The Hekhalot literature sometimes transliterated Heichalot from the Hebrew word for "Palaces", relating to visions of ascents into heavenly palaces. The Hekhalot literature is a genre of Jewish esoteric and revelatory texts produced some time between late antiquity — some believe from Talmudic times or earlier — to the Early Middle Ages. Many motifs of later Kabbalah are based on the Hekhalot texts, and the Hekhalot literature itself is based upon earlier sources, including traditions about heavenly ascents of Enoch found among the Dead Sea scrolls and the Hebrew Bible pseudepigrapha. Some of the Hekhalot texts are: [2]. Other similar texts are: [3]. The Hekhalot literature is post-rabbinical, and not a literature of the rabbis, but since it seeks to stand in continuity with the Rabbinic literature often pseudepigraphical.

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What are the Heikhalot texts? Who wrote them, and to what end? For the last generation, the question of the purpose of the material has been debated. Broadly speaking, two positions have been defended.

The first is that the Heikhalot literature describes otherworldly experiences especially ascents to heaven but also the summoning of angels to earth as well as the means to achieve them. The second is that the alleged experiences described in the texts again, especially the heavenly ascents are primarily literary constructions based on creative exegesis interpretation of scripture and rabbinic myth, and it is doubtful that any genuine experience lies behind them.

More than any other scholar in the twentieth century, Gershom G. Scholem is responsible for setting the study of Jewish mystical literature on a sound scientific basis. He built on and transcended the nineteenth-century study of the Heikhalot literature, substantially revising the understanding of the material.

In a number of discussions, he argued that the Heikhalot literature described the religious experience of a school of practitioners which originated in Palestine in Talmudic CE or even Tannaitic CE times, but which is now known primarily from literature transmitted to Western Europe from Babylonia. Recitation of prayers and hymns, along with the invocation of divine names and other magical practices, served to generate a state of ecstasy which allowed them to make the perilous journey through the gates of the seven celestial palaces in order to stand before the throne of God, where they faced the danger of a fiery and potentially fatal transformation into an angel.

Aspects of Merkavah mysticism also informed cosmogonic and cosmological speculation speculation into the origin of the universe that united with Hellenistic and Neo-platonic streams of thought to produce medieval Kabbalah. Scholem took it to be the case that Merkavah mysticism developed out of apocalyptic movements in the Second Temple period and that these traditions were alluded to, albeit in cautionary contexts, in the classical rabbinic literature.

David J. Halperin mounted the first thoroughgoing challenge to the framework established by Scholem, arguing that the traditions about the Merkavah in Palestinian sources are based on scriptural exegesis and that ecstatic journeys to the otherworld appear first in Babylonian sources.

He reconstructs a tradition of synagogue exegesis associated with Shavuot sermons which he believes generated the traditions found in the Heikhalot literature. In addition, he questions an important assumption of previous work on the Heikhalot literature, that at its core or center is the theme of the ascent or descent to the celestial chariot.

He sees the ancient motif as at most one major aspect of the material, and he points to another tradition that has as much or greater claim to centrality: the Sar Torah tradition. I have referred above to a particular Sar Torah text, but the theme of wrestling knowledge of Torah from the angels through the use of powerful adjurations appears in a number of places in Heikhalot literature.

Halperin believes that both heavenly ascent and Sar Torah adjuration are inspired by an exegetical myth transmitted in the Shavuot sermons in which Moses ascended to heaven to seize the Torah over the objections of the angels, bringing it back to earth for Israel to follow. But more to the point, they sought through magical means to gain access to the Torah and the social benefits that expertise in it conferred and which were denied them in their own life situation.

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Hekhalot Rabbati

Hekhalot and merkabah. Early Jewish magic and mysticism connected with the palaces of heaven hekhalot and the chariot merkabah of Elijah by which he was carried up to heaven. Contemplation of the chariot chapters of Ezekiel are at least as early as Johanan ben Zakkai , and, following the discovery among the Cairo Genizah Fragments of an early text describing Johanan's experience, it seems clear that Saul who became Paul practised this mysticism, and that this was the foundation of his many reported experiences, including the vision on the Damascus road. The other surviving treatises date from the 3rd to 7th cents.


Heikhalot Literature


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