Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Hekhalot Rabbati - Morton Smith translation

A couple of days ago I noticed - pretty much by accident - that Digital Brilliance are hosting a document purporting to be the translation of Hekhalot Rabbati by Morton Smith. This is a text I have seen referred to often, but only ever to mention that it exists and was never published. The translation itself was carried out by Morton Smith over several years and then corrected by Gershom Scholem. It remains the only full translation of the text.

So, you can imagine my surprise. Since then I have contacted Jacobus Swart (moderator of the Kabbalah Concepts group) who advises me that, based on its matching with the fragments he has seen published in Scholem's own work, the document is "assuredly" what it claims to be.

The caveats mentioned by transcriber Don Karr in his preface are not to be take lightly; further it is advisable to digest the implications of David Halperin's article reviewing Schafer et al's Synopse zur Hekhalot Literatur. In this rather lengthy review Halperin is at pains to stress the lack of definable boundaries to Hekhalot "texts"; if it is indeed the case that there were at one point single units such as Hekhalot Rabbati or Hekhalot Zutarti the mauscripts we now possess make impossible the task of correct delineation.

The PDF is available here: Hekhalot Rabbati (Morton Smith translation)

Introduction to the Enoch tradition

This post is basically the (very short) review of scholarly opinion on the Enoch tradition, and David Jackson's book Enochic Judaism: 3 Defining Paradigm Exemplars. I originally posted this to the Yahoo group Kabbalah Concepts (also a very useful source). My message there was in response to a request for information regarding heterodox calendars during the Second Temple period.


It is acknowledged that Judaism of the Second Temple period (i.e. up to 70CE) consisted of several groups all vying for precedence in regard to religious/cultural/political ideology. There is a body of evidence and scholarship suggesting that one such movement favoured the patriarch Enoch as revelator (in precedence, particularly, over Moses). The so-called 'Enoch literature' promotes a solar 364 day calendar as a major part of its revision, with Jubilees tying this in to the preordained harmonic structure of the cosmos which has since become corrupt. The group behind these texts, who appear to have some relationship to the Qumran sect, seem to have believed that only by following the divine solar calendar could festivals and sabbaths be accurately timed so as to concur with the heavenly ordinations; merely observing the movements of the planets would lead to error as the material world had fallen from grace. This Enochic tradition thus pulled away from much of the orthodoxy of the Temple practice, feeding into alternative currents such as Essenism, Qumran and, eventually, Christianity (the Enoch literature in particular was much used by the early Church, and much of their mystical/speculative/revisionist/anti-law thought also fell on glad ears with early Christians, many of whom were Jewish). After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70CE and the emergence of Christianity as a religion in its own right, the Rabbis (emerging from the Pharisees) began restructuring the faith, emphasising what they believed were the correct and original principles. This included a definite movement away from the heterodox and apocalyptic ideas which had caused so much strife in recent history: the Enochic being one example. Due to the lack of central Temple, the faith had to find a new central focus which became the Torah, i.e. the Mosaic law. Clearly the challenge presented by Enoch could have little place in this.

As regards heavenly ascension/Merkavah Mysticism, Alan Segal in his book 'Two Powers In Heaven' makes a good case for this tradition also relating to the ascension of patriarchs and prophets (including Enoch, Jacob, Moses et al), something which the rabbinic normalisers saw as particularly dangerous for general consumption, although not ineffective in the correct hands.

Hopefully this provides an adequate summary. There is much current scholarship on the Enochic tradition: Andrei Orlov's 2004 book 'The Enoch-Metatron Tradition' is very good (but very expensive); in relation to the calendar, David Jackson's 'Enochic Judaism: Three Defining Paradigm Exemplars' provides much interesting information.

Jackson analyses the Enochic tradition according to three separate 'exemplars' which he feels are defining features and shed light on a prime motive in the writings. These are:
  • Shemikhazah, the Watcher (fallen angel) who led his followers into sexual liaison with human women, siring a race of Giants. This is an example of deviation from the separation of human-angelic.
  • Aza'el, the Watcher who taught humans technologies of war and beautification which brought great suffering and wickedness; this is breaking the rules by bringing heavenly secrets to earth, and humans going astray from what is good and proper.
  • Finally, the cosmos falling out of sync with the divine plan due to the disobedience/laxity of the spirits responsible for the movement of stars and planets. This is calendrical deviation.

So, all three examples relate to straying from the prescribed divine course. As such, jackson argues that the Enochic tradition is largely concerned with returning the people of Israel to the true course, i.e. back to proper observation of the divine commandments and away from hellenism. It has often been noted that there is an overarching emphasis in the Enoch literature on regularity: it presents a minutely ordered, clockwork universe where any deviation is seen as sinful. The 364 day calendar is understood to be so perfect that it must be the way God ordered the universe; the irregularity of either the lunar, or even a 365.25 day calendar can only be the result of the natural world going astray from God's plan. Of course, this all relates very clearly to the transmission of this knowledge in these writings, from the most righteous patriarch Enoch, from before the destruction of the flood. Jackson of course goes into the specifics in very great detail which I won't recount here...the book's available on Amazon and not too pricey, though I'd warn anyone considering it that it is written by an academic for academics and I don't doubt that it would be almost impenetrable to anyone not already aware of the fundamentals of the Enochic literature (he provides zero background).