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Hekhalot and merkabah

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., of which five were of particular importance in subsequent Jewish mysticism: Hekhalot Zutartei (The Smaller Book of Palaces), describing the ascension of Akiva to heaven; Hekhalot Rabbati (The Greater Book …), describing the ascension of R. Ishmael; Maʿaseh Merkabah (The Work of the Chariot), an anthology of hymns sung by mystics during their ascent; Sefer Hekhalot, known also as the Third Book of Enoch, in which R. Ishmael describes his ascension and meeting with Metatron, Sar ha-Panim, the Prince of Countenances; and Shi'ur Komah (The Measurement of the Height), in which the vision of God is described in anthropomorphic terms derived particularly from Song of Songs. These early texts and practices profoundly influenced kabbalah and such movements as Ḥasidei Ashkenaz.

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