Friday, September 29, 2017

Review of Afterman, '“And They Shall Be One Flesh”

H-JUDAIC BOOK REVIEW: Hecker on Afterman, '“And They Shall Be One Flesh”: On​ The ​L​anguage of Mystical Union in Judaism​'.
Adam Afterman. “And They Shall Be One Flesh”: On​ The ​L​anguage of Mystical Union in Judaism​. Supplements to The Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy Series. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2016. Illustrations. x + 279 pp. $145.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-90-04-32872-3.

Reviewed by Joel Hecker (Reconstructionist Rabbinical College)
Published on H-Judaic (September, 2017)
Commissioned by Katja Vehlow

In this first book-length historical overview of mystical union in the Jewish tradition, the thesis is stated succinctly in the introduction (chapter 1): “The history of Jewish unitive language is constituted of ... two trends: the lineage of Philonic or Neoplatonic mystical union, in which the human is elevated to God’s dwelling and becomes one with Him; and the lineage of mystical embodiment, the notion of the divine indwelling by means of its name, light and spirit, in the midst of the human” (p. 3). Adam Afterman contends that the historical arc traces a movement that begins with the upward unitive trajectory predominating, until the downward integrative dynamic took the fore, corresponding to a gradual historical shift of religious focus from the Godhead to the human body and psyche in premodern and modern Jewish mysticism. In Afterman’s telling, medieval Judaism posited metaphysical structures extending between God and man that allowed for spiritual or intellectual ascent, leading to forms of intimacy and union with God and the development of new forms of religious expression.

Not surprisingly, Philo of Alexandria has a prominent place early in the book.

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