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The first edition and the second, revised edition of
Ithamar Gruenwald’s Apocalyptic and Merkavah MysticismIn 1941, Gershom Scholem published Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism [Hilda Strook Lectures, 1938, delivered at the Jewish Institute of Religion, New York] (Jerusalem: Schocken Publishing House). Lecture 2, “Merkabah Mysticism and Jewish Gnosticism,” constituted the first extended treatment of hekhalot literature in English. This was followed some twenty years later by Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition (New York: The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1960; 2nd improved edition, 1965), a small book which posed as many questions as it answered.
Morton Smith’s “Observations on Hekhalot Rabbati,” in Biblical and Other Studies, edited by Alexander Altmann (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1963) was another early notice. Also, Smith translated Hekhalot Rabbati into English, a project which began in the ’forties and lasted until the ’eighties, when Smith worked on the translation in collaboration with Ithamar Gruenwald. At some point, the typescript was corrected by Scholem, who mentions Smith’s translation in Jewish Gnosticism…, page 11, note 4. This translation circulated among a few scholars in the field but was never published.
The desideratum left by Scholem was addressed in 1980 by Ithamar Gruenwald with the publication of the first edition of Apocalyptic and Merkavah Mysticism [ARBEITEN ZUR GESCHTICHTE DES ANTIKEN JUDENTUMS UND DES URCHRISTENTUMS, Band XIV] (Leiden|Köln: E. J. Brill).
'The first half of this pioneering book analyzes the major features of the merkabah tradition, beginning in Jewish apocalyptic then developing into “the literature that first gives a full-scale presentation of Merkavah mysticism” i.e., the hekhalot literature, “composed in Eretz-Yisrael (circa 200-700),” thus ending “as a creative literary stream … sometime in the Ge’onic period.”
The second half Gruenwald’s book describes the hekhalot texts one by one, including Re’uyot Yehezkel and Sefer ha-Razim, items not generally considered part of the hekhalot corpus.
Two appendices by Saul Lieberman follow: (1) “Metatron, the Meaning of His Name and His Functions,” and (2) “The Knowledge of Halakha by the Author (or Authors) of the Heikhaloth.”'
Thus was born the vibrant field within Jewish studies focusing on the hekhalot literature which we have seen emerge over the last three-and-a-half decades. Gruenwald provided the “induction to the realm” which marked the beginning of what was to become an academic movement.
With the surge of books treating the hekhalot, which all of necessity refer to Gruenwald’s inaugural work, Apocalyptic and Merkavah Mysticism itself fell out of print, became difficult to find, and grew prohibitively expensive to obtain. However, for Brill simply to reprint the book would have proven the first edition to be out-of-date on more than a few points in light of all of the important work done on hekhalot literature since 1980. Yet, for Gruenwald to compose a wholly new book in response to the research of the intervening years would sacrifice the solid presentation he offered in his original effort. Hence, a revised edition, the two editions being perfect bookends to a field—and a career—devoted to apocalyptic, ancient ritual and mysticism.
It was my privilege to read and comment on the final draft of the second edition of Apocalyptic and Merkavah Mysticism [ARBEITEN ZUR GESCHTICHTE DES ANTIKEN JUDENTUMS UND DES URCHRISTENTUMS, Volume 90] (Leiden|Boston: Brill, 2014) before publication. My role was primarily to make suggestions regarding form and clarity in English.
For a notice such as this, I usually feel obliged to compose an original account and assessment of a book under review. However, while its final form was not penned by me, the publisher’s description shows traces of my hand:
'This is a new and revised edition of the book first published 1980. It contains
Two Essential Qualities of Jewish Apocalyptic
The Mystical Elements in Apocalyptic
The Attitude Towards the Merkavah Speculations in
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