Sunday, November 22, 2009

Mysticism at the SBL

I'm attending the SBL (Society of Biblical Literature) Annual Meeting right now, which is being held in New Orleans.

I arrived in New Orleans very late Thursday night (my plane from Newark was delayed because of all the air traffic and weather problems) and then got up bright and early on Friday morning to go to the New Testament Mysticism Project session. This is the first time I've managed to get to one of these sessions, and it was really worthwhile. The presenters spoke mostly on the Gospel of John, giving very detailed exegeses of short passages. I found it very interesting and thought-provoking.

Last night an independent supporter of biblical studies who lives in Jerusalem, Jay Pomrenze, organized a delicious Shabbat dinner for any of the wandering Jews at the conference. He is a most generous soul and the atmosphere was very heimish. I think a majority of the celebrants were from Israel (mostly from Bar Ilan University). There was apparently a nice davening, which I missed because I had to take a nap before Shabbat.

Today I got up late and then went to the book display - finding several (expensive) books touching on early Jewish mysticism - Peter Schäfer's new book on the origins of early Jewish mysticism, a new synoptic edition of Sefer ha-Razim, and Christopher Rowland's and Christopher Morray-Jones' new volume, the Mystery of God, which is on early Jewish mysticism and the New Testament.

This afternoon I attended the first meeting of the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism section, which included a review of the Mystery of God, done by three scholars - Charles Gieschen, Jim Davila, and Alan Segal. Alan couldn't make the meeting, so I read his contribution. After the three reviews, Chris Rowland's response was read by another participant, and Chris Morray-Jones replied in person. Overall, it was a very interesting discussing and I look forward to reading the book when it arrives.

I'm heading off right now for the annual dinner with the other members of the Early Jewish and Mysticism section, and anticipate a delicious dinner and fascinating discussion.

1 comment:

  1. Whatever kind of mysticism is discussed, it will, one day, be recognized that the whole question of mysticism is no mystery at all. The so-called mystical experience, which is the onset of the mystical state, occurs if and when one undertakes the analysis of familiar things, obvious things, things already known and things we have taken for granted and subsequently ignore. This is no new concept. A number of prominent names stress the importance of analyzing things already known. As a foundation we can include Alfred North Whitehead who wrote in his book titled Science and the Modern World the following words: "Familiar things happen and mankind does not bother about them. It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious." Joining Whitehead in stating the importance of analyzing known things is Shaw, Gibran, Koestler, Hegel, Huxley and Heraclitus. The basis to do so is overwhelmingly convincing. Why? Because when young we learn things that we understandably and naturally take for granted and subsequently ignore. We fail to see that insights can be gained by looking at things we have learned and know. What is an example? Benjamin Franklin, like countless others before him, saw lighting in the sky. He however gained some kind of sudden insight to consider that this force might be harnessed. In time, electricity was born. This holds true in the realm of consciousness and mysticism. As very young children we of course learn a great many things. These things are taken for granted and soon ignored. If we take the time to go back and analyze them, insights can and will be gained. Science and religion, we discover, are not antagonists. Science asks questions and religion provides faith. It is here where applied faith triggers insight. It is here where the mystical can and will occur. With the basis, evidence and logic provided, one can analyze his thoughts and his thinking which in time will be seen for what they are.... Jesus looked for temptations, and found them. Buddha looked for attachments and found them. Hindu mystics look for cravings and they find them. Whitehead was right in suggesting that "It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious." With the basis, evidence and logic provided, we can see that it is no longer an intellectual question. It becomes one of science and faith. It is for us to ask questions about things already known and maintain faith that in time through analysis and patience ... mystical insight will be triggered.