Sunday, November 09, 2003

I guess I haven't been here for quite a while -- I've been pretty busy, doing research for my Society of Biblical Literature paper (the conference is in two weeks), and reading for the course I'll be teaching with another professor next semester, on Biblical Interpretation in Judaism and Christianity.

This is the abstract of the paper I'm writing:

Divine Weeping and God’s Right Arm: A vision of eschatological sorrow in Sefer Hekhalot (3 Enoch)

In Sefer Hekhalot (3 Enoch), Metatron, the Prince of the divine Presence, reveals to Rabbi Ishmael the secrets of the heavenly world, the fate of the human soul before birth and after death, and the course of ultimate redemption and the coming of the Messiah. 3 Enoch explicitly describes how each person will be judged after his death. The souls of the righteous will fly above the Throne of Glory in the presence of God. The souls of the wicked go down to Sheol to be punished with rods of burning coal. The souls of the intermediate are purged with suffering and then join the souls of the righteous. One important task of the “fathers of the world” (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) and the other righteous souls is to intercede on behalf of the suffering people of Israel on earth. They ask God why he has not saved his people and why his right hand, by which he stretched out the heavens, is still set behind him? As part of his heavenly journey, Rabbi Ishmael is shown the vision of God’s right hand, “which has been banished behind him because of the destruction of the Temple.” In a striking image, the five fingers of God’s hand weep in sorrow and five tears fall into the Great Sea and make the whole world quake. The souls of the righteous beseech God’s hand three times a day with the prayer, “Awake! Awake! Clothe yourself in strength, arm of the Lord” (Isa. 51:9). Only when God realizes that there are no righteous on earth will he deliver his right hand and bring the final redemption.

In this paper I will explore several themes that emerge from Sefer Hekhalot: the role of the righteous dead in protesting God’s judgment, and their ritual cry to awaken God’s arm; the hypostasis of God’s strength in the figure of his right arm set behind him, and of his sorrow in the image of the weeping fingers of his right hand; and the theurgical intertwining of the fate of the people of Israel and God’s strength. This paper will explore the ways in which Sefer Hekhalot transforms theological conceptions found in earlier midrashic and talmudic literature (for example, Lamentations Rabbah proem 24, b. Hag. 5b), and proves a crucial means of transmission to the later kabbalistic and Hasidic traditions.

Today I have been enjoying a beautiful clear late fall day, raking leaves (an abundance has fallen on my lawn) and harvesting the last of the Swiss chard, which is beginning to droop. We've had a pretty hard frost the last couple of nights and it just killed the tomato plants and the dahlias.

And the lunar eclipse last night was beautiful. I didn't watch the whole thing, but I did catch the moon when most of it was in shadow -- of course, I could still see that part, but dimly. There were many stars revealed when the moon grew dark. Later on in the night, when the moon had returned, it whitened the sky so that I could see very few stars. And for once we could see it here, in usually cloudy Ithaca.

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