Merkavah Mysticism is a type of Jewish ecstatic visionary mysticism
that is difficult to date precisely but is generally attributed to Late
Antiquity, c. 200-800CE. It appears to have been inspired by various
Biblical theophanies, in particular those of Ezekiel, Isaiah and Daniel. It is also associated with ascent literature, such as the books of Enoch. The central part of the experience was the vision of a figure on a throne-chariot (merkavah).
One of the key legends connected with these experiences is that of the Four Who Entered Paradise,
R. Akiva, R. Ben Zoma, R. Ben Azzai, and R. Elisha Ben Abuyah. Only R.
Akiva was sufficiently holy to survive the experience without damage.
A secondary literature describing the detailed circumstances of the ascent is called the Hekhalot
literature. This literature was transmitted to medieval Europe and was
important in establishing new traditions of mysticism, including
Merkabah at Wikipedia
Notes on the Study of Merkabah Mysticism and Hekhalot Literature in English by Don Karr (PDF)
Hekhalot Rabbati: the Greater Treatise concerning the Palaces of Heaven, ed. Don Karr
The Ancient Jewish Mysticism, Joseph Dan
The Faces of the Chariot, David Halperin
Return to Historical Background