Monday, 25 July 2011

This is Not a Review: The Hidden and Manifest God


This post is inspired by and draws its information from the excellent book: “The Hidden and Manifest God: Some Major Themes in Early Jewish Mysticism” by Peter Schafer (Translated by Aubrey Pomerance).

In the book the author describes each of the major works in early Jewish mysticism. This is the Hekhalot, also known as Ma'aseh Merkavah mysticism, which focuses on the mystical lore and practices by Jewish mystics in the centuries following the destruction of the second Temple by the Romans. Merkavah mysticism is based on the visions of Ezekiel and Isaiah. The works in Merkavah mysticism focus on Heavenly ascent and angelic adjuration.

The Merkavah works include what the author refers to as macro-forms and micro-forms. There are numerous versions of the manuscript. Those that are similar and can be described as defined “works” are referred to as macro-forms. The individual instances of each text are referred to as micro-forms.

The list of macro-forms includes:
  • Hekhalot Rabbati (“The Greater Palaces”)
  • Hekhalot Zutarti (“The Lesser Palaces”)
  • Ma'aseh Merkavah (“the Working of the Chariot”)
  • Ma'aseh Rabbah (“the Great Chariot”)
  • third book of Enoch

There is a significant difference in emphasis in each of the works, depending on whether the main focus of the work is on Heavenly ascent or angelic adjuration. This has also led to different interpretations and comments on the works by various academics, but that will not be discussed in this post.

What is interesting to me is how diverse the works (macro-forms) are. .

Here is a brief description that shows the differences in emphasis between the works with regards to God:

  • Hekhalot Rabbati (“The Greater Palaces”) - God is central and angels play an important role, particular attention is paid to Sar HaTorah (Prince of the Torah)
  • Hekhalot Zutarti (“The Lesser Palaces”) - God is central and focus is on Divine names. It also asks the question 'Can one see God?'
  • Ma'aseh Merkavah (“the Working of the Chariot”) - Marginal focus on God, mainly on Divine names and Shi'ur Komah.
  • Ma'aseh Rabbah (“the Great Chariot”) - Marginal focus on God, mainly on Divine names, the essence of God consists of names.
  • third book of Enoch – God is of great importance in this text, although it substitutes the Shekhinah on the throne.

Here is a brief description that shows the differences in emphasis between the works with regards to angels:

  • Hekhalot Rabbati (“The Greater Palaces”) - Very important, in particular Sar HaTorah.
  • Hekhalot Zutarti (“The Lesser Palaces”) - Refers to two sets,Hayot (living ones) that sing praises and guardian angels.
  • Ma'aseh Merkavah (“the Working of the Chariot”) - Only angels that sing praises, no guardian angels mentioned. Angels transmit revelation of the Torah.
  • Ma'aseh Rabbah (“the Great Chariot”) - Only angels that sing praises, no guardian angels mentioned. Angels transmit revelation of the Torah.
  • third book of Enoch – Central role and has a systematized angelology