Descenders to the Chariot

The People Behind the Hekhalot Literature

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James Davila

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.

The Provenance of the Pseudepigrapha

Jewish, Christian, or Other?

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James Davila

The Old Testament pseudepigrapha are ancient quasi-biblical texts inspired by the Hebrew Bible. Although frequently mined as Jewish background by New Testament specialists, they were transmitted almost entirely in Christian circles, often only in translation. Christian authors wrote some pseudepigrapha and did not necessarily always mention explicitly Christian topics. This book challenges the assumption that pseudepigrapha are Jewish compositions until proven otherwise. It proposes a methodology for understanding them first in the social context of their earliest manuscripts, inferring still earlier origins only as required by positive evidence while considering the full range of possible authors (Jews, Christians, "God-fearers," Samaritans, etc.). It analyzes a substantial corpus of pseudepigrapha, distinguishing those that are probably Jewish from those of more doubtful origins.

The Dead Sea Scrolls as Background to Postbiblical Judaism and Early Christianity

Papers from an International Conference at St. Andrews in 2001

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Edited by James Davila

The International Conference on the Dead Sea Scrolls as Background to Postbiblical Judaism and Early Christianity (St. Andrews, Scotland, 2001) gathered scholars from a wide range of specialties and perspectives from around the world to explore how the Scrolls contribute to our knowledge of the background of both rabbinic and noncanonical forms of Judaism, and of the origins and early development of Christianity. This volume publishes papers from the conference which deal with the Scrolls and: rabbinic literature; Christian origins; Pauline and Deutero-Pauline literature; and Jewish and Christian liturgy, mysticism, and messianism. It comprises an excellent sketch of the state of the question at the beginning of the twenty-first century and is also programmatic for future research.

Hekhalot Literature in Translation

Major Texts of Merkavah Mysticism

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James Davila

The Hekhalot literature is a motley collection of textually fluid and often textually corrupt documents in Hebrew and Aramaic which deal with mystical themes pertaining especially to God's throne-chariot (the Merkavah). They were composed between late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, with roots in earlier traditions and a long and complex subsequent history of transmission.

This volume presents English translations of eclectic critical texts, with a full apparatus of variants, of most of the major Hekhalot documents: Hekhalot Rabbati; Sar Torah; Hekhalot Zutarti; Ma'aseh Merkavah; Merkavah Rabba; briefer macroforms: The Chapter of R. Nehuniah ben HaQanah, The Great Seal-Fearsome Crown, Sar Panim, The Ascent of Elijah ben Avuyah, and The Youth; and the Hekhalot fragments from the Cairo Geniza.