Monday, September 19, 2011

On the Hekhalot literature

Ancient Kabbalah- Entering Heavenly Palaces

Part of: Kabbalistic Offshoots and Mystical Bends

Author: michal Schwartz — Published: Sep 16, 2011 at 1:11 pm 0 comments
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“Thus it is possible that in some Jewish texts, already beginning with antiquity, magic and mysticism can be regarded as two faces of the same coin. This is obvious in the Hekhalot literature.” (Moshe Idel)

Full of fantastic descriptions, Hekhalot (heavenly palaces) and Merkavah (Chariot) are ancient Hebrew mystical texts dating from around the second to the fifth century CE.

This is a companion piece to an earlier essay on Metatron etc. Very broadly it gives the novice reader some idea of what the Hekhalot literature is about, but there are errors and I want to go through the whole thing and nuance and revise. Some of the material in the texts may indeed go back to the second to fifth century CE, or even earlier, but the bulk of what we have now was composed roughly from late antiquity through the Genonic period (call it from the fifth to the tenth century) and edited by the European Haside Ashkenaz in the Middle Ages. Palmistry and reading the lines of the forehead are known from physiognomic texts related to the Hekhalot literature, but otherwise appears in only one early Hekhalot manuscript from the Cairo Geniza. And the Hekhalot texts do not teach how to call down evil angels. The good ones are quite dangerous enough.

And so on. Rather than continuing, let me just refer you to my article "The Hekhalot Literature and Shamanism," which introduces the texts, their contents, and their purposes as I understand them. As I have mentioned before, I am currently finishing my English translation of the Hekhalot literature, so such matters are much on my mind right now.