Descenders to the Chariot: The People Behind the Hekhalot by James Davila

By James Davila

The Hekhalot literature is a weird and wonderful conglomeration of Jewish esoteric and revelatory texts in Hebrew and Aramaic, produced someday among past due antiquity and the early heart a while and surviving in medieval manuscripts. those texts declare to explain the self-induced non secular reports of the "descenders to the chariot" and to bare the thoughts that authorized those magico-religious practitioners to view for themselves Ezekiel's Merkavah in addition to to realize keep an eye on of angels and a supernatural mastery of Torah. Drawing on epigraphic and archaeological facts from the center East, anthropological types, and a variety of cross-cultural facts, this e-book goals to teach that the Hekhalot literature preserves the lessons and rituals of genuine non secular functionaries who flourished in overdue antiquity and who have been really just like the functionaries anthropologists name shamans.

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Extra info for Descenders to the Chariot: The People Behind the Hekhalot Literature (Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism)

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Underhill considers magic inferior because it falls short o f what she holds to be the real goal o f esotericism—mystical union with the Absolute. 37 This view of magic, which is sometimes called the substantialist approach, is also exemplified by the comments o f John Middleton. 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 peoples 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.

They envied the superior sta­ tion of the rabbis and defied them with another art commonly pur­ sued by those in their own profession—magic. This strain o f magical praxis, as noted in the previous section, is from an anthropological perspective closer to shamanism than anything else. In 1996, Swartz published a study o f the Sar T o r a h narratives in which he sets aside the issue o f whatever inner experience may have lain behind their ritual praxes. " 47 After a detailed exegesis o f the relevant narratives, he explores their use o f the con­ cepts "ritual," "purity," "tradition," and "authority," concluding that the rituals seek not so much to produce a "mystical state" as to purify the adept o f earthly pollution in preparation for interacting with angels.

Chapter 3 deals with the various ways one can become a shaman and compares them with what the Hekhalot hterature and related texts tell us about h o w one became a descender to the chariot. Chapter 4 surveys the ascetic techniques shamans use to gain power over the spiritual world and compares these with the ritual praxes described in the Hekhalot Ht­ erature. Chapter 5 looks at a condition endured by some shamans, particularly in Arctic regions, which I caU the "initiatory disintegra­ tion and reintegration," a subjective experience o f being torn apart or burned aHve, then resurrected as a creature with vast spiritual powers: I argue that the Hekhalot Hterature describes a similar expe­ rience in its accounts o f the heavenly journeys o f the descenders to the chariot and their direct encounters with G o d .

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