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It is most closely associated with the vision in Ezekiel chapter 1 of the four-wheeled vehicle driven by four hayyot " living creatures " , each of which has four wings [5] and the four faces of a man, lion, ox, and eagle or vulture. The bodies of the creatures are "like that of a human being", but each of them has four faces, corresponding to the four directions the chariot can go East, South, North and West.

The faces are that of a man, a lion, an ox later changed to a sapphire. The Bible later makes mention of a third type of angel found in the Merkabah called " Seraphim " lit. 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 "Hayyot", which are followed by the "Ophanim.

The movement of the "Ophanim" is controlled by the "Living creatures" while the movement of the "Hayyot" 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.

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. Rabbi Akiva and his contemporary Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha are most often the protagonists of later merkabah ascent literature.

Prohibition against study The Talmudic 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. According to Yer. Hagigah ii. A small number of texts unearthed at Qumran indicate that the Dead Sea 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 Heavens , often guarded over by angels, and encircled by flames and lightning.

When these images were combined with an actual mystical experiential motif of individual ascent paradoxically called "descent" in most texts, Yordei Merkabah, "descenders of the chariot", perhaps describing inward contemplation 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 among 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.

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. It is a form of pre- Kabbalah Jewish mysticism that teaches both of the possibility of making a sublime journey to God and of the ability of man to draw down divine powers to earth; it seems to have been an esoteric movement that grew out of the priestly mysticism already evident in the Dead Sea Scrolls and some apocalyptic writings see the studies by Rachel Elior.

Jewish biblical commentaries emphasize that the imagery of the merkabah 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. Jews customarily read the Biblical passages concerning the merkabah in the synagogue every year on the holiday of Shavuot , and the merkabah is also referenced in several places in traditional Jewish liturgy.

Hekhalot literature Main article: Hekhalot literature The main interests of demonology, and it "democratizes" the possibility of divine ascent. 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 incantations , 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.

This heavenly ascent is accomplished by the recital of hymns , as well as the theurgic use of secret names of God which abound in the Hekhalot literature. The Hekalot Zutarti in particular is concerned with the secret names of God and their powers: This is His great name, with which Moses divided the great sea :.

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. Key texts The ascent texts are extant in four principal works, all redacted well after the third but certainly before the ninth century CE.

A fifth work provides a detailed description of the Creator as seen by the "descenders" at the climax of their ascent. While throughout the era of merkabah mysticism the problem of creation was not of paramount importance, the treatise Sefer Yetzirah "Book of Creation" represents an attempted cosmogony from within a merkabah milieu. This text was probably composed during the seventh century, and evidence suggests Neoplatonic , Pythagoric , and Stoic 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.

All of this indicates that the generators of the Hekhalot 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. 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 Hekhalot literature.

In the "four-entered-pardes" section of this portion of the Babylonian 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. This putative lionization of Rabbi Akiva occurs at 15b-via-i of our Gemara section.

In the third volume, Maimonides commences the exposition of the mystical passage of the mystic doctrines found in the merkabah 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.


Hekhalot literature

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Hekhalot Rabbati: The Greater (Book of the Heavenly) Palaces


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