Thursday, June 30, 2011

Daily Hekhalot: Hekhalot Zutarti §421b (Defending the Mystic Against Slander)

Last time in our daily Hekhalot we learned a little about adjuring an angel named Anafiel to do one's bidding--and a very interesting part of the adjuration is that the instructions for it are given by Anafiel himself. This leads to a question: why would an angel willingly bind himself to a human's will? Really that is two questions: why would an ANGEL bind himself willingly to a HUMAN's will? Usually angels and humans are rivals in the Hekhalot literature--at least to some extent--although sometimes they are cooperative. And why would an angel WILLINGLY bind himself to a human's will? Why would an angel--or any being--willingly instruct another how to bind them to the other's will?

Today's text, which will be unusually short, continues the trend of cooperation, of the angelic assistance when called.


וכל מי שהוא מספר עליו לשון הרע מיד אני מכה אותו ומשחיתו חוץ ממלאך שהוא שליח מלך הכבוד


And everyone who speaks slander upon him immediately I (will) strike him and destroy him except for the angel who is the messenger of the king of glory.


N8128 omits מי.

M22 adds שיאמר after מי.

M22 has אינו rather than אני.

M40 and D346 omit לשון הרע.

N8128 uses מכהו and has ואפי instead of אותו.

N8128 and M22 have חוץ מן מלאך.

M22 is corrupt between שליח and הכבוד.


I think this part is fairly straightforward. Once adjured, the angel defends the mystic against slander ("an evil tongue"). (It is odd that two mss. omit "evil tongue," since this loses the entire point of the passage.) This likely indicates that reputation is important for the mystic. Jeff Rubenstein has argued in a couple books (Talmudic Stories, The Culture of the Babylonian Talmud) that in the latest levels of redaction of the Babylonian Talmud, the issues of slander and reputation receive heightened attention to the point that slandering someone and being slandered both could lead to death. It was definitely an issue of concern in late antique and early medieval Babylon. This mystic receives angelic assistance against such slander, heightening the stakes. While it seems the angel will defend the mystic--and strike and destroy anyone who slanders him--there is one limitation: the "messenger of the king of glory." Evidently if this figure slanders, Anafiel will not or cannot defend the mystic. I am guessing this angelic messenger is either too powerful or, if one treats a messenger the way one treats the sender of the message, it might be tantamount to an attack on the "king of glory."

I have yet to decide whether I want to work through the rest of §421; much of what is to come appears at first glance to be magical formulae that are likely untranslatable. But we'll see.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Daily Hekhalot: Hekhalot Zutarti §421a (Anafiel Speaks)

Having finished a preliminary textual apparatus, translation, and notes for Hekhalot Zutarti §420, we now turn to an equally preliminary glimpse at the subsequent pericope.


אמר ענפיאל כל מי שהוא מבקש להתפלל התפילה הזאת ולהתבונן במעשה יוצרו זכור לו אות אחת מן האותיות האילו שוב אינו נפנה לא לימינו ולא לשמאלו עד שאפנה ואעשה לו את חפצו


Anafiel said: Everyone who seeks to pray this prayer and to contemplate the works of his Creator should remember one sign/letter among these signs/letters: again we will not turn either to the right or to the left until I turn and I do for him his concern.


N8128 includes השר after ענפיאל, and omits מי after כל.

M22 adds את before התפילה.

N8128 uses זו instead of זאת.

N8128 and M22 use יזכור rather than זכור.

M22 has לנו rather than לו.

O1531 has אחד rather than אחת.

O1531 has האותות rather than האותיות.

N8128 has הללו instead of האילו.

M40 and N8128 have איני.

O1531 has לו instead of לא after נפנה.

M40 and D436 both have לא לימין ולא לשמאל; N8128 has לא לימיני ולא לשמאלי.

N8128 has לא אשה לי and omits את; M40 has כל instead of את.


As we ease into §421, we quickly switch gears. Here is another angel--or yet another name for the angelic keeper of the divine crown? Yet Anafiel is known from other sources in the Hekhalot texts. He shows up on Hekhalot Rabbati §§241-248 as well as Sefer Hekhalot / 3 Enoch §26. On Anafiel in general, see Rebecca Lesses, Ritual Practices to Gain Power, 359-362.

There is another major shift. Instead of a mystic, such as R. Ishmael or R. Akiva speaking and giving advice to the would-be descender to the chariot or adjurer of the Prince, here it is the angel himself who speaks and gives directions--something more reminiscent of 3 Enoch / Sefer Hekhalot, where Metatron speaks at great length to R. Ishmael.

Anafiel's directions regard some proper behavior for the mystic. In general, he is quite vague so far: it regards a prayer and reflecting upon creation. The prayer is probably particular and powerful--since there are further instructions on how to carry it out--but it is not (yet) stated or indicated in the passage. Reflecting upon the works of creation is a little clearer. It may reflect the issues of forbidden topics of explication. The "work of Creation" (note the slight difference with singular vs. plural)--along with the work of the Chariot (Ezekiel 1)--is one of the forbidden topics of interpretation, and, indeed, considered quite a dangerous business (see b.Hag. 11b-16b for copious examples). The difficulty of this prayer and this reflection on creation is noted in what one needs to do in order to carry out these prayers and inquiries. I read turning neither to one's right nor left as a moral exhortation: one does not stray. One keeps this moral purity until Anafiel does the mystic's concern. Or, if not a moral exhortation, it may relate more to a single-mindedness: not resting or doing anything else until accomplishing this goal. In this reading, to meditate on creation requires angelic assistance.

Reflection upon divine things requires the permission or acquiescence of the divine (or at least angelic)--or even forcing the hand of the angel. If my reading of "we" is correct, this is acquired through the joint effort of both Anafiel and the mystic. Both must stay on a straight path--one that is direct, or morally straight, or both.

By way of contrast, one might compare Rebecca Lesses's reading: "again, I will not turn to the right or the left, until I turn and I do his will" (Ritual Practices 361). Her reading makes a good deal of sense in the overall context of adjuration: the angel is stating how to adjure him so that the mystic can make Anafiel do his--the mystic's--will. In her reading, however, Anafiel is basically using the "royal we"; therefore, the point is that Anafiel comes directly to the mystic's aid when adjured.

N.B.: if you read this post earlier, you may notice I have changed my mind on a few of the readings and interpretations. Since no one commented on the earlier version I did not feel compelled to retain it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Daily Hekhalot: §420 Synthesized and Revised

Before proceeding to Hekhalot Zutarti §421, I want to take stock of pericope 420. Having discussed it in three parts--part a, part b, and part c--I want to synthesize it into one continuous post. And, due to secondary considerations prompted by the conversations in the comments, I also want to alter the translations and consider the implications of the alterations. As usual, I will place the Hebrew script first and then proceed to the new translation. For the variants and additional interpretations, see the previous posts.


אמר רבי ישמאל על מי שתק השר
שהוא קורא אותו מגיהשה
שאין בריה בכל משרתים שיקרא אותו בשם הזה
ואת קורא אותו מגיהשה
מפני שהוא שני להדרירון הדר תוב הדר טהור הדר זיו
אוריה יה יה אלהי ישראל

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

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.

Rabbi Ishmael said: Concerning whom is the prince silent?
The one who calls him MGYHShH--there is no creature among all the ministers who will call him by this name and you call him MGYHShH--because he is distinguished to crown (or adorn) a good crown, a pure crown, a splendorous crown of the light of Yah Yah Yah God of Israel.

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).

And he stands before the throne of glory, facing (or in the presence of) the speech of the seraphim, for his name is as His name; it is the same name.

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 pacify/appease him and they will desire his goodness and will rejoice in his provision whether willingly or unwillingly.

Thanks to the comments, this, I think, is a clearer translation. You can also see that I am playing around with the formatting a bit to see if that helps visually to clarify what might be happening--for example, using the repetition of "he stands" as a guide.

The first line has been changed. As I noted before, it was possible to place the "concerning" as part of the direct or the indirect speech. Before I had it as indirect, but thought that was wrong almost immediately after I posted it. Here it is part of the direct. I am still not sure about the verb "to crown." There is clearly more going on with that word that has not been worked out. That's why I offer as a possible alternative--"adorn." I am sticking with "PNI YVN" as a name for now. It seems to be an alternate name for MGYHShH. PNI YVN may be a more exoteric name, and MGYHShH esoteric--since very few call him by it. With this alternative translation, however, it changes the "silent" from the mystic to the angel. Why is the angel, therefore, silent concerning this figure who can speak his name--this figure who turns out to be the mystic? The mystic calls, but the angel is silent.

In the comments, Nir pointed out what turned out to be some obvious mistakes with my first line of part c. So I have mostly followed the suggestions there and shifted to a much more interesting line: "facing the speech of the seraphim, for his name is as His name; it is the same name." I had misread the simple preposition נוכח as the niphal of יכח, which accounts for most of the mistakes of the line. And the emphasis on the "name" is more appropriate than "there." But let's take a look at the implications of the change. While the angel still seems to be in control of some sense of judgment (due to the later part of controlling the gates of redemption and people coming under his provision), it is not as evident in the first line as my original translation made it. On the other hand, it indicates that when before the throne he is also before the seraphic speech. I have deliberately not translated נוכח simply as "before"--there is a variation in terminology (using both לפני and נוכח) and so I thought I should preserve that in translation. Given the context, "facing" also denotes a spatial relationship to the "speech."

This makes this a fascinating line indeed. We normally do not associate speech with space, but it does make some sense--sounds come from places--"where is that noise coming from?" It indicates that, as in Isaiah 6, the seraphim are highly related to the throne itself. I have also suggested as an alternative "in the presence of." This might be relevant because sound is more ambient; it can surround you without clear directionality. Next, why not just say "before (or facing) the Seraphim" rather than the "speech of the Seraphim." Does that mean that the seraphim themselves are not seen or sensed--only their speech? I am not sure (and I kind of doubt it), but I think it does something else. This entire pericope has been very interested in different sensory experiences--and their absences. We begin with silence, and then calling. Then we turn to burning (touch) and perhaps numbness. Again with seraphic speech we have auditory emphasis. Oddly, although we presume an overall visual space--especially with the description of the crown, the garment, the hashmal, etc.--the pericope is conspicuously lacking in seeing terms.

Naming is clearly important. It was important in the first part of the pericope to know and call the angel's name; it only makes sense that this emphasis would continue. We, therefore, learn that the angel is able to stand before the throne because he shares his name with the one upon it--he is, perhaps, to be identified with the "angel of the LORD" and all the other angelic figures in apocalyptic literature that have the same name (e.g., Iaoel in Apocalypse of Abraham). Overall, as we knew before, this is a very highly placed angel--he is in charge of the crown, the divine garment, the hashmal; he controls the gates of redemption and so on--but now we know more: he has the divine name.

One question that remains: what are the implications of people rejoicing unwillingly? Is it that my reading of "universalism" is to be qualified now? That is, there is a more eschatological vision for all people, but people will not have a choice? If they look upon the angel (or perhaps seen by him), they have no choice but to desire the angel's provision? It is an automatic response.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Savories and Sweets

For cool cakes, check out this site from my wife. Her cakes are yummy! and cool!

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.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

More on Circumcision in San Francisco

Several individuals and the anti-defamation league have filed lawsuits against the current ballot initiative that would criminalize circumcision for boys under 18 years old. From
"Existing California law is clear," said Nancy Appel, Anti-Defamation League associate director in San Francisco, in a statement. "Only the state can make rules about medical procedures and this initiative violates that law. Not only does this initiative waste time, energy and expense, but it also offends the notions of parental rights and freedom of religion. It is unconstitutional and, as we allege in this lawsuit, contrary to California law."

See the rest here.

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.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Writing in the City of the Dead

I just saw this in NPR: archaeologists are studying the graffiti in the ancient Beit Shearim necropolis:

Aramaic is the lingua franca of the ancient Middle East, the linguistic root of modern day Hebrew and Arabic.

"Once you understand Aramaic," says Karen Stern, "you can read anything. You can read Hebrew, you can read Phoenician. I always call it the little black dress of Semitic languages."

Stern, 35, is an archaeologist and an assistant professor in the history department at Brooklyn College. Her passion is the tomb graffiti of the ancient Jews in what was then Roman Palestine. Graffiti has been "published, but sort of disregarded," she says. "Whereas I think it is intimate, vocal and spontaneous, and adds to the historical record."


"They were grapho-maniacal," Jonathan Price, head of the classics department at Tel Aviv University, says of the ancient Jews who were entombed here in the first and second centuries.

Over the next decade, Price and a group of scholars plan to publish many volumes of inscriptions from walls, pots, glass — everything but books — dating from the time of Alexander the Great to that of the Prophet Muhammad.

They will include many languages, such as Hebrew and Aramaic dialects like Syriac, Nabatean and Samaritan.

Price describes the graffiti as "a spontaneous verbal outburst" that adds intimacy to the historical record of the ancient Levant and Mesopotamia.

"These cultures wrote everything," he says. "They recorded their personal lives, their public lives; empires recorded themselves. They were hyperlinguistic."

There is also an interesting theory of the pictures of "nets" at each of the entrances--that they are not just to keep evil spirits out, but also to keep the dead in...perhaps in fear of zombies????

And as I just saw that Jim Davila pointed out, Aramaic is a branch on the same tree as Hebrew, Arabic, etc., not the root.

Read all of it here.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Daily Hekhalot: Hekhalot Zutarti §420a

For today's--and for days' to come--reading Rebecca Lesses of Mystical Politics has suggested a difficult passage in Hekhalot Zutarti (the "lesser palaces") §§420-421 because it is baffling. And so, while I started off with a passage that was relatively straightforward, we are delving into one that has left many baffled. It has a great deal of textual difficulties, so we will spread this over several posts.

Hekhalot Zutarti is perhaps even more literarily disorganized than Hekhalot Rabbati. Its disparate materials, however, are indispensable because much of it is highly unique in the Hekhalot texts. For example, it has the lone reference in the Hekhalot literature to the so-called "posture of Elijah," which after Gershom Scholem's reading of Hai Gaon that placed it at the center of merkavah mystical practice received a great deal of attention. I think most now find Scholem's emphasis rather extreme since it does only occur in this one passage with many other practices discussed throughout the different "macroforms."

Lesses's selection, as we will see, also is fairly interesting. Peter Schäfer has, in fact, called it unique not only for Hekhalot Zutarti, but for all of the Hekhalot (Origins of Jewish Mysticism, 301). It appears in all the major mss. and in the Geniza fragments (the text of which I do not have in front of me).

Text and (Preliminary) Translation:

אמר רבי ישמאל על מי שתק השר שהוא קורא אותו מגיהשה שאין בריה בכל משרתים שיקרא אותו בשם הזה ואת קורא אותו מגיהשה מפני שהוא שני להדרירון הדר תוב הדר טהור הדר זיו אוריה יה יה אלהי ישראל

Rabbi Ishmael said concerning one who is silent: The prince who is called MGYHShH--there is no creature among all the ministers who will call him by this name and you call him MGYHShH--because he is distinguished (?) to crown (?) a good crown, a pure crown, a splendorous crown of the light of Yah Yah Yah God of Israel.

Textual variants:
M22 adds אמרו עליו after ישמאל. N8128 uses קוראו instead of קורא אותו. M40 has כשר rather than השר.
A couple mss. have מניהשה (D436) or מניחשה (N8128). M22 has בדוק rather than בריה; O1531 has ביריא; and N8128 has בירייה editorially inserted.
Both O1531 and N8128 add כל after שאין.
M22 and O1531 have משרתיו; N8128 has המשרתים
D436 has שיקראנו rather than שיקרש אותו; M40 has שיקראנו בזה השם; M22 omits הזה.
N8128 uses ואת קוראו rather than ואת קורא אותו.
Same variations as before with angel's name.
O1531 and D436 has שיני; N8128 omits שני.
N8128 has להדריון, which looks smoother, but all of the other readings agree on להדרירון.
M40 and D436 read טוהר; O1531 doubles הדר תוב and omits טהור.
There is a great deal of variation on the divine name. Some add another "Yah," some include YY, an abbreviation of the tetragrammaton. M40 misspells the word "God" as אלדי. N8128 adds גיהוי פנהודי.

This is quite a difficult passage, indeed. The rest of §420 improves, but I thought I should stop before I was overwhelmed by textual variations. For translation and interpretation, the abundance of pronouns can be quite dizzying and I make no claim to have sorted it out quite yet. The use of punctuation is solely my own--and provisional--to help clarify the passage. It may obscure the meaning as well. I welcome any and all amendments to translation and punctuation. For example, is "concerning one who is silent" to be part of what R. Ishmael says or not? I have started to opt for not, but I probably can be easily convinced otherwise. Should it be better rendered as "still"? I have chosen to render "the prince who is called" rather than the more literal "the prince who he calls him." There are other problems as well--am I right with "distinguished" and I find what I have rendered as "to crown" quite baffling. I am pretty sure I have not captured all that is going on in that word. And if I am missing something--whether it should be obvious or obscure--please let me know.

Moving along, as Schäfer notes, this is a fairly unique passage. I am not quite sure what is going on with the silence/stillness part--perhaps Rebecca Lesses has some insight here?--but so far we are meeting an angelic figure, whose name varies by mss. and who appears to be quite important in the divine throne room. This importance is easy to see already--one of the few easier things to see--because this angel appears to be in charge of taking care of the divine crown, which is good, pure, and splendorous (words that are often bandied about in Hekhalot texts). Indeed, the divine realm is one of intense goodness, purity, and splendor to much a higher degree than any place on earth.

It seems, though, that not everyone does--or can?--call the angel by name or by "this" name, which might suggest that the angel has several names. The angel's name is a privileged disclosure.

"Daily" Hekhalot a Go!

It appears there is some interest in some sporadic posting of Hekhalot pericopae. Rebecca Lesses has expressed some interest and Jim Davila is hoping I proceed--if anything to save us from angelic attacks. Rebecca has suggested a look at Hekhalot Zutarti §§420-421, which I have glanced at and has a great deal of textual difficulties. It might take a while to get through these sections, but I will try in my spare moments. If you want to join in, please connect to these posts with your own readings.

Hebrew Alignment Formatting Question

I have a quick question on formatting. When I write in Hebrew online, everything turns out fine. But when I go into my microsoft word program, it scrambles everything up. It is like it can't handle the right-to-left. For example, when I copy and paste something from my blog to a word document, it reverses everything so that it reads left-to-right rather than right-to-left. When I try to write, sometimes it will sometimes allow right-to-left within a single word, but when I space it makes me go left-to-right. When I worked from a PC, I never had this problem. But with a mac, now I have it. By the way, it is clearly a problem with word itself. If I go to a notepad or rich text editing pad, it has NO PROBLEM moving back and forth between different directional writing types (the problem is, it is much more difficult to type up a full formal paper with footnotes, etc., in that program). Anyone have a solution?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Little Daily Hekhalot?: Hekhalot Rabbati §81a

One of the unfortunate consequences of completing graduate school and beginning to teach full time is that it is difficult to find a reading buddy. One of my memories of my late advisor, Alan Segal, is sitting around a table in his office with him and perhaps one or two other graduate students and working through some passages from the Hekhalot material. Alas, even if one is lucky enough to land in an institution where someone has the requisite language abilities, they may or may not have time, interest in that particular literature, or be willing to delve into some very difficult text with grammatical and literary difficulties and a great deal of disparity from manuscript to manuscript. So, seeking a reading partner, I am putting a reading--a short one--of the first lines of the "macroform," as Peter Schäfer calls it, of Hekhalot Rabbati (the "Greater Palaces"). I will be working from Peter Schäfer's Synopse zur Hekhalot, where he presents seven different manuscript witnesses in synoptic form.

Hekhalot Rabbati, as a "macroform," is a fairly difficult work, evincing a great deal of internal literary disparities and lengthy additions in some mss. (esp. N8128). It contains several different genres of material: ascents or "descents" to the merkavah (chariot throne) of God in the heavenly courtroom, liturgies (to ascend/descend and participate in while in the heavenly courtroom), apocalypses, Sar Torah (adjuration of an angel), and lore concerning mystically oriented Rabbis. While Gershom Scholem considered it one of the latest of the Hekhalot texts (among which also include: Hekhalot Zutarti, Ma'aseh Merkavah, Merkavah Rabbah, and Sefer Hekhalot / 3 Enoch), Peter Schäfer argues it is the earliest. The overall dating, social location, etc., of the Hekhalot texts in general has been debated with little consensus. They likely contain traditions going back to the Tannaitic period, but in their current "macroforms" they are probably para- or post-Talmudic with ongoing revision and editorial activity occurring well into the Middle Ages.

I am starting with a fairly simple pericope to encourage others with access to a copy of the Synopose to join in. I will also keep the pericopes short (so today I am only doing half a pericope). I will, unfortunately, have to do this sporadically due to my schedule restrictions. So, here goes:

אמר רבי ישמאל מה אילו שירות שהיה אומר מי שמבקש להסתכל בצפיית המרכבה לירד בשלום ולעלות בשלום

Rabbi Ishmael said: What are the songs he would recite who seeks to behold a vision of the merkavah, to descend in peace and to ascend in peace?

Some notes on the text: some mss. use נאמר rather than אומר (M40), some omit the definite article before the word מרכבה (N8128, O1531) and some add הן between אילו and מה (M40, D436).

These are supposedly the first lines of Hekhalot Rabbati. They indicate one of the most important aspects of the literature: the incorporation of elaborate and lengthy liturgical pieces that are necessary to ascend/descend to the chariot and that are sung in the divine presence. In fact, it is primarily from the contents of the liturgies that one discovers much of the perspective (or perspectives) concerning the characteristics of God, the angels, and humans (particularly Israel) and the relationships with one another. R. Ishmael's question indicates that these songs--note they are "recited" rather than "sung," per se--are the means to see God. The "descent in peace and ascend in peace" resembles the Rabbinic tradition of the four who entered pardes (see, e.g., B. Hag. 14b); only Rabbi Akiva--a hero in the Hekhalot texts--entered and exited peacefully.

Taking a look at the verbs. Some of the translations I have seen omit translating the participle "seeking/desiring." Yet I think it adds something to the sentence--it denotes that the learning, preparation, and execution of descending to the chariot to have a vision of it is a process; it is a quest.

In terms of "behold," the Hekhalot texts use several different verbs of seeing, beholding, gazing, glimpsing. Although there is a great deal of auditory emphasis in the texts (hearing the divine liturgy) they are also highly visually oriented.

Finally, the order of "descend" and "ascend." The Hekhalot texts have drawn a great deal of commentary on the unexpected language of "descending" to the merkavah rather than the expected "ascending." That is one "descends" to heaven and then "ascends" back to earth. Elliot Wolfson argues that the language refers to only the last leg of the journey: one "ascends" the entire way and then in the seventh heaven "descends" to the merkavah, being enthroned oneself. Alan Segal suggested it might relate to the "posture of Elijah"; that is, one is placing one's head between one's knees to inculcate the altered state of consciousness that would allow one to see a vision--so it has to do with mystical practice. Others just find it paradoxical and leave it at that. Nonetheless, I personally have not found any of the explanations I have read to be convincing.

I would add one more comment on the "in peace." The rest of Hekhalot Rabbati demonstrates the dangers, difficulties, and apparent impossibilities of this quest--with angels throwing metal rods at you, the voice of the cherubim killing you, and the sight of God's Beauty destroying all creatures, angelic or human--yet different Rabbis (R. Ishmael, R. Akiva, and R. Nehuniah b. Ha-Kanah) will discuss how to overcome these difficulties so that one can descend/ascend at will, see the enthroned God, and participate in the heavenly courtly activities (and, most importantly, report back to Israel what is going on up there!).

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ancient Excrement!

When Mt. Vesuvius encased the ancient city of Herculaneum, it preserved many things under its volcanic ash and heated pressure, including, as it turns out, ancient human excrement.

Specialists involved in the Herculaneum Conservation Project have excavated the ancient sewers of the city and uncovered the largest deposit of organic material ever found in the Roman world.

Layers of excrement that lay buried by volcanic mud for centuries are giving experts new clues about the diet and health of the city's ancient inhabitants.

See further here and here.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Chicago Assyrian Dictionary Published

In the NYTimes:
Ninety years in the making, the 21-volume dictionary of the language of ancient Mesopotamia and its Babylonian and Assyrian dialects, unspoken for 2,000 years but preserved on clay tablets and in stone inscriptions deciphered over the last two centuries, has finally been completed by scholars at the University of Chicago.
And the dictionary is more of an encyclopedia than simply a concise glossary of words and definitions. Many words with multiple meanings and extensive associations with history are followed by page after page of discourse ranging through literature, law, religion, commerce and everyday life. There are, for example, 17 pages devoted to the word “umu,” meaning “day.”

Of course, the primary language covered in the dictionary is Akkadian. See entire article here.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Evangelicals Supporting Circumcision

Although since Paul (in Galatians and Romans) denied the necessity of circumcision for salvation for the early movement that became Christianity, the National Association of Evangelicals has come out against the San Francisco ballot measure that would ban circumcision for any male under the age of 17 by citing Abrahamic solidarity with Jews and Muslims.

From CNN's Belief Blog:

By Dan Gilgoff, Religion Editor
(CNN) - The nation’s largest evangelical Christian umbrella group has come out against San Francisco’s proposed circumcision ban, evidence that the voter initiative is beginning to galvanize national religious opposition.

Thursday’s announcement from the National Association of Evangelicals was noteworthy because Christians are not religiously mandated to practice circumcision, as are Jews and Muslims.

“Jews, Muslims, and Christians all trace our spiritual heritage back to Abraham. Biblical circumcision begins with Abraham,” said National Association of Evangelicals president Leith Anderson. “No American government should restrict this historic tradition. Essential religious liberties are at stake.”

Circumcision is Everywhere!

There come times when similar stories from different places emerge at the same time. Perhaps this phenomenon is real or perhaps it is in the eye of a particularly sensitized beholder--I am currently writing a piece that includes a segment on circumcision and divine visions and reading a collection of essays on circumcision. That seems to be the case with circumcision at the moment. While there are often occasional debates on circumcision's medical merits, as a religious rite, as mutilation, etc., it seems that such a debate has heightened in the past week. Firstly with the potential legal issues in San Francisco and now, as many newspapers have reported (not usually on their front page) that Russell Crowe has joined the fray on twitter, calling it "stupid," "moronic," and comparing it to human sacrifice. While the San Francisco ban, for the most part, is directed toward all circumcision without qualifying for Muslim, Jewish, or medical practices, Crowe refers to it solely in terms of "Jewish circumcision." Two instances, however, are still a coincidence. It takes three to make a pattern. Anyone know a third unrelated to the San Francisco ballot and to Crowe?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

My Dissertation is Online!

My 2010 Columbia Ph.D. dissertation, "Heavenly Sabbath, Heavenly Sanctuary: The Transformation of Priestly Sacred Space and Sacred Time in the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice and the Epistle to the Hebrews," directed by Alan Segal is now available as an open access document through ProQuest. You can download a pdf here.

Here is the abstract:

This dissertation investigates how the Sabbath and the sanctuary interrelate in Second Temple Jewish and early Christian literature. Studies of sacred time and sacred space have generally treated them as separate yet complementary categories in the study of religion. This has been equally true of those studying the Sabbath and the sanctuary in Second Temple Jewish and early Christian literature. Considerations of their coordination have tended to be rare momentary glimpses rather than extended treatments. This study focuses on the coordination of sacred time of the Sabbath and sacred space of the sanctuary through how they come together in narratives, ritual practices, and shifting historical circumstances.

The body of this dissertation consists of three major parts divided into the Hebrew Bible, the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice from Qumran, and the Epistle to the Hebrews. Beginning with and strongly relying upon the Hebrew Bible, these sources align the Sabbath and the sanctuary by making them equivalent in holiness and by embedding this relationship within an ancient Near Easter narrative pattern exemplified by the Babylonian Enuma Elish in which a god creates, is enthroned, receives a temple, and rests. The Songs and Hebrews similarly reflect upon and transform this relationship within this narrative pattern by resituating it on a heavenly plane. Their similarities indicate a likely connection between them. For the Songs the Sabbath becomes the temporal access to the heavenly Tabernacle; for Hebrews, the Sabbath and the sanctuary become equivalent expressions to enter heavenly life. In both, this spatiotemporal coordination allowed one presently to enter the heavenly realm and approach the enthroned God of creation.

These works inaugurated, maintained, and reconfigured this relationship in periods when the sanctuary was inaccessible. The earliest articulations occurred during and after the Babylonian exile, the Dead Sea sectarians used the Songs when separated from the temple, and Hebrews likely was written after the destruction of the second temple. By bringing the Sabbath together with the sanctuary, these works made the Sabbath the temporal access to the sanctuary's spatial holiness and heavenliness when it was otherwise unobtainable. Those within the covenant could experience the sanctuary's holiness every seventh day and, thereby, God's holy and heavenly presence.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Circumcision and Law

From the Washington Post's Blog, "On Faith":

A right to ban circumcision?

A proposal to ban the circumcision of boys will be on San Francisco’s ballot in November, even though the ritual procedure is sacred to Muslims and Jews. Lloyd Schofield, the author of the Male Genital Mutilation bill, claims that male circumcision is akin to female genital mutilation, stipulating, “People can practice whatever religion they want, but your religious practice ends with someone else’s body.” Opponents of the measure say that the ban violates their First Amendment right to the free exercise of their religious beliefs. Many view the ban especially skeptically after a seemingly anti-Semitic comic book emerged, penned by the ban’s supporters. Should San Francisco have the right to ban circumcision?

Oddly, a lot of my research has, in an unforeseen way, been bumping up against different views of circumcision--particularly issues of being born circumcised as well as circumcision being the primary prerequisite to see God (and live). Of course, the California bill addresses slightly different issues. See all of the different blog posts on the topic here.