Friday, June 24, 2011

Daily Hekhalot: Hekhalot Zutarti §420c (A Universal Vision of the Angelic Throne Keeper)

Having discussed the first two parts of Hekhalot Zutarti §420 here and here, today we complete this particular pericope. I want to thank those who have commented on these previous posts to suggest emendations and alternative interpretations--they have been quite helpful.

This portion of the pericope designated in Schäfer's Synopse zur Hekhalot as §420 reaches a climactic moment of disclosure of this particular angel's heavenly position and heavenly duties. In the post on §420a, we already learned that he is in charge of crowning(?) or perhaps adorning(?) the divine crown. The in the second post on §420b, we discovered that he dwells at the entrance to the heavenly courtroom and even burns the hands (and feet) of the mystic seeking entrance, although we do not know why. Now we finally see this angel in his fully heavenly duties before the throne itself, and a much more general human response to the sight of him:

והוא עומד לפני כסא הכבוד נוכח דיבר שרפים ששמו כשמו ושם אחד הוא
 והוא עומד מכסא הכבוד ומתקן את הכסא ומלביש את החלוק ומהדר את החשמל ופותח שערי ישועה להראן חן וחסד ורחמים בעיני כל רואיו וכל הרואים אותו בין בחור בין בתולה בין נער בין זקן בין איש בין אשה בין גוי בין אמה בין אשראל ירוצו לקראתו ויאהבוהו לשלמו וירוצו בטובתו וישמחו בפרנסתו בין בטובתו בין שלא בטובתו‪.‬

And he stands before the throne of glory arguing, speaking; seraphim set him in his place and there he is alone. And he stands from the throne of glory and he prepares the throne and dresses the garment and crowns the hashmal and opens the gates of redemption to show favor and grace and compassion in the eyes of each who sees him. And all who see him--both young man and virgin girl, young and old, man and woman, foreigner and handmaid and Israel--will desire to call to him and will love him to complete/stop/appease(?) him and they will desire his goodness and will rejoice in his provision both with his goodness and without his goodness.

N8128 omits והוא עומד.
N8128, M40, and D436 read הכבוד; M22 and O1531 read כבוד.
O1531 and N8128 read דיבר and דבר respectively; M40 and D436 read דבר דיבר; and M22 reads טומח דירדטופוס.
N8128 adds שריפיתיש before שרפים.
O1531 has בשמו rather than כשמו.
M22 has בכסא rather than מכסא.
M22 omits the consecutive ו before מתקן. N8128 omits את after מתקן.
Schäfer emends O1531, adding the י to מלביש.
M40, M22, and D436 omit the את before החשמל.
N8128, O1531, M22 read פתח rather than פותח
N8128 and D436 read להראן; O1531, להראןתן; M40, להדראן חן; M22, להראו חן. M40 seems the least likely; all others could work.
N8128 omits ורחמים; M22 has ולרחמים.
Instead of בעיני כל רואיו וכל הרואים אותו N8128 reads לכל העולין למרכבה; O1531 reads הרואין אתו.
In general, D436 uses כן instead of בין; N8128 omits בין זקן.
Only N8128 and M22 have בין אשה; O1531 has איש ישראל and moves straight to בין דוי.
N8128 has בין עבד after בין ישראל.
M40 and D436 have ויאהבוהו; M22, ויאהב; O1531, ויהבו; and N8128, ויהיו לי שלום.
M40 has ולרוצו; M22, וירצו.
N8128 has לפרנסתו.
M22 has בטובתם.

While this is a longer post than usual, this completes §420. Here we finally see this highly placed angelic figure in all of his activities. He not only is in charge of the divine crown, but, as we suspected, ministers directly before the divine throne of glory. He has some interesting activities there. As one might expect in the heavenly throne room, there are seraphim there. They seem to set this princely angel in his place--a singular place of distinction before the throne. He speaks and/or argues before the throne--on behalf of someone, such as Israel?

In addition to the crown, he prepares the throne itself. It turns out he is also the divine seamster; that is, he takes care of the divine haluq--something like an undershirt usually, but here seeming to be the divine cloak or garment (cf. Hekhalot Rabbati §102). He adorns the hashmal--that usually untranslatable word from Ezek. 1 (although today is used for "electricity"). Perhaps the role of arguing relates to this final part, since he also opens the gates of redemption.

This part, however, is curious: it is for all who see him. This seeing is mentioned twice, so is probably an important element. So he grants favor and compassion and redemption to those who see him. And then we get the whole list of potential seers, and, surprisingly, they include nearly anyone: young or old, male or female, foreigner or Israelite, and between "handmaid" and some of the variants, potentially slave or free (see N8128). (n.b., there are quite a few variants in this list.) This is quite startling, in fact, since typically those doing the seeing in the Hekhalot texts are Jewish males, usually rabbis of the tannaitic period. Does this open up visions to others--notably to women, foreigners, and those who lack elite status? I wonder. If so, we should ask how they see and, perhaps more importantly, when they see. Indeed, the verb tense shifts to the future. They WILL see him. Is this, therefore, an eschatological vision? An eschatological redemption? The sight of him will be a future disclosure. And it is a redeeming sight that leads to a desire for him. If that is the case, the mystical proleptic journey and vision may remain an elite Jewish male privilege in the hekhalot texts, while vouchsafing a more general vision in the future for people of all walks of life. If that is the case, this passage envisions a greater universality in the eschatological scene, which is not exclusive in terms of gender, ethnicity, age, or status. This gracious vision that crisscrosses social distinctions almost sounds like the early Christian baptismal formula cited by Paul in Gal. 3:28: "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female." Although the difference is that Galatians appears to negate social distinctions, whereas in Hekhalot Zutarti the divine vision is available to all regardless of social distinctions--although this may be a distinction without a difference. I seeing this angel--recall the vision is what is important--and desiring of this angel that includes potentially anyone the mystical answer to the Christian formula? There is still a hint of division in such a scene, however: while all may rejoice, they do not all rejoice with his goodness; it seems some rejoice without his goodness…. Nonetheless, the implications are very unique in Hekhalot literature--to my knowledge--and therefore require some pause.

As usual, all comments, emendations, alternative views of this passage are welcome. Next we will continue with Hekhalot Zutarti §421, which is a slightly shorter pericope.


Nir said...

I would translate the first bit "He stands before the Throne of Glory, before the speech of seraphim (cf. Isa. 6), for his name is as His name, it is the same name"

Also, could the last part refer to the mystic being seen rather than an angel? One would imagine that angels don't need "provision"...

בין בטובתו בין שלא בטובתו is idiomatic, "whether willingly or unwillingly"

Jared said...

Thanks Nir. I was in between "there" and "name" on this passage. I liked what I could do with either one. But given the importance of the name earlier in the pericope, it makes sense that this would continue.

I was reading the passage as the angel opening the gates of redemption and providing provision for those who see him. So I wasn't reading that the angel needed provision, but gave it to those who saw him.

Keep the critiques and comments coming!

Jared said...

Quick question: What is your translation doing with the נוכח?

Jared said...

One more thing: You got me thinking about the implications of the idiom at the end: are they rejoicing unwillingly?

Nir said...

נוכח is a preposition, "before, facing"

Hmm, perhaps the mystic would rather not be provided for? Self-sufficiency is a virtue

Jared said...

I kept reading נוכח as a nif. of יכח; thus, the "arguing," although with your emendation I was thinking of "justified." I probably was predisposed for a speaking word there with דיבר coming just after--which I had read as pi'el rather than as a noun. I was admittedly less comfortable with my translation there and find your reading clearer.

If "facing," that makes for an interesting phrase since it would be a spatial preposition with regard to the speech of the seraphim.

Nir said...

That is indeed curious. The preposition נוכח in the Bible has visual connotations, occurring as נוכח פנים (Num. 19:4, Jer. 17:16, Ezk. 14:3, Lam. 2:19) or נוכח עינים (Prov. 5:21).

Rebecca said...

This is indeed a puzzling passage. Right now, for a paper I'm working on, I'm trying to figure out what it means. It's the only passage in the Hekhalot texts themselves that refers to women (whether free or slave) having the vision of an angel. Your suggestion that this is an eschatological vision is intriguing - that in the future the gates of salvation will open to all, and all will seek this angel. James Davila (in Descenders to the Chariot, p. 279) translates the last sentence differently: “whether or not he returns the favor.”

Jared said...

Rebecca, I do change my translation a bit in the "synthesis" post to "willingly or unwillingly." But that does not change the point you are most interested in. I actually was quite surprised to see both women and foreigners involved.

In a paper I am currently publishing on "seeing God in late antique Judaism," I talk about how both women and Gentiles are excluded from a direct revelation of God (whether a vision or audition), but the same texts allow them to see an angel or other intermediary of God. So, perhaps since this is an angelic vision--albeit the highest angel--it is still in line with a great deal of contemporary thought.

Jared said...

By the way, Rebecca, I don't think there will be much more of interest in the rest of §421. Is there any other pericope that you want to look at?