Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Daily Hekhalot: Hekhalot Zutarti §420b (Burning the Hands)

For our daily Hekhalot, we are continuing to work through §§420-421 in Hekhalot Zutarti. Today we are on §420b. For §420a see here. Last time we discovered that the descender to the chariot encounters an important angelic figure, whose name is a privileged disclosure. This angel's importance--so far--relates to being in charge of the divine crown. There was much difficulty in the previous passage in terms of pronoun usage--who's doing what to whom?--the translation of a couple key words, and so forth. Today is a little more straightforward in some respects. We are still in the middle of the speech by R. Ishmael about the same angel. The pronouns are a little clearer--instead of a proliferation of he's and him's, we now get a nice differentiation between I and he. We also get a reaction from the descender to the chariot--his hands (and likely feet) are curiously burned!

והוא עומד בפתח ראשון ומשמש בשער הגדול וכשראיתיו נשרפו ידי והייתי עומד בלא ידים ובלא רגלים עד שנראה לי פני יון השר ממשרתי עליונים

And he stands at the first entrance and ministers at the great gate; and when I saw him my hands were burned and I was standing without hands and without feet until he appeared to me, PNI YVN, the prince among the ministers of the uppermost (or uppermost ministers).

M22 transposes הוא and עומד
M40 and D436 has על פתח rather than בפתח.
M40 and D436 read ראשים rather than ראשון.
M22 has משתמש rather than משמש.
M22 has בשפר rather than בשער.
N8128 omits the ו before כשראיתיו.
D436 reads כשרפו rather than נשרפו
D436, M40, and N8128 all read ידי, but O1531 and M22 read ידיי, which makes more sense. Of all the mss., O1531 has given the least trouble, which makes me tend to trust its reading. For now, I will place the majority reading in the text, but I will translate as the form "my hands."
M22 adds ורגליי after ידיי, which makes sense of the next clause.
M22 and N8128 use עומר rather than עומד, which appears to be an orthographic mistake; M22 also spells הייתי as היתי.
M40 and D436 omit the second בלא; M22 spells רגלים as רגליים, which would aid in the pronunciation as a dual form.
M40 and D436 read פני יון, M22 reads פניון, O1531 reads פנייון, and N8128 reads פני יוון.
M22 adds a clarifying שהוא after השר; N8128 adds אחד in the same place.

There is still more to come in §420, but this is a good place to stop so that we do not get overwhelmed by the variants and so the post does not get too long (n.b., an important aspect will be coming in the next post--the very throne of glory).

Concerning the textual variants, which I haven't discussed much in my notes, there are a few patterns that emerge in this brief section. M40 and D436 often agree against the rest of the mss. M22 shows a great deal of visual errors, due to letters that look similar. M22, however, also has a tendency to clarify the text. For example, if the mystic "stands" without hands and feet, it makes sense that not just the hands but the feet were also burned.

The text, except for a couple points, is more straightforward than before. We learn more about the angel. He is at the entrance of the great gate. The great gate indicates that we are probably close to the goal of the divine throne room. We also get the mystic's response to the angel. The mystic sees the angel and, presumably the angel burns the mystic's hands (and feet?). The burning of the hands (and feet?) is curious. Although different passages in the Hekhalot often indicate the dangers of traveling through the heavenly realms, usually the mystic overcomes them and comes off unharmed. Perhaps this reaches back to an old tradition--such as found in an off-hand comment in 1 Enoch 14--that the mystic feels heat (and/or cold) when approaching the heavenly throne room. Instead of a generic feeling, however, the heat--the burning--is located specifically in the extremities of the hands and feet. I do not know offhand, but perhaps someone knows a tradition where the mystic is (ritually?) burned before entering the most holy, most heavenly court? Then there is the paradoxical remark about "standing" without (feeling one's?) hands or feet. Some of the texts change this to "speaking," but I think standing makes more sense given the setting that focuses on the hands and feet. The statement of standing without hands and feet might indicate that after the burning, these extremities go numb--they aren't felt. Overall, it seems to disable and disarm the mystic at the threshold of the divine throne room. I have chosen to read פני יון as the prince's name, but I have strong doubts about this. It is translatable, but it didn't make sense to me. It could be the "face of Greece," the "Face of Yavan (the progenitor of the Greeks)," the "face of thickness." But I have read "prince" in apposition to this, making פני יון either a name or title. This figure, however, is in quite a high position, being among--and prince among--the angelic ministers in the most high (the highest of the high--which corresponds to the holiest of the holy or holy of holies).

Next we will see even further up and further into the most holy and heavenly place to the throne of glory itself.

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