Saturday, February 14, 2009

Mysticism of Early Judaism

Judaism as we know it developed its basic form from 350 BCE to 200 C.E. The original biblical worship of YHWH had been worshipped by a nation, but from the time of Alexander the Great (356 – 323 B.C.E.), the Jewish people were forced to redefine their religious experience while undergoing cultural displacement and political conflict. From their return to the land of Canaan following the Jewish exile in Babylon, the Jewish people struggled to retain their cultural identity and worship. However, from Alexander’s time the loss of any real political identity and the aggressive influence of Hellenism challenged Jewish religious and social life.
Alexanders Hellenism, encouraged Greek language, an open, tolerant polytheistic system offering to absorb the Jewish God as part of the pantheon. Historically the Hellenistic kingdoms that resulted after Alexander’s death promoted Hellenism by rewarding Greek speaking and Hellenized local officials. Thus Judaism was threatened both religiously and culturally.
During the rule of Antiochus Epiphanies, the temple was converted to a place of worship for Zeus, resulting in the Maccabean revolt and the rededication of the Temple remembered in the celebration of Hanukkah. In 63 BCE, the Roman general Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (106-48 B.C.E.), made Palestine a part of the Roman Republic to be governed through a system of prefects.
How could they best observe Torah and obey God? Jews both in Palestine and in the Diaspora displayed a variety of ways of maintaining fidelity to the covenant while negotiating with the prevailing cultural influence of Greece and the political dominance of Rome.
Some Jews thought assimilation possible, especially in the Diaspora while others who had political, as well as religious, convictions divided into sects. The Saducees, strongly associated with the Priesthood and temple, were more likely to go with the flow, whereas the Pharisees, removed from political influence, promoted a separate identity based primarily on observance of the Torah’s principles applied in the new social circumstances.
Although not directly mentioned in the Christian Bible, the Essenes were a third group that formed a quasi monastic tradition.
A violent reaction to Roman rule was found amongst the Zealots. This group fermented the Jewish rebellion of 66 – 70 C.E. and a later outburst in the Bar Kokhba Revolt of 132 -135 C.E. which temporarily restored the Jewish state for two and a half years. The first rebellion resulted in the Jewish temple being destroyed and the latter rebellion resulted in the total decimation of the city of Jerusalem which had been renamed Aelia Capitolina by Emperor Hadrian.
Hence, Judaism was threatened from without and divided from within.
Twice as many Jews lived outside of the province of Judea, and this diaspora was affected by the dominant Hellenistic culture. By 250 B.C.E. they had translated the TaNaK into the Greek, Septuagint Bible (abbreviated LXX because there were traditionally 70 translators) and had began to interpret the TaNaK allegorically in the same way that the Stoic philosophers interpreted the texts of Homer, who used allegoric interpretation to explain the stories of the often scandalous behavior of the gods of mount Olympus. Whereas a diasporic Jew experienced his community differently to a Jew in Palestine.
A Hellenistic Jew may have seen no need to identify his loyalty to the politics and institutions of Judea. He may go to the gymnasium, read homer and then go off to the synagogue. Whereas in Palestine Judaism was associated with questions of whether you have the temple or you don’t, or whether the land is Holy Land or it is not.
Literary evidence points to a powerful religious spirit among Jews both in Palestine and the Diaspora. As a religion Judaism was growing. In Palestine, crowds made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and gathered at great feasts, such as the Passover. Both in Palestine and in the Diaspora, synagogues were centers for community, the study of Torah and prayer. A large body of non Jews, some estimates as high as 10% of the population, were fascinated with this religion and the Jewish Temple was seen by Roman’s as a type of tourist attraction.
"Esotericism was apparrently first taught in ancient times" writes Talmus scholar and Kabbalist Rabbi Adin Steinaltz (The Essential Talmud, p212, 213).
"The schools established by the prophets ("sons of the prophets") certainly discussed ways of preparing indiciduals to recieve the gift of prophesy aND DEAL WITH THE INCULCAtion od specific intellectual methods od comprehendinf these matters."
Secular scholarship argues that prophesy was recorded after the event and that in Palestinian Judaism, at least two manifestations of mysticism appear during this period.
Apocalyptic literature, such as the book of Daniel, with its coded symbolism, use of symbolic numbers, beasts and astronomical phenomenon, depicts history teleologically, where which God is in charge, will intervene, and will save his people so that they will be triumphant in the future. The religious message is that adherents must endure and God will prove faithful to the people.
One of the earliest examples of apocalyptic writing is the book of I Enoch. Usually dated to the 2nd century B.C.E. with later additions into the 1st century C.E., this pseudonymous work is ascribed to the prophet Enoch who is reported on in Genesis chapter 5. Originally composed in Hebrew or Aramaic, it is extant in Ethiopic, and Aramaic fragments have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran.
It is an extraordinarily complex work, but at its heart are a series of visions experienced by Enoch. The biblical account of Enoch in Genesis 5 claims that Enoch “was not; for God took him”. In 1 Enoch, the prophet is shown ascending into the presence of God and being shown a vision. In the first of these (I Enoch 4:8–25), we find many elements drawn from the prophetic visions in the Bible.
“Behold, and I saw the clouds: And they were calling me in a vision: and the fogs were calling me and the course of the stars and the lightning’s were rushing me, and causing me to desire; and in the vision the winds were causing me to fly and rushing me high up into heaven” (1 Enoch 4:8, 9).
Enoch comes to a wall “which is built of crystals and surrounded by tongues of fire” “And I went into the tongues of fire and drew nigh to a large house” or Hekal, the word for palace that was used in the vision of Isaiah chapter 6, “which was built of crystals”.
The “walls of the house were like a tessellated floor (made) of crystals, and its groundwork was of crystal” (1 Enoch 4:10-12). This reminds us of the pavement of sapphire in the vision of god seen by Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elder men at Exodus 24:8-11.

Its ceiling was like the path of the stars and the lightnings, and between them were fiery cherubim, and their heaven was (clear as) water. A flaming fire surrounded the walls, and its 13 portals blazed with fire. And I entered into that house, and it was hot as fire and cold as ice: there 14 were no delights of life therein: fear covered me, and trembling got hold upon me. And as I quaked 15 and trembled, I fell upon my face.

Inside the Hekal is a second more majestic house, suggestive of the temple for inside is enthroned The Lord “And I beheld a vision, And lo! there was a second house, greater than the former, and the entire portal stood open before me, and it was built of flames of fire. And in every respect it so excelled in splendour and magnificence and extent that I cannot describe” (1 Enoch 4:15-16) “And its floor was of fire, and above it were lightnings and the path of the stars, and its ceiling also was flaming fire. And I looked and saw therein a lofty throne: its appearance was as crystal, and the wheels thereof as the shining sun.” Here we see a reference to the Throne chariot or merkabah of Ezekiel 1 and Daniel 7:9.10 that were used as symbols of the presence of God. The merkabah is again described with cherubim and fire: “and there was the vision of cherubim. And from underneath the throne came streams of flaming fire so that I could not look thereon.
Like the vision of Ezekiel 1:24-28 god is described with great glory, however the Enoch account describes the glory as being so intense that angels cannot enter into The Lord. “And the Great Glory sat thereon, and His raiment shone more brightly than the sun and was whiter than any snow. None of the angels could enter and could behold His face by reason of the magnificence and glory and no flesh could behold Him. The flaming fire was round about Him, and a great fire stood before Him, and none around could draw nigh Him: ten thousand times ten thousand (stood) before Him". This figure of 10,000 times 10,000 is used of angelic figures before the ancient of Days in Daniel 7:10.
No doubt these writings served to teach, comfort and exhort, however, in mystical experience it is difficult to distinguish the literature and experiential life of the initiate. Hence, it has been suggested that the symbolic literature may have been used to induce mystical experiences in the initiates reading these texts.
The sectarian community at Qumran at the Dead Sea, possibly the Essenes, reveals a Jewish commitment to God that anticipates many later features of Christian Monasticism: a community separate from the world, living a common life that was dedicated to study and prayer, following a strict rule, and practicing strict ritual purity. The Dead Sea community saw the Jewish Temple system as corrupted, its sacrifices unlawful, and refused to associate with the gentile world or with those, like the Pharisees, who associated with the Hellenized world.
Teacher of Righteousness, the community’s founder, describes in hymn (Hodayoth) form his loneliness before God, yet hopes to stand among the holy ones.. Unlike 1 Enoch, these intense Hodayoth do not seem to be visionary, nor do they describe going to the Hekal, or Heavenly Palace, however in Hodayoth 5 we read of an intense yearning to be in the heavenly realm and a deep personal piety and sense of mans mortal unworthiness before God:

“I thank thee, O Lord,
For thee has redeemed me from the Pit,
and from the Hell of Abaddon,
Thou hast raised me up to everlasting height.

“I walk on limitless level ground,
And I know there is hope for him
Whom thou hast shaped from dust,
for the Everlasting Council.
Thou hast cleansed a perverse spirit of great sin
That it may stand in the host of the holy Ones,
And that it may enter into community
with the congregation of the Sons of Heaven.

Thou hast allotted to Man an everlasting destiny,
Amidst the spirits of knowledge,
That he may praise Thy Name in a common rejoicing
And recount Thy marvels before Thy works.
And yet I, a creature of clay,
What am I?
Kneaded with water,
What is my worth and my might?”

In the Songs of Sabbath Sacrifice, (also known as Angelic Liturgy) portrays community worship as participating in the heavenly worship of the angels. During a thirteen-week cycle, the community that recites the compositions is brought through a lengthy preparation and is gradually led through the spiritually animate heavenly Temple until the worshippers experience the holiness of the Merkabah and the Sabbath sacrifice as it is conducted by the high priests of the angels" (James M. Scott, "Throne-Chariot Mysticism in Qumran and in Paul" in Eschatology, Messianism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls (1997), p. 104). this theme of the earthly activities also happening in the divine realm will be taken up by later esoteric traditions.
"[Praise the God of...] [...] Exalt Him, [...] the glory in the tabernacl[e of the God of] knowledge. The [Cheru]bim fall before Him and bless Him; as they arise, the quiet voice of God [is heard], followed by a tumult of joyous praise. As they unfold their wings, God's q[uiet] voice is heard again. The Cherubim bless the image of the chariot-throne that appears above the firmament, [then] they joyously acclaim the [splend]or of the luminous firmament that spreads beneath His glorious seat. As the wheel-beings advance, holy angels come and go. Between His chariot-throne's glorious [w]heels appears something like an utterly holy spiritual fire. All around are what appear to be streams of fire, resembling electrum and [sh]ining handiwork comprising wondrous color embroidered together, pure and glorious. The spirits of the living [godlike beings move to and fro perpetually, following the glory of the [wo]ndrous chariots." (Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice 4Q405 Frags. 21-22:10-11).

Just as it was suggested that Enoch may have been used to induce mystical experience,
James M. Scott writes of the angelic liturgy, “"The worshipper who hears the songs has the sense of being in the Heavenly sanctuary and in the presence of the angelic priests. The large number of manuscripts of the Angelic Liturgy found at Qumran (4Q400-407) makes it probable that the recitation of these songs was a major vehicle for the experience of communion with the angels as it is alluded to in the Thanksgiving Hymns (1QH 3:21-23; 11:13) and in the Rule of the Community (1QS 11:7-8). Carol Newsom [Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice: A Critical Edition] suggests that the purpose of these Sabbath Songs may have been communal mysticism” (ibid, p. 104).
By worshipping in prayer and offering spiritual sacrifices the community unites in worshipping with God in heaven. What happens on earth is but a pale reflection of that greater, ultimate heavenly reality.The community envisions a mystical reconstruction of reality, seeing itself as a replacement temple, a pure people in the desert, offering the true esoteric inner sacrifices to God replacing what they the claimed to be the corrupted exoteric, outer, practices and polluted sacrifices in Jerusalem. By devoting oneself to a quasi-monastic life of prayer and meditation the initiate becomes a spiritual sacrifice to God and it follows they enter into Gods presence. Many of these themes will be developed by Christianity.
Divine hierarchies are referred too as are the seven heavens inside one another, borrowing 1 Enoch and Ezekiel chapter 1. The later Christian Saul of Tarsus, or Paul, would also write of a vision of a man ‘caught away’ to the third heaven. Ezekiels imagery of the Throne Chariot, the merkabah, is found a number of times (4Q404,1,2:1-16 and 4Q405,20-21-22) and described in ways of later Merkabah mysticism.
Perhaps the closest to visionary literature directly attributable to the Qumran is a fragmentary vision of the divine Throne Chariot. Professor Luke Timothy Johnson suggests that this may be a reference to actual visionary experiences within the Qumran community:
"...The cherubim bless the image of the Throne-Chariot above the firmament, and they praise the majesty of the fiery firmament beneath the seat of his glory. And between the turning wheels, angels of holiness come and go, as it were a fiery vision of most holy spirits"

As Geze Vermes wrote (The Dead Sea Scrolls, Penguin books, 1962 (1970 Ed) p. 210, 211) “The Divine Throne-Chariot draws its inspiration from Ezekiel (1:10) and is related to the Book of Revelation (4). It depicts the appearance and movement of the Merkabah, the divine Chariot supported and drawn by the cherubim, which is at the same time a throne and a vehicle. … The Throne-Chariot was a central subject of meditation in ancient as well as in medieval Jewish esotericism and mysticism, but the guardians of Rabbinic orthodoxy tended to discourage such speculation. The liturgical use of Ezekiel's chapter on the Chariot is expressly forbidden in the Mishnah; it even lays down that no wise man is to share his understanding of the Merkabah with a person less enlightened than himself. As a result, there is very little ancient literary material extant on the subject, and the Qumran text is therefore of great importance to the study of the origins of Jewish mysticism.”

In the Diaspora, Philo of Alexandria Philo of Alexandria (20 B.C.E.- 50C.E.),an Alexandrian born Jew, developed a theology that was developed from his reading of the Greek Septuagint using the Grecian method of allegoric interpretation. Some have noted similarities between his doctrines and early Christianity, suggesting he may have been a major influence on the early Church. His world view was Platonic using Plato’s distinction phenomenal and the noumenal. That is the world of our senses, the phenomenal, and the world of forms, the true reality of Plato, which is the noumenal. In this way, Philo could read that God created the true reality, the noumenal heavens and the less real, phenomenal reality, the earth.

The extent of Philo’s influence is unsure. Views range from Philo’s ideas being unique to himself, or to the other extreme that states that Hellenistic Judaism was as a whole a mystical religion contrasting with Palestinian Judaism. However, some contemporary literature such as Pseudo-Orpheus suggest that there was at least a few that held similar views to Philo.

In Philo’s writings we find references to mystical symbolism. For example, Philo describes Moses as undertaking a mystical ascent that can be followed by others

“Has he not also enjoyed an even greater communion with the Father and Creator of the universe, being thought unworthy of being called by the same appellation? For he also was called the god and king of the whole nation, and he is said to have entered into the darkness where God was; that is to say, into the invisible, and shapeless, and incorporeal world, the essence, which is the model of all existing things, where he beheld things invisible to mortal nature.”

Here we see Moses being described as crossing from the phenomenal to noumenal realm. Moses is then described as a model for others to imitate:

“for, having brought himself and his own life into the middle, as an excellently wrought picture, he established himself as a most beautiful and Godlike work, to be a model for all those who were inclined to imitate him. And happy are they who have been able to take, or have even diligently laboured to take, a faithful copy of this excellence in their own souls” (Life of Moses 1.158–159).

Philo describes his own life and religious experience in mystical terms. For example Philo describes his mind as “seized with a sort of sober intoxication like the zealots engaged in the Corybantian festivals, and yields to enthusiasm, becoming filled with another desire, and a more excellent longing, by which it is conducted onwards to the very summit of such things as are perceptible only to the intellect, till it appears to be reaching the great King himself. And while it is eagerly longing to behold him pure and unmingled, rays of divine light are poured forth upon it like a torrent, so as to bewilder the eyes of its intelligence by their splendour” (On the Creation 71).

Here we see that Philo describes ecstasy as intoxication, he points to the supremacy of the mind, and highlights the issuing forth of shining rays of light, a symbolism that are important in later Jewish and Islamic mysticism. Also note that it is the eye of understanding and intelligence that is illumined.

Philo claims that although, he is lowly he is given sufficient wisdom to venture not only to study the sacred commands of Moses, but also with an ardent love of knowledge to investigate each separate one of them, and to endeavour to reveal and to explain to those who wish to understand them, things concerning them which are not known to the multitude”.( On the Special Laws 3.6). Here Philo examplifies a major theme in Jewish mysticism, that is, the importance of the study and explanation of a deeper, esoteric understanding that must be explained by the mystic to the literal minded.

Philo also praises Jewish monastic’s, perhaps the Essenes, and an Egyptian based Jewish monastic group he calls the Therapeutae (Every Good Man is Free; Hypothetica; On the Contemplative Life).

Of their devotion Philo writes “they always retain an imperishable recollection of God, so that not even in their dreams is any other object ever presented to their eyes except the beauty of the divine virtues and of the divine powers. Therefore many persons speak in their sleep, divulging and publishing the celebrated doctrines of the sacred philosophy. And they are accustomed to pray twice every day, at morning and at evening; when the sun is rising entreating God that the happiness of the coming day may be real happiness, so that their minds may be filled with heavenly light, and when the sun is setting they pray that their soul, being entirely lightened and relieved of the burden of the outward senses, and of the appropriate object of these outward senses, may be able to trace out truth existing in its own consistory and council chamber(On the Contemplative Life 3:26).

In any case, Philo seeks to reveal a deeper reality within the Torah about god and the divine and this seeking of a deeper reality is developed in later Jewish Mysticism.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Hebrew Bible Source of Mystic Imagery

The Hebrew Bible is the primary source of symbolism and the promise of divine union for esoteric Judaism, Christianity and Islam, The Scriptures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam were not read by mystics, they were to an extent lived out and acted upon. The mystic, esoteric experience is an attempt to directly experience an unmediated relationship with the Divine. However, this experience is mediated by inherited symbols from earlier traditions and the need to have a shared symbolic language that is understood within the esoteric community. This language has its roots within the Hebrew bible, the TaNaK, or Old Testament, which is read both by Jews and Christians and indirectly through the Quranic retelling of the TaNaK narrative.
We must remember that preceding the enlightenment, the Bible was read as a faithful record of actual events. The Israelites did walk through the Red Sea, Moses bought water from a roc, there was a great Flood. Scholars did note the difficulties and contradictions posed by the Scriptural account, and much debate and analysis was given my exoteric and esoteric writers alike. Historical critics today, attempt to demystify the bible and challenge the efficacy of the creation account, the miracles of Moses, the Davidic kingdom as well as biblical morals such as the practice of slavery and the treatment of woman. Whereas ancient readers were seeking wisdom of mans past, present and future. The life stories of the biblical hero is seen as revelatory of what is possible. If Moses can perform a miracle then why can not the mystic also experience Divine power? What the bible says about the prophet Moses is accurate and is a pattern for the mystic to follow. What the Bible describes of the world is true, whether literally or symbolically. For primarily the accounts are examples for mankind to follow. In later mystery traditions, the ecstatic experience of God and miracles were at times entwined.
The foremost and greatest influence is the prophet Moses. Although preceding biblical figures acted as prophets, Adam speaks with god (Gen. 3:8-19, as does Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3) who is called a Navi or prophet (Gen 20:70, Hagar, the descendant of Islam, is helped by God (Gen. 21:14-21), Jacob sees the heavens open declaring the location Beth-el or the house of God (Gen. 28:10-15), Isaac and Jacob are refred to as prophets (Ps 105:9-15) and Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams (Gen 31:25-46). However, it is Moses directly relationship with God ‘face to face’ and his experiencing symbols that are repeated and expanded upon by later mystics that place Moses as greatest amidst the mystic writers.
Having fled Egypt, God appears to Moses on “Horeb, the mountain of God”, “in flames of fire from within a bush” that “did not burn up”(Exod. 3:1, 2). Moses is ordered to remove his sandals “for the place where you are standing is holy ground” and “Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.” (Exod. 3:5,6). When Moses asks what he should say when asked what the n ame of God is, and in reply Moses is empowered to miraculously lead Israel out of Egypt, dry shod through the Red Sea “wall of water on their right and on their left” (Exodus 14: 22) before destructively turning the waters back on the pursuing Egyptian army. (Exodus 14:21-31)
Notably, “then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her, with tambourines and dancing.” (Exod. 15:20). Later mystics for example, the Sufi, would associate dancing the joyous experience of God. Another example is found in 18th century, Hasidic ceremonies described as “very noisy affairs….When they prayed, often at the top of their voices, they swayed and clapped their hands. They sang a tune called a niggun and danced to it.”(Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews, Harper Perennial, 1988,p. 297).
On arriving back at Mount Sinai (Horeb) the people are told to prepare themselves for “the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai before all the people.” God had come to Moses ‘in a dense cloud, so that when the people hear me speaking with you, they may have faith in you also” (Exod. 19:9) now they are to experience a great theophany. The mountain is declared off limits on pain of death until the sound of a rams horn calls them up the mountain.
They are to be sanctified and have not ‘intercourse with any woman’ (Exod. 19:14, 15). This theme of sexual asceticism before god would be later developed in some esoteric schools.
Sinai was enshrouded in heavy cloud and smoke as if ‘from a furnace’ with great thunders and lightning’s and loud trumpet blasts. The people are afraid and Moses and Aaron ascend the mountain and in full hearing of the people the Ten Commandments, a series of laws and promised rewards for fidelity declared aloud by God. Following a communal sacrifice, “Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself." But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; "they saw God, and they ate and drank”(Exod. 24:9-11).
Moses is described as God’s ‘intimate friend’ who knows God ‘face to face” (Exod. 33:11, 12). In what appears to be an oddity in the text, Moses who asks to see God’s glory and is told “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live." (Exod 33:19, 20) Of course chapter 24 described Moses and the elders seeing God with no ill effect. However, Moses is told “I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen" (Exod. 33:21-33) and God passes by declaring his attributes “"The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exodus 34:6, 7).
In these accounts we see a basic pattern repeated by later mystics. A person approaches God through ascent and pilgrimage from slavery to the promise land of freedom. Purification is demanded, the sea is crossed, a mountain ascended, cloud and darkness passed, fire and a sea of sapphire or glass described and a land of rest rewarded.
Other Jewish prophets would take up these themes and expand upon them. Isaiah of the 8th century BCE has a vision of the “Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled" the temple ‘house’ or hekal (a large house or palace) where he is commissioned as a prophet. Isaiah sees a group of seraphim, a type of angel, “each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying “ who declare God holy “At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke” (Isa 6:2, 4). Immediately Isaiah declares he is ‘ruined’ or as good as dead for he is unclean of lips and unworthy to see God at which a Seraph takes a coal from the altar and cleanses his lips declaring “your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for" (Isa. 6:4-7) and Isaiah willingly accepts the call for someone to represent God declaring “Here I am, send me!”‘
Again we see the theme of glory, holiness and the need for purification from uncleanness to approach God. Also we see the hekal , house, or palace, as a symbol which is taken up by later mystics.
Another Prophet whose visions became part of the symbolic language of esoteric Abrahamic Mysticism was Ezekiel, who lived as part of the of the Israelite community exiled to Babylon by the King Nebuchadnezzar exiled
Ezekiel hears “the word of the Lord” (Ezek. 1:3), the heavens open, he experiences a great vision visions (Ezek. 1:4−28), and is also commissioned to the role of prophet (2:1−4). “A whirlwind” comes “out of the north”, there is “a great cloud” and “a fire” “in folding it, and brightness was about it: and out of the midst thereof, that is, out of the midst of the fire, as it were the resemblance of crystallite” From within this fire their appear 4 creatures called cherubim (cherubs) with four faces, four wings and a mixture of angelic human and animal features, the wings of each angel, which loudly emit “the noise of many waters, as it were the voice of the most high God” touches the other and they can go any direction without turning at the impulse of the spirit moving like ‘flashes of lightening” (Ezek. 1:5-12, 14). The cherubs are described as like “burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of torches” and “in the midst of the living creatures, a bright fire, and lightning going forth from the fire’ (Ezek. 1:13). A divine chariot is seen. It appears as “one wheel” “with four faces” that is in fact four wheels “like the appearance of the sea” “and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the midst of a wheel.”
Over this Heavenly Throne chariot, the merkabah,” “ was the likeness of the firmament, the appearance of crystal terrible to behold” (Ezek. 1:22) above which is a description of the enthroned rider of this chariot in a glory comparable to that used to describe The Lord in Exodus 24. Above the firmament “was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of the sapphire stone, and upon the likeness of the throne, was the likeness of the appearance of a man above upon it. And I saw as it were the resemblance of amber as the appearance of fire within it round about: from his loins and upward, and from his loins downward, I saw as it were the resemblance of fire shining round about. As the appearance of the rainbow when it is in a cloud on a rainy day: this was the appearance of the brightness round about” (Ezek. 1:26-28).
From this vision of the wheeled Throne chariot, surrounded by angels, clouds, flashing fire we are symbolically taken to the presence of God.
Another prophet significant to Abrahamic Mysticism was Daniel. Daniel is also commissioned a prophet and experience highly encoded visions that include symbolic numbers, symbolic animals, cosmic symbols’ such as the sun, earth, moon, planets and stars communicating gods future purpose.
Daniel is taken to the heavenly court and he “beheld till thrones were placed, and the ancient of days sat: his garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like clean wool: his throne like flames of fire: the wheels of it like a burning fire” (Dan. 7:9). Note that again we see that the throne has wheels – an illusion to the Divine merkabah.
What happens next would be expanded on in Christian Mysticism. Daniel beholds “one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and he came even to the ancient of days: and they presented him before him. And he gave him power, and glory, and a kingdom: and all peoples, tribes, and tongues shall serve him: his power is an everlasting power that shall not be taken away: and his kingdom that shall not be destroyed.” (Dan 7:13, 14). This vision of the “Son of Man” is seen as fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth as Christian Messiah.
From the Hebrew Bible we see a number of repeating symbols. One ascends the mountain , through the darkness to the presence of God experienced with fire and lightening, a shining floor of glass, sapphire, or gleaming bronze. God is a king in a throne room, on a wheeled Heavenly Throne Chariot.
The Bible also uses erotic imagery. The use of erotic symbolism and imagery found in later mysticism derives from the mystical description of mans relationship to god. The tradition of describing God and Israel as effectively a husband and wife permeates the Jewish prophetic literature of Isaiah (Isa 5:1-7; 45:4-8), Jeremiah (Jer. 2:2, 32) and Ezekiel (Ez. 16:23) where Israel is a wife given to unfaithfulness.
The prophet Hosea takes ‘a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms’ (Hos. 1:2) and has 2 sons and a daughter given prophetic names (Hos. 1:3-11). Hosea’s choice of a prostitute mirrors God’s choice of Abraham’s descendants who would become the unfaithful nation of Israel. Hosea pleads with his children that they also “Plead with your mother, plead: for she is not my wife, neither am I her husband: let her therefore put away her whoredoms out of her sight, and her adulteries from between her breasts; Lest I strip her naked, and set her as in the day that she was born, and make her as a wilderness, and set her like a dry land, and slay her with thirst.” (Hos. 2:-3).
The desolation of the desert, a place of intimacy within the mystic traditions, would be a place of restoration. Using the language of the heart, “I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her. …. And it shall be at that day, saith the LORD, that thou shalt call me husband; and shalt call me no more (the false god) Baal ” (a word meaning owner which was also a title used for a man’s husbandly ownership of his wife) (Hos. 2:14, 16). They are betrothed anew “in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving kindness, and in mercies” (Hos. 2:21).
Jeremiah also speaks of the heart in his personal relationship with God: “For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt; I am black; astonishment hath taken hold on me. Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?” (Jer. 8:21-22). Jeremiah feels hurt in the performance of his prophetic commission “O LORD, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived; …. I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me. … Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.” (Jer 20:7,9).
The prophet Ezekiel describes Israel’s history in terms of marital infidelity. Seen first as a new born rejected at birth, covered in blood Israel is taken in and later when “thou hast increased and waxen great, and thou art come to excellent ornaments: thy breasts are fashioned …I looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness” in sexual union and I “washed I thee with water; yea, I throughly washed away thy blood from thee, and I anointed thee with oil” (Ezek. 16:7-9). Although made famous as the wife of God (Ezek. 16:9-14) Israel “didst trust in thine own beauty, and playedst the harlot because of thy renown, and pourest out thy fornications on every one that passed by” (Ezek. 16:15) and suffer violent punishment “I will give thee blood in fury and jealousy” (Ezek 16:38) as a destroyed nation later to be restored and the covenant renewed (Ezek 16:62), just as was Gomer was restored to Hosea.
The most powerful erotic symbolism is found in the Song of Songs, also called Song of Solomon or Canticles. This book describes the intimate love and devotion of a Shulamite maiden and her shepherd boy. The book does not mention God, or the divine Name, and was challenged by some as not belonging to the divine Canon. Yet read within the literary tradition describing the mystical union of God and man in Marriage that would be expounded upon in Judaic. Christian and Islamic Mysticism.
The opening words “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth” would form the basis of four of Bernard of Clairvaux’s sermons. Why not just say “Let him kiss me”? why say “with the kisses of his mouth’. Such was the intense development of the erotic imagery in mysticism.
The opening words “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth” would form the basis of four of Bernard of Clairvaux’s sermons. Why not just say “Let him kiss me”? why say “with the kisses of his mouth’. The 6th century C.E Midrash (1:1) we read: "R. Johanan said 'Wherever King Solomon is mentioned in this scroll, the reference is to the actual King Solomon; whenever the word "King" appears [alone], the reference is to God.' The sages say: 'Wherever King Solomon is mentioned the reference is to the King who is (the Lord) of peace; wherever King is mentioned the reference is to the congregation of Israel.'"
Such was the intense development of the erotic imagery in mysticism.
“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine. Because of the savour of thy good ointments thy name is as ointment poured forth, therefore do the virgins love thee. Draw me, we will run after thee: the king hath brought me into his chambers: we will be glad and rejoice in thee, we will remember thy love more than wine: the upright love thee.” (Ca. 1:2-4).
“He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love. His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me. I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till he please.”
Christian and Jewish love poetry owes much to the Song of Songs. Consider the words of St. Clare of Assisi (1193? – 1254, Italy):
Draw me after You!
We will run in the fragrance of Your perfumes,
O heavenly Spouse!
I will run and not tire,
until You bring me into the wine-cellar,
until Your left hand is under my head
and Your right hand will embrace me happily
and You will kiss me with the happiest kiss of Your mouth

Describing intense adoration for the lover, some of the most beautiful poetry ever written extols the beauty of the beloved with an intensity that would be paralleled in later writers such as the Sufi poet Jalal al-Din al-Balkhi al-Rumi. "Sufism is poverty toward God. To be poor toward him is to acknowledge one's need for him, and the deeper and more sincere that acknowledgement becomes, the more it turns into an overpowering drive to reach the beloved" (William Chittick, Sufism, A Short Introduction).

"What are we to make of the Song of Songs which, in spite of its antiquity and its archaic images, still carries with it such charm and power, is still so touching to those who fall under its spell? The subject of love, even physical, erotic love, when it is conveyed with such beauty strikes a chord deep within us all. We have a profound longing to be whole, to be united with another, but this longing carries with it something more than just physical desire. The Sufi poet, Rumi, in the first part of his Masnavi, describes that longing as the plaintive song of the reed flute, lamenting its abrupt removal when it was cut from the reed bed, longing to be back again from where it came. It is the primordial longing of the created to be back, united with our origins, at one with the Creator" wrote Judith Ernst in Song of Songs: Erotic Love Poetry, by Judith Ernst

Rumi wrote:

“Listen to the story told by the reed of being separated. Since I was cut from the reed bed, I have made this crying sound. Anyone apart from someone he loves understands what I say. Anyone pulled from a source longs to go back. At any gathering, I'm there, lingering and laughing and grieving, a friend to each, but few will hear the secrets hidden within the notes. No ears for that. Body flowing out of spirit, spirit out from body, no concealing that mixing. But it's not given us to see, so the reed flute is fire, not wind. Leave that empty.“- The Reed Flute's Song.


“If anyone asks you about the houris, show your face, say: like this. If anyone asks you about the moon, climb up on the roof, say: "Like this." If anyone seeks a fairy, let them see your countenance. If anyone talks about the aroma of musk, untie your hair and say: "Like this." If anyone asks: "How do the clouds uncover the moon?" untie the front of your robe, knot by knot, say: "Like this." If anyone asks: "How did Jesus raise the dead?' kiss me on the lips, say: "Like this." If anyone asks: "What are those killed by love like?" direct him to me, say: "Like this." If anyone kindly asks you how tall I am, show him your arched eyebrows, say: "Like this.""
The whole poem is a description of the physical beauty of the lover, for Rumi, In the end, all human beings can get to that candle of purity and reach God,

In the Song of Songs, the Shepherd boy adoringly describes his lover's beauty; “How beautiful are thy feet with shoes, O prince's daughter! the joints of thy thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a cunning workman.”He then describes her navel, which some scholars argue is a code word for the female genitalia, “Thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor: thy belly is like an heap of wheat set about with lilies. Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins. Thy neck is as a tower of ivory; thine eyes like the fishpools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bathrabbim: thy nose is as the tower of Lebanon which looketh toward Damascus. Thine head upon thee is like Carmel, and the hair of thine head like purple; the king is held in the galleries. 6 How fair and how pleasant art thou, O love, for delights! This thy stature is like to a palm tree, and thy breasts to clusters of grapes. I said, I will go up to the palm tree, I will take hold of the boughs thereof: now also thy breasts shall be as clusters of the vine, and the smell of thy nose like apples; And the roof of thy mouth like the best wine for my beloved, that goeth down sweetly, causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak. I am my beloved's, and his desire is toward me” (Ca 7:1-11).
An example of the intense theological speculation is found in the Song of Songs Rabbah:
“YOUR TWO BREASTS: these are Moses and Aaron. Just as the breasts are the beauty and the adornment of a woman, so Moses and Aaron were the beauty and adornment of Israel. Just as the breasts are the appeal of a woman, so Moses and Aaron were the appeal of Israel. Just as the breasts are full of milk, so Moses and Aaron filled Israel with Torah. Just as whatever a woman eats helps to feed the child at the breast, so all the Torah that Moses our teacher learned he taught to Aaron, as it is written, "And Moses told Aaron all the words of the Lord (Exodus 4:28)." The Rabbis say, "He revealed to him the ineffable Name." Just as one breast is not greater than theother, so it was with Moses and Aaron, for it is written, "These are that Moses and Aaron (Exodus 4:27)," and it is also written, "These are that Aaron and Moses (ib. 26)," showing that Moses was not greater than Aaron nor was Aaron greater than Moses in knowledge of Torah. R. Abba said,"They were like two fine pearls belonging to a king which he put in a balance, finding that neither weighed down the other. So were Moses and Aaron just equal." (Song of Songs Rabbah IV:13)
Thus the mystical union of man and God is portrayed with erotic allusions that would be expanded by the mystics of Judaism. Christianity and Islam.