Monday, December 14, 2009

Second Book - Rituals of Revelation: The Ancient Near Eastern Roots of Jewish Mysticism

Because I can't stop now. I'm submitting this to Brill at the end of the summer (perhaps the De Vermis Mysteriis to The Invention of Hebrew's Necronomicon?):

The origins of Jewish mysticism are hotly contested: many of its most mysterious and compelling elements are found in Mesopotamian and early Jewish texts but not in the Hebrew Bible. How do we explain the new myths and rituals of Jewish mysticism? This project builds on recent advances in interpreting the data for connections between early Jewish and ancient Near Eastern intellectual culture. The Jewish intellectual culture of Qumran participated in
an international high culture through the medium of Aramaic, as exemplified by the astronomy of the book of Enoch, the first apocalypse and a key text in early mysticism. The project examines not only borrowing but how people experienced these myths religiously. How did the belief arise that this cosmic knowledge could be embodied by worshippers? I investigate mysticism not as an ineffable and inexplicable internal state, but as linguistic practice. Beginning with Sumerian incantations in which the exorcist claims to be Adapa, the semi divine sage who went to heaven, I will explore how the grammar and pragmatics of this ancient Near Eastern ritual tradition let practicioners adopt illuminated divine personae. The project is equally concerned with historical causation: why do these traditions only emerge in Judaism during the Hellenistic period? Here the loss of native kingship and the increasing autonomy and creativity of scribal culture are key. Myths of sovereign power are transferred from a top- down model in which the heavenly ruler empowers the earthly one to judge and militarily protect the individual to a model of audience, in which the individual appears before the heavenly throne to share liturgically in the benefits of cosmic rule and heavenly knowledge. Ritual enacts politics, as early Jewish mysticism empowers worshippers to live out Near Eastern myth under the new conditions of Hellenistic colonialism.


Rebecca said...

This looks very cool. I look forward to reading it! Have you read Peter Schäfer's new book on the Origins of Jewish Mysticism yet? At the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism section (of the SBL) we're going to be doing a book review session about it. Is the work that you're doing now something that you would think of presenting at the SBL? (I'm on the steering committee of the section).

Seth L. Sanders said...

Glad it looks interesting! I have read Schäfer's bold and significant book very carefully and I most definitely have thoughts on it...First, on what it means to see, or not see, exilic and Hellenistic Judah as an ancient Near Eastern culture. Second, on what Boustan refers to as the assumption of a "stable" (culturally homogenous and continuous) Judaism--a crucial issue that Schäfer's work raises in surprising ways.

James F. McGrath said...

Let me second that it indeed looks interesting, exciting even!

Just out of curiosity, will the Mandaeans and/or the origins of Gnosticism be part of your exploration of Jewish mysticism? The Mandaeans are a subject that has caught my interest in a major way recently, and so I'm particularly on the lookout for anyone who is trying to explore connections between them and the history of Judaism and Christianity.

Seth L. Sanders said...

Hi James,

The richest recent thing I know of on the Mandean/Gnostic correlations with early Jewish Mysticism is Nathaniel Deutsch's The Gnostic Imagination. I am fascinated with the area myself, since Mandean texts clearly preserve elements of the same kind of nonbiblical ancient Near Eastern religion that you find in early Judaism!