Sunday, August 19, 2012

Author of Hebrews as Mystagogue?

I just saw the following is coming out from Mohr Siebeck sometime this month via Brian Small at polumeros kai polutropos, who seems to be becoming a full-time Hebrews bibliographer.  
Exploring the Role of Jewish Apocalyptic Mysticism in the Epistle to the Hebrews

Jody A. Barnard examines the role of Jewish apocalyptic mysticism in the epistle to the Hebrews. Jewish apocalyptic mysticism is defined as a phenomenon occurring in late Second Temple Judaism (including early Christianity), which finds literary expression in the apocalypses and related literature, and exhibits a preoccupation with the realities of the heavenly realm, and the human experience of this realm and its occupants. The author demonstrates that there are numerous apocalyptic and mystical themes appropriated in Hebrews, and that there is evidence to suggest that this is not merely a conceptual and literary phenomenon, but is born out of, and informed by, mystical experience. The cosmology, Christology, and soteriology of Hebrews all belong to the world of Jewish apocalyptic mysticism and are significantly elucidated with reference to this context.
I will be very much looking forward to reading this one.  Having tried to keep up with literature (primary and secondary) on ancient Jewish and Christian mystical thought and practice, I would like to see how she makes her argument.  Many of the elements of Hebrews are consistent with earlier apocalpytic (as many many scholars have pointed out--most significantly and influentially, perhaps, being Barrett) and show similarities to later mystical works, particularly the sustained interest in the heavenly realm--depicted as rest, the heavenly homeland, the heavenly temple, and God's heavenly throne.  Both apocalyptic and mystical Jewish traditions have a sustained interest in angels as well.  There is this in Hebrews briefly at the beginning, but I have never been as impressed as some researchers that this is a major issue for the author.  My own dissertation and forthcoming monograph discuss Hebrews in light of earlier and contemporary priestly traditions of sacred space and sacred time, including the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice at Qumran, which are discussed in terms of the origins or forerunners of Jewish mysticism.  While I am more interested in priestly patterns of spatiotemporality as reflected in Hebrews, its predecessors, and its contemporaries, I have a feeling that Barnard and I would overlap in some areas.

One thing, however, that I tend to avoid is the rather vague discussion of experience in or behind texts.  It is very slippery and very difficult to demonstrate.  I wonder how she will do it.

My first inclination would be to consider the depictions of the throne--God or Jesus enthroned--that permeate the text.  Indeed, Jewish mysticism is often called "throne" mysticism (the interest in a vision of the divine throne-chariot in the heavenly sanctuary).  Most occurrences of the throne in the NT occur within visionary settings (think of Stephen's stoning or, of course, Revelation).  Does the discussion of enthronement suggest a similar visionary context?  Or does it refer to the traditions passed down by earlier visionaries?  In that context, the exhortation to "approach the throne of grace" (4:14-16) might be read as a mystagogue seeking to help initiates into the same experience. On the one hand, Hebrews is a rare place in that it does NOT depict Jesus' enthronement as a visionary experience of some sort (as other NT texts do); on the other hand, it is also rare that it exhorts you to approach the throne (which other NT texts do not).

This leads to the second place I would look--all of the exhortations to approach, draw near, and enter (entering the Sabbath rest, the sanctuary, and approaching or drawing near to the throne, God, and the heavenly Jerusalem) as well as going forth outside the camp, etc.:  do these suggest a mystagogue trying to initiate followers into a mystical experience?  Or an artful pedagogue mobilizing imagery known from apocalyptic works and actions (approaching and entering) associated with mystical works for other ends?

The third place I would look (but the first if this were any other work) is any indication of practices.  While mystical experiences are slippery, especially in a highly rhetorical ancient text, references to mystical or other practices would provide a more concrete basis of how an experience may be induced.  Unfortunately, Hebrews is pretty light in any ritual references.  There are some vague references to ablutions/washings (ch. 10), but frankly nothing much. 

I have to admit I am attracted to this thesis.  I do think Hebrews shows a great many similarities with other works that are associated with mysticism or the forerunners of Jewish mysticism and likely grew out of or at least was aware of or engaged similar social networks.  But I am not sure how much we can say about  "experience."  While Hebrews employs a great deal of important images from mystical traditions and likely has familiarity with those traditions, I have tended to read these and the exhortations to enter and engage them as mobilizations for other (non-mystical) ends:  to stay faithful even in the face of persecution and potentially martyrdom (ch. 12).  Then again, visionary abilities are also associated with martyrs.

Is the author of Hebrews a mystagogue?  Or a pedagogue who rhetorically reshapes imagery associated with mysticism for other ends (remaining faithful, enduring hardship, etc.)?  Or is such a pedagogue just another type of mystagogue?

And, Brian, keep up the good bibliographical work--it is an important service in my opinion.

Friday, August 17, 2012

R.I.P. Marvin Meyer

I have just heard of the passing of Marvin Meyer from a melanoma.  He was an influential scholar on those religious movements that so often fall through the cracks of history (most notably "Gnosticism" and "magic"), popularizing and publicizing them to make them more widely known in several scholarly and trade publications.  Several people more intimate with Marvin Meyer have noted his passing.  Please see their comments here, here, and, here

Monday, August 6, 2012

Jodi Eichler-Levine on Terror in Holy Spaces

A friend of mine from graduate school, Jodi Eichler-Levine, now assistant professor of religion at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh has an op-ed piece for Religion Dispatches concerning the events of the past twenty-four hours on the shooting at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, the landing of the Martian Rover, and how we use aliens and monsters to define ourselves and others.  The following lines caught my attention in particular:
Religionists can quickly rattle off myriad global, historical sites of contested holy space. But there is still something deeply nauseating, unhomed, un-everything, about attacks on vulnerable human beings at prayer, or about to pray. We want to believe in religious spaces as safe dwellings, as sanctuaries in the most literal sense of the word—but they have also long been targets for Americans who fear change.
See the entire piece here.  John Hobbins has some further discussion here

I also just saw a case of violence (this time arson) on a Joplin, Missouri, mosque here.