In this ground-breaking study,
Rachel Elior offers a comprehensive theory of the crystallization of the early
stages of the mystical tradition in Judaism based on the numerous ancient
scrolls and manuscripts published in the last few decades. Her wide-ranging
research, scrupulously documented, enables her to demonstrate an uninterrupted
line linking the priestly traditions of the Temple, the mystical liturgical
literature found in the Qumran caves and associated directly and indirectly
with the Merkavah tradition of around the second and first centuries BCE, and
the mystical works of the second to fifth centuries CE known as Heikhalot literature.
The key factor linking all these
texts, according to Professor Elior's theory, is that many of those who wrote
them were members of the priestly classes. Prevented from being able to perform
the rituals of sacred service in the Temple as ordained in the biblical
tradition, they channelled their religious impetus in other directions to
create a new spiritual focus. The mystical tradition they developed centred
first on a heavenly Chariot Throne known as the Merkavah, and later on heavenly
sanctuaries known as Heikhalot. In this way the priestly class developed an
alternative focus for spirituality, based on a supertemporal liturgical and
ritual relationship with ministering angels in the supernal sanctuaries. This
came to embrace an entire mystical world devoted to sustaining religious
liturgical tradition and ritual memory in the absence of the Temple.
This lyrical investigation of the
origins and workings of this supernal world is sure to become a standard work
in the study of early Jewish mysticism.