Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Project: Understanding the Merkavah User Manual in 2000 pages or less


Whilst my Wisdom in 40 days project is underway, I've taken on a second project to gain some more academic knowledge about Merkavah and Hechalot Mysticism. Here are a couple of links to definitions of Ma'aseh Merkavah (workings of the chariot) on Wikipedia and Jewish Encyclopedia.

Putting it in project terms, here is a brief summary:
  • Scope: Read 2000 pages of academic literature on Merkavah and Hechalot Mysticism
  • Time: 7 month deadline
  • Cost: Sunk cost of books purchased to date is in region of £200-300. No further purchases expected.
  • Quality: Not applicable (see below)
  • Communication: Periodic reviews of books on this blog and LiveJournal from a non-academic perspective.
  • Risks: Information overload or issues in life getting in the way.
Here is a list of the books that will be read over the next 7 months at the expected rate of 10 pages per day. This is a rather arbitrary metric in that it in no conveys any comprehension of the topics discussed in these books. Coming from an academic background involving life sciences and computing, words such as phenomenological, hermeneutics and zoomorphic-anthropomorphism will take some getting used to.



In order to assess the level of understanding of this material and integrate it in to my current limited understanding of Jewish mysticism in general, I am planning to give an introductory talk on the subject of Merkavah Mysticism around the middle of 2011. That will address the question of comprehension and quality measurements as the success criteria of this endeavour are to find out if I've learnt enough to present an informed introduction to this subject and answer questions from the lecture audience.

This is the list of books that will be read between now and the middle of 2011:

Beholders of Divine Secrets: Mysticism and Myth in the Hekhalot and Merkavah Literature
Vita Daphna Arbel
262 pages

Jewish Mysticism and Magic: An Anthropological Perspective (Routledge Jewish Studies)
Maureen Bloom
231 pages

Through a Speculum That Shines
Elliot R. Wolfson
462 pages

The Hidden and Manifest God: Some Major Themes in Early Jewish Mysticism (SUNY Series in Judaica)
Peter Schafer (Author), Aubrey Pomerance (Translator)
198 pages

The Poetics of Ascent: Theories of Language in a Rabbinic Ascent Text (Suny Series in Judaica : Hermeneutics, Mysticism, and Culture)
Naomi Janowitz
172 pages

Descenders to the Chariot: The People Behind the Hekhalot Literature (Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism)
James R. Davila
342 pages

Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition
Gershom G. Scholem (Author)
102 pages

Ritual Practices to Gain Power: Angels, Incantations, and Revelation in Early Jewish Mysticism (Harvard Theological Studies series)
Rebecca Macy Lesses
400 pages

Optional books, these are included in the category of "stretch goal":

Jewish Mysticism: The Infinite Expression of Freedom
Rachel Elior(Author), Yudith Nave (Translator), Arthur B. Millman (Translator)
207 pages

Inner Space: Introduction to Kabbalah, Meditation and Prophecy
Aryeh Kaplan
254 pages

The Early Kabbalah (Classics of Western Spirituality)
Joseph Dan (Editor), Ronald C. Kiener (Translator)
224 pages

Hebrew and Aramaic Incantation Texts from the Cairo Genizah (Semitic Texts and Studies)
Lawrence Schiffmann (Author), Michael Swartz (Author)
158 pages

Books I do not own but might consider adding to this small collection:

A Transparent Illusion: The Dangerous Vision of Water in Hekhalot Mysticism : A Source-Critical and Tradition-Historical Inquiry (Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism)
Christopher R. A. Morray-Jones
322 pages

The Three Temples: On the Emergence of Jewish Mysticism
Rachel Elior
301 pages



The one question that has been going around my head all week when deciding whether to take on this project or not is - why? Why read all this literature and perhaps not even get the chance to try to read and translate the texts? The simple answer is that the project is a nice way to package up actually reading through all the books in one go having attempted to read one or two of them in the past. The other reason is my hypothesis that trying to understand any later works of Kababalah and Jewish Mysticism is incomplete without properly understanding this body of knowledge.