A Transparent Illusion

The Dangerous Vision of Water in Hekhalot Mysticism. A Source-Critical and Tradition-Historical Inquiry


In Jewish hekhalot mysticism, one who ascends to the heavenly temple may see something which looks like - but is not - water. Should he be deceived by this illusion, he betrays his unworthiness and exposes himself to retribution.
Detailed examination of the water vision discovers that its real object is the celestial pavement, separating the fiery divine realm from the "watery" world of impure organic matter. This pavement is Ezekiel's firmament of hashmal - a luminous crystalline substance - seen by the visionary from above.
Further investigation finds that the water vision continues an ancient tradition of exegesis of Ezekiel 1 as an account of a heavenly ascent, in which "water" signifies materiality, femininity and impurity. The wide and profound influence of these ideas is encountered in a variety of Jewish, Christian and Gnostic sources.

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Christopher R.A. Morray-Jones, Ph.D. (1989), University of Cambridge, is Lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley. Among his publications are Paradise Revisited (2 Cor 12:1-12): The Jewish Mystical Background of Paul's Apostolate (Harvard Theological Review 86, 1993).
'Morray-Jones's book is an important contribution to the study of early Jewish and Christian mysticism.'
Kevin P. Sullivan, The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 2003.
'…should be read by anyone interested in the origins of the Hekhalot literature and its relationship to rabbinic and Second Temple Judaisms.'
James R. Davila, Journal of Biblical Literature, 2002.
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