Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Chariot

A friend (Yoram) lent me a book and exposed me to something I did not know existed: "chariot literature".

It turns out that between the second and sixth centuries, Jewish mystics mapped the heavens and wrote travel guides to the realm of angels and of God himself. These books, which read like something between Carlos Castaneda, "the Neverending Story" and Lonely Planet, are accepted by the Talmud, not to mention Kabbalist Judaism. This is Judaism proper and despite protests made by Mimonides and other party-poopers, is accepted as such to this day.

I never realized Judaism had a full on pantheist mythology, including such creatures as Metatron, the man-turned-angel who walks the visionaries through realms of burning rivers and splendiferous palaces, much like a-Yiddishe-Virgil. Metatron was second to God and allowed to sit on a throne in the grandest of the seven palaces of the most sublime realm. Jewish visionary Elisha Ben-Abuya saw him there and assumed that he was a second God. Both were punished: Elisha returned to earth and was declared an apostate, while Metatron had sixty torches of fire stuck between his seventy two wings and forced to stand upright like other angels.

What I read in this story is discomfort with the seeping of pantheist ideas into Judaism (which was at the time fighting to preserve its charecter twixt paganism, Christianity and Gnosticism). Judaism preserved its monotheistic core only on the surface. Underneath that, so long as the chariot literature is not decreed heretical, we are in fact the followers of a religion that believes in monsters with thousands of eyes and magical netherworlds into which people can disappear while in a state of trance.

The epitomy of the chariot literature is a book called "Shi'ur Koma", probably composed in the Holy Land during the second century, which supplies the reader with the exact measurments of God. Make no mistake, God is enormous, but he is nonetheless antropomorphic - a man with feet thousends of miles long, sitting on a levitating, chariot-like throne somewhere quite accesible (anybody said Bhagavad Gita?). The book was given a signature of authenticity by several prominant rabbies, among them the renowned Rabbi Akiva.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Rabbi Akiva and the rest of the ancient Castanedas. Their Judaism is so much more fun than that of my old, semi-religious elementary school in Jerusalem. There we were taught that God is an invisble, conservative, mundane figure, that he spends his time looking over us as we copy in tests (this is actually echoed in "Shiur Koma") and that we should wait nicely for the bell before going out to play football in the dusty, gravelly yard with our yarmulkas hanging off the clips in our hairs.

Add a little bit of imagination to that, and you would have had me praying much more loudly in the mornings. Fortunately they hadn't.

4 comments:

מאשה said...

מעניין מאוד, אתה מתכוון לסיפורי מרכבה?
ובאשר למונותאיזם, הוא רעיון של פילוסופים מעמיקי הגות, ואילו בני אדם - תמיד ובכל מקום (עד כמה שידוע לי), דמיינו את האלוהויות והכוחות המוזרים שסביבם בשלל יצורים מבעיתים או קסומים. דווקא תרבויות פנתאיסטיות, כמו ההינדית והסינית, עושות את המהלך ההפוך ומתוך ההכרה בשלל הכוחות חוזרות - שוב, בעיקר בקרב הפילוסופים והתיאולוגים - לאיזו אחדות מוחלטת (ברהמן ו/או אטמן אצל ההינדים) - כי אין ספק שיש אסתטיקה אלגנטית מאוד ברעיון הזה, שמושכת גם את הפיסיקאים. ובאשר לקסטנדה, מצחיק שהזכרת אותו. אני, ברוב חוצפתי, הגשתי לפרוספסור רביצקי הגדול עבודת סמינריון שהשוותה את מושג הרצון אצל רבי חסדאי קרשקש (אחד המתנגדים הגדולים והמבריקים ביותר לרמב"ם בתקופתו) ואצל דון חואן. תאמין או לא, העבודה התקבלה ואף הציון היה לא רע... :)
סליחה על התגובה הארוכה והמקושקשת, אבל הנושא לחץ לי על כל הבלוטות.

homefris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
homefris said...

wow. isn't it incredible (and incredibly humbling) to find examples of the form you're working in from way-back-when? to see our human cycles...

3asl said...

How do I get a copy? I miss you, your posts are so lovely and I am now an Obamanick with no time for blogging. This Shiur Koma thing, I would like very much to know more.