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Merkabah

Merkabah

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Merkabah is the throne-chariot of God
God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

, the four-wheeled vehicle driven by four "chayot
Chayot
The Chayot or Hayyoth are a class of Merkabah, or Jewish Mystical Angel, reported in Ezekiel's vision of the Merkabah and its surrounding angels as recorded in the first chapter of the Book of Ezekiel describing Ezekiel's vision by the river Chebar.Chayot are ranked first on Maimonides' Jewish...

" (Hebrew: "living creatures"), each of which has four wings and the four faces of a man, lion, ox, and eagle. The word Merkabah is also found 44 times in the Old Testament
Old Testament
The Old Testament, of which Christians hold different views, is a Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism...

 and though the concept of the Merkabah is associated with Ezekiel
Book of Ezekiel
The Book of Ezekiel is the third of the Latter Prophets in the Hebrew Bible, following the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah and preceding the Book of the Twelve....

's vision (1:4-26), the word isn't explicitly written in Ezekiel 1.

Several movements in Jewish mysticism, including the Ma’asei Merkavah of the late Hellenistic period
Hellenistic period
The Hellenistic period or Hellenistic era describes the time which followed the conquests of Alexander the Great. It was so named by the historian J. G. Droysen. During this time, Greek cultural influence and power was at its zenith in Europe and Asia...

 following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, and later, students of the Kabbalah
Kabbalah
Kabbalah/Kabala is a discipline and school of thought concerned with the esoteric aspect of Rabbinic Judaism. It was systematized in 11th-13th century Hachmei Provence and Spain, and again after the Expulsion from Spain, in 16th century Ottoman Palestine...

, have focused on these passages from Ezekiel, seeking underlying meaning and the secrets of Creation in what they argued was the metaphor
Metaphor
A metaphor is a literary figure of speech that uses an image, story or tangible thing to represent a less tangible thing or some intangible quality or idea; e.g., "Her eyes were glistening jewels." Metaphor may also be used for any rhetorical figures of speech that achieve their effects via...

ic language of the verses. Due to the concern of some Torah
Torah
Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five books of the bible—Genesis , Exodus , Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five...

 scholars that misunderstanding these passages as literal descriptions of God's image might lead to blasphemy
Blasphemy
Blasphemy is irreverence towards religious or holy persons or things. Some countries have laws to punish blasphemy, while others have laws to give recourse to those who are offended by blasphemy...

 and/or idolatry
Idolatry
Idolatry is a pejorative term for the worship of an idol, a physical object such as a cult image, as a god, or practices believed to verge on worship, such as giving undue honour and regard to created forms other than God. In all the Abrahamic religions idolatry is strongly forbidden, although...

, there was great opposition to studying this topic without the proper initiation. Jewish biblical commentaries emphasize that the imagery of the Merkaba is not meant to be taken literally; rather the chariot and its accompanying angels are analogies for the various ways that God reveals Himself in this world. Hasidic philosophy
Hasidic philosophy
Hasidic philosophy or Hasidus , alternatively transliterated as Hassidism, Chassidism, Chassidut etc. is the teachings, interpretations of Judaism, and mysticism articulated by the modern Hasidic movement...

 and Kabbalah
Kabbalah
Kabbalah/Kabala is a discipline and school of thought concerned with the esoteric aspect of Rabbinic Judaism. It was systematized in 11th-13th century Hachmei Provence and Spain, and again after the Expulsion from Spain, in 16th century Ottoman Palestine...

 discuss at length what each aspect of this vision represents in this world, and how the vision does not imply that God is made up of these forms. Jews customarily read the Biblical passages concerning the Merkaba in their synagogue
Synagogue
A synagogue is a Jewish house of prayer. This use of the Greek term synagogue originates in the Septuagint where it sometimes translates the Hebrew word for assembly, kahal...

s every year on the holiday of Shavuot
Shavuot
The festival of is a Jewish holiday that occurs on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan ....

, and the Merkabah is also referenced in several places in traditional Jewish liturgy
Jewish liturgy
Jewish liturgy refers specifically to following the Torah in all of its rites and ceremonies, whether in the home or in the Synagogue. The main purposes of following the carefully laid out observances is to maintain uniformity, and to avoid improper and unacceptable practices at variance with those...

.

The Biblical Merkabah


According to the verses in Ezekiel and its attendant commentaries, the analogy of the Merkaba image consists of a chariot made of many angels being driven by the "Likeness of a Man." Four angels form the basic structure of the chariot. These angels are called the "Chayot
Chayot
The Chayot or Hayyoth are a class of Merkabah, or Jewish Mystical Angel, reported in Ezekiel's vision of the Merkabah and its surrounding angels as recorded in the first chapter of the Book of Ezekiel describing Ezekiel's vision by the river Chebar.Chayot are ranked first on Maimonides' Jewish...

" חיות (lit. living creatures). The bodies of the "Chayot" are like that of a human being, but each of them has four faces, corresponding to the four directions the chariot can go (north, east south and west). The faces are that of a man, a lion, an ox (later changed to a cherub in Ezekiel 10:14) and an eagle. Since there are four angels and each has four faces, there are a total of sixteen faces. Each Chayot angel also has four wings. Two of these wings spread across the length of the chariot and connected with the wings of the angel on the other side. This created a sort of 'box' of wings that formed the perimeter of the chariot. With the remaining two wings, each angel covered its own body. Below, but not attached to the feet of the "Chayot" angels are other angels that are shaped like wheels. These wheel angels, which are described as "a wheel inside of a wheel", are called "Ophan
Ophan
An Ophan is one of a class of celestial beings called Ophanim described in the Book of Enoch with the Cherubim and Seraphim as never sleeping, but watching the throne of God....

im
" אופנים (lit. wheels, cycles or ways). These wheels are not directly under the chariot, but are nearby and along its perimeter. The angel with the face of the man is always on the east side and looks up at the "Likeness of a Man" that drives the chariot. The "Likeness of a Man" sits on a throne made of sapphire
Sapphire
Sapphire is a gemstone variety of the mineral corundum, an aluminium oxide , when it is a color other than red or dark pink; in which case the gem would instead be called a ruby, considered to be a different gemstone. Trace amounts of other elements such as iron, titanium, or chromium can give...

.

The Bible later makes mention of a third type of angel found in the Merkaba called "Seraph
Seraph
A seraph is a type of celestial being in Judaism and Christianity...

im
" (lit. "burning") angels. These angels appear like flashes of fire continuously ascending and descending. These "Seraphim" angels powered the movement of the chariot. In the hierarchy of these angels, "Seraphim" are the highest, that is, closest to God, followed by the "Chayot", which are followed by the "Ophanim." The chariot is in a constant state of motion, and the energy behind this movement runs according to this hierarchy. The movement of the "Ophanim" is controlled by the "Chayot" while the movement of the "Chayot" is controlled by the "Seraphim". The movement of all the angels of the chariot are controlled by the "Likeness of a Man" on the Throne.

In Jewish commentary


The earliest Rabbinic merkabah commentaries were exegetical
Exegesis
Exegesis is a critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially a religious text. Traditionally the term was used primarily for exegesis of the Bible; however, in contemporary usage it has broadened to mean a critical explanation of any text, and the term "Biblical exegesis" is used...

 expositions of the prophetic visions of God in the heavens, and the divine retinue of angels, hosts, and heavenly creatures surrounding God. The earliest evidence suggests that merkabah homiletics did not give rise to ascent experiences - as one rabbinic sage states: "Many have expounded upon the merkabah without ever seeing it."

One mention of the merkabah in the Talmud notes the importance of the passage: "A great issue—the account of the merkavah; a small issue—the discussions of Abaye and Rava [famous Talmudic sages]." The sages Rabbi
Rabbi
In Judaism, a rabbi is a teacher of Torah. This title derives from the Hebrew word רבי , meaning "My Master" , which is the way a student would address a master of Torah...

 Yochanan Ben Zakkai (d. ca. 80 CE) and later, Rabbi Akiva
Rabbi Akiva
Akiva ben Joseph simply known as Rabbi Akiva , was a tanna of the latter part of the 1st century and the beginning of the 2nd century . He was a great authority in the matter of Jewish tradition, and one of the most central and essential contributors to the Mishnah and Midrash Halakha...

 (d. 135) were deeply involved in merkabah exegesis. Rabbi Akiva and his contemporary Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha
Ishmael ben Elisha
Rabbi Ishmael or Ishmael ben Elisha was a Tanna of the 1st and 2nd centuries . A Tanna is a rabbinic sage whose views are recorded in the Mishnah.-Disposition:...

 are most often the protagonists of later merkabah ascent literature.

Prohibition against study


The Talmud
Talmud
The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history....

ic interdictions concerning merkabah speculation are numerous and widely held. Discussions concerning the merkabah were limited to only the most worthy sages, and admonitory legends are preserved about the dangers of overzealous speculation concerning the merkabah.

For example, the secret doctrines might not be discussed in public: "Seek not out the things that are too hard for thee, neither search the things that are above thy strength. But what is commanded thee, think thereupon with reverence; for it is not needful for thee to see with thine eyes the things that are in secret." It must be studied only by exemplary scholars: "Ma'aseh Bereshit must not be explained before two, nor Ma'aseh Merkabah before one, unless he be wise and understands it by himself," Further commentary notes that the chapter-headings of Ma'aseh Merkabah may be taught, as was done by R. Ḥiyya. According to Yer. Ḥag. ii. 1, the teacher read the headings of the chapters, after which, subject to the approval of the teacher, the pupil read to the end of the chapter, although Rabbi Zera
Zera
Zera is a genus of skippers in the family Hesperiidae.-References:*...

 said that even the chapter-headings might be communicated only to a person who was head of a school and was cautious in temperament.

According to R. Ammi, the secret doctrine might be entrusted only to one who possessed the five qualities enumerated in Isaiah
Isaiah
Isaiah ; Greek: ', Ēsaïās ; "Yahu is salvation") was a prophet in the 8th-century BC Kingdom of Judah.Jews and Christians consider the Book of Isaiah a part of their Biblical canon; he is the first listed of the neviim akharonim, the later prophets. Many of the New Testament teachings of Jesus...

 iii. 3 (being experienced in any of five different professions requiring good judgement), and a certain age is, of course, necessary. When R. Johanan wished to initiate R. Eliezer in the Ma'aseh Merkabah, the latter answered, "I am not yet old enough." A boy who recognized the meaning of (Ezek. i. 4) was consumed by fire (Ḥag. 13b), and the perils connected with the unauthorized discussion of these subjects are often described (Ḥag. ii. 1; Shab. 80b).

Further analysis


Beyond the rabbinic community, Jewish apocalyptists
Apocalypse
An Apocalypse is a disclosure of something hidden from the majority of mankind in an era dominated by falsehood and misconception, i.e. the veil to be lifted. The Apocalypse of John is the Book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament...

 also engaged in visionary exegeses concerning the divine realm and the divine creatures which are remarkably similar to the rabbinic material. A small number of texts unearthed at Qumran
Qumran
Qumran is an archaeological site in the West Bank. It is located on a dry plateau about a mile inland from the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, near the Israeli settlement and kibbutz of Kalia...

 indicate that the Dead Sea
Dead Sea
The Dead Sea , also called the Salt Sea, is a salt lake bordering Jordan to the east and Israel and the West Bank to the west. Its surface and shores are below sea level, the lowest elevation on the Earth's surface. The Dead Sea is deep, the deepest hypersaline lake in the world...

 community also engaged in merkabah exegesis. Recently uncovered Jewish mystical texts also evidence a deep affinity with the rabbinic merkabah homilies.

The merkabah homilies eventually consisted of detailed descriptions of multiple layered heavens (usually seven in number), often guarded over by angels, and encircled by flames and lightning. The highest heaven contains seven palaces (hekhalot), and in the innermost palace resides a supreme divine image (God's Glory or an angelic image) seated on a throne, surrounded by awesome hosts who sing God's praise.

When these images were combined with an actual mystical experiential motif of individual ascent (paradoxically called "descent" in most texts) and union is not precisely known. By inference, contemporary historians of Jewish mysticism usually date this development to the third century CE. Again, there is a significant dispute amongst historians over whether these ascent and unitive themes were the result of some "foreign," usually Gnostic, influence, or a natural progression of religious dynamics within rabbinic Judaism
Rabbinic Judaism
Rabbinic Judaism or Rabbinism has been the mainstream form of Judaism since the 6th century CE, after the codification of the Talmud...

.

Maimonides


Maimonides
Maimonides
Moses ben-Maimon, called Maimonides and also known as Mūsā ibn Maymūn in Arabic, or Rambam , was a preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher and one of the greatest Torah scholars and physicians of the Middle Ages...

' 12th Century work, Guide for the Perplexed
Guide for the Perplexed
The Guide for the Perplexed is one of the major works of Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, better known as Maimonides or "the Rambam"...

is in part intended as an explanation of the passages Ma'aseh Bereshit and Ma'aseh Merkabah. In the third volume, Maimonides commences the exposition of the mystical passage of the mystic doctrines found in the merkavah passages, while justifying this "crossing of the line" from hints to direct instruction. Maimonides explains basic mystical concepts via the Biblical terms referring to Spheres, elements and Intelligences. In these chapters, however, there is still very little in terms of direct explanation.

A Hasidic explanation


Hasidic philosophy
Hasidic philosophy
Hasidic philosophy or Hasidus , alternatively transliterated as Hassidism, Chassidism, Chassidut etc. is the teachings, interpretations of Judaism, and mysticism articulated by the modern Hasidic movement...

 explains that the Merkaba is a multi-layered analogy that offers insight into the nature of man, the ecosystem, the world and teaches us how to become better people.

The four Chayot angels represent the basic archetypes that God used to create the current nature of the world. Ophanim, which means "ways", are the ways these archetypes combine to create actual entities that exist in the world. For instance, in the basic elements of the world, the lion represents fire, the ox/earth, the man/water, and the eagle/air. However, in practice, everything in the world is some combination of all four, and the particular combination of each element that exist in each thing are its particular Ophanim or ways. In another example, the four Chayot represent spring, summer, winter and autumn/fall. These four types of weather are the archetypal forms. The Ophanim would be the combination of weather that exists on a particular day, which may be a winter-like day within the summer or a summer like day within the winter.

The Man on the throne represents God, who is controlling everything that goes on in the world, and how all of the archetypes He set up should interact. The Man on the throne, however, can only drive when the four angels connect their wings. This means that God will not be revealed to us by us looking at all four elements (for instance) as separate and independent entities. However, when one looks at the way that earth, wind, fire and water (for instance) which all oppose each other are able to work together and coexist in complete harmony in the world, this shows that there is really a higher power (God) telling these elements how to act.

This very lesson carries over to explain how the four basic groups of animals and the four basic archetypal philosophies and personalities reveal a higher, godly source when one is able to read between the lines and see how these opposing forces can and do interact in harmony. A person should strive to be like a Merkaba, that is to say, he should realize all the different qualities, talents and inclinations he has (his angels). They may seem to contradict, but when one directs his life to a higher goal such as doing God's will (the man on the chair driving the chariot) he will see how they all can work together and even complement each other. Ultimately, we should strive to realize how all of the forces in the world, though they may seem to conflict can unite when one knows how to use them all to fulfill a higher purpose, namely to serve God.

Ma'asei Merkavah


Ma’asei Merkavah, the first distinctly mystical movement in Jewish history, appeared in the late Hellenistic period, after the end of the Second Temple
Second Temple
The Jewish Second Temple was an important shrine which stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem between 516 BCE and 70 CE. It replaced the First Temple which was destroyed in 586 BCE, when the Jewish nation was exiled to Babylon...

 period following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. It is a form of pre-Kabbalah
Kabbalah
Kabbalah/Kabala is a discipline and school of thought concerned with the esoteric aspect of Rabbinic Judaism. It was systematized in 11th-13th century Hachmei Provence and Spain, and again after the Expulsion from Spain, in 16th century Ottoman Palestine...

 Jewish
Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

 mysticism
Mysticism
Mysticism is the knowledge of, and especially the personal experience of, states of consciousness, i.e. levels of being, beyond normal human perception, including experience and even communion with a supreme being.-Classical origins:...

, that teaches both of the possibility of making a sublime journey to God
God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

 and of the ability of man to draw down divine powers to earth; it seems to be an esoteric movement that grew out of the priestly mysticism already evident in the Dead Sea Scrolls
Dead Sea scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of 972 texts from the Hebrew Bible and extra-biblical documents found between 1947 and 1956 on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, from which they derive their name...

 and some apocalyptic writings (see the studies by Rachel Elior
Rachel Elior
Rachel Elior is an Israeli professor of Jewish philosophy and mysticism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Jerusalem, Israel.-Academic career:...

). Hekhalot writings are the literary artifacts of the Maasei Merkavah.

Merkava/Hekhalot mysticism began after the end of the Second Temple
Second Temple
The Jewish Second Temple was an important shrine which stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem between 516 BCE and 70 CE. It replaced the First Temple which was destroyed in 586 BCE, when the Jewish nation was exiled to Babylon...

 period following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E., when the physical cult ceased to function. The idea of making a journey to the heavenly "hekhal" seems to be a kind of spiritualization of the pilgrimages to the earthly "hekhal" that were now no longer possible.

In medieval Judaism
Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

, the beginning of the book of Ezekiel was regarded as the most mystical passage in the Hebrew Bible
Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew Bible is a term used by biblical scholars outside of Judaism to refer to the Tanakh , a canonical collection of Jewish texts, and the common textual antecedent of the several canonical editions of the Christian Old Testament...

, and its study was discouraged, except by mature individuals with an extensive grounding in the study of traditional Jewish texts.

Hekhalot



Hekhalot ("palaces/temples") writings are the literary artifacts of the Maasei Merkavah. The main interests of all hekhalot writings are accounts of mystical ascents into heaven, divine visions, and the summoning and control of angels, usually for the purpose of gaining insight into Torah
Torah
Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five books of the bible—Genesis , Exodus , Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five...

. The locus classicus for these practices is the biblical accounts of the Chariot vision of Ezekiel
Ezekiel
Ezekiel , "God will strengthen" , is the central protagonist of the Book of Ezekiel in the Hebrew Bible. In Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Ezekiel is acknowledged as a Hebrew prophet...

 (Chap. 1) and the Temple vision of Isaiah
Isaiah
Isaiah ; Greek: ', Ēsaïās ; "Yahu is salvation") was a prophet in the 8th-century BC Kingdom of Judah.Jews and Christians consider the Book of Isaiah a part of their Biblical canon; he is the first listed of the neviim akharonim, the later prophets. Many of the New Testament teachings of Jesus...

 (Chap. 6). It is from these, and from the many extra-canonical apocalyptic writings of heavenly visitations, that hekhalot literature emerges. Still, it is distinctive from both Qumran literature and apocalyptic writings for several reasons, chief among them being that hekhalot literature is not at all interested in eschatology, largely ignores the unique status of the priesthood, has little interest in fallen angels or demonology, and it "democratizes" the possibility of divine ascent. It may represent a "rabbinization" of these earlier priestly ideologies.

The title "hekhalot" derives from the divine abodes seen by the practitioner following a long period of ritual purification, self-mortification, and ecstatic prayer
Prayer
Prayer is a form of religious practice that seeks to activate a volitional rapport to a deity through deliberate practice. Prayer may be either individual or communal and take place in public or in private. It may involve the use of words or song. When language is used, prayer may take the form of...

 and meditation
Meditation
Meditation is any form of a family of practices in which practitioners train their minds or self-induce a mode of consciousness to realize some benefit....

. In their visions, these mystics would enter into the celestial realms and journey through the seven stages of mystical ascent: the Seven Heavens and seven throne rooms. Such a journey is fraught with great danger, and the adept must not only have made elaborate purification preparation, but must also know the proper incantation
Incantation
An incantation or enchantment is a charm or spell created using words. An incantation may take place during a ritual, either a hymn or prayer, and may invoke or praise a deity. In magic, occultism, witchcraft it may be used with the intention of casting a spell on an object or a person...

s, seals and angelic names needed to get past the fierce angelic guards, as well as know how to navigate the various forces at work inside and outside the palaces.

The literature sometimes includes fantastic and baffling descriptions of the precincts of heaven and its awesome denizens. The highly literal and over-explicit images of heavenly objects and their numbers (…four thousands of thousand of fiery chariots and ten thousand fiery torches amidst them…) common to this literature may be intended, by reductio ad absurdum
Reductio ad absurdum
In logic, proof by contradiction is a form of proof that establishes the truth or validity of a proposition by showing that the proposition's being false would imply a contradiction...

, to convey the truly ineffable nature of the ecstatic experience.
At times, heavenly interlocutors will reveal divine secrets. In some texts, the mystic’s interest extends to the heavenly music and liturgy, usually connected with the angelic adorations mentioned in Isa. 6:3. The mantra-like repetitive nature of the liturgies recorded in many of these compositions seems meant to encourage further ascent. The ultimate goal of the ascent varies from text to text. In some cases, it seems to be a visionary glimpse of God, to "Behold the King in His Beauty." Others hint at "enthronement," that the adept be accepted among the angelic retinue of God and be given an honored (god-like?) seat. One text actually envisions the successful pilgrim getting to sit in God's "lap." Scholars such as Peter Schaefer
Peter Schaefer (author)
Peter Schäfer is Professor of Religion and the Ronald O. Perelman Professor of Judaic Studies at Princeton University....

 and Elliot Wolfson see an erotic theology implied in this kind of image, though it must be said sexual motifs, while present in highly attenuated forms, are few and far between if one surveys the full scope of the literature.

Literary works related to the Hekhalot tradition that have survived in whole or in part include Hekhalot Rabbati (or Pirkei Hekhalot), Hekhalot Zutarti, 3rd Enoch
3 Enoch
3 Enoch is an Old Testament Apocryphal book. 3 Enoch purports to have been written in the 2nd century CE, but its origins can only be traced to the 5th century...

 (also known as Hebrew Enoch), and Ma’aseh Merkavah. In addition there are many smaller and fragmentary manuscripts that seem to belong to this genre, but their exact relationship to Ma’asei Merkavah mysticism and to each other is often not clear (Dennis, 2007, 199-120).

Key texts


The ascent texts are extant in four principal works, all redacted well after the third but certainly before the ninth century CE. They are: 1) Hekhalot Zutartey ("The Lesser Palaces"), which details an ascent of Rabbi Akiva; 2) Hekhalot Rabbati ("The Greater Palaces"), which details an ascent of Rabbi Ishmael; 3) Ma'aseh Merkabah ("Account of the Chariot"), a collection of hymns recited by the "descenders" and heard during their ascent; and 4) Sepher Hekhalot ("Book of Palaces," also known as 3 Enoch), which recounts an ascent and divine transformation of the biblical figure Enoch into the archangel Metatron, as related by Rabbi Ishmael.

A fifth work provides a detailed description of the Creator as seen by the "descenders" at the climax of their ascent. This work, preserved in various forms, is called Shi'ur Qomah
Shi'ur Qomah
Shi’ur Qomah is a Midrashic text that is part of the Heichalot literature. It purports to record, in anthropomorphic terms, the secret names and precise measurements of God’s corporeal limbs and parts...

("Measurement of the Body"), and is rooted in a mystical exegesis of the Song of Songs, a book reputedly venerated by Rabbi Akiva
Rabbi Akiva
Akiva ben Joseph simply known as Rabbi Akiva , was a tanna of the latter part of the 1st century and the beginning of the 2nd century . He was a great authority in the matter of Jewish tradition, and one of the most central and essential contributors to the Mishnah and Midrash Halakha...

. The literal message of the work was repulsive to those who maintained God's incorporeality; Maimonides
Maimonides
Moses ben-Maimon, called Maimonides and also known as Mūsā ibn Maymūn in Arabic, or Rambam , was a preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher and one of the greatest Torah scholars and physicians of the Middle Ages...

 (d. 1204) wrote that the book should be erased and all mention of its existence deleted.

While throughout the era of merkabah mysticism the problem of creation was not of paramount importance, the treatise Sefer Yetzirah
Sefer Yetzirah
Sefer Yetzirah is the title of the earliest extant book on Jewish esotericism, although some early commentators treated it as a treatise on mathematical and linguistic theory as opposed to Kabbalah...

("Book of Creation") represents an attempted cosmogony
Cosmogony
Cosmogony, or cosmogeny, is any scientific theory concerning the coming into existence or origin of the universe, or about how reality came to be. The word comes from the Greek κοσμογονία , from κόσμος "cosmos, the world", and the root of γίνομαι / γέγονα "to be born, come about"...

 from within a merkabah milieu. This text was probably composed during the seventh century, and evidence suggests Neoplatonic, Pythagoric, and Stoic
STOIC
STOIC was a variant of Forth.It started out at the MIT and Harvard Biomedical Engineering Centre in Boston, and was written in the mid 1970s by Jonathan Sachs...

 influences. It features a linguistic theory of creation in which God creates the universe by combining the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, along with emanations represented by the ten numerals, or sefirot.

Heikhalot literature and "Four Entered Pardes"


Moshe Idel, Gershom Scholem
Gershom Scholem
Gerhard Scholem who, after his immigration from Germany to Palestine, changed his name to Gershom Scholem , was a German-born Israeli Jewish philosopher and historian, born and raised in Germany...

, Joseph Dan
Joseph Dan
Joseph Dan is an Israeli scholar of Jewish mysticism. He taught for over 40 years in the Department of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem...

, and others have raised the natural question concerning the relationship between the "chambers" portion of the Heichalot
Heichalot
Heichalot or "Heikhalot" refers to a collection of Jewish literature which dates from Talmudic times and earlier. Many motifs of later Kabbalah are based on the Heichalot texts, and the Heichalot literature itself is based upon earlier sources, including traditions about Enoch.Some of the...

 literature and the Bavli's treatment of "The Work of the Chariot" in the presentation and analysis of such in the Gemara
Gemara
The Gemara is the component of the Talmud comprising rabbinical analysis of and commentary on the Mishnah. After the Mishnah was published by Rabbi Judah the Prince The Gemara (also transliterated Gemora or, less commonly, Gemorra; from Aramaic גמרא gamar; literally, "[to] study" or "learning by...

 to tractate Hagigah
Hagigah
Tractate Hagigah deals with the Three Pilgrimage Festivals and the pilgrimage offering that men were supposed to bring in Jerusalem. At the middle of the second chapter, the Talmud discusses topics of ritual purity.The tractate contain three chapters, spanning 27 pages in the Vilna edition,...

 of the Mishna. This portion of the Babylonian Talmud, which includes the famous "four entered pardes" material, runs from 12b-iv (wherein the Gemara's treatment of the "Work of Creation" flows into and becomes its treatment of "The Work of the Chariot") to and into 16a-i. [All references are to the Art Scroll pagination.]

By making use of the Rabbinically paradigmatic figures of Rabbi Akiva
Rabbi Akiva
Akiva ben Joseph simply known as Rabbi Akiva , was a tanna of the latter part of the 1st century and the beginning of the 2nd century . He was a great authority in the matter of Jewish tradition, and one of the most central and essential contributors to the Mishnah and Midrash Halakha...

 and Rabbi Ishmael in their writings, the generators of the Heikhalot literature, quite arguably, seem to be attempting to show some sort of connection between their writings and the Chariot/Throne study and practice of the Rabbinic Movement in the decades immediately following upon the destruction of the Temple. However, in both the Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud the major players in this Chariot/Throne endeavor are, clearly, Rabbi Akiva and Elisha ben Abuyah
Elisha ben Abuyah
Elisha ben Abuyah was a rabbi and Jewish religious authority born in Jerusalem sometime before 70 CE. After he adopted a worldview considered heretical by his fellow Tannaim and betrayed his people, the rabbis of the Talmud refrained from relating teachings in his name and referred to him as the...

 who is referred to as "Akher." Neither Talmud presents Rabbi Ishmael as a player in Merkabah study and practice.

In the long study on these matters contained in " 'The Written' as the Vocation of Conceiving Jewishly" [McGinley, J W; 2006] the hypothesis is offered and defended that "Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha" (more often, simply "Rabbi Ishmael") is in fact a Rabbinically sanctioned cognomen for Elisha ben Abuyah who, as is well known, apostatized from the Rabbinic Movement. The argument is that through this indirection Rabbinic offialdom was able to integrate into the Gemaric give and take of argumentation and analysis the huge body of halakhic and hermeneutical teachings of this great Torah scholar without, however, honoring his equally significant apostasy. To be sure, in the accounting of this figure's mystical study and practice the pejorative (in context) "Akher" is used instead of "Rabbi Ishmael." This is because Elisha ben Abuyah's teachings under the heading of "The Work of the Chariot" came to be considered heretical in contrast to his halakhic and hermeneutical teachings which were generally admired—and whose weighty influence, in any case, could not be ignored. All of this indicates that the generators of the Heikhalot literature were indeed savvy in choosing "Rabbi Ishmael" as paradigmatic in their own writings as a means of relating their own endeavors to the mystical study and practices of the tannaim in the early decades following upon the destruction of the Temple.

Both Akiva and the "Ishmaelic Akher" traded upon the "two-thrones"/"two-powers"-in-Heaven motif in their respective Merkabah-oriented undertakings. Akiva's version is memorialized in the Bavli Gemara to tractate Hagigah at 14a-ii wherein Akiva puts forth the pairing of Hashem and "David" in a messianic version of that mystical motif. Immediately after this Akivian "solution" to the puzzle of thrones referred to in Song of Songs and the two thrones spoken of in Daniel, Chapter Seven, the text presents Akiva as being pressured—and then acquiescing to—a domesticated version of this twoness theme for the single Jewish God which would be acceptable to Rabbinic officialdom. The text offers Justice [din] and Charity [tsadaqqa] as the middot of God which are enthroned in Heaven. [Again, 14a-ii] Akher's non-Messianic and Metatron-oriented version of this "two-thrones"/"two-powers"-in-Heaven motif is discussed at length in the entry "Paradigmatia" of the above-mentioned study. The generic point in all of this is that by the time of the final editing of the Mishna this whole motif (along with other dimensions of Merkabah-oriented study and practice) came to be severely discouraged by Rabbinic officialdom. Those who still pursued these kinds of things were marginalized by the Rabbinic Movement over the next several centuries becoming, in effect, a separate grouping responsible for the Heikhalot literature.

In the "four-entered-pardes" section of this portion of the Bavli Gemara on tractate Hagigah, it is the figure of Akiva who seems to be lionized. For of the four he is the only one presented who ascended and descended "whole." The other three were broken, one way or another: Ben Azzai dies soon after; Ben Zoma is presented as going insane; and worst of all, "Akher" apostatizes. This putative lionization of Rabbi Akiva occurs at 15b-vi-16a-i of our Gemara section

Christianity


According to Timo Eskola, early Christian theology and discourse was influenced by the Jewish Merkabah tradition. Similarly, Alan Segal and Daniel Boyarin
Daniel Boyarin
Daniel Boyarin is an historian of religion. Born in Asbury Park, New Jersey, he holds dual United States and Israeli citizenship. Trained as a Talmudic scholar, in 1990 he was appointed Professor of Talmudic Culture, Departments of Near Eastern Studies and Rhetoric, University of California,...

 regard Paul's accounts of his conversion experience and his ascent to the heavens as the first first person accounts we have of a Merkabah mystic in Jewish or Christian literature. Conversely, Timothy Churchill has argued that Paul's Damascus road encounter does not fit the pattern of Merkabah.

In Christianity, the man, lion, ox, and eagle are used as symbols for the four evangelists
Four Evangelists
In Christian tradition the Four Evangelists are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the authors attributed with the creation of the four Gospel accounts in the New Testament that bear the following titles:*Gospel according to Matthew*Gospel according to Mark...

 (or gospel-writers), and appear frequently in church decorations. These Creatures are called Zoë (or the Tetramorph
Tetramorph
A tetramorph is a symbolic arrangement of four differing elements, or the combination of four disparate elements in one unit. The term is derived from the Greek tetra, meaning four, and morph, shape....

), and surround the throne of God in Heaven, along with twenty-four elders and seven spirits of God (according to Revelation
Book of Revelation
The Book of Revelation is the final book of the New Testament. The title came into usage from the first word of the book in Koine Greek: apokalupsis, meaning "unveiling" or "revelation"...

 4:1-11).

See also


  • Chariots of the Gods
    Chariots of the Gods
    Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past is a book written in 1968 by Erich von Däniken...

  • Contact (film)
    Contact (film)
    Contact is a 1997 American science fiction drama film adapted from the Carl Sagan novel of the same name and directed by Robert Zemeckis. Both Sagan and wife Ann Druyan wrote the story outline for the film adaptation of Contact....

  • Ezekiel Saw the Wheel
    Ezekiel Saw the Wheel
    Ezekiel Saw the Wheel is a famous folk song, covered by such artists as Woody Guthrie, Paul Robeson, John Lee Hooker, the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Tillers, the Fisk Jubilee Singers, and Gold City...

     (folk song based on the vision)
  • Knowing (film)
    Knowing (film)
    Knowing is a 2009 American-British science fiction film directed by Alex Proyas and starring Nicolas Cage. The project was originally attached to a number of directors under Columbia Pictures, but it was placed in turnaround and eventually picked up by Escape Artists. Production was financially...

     (Matthäus Merian's "Chariot Vision")
  • Muraqaba
    Muraqaba
    Muraqaba is the Sufi word for meditation. Literally it is an Arabic term which means "to watch over", "to take care of", or "to keep an eye"...

  • Project UFO (TV)
    Project UFO
    Project UFO was an NBC television series which lasted two seasons, from 1978 to 1979. Based loosely on the real-life Project Blue Book, the show was created by Dragnet veteran Jack Webb, who pored through Air Force files looking for episode ideas...

  • Quadriga
    Quadriga
    A quadriga is a car or chariot drawn by four horses abreast . It was raced in the Ancient Olympic Games and other contests. It is represented in profile as the chariot of gods and heroes on Greek vases and in bas-relief. The quadriga was adopted in ancient Roman chariot racing...

  • Seder hishtalshelus
    Seder hishtalshelus
    Seder hishtalshelus means the "order of development" or "order of evolution", where the word Hishtalshelus is derived from the reduplicated quadriliteral root ŠLŠL "to chain", and so literally means "the chain-like process"...

  • The four evangelists' symbols
  • Vimana
    Vimana
    Vimāna is a word with several meanings ranging from temple or palace to mythological flying machines described in Sanskrit epics.-Etymology and usage:Sanskrit vi-māna literally means "measuring out, traversing" or "having been measured out"...