Hekhalot Bibliography - part 2

Merkabah Mysticism and Rabbinic Circles

Works to be discussed: "The Traditions about Merkabah Mysticism in the Tannaitic Period" (Hebrew) by Ephraim Urbach,[1] The Merkabah in Rabbinic Literature by David Halperin[2], "The New Testament and Hekhalot Literature: The Journey into Heaven in Paul and Merkavah Mysticism," by Peter Schäfer;[3] and Mysticism in Rabbinic Judaism by Ira Chernus.[4]

Urbach. Urbach begins with a mention of Scholem's theory that Merkabah mysticism began among the Tannaim, particularly among the students of R. Yohanan b. Zakkai. He then analyzes several stories about students of his who expounded ma‘aseh merkabah before him; R. Eleazar b. Arakh, R. Yehoshua, and R. Yose the Priest. He concludes that the story in the Tosefta about R. Eleazar is the earliest one; it contains no miraculous elements. In the other stories, the motif of fire from heaven and angels appearing occurs when they expound ma‘aseh merkabah; this motif is not originally from this context. It comes from the context of Sinai when the Torah was revealed; this is what happens when the rabbis expound the oral Torah. They are visited by the same miraculous phenomena as occurred at Sinai.[5] Because the story in the Tosefta has none of these miraculous phenomena, Urbach calls it an example of "ascetic ecstasy."[6] I do not know what he is referring to here. Perhaps he is trying to rescue Scholem's thesis in one small respect, but if the Tosefta story is the original one, I can see no evidence of any ecstasy in it.

He then goes on to analyze the story of the four who entered the pardes. He finds in this not (as Scholem maintained) a story of ecstatic ascent, but a parable. The first two lines ("four entered the pardes, one gazed and died," etc.) are the parable and the next four lines with the names and the scriptural verses are the explanation of the parable. He thinks that another version of this parable may be found in the continuation in the Tosefta, in the parable about the pardes of a king with an upper chamber built on it. A person is allowed to gaze from it but not to "feast his eyes" (whatever this phrase means). Urbach therefore interprets the pardes in the first story as a royal garden. In the explanation of the parable the word pardes doesn't appear at all. It does not refer to the Garden of Eden (among other things), for nowhere in rabbinic literature do we find the word pardes serving as a reference to the Garden of Eden (contra Scholem). Urbach thinks that it is obvious that the topic of the parable is the vision of the merkabah. He does not explain why this is so clear, but I assume that he thinks thus because of the story is placed after the prohibition of expounding the merkabah.

He considers R. Akiba's saying in the BT account, which warns those who see the "splendor of the pure marble plates" not to say "water, water" an addition to the original story of the four, both because it does not appear in any of the parallels and because it breaks up the structure of parable and explanation. In his opinion this is a later section added by the group of the "expounders of the Merkabah," who were engaged in explaining an earlier tradition.[7] In the similar passages from HZ which deal with this issue, there is only an explanation of the Talmudic passage, but no genuine tradition parallel to it. Urbach seems to contradict himself here. If the section from the Talmud was added by the "expounders of the Merkabah", why couldn't the tradition in HZ also stem from the same group, or one close to it?

The Tannaim used the language of "seeing" for only two events in the past: the revelation at the Red Sea and the revelation at Sinai. However, when the Amoraim began to engage in "gazing at the merkabah," a tradition about the Tannaim who did the same thing began to be created, a pseud- epigraphic tradition like that in the HL. The stages of this development can occasionally be seen, for instance in the story in Ber. 7a about R. Ishmael the high priest entering into the holy of holies and seeing "Akatriel YHWH sitting on the throne." R. Ishmael was one of the heroes of the HL. In the HL there are several developments of this story, one which sees Akatriel as an angel, another as God. However, against Scholem's interpretation that the HL can explain the Talmudic passage, Urbach holds that this (as well other passages) is nothing but an explanation and further development of the Talmudic passage. The explanation is no proof of the early dating of the HL traditions, and there is nothing in them which identifies the date of the HL traditions with the date of the material included in the Talmud. In Urbach's opinion, the HL traditions are secondary developments of those in the Talmud.

In the HL itself he finds at least two attitudes toward the world of the halakhists: 1) antagonism and competition, as represented in the Sar Torah passages, particularly the Sar Torah myth. He thinks that the passage in the Sar Torah myth which begins, "I know what you want and my heart knows what you desire, you seek much Torah and abundant Talmud (or learning), etc."[8] is an antagonistic statement by someone in one of the Hekhalot circles towards the rabbis and the geonim. (Unlike Halperin, who in Faces of the Chariot interprets this passage as representing the desires of the Hekhalot mystics).[9] Urbach sees it as a critique of their material goals and social attainments. The Hekhalot author puts into the mouth of the angels the argument of the heads of the yeshivot against the mystical circles. This is evidence for Hekhalot groups which were independent of the rabbinical establishment. 2) A more compromising attitude, in which halakhic concerns and language are integrated into the Hekhalot language. Urbach gives as an example the statements of Dumiel at the entrance of the sixth hall: "The one who descends to the Merkabah is only the one who. . . studies Torah, Prophets and Writings, repeats mishnayot, midrash, halakha and aggadot, interpretation of halakha, prohibition and permission. . ."[10] Here, the Talmud itself includes the study of Ma‘aseh Merkabah. Urbach ascribes this phenomenon to the entrance of magical and theurgical elements and their interweaving with speculative ones. (Since Urbach has not mentioned magic and theurgy before, I am not sure why he is using it to explain why there would be certain Hekhalot circles which would be closer to the halakhic world). He finishes by stating that although one can date the HL to the same time as some rabbinic traditions, despite its halakhic garb it is still very different from the Talmudic traditions, and is in fact much closer to the early gnostic circles than to the Talmudic tradition.

Urbach's analysis of the story of R. Eleazar b. Arakh and the four who entered the pardes is a very sober counter to Scholem's speculations. Given the fact that he shows that the supernatural phenomena do not belong to the original story about R. Eleazar, I find it a bit odd that he still feels he must refer to this story as evidence for "ascetic ecstasy." Where in the story itself does he find evidence for any kind of ecstasy? The same is true for his eventual conclusion that the story of the four is in fact a story about gazing on the merkabah. Given his analysis, what is the proof of that? If the word "gazed" is part of the parable, not part of the explanation, why should he seemingly use it to explain the parable? It almost seems as if he doesn't want to go quite so far as to say that the Tannaim engaged in no mystical contemplation at all. His analysis of the Sar Torah myth is interesting, and is one which Halperin extends in his book Faces of the Chariot. His conclusion that there were two circles with two different attitudes towards halakha should be further investigated.

Halperin. The goal in this book is to examine the rabbinic sources (in Mishnah, Tosefta, and the two Talmuds) to discover what they say about ma‘aseh merkabah. He divided these sources into five separate groups: 1) Mishnaic prohibitions of the Merkabah (Hag. 2:1, Meg. 4:10), 2) the "mystical collection" (which includes the story of the four who entered the pardes), 3) stories about R. Yohanan b. Zakkai and the Merkabah, 4) the opening of PT Hag. 77a on the Merkabah, and 5) the BT materials on the Merkabah (Hag. 13a, Meg. 24b).

Halperin concludes that Hag. 2:1 restricts exegetical activity; it did not deal with ecstatic mysticism. There was probably "a tendency for increasing severity in preventing public exposure to the merkabah,"[11] which culminated in the prohibitions of Hag. 2:1 and Meg. 4:10, which prohibited the use of Ezekiel 1 as a haftarah. This attitude did not bind later generations, nor did it stop the use of Ezekiel for the haftarah on Shavuot.

He regarded the "mystical collection" as a pre-existing source, used by the Tosefta, PT and BT. The individual items seem independent of the mishnah and sometimes it is not clear that they are relevant to it. In his discussion of the story of the "four who entered the pardes," he outlines the interpretive possibilities. Hekhalot Zutarti, Hai Gaon (following HZ) regarded it as a heavenly ascension, medieval commentators (Rashi, R. Hananel) regarded it as a visionary experience, Grätz and his followers understood the pardes as a symbol for gnosis and viewed the passage as an allegorical description of the rabbis involvement with a theosophical knowledge of God, Scholem viewed it as an account of a mystical ascent into "Paradise," and Urbach considered it a parable. Halperin follows Urbach's analysis and says that there is no evidence specifically linking this story to the merkabah, or to suggest that it refers to ecstatic mysticism (contra Urbach). The compiler of the mystical collection believed that it referred to some sort of mysticism. However, this collection is not "a part of an unbroken stream of mystical tradition going back to Tannaitic times or earlier, but a scholarly construct, edited and arranged in accordance with the compiler's belief in the danger of mystical study or practice."[12]

The stories about Yohanan b. Zakkai's disciples and the Merkabah began with a cycle of oral merkabah stories, which recounted the miracles that occurred when one of R. Yohanan's disciples gave expositions. One of them (about R. Eleazar b. Arakh) was given a narrative framework. In Tosefta the miraculous element was censored from the story (against Urbach, he does not believe that the Tosefta version is original). In PT and BT the miraculous details were reinserted. The merkabah tradition is rooted in a cycle of miraculous legends; the ma‘aseh merkabah of these legends was probably an exegetical activity. The miraculous effects are responses to the expositions, not results of it. The stories do not tell us much about the exegesis of Ezekiel 1 except that it was linked to Sinai, because expositions of the merkabah are answered by phenomena which reproduce those of the Sinai revelation (against Urbach, he thinks it is significant that these particular miraculous phenomena occurred with these expositions).

Urbach maintains that the supernatural phenomena which accompanied the Merkabah expositions of the disciples of R. Yohanan b. Zakkai were imported, so to speak, from the general setting of Torah expositions by the sages (e.g., Yonatan b. Uzziel). Halperin thinks that the miraculous details were original to the merkabah exposition stories. Is it possible that the influence went in the opposite direction from that which Urbach assumes? Could the miraculous details of the merkabah exposition stories have been the original setting for the general miraculous Torah exposition stories? (And could the point of both sets of stories have been to justify the freedom of exposition of the rabbis, against those who questioned whence came their authority to discourse on Torah and claim that their discourses were Torah as much as Moses' Torah?)

In the BT materials on the merkabah, in Hag. 13a, ma‘aseh merkabah is an exegetical study. Its dangers have nothing do with mystical ascent. The Babylonian adaptations of older Palestinian materials in BT Hag. 14b-15a and Meg. 24b have a different image of ma‘aseh merkabah. They seemed to assume that expounding the Merkabah involved a vision of it. In Halperin's opinion, it's not clear that the picture from these two passages is one of ecstatic Merkabah mysticism like that of the HL. However, if it is, "a specifically Babylonian element in BT would be the earliest rabbinic attestation of the conception of ma‘aseh merkabah as a form of ecstatic mysticism."[12] He finds no evidence of heavenly ascent as an element of ma‘aseh merkabah in Palestinian rabbinic circles and although certain Babylonian groups thought that ma‘aseh merkabah was ecstatic mysticism this does not mean that they themselves practiced it.

Halperin concludes that the Palestinian rabbinic sources do not provide any evidence for "merkabah mysticism" in Scholem's sense, only for some kind of exegesis founded on the first chapter of Ezekiel. Only BT offers some evidence that some rabbis believed in an ecstatic mysticism connected with Ezekiel's chariot. Halperin suggests the need to relocate the Hekhalot texts within ancient Judaism. Perhaps they were composed in Babylonia in Amoraic times or later? Are they really elite texts? (Halperin develops these ideas further in his book Faces of the Chariot).

Schäfer. Discussing the story of the four who entered the pardes, he interprets pardes as a "royal garden," rather than as "Paradise," and following Urbach, considers the Talmudic story to be a parable. Unlike Urbach, he does not think it is a parable of exegesis of the merkabah, but of Torah teaching and learning. In the process of transmission, a mystical interpretation came to be put on it. The BT version understands it as an ecstatic ascension to pardes (=heaven). There were two themes originally, the pardes and water, which were combined in BT and in the first story in HZ. Since the Toseftan and Talmudic use of pardes does not mean Paradise, the basic support for the comparison between Paul and the pardes passage is undermined. Isolated literary motifs in NT and HL should not be compared, rather the literary systems should be compared. Motifs can only be compared when we know where they stand in their respective literatures.

Chernus. In the essays in this book Chernus takes midrashim which he hypothesizes are related to the works of merkabah mysticism because of the similarity of words and images and analyzes them to discover if the rabbis of the Mishnah and the Talmud knew or or were involved with this form of mysticism. When speaking of "Merkabah mysticism" he uses the term to refer broadly to esoteric concerns which have to do with ecstatic experience and the realm of the divine. In the first two essays he deals with midrashim on the revelation at Sinai (the descent of angels and the vision of God); the next two are about the death and resurrection of the Israelites at Sinai when they hear the word of God, and the next three essays have to do with Merkabah mysticism and rabbinic eschatology. The last essay does not discuss ma‘aseh merkabah.

His method is simply to comb midrashim for themes which seem similar to the HL, and when he finds them, to refer to them as evidence for merkabah mysticism among certain rabbis. For instance, in the third and fourth essays, when he discusses the theme of the death of the Israelites at Sinai, he assumes that this is a warning to potential Merkabah mystics about the dangers of the ascent. They too might have to undergo death in order to have a vision of God. His tendency is to read mysticism into the midrashim and to see mystic concerns as motivating the concerns of the rabbis quoted in the midrashim. However, nowhere does he show (or even seem to think that it is a problem to be solved) that the influence went in this direction, rather than from midrashic concerns to ecstatic experience (as Halperin argues in Faces of the Chariot). On the face of it, it is difficult for me to see that these midrashim describe the experience of the individual mystic. Rather, they are attempts to describe further what happened at Sinai, and to deal with some difficult exegetical points. I do not see how they were esoteric. Was concern with the angels and the revelation at Sinai esoteric? An explanation which goes in the other direction makes more sense to me; that is, the mystics attempted to explain their experience in terms of the revelation at Sinai and the midrashim about it (particularly Moses' ascent to heaven), or perhaps modeled their experiences on the midrashic descrip- tions. This seems probable, considering the problem of dating the hekhalot literature as early as the 3rd century. While Chernus, following Urbach, does not see Merkabah mysticism among the 2nd cent. Tannaim, he does think it developed by the 3rd cent., and certainly by the 4th. He may be right, but he doesn't adduce any evidence for it. All of the evidence which he cites refers to exegesis, not to personal experience, and as Halperin shows, this is an important distinction.

Chernus does raise some interesting issues of comparison to Gnosticism, however, particularly in his hypothesis that rabbinic descriptions of the Sinai revelation (if they are referring to the experience of the mystic, as he contends) might have been intended to keep Jewish mysticism strictly within the bounds of Torah. In other words, if the goal of Jewish mystical experience is to know the Torah and (though he doesn't mention this) to ascend to heaven like Moses did when he took the Torah from the angels, this is certainly an idea which stays far away from antinomian Gnosticism. This is an interesting hypothesis; even if it can't be substantiated for the earlier period, perhaps it had some relevance for a later time (toward the close of the Talmud) when the mystical practices are more likely to have been developing (if we believe Halperin and Schäfer). This also raises another, nagging question, relevant more to Halperin's book than Chernus'. Chernus points to ecstatic practices among non-Jews, particularly Gnostics. They were also known among other people: Christians (e.g., Paul and his opponents, the Montanist prophets a couple of centuries later), magicians in Roman Egypt (possibly elsewhere), Neoplatonic theurgists, and others. Is it reasonable to suppose that no Jews who were associated with the rabbinic movement were familiar with such practices, when there were many people in their world involved with such activities? It is for this reason that I am not totally willing to accept Halperin's hypothesis and reject Chernus', although not on the basis of the midrashic evidence Chernus cites.

[1] Studies in Mysticism and Religion presented to Gershom G. Scholem on His Seventieth Birthday by Pupils, Colleagues and Friends, ed. by Ephraim E. Urbach, R.J. Zvi Werblowsky and Ch. Wirszubski (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1967), pp. 1-28.

[2] New Haven: American Oriental Society, 1980.

[3] Hekhalot Studien by Peter Schäfer (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1988), pp. 234-249.

[4] Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1982.

[5] Although he does not mention it, this point is interesting in itself because it suggests a polemical motive for these stories: the Torah that the rabbis expound has the same divine sanction as the Torah that Moses brought down from the mountain. This may imply that there were people who questioned the authority of the rabbis to make halakhic rulings and rule the community by their standards, and these stories were intended to show that their Torah was from heaven just like Moses'.

[6] Urbach, p. 11.

[7] Ibid., p. 15.

[8] Ibid., p. 23, quoting Hekhalot Rabbati, ch. 28-29 in Jellinek's edition, ch. 29-31 in Wertheimer's edition.

[9] The Faces of the Chariot by David Halperin (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1988), pp. 437-441.

[10] Urbach, p. 25, quoting from Hekhalot Rabbati, ch. 20 in Jellinek's edition, ch. 21 in Wertheimer's edition.

[11] Halperin, Merkabah and Rabbinic Literature, p. 62.

[12] Ibid., p. 105.

[13] Ibid., p. 176.

The Hekhalot Literature and Halakha

Works to be discussed: "The Knowledge of Halakha by the Author (or Authors) of the Heikhaloth," by Saul Lieberman, Appendix 2 to Apocalyptic and Merkavah Mysticism by Ithamar Gruenwald[1] and "The Recall of Rabbi Nehuniah ben Ha-Qanah from Ecstasy in the Hekhalot Rabbati," by Lawrence Schiffman.[2]

As we saw above, in chapter two of Jewish Gnosticism, Scholem discussed the issue of the halakhic nature of the HL, and he brought in the story of the recall of R. Nehuniah b. Ha-Qanah. In his article Lieberman examined the same incident and explained the halakha of this incident. According to him, the halakha was decided according to the Baraita de-Niddah, a book of very strick halakha regarding niddah. The cloth was imbued with a strong odor of balsam for the purpose of fooling R. Nehuniah so that he would not think that an impure cloth was touching him. Lieberman saw this incident as proof that the Jewish mystics were not only masters of aggada, but also scholars "at home in the subtle intricacies of the halakha."[3]

Schiffman's interpretation runs counter both to Scholem and Lieberman. While acknowledging the halakhic background of the passage, he points to an additional factor not mentioned by the other writers: the magical praxis. He introduces evidence from Sefer ha-Razim and Harba de-Moshe to show that foliatum and balsam oil were used in various magical rituals, and a passage from HR (one of the Geniza fragments published by Gruenwald) to show that foliatum and balsam were poured in the seventh hall over the one who comes "to see the king in his beauty." In his opinion, in this connection they were used as a method of purification for the initiate, and he sees this as the reason for their use in chapter 18 of HR. Unlike Lieberman, he see them not as a means to mask the possible smell of menstrual blood, but as a magical praxis to limit the impurity attached to the cloth by the possible contact with a niddah. Schiffman concludes by taking this as an example of the hekhalot passages which would be further explicated by examining the hellenistic magical tradition. He says that while Scholem is right to see a halakhic element in the HL, it is often modified and even transformed by the context in which it appears. Schiffman's approach is intriguing, both because he makes use of the magical material to explain the HL and because he shows how magical and halakhic elements can work together.

[1] Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1980, pp. 241-244.

[2] AJS Review 1: 269-281, 1976.

[3] Lieberman, p. 244.

Shiur Qomah

Works to be discussed: "Mishnat Shir ha-Shirim" by Saul Lieberman;[1] "Shiur Qomah: The Mystical Form of Divinity," (Hebrew) by Gershom Scholem; [2] "The Book of Elkasai and Merkabah Mysticism," by J. M. Baumgarten;[3] "The Concept of the Torah in the Hekhalot Literature and its Transformations in Kabbalah," (Hebrew) by Moshe Idel;[4] "The Impact of Priestly Traditions on the Creation of Merkabah Mysticism and the Shiur Komah," (Hebrew) by Ithamar Gruenwald;[5] The Shi‘ur Qomah: Liturgy and Theurgy in Pre-Kabbalistic Jewish Mysticism by Martin Cohen;[6] The Shi‘ur Qomah: Texts and Recensions by Martin Cohen;[7] "Shi‘ur Qoma: Rezensionen und Urtext," by Peter Schäfer.[8]

In Jewish Gnosticism, Scholem set the agenda for the future study of SQ by 1) linking it to ch. 5 of the Song of Songs, 2) proposing that it was an esoteric reading of the Song of Songs and hence led to the restriction on the study of the Song of Songs noted among Jews by Origen, 3) therefore dating it early, to the 3rd century at least, 4) connecting it to Gnosticism because of Markos the Gnostic's use of letter mysticism in his description of the "body of Truth." In his article, Lieberman supports Scholem's first argument by showing the Tannaitic traditions that asserted that the Song of Songs was given at the Red Sea or at Sinai. The same rabbis who asserted this also asserted that when the Israelites assembled at the Sea they saw God as a young warrior, and the Merkabah he descended in, and that at Sinai they saw him as an old man full of mercy, as well as the Merkabah (sometimes it is maintained that thousands of merkabot descended with him). For this reason he accepted Scholem's contention that "the mishnah of Shiur Qomah is an early midrash to the Song of Songs, ch. 5:10-16, which was included in the ancient midrash of the Song of Songs. The Shiur Qomah is adulation and praise of the Holy One, blessed be He, in a form which is beyond our understanding."[9] Lieberman also points out that the Shiur Qomah was known to Jews in later times, and refers to Eleazar Kallir's use of it in his piyyutim. The geonim, Saadia, and even Maimonides in his youth gave it a high estimation. He identifies the midrash on the Song of Songs, ma‘aseh merkabah and SQ.[10] Referring to Origen's comments on the Song of Songs, he says that although the Mishnah does not forbid the reading or the translating of the Song of Songs, apparently "we have a strict ruling which the people accepted on itself, which was not according to the opinion of the sages."[11]

Scholem: "Shiur Qomah, The Mystical Form of Divinity." In this article Scholem deals much more with the content of the SQ than in his previously mentioned works. In Scholem's opinion apocalyptic comes from the attempts of people who read the visions of Ezekiel to have similar visions. The literature which arose out of these attempts described the divine court, but not generally the divine figure itself. Nonetheless this figure became an object of study. The heavenly ascensions were successful not only if the mystic came before the throne of glory, but also if he merited a revelation of God's form, the Creator sitting on the throne. This form was the divine glory, that side of God which was revealed. This is the "mystical form of God," the "measure of the stature," the shiur qomah. The word qomah means height or size in biblical Hebrew and body in Aramaic. These ideas are found in sections from the HL, which saw in the anthropomorphism of the Shiur Qomah descriptions of the hidden glory. In one of these sections from HZ, R. Akiba says, "As it were, he is like us, and he is larger than all, and this is his glory, which is hidden from us."[12]

In this article Scholem again asserts that the passages from the Shiur Qomah are connected to the Song of Songs, particularly the descriptions of the lover from chapter 5. The Shiur Qomah gives the measures of the limbs of God and their names. Perhaps this is connected to letter combinations found on some Greek amulets and in the Greek magical papyri, in which a person is drawn with letters covering the limbs. The names are connected to the same realm as the Shiur Qomah. Both Greek and Semitic sounding elements are found in a mixture. Scholem hypothesizes that they come from mystical ecstasy and experiences of glossolalia.

The numbers themselves deny all possibility of actually seeing God (since they make him so immense), and perhaps the original intention was to make a numerical harmony between the different measures. The spiritual substance of God did not strike these mystics, rather his tremendous majesty. They gave numbers to every limb, but even though they account for all the measures, they miss the goal, and the anthropomorphism suddenly becomes spiritual. In the middle of one of these descriptions, they suddenly break off and assert,
The appearance of the face is like the appearance of the cheeks, and the appearance of the cheeks and the face is like the image of the spirit (or wind) and the form of the soul; no creature can know it. His body is like tarshish; his splendor shines terribly from the midst of the darkness, cloud and fog surround him, all the princes of the countenance and the seraphim are poured out before him like a pitcher. Thus we have no measure except the names revealed to us.[13]
While the other sections assert the necessity of giving the numbers, this one denies the possibility and concentrates on the names, "in the pure language," which is the esoteric langauge of the holy and pure names.[14] Scholem uses this "pure language" to make a connection, as before, with the letter mysticism of Markos. What is called by Markos the "primordial man" is called in SQ "the form like the appearance of a man" which Ezekiel saw on the throne of glory.

In the SQ divinity is revealed in two ways: 1) in a tangible form as a man on the throne of glory, 2) in a form which can be heard, the divine names. The divine form is not grasped as an idea or concept but as a system of names. The duality of tangible and linguistic anthropomorphism fills the Shiur Qomah texts.

Scholem assumes that the teaching about the form of God is very early and therefore could have been passed on to Gnostic groups by Jews who went to them who had converted to Christianity. He finds further evidence for its early dating in 2 Enoch. He quotes ch. 13, in which Enoch says, "You see the measure of my body, like yours, and I saw the measure of the Lord, without measure and without form, and having no end." He sees further evidence of the spread of this idea in the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies (sermon 17). In this article he also keeps to his earlier conclusions about Origen, and he continues to maintain that these ideas are not heretical, but were found in the very center of rabbinic Judaism in the Tannaitic and Amoraic periods. This teaching was orthodox; the creator, the subject of the visions, is not a lowly creature on the ladder of some heretical sect, like the Gnostic demiurge. In the SQ he is the true God, as he is revealed in his mystical form. Perhaps from this orthodox Gnosis of SQ arose the dualism of later Gnosis at the beginning of the second century. Perhaps even the term yotzer bereishit (demiurge) is intended as a kind of polemic against the Gnostic groups who denigrated the demiurge.

Scholem discusses the later use of SQ by the payyetan Kallir, the controversy over it between R. Saadia Gaon and the Karaities, and a responsum of R. Sherira Gaon about it to the Jews of Fez. R. Sherira saw it as a very old mystical doctrine stemming from R. Ishmael, but Saadia had more reservations than he did, and suggested that it might be pseudepigraphical. Maimonides denying that it was valuable or from the rabbis, said it was from a Greek preacher and should be wiped out. The last part of the article describes the use of the concepts of SQ in the later kabbalah.

Baumgarten. In this article Baumgarten describes several ways in which Elkesai (second century founder of the Jewish-Christian sect into which Mani was born) was knowledgeable about Jewish mystical practices known from the HL. His first two examples seem unlikely to me, but the third is interesting. According to Epiphanius in his Panarion (19, 4, 1), Elkesai described both Christ and the Holy Spirit as having certain immense physical measurements. According to Baumgarten, Elkesai's sect was not antinomian; it insisted on circumcision, marriage, Sabbath observance, and prayer in the direction of Jerusalem. While not wishing to get into the whole question of Jewish Christianity, this information seems interesting to me with regard to SQ. While it does not prove that the SQ texts as we know them existed in any form in the second century, it does provide evidence that similar ideas existed at that time about the measurement of divine beings. To my mind this is a more certain argument for the early dating of some ideas of SQ than Scholem's tying SQ to Song of Songs and hence to Origen's list of restricted books.

Idel. The first section of this paper is devoted to the concept of the Torah in the Hekhalot literature, particularly the sections devoted to Shiur Qomah. The later sections, which do not concern us, deal with the transformations of this concept in the later Kabbalah. Idel's starting point is not the Hekhalot texts themselves, but a section from the Karaite Salmon b. Yeruhim's "Book of the Wars of the Lord," a polemical tract against the Rabbanites, which among other things denounces them for their anthropo- morphist theology. In this book the tradition (which is also found in the HL) of humans ascending to heaven (specifically R. Ishmael) to gain "secrets" from the angels specifically refers to their learning the secret of the measurements of God, SQ. The Talmudic tradition of Moses who went up to heaven and got the Torah against the objections of the angels is paralleled to R. Ishmael's journey to get the "secret" of the Torah, which is both the secret, divine names and the measurements of the divine body, as well, perhaps as a special secret method of studying the Torah. There are two stages of divine revelation: 1) the public revelation of the Torah to Moses, 2) the secret revelation of the secret method of reading and understanding the Torah which R. Ishmael gets. The opposition of the angels is similar in both cases.

Is there a connection between the secret of the Torah as the measurements of the divine body and as divine names? Idel found a number of traditions which speak of the bodily measurements of the names of God. He also found traditions which speak of the immense dimensions of the pre-existing Torah itself, and which talk about the Torah being "black fire written on white fire." The white fire is nothing other than the "arm" of God on which the Torah is written, since before the world existed there was nothing else to write it on. In his opinion, it is reasonable to suppose that there were traditions about other parts of the divine body on which the Torah was written, but none have been found among the HL. In a later text from the Hasidei Ashkenaz, he did find a method of gematria for transform- ing words from the Torah into measurements or into the secret names of God's limbs. It cannot be known if this was the exact method used in the SQ, but perhaps a similar method was used to produce both the names and the measurements. Even if this was not the same method, it is very important that this later writer also found in the hidden parts of the Torah a hint to the limbs of God. In any case, the concept of the Torah as being the secret names of God is basic both to the SQ and the HL.

Idel's pointing to the similarity between the ascension of R. Ishmael and of Moses was important in developing Halperin's ideas about the development of the HL, we will see later on in the discussion of Faces of the Chariot. Also, although this is not a point which he specifically makes, it seems one which is easily derived from his analysis: instead of seeing the SQ as a particularly bizarre, freestanding tradition which appears alongside Hekhalot traditions, he shows how the concept of the divine name unites the two of them.

Gruenwald. Most of this paper does not discuss the SQ. Rather, it has to do with his thesis about the tensions between the Jerusalem priesthood and those who wrote the apocalyptic literature, and the consequences among the Tannaim and the writers of the HL. Only in the last part of this article does Gruenwald discuss the Shiur Qomah. He begins by noting that Lieberman's article (noted above) contains only three quotes from the SQ, versus many from the Tannaim and the Amoraim on the midrash of Song of Songs. Gruenwald thinks that there is no necessary inner connection between these two things, aside from the fact they are each connected in some way to the Song of Songs. There is a great distance between them in the way they are discussed in the HL and in the rabbinic literature. Therefore this connection cannot be used to date SQ in the way that Scholem or Lieberman do.

Gruenwald also throws doubt on the thesis[15] that the authors of the SQ wrote in the way they did ultimately to convey the idea of the immeasureability of God. If they did, then why did they use a method which could easily be taken as affirming the anthropomorphic position and not its reverse (as indeed Salmon b. Yeruhim and Grätz assumed it did)? He thinks the authors of SQ described God in terms of measurements because of the way Judaism deals with holiness in general: it defines it in very specific (halakhic) terms, including measurements. As an example he gives the many measurements of the Temple (both earthly and heavenly) found in Ezekiel, Josephus, the Temple Scroll, and the Mishnaic tractate "Middot." As in these attempts, the authors of the SQ attempted to define the holiness of God through numbers. In this he sees a connection with those priestly writers who attempted to define the holiness of the Temple also in its measurements.

Cohen. Shiur Qomah: Liturgy and Theurgy. This book, which was Cohen's Ph.D. thesis, provides an analysis of the Shiur Qomah and a trans-lation with commentary of one recension of Sefer HaQomah. The first chapter is an excellent summary of the previous research on Shiur Qomah. He differs with several earlier scholars. Jellinek, in Bet haMidrash, asserted that SQ had a Jewish origin and was an elaboration of the description of the bridegroom found in the Song of Songs.[16] Cohen criticizes this view, saying that the Song of Songs passage (from ch. 5) is not used as a proof text, nor is it used as a basis for the description of the divine body. Gaster added consideration of Markos' type of Gnosticism as a parallel type of speculation and dated it quite early.[17] Scholem agreed with Jellinek that the body of the Creator is a close analogy to the body of the lover in ch. 5 of Song of Songs. He also (as we have seen) took up Gaster's idea about Markos' speculation. Cohen questions the relevance of this passage for the SQ, because it really does not seem very close to SQ ideas. He also criticizes Lieberman's thesis, saying that just because there is evidence for extreme anthropomorphic speculations in Tannaitic times does not mean that the SQ can be dated to that time. Gruenwald is the first author to note that the SQ is meant to be recited (in Apocalyptic and Merkavah Mysticism) but he doesn't develop this insight any further.

In Cohen's opinion the Shiur Qomah goes back to a single Urtext composed by a single author at a particular time.[18] He presumes that each of the manuscript versions of the text is a "reworking of an original fund of speculative information which served, in its literary form, as the Urtext behind all the recensions."[19] The Urtext itself no longer exists. The earliest attestations are from Saadia and Salmon b. Yeruhim (9th-10th century). It is implausible that the SQ data could have been transmitted orally. He dates it after the close of the Talmud (after the 5th century), early enough to have been cited by Kallir (6th century), and long enough before Saadia and Salmon to have acquired an air of antiquity which they took for granted. The text also contains a paraphrase of the conclusion of the Talmud. An additional reason to date it late is that there is no mention at all of SQ traditions in BT Hag. ch. 2. He dates the Urtext itself to the 6th century, and says that it probably was of Babylonian provenance (because of the reference to Metatron, an important figure in SQ, on the magic bowls from Babylonia).

In his opinion the motivation for this text lay in 1) defense of an anthropomorphic conception of God, 2) theurgy; the same Metatron who reveals the figures and secret names in the SQ figures in some of the magic bowls in a theurgic context. In addition, the injunction to repeat the text as a "mishnah" to acquire long life and a future life in the world to come is basically theurgy. He sees the original fund of names and figures as the result of an actual experience of mystic communion with God. The Urtext made this fund into a theurgical text, and then that text was worked into form like that of the Hekhalot texts. In his opinion the HL provides the background and framework for reading the various recensions of the SQ.

Ch. 5.5. Against Lieberman, Cohen maintains that the SQ is not a midrash. The verses of the Song of Songs which are quoted in it form part of the liturgical framework on which the theurgy of the text is built. All later attempts to rationalize the SQ, particularly Saadia and the Hasidei Ashkenaz see the measurements as referring to the image of God, not God himself, while the author of SQ seems to consider the measurements actually to have been of the God of Israel (see Scholem on this issue).

Ch. 5.6. The figure of Metaton may have been added in after the composition of the Urtext, as part of the effort to present the text as a literary Merkabah text. The personality and role of Metatron is a strong link tying the text of SQ to other branches of mystical and rabbinic literature.

Ch. 6. The recensions of SQ are part of the hekhalot genre. The details, descriptive passages, poems and hymns are mostly derived from hekhalot mysticism. The recensions restore SQ to its original genre, since the original text was composed as a work of theurgy.[20] Just after making these remarks, Cohen says that the recensions eliminate the theurgic aspect and try to recast the text in the mold of the classic texts of hekhalot mysticism.[21] There are numerous lexical parallels between SQ and HR, which suggest to him a common authorship or common milieu. Their authors may have come from the same circles, differing only in the metaphoric contexts in which they chose to analyze their experiences. SQ and the other works of HL have a clear inner relationship; they are all members of a common genre.[22]

Cohen seems confused about the relationship between SQ and HL. On the one hand, he posits a single Urtext, which is then made into a work of theurgy, and then put into a hekhalot framework. On the other hand, he posits that they come from the same circle of authors. He seems handi-capped here by his hypothesis of an Urtext, which keeps him from seeing clearly the links between the HL and the SQ, because he is so convinced of the singularity of the SQ. At no point does he mention the theurgic qualities of the HL, which might have helped him in his analysis: the "Great Seal" and "Awesome Crown" sections, the adjurations of the Sar Torah and the Sar haPanim, and the theurgic aspects of the ascent to the hekhalot in HR. Viewed in the context of the HL as a whole, SQ's theurgy seems of a piece with it, and thus the sections which he views as interpolations (hekhalot hymns, Metatron, etc.) are no more interpolations than they are anywhere else in the HL. The concept of "interpolations" also seems to come from his idea that there was a single Urtext. If there was an Urtext, then everything else has to be an interpolation. (See Peter Schäfer's criticism of the idea that it is possible to find an Urtext for any of the HL, and his ideas of "Macroforms" and "Microforms" of the HL, below). Despite this criticism, Cohen has does something very important in this book by insisting on the theurgical nature of the SQ. (However, this part of his argument is weakened by his insistence that the original fund of names and measurements came from a mystical experience; see Idel's article, above, for a suggestion on how these names and numbers could have been generated).

Cohen. Shiur Qomah: Texts and Recensions. In the introduction Cohen reiterates the conclusions he came to in his earlier book. He is somewhat clearer about certain matters. He delineates the three stages of the book as follows: 1) the Urtext of the names and measurements, 2) the theurgic context, in which the data was presented as a daily prayer-text, the recitation of which gave the reciter great reward; biblical verses were added to give the theurgy a liturgical frame, 3) later editors added merkavah hymns and prose passages to make the text a "more standard merkavah text."[23] Against Schäfer's opinion that it is impossible to find an Urtext for any of the HL, Cohen maintains that while this may be true for the SQ materials in JTS ms. 8128, and Munich ms. 22, which are not real literary works, merely sections of Shiur Qomah traditions, this is not true of the five recensions which he found. They are "very early attempts to provide the text with a literary setting."[24] By the 9th or 10th century there certainly was a literary format for the SQ. He claims to have found a manuscript copy of the Urtext of the SQ in British Library ms. 10675 (Gaster ms. 187) and gives various arguments for considering it the Urtext: 1) it is very old, from the tenth or eleventh centuries C.E.; 2) it is given the title Shiur Qomah, which is clearly the name of the other recensions; 3) the superscription is the same as that used at the beginning of a liturgical reading of Mishnah; this heading reflects the liturgical aspect of the text; 4) content: it contains the sections that are common to all of the recensions, which must be from the Urtext.

Schäfer. In this article he throws considerable doubt on Cohen's conclusions about the Urtext for SQ. First of all, against Cohen's dating of the "Urtext" (ms. 10675) to the 10th-11th century, he dates it to the 18th century, based on the evidence of the watermarks.[25] Although the dating of manuscripts is only provisionally a strong argument for the dating of the texts contained in them, nevertheless it makes a difference whether a manuscript comes from the late middle ages or from the 10th-11th century, because in the last case it stands much closer to the supposed Gaonic origin of the text tradition.[26] However, this is only a partial argument against Cohen's thesis of an Urtext. For further support, he outlines the contents of the oldest texts of the SQ, from the Cairo Geniza. All the known Geniza fragments offer a text which exceeds the limits set by the alleged Urtext. In view of the results of this analysis the thesis of an Urtext represented by one singular manuscript is very problematic. Even if one accepts Cohen's dating of British Library ms. 10675, because the Geniza fragments are no younger than the age of the "Urtext" given by Cohen, the expansion to a (or several) similar version(s) of the Sefer HaQomah recension must have occurred simultaneously with the redaction of the Urtext. A much more probable thesis is of fluctuating text material that takes on different configurations, and which cannot be described in a linear developmental process.

The fact that the manuscript of the alleged Urtext carries the explicit title "Shiur Qomah" is less impressive. Despite what Cohen said in his introduction, British Library ms. 10675 is in not the only ms. with this title. More significant is the citation from Isaiah 60.21 at the beginning of the ms., (it also appears at the beginning of each chapter of Avot) which, as Cohen correctly emphasizes, refers to the liturgical use of the text. This concrete formula is not only unique in a SQ text, but also in the HL as a whole. However, this observation must also be seen in comparison to the rest of the HL, because the liturgical use of the Hekhalot texts is common. Just as the Urtext ends with the order to learn=to recite it daily "as a mishna", also the midrash of the Sar Tora tells us that one "fixes" it three times daily after the prayer. According to Schäfer, none of the arguments of Cohen proves to be really valid. Neither the age of the ms. nor (above all else) the structure of the text nor its liturgical use speaks for an especially old version in relation to the other texts and text fragments, not to mention proving the existence of an Urtext. The search after an Urtext is methodologically obsolete.

[1] Appendix D to Scholem's book Jewish Gnosticism, pp. 118-126.

[2] Pirkei Yesod be-Havanat ha-Kabbalah u-Semaleha, by Gershom Scholem, translated from German by Joseph Dan (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1976), pp. 153-187.

[3] Journal of Jewish Studies 17 (2), December 1986.

[4] Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 1 (1980), pp. 23-84 (Hebrew).

[5] Proceedings volume, pp. 65-120.

[6] Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1983.

[7] Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1985.

[8] Hekhalot-Studien by Peter Schäfer (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1988), pp. 75-83.

[9] Lieberman, p. 123 (my translation).

[10] Ibid., p. 126.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Scholem, p. 158, quoting Hekhalot Zutarti, in Sefer Merkabah Shelemah (ed. Musayoff, Jerusalem, 1922), pp. 32a-33b (my translation).

[13] Ibid., p. 161, quoting Merkavah Shelemah, p. 37a (my translation).

[14] Ibid.

[15] Espoused by Joseph Dan in his article "The Concept of Knowledge in the Shiur Qomah," in Studies in Jewish Religion and Intellectual History Presented to A. Altmann, ed. by Stein and Loewe (University of Alabama Press, 1979), pp. 67-73.

[16] Bet ha-Midrasch, vol. 6, edited by A. Jellinek (Jerusalem: Wahrmann Books, 1967 (3rd printing)), pp. xxxxii-xxxxiii.

[17] Gaster, Moses. "Das Shiur Qomah," MGWJ 37 (1893), pp. 179-185, 213-230.

[18] Cohen, Shiur Qomah: Liturgy and Theurgy, p. 43.

[19] Ibid., p. 51.

[20] Ibid., p. 167.

[21] Ibid., p. 168. For some reason, Cohen contradicts himself here. Before, he has maintained the view that the SQ stems from its own Urtext, into which has been mixed hekhalot material. Perhaps he momentarily realized that the HL could also be seen theurgically, but was unwilling to follow up on this idea and thus reverted to his earlier concept of the relation between SQ and HL.

[22] Ibid., p. 179.

[23] Cohen, Texts, p. 4.

[24] Ibid., p. 5.

[25] Schäfer, "Shiur Qoma," p. 76. He relied on Maleachi Beit-Arie's examination of the original manuscript in London.

[26] Ibid.