing it in images of "spirit. show magical seals. appease angry guardians. At this elevated stage. and overcome harsh dangers before they reach God’s throne. draped in regal garments and wearing a royal crown.

how does one want God of Sinai? The creator not bound by what is created. that one should “love the Lord their God with all their hearts. which is effected by the ascent of the soul towards. the early Christians read in their Bibles. James R. the creator of the universe. how can one desire something which cannot by definition be delimited by an idea conceivable to the human mind? If the object of one’s desire is beyond one’s own ability to comprehend or even hold on to. If one can only desire what one already has possession of in terms of the world of ideas (like knows like). What is desired must be conceived. or beauty.” They are warned to set their hearts (treasure) upon the Kingdom. a chariot which ascends. whom one should love. understand what it cannot conceive. It is a theology which enables the soul (to use some paradoxical phrases so beloved by Gregory of Nyssa) to attain a “sober inebriation. It seems in response they developed a language of desire some called a mystical theology. beauty and the good. Mystical texts are texts reflecting a desire for God. This is the experience of the burning bush. and is not the result of human effort. the creator of the universe. but whose community believes has indeed been revealed. Cameron Afzal Sarah Lawrence College Mysticism is erotic theology. truth.” to penetrate the “luminous darkness” and therefore to love what it cannot know. Inheriting the tradition of Biblical prophecy. the Symposium and the Phaedrus where Eros is defined as the motive force of the soul. early Christians also believed the God of Israel. So. It must be held in the grasp of one’s understanding in order to be attained. conceiving the idea of the thing.conventional language. Eros is the motive force behind the entire universe inexorably driving all things to reproduce. Having asserted this. Revelation changes the status quo. it is creation (the verb that is). and yet conceive in one’s self the wholly other and behold what no eye has seen. and “in whom one should abide. the object of desire. how can one ever achieve what is wanted as the fulfillment which eros implies? Yet. Amos’ trek away from his sycamore trees. for example. an out flowing from a single source of endless levels of reality each mimicking the last but further from the truth. and Isaiah’s cry on the temple mount at the shock of being thrust into the presence of the King. Early Christian theologians began to ponder this paradox with a synthesis of a Biblical theology of divine revelation together with Platonic rhetoric involving the expression of desire for the ultimate good.” that God the logos is revealed in Jesus. While this is fine for an orange or even wealth and power. follow. toward what is desired. and with the author’s attempt to properly demarcate the boundaries within which these desires can be fulfilled. This language is taken up by the Neoplatonists and applied to a cosmology of reproductive emanations. desiring it. Davila . it must also be acknowledged that inherent to this theology is a profound paradox. it moves the soul.” “watchful sleep. Philosophy itself is thus understood as the love of truth. reveals himself to those who are called. and then rising to fully comprehend the idea by becoming united to it. it is much more problematic when the object of desire is God. This mystery is informed on the one hand by the anthropology of desire set forth by Plato in. What binds together early Jewish and Christian texts commonly seen to contain “mystical elements” has to do with the desire on the part of the reader to “know” or experience God. transcendent in every way.

and it lies at the root of ancient christologies. Andrews "What am I talking about when I use the phrase or write about the subject 'early Jewish' or 'early Christian mysticism'?" To tell you the truth. intermediary. It seems to me we would lose nothing by moving in this direction (apart from our having to call this Group something else) but we could gain much in terms of more concrete and better-informed descriptions of what we are talking about. over against "noumena. Zaehner's attempt at a cross-cultural typology of forms of mysticism--"nature mysticism.g.and neurologically-based descriptions of altered states of consciousness (e. Neither we nor the mystics have access to the unmediated reality that supposedly generates their experiences and therefore we have no way of knowing whether these experiences arise from union with unmediated reality or from various other causes. culturallydefined descriptions of altered states of consciousness (e. Smart takes all forms of mysticism to be the same. Arctic hysteria. and the development of the Christian ritual praxis. schizophrenia). because it demonstrates that the first Christians believed that they were recipients of ecstatic experiences both in the form of rapture events (Gal 1:12." and "theistic mysticism"--is a step forward but is marred by his tendency to privilege theistic mysticism and to misinterpret the doctrines of some religions in order to fit them into his schema. prophet. Paul also implies that he knows of other Christian-Jews. We are fortunate to have very early first-hand references to mystical experience in Paul's letters. soul-flight. Essentially. beginning to take on its own individuality by the mid-second century. medium). drug-induced hallucination. It is profoundly and fundamentally experiential. satori). April D. A starting definition might be something like "the union of the soul with the Absolute" (which summarizes Evelyn Underhill's approach).g. R. and psychologically. it is a Jewish tradition during most of this period. we then need to ask why we should use the single term mysticism to describe these varied experiences. I try to avoid both phrases entirely because of that sticky word "mysticism. meditation. Ultimately this debate is (in Kantian terms) about "phenomena. temporal lobe syndrome. as pointed out by Ninian Smart.." things accessible to us through our senses and the processing powers of our brains. Katz has pointed out the weakness in Smart's approach and he argues that the experiences of the mystics and not just their interpretations of their experiences are grounded in their own cultures and ideologies and cannot be assumed to be the same thing.g." "monistic mysticism. DeConick Illinois Wesleyan Univerity My main interest lies in studying early Christian mysticism in the first two centuries. dream.. For this reason I would drop the term "mysticism" from the academic study of religion and replace it with better defined or definable social roles (e. although they are interpreted differently in different religious traditions. possession. To describe it is to talk about the very core and essence of Christianity and its beginnings. 1 Cor 15:8) and invasions of heaven (2 Cor 12:2-4). If he is right. His testimony cannot be emphasized enough. C.University of St. phenomenologically speaking. perhaps associated with the . soteriologies. In the context of this latter discourse.." raw reality-the things in themselves. But her understanding and approach is theistic and Eurocentric and does not work well from the perspective of most Asian religions. Steven T." for which I cannot work out a useful definition that doesn't smuggle in confessional or metaphysical assumptions I am not willing to grant. an assumption that can hardly be proven and that would privilege his etic definition over the emic definitions found in specific religions. shaman.

2 Cor 3:18. The question regarding the actuality of the mystic experiences recorded in the biblical and extra-biblical materials is not really a substantive question for me. 7:13-8:1. etc. Therefore mystical traditions found in early Christian literature evolved within the context of exegesis. The accounts invariably reflect Christian exegetical reflections on of passages like Exod 33. 12:23. 5:1-10. 17:1-5. and Philo. 2 Cor 5:15-6:1). Ezek 1. I think that we find parallel situations with the Qumranites. who boast of mystical experiences (cf. the Therapeutae. For instance. 13. 29. I think it is more historically accurate to regard this literature as part of ancient living religious traditions.) and depictions of Jesus as the Lamb (Rev 5:6-14. Because the early Christians were so convinced of the imminence of the eschaton. 8:10. The Christian accounts at some level served to reinterpret and make contemporary these early Jewish accounts. Enoch. 12-14) to the vision of Stephen (Acts 7:55-56). But what I am beginning to see is that mystical experience and end-of-the-world thinking have a symbiotic relationship. however. 2 Cor 11:21-12:11). Descriptions of Jesus as the High Priest of the heavenly temple (Heb 3:1. Daniel. accounts of celestial worship. In John’s gospel Jesus is depicted as God's Glory or kavod descended to earth (1:14. Col 3:9. 11:40. descriptions of angels and their realms. to acknowledge that the texts are filled with feelings about and hopes for religious experience. believing that Jesus' exaltation and transformation had opened heaven's gate for them. 4:14-16. all of whom also belong to this first-century mystical tradition. For instance. Others promoted pre-mortem flights into heaven and full . seem to be imaged and fashioned after the accounts of the heroes from Jewish biblical and post-biblical literature. and revelations of divine secrets. This resulted in a situation where access to God was more readily available to humans who sought it. particularly Moses. Paul describes Jesus as the "image" or "form" of God (2 Cor 4:4. As far as salvation schemes. Ezekiel. the evidence for mystical experience from second-hand accounts is staggering. 13:32. We have a quite strong tradition that the disciples and members of Jesus' family who formed the initial church in Jerusalem had visions of Jesus following his death (1 Cor 15:5-7). Of course. and Isa 6. 1 En 14. 14:1-5) have been equally impacted by this tradition. and Isaiah. It has been noted previously that mystical and eschatological traditions are intertwined in the apocalyptic literature. the distinction that has been made between literary and experiential literature seems to me to be a modern imposition altogether. To Paul's first-hand witness we must also add the waking visions of John of Patmos and the dream visions of the Pastor Hermas. 28.mission of the Jerusalem church. I have come to realize lately the importance of the connection between this mystical tradition and eschatological fever. appearances of God's Glory. Phil 3:21. 41. In fact. throneroom visions. In particular. imposing Christian meaning on the older Jewish texts. So what is the substantive issue for me? – that the early Christians who were reading these texts believed that the stories were reports of actual encounters with God. 1 Cor 15:49. This is implied by the author of Colossians too (2:16-18). 2:11. the early Christian mystical tradition had a profound impact on the development of christologies. Phil 2:6). 22-23). The descriptions of all of these accounts of ecstatic experience. ranging from the transfiguration of Jesus (Mk 9:2-8 and //s) to the post-resurrection appearances (Mk 16 and //s. they believed that they lived in an age when the traditional boundary between earth and heaven was starting to collapse and God was beginning to break into the world. transformations of righteous humans. the images and descriptions in these texts deeply affected the way that the first Christians described and interpreted their own experiences. Pet. Thus recognizable Jewish mystical themes are depicted in the early Christian texts: ascent journeys through the heavenly temple. Dan 7. Gos. Paul believed that the faithful could start experiencing the transformation into the image of God while still on earth but that full glorification would only occur after death (Rom 7:24. Jn 20. and the way they framed their hopes for future experiences. Thus. Col 1:15. many of the first Christians contemplated their own ascensions into heaven and bodily transformations.

23-28.8-10. including the Qumran material. 37. Philo speaks of the Sinai revelation and the voice which was seen. etc.Jewish. and on the other hand of God as the Existent whose essence cannot be seen. The texts articulate mystical experience through metaphors derived from the canon: the Sinai revelation. the heavenly court from Isaiah and Ezekiel. This concept was carried to such an extreme that some felt that the rituals and liturgies actually effected a spiritual reality. When I speak or write about early Jewish and early Christian mysticism. They should be understood as the vehicles that transported humans into the realms of the sacred. Greco-Roman. Still others felt that the Holy Spirit had descended after Jesus' death to continue to reveal God's heavenly Glory to those who were not fortunate enough to have an ascent experience. Early Jewish and early Christian mysticism is also characterized by a noetic element. I apply the same patterns of analysis to those texts as I do to later material.15. the hymnic traditions. "Mysticism" refers to the experiential component of religion. will be apparent.25. there are two particularly dominant qualities. as the means by which ordinary people could regularly encounter the divine presence. in 1 Enoch. Sometimes those are augmented by the categories of Greco-Roman culture (the Platonic tradition. 84. Philo's use of mystery language to describe his and others' experiences. and so on. 83. . for while the mystic's experience is articulated in terms of the tradition. Revelation. And he tells on the one hand of a God who possesses him in a mantic fury. the same experience holds together in tension seemingly contradictory and exclusive aspects.6). mystery religions)." So. the sensual imagery of the ascent passage(s) in 1 Enoch 12-15. Such notions also informed portions of Hebrews. however. It is paradoxical. 7. was post-mortem (Asc Isa 6. Often there is content pertaining to some aspect of the community's life and teaching. Early Jewish and early Christian mysticism is mediated through the tradition -. even without footnotes or explicit references.another paradox -. Origen's use of the Song of Songs to describe the relation between Christ and the soul. the chariot from Ezekiel. the innermost part of the heavenly palace is "hot like fire and cold like ice" (14:13). Thus. 50.beyond the capacity of words and language. Celia Deutsch Barnard College/Columbia University What am I talking about when I speak or write about early Jewish and early Christian mysticism? This is a challenging question. the mystic also interprets the tradition in light of her/his experience. I am becoming convinced that these ancient mystical traditions are the very soul of early Christianity. The final transformation. The self experiences God and/or another heavenly being. The intertextual nature of the experience is circular. 10.Suffice it to say.to be given utterance. In all the pertinent materials. I approach early Jewish and early Christian mysticism from the perspective of one who teaches a general introductory undergraduate course "Mysticism. 8. then. John the Seer's use of the conventions of apocalyptic visions. and the Apocryphon of James. Echoes of many of your own as well as other modern and contemporary scholarly voices. This is reflected in a variety of ways: the shimmering quality of some of the hymns in apocalyptic texts. transporting them through the celestial temple as I have argued was the opinion of the Valentinians. 9. The paradoxical nature of these texts says something about the ways in which the subjects perceive their experiences to be ineffable -. In one way or another there is an expression of paradox. Christian. And yet -.36. It implies a particular intensity to the discrete experience. and the experience has a noetic or objective quality. Perhaps most important are the rituals and liturgies that the early Christians developed. the figure of Jesus as Son of Man. my remarks will be shaped by conversation with the broader field of the study of mysticism. 108). Something other than the self is known. 59.transformation in the present as the result (Gos Thom 15. 19.

Jewish mysticism. is often the central visionary experience in apocalyptic documents. the transfiguration. Revelation 4-5 and the other scenes of worship that follow are visual depictions of the hidden-to-the-naked-eye heavenly worship in which the church participates. A congregation who listened to this apocalypse from start to finish is reminded that heaven and the presence of Christ is neither a distant "up there" reality nor a future reality "far down the road" of time: it is an accessible and present reality that the baptized on earth enter and mystically experience in worship. sought to understand the relationship between Jesus and YHWH.While "mystical experience" implies a discrete moment. weeping. especially on his throne. The Book of Revelation. John 1:14. This interest YHWH’s presence in the heavenly sanctuary was fueled in part by problems in the temple cult and its eventual destruction. That way includes. which preceded early Christian mysticism and essential for study of its origin. They.g. early Christian mysticism is the experience of the presence of YHWH in the person of Christ as evidenced in Ante-Nicene Christianity. they serve as a vivid commentary on what is happening in worship. the mysteries of astronomy and nature in 1 Enoch 72-82). . developed from interest in this central visionary experience of YHWH’s presence as depicted in apocalyptic literature. where the Paschal Lamb who shed his blood and gave his body is present sharing his victory through this meal. and clothing in white was understood to be the foundational priestly preparation for early Christian mystical experience of the presence of God. There are two types of Jewish mysticism that are especially important for the experience of YHWH’s presence. Such mysticism has its roots in Jewish and early Christian apocalypticism.g.. evinces early Christian baptismal praxis wherein the initiate received a mark that was the bestowal of the Divine Name as a seal. Many of the earliest Christians were faithful Jews. therefore. Although Jewish and early Christian apocalyptic literature includes a visionary experience of a wide variety of subjects (e. especially in the Eucharist. for example. namely YHWH’s visible image or form as depicted in the OT.. night vigils. Paul’s conversion experience. This is due to the impact of Ezekiel 1 on subsequent mystical experience and apocalyptic literature during and immediately following the Second Temple period. I use "mysticism" to refer not only to the ultimate stage of spiritual development. especially in the Eucharist. nevertheless the visible image of YHWH. A very intriguing area of study in early Christian mysticism is the role that the “mysteries” of Baptism and the Eucharist played in the experience of Christ’s presence within the life of the church already in the first century.g. Shi’ur qomah (“measure of the stature”) mysticism focuses on the body of the Glory of YHWH that may become visible during mystical experiences. Charles A. As such. but a praxis which includes techniques to induce altered states of consciousness (fasting. but the entire process or Way. washing. This reception of the Divine Name. meditation exercises. which is the visionary experience of divine mysteries about what is above and below as well as what has happened or will happen. There is evidence that this conclusion is based in part upon some early visionary experiences of Jesus as the Glory of YHWH (e. 2 Cor 4:6). This identification of Christ with YHWH’s visible image is foundational for the worship of Jesus and the confession that he is “Lord”. Gieschen Concordia Theological Seminary For the purpose of this brief discussion. in human flesh (e. and the visions of Christ in the Book of Revelation). Merkavah (“chariot”) mysticism has the divine chariot throne featured in Ezekiel 1 as its focus. study of sacred texts). The New Testament holds significant evidence that these earliest Christians understood Jesus to be the Glory of YHWH. especially in the celebration of the Eucharist. not only the observance proper to the entire community.

is definitely number five. second. third. nor even the third. and fifth. Greek peasants in short. "Mysticism".H. which is to say.is a continuous feature of Eastern Christian literature. nor ready and eager to apply whatever other set of questions has excited scholars in recent decades. While two of the three. in all the sense of that word. Thus my approach to the materials which are of common interest to this group is perhaps the most simple and literal of anyone here. and a novel one. nor have those questions ever failed to yield me a richly fascinating harvest. The experience of God (number two). to a set of abstractions. and b)the Church on earth. that I noted above.W. it means "rational discourse about divinity". monastic writers. nor even to most of this group. means "theologia". or at least trying to speak. so far I undertand it. "theology". What I do to earn my daily bread at the university. about God. In so far as I use it at all. monks of Mount Athos. for example. but from the conviction that I have seen. moreover. last indeed and decidedly least. That excitement stems as well from my consequent conviction that these ancient sources are speaking. The hierarchy begins with divinity itself: "theologia" means first of all God in Trinity. but what I believe I am often talking or writing about is more often numbers one through four. as speaking with a special authority about those things. and even -. in the things of God -. all three were "theologians". "theologia" is a synonym for the Holy Scriptures. including by me. The latter. or even. I do so. in post-Western medieval times. but while one can indeed find that definition for "theologia" in G. were simple.and thus were perceived. French (I think) in origin and not much more than three hundred years old. I daresay that my three monks would scarcely appeal as a criterion of judgement to most of the SBL. though I confess I would gladly yield the palm of simplicity and. Alon Goshen-Gottstein . it stands at the bottom of a hierarchy of meanings. I will add. and out of which I write. and conclude by saying that I have never regretted the questions they gave me to use in reading ancient (or not so ancient) texts. two of whom were hermits while the third was the abbot of the monastery where I lived for quite the most formative year of my adult life. I suppose. Lampe's "A Patristic Greek Lexicon". My excitement about this group and its work stems from the glimpses I think I catch of a continuity extending from the Second Temple era to my three monks. not merely out of some generalized fidelity to so many ancient texts and concepts. I understand it to mean what Eastern Christian writers meant when they wrote of "mystical theology". is on everything I have ever written. which is to say that they were all men of experience. "theology". and especially of that abbot. be that semiotics or psychoanalysis. The mark of those three men. roughly-educated men. "peira". the hermits. fourth. naivte to anyone here who might wish to claim it. spoken to. about Realities with an upper-case "R" -. since the fourth century. though."mystics" I suppose we would say -. The texts we discuss interest me theologically. Rather. in particular of its ascetical and. it denotes the experience ("peira") or vision ("theoria") of God in Trinity.if only momentarily on this side of the eschaton -. This is the tradition in which I stand. I do not come armed with the latest in literary theory. it is not the first definition given. nor with the tools of sociological inquiry. and in part have been shaped by three holy men. from which I judge. quite simply. met. at least according to the classical understanding of Greek patristic thought.Alexander Golitizin Marquette University "Mysticism" is a tricky word.indeed. it means the worship of God. the liturgy of a) the angels and saints . came to mean "rational discourse about divinity". nor the second. when they used the single word.

and not relegate mysticism to a narrow body of doctrine or teaching. Following this position. and cannot be contained in a narrow field of study. due to its literary and editorial characteristics. that belong to the entire religious system. Therefore one must seek expressions of the mystical life in relation to the key religious doctrines and practices that characterize rabbinic Judaism. Put differently. mysticism grows out of an entire religious system. various great historical moments. Schaefer and others. there are considerable difficulties in locating mysticism in either of these two bodies of teaching. The application of the term mysticism to daily life suggests the presence of God is accessed through the entire religious structure. These must be catalogued and analyzed as a first step towards liberating the study of rabbinic mysticism from the narrow confines of Ma'ase Merkava. Mysticism is a total world-view. from direct access to the mystical experience of the sages. The nature of the literature. The study of esoteric matters is not in and of itself mysticism. Only after such work has been done. can be seen as transformative moments. has been devoted to issues around Mishna Chagiga . I find it on principle hard to limit mysticism to a narrow area of study. Beyond these difficulties. as indeed Chernus has suggested. its collective character and editorial processes. performance of commandments. judged to be relevant to the study of mysticism in the rabbinic period. all make such discovery very complicated. Halperin. patterns of thinking indicative of and appropriate to a mystical understanding can be recognized throughout rabbinic literature. that are seats of the mystical dimension of the religious life. study of Torah. in the quest for rabbinic mysticism. possibly informed by a mystical experience. thereby raising the possibility that underlying the text is a mystical understanding. Something of this understanding is expressed by Max Kadushin who speaks of rabbinic religiousity as "normal mysticism".. On this matter I side with Urbach. or whether such study is itself another form of exegesis. While it is clear that there is a relationship between Ma'ase Merkava and visionary experience. will we be able to determine to what extent we can find within rabbinic literature vestiges of mystical experience. are heightened and reach a special intensity in the mystical dimension of religion. there is significant scholarly debate as to whether the rabbinic materials relevant to Ma'ase Merkava should be seen in conjunction with Hekhalot materials. or independently of them. beliefs and experiences. However. and even amoraic references to the merkava do not necessarily enable us to access the experiential and mystical components of the rabbinic religious life. Similarly. Rituals. or whether the literature only offers us a mystical theology. This is certainly true for the tannaitic texts. rabbinic mysticism does not necessarily consist of the study of merkava texts. I have demonstrated that Ma'ase Bereshit is completely unrelated to any mystical concerns. but bars us. and is best seen against the background of ancient near eastern myths. . which is not mystically informed. Following such an understanding. such as listed in mishna Chagiga. it is uncertain if we can locate mysticism in the study of the merkava. such as the theophany at Sinai. However.Institute for the Study of Rabbinic Thought The larger part of scholarly attention. Hence. Concerning the latter.Ma'ase Bereshit and Ma'ase Merkavah. I believe the study of rabbinic mysticism must seek to find ways in which the mystical dimension can be recognized through the traditional forms of religion. Mysticism involves some form of religious experience or awareness. There is also no inherent connection between Ma'ase Bereshit and Ma'ase Merkava. can be understood as moments of mystical potential. rabbinic literature must be combed through for those expressions of spirituality and of religious experience that exceed the norms of ordinary consciousness. observance of the Shabbat etc.

” In some instances the acquisition of such knowledge is the outcome of the divine-human encounter. to suggest that only those narratives that contain these very elements be categorized as “mystical” is too narrow a definition for my purposes. Dan Merkur . As other scholars have noted. However. characteristic of these “mystical” texts. Thus. Theurgical techniques or rituals are sometimes. Since cultic sacrifice is a primary vehicle for expression of the divine-human encounter in biblical sources. supernal mysteries. both individual and communal? What sort of language and what kind of metaphors did they use? What scriptural passages and exegetical traditions did they draw upon to understand such experiences? Can such analysis allow us insight into the religious imagination of early Jewish communities? Is early Christian literature a valid source for understanding early Jewish mysticism? Do we see in the literature of early Judaism any antecedent of kabbalah. I suggest that a broad understanding of what constitutes the “mystical” is the best tool for understanding posttemple and pre-medieval esotericism. heavenly enthronement.” I consider “mystical” those texts that attempt to articulate the divine-human encounter. such classical definitions of the “mystical” are not always appropriate when evaluating sources from late antiquity. and in others it is esoteric knowledge that enables or facilitates the divine-human encounter. and that such experiences are foundational for the religious identity of both individuals and groups. and those that have received the most attention in our group. I am especially interested in the way sacrificial metaphors are employed in sources from the post-temple era to describe visionary experiences of God and the divine realm. share a preoccupation with visionary experience. My understanding of the term “mystical” when applied to literature of this period is intentionally broader than those employed in classic academic discussions of mysticism. the Jewish mystical tradition represented in medieval works like the Zohar. For this reason. heavenly ascent and quite often. I believe that “mysticism” can refer to collective as well as individual experiences. but not always. given the rarity of such testimonies among the sources from this period. Esoteric knowledge (of divine names. or the individual contemplation of supernal mysteries. The sources I am drawn to. Sefer ha-Bahir or the theurgical compositions of Abraham Abulafia? These are the questions that drive my interest in the field we have come to call “Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism.Andrea Lieber Dickinson College How did Jews of late antiquity describe encounters with the divine. etc) often plays a significant role in narratives I would call “mystical. these early Jewish (and Christian) “mystical” texts are significant in that they can show us how memory of the temple plays a real and active role in the religious imagination of post-temple Jews. and I am particularly interested in public prayer and communal worship as a vehicle for that encounter.” While the focus on ecstatic vision and heavenly ascent/enthronement isolates two important motifs in the expression of religious experience in late antiquity. which tend to center around the phenomenon of the ineffable unio mystica. I hesitate to suggest that these features must be present for a work to be defined as “mystical.

by contrast. Philo knew and approved of symbolic visions. ethics. It was widespread. but wedding biblical prophetism to Aristotelian contemplation. I define mysticism for comparative purposes as “a practice of religious ecstasies (that is... there was also minority interest in personality change. Phillip B. Munoa III Hope College What am I talking about when I use the phrase or write about the subject "early Jewish" or "early Christian mysticism"? I am talking about what began as an interest of Jewish . Like the hekhalot literature. most of whom regarded themselves as Christian. perhaps more importantly than against Gnosticism. the type of solipsistic (“monadic”) experience that was called “standing” or “rest” by Platonists and Gnostics. somewhat negatively. ethics. of religious experiences during alternate states of consciousness). are related to the ecstasies. who was similarly keen on producing personality change. conceptualized as becoming a hasid. but also occasionally portray trance states. Mediumship had previously been alien to Jewish sensibilities. myths. the Gospels identified angelification (“transfiguration”) as a type of personality change. Platonism. was often to radically limit the varieties of mysticism that were considered acceptable. The New Testament Gospels and Revelation reflect a Jewish apocalypticism that fused the two Jewish categories. Hekhalot mysticism. Jewish apocalypses documented practices of visions whose contents were either symbolic (eg. such as an ascension to heaven (eg. Consider the variety of ecstasies. early Christian apocalypses partly agree in type with the imaginal school of Jewish apocalypticism. can be treated as the postmillennial successor to the imaginal school of Jewish apocalypticism. and acosmism emerged among the Gnostics. The mainline reaction against Montanism. together with whatever ideologies. The hekhalot mystics also added a practice of sar torah magic whose phenomenology was perhaps an adaptation of mediumship to Judaism. Daniel) or adhered to a mythological narrative. Paul additionally referred to a variety of early Christian mystical practices. consistent with Greek interest in mediumship. which was a mediumistic state of possession by celestial powers. Already Philo had interpreted Enoch’s transformation into an angel as an allegory of moral regeneration.The University of Toronto In forthcoming encyclopedia articles. making a symbolic use of the myth of ascension to heaven. Philo also mentioned. A blend of imaginal apocalyticism. most particularly. Rabbinic mysticism abandoned the millennialism but otherwise mostly followed the symbolic school of Jewish apocalypticism. By the second century. rites. only compound the complexity of “mysticism” in late antiquity. and so forth. and so forth. Mystical death experiences were also known. Enoch). used unitive language in order to discuss mystical deaths (with Jesus) and conforming in life with the personality of Jesus. yet pseudo-Macarius tolerantly insisted on the diversity of the Holy Spirit’s manifestations. magics. legends. early Christian mysticism had developed in several further directions. Paul. in Greek culture and presumably entered Christianity from that source.” The diversity of early Jewish and Christian mysticism precludes any more restrictive definition. speaking in tongues. but their many points of agreement and disagreement in matters of doctrine. Platonism may be traced from Philo through John the evangelist to Clement of Alexandria and his successors. In late antiquity. however. he privileged internal dialogues with the Logos. rites. Not only did different Jews and Christians pursue a variety of ecstasies.

Paul likewise modifies Merkavah mysticism when he identified Jesus as “the Glory of the LORD. The Testament of Abraham studiously avoids a physical description of God when describing Abraham's heavenly ascent and tour of heaven. Thus emerged that form of Jewish mysticism known as Hekhalot (Hebrew for "palace") mysticism. lacking only the idea of a house within a house. Christopher Rowland Oxford University The terms mysticism and apocalypticism are ways by which we seek to interpret certain characteristics within texts (e. is found in Jewish and Jewish-Christian texts of the late Second Temple era. The idea of enthroned beings besides God was a particular concern to Jewish groups. Sanh. gaze upon the Glory on the throne. This version of apocalypticism. angelic appearances.” "Linear" apocalypticism's interest in God's enthroned form met with resistance from some Jewish communities. particularly that of seeing God upon his throne. It can be traced to the exilic era and Ezek 1:26-28. The second century BCE text of Daniel builds upon Ezekiel's vision and demonstrates an emerging Jewish interest in the "secret" of God's enthronement and court in heaven." Daniel demonstrates that early Jewish mysticism hypostasized “the Glory of the LORD.” believing that a human form should be given to the Glory. Mysticism. where Ezekiel describes his vision of an enthroned man-like figure who is identified as "the appearance of the likeness of the Glory of the LORD. as we find it in early Christian texts contemporary with the Second Temple Jewish apocalyptic texts and the emerging merkavah and hekhaloth texts.g. With the demise of "linear" apocalypticism in the second century CE. it differed from what can be called "linear apocalypticism" and its interest in the secrets of the future. a later development of Merkavah mysticism. contrasts with one form of later Christian . and that human beings could safely look upon this form." According to Ezekiel. The vision of the God upon his throne is the basic element of early Jewish and Christian mysticism. Mark's description of Jesus' condemnation by the high priest. dreams and ascents to heaven) and the religious convictions and practice to which these texts bear witness. explicitly identifying God as invisible. "vertical" apocalypticism continued in its own right. for speaking about his enthronement besides God. and serve in heaven. with Hekhalot texts having a liturgical interest geared towards the experiential. Other texts like 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch bear witness to this reluctance among apocalyptic texts to speak of God's form (in contrast for instance to 2 Enoch). the idea of a house within a house. but with a growing emphasis on ascending to heaven in order to journey through the heavenly palaces. like the time of the kingdom and judgment. John also "Christianizes" Merkavah mysticism by placing Jesus on God's throne.e. The description of God in Dan 7:9 as an enthroned being known as the "Ancient of Days" illustrates how anthropomorphic detail has been given to the "Glory" (i. I Enoch includes the elements of what came to be common to Merkavah mysticism: an ascent to heaven. The texts of these mystical traditions appear to be based on both exegetical speculation and religious experience. Called by some "vertical apocalypticism. now called Merkavah (Hebrew for "chariot" or "throne") mysticism. this "Glory" is the human form of God. The Revelation of John shares three of these characteristics. An ancient tradition preserved in b." because it was interested in the secrets of heaven. and testifies to the early Christian use of pre-Christian Jewish mysticism.. and the vision of God upon his throne in his court.apocalypticism and came into prominence by the second century BCE. auditions. the terror felt by the visionary. is best understood against this background of an intra-Jewish controversy rooted in early Jewish mystical interests (14:62-63). hair "like pure wool). 38b describes how Rabbi Akiva was rebuked for suggesting that the Davidic messiah is to be enthroned next to God.

So. Understanding. a possible. For Paul the words of Scripture offered a gateway to Christ. Such experiences may for the visionary have their origin in an approach to texts in which the pursuit of the meaning of the text is not a detached operation but may involve the interpreter as a participant in the narrative of the biblical texts (such as John's experience of the actualization in his own vision of what had appeared to Ezekiel in Rev 1 and 4). not necessary. It contrasts with the situation when the reader seeks to understand and master the intricacies of the text. It is a way of reading in which the reader seeks to be open and to bring his mind into submission to the text and its effects. There is a significant difference between these visionary appropriations and. therefore. therefore. appearance and reality. The apocalypses of Second Temple Judaism are the form that the mystical and prophetic religion took in the Greco-Roman period. I think of mysticism and apocalypticism as closely related. though. in the last resort. the modes of reading typical of the various midrashic methods. are more akin to the visionary potential of the mystical readings. 'apart from the Law'. anticipated in the biblical prophetic texts (especially the book of Daniel) in which historical and eschatological dimensions to the divine knowledge unveiled are particularly prominent and which relates to existence of a group or groups rather than merely the spirituality of the individual visionary or mystic. offers him a hermeneutical device to explain the basis of his . If I had to attempt a differentiation between them. Assuming that they contain the visionary experiences of frequently anonymous visionaries. rather than by an explanation of the details of what Ezekiel saw. which a purely analytical or rational approach would miss. where the text has a clearly defied meaning as a result of the insight of the inspired interpreter. demands a perception which pierces beyond the letter. the mysteries opened up for the seer as he enters the heavenly world. This may arise in the form of a vision (as appears to have been the case for John the visionary on Patmos). often in minute detail. which was. Thereby he (and it was probably frequently a man) becomes a recipient of insight rather than one whose rational powers imposes meaning on the text. This 'visionary mode' is similar to allegorical exegesis which presupposes that the letter of the text because of its allusiveness points to another level of reality whereby other dimensions of meaning may be opened up. I would do so on the basis of suggesting that the New Testament Apocalypse offers a particular form of mysticism.mysticism (the apophatic) in its willingness to expound. This kind of exegesis involves the apprehension of divine wisdom which is normally beyond ordinary human perception and is dependent on a disposition which is open to the visionary or revelatory potential of the text. with its contrasts between above and below. say. we find in these texts examples of those moments when human experience moves beyond what is apparent to physical perception to open up perceptions of other dimensions of existence and with them other perspectives on ordinary life. Mysticism concerns the apprehension of the divine and the heavenly secrets. For the visionary who appropriates the text in this way the earthly and the heavenly are linked and the visionary may experience the sense of being transformed into an angelic existence. both ancient and modern. in some forms of the interpretation of Ezekiel 1 the meaning of the text may come about as the result of 'seeing again' what Ezekiel saw. means of discerning the divine mystery. Although there are affinities between the apocalyptic reading and the Habakkuk commentary in their common belief that there is an inspired reading which leads beyond the letter to new insight. the 'closed' readings of the Habakkuk Commentary. although there is a widespread skepticism that the texts have anything to do with the religious experience of individuals. The visionary's own experience of what had appeared to Ezekiel becomes itself the interpretation of the text. For the ancient readers of Ezekiel the prophet's visionary report offered a gateway for visionary perception. Paul is an exponent of a kind of allegorical hermeneutic in which the apocalyptic/mystical tradition. by comparing it with other texts or by using those techniques of interpretation by which their enigmas can be mastered. in effect the more 'open-ended' approaches in the majority of the rabbinic midrashim. This is the moment of apocalypse when the veil is removed and repentance and epistemological renewal coincide.

apocalyptic literature. angelomorphism and astral immortality. It actually seems to me that the notion of ascent is one of the major metaphors for religiously interpreted states of consciousness during this period. Similar notions are now emerging from the Qumran material as well. forever. theurgy. I have been investigating the use of religiously altered states of consciousness. and other Hellenistic writers. and then by analogy included related phenomena in Jewish apocalyptic literature and even in Philo when he seemed to mirror these traditions. like the stars. The same is certainly true in the Pauline corpus. Josephus.departure from hegemonic hermeneutics. the Hekhaloth literature. and the use of religiously interpreted states of consciousness to demonstrate the truth of these notions. I take to mean that they will become angels as stars and angels were related from ancient times. These states of consciousness cannot . though they may clearly be considered Jewish mysticism. and Hasidism. which opens up a way to eternal verities hidden with God in the heavens. So I have not tried to include in my purview phenomena which succeeded Merkavah mysticism. Recently. Alan F. But some of the phenomena seem certainly to be early--the heavenly ascent motif. the first clear reference to resurrection in the Hebrew Bible and a few clearly related other biblical passages. through a series of later developments. It has since occurred to me that all these traditions have behind them Daniel 12. Indeed. These phenomena especially lie behind Paul’s revelations and the literature of the New Testament. Imagination and allegory are a gateway. And these motifs are also emphatically present in Christianity. angelomorphic transformation. the vision of an exalted angel. It is based on and arises out of the religious phenomena that I have seen in the Hekhaloth texts and related related literature. use and interest in religiously altered states of consciousness. occasionally in Philo. In apocalyptic literature one sees the heavenly journey motif. Columbia University My definition of Jewish mysticism has been entirely functional. These phenomena are actually better evidenced in the apocalyptic and sectarian literature of the first few centuries than they are in the Hekhaloth literature itself. and their future heavenly journeys and astral transformations. Segal Barnard College. It seemed probable that some material in the Hekhaloth literature was later than the Hellenistic period and now it seems even clearer. can also be seen in rabbinic literature. like trance and dreams. This. It seems to me that a great deal of the material which we see can be best understood as the gifts of states of consciousness which are interpreted as revelations. even the later literature are to a certain extent discussions of this pattern. The apocalypses also promoted the quest for a deeper meaning. The Zohar takes its title from Daniel 12. But there are not yet clear criteria for determining early contributions from later ones. the Dead Sea Scrolls. It seems to me that the phenomena that are clearly evidenced in the Jewish Mystical corpus. serving me in my research. I began by looking at the Hekhaloth texts. the resurrection of those who believe in him. though it is certainly there. It describes the final consummation. where Paul himself reports revelations and visions and uses them to demonstrate the resurrection of Christ. This passage is apocalyptic in nature but the result of a revelation. using the religious phenomena therein contained. though their significance has been hardly noted by New Testament scholars until recently. for example. including Kabbalah. but in his case it was used to subvert dominant ways of reading via a conviction that the spirit enabled a deeper (christological) understanding of Scripture to come to the fore. saying that some will be resurrected and some not and that the Maskilim will shine like the brightness (zohar) of the heavens. Paul inherited from the Bible the belief in revelation.

it has to be admitted that some understanding of the phenomenon has to be presumed before one can even attempt to chart out the specific contours as they apply to a given setting. Others may involve more complicated praxis and ritual preparations. . The transformation that is consequent to the vision of God is a key theme appropriated by followers of Jesus from Jewish apocalyptic mysticism. Nevertheless. Elliot Wolfson New York University As historians of religion have noted "mysticism" is a notoriously difficult term to define. The mystical praxis. Some are as simple as the religious interpretation of dreams. In the last few decades. however. a state which we all experience unbidden. a transformation marked by a of characteristics including being seated upon a throne. is that they are all interpreted by the practitioners as being self-validating revelations that demonstrate the religious truths that the group wishes to promulgate. viz. The visual experience is fostered as well by previous visions recorded in texts that served as the basis for ongoing meditation practices. a luminous form that appears to the visionary in the shape of an anthropos. facilitated psychic ascent and the ontic reintegration of the individual into the divine in an experience that is considered to be on a par with prophecy. scholars have become sensitive to the fact that mysticism has to be understood in relationship to a particular cultural context. the Tetragrammaton. This vision encompasses a confluence of several distinct phenomenological elements. often in the posture of sitting upon the throne. genuine piety is dependent on seeing God. that is. The epitome of this tradition is the depiction of the translation of Enoch and his transformation into Metatron.be described in great detail because we lack the subjects reports and a very wide variety of states of mind can be included under the category. The merging of revelation and interpretation represents another crucial component of Jewish mysticism that informed early Christian spirituality. mysticism will denote the primacy accorded vision of the divine in the constitution of pious devotion. In particular. is a crucial doctrinal point that serves as a common thread connecting ancient Jewish mysticism and angelomorphic Christianity.. What unites them. and even the ingestion of psychotropic substances. the anthropomorphic image of God. as an angelic being who bears the most sacred of divine names. The possibility of encountering the visible form of the invisible God was appropriated by some of the earlier followers of Jesus and the Jewish mystical doctrines are applied to him. the identification of this visible form. The apocalyptic tradition cultivated by small circles of Palestinian Jews from this period linked the visionary experience to a heavenly ascent that resulted in the transformation of the human into an angelic being. In applying the term to Late-Antique Judaism and early Christianity. which evolved into sacramental ritual in the Church.

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Idem. 2000). Abraham Abulafia .Kabbalist and Prophet: Hermeneutics. Theosophy. and Hermeneutics (Albany: State University of New York Press. 1995).. Along the Path: Studies in Kabbalistic Myth. Through A Speculum that Shines: Vision and Imagination in Medieval Jewish Mysticism (Princeton: Princeton University Press. and Theurgy (Los Angeles: Cherub Press. Circle in the Square: Studies in the Use of Gender in Kabbalistic Symbolism (Albany: State University of New York Press.Wolfson. Elliot R. . Symbolism. 1994). 1995. Idem. Idem.

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