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    HONOURS MODULE DI3217(/4217)
    James R. Davila
    St. Mary's College
    University of St. Andrews
    St. Andrews, Fife, KY16 9JU

    <*>Copyright 1998. First published in the _Society of Biblical Literature 1994 Seminar Papers_ (Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1994) 767-89. Minor corrections have been made in the online version. The abbreviations used in this paper are those standard for the _Journal of Biblical Literature_ (available for downloading at http://www.sbl-site.org/scripts/SBL/Pub ... -inst.html). 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://listserv.lehigh.edu/lists/ioudai ... guide.html). The following additional diacritical marks are used:

    _text_ = italicized text
    <0A> = A, ring (as in "<0A>ngstrom")
    <`'c> = c with hacek
    <:e> = schwa (usually written as an upside-down "e")
    <-o> = vowel with a macron over it
    <(> = transliterated Hebrew Ayin
    <$> = s with hacek (transliterated Hebrew Shin)
    ----- = start of notes to preceding paragraph
    <1> = note 1 etc.
    ===== = resume text after notes

    ***** = block quotation of translated text


    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. This material is of particular interest for the study of divine mediation and mystical/revelatory experiences, because the Hekhalot documents claim to detail actual practices used to reach trance states, gain revelations, and interact with divine mediators.

    <1>My thanks to Central College for a research and development grant that helped make this study possible. The textual basis of the Hekhalot literature for this paper is found in Peter Sch<"a>fer et al., _Synopse zur Hekhalot-Literatur_ (T<"u>bingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 1981); Sch<"a>fer, _Geniza-Fragmente zur Hekhalot-Literatur_ (T<"u>bingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 1984); and (for 3 Enoch) Hugo Odeberg, _3 Enoch, or the Hebrew Book of Enoch_ (New York: Ktav, 1973 [orig. pub. 1928]). The citation "para(s)." plus a number refers to paragraph numbers in the _Synopse_ unless otherwise indicated. For 3 Enoch, Odeberg's chapter and verse numbers are given, followed by the corresponding paragraph numbers of the _Synopse_ in parentheses. The citation G with a number (e.g., G8) refers to the numbers assigned to the Geniza fragments in _Geniza-Fragmente_. This paper divides the _Synopse_ (both Hekhalot and related texts) into the following macroforms: 3 Enoch (paras. 1-79); Hekhalot Rabbati (paras. 81-121, 152-54, 156-73, 189-96, 198-277); Sar Torah (paras. 281-306); Hekhalot Zutarti (roughly paras. 335-74, 407-26); Magic Book (paras. 489-95); Ma<(>aseh Merkavah (paras. 544-96); <.H>arba de Moshe (paras. 598-622, cf. paras. 640-50); Sar Panim (paras. 623-39); Merkavah Rabba (paras. 655-708); Seder Rabba de Bereshit (paras. 743-853 and parallels). These divisions are for convenience only and do not imply a theoretical statement about the textual boundaries of the Hekhalot literature.

    Philip Alexander has drawn on anthropological works on shamanism to illuminate some material in the Hekhalot literature.<2> This paper follows up his observation in depth by analyzing the Hekhalot literature from the perspective of the anthropological study of shamanism. 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. Some scholars, such as Gershom Scholem, Philip Alexander, and Christopher R. A. Morray-Jones, understand the Hekhalot texts to describe actual theurgical practices and typical visionary experiences of the group that produced the documents.<3> Others, such as David Halperin, see the Hekhalot traditions as primarily exegetical. 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.<4>

    <2>Philip S. Alexander, "The Historical Setting of the Hebrew Book of Enoch," _JJS_ 28 (1977) 156-80, esp. 169-73.

    <3>Scholem, _Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition_ (2nd ed.; New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1965); Alexander, "Historical Setting" (n. 2); Morray-Jones, "Paradise Revisited (2 Cor 12:1-12): The Jewish Mystical Background of Paul's Apostolate," _HTR_ 86 (1993) 177-217, 265-92. 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).

    <4>Halperin, _Faces of the Chariot: Early Jewish Responses to Ezekiel's Vision_ (T<"u>bingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 1988). See especially Halperin's comments on p. 441. See also n. 57 below.

    This exegetical approach to the Hekhalot materials has much to commend it. 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." Evelyn Underhill, in an old but still useful work, defined it as "the expression of the innate tendency of the human spirit towards complete harmony with the transcendental order; whatever be the theological formula under which that order is understood. 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." The goal of mysticism, then, is union of the soul with the Absolute. Although this union is an absorption of an individual into the divine, the unitive life of the highest mystics is generally intensely social: they seek to bring the benefits of their experience into their community.<5>

    <5>Underhill, _Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Man's Spiritual Consciousness_ (New York/Ontario: Meridian, 1974 [1st ed. 1911]) xiv, 428-32. 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. For detailed discussions see Ileana Marcoulesco, "Mystical Union," and Louis Dupr<'e>, "Mysticism," _Encyclopedia of Religion_, ed. Mircea Eliade, vol. 10 (New York/London: Macmillan, 1987) 239-45 and 245-61, respectively.

    Underhill contrasts mysticism with a closely related, but in her opinion, inferior form of esotericism -- magic. 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." Magic, then, is esoteric practice by an individual that seeks to gain knowledge of and power over the supernatural realm. 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.<6>

    <6>Underhill, _Mysticism_ (n. 5) 152, 164. 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: "Magic is usually defined subjectively rather than by any agreed-upon content. 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 behavior such as manipulation of objects and recitation of verbal formulas or spells. In a given society magic may be performed by a specialist." ("Theories of Magic," _Encyclopedia of Religion_, ed. Eliade, vol. 9 [n. 5] 82-89. The quotation is on p. 82.) 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.

    There is, however, an intermediate stage of esoteric spiritual experience unacknowledged by Underhill. This stage, shamanism, is found, like mysticism and magic, in religious traditions all over the world. <0A>ke Hultkrantz has described the shaman as "a social functionary who, with the help of guardian spirits, attains ecstasy in order to create a rapport with the supernatural world on behalf of his group members."<7> The shaman, then, like the mystic, achieves ecstasy, a trance state in which he or she "stands outside" the body. 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.

    <7>Hultkrantz, "A Definition of Shamanism," _Temenos_ 9 (1973) 25-37. The quotation is from p. 34. I accept Hultkrantz's description as 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.

    The experiences described in the Hekhalot literature do not seem much like mysticism. 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: it includes visionary experiences atypical of magic and often seems to be functioning in the context of a community. 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 accepted 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.<8> Or the call may be hereditary, or determined from childhood by the presence of a "shaman's mark," a special physical characteristic on the initiate's body. Hereditary or "marked" shamans usually do not resist the call.<9> If the decision is voluntary, the prospective shaman seeks out contacts with the spirits.<10>

    <8>For example, the Gol'd shaman of Siberia, who was smitten with an illness until he entered into a shamanic marriage with his assisting spirit (Joan Halifax, _Shamanic Voices: A Survey of Visionary Narratives_ [New York/London: Arkana/Penguin, 1979] 121).

    <9>The call of Nick Black Elk, a Native American Lakota Sioux, was hereditary: shamanism ran in his family. 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. Neihardt, _Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux_ [Lincoln Neb./London: University of Nebraska, 1988 (originally published in 1932)] 18-47). Nick was one of the eleven spiritual "grandfathers" of Wallace Black Elk, who was groomed to be a shaman from childhood in accordance with a prophecy of nineteen generations before (Wallace Black Elk and William S. Lyon, _Black Elk: The Sacred Ways of a Lakota_ [San Francisco, Calif.: HarperSanFrancisco, 1990] xviii-xx, 3-15. Shamans' marks among Siberian shamans are discussed by V. N. Basilov, "Chosen by the Spirits," in _Shamanism: Soviet Studies of Traditional Religion in Siberia and Central Asia_, ed. Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer (New York/London: Sharpe, 1990) 3-48, esp. 8; N. A. Alekseev, "Shamanism among the Turkic Peoples of Siberia," in _Shamanism_, ed. Balzer, 49-109, esp. 99; L. V. Khomi<`'c>, "A Classification of Nenets Shamans," in _Shamanism in Siberia_, ed. V. Di<'o>zegi and M. Hopp<'a>l (Budapest: Akad<'e>miai Kiad<'o>, 1978) 245-53, esp. 245.

    <10>For example, Sanimuinak, the Angamagsalik Inuit, who decided to become a shaman as a boy and actively sought out the spirits (Halifax, _Shamanic Voices_ [n. 8] 111).

    The Hekhalot literature itself does not indicate how one is chosen to become a descender to the chariot. 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 into the group. One of these, HKRT PNYM LR' Y$M()L, "The Physiognomy of R. Ishmael," is a Hebrew text originally published from several manuscripts by Gershom Scholem, who dates it to the Talmudic period.<11> (I see no reason that it could not be as late as the Geonic period.) Presented as a revelation to R. Ishmael by the angel Suriah (as in the Hekhalot literature), it describes the outward physical characteristics that 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. 5, 12, 18, 37), which brings to mind the various references to the Great Seal and Fearsome Crown mentioned in the Hekhalot literature (e.g., paras. 318-21 = 651-54). One description indicates that the subject is "a son of two worlds" (PRI para. 4), which Scholem compares to the comment in Merkavah Rabba that the reciter of the Shi<(>ur Qomah "has good in this world and rest for the world to come" (para. 705).<12> Another reads, "And if he has one (line) that stands on his forehead, thus he ascends opposite those who bind on crowns" (PRI para. 32). Scholem points out that "binders of crowns" seem to be a category of angel mentioned twice in the Hekhalot Rabbati.<13> Other passages describe the good man as exceptionally wise (PRI para. 20) and "a son of Torah" (PRI para. 31), both characteristics of those who participate in Sar Torah theurgy (see below).

    <11>Scholem, "Physiognomy and Chiromancy," in _Sepher Assaf_, ed. M. D. Cassuto et al. (Jerusalem: 1953) 459-95 (Hebrew). The text is discussed on pp. 469-74 and published in Appendix B (pp. 480-87). Scholem also published another article on this text with an improved German translation that took into account a new manuscript: "Ein Fragment zur Physiognomik und Chiromantik aus der Tradition der sp<"a>tantiken j<"u>dischen Esoterik," in _Liber Amicorum: Studies in Honor of Professor Dr. C. J. Bleeker_ (Leiden: Brill, 1969) 175-93. Citations from the Physiognomy of R. Ishmael (hereafter PRI) follow the paragraphing of the latter article.

    <12>Scholem, "Physiogonomy" (n. 11) 481 n. 12.

    <13>Scholem, "Physiogonomy" (n. 11) 485 n. 42; cf. paras. 103, 253.

    A Geniza fragment (T.-S. K 21.88) with similar material, but also including astrological speculation, was published by Ithamar Gruenwald.<14> The connections between it and the Hekhalot literature are less pronounced, but it is worth noting that it has some emphasis on characters who are gifted in Torah (one can learn it twice as fast as his companions) (1a 8-9, 18; 2a 15-17).

    <14>Gruenwald, "New Fragments from the Physiognomic and Chiromantic Literature," _Tarbiz_ 40 (1970-71) 301-19 (Hebrew). The text is introduced on pp. 301-304 and published on pp. 306-17.

    The most important physiognomic document for our purposes is a Geniza fragment (T.-S. K 21.95.L [= G12]) that begins as a Hekhalot text but includes physiognomic and astrological material.<15> Entitled SYMN +WB, "A Good Omen," it begins with an account by Rabbi Ishmael of his ascent to the chariot and describes how the angel Metatron showed him the souls of human beings yet to be born. Essentially the same material is found in 3 Enoch 1 and 43-44 (paras. 1-2, 61-62), but in a form redactionally secondary to G12.<16> After a tour of the places of the souls of the future righteous, intermediate, and wicked, Metatron shows R. Ishmael the twelve constellations and begins reciting a horoscope:

    <15>Sch<"a>fer translates and discusses the text in "Ein neues Fragment zur Metoposkopie und Chiromantik," _Hekhalot-Studien_ (T<"u>bingen: Mohr [Siebeck] 1988) 84-95. 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. 11] 459-68; Sch<"a>fer, "Ein neues Fragment," 84 n. 1).

    <16>Sch<"a>fer, "Ein neues Fragment" (n. 15) 86-87.

    He who is born in the constellation of Libra, on the first day, in Jupiter or in the moon: when he, the child, is born in these two hours, he is only born little and small and sallow. And he shall have 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 months 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. . . ." (2b 15-22)<17>

    17"Little and small": emending according to the suggestion of Jonas Greenfield (Sch<"a>fer, "Ein neues Fragment" [n. 15] 95 n. 58). "A ready ": emending to SWPR MHYR on the basis of the parallel expression in T.-S. K 21.88 (cf. Sch<"a>fer, "Ein neues Fragment" [n. 15] 95 n. 61).

    Much in this passage is obscure; however, a number of points should be noted. This text combines a Hekhalot vision with physiognomic and astrological speculation. 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 Samoyed) Sereptie, in his long and arduous initiatory vision (on which see below), was at one point reduced to a skeleton and then was "forged" with a hammer and anvil.<18> Autdaruta, an Inuit initiate, had a vision in which he was eaten by a bear and then was vomited up, having gained power over the spirits.<19> Nick Black Elk, in the narrative of his Great Vision (discussed below), describes what seems to be an initiatory transformation: "I saw that I was painted red all over, and my joints were painted black, with white stripes between the joints. My bay had lightning stripes all over him and his mane was cloud. And when I breathed, my breath was lightning."<20>

    <18>A. A. Popov, "How Sereptie Djaruoskin of the Nganasans (Tagvi Samoyeds) Became a Shaman," in _Popular Beliefs and Folklore Tradition in Siberia_, ed. V. Di<'o>zegi (Bloomington: Indiana University, 1968) 137-45. The forging episode is on p. 142.

    <19>Halifax, _Shamanic Voices_ (n. 8) 108-109. For a cross-cultural overview of initiatory disintegrations and reintegrations see Mircea Eliade, _Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstacy_ (rev. ed; Princeton N. J.: University Press, 1964) 33-66.

    <20>Niehardt, _Black Elk Speaks_ (n. 9) 44. Initiatory disintegration and reintegration is much more common in Arctic (Inuit and Siberian) and Australian shamanism than in Native American shamanism. Daniel Merkur suggests that this experience is a form of anxiety attack generated by sensory deprivation (e.g., "kayak-angst" among the Inuit), and that perhaps the natural environment in the Arctic and Australia may be more conducive to sensory deprivation than the natural environment normally experienced by Native Americans (_Becoming Half Hidden: Shamanism and Initiation Among the Inuit_ [Stockholm Studies in Comparative Religion 24; Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1985] 177-98, esp. n. 89).

    The clearest example of an initiatory disintegration and reintegration in the Hekhalot literature is found in one of its latest strata: the description of the transformation of the mortal Enoch into the angel Metatron in 3 Enoch 3-15 (paras. 4-19). Enoch's experience is much like that of the shamans:

    As soon as the Holy One, blessed be He, took me to serve the throne of glory, the wheels of the chariot, and all the needs of the Shekhinah, at once my flesh was changed into flame, my tendons into a fire of glowing heat, my bones to glowing juniper coals, my eyelids to radiance of lightningbolts, my eyeballs to torches of fire, the hair of my head to glowing heat and flame, all my limbs to wings of burning fire, and my bodily frame to scorching fire. On my right were hewers of fiery flames, on my left torches were burning. There blew around me wind, storm, and tempest, and the noise of earthquake upon earthquake was in front of me and behind me. (15:1b-2; para. 19)

    The apotheosis of Enoch in this passage is clearly a literary event, not necessarily meant to describe the experience or potential experience of a descender to the chariot. Nevertheless, it provides an important context for difficult texts in earlier strata of the Hekhalot literature. The following passage from the Hekhalot Rabbati is a case in point. It describes the effect that the vision of God on his throne has on one who sees it:

    And the eyes of every creature are unable to gaze on Him, neither eyes of flesh and blood nor the eyes of His attendants. And the one who gazes on Him and peers and sees Him, _flashbacks_ seize his eyeballs and his eyeballs emit and bring forth torches of fire and they scorch and burn him. The fire that goes forth from the man who gazes burns him and scorches him. For what reason? Because of the likeness of the eyes of the shirt of ZHRRY<)>L YHWH, God of Israel, who is garlanded and comes onto the throne of glory. . . . For with six voices the _beings_ who carry His throne of glory sing, the cherubim and the ophannim and the holy living creatures, with voice after voice that is exalted over its companion and that is modulated before Him.

    The voice of the first: whoever hears it immediately moans and prostrates himself. The voice of the second: whoever listens to it immediately gets lost and does not return again. The voice of the third: whoever hears it is seized by convulsion and dies immediately. The voice of the fourth: whoever listens to it -- immediately the skull of his head, as well as his frame, is shattered, and most of the heads of his ribs are torn out. The voice of the fifth: whoever hears it is immediately poured out like a ladle and it dissolves all of him into blood. The voice of the sixth: whoever listens to it -- immediately skipping seizes his heart and his heart shakes and overturns his bowels and it dissolves his gall inside him like water. (paras. 102-104 [cf. para. 159])

    A related passage appears in the Hekhalot Zutarti. R. Ishmael, speaking of the obscure angel MGH(Y)S<$>H or MN<.H><$>H, reports:

    And he stands at the first gate and ministers at the great gate. When I saw him, my hands and feet were burned and I was standing without hands and feet until PNYYWN the prince from among the heavenly attendants appeared to me before the throne of glory opposite the inner room of the seraphim, whose name is like His name, and it is one name. (para. 420 [cf. G8.2a. 37-41])

    It has been recognized by Christopher Morray-Jones that these three passages should be interpreted together. "The meaning must be that the vision of the garment of the Glory, which embodies the name of God, involves a transformation of the mystic's body into fire, a process which is terrifyingly dangerous, even fatal, should he prove unworthy."<21> Thus, the descender to the chariot undergoes a personal destruction and resurrection as part of the process of gaining his power to function in the supernatural world.

    <21>Morray Jones, "Transformational Mysticism in the Apocalyptic-Merkabah Tradition," _JJS_ 43 (1992) 1-31. The quotation is on p. 25.


    Shamans reach the state that gives them access to the supernatural world in a variety of ways. A very common way is by ingesting mind-altering drugs of various types.<22> Another common method is to listen to the protracted pounding of a drum.<23> Less direct methods are also widely practiced. These include various forms of isolation and self-denial, such as fasting, solitary confinement, celibacy, dietary and purity restrictions, and protracted prayer. Igjugarjuk, a Caribou Inuit shaman, claims to have been isolated by his mentor in a small snow hut where he fasted and meditated in the cold, drinking only a little water twice, for thirty days. After his initiatory vision (see below) he continued a rigorous regime involving a special diet and celibacy.<24> Leonard Crow Dog, a Native American Sioux shaman, describes in detail the process of his first vision quest. He participated in a sweat lodge ceremony for spiritual cleansing, then was taken to a fasting place of his family's, where he was wrapped naked in a blanket and left in a hole to fast and pray alone for two days (an adult shaman will fast four or more days).<25> Wallace Black Elk also frequently describes both the sweat lodge ("stone-people-lodge") ceremony and the vision quest.<26> Ascetic practices by Japanese shamans are especially prevalent among those who actively seek shamanhood rather than being called by a deity. These practices include fasting and dietary restrictions of various kinds, seclusion in a dark place, walking pilgrimages between sacred places, and rigorous regimes of immersion and bathing in ice-cold water. These disciplines, especially the endurance of cold, eventually fill the shaman with heat and spiritual might.<27>

    <22>See, most recently, Michael Ripinsky-Naxon, _The Nature of Shamanism: Substance and Function of a Religious Metaphor_ (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York, 1993).

    <23>Eliade, _Shamanism_ (n. 19) 168-80.

    <24>Halifax, _Shamanic Voices_ (n. 8) 65-68.

    <25>Halifax, _Shamanic Voices_ (n. 8) 76-84.

    <26>E.g., Black Elk and Lyon, _Black Elk_ (n. 9) 47-48, 60-66, 67-86, 138-170.

    <27>Carmen Blacker, _The Catalpa Bow: A Study of Shamanistic Practices in Japan_ (2nd ed.; London/Boston: Allen & Unwin, 1986) 85-93, 98-103.

    The magic of song is also drawn upon by shamans in all traditions. Japanese shamans recite words of power that Carmen Blacker has divided into three categories. (1) Some words are considered to confer power on the reciter because of their meaning, such as passages in the Lotus Sutra that describe the redemptive virtue of the Bodhisattva Kannon. (2) Other words have no meaning to the reciter, but their mere recitation gives power, theoretically because of the inherent structure of the words themselves. In Japan, corrupt Sanskrit texts whose meanings are lost to all but a few scholars often serve in this category. (3) The invocation and pronunciation of divine names is also understood inherently to endue the invoker with power. These three types of recitation are normally combined with ascetic practices.<28>

    <28>Blacker, _The Catalpa Bow_ (n. 27) 93-98.

    These categories of power words serve as a useful framework for shamanic songs in general. For example, the songs of the Siberian Evenki (Tungus) shamans often contain so much linguistically archaic material that they are unintelligible to a modern Evenki. The songs that can be understood (either through the linguistic knowledge of the researcher or because they are sung in a more modern form by a literate speaker) clearly derive power from their content. Space allows for only a single example, the first part of a song sung during the Evenki ceremony of "searching for souls of the sick." The shaman gathers his helping spirits and he goes down the shaman's river, but encounters difficulties and is forced to retreat temporarily. The entire song is about four times the length of this excerpt and contains lines unintelligible to the translator and his informants.

    Go another way! Go another way! / Go another way! Go another way! / <`'c>in<:e>k<:e> Birds have sent [him off] / Without circling / He went well inside/ Down [along the river] he started / Here he led my children [the Evenki]/ Children farther / Why do you go forward? / Come here my children! / Now there is a soul / On the sharp peak [of the mountain] of the earth / There we meet / On the wretched place of earth / There where the sharp peak [stands] / In the very middle of the earth. / At the two waterfalls [of the river] / On the third waterfall / I am held up [they catch me] / On the fourth waterfall / I am held up, / On the fifth waterfall, / I am held up / On the sixth waterfall, / I am held up / On the seventh waterfall, / I am held up / On the eighth waterfall / I am held up. / Turn round! Turn round! Turn round! / Upwards! Upwards! Upwards you go! / My dogs, my fast ones / Don't fall behind!<29>

    <29>G. M. Vasilevi<`'c>, "Shamanistic Songs of the Evenki (Tungus)" in _Popular Beliefs_, ed. Di<'o>szegi (n. 18) 351-72. The introductory discussion and the song in question are on pp. 351-59. The words in brackets appear to be variants from different recitations.

    Nothing in the Hekhalot literature indicates that the descenders to the chariot made use of psychoactive drugs to induce their visionary experiences. Nor is there any mention of their using drums. However, a somewhat similar effect may have been achieved by protracted repetition of divine names. In the Hekhalot Rabbati, when R. Nehuniah ben HaQanah suggested to his disciple R. Ishmael that the descender to the chariot must be morally perfect, R. Ishmael despaired. R. Nehuniah then had his prot<'e>g<'e> gather together the academy so that he could explain a theurgical method for experiencing the descent to the chariot (paras. 198-203). R. Ishmael continues:

    We came and sat before him, and the associates were a whole crowd standing on their feet, because they were seeing to the globes of fire and the torches of light that they had set as a barrier between us and them. And R. Nehuniah ben HaQanah sat and set out in order all the matters of the chariot: descent and ascent; how one who descends, descends and how one who ascends, ascends: When a man seeks to descend into the chariot, he calls on Suriah, prince of the Presence, and adjures him one hundred and twelve times by <.T>W<.T>RWSY<)>Y YWY who is called <.T>W<.T>RWSY<)>Y <.S>WR<.T>Q <.T>W<.T>RBY<)>L <.T>WPGR <$><)>RWYLY<)>Y ZBWDY<)>L and ZHRRY<)>L <.T>ND<)>L and <$>QDHWZY<)>Y DHYBYRWN and <)>DYRYRWN YWY God of Israel. And he must be careful not to add to the one hundred and twelve times, nor to subtract from them. And if he adds or subtracts, his blood is on his own head. But his mouth must only enunciate the names and the fingers of his hands must count to one hundred and twelve. And at once he will descend into and will have authority over the chariot. (paras. 203-205)<30>

    <30>Cf. para. 311 (a theurgical fragment), para. 681 (Merkavah Rabba), and G19.1a. 11-25 (an incantation invoking Metatron) for parallels to this passage.

    Another cluster of techniques, which involve various forms of self-denial and ritual purification, is associated with many passages in the Hekhalot literature. A fairly typical example appears as an instruction of R. Akiva in the Sar Torah text that frequently follows the Hekhalot Rabbati in the manuscripts:<31>

    <31>Additional passages that give descriptions of this set of praxes include a Sar Torah fragment (paras. 310-14); the Sar Panim ("The Prince of the Presence") (para. 623); the Merkavah Rabba (paras. 681-84); the Metatron incantation (G19.11-25; see n. 30 above); and the Magic Book (paras. 489, 495). The last belongs, strictly speaking, to the magical literature rather than the Hekhalot literature; but see the discussion below on the relation between these two genres. The Sar Panim contains elements of both genres, and it is not clear that it should be assigned exclusively to either. Note also that the Merkavah Rabba and the Metatron incantation include both the recitation of divine names (as per para. 204) and techniques of self-denial.

    Let him who would join himself to the prince of Torah wash his garments and his clothes and let him immerse (in) a strict immersion as a safeguard in case of pollution. And let him dwell for twelve days in a room or in an upper chamber. Let him not go out or come in, and he must neither eat nor drink. But from evening to evening see that he eats his bread, clean bread of his own hands, and he drinks pure water, and that he does not taste any kind of vegetable. And let him insert this midrash of the prince of Torah into the prayer three times in every single day; it is after the prayer that he should pray it from its beginning to its end. And afterward, let him sit and recite during the twelve days, the days of his fasting, from morning until evening, and let him not be silent. And in every hour that he finishes it let him stand on his feet and adjure by the servants (and?) by their king, twelve times by every single prince. Afterward let him adjure every single one of them by the seal. (paras. 299-300)

    The next two paragraphs give a very corrupt set of angelic _nomina barbara_ to be recited.

    A similar passage appears in the Ma<(>aseh Merkavah:

    R. Ishmael said: I was thirteen years old and my heart was moved on each day that began with fasting. As soon as R. Nehuniah ben HaQanah revealed to me this mystery of Torah, Suriah, prince of the Presence, was revealed. He said to me: (As for) the prince of Torah, Yophiel is his name. Let anyone who seeks him sit forty days in fasting. Let him not eat his morsel with salt, nor let him eat any kind of filth. Let him immerse (with) twenty-four immersions. Let him not gaze on various dyed things. Let his eyes be pressed down to the earth and let him pray with all his might. Let him set his heart on his prayer, and let him seal himself with his seal and invoke twelve words. (para. 560)

    Paragraphs 561-64 give various prayers, _nomina barbara_, instructions, and warnings to be used and heeded by the practitioner. Then, in para. 565, R. Ishmael continues his narrative:

    I sought this mystery, and I sat for twelve days in fasting. As soon as I saw that I could not serve by means of fasting, I made use of the name of forty-two letters. And PRQDS, the angel of the Presence, descended in rage, so that I shrank back, falling backward. He said to me: Mortal, son of a putrid drop, son of a maggot and a worm! You made use of a great name! It has taken for you arrays of Torah! I am not giving to you until you sit for forty days. At once I stood with all my might, and I carefully invoked three letters, and he ascended. (This: B<(>R<(><)> BYH GDWLT <)>TYT BYH.) And I sat forty days in fasting and I prayed three prayers at dawn, three at noon, three at the afternoon offering, and three in the evening. And I invoked twelve words on every single one. And for the last day I prayed three (times) and invoked and PRQDS, the angel of the Presence, descended, and with him were angels of mercy.

    And they placed wisdom in the heart of R. Ishmael.

    Songs also play a crucial role in the esoteric practices described in the Hekhalot literature, which is permeated with what Scholem calls "numinous hymns."<32> The Hekhalot Rabbati begins with R. Ishmael's question, "What are these songs that one recites who seeks to observe the vision of the chariot so as to descend safely and to ascend safely?" (para. 81). Starting in para. 94, songs of the angels who attend the throne of God are given. This collection of songs concludes, "R. Ishmael said: R. Akiva heard all these songs when he descended to the chariot. He seized and learned them from before the throne of glory, for His attendants were singing before it" (para. 106). Near the end of the Hekhalot Rabbati we are given a set of songs that are recited daily by the throne of glory, which the descender to the chariot should also sing (paras. 251-57 = 260-66). The Ma<(>aseh Merkavah begins with R. Ishmael requesting "a prayer by which a man prays the praise of RWZYY YHWH God of Israel" (para. 544).

    <32>Scholem, _Jewish Gnosticism_ (n. 3) 21.

    There are countless examples of these songs in the Hekhalot literature. Space permits the citation of only two in their entirety, both from the Ma<(>aseh Merkavah, and both chosen to show the correspondence of Merkavah hymns to the canons of shamanic hymns established above. The first is a prayer revealed by R. Nehuniah to R. Ishmael for protection from the angels who stand in the heavenly throne room. The other is the second in a series of five hymns at the end of the work.

    Blessed are You, YY' my God and my Former, great and fearsome, living forever, magnificent over the chariot. Who is like You, magnificent on high? Give me success in all my limbs and I will meditate on the gates of wisdom, I will search in the ways of understanding, I will watch closely the chambers of Torah, I will meditate on the treasuries of blessing, and they shall be treasured up for me, for wisdom is before You. And save me from all the enraged ones who stand before You and let them love me before You. And I know that Your holiness is forever, and I bless the holiness of Your name forever, and I sanctify Your great name. And let it be a great seal upon the limbs of my body, as it is written, "Holy, holy, holy" (Isa 6:3). Blessed are you YHWH who live forever. (para. 569)

    You are declared holy, God of heaven and earth,
    Lord of Lords,
    Magnificent One of magnificent ones,
    God of the cherubim,
    Rider of the cherubim.
    God of hosts,
    And His rulership is over the hosts.
    God of the attendants,
    And His name is declared holy over the attendants.
    He is His name and His name is He.
    He is in He and His name is in His name.
    A song is His name and His name is a song.
    Z<(>WPH Z<(>P ZW<(>Y ZY<(> <)>HSY HWHSYN RMYY YHH HW<)> RG<$> BRQ <)><.T>G<)>H HW<)> <.H>YL<)>H <)>HY <)>H HW<)> HW<)>B DRY <(>YL RHY RS <(>L DRW ZRYZ Y<$>` WY<$>` ZRYZ. Eye to eye, strength in strength, might in might, greatness in greatness, support in support, poor in poor, shadow "in the shadow of <$>DY he will take refuge." (Ps 91:1). You are declared holy, King of the world, since everything depends on Your arm and all declare praise to Your name, for You are the Lord of the worlds and there is none like You in all the worlds. Blessed are You YY`, the holy One in the chariot, rider of cherubim." (para. 588)

    Thus the techniques of the descenders to the chariot as described in the Hekhalot literature conform well to the techniques used by shamans as established by anthropologists. These include the use of fasting, isolation and sensory deprivation, purity rituals, extended prayer, and singing. The Merkavah hymns, like shamanic hymns, may derive their power from their content, from the divine names recited in them, or from the unintelligible sounds pronounced in them.


    One of the central functions of the shaman is to control spirits. Almost every other shamanic activity depends on this control. At the end of his ordeal in the snow hut, Igjugarjuk was visited by a spirit in the form of a beautiful woman who came as a sign that he was to become a shaman.<33> Leonard Crow Dog, near the end of his vision quest, was translated to a prairie in another world, where he was visited, empowered, and admonished by spirits.<34> Wallace Black Elk interacted with various spirits in his work as a shaman.<35> Blacker describes four types of spirits with which Japanese shamans have to do: sacred powers in the physical and human world (kami), souls of dead people (tama), neglected and malevolent human ghosts, and "witch animals" who parasitically possess human beings.<36>

    <33>Halifax, _Shamanic Voices_ (n. 8) 67.

    <34>Halifax, _Shamanic Voices_ (n. 8) 85.

    <35>E.g., Black Elk and Lyon, _Black Elk_ (n. 9) chs. 6, 8-10.

    <36>Blacker, _The Catalpa Bow_ (n. 27) chs. 2-3.

    The control of spirits (almost always angels) is also central to the practices attributed to the descenders to the chariot. Indeed, it is not too much to say that this power is the linchpin that holds together the disparate praxes and concepts in the Hekhalot literature. Nearly every passage cited in the previous section associates the methods described with the imposition of human will on angels. In para. 204, the chanting of the divine names summoned the angel Suriah as a guide for the descent to the chariot. In paras. 299-303 the Sar Torah initiate was instructed to call on the angels in order to obtain, immediately and without effort, the knowledge of Torah that is normally acquired only after years of arduous study. In paras. 560-65 R. Ishmael compelled the angelic prince of Torah, with a good deal of difficulty, to give him wisdom (apparently, again, knowledge of Torah without study). Many other passages deal with the control of angels, but these are representative.


    Perhaps the best-known element of shamanic experience is the alleged ability, either as a free soul or in bodily form, to journey to other realms of existence not materially connected to our world. Eliade summarizes the cosmology of shamanism in terms that are nearly universally cross-culturally valid: "the universe in general is conceived as having three levels -- sky, earth, underworld -- connected by a central axis."<37> The latter is usually pictured as a tree growing through the three layers (the "world-tree") or as a mountain (the "cosmic mountain"). The shaman, who originates in the middle realm, our earth, travels to either or both of the other levels. Often the upper and lower realms are subdivided into (frequently seven or nine) layers.

    <37>Eliade, _Shamanism_ (n. 19) 259. All of ch. 8 of this book deals with shamanic cosmology.

    The example from the Arctic chosen here is somewhat atypical for Siberian shamanism, in that the initiate was repeatedly tested by the spirits during the course of his adventure, rather than simply being guided by them. But this and other features of the narrative are strikingly similar to the experiences ascribed to the descenders to the chariot, making the initiatory vision of the Tagvi Samoyed shaman Sereptie of special interest to us. His first-person account describes how, when he was preparing to fell a tree to make a sledge, the tree was transformed into the world tree, from which a guiding spirit emerged and accosted him. With the spirit he descended through a hole into the underworld. He was led through six tents, while the spirit demanded that he explain numerous beings and phenomena encountered along the way. In the sixth he entered as a skeleton and was "forged" into a shaman. Sereptie and the spirit reached two more tents, then the spirit announced that Sereptie must find his way alone for the rest of the journey. He befriended a female spirit who answered some of his questions and tested him further. Finally, he snatched a stone from the underworld, and then revived near the root of the tree he was about to cut down, having been fully instructed as a shaman.<38>

    <38>Popov, "How Sereptie" (n. 18) 137-45.

    In his "Great Vision" (see n. 9) Nick Black Elk was taken to the upper world on a cloud. He was introduced to his six "Grandfathers," the Powers of the World (the spirits of the four cardinal points, the sky, and the earth) who came to him in the form of horses. They showed him the future tribulations of his people during his lifetime and equipped him with various shamanic powers with which to aid them. At one point he seems to have replanted the world tree (p. 34), and later he found himself on the cosmic mountain looking down on the sacred hoops of many peoples, with the world tree growing in the center. After his intiatory transformation he was returned to earth.<39>

    <39>Niehardt and Black Elk, _Black Elk Speaks_ (n. 9) 20-47. Otherworldly visionary journeys are not characteristic of Japanese shamanism, although Blacker argues the likelihood that they were much more common in the past. She relates one visionary journey to heaven and hell reported by Deguchi Onisabur<-o>, a founder of a popular religious movement. His experience took place in 1898 (see _The Catalpa Bow_ [n. 27] ch. 10). Rather than a world tree, a cosmic mountain seems to be found in Japanese cosmology (ibid. ch. 4).

    Otherworldly journeys are also described frequently in the Hekhalot literature. In the beginning of the story of the ten martyrs in the Hekhalot Rabbati R. Ishmael relates that Rome ordered the arrest of some of the sages and that R. Nehuniah "stood and made me descend to the chariot." There the angel Suriah explained the negotiations between Sammael, the angelic prince of Rome, and the heavenly law court, and assured R. Ishmael that the situation was well in hand. R. Ishmael then returned and related the news to his companions, who promptly threw a party to celebrate (paras. 107-11).

    The longest and most detailed description of the descent to the chariot is in R. Nehuniah's instructions to the academy in the Hekhalot Rabbati. After explaining how to summon the angel Suriah (para. 204, translated above, p. 12), he described how God sits enthroned in the center of the seven concentric palaces. Eight angels guarding the gate of each palace must be shown the proper seal (i.e., a _nomen barbarum_) before letting the descender to the chariot pass. The angels and seals for each gate are listed. In particular, the monstrous nature of the angels guarding the sixth and seventh palaces is belabored in horrific detail. However, the descender to the chariot who follows instructions exactly will pass through every obstacle to be welcomed before the throne of God and allowed to observe the angelic liturgy (paras. 205-37).<40>

    <40>Paragraphs 224-29, missing in an important Geniza fragment, are a later addition to the narrative that purports to explain some of the strange behavior of the guardians of the sixth palace. Although in paras. 205-37 R. Nehuniah was clearly describing an ideal descent to the chariot, the writer of paras. 224-29 misunderstood that R. Nehuniah was relating a vision as he experienced it (see Peter Sch<"a>fer, "Ein neues Hekhalot Rabbati-Fragment," _Hekhalot-Studien_ [n. 15] 96-103; Margarete Schl<"u>ter, "Die Erz<"a>hlung von der R<"u>ckholung des R. Ne<.h>unya ben HaQana aus der Merkava-Schau in ihrem redaktionellen Rahmen," _FJB_ 10 [1982] 65-109).

    In the Hekhalot Zutarti, R. Akiva reports that "I had a vision of and observed the whole inhabited world and I saw it as it is. I ascended in a wagon of fire and gazed on the palaces of hail and I found GRWSQ<)> GRNSQ<)> that sits on MQLYLK<)>" (para. 366). Later in the same work he gives instructions for the journey to the chariot, complete with the names of the guardians of the gates of the seven palaces and the magic seals that placate them. Once one negotiates the seven gates he will be seated in the bosom of God (of whom several names are given) (paras. 413-17). In this case the goal seems to be the magical granting of a wish. R. Akiva instructs,

    Make your request (as follows): May there be favor from before You, YHWH God of Israel, our God and the God of our fathers. (_Nomina barbara_), may You give me grace and lovingkindness before Your throne of glory and in the sight of all Your attendants. And may You join to me all Your attendants so as to do such and such, O great, mighty, fearsome, strong, valiant, magnificent, and eminent God! (paras. 418-19)

    The Ma<(>aseh Merkavah recounts a number of visions and ascents (not "descents") to the chariot. Summaries of a representative sampling are given here. In paras. 545-46 R. Akiva relates his ascent and vision of the celestial bridges. In paras. 554-55 he describes the vision of the innermost heavens and innermost chambers and the myriads of flaming chariots in the seven palaces. In para. 558 R. Ishmael narrates his ascent through the seven palaces, and his singing of a hymn in the seventh. In para. 595 R. Akiva tells R. Ishmael how he ascended through the seven palaces and saw what was above the heads of the seraphim who stand above the head of God. The Merkavah Rabba, after prescribing the standard praxes (paras. 681-84), describes a descent of R. Akiva during which God on his throne enthusiastically affirmed the value of these praxes for learning Torah (paras. 685-86). Shortly after this another vision of God's throne is narrated by R. Ishmael. In this vision the prince of Torah, at the behest of R. Ishmael, recited the details of the measurements of God's body (Shi<(>ur Qomah). The salutary effects of reciting this teaching are also described (paras. 688-706).<41>

    <41>A fragmentary account of the descent to the chariot and its perils is also found in G8. Space does not permit a detailed exposition of it here.

    The cosmology of the Hekhalot literature is, not suprisingly, inconsistent in detail; but in its broad outlines it conforms well to the parameters of shamanic cosmology. A description of the world tree forms an inclusio for R. Nehuniah's instructions to the academy in the Hekhalot Rabbati. R. Nehuniah prefaces his instructions with the comments,

    What does this character [of the descender to the chariot] resemble? A man who has a ladder inside his house on which he ascends and descends; there isn't any living creature who can prevent him. . . . I will recite before [the academy] the mysteries, the concealed things, the gradations, wonders, and the weaving of the web that is the completion of the world and on which its plaiting stands, the axle of heaven and earth, to which all the wings of the earth and inhabited world and the wings of the firmaments on high are tied, sewn, fastened, hanged, and stand. And the way of the ladder on high is that its one head is on earth and its other head is on the right foot of the throne of glory. (paras. 199, 201, cf. para. 237)

    Seven heavens are mentioned occasionally in the Hekhalot texts (e.g., 3 Enoch 17 = paras. 21-22), but normally the otherworld is conceived of as consisting of seven concentric palaces, with God's throne room in the innermost palace. Mention of the underworld (Gehinnom or Sheol) is also rare, and it is visited by a descender to the chariot only once: R. Ishmael was taken to see the damned souls of the wicked in 3 Enoch 44:1-6 (para. 62, cf. G12). However, lurid descriptions of the various levels of the underworld are given in the cosmological tractate Seder Rabba de Bereshit (the Greater Order of Creation), which appears in some of the manuscripts of the Hekhalot literature (see n. 1 above). Since in the esoteric Jewish tradition the underworld is a place of torment for those eternally damned and beyond help, it may have aroused little interest among the composers of the Hekhalot literature.

    The otherworldly journey, like the control of spirits, can have more than one function. In the Hekhalot Rabbati, R. Nehuniah sent R. Ishmael to the otherworld for practical information on the actions of Rome (para. 107-111). In the instruction of R. Nehuniah to the academy (paras. 198-237) the descender to the chariot is already assumed to have knowledge of Torah (he must affirm this before the angels when he arrives: paras. 234-35). The purpose of the journey is to permit the descender to experience the liturgy of the angels before God's throne (para. 236). Something similar appears to be involved in the visions of the Ma<(>aseh Merkavah (e.g., para. 595). The visionary ascent in the Hekhalot Zutarti seems to be a quest for raw theurgic power (para. 419; translated above, p. 20). Finally, the visions in the Merkavah Rabba discussed above are directly connected with the theurgical use of Sar Torah traditions and the Shi<(>ur Qomah material (paras. 681-706).


    The question of the relation between the Hekhalot literature and Jewish magic is an important one that has not yet received much attention. Space permits only a few preliminary observations. First, the medieval manuscripts mingle Hekhalot and magical texts indiscriminately. Sch<"a>fer's Synopse includes magical works such as the <.H>arba de Moshe (Sword of Moses), the Seder Rabba de Bereshit, and the unnamed Magic Book (see n. 1 above), simply because they appear in the manuscripts he used. Indeed, it is difficult to be certain whether to define the Sar Panim as a Hekhalot or a magical document. Second, the magical literature frequently makes use of themes and ideas typical of the Hekhalot literature. For example, the Cairo Geniza amulet T.-S. K1.168 mentions the 390 firmaments, contains speculations about the throne of God and the living creatures, and mentions an angelic high priest of heaven.<42> T.-S. K 1.19, a book of miscellaneous magical recipes from the Geniza, includes a Sar Torah passage.<43> Sepher Ha-Razim (the Book of the Mysteries), a magical book reconstructed by Mordecai Margalioth and dated by him to the Talmudic period, is structured around the seven firmaments and the angels in each who can be controlled theurgically.<44> Both types of text make frequent use of _nomina barbara_, and both have some tendency to write the Tetragrammaton instead of a substitution or abbreviation. The rhetorical elements that are standard for Geniza incantations also appear in the Hekhalot literature.<45> Overall there are strong indications that closely related and perhaps overlapping groups were using each kind of texts.

    <42>Lawrence H. Schiffman and Michael D. Swartz, _Hebrew and Aramaic Incantation Texts from the Cairo Geniza_ (Sheffield, England: Academic Press, 1992) 143-59. See especially lines 20-25 and 40-46, and note that the name reconstructed as [Metatron] in line 40 could also be <(>Anaphi<)>el or Michael.

    <43>Joseph Naveh and Shaul Shaked, _Magic Spells and Formulae: Aramaic Incantations of Late Antiquity_ (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1993) 158-64 (Geniza 11, p. 4, ll. 7-18).

    <44>Margalioth, _Sepher Ha-Razim_ (Jerusalem: Yediot Achronot, 1966) (Hebrew). The text is translated by Michael A. Morgan in _Sepher Ha-Razim: The Book of the Mysteries_ (SBLTT 25; Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1983).

    <45>Michael D. Swartz, "Scribal Magic and Its Rhetoric: Formal Patterns in Medieval Hebrew and Aramaic Incantation Texts from the Cairo Genizah," _HTR_ 83 (1990) 163-80, esp. 171-79. The same constellation of elements appears in a rather baroque form in Sar Panim (paras. 623-39) and sometimes elsewhere (e.g., paras. 418-20 in the Hekhalot Zutarti).

    This point is of some interest for our comparison of the Hekhalot literature with shamanism, inasmuch as magical healing and exorcism, two practices found frequently in shamanism, are scarcely mentioned in the Hekhalot texts.<46> The main focus of the descenders to the chariot is to gain esoteric knowledge of the otherworld along with theurgical power, especially the power to learn and teach Torah without effort. This power functions as a form of healing, since it sometimes serves as a cure for a scholar who forgets the Torah he is taught. Nonetheless, it may be that magical healing and exorcism are neglected in the Hekhalot literature simply because they are adequately dealt with in the more general magical literature, some of which is preserved in the medieval manuscripts and Geniza fragments discussed above. In other words, context in the manuscripts, content, and the social background reconstructed in this paper all point to the Hekhalot literature being a subgenre of Jewish magical literature. I suggest that the practitioners who used Hekhalot praxes probably used the other closely related magical texts and thus may have been healers and exorcists as well.

    <46>There seems to be an allusion to healing in 3 Enoch 48D:10 (para. 80). The Ma<(>aseh Merkavah gives an invocation against demons who might harm the practitioner (para. 568, cf. para. 499 in the Magic Book). The end of the Sar Panim appears to be an exorcism text (para. 639).


    As indicated by Hultkrantz's definition, the shaman functions in the context of a community. His definition focuses on the exoteric community, for whom the shaman functions as an intermediary in order to create a rapport between this group and the supramundane world. Usually this intermediation involves influencing the spirits to act on behalf of human beings. Sereptie, after his initiatory vision, healed people by propitiating the evil spirits tormenting them.<47> Igjugarjuk was also a healer.<48> Japanese shamans heal, give oracles of various types, and perform exorcisms.<49> Wallace Black Elk used his shamanic powers to have the spirits heal the sick, give information leading to the recovery of stolen horses and a drowned child, bring peace to the dead, and even to repair a television and a stove.<50> We can also generally speak of an esoteric community: the other shamans in the society, which would include, but often would not be limited to, the person or persons who trained a given shaman.

    <47>Popov, "How Sereptie" (n. 18) 145.

    <48>Halifax, _Shamanic Voices_ (n. 8) 68-70.

    <49>Blacker, _The Catalpa Bow_ (n. 27) chs. 12-15.

    <50>Black Elk and Lyon, _Black Elk_ (n. 9) 100-103, 159-170, 173-79.

    The question of the community or communities behind the Hekhalot literature is a very complex one, and space allows only some generalizations. It has been shown by Ira Chernus that the various macroforms within this literature have somewhat different views of community.<51> The Hekhalot Rabbati presents the descenders to the chariot as acting on behalf of their own esoteric community (paras. 107-11, 200-37). They are also ordered to report their visionary experiences to the Jewish community, so as to make clear the connections between the heavenly and earthly liturgical worship and to harmonize the two realms (paras. 169, 216, 218). The picture in the Sar Torah text (paras. 280-306) is similar. The Ma<(>aseh Merkavah focuses on the individual and the benefits accruing to him from Sar Torah theurgy. The emphasis in the Merkavah Rabba is also on the individual, although it does speak of revealing the secrets of Sar Torah theurgy "to all Israel" (paras. 675-76). Both macroforms, I would add, show a good deal of interest in the interaction between master and disciple. G8 refers a number of times to the teachings of Hekhalot mysteries to others, including future generations. It also seems to allude to a future leader of an esoteric community in Babylon. Whether this future time is the writer's present or not remains unclear.<52> In sum, the Hekhalot literature shows significant interest in the individual practitioners presented in it, as well as in a larger community. Whether this community was an esoteric group or the exoteric totality of the Jewish people (or even the human race) has not yet been resolved. The answer may not be the same for every macroform in the corpus.

    <51>Chernus, "Individual and Community in the Redaction of the Hekhalot Literature," _HUCA_ 52 (1981) 253-74.

    <52>Chernus does not comment on the Hekhalot Zutarti, since apparently it was not available to him when his article was written. In general the Hekhalot Zutarti focuses on the gaining of theurgical power by the individual. Chernus sees the concerns of the Maseket Hekhalot to be similar to those of the Hekhalot Rabbati, and he declines to tackle the concept of community in 3 Enoch. Since it is widely agreed that the latter two documents are literary reformulations of Hekhalot material that are redactionally later than the other texts, I leave them out of consideration here.

    The only sustained effort to locate the community behind the Hekhalot literature has been made by David Halperin. He argues, on the basis of a passage found in some manuscripts of the Sar Torah text (paras. 304-305), that the <(>am h<-a>-<)><-a>re<.s>, the "people of the land," the uneducated people who were held in contempt by the rabbis, made theurgic use of the myth of the ascent of Moses to seize the Torah fr
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    Hekhalot Zutreti
    Hekhalot Zutreti is probably the oldest Hekhalot text we possess. It is a collection of short Merkavah passages, some in Aramaic. Professor Jonas Greenfield locates it in Eretz Israel, probably 2-3 CCE. Professor Gershom Scholem agrees, who on analysis regards it as representing merkavah lore of the Tannaitic, possibly early Amoraic period.

    "If you want to be singled out in the world and that the secrets of the world and the mysteries of wisdom should be revealed to you, you should study this mishnah and be careful about it till the day of your death...."- one of the rare claims for secrecy in Hekhalot literature.

    "This book is (a book of) wisdom, sagacity, and knowledge, and inquiries about the things above and below, the hidden things of the Torah and of heaven and earth, and the mysteries that G-D gave Moses, and revealed it to him at Mount Horeb, and by the means of which the world is sustained. By means of this book, Moses performed all the wonders and miracles in Egypt and with its help he beat the Egyptians. It is the fire of the Burning Bush.

    And Metatron revealed Himself to Moses ..."

    Architect's Note : Metatron is identified as the fire that did not consume, from within.

    This passage maintains a secret revelation of a certain mystical or magical book to Moses on Mount Sinai, like the Book of Jubilees. (Revealed to Moses at Sinai).

    3rd paragraph of Hekhalot Zutreti introduces the Name which was revealed to Rabbi 'Akiva when he contemplated Ma'aseh Merkavah.

    A central place in the Hekhalot Zutreti is occupied by the story of the 4 who entered the Pardes.

    The sixth palace is mentioned. this is considered to represent the true meaning and possibly the original setting of Rabbi 'Akivas saying in Bavli Hagigah 14b, "When you reach the pure marble stones, do not say: Water, water".

    1: Ben 'Azai said; "These waters, what are they?" He died.

    2: Ben Zoma went out of his mind.

    3: Rabbi 'Akiva said: "Ben 'Azai was found worthy and stood at the gate of pure marble stones. They cut off his head and threw upon him 11000 iron bars.

    Rabbi 'Akiva was left alone.

    The text continues with a long discussion of the question how it is possible to have a physical vision of G-D when it explicitly said that no man can see G-D and live. Rabbi 'Akiva settled the subject saying: "It is as if he resembles us, but He is greater than everything else, and that is His glory which is hidden from us.

    And Moses says to those and to those: "Do not reflect on your own words, since He, Blessed be He, is in His place." The reference here is to Ezekiel 3:12 which in Midrashic literature is interpreted as indicating the fact that G-Ds real place of dwelling is completely unknown."

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    excerpts from Ritual Practices to Gain Power
    Hekhalot adjurations and ritual practices of late antiquity

    The Hekhalot adjurations do not stand in isolation; they participate rather in a larger phenomenon of incantation, adjuration, and use of amulets in late antiquity. Rituals similar in structure and purpose to the Hekhalot revelatory adjurations exist in Egyptian texts for ritual power in Greek, Demotic, and Coptic, and in the Jewish collection of adjurations, Sefer ha-Razim. The Hekhalot rituals of ascent to the Merkabah are also similar to ascents to heaven occurring in Gnostic literature and the Greco-Egyptian ritual texts. Hekhalot images of the world of the divine throne and the angels recur in Jewish Aramaic amulets from Palestine and Babylonia and in a Jewish visionary text known as the Visions of Ezekiel.

    Revelatory adjurations form only one part of the ritual literature of late antiquity in Greek, Latin, Demotic, Coptic, Hebrew, or Aramaic. The Greco-Egyptian papyri, for example, contain many spells for healing from various diseases, gaining love, improving memory, overcoming one's enemies, ridding a house of insects, and consecrating amulets. Sefer ha-Razim similarly includes spells to influence nobles and powerful people to help the adjurer. In addition to the texts on papyrus, numerous amulets inscribed on metal strips, earthenware bowls, gemstones, or papyrus have come to light in archeological excavations. These texts include erotic spells, spells against one's enemies, incantations seeking victory in the chariot races or court, success in business, protection of children, and expulsion of demons. This literature is concerned both with the transcendent goals of contact with divine or semidivine beings, and the mundane problems of everyday life. The goals of these texts may vary widely, but their techniques are related, especially the use of mystical names consisting of divine and angelic names or strings of incomprehensible letters.

    Showing seals (hotamot) to angels
    The Hekhalot adjurations differ significantly from the Sefer ha-Razim and the Greco-Egyptian adjurations in the use of material objects, offerings of various kinds, and the killing of animals. Symbolic use of objects, offerings, and slaughter of animals are ubiquitous in the Greco-Egyptian adjurations; the written or spoken adjuration is only one part of the entire ritual. Materials used in the rituals include bowls or lamps for divination, amulets or seals, altars or tripods or tables, and statues of the gods. The only object that is mentioned frequently in the Hekhalot literature is the seal, mentioned both in connection with the adjuration of angels for wisdom and in connection with the ascent to the Merkabah. Meir Bar-Ilan interprets those passages that prescribe 'sealing oneself' for protection at the time that angels descend as a physical writing or engraving of names or symbols on the limbs of the body.

    In the adjuration of the Angel of the Presence in Ma'aseh Merkabah, for example, R. Ishmael says: "Seven seals I sealed on myself when Padqaras the Angel of the Presence descended." He gives different names to protect the different parts of the body: "on my feet," "on my heart," "on my right arm," "on my left arm," "on my throat," "for guarding my soul," and "above them all, 'P PT YHW YW YW ZHW YHW TYTS above my head." Bar-Ilan says, "It is not clear how exactly they (the seals) were made, but it seems that different seals were engraved on the limbs of the praying mystic, and were an inseparable part of his methods for the attaining of the divine vision." In his discussion he points both to Jewish precedents for the writing of letters or symbols on the body as a sign that the person was a slave of God, and to the same phenomenon in the magical literature.

    http://www.ithaca.edu/faculty/rlesses/R ... erpts.html
    http://www.ithaca.edu/faculty/rlesses/R ... tices.html
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    A History of the Kabbalah

    This article originally appeared in ISSUES 12:2

    "Kabbalah" means "received teachings" or simply "traditions" and is derived from the Hebrew "kabel" which means "to receive." It originally applied only to the Oral Law "received" after the destruction of the Second Temple, in the form of the Talmud. However, in the twelfth century the term "kabbalah" was also used to denote various mystical teachings that began to be "received" by the Jewish communities of that day. This second set of "received" teachings is the Kabbalah proper. Though it was fully developed in the Middle Ages, the first seeds of a mystical trend began to emerge in the talmudic literature, written well after the destruction of the Second Temple—from 150 A.D. to 600 A.D.

    The Hekhalot Literature
    The earliest mystical texts of Judaism are contained in the Hekhalot (heavenly places) literature which are collections of fragmentary midrashim—rabbinic writings of the Talmudic period. They center on mystical interpretations of certain biblical passages.
    For example, while commenting on the chariot described in Ezekiel 1, Ishmael ben Elijah1 describes his ecstatic ascent into the heavenly places where he beholds the divine chariot, the heavenly places and the throne on which God is seated as well as his visions of the divine palaces and his personal experience of the Divine presence. The Hekhalot literature sets the scene for further "heavenly exploration."

    Sepher Yetzirah
    Another important mystical text, developed between the third and six centuries a.d. is the Sepher Yetzirah or the "Book of Creation." This canonical text for the later kabbalistic movement sought to explain the workings and the origin of the universe. It described the sefirot or "emanations," the ten so-called "manifestations of God." Knowledge of these mysteries was thought to confer magical powers on the initiated.

    Neoplatonism and Gnosticism
    Sepher Yetzirah was influenced heavily by neoplatonsim, a late Greek philosophical school that combined elements of Plato with Oriental belief systems. Plato believed that our physical world is not the primary place of existence. He posited a "higher" world where the true forms exist. Our world is, he thought, only a mirror of the true world "above." Sefer Yetzirah placed these ideas into a Jewish framework. The work was back-dated and its authorship ascribed (in typical Kabbalistic fashion) to an authoritative Jewish figure, in this case Abraham.
    Gnosticism, another mystical trend of the time also influenced the Kabbalists. Gershon Sholem, one of the great modern scholars in the development of the Kabbalah defines gnosticism as "the possession of knowledge that cannot be obtained by ordinary intellectual means; the possession of a secret doctrine concerning the order of the celestial worlds and the means that provide access to it."2

    Gnosticism puffed-up the place of the individual and emphasized that he or she must gain secret knowledge and develop personal power in order to discover the road to self-enlightenment. Although the Kabbalah never removed its adherents from the community-at-large, as other gnostic sects did, Kabbalists latched onto the personal-experiential appeal of gnosticism and grafted the idea into the Jewish context.

    And so it can be seen that "from the Talmudic period forward, Jews cultivated profoundly rich and highly diverse forms of mysticism."3 With the rise of Islam and the consequent persecutions of the Jews, the religious center of the Jewish people shifted from Babylon to locations in Europe, specifically to Italy, Germany, Spain and France.

    It was in twelfth and thirteenth century France and Spain that the Kabbalah finally came into its definitive expression. In his article on kabbalistic texts, scholar Lawrence Fine defines the term "Kabbalah" as "a specific historical movement which originated in the second half of the twelfth century in that area of southern France known as Provence, and in northern Spain in the thirteenth century."4

    The Bahir
    It was the appearance of The Book Bahir at that time, that signaled the first classical statement of kabbalistic beliefs and ideology.
    "The Book Bahir, whose few pages seem to contain so much that is pertinent to the mystery of the origin of the Kabbalah, has the form of a midrash, namely, a collection of sayings or very brief homiletical expositions of biblical verses."5 The title "Bahir" means "bright" and is taken from Job 37:21 which is the first biblical text cited. The authorship of The Bahir was attributed to Rabbi Nehunya ben ha-Kanah, a talmudic sage of the first century.6

    The Bahir caused division within the Jewish community of France, with some hailing it as a brilliant text from times of yore, whilst others, like Meir ben Simon, a contemporary of the early French Kabbalists, decrying the book as heretical.7 The adherents to the Kabbalistic movement in France and Spain wrote, some two-hundred years after the publication of The Book Bahir that towards the middle of the thirteenth century the prophet Elijah appeared in visions to some of the leading men of Provence and that he had inspired them to write The Bahir. The historical evidence strongly suggests that the book was written in France during this time.

    The Bahir soon became another canonical text for further kabbalistic studies and was accepted by many as being a work of much earlier date. The "Kabbalah" or received mystical traditions, were being penned, back-dated and received simultaneously! In fact, the precise move that had been made by the rabbis of the Talmud in order to validate their work as hailing from Mt. Sinai, was now repeated by the Kabbalists of France in order to authenticate their "new-found" teachings as given by the venerated rabbis of the Talmud. These men, who were grappling to reformulate Judaism after the destruction of the Temple, are construed by the Kabbalists as mystical genies who promulgated the mystical secrets of Judaism. Lawrence Fine remarks that The Bahir represent the "emergence of a striking set of Gnostic motifs within the heart of rabbinic Judaism."8

    The Zohar
    The Zohar (Book of Splendor) appeared on the kabbalistic scene around 1250 a.d. Lawrence Fine describes how Moses de Leon "began circulating manuscripts which he had written, but which he claimed were ancient midrashim 'interpretations of biblical texts.'" Moses pretended merely to be copying from a manuscript which, he argued, "had originated in the circle of the second-century Palestinian rabbi, Shimon bar Yohai, but had only recently found its way into Spain. In all likelihood, de Leon opted to write in this pseudepigraphic way out of the conviction that a work of antiquity would be more readily considered to be authoritative truth."9
    History has it that one Isaac ben Shmuel, who later became a leading 14th century Kabbalist, arrived in Spain after fleeing Mamluk's attack on the land of Israel. In his diary (Sefer Ha Yamim) we read that he was amazed to hear about the newly "discovered" manuscript of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai.

    "The book had supposedly been written in Israel, but Isaac was from Israel and had never heard of it!"10 Isaac's diary informs us that he went to see Moses de Leon at his home, only to learn that he had died. His widow greeted Isaac at the door and in response to his request to see the original parchment of Shimon Bar Yohai, she informed him that the document had never existed but that the Zohar had been written solely out of her husband's head.

    However, the effort to back-date a kabbalistic text again succeeded. Despite early warnings regarding the errors of the Zohar the book soon became acknowledged as the mystical revelations of the great sage Shimon bar Yohai. In the text, Shimon is pictured in various settings discoursing with his pupils at every opportunity on the great matters of mystical inquiry. The language of the text is Aramaic, "contrived, replete with medieval usages, in grammar, syntax, vocabulary and ideas."11 "Behind the veil of the Aramaic, the Hebrew of the medieval era can be clearly detected."12 The only Aramaic which Moses de Leon knew was that which he had learned from his talmudic studies. And so it was that one of the most important books of the Kabbalah came into being.

    The Safed Period
    The expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 caused a rupture in the Jewish world. The defeat of the Mamluks and the conquest of the land of Israel by the Ottomans afforded the Jewish refugees from Europe an unexpected safe-haven in the Holy Land itself.
    No longer under hostile Islamic dominion, a new center of Jewish learning sprang up. Safed was a thriving agricultural and commercial town situated in the Galilean hills about 20 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. Not only that, Safed was the burial place of a number of rabbis of the Talmudic period. In fact, a little outside the town lay the resting place of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, the supposed author of the Book of Splendor-the Zohar.

    It was in Safed that the Zohar gained its kabbalistic preeminence. From there Moses Cordovero would compose his lengthy commentaries on what had become the central kabbalistic text. It was also from Safed that Rabbi Isaac Luria would develop his "redemptive" brand of kabbalistic philosophy. The climate of political upheaval and the massive forced removals of the Jewish people had given rise to speculation that the world was in the midst of the "birth-pangs" of the Messiah. Luria was hard-pressed to explain the terrible state of exile that characterized the Jewish people. He expanded the kabbalistic doctrine of the exile of the Shechinah (or Divine Presence) into a mystical theology of redemption and promoted a rationale for the performance of good deeds which was designed to hasten and even produce the coming of the Messiah.

    Lurianic Kabbalah would ultimately give rise to Sabbatianism, the messianic movement of the seventeenth century that proclaimed Shabbetai Zevi as King Messiah and in so doing, led Jewry into despondency for decades. Lurianic Kabbalah would also, through the popular mystical Chassidic movement, exert a strong influence on the future thinking of Judaism. Modern Judaism and its raison d'être is heavily grounded in the Lurianic notion that the Jewish people exist in order to prepare the world for the arrival of the Messiah.


    1A third generation talmudist, lived roughly between 120-200 A.D.
    2Origins of the Kabbalah; Gershon Scholem, Jewish Publ. Society, 1987, p.22 3Back to the Sources; ed. Barry W. Holtz, Simon and Shuster, New York, 1984, p.307
    4Back to the Sources; p.308
    5Origins, p.49
    6Ibid, p.39
    7The Bahir suggested the possibility of the transmigration or reincarnation of souls, a doctrine foreign to biblical Judaism itself, which teaches the resurrection of the dead.
    8Back to the Sources; p.308
    9Ibid., p.310
    10Zohar, Book of Enlightenment; Daniel Chanan Matt; Paulist Press, Toronto,1983, p.3
    11Back to the Sources; p.313
    12The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia (7th Edition), Ed. Dr. Geoffrey Wigoder, 1992, p.999

    http://www.jfjonline.org/pub/issues/12- ... bbalah.htm

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