Descenders to the Chariot

The People Behind the Hekhalot Literature


The Hekhalot literature is a bizarre conglomeration of Jewish esoteric and revelatory texts in Hebrew and Aramaic, produced sometime between late antiquity and the early Middle Ages and surviving in medieval manuscripts.
These texts claims to describe the self-induced spiritual experiences of the "descenders to the chariot" and to reveal the techniques that permitted these magico-religious practitioners to view for themselves Ezekiel's Merkavah as well as to gain control of angels and a supernatural mastery of Torah.
Drawing on epigraphic and archaeological evidence from the Middle East, anthropological models, and a wide range of cross-cultural evidence, this book aims to show that the Hekhalot literature preserves the teachings and rituals of real religious functionaries who flourished in late antiquity and who were quite like the functionaries anthopologists call shamans.

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James R. Davila, Ph.D., Harvard University, is Lecturer in Early Jewish Studies at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. He is the author of Liturgical Works (Eerdmans, 2000) and he is the co-editor of The Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism. Papers from the St. Andrews Conference on the Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus (Brill, 1999).
' …this creatively original, lucidly written, and richly rewarding book is a major contribution to our understanding of Hekhalot mysticism and its origins.' C.R.A. Morray-Jones, Journal of Theological Studies, 2003.