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New Testament Mysticism

The Mystery of God: Early Jewish Mysticism and the New Testament by Christopher Rowl, Christopher R.A. Morray-Jones (Compendia Rerum Iudaicarum ad Novum Testamentum, Volume 12: Brill Academic) This book brings together the perspectives of apocalypticism and early Jewish mysticism to illuminate aspects of New Testament theology. The first part begins with a consideration of the mystical character of apocalypticism and then uses the Book of Revelation and the development of views about the heavenly mediator figure of Enoch to explore the importance of apocalypticism in the Gospels and Acts, the Pauline Letters and finally the key theological themes in the later books of the New Testament. The second and third parts explore the character of early Jewish mysticism by taking important themes in the early Jewish mystical texts such as the Temple and the Divine Body to demonstrate the relevance of this material to New Testament interpretation.

During the past hundred years, attempts to explore the Jewish back-ground of New Testament theology in the light of ancient Jewish sources have tended to concentrate on the legal and ethical sections of rabbinic literature. At the same time, the importance of Jewish apocalyptic literature has increasingly been recognised, though this recognition has largely been confined to the eschatological dimension of that literature. Moreover, it has generally been assumed that these two different streams of Jewish tradition were either unrelated or opposed.

The modern study of Jewish mysticism has been dominated by the work of Gershom G. Scholem, who proposed that a continuous tradition of mystical teaching and practice extended from the period of the Second Temple to that of the medieval kabbalah. That view has been subjected to severe scrutiny. The authors of the present work are persuaded that in general outline Scholem is still to be believed though they have attempted to take full account of the perspective of those who have argued an alternative, non-mystical interpretation of some of the texts which we consider important.

The ancient apocalypses seek to reveal hidden truths about God, heaven and the created world. In these attempts they come close to one understanding of the nature of mysticism: the perception of truths beyond the range of ordinary human knowledge in a direct experience of divine revelation. The Jewish mystical traditions encountered in the rabbinic and Hekhalot ('heavenly palaces') literature have many affinities with the revelations vouchsafed to the apocalyptic seers. The origins of the Jewish mystical tradition remain tantalisingly obscure, but it seems to have emerged during the early Second Temple period, if not the Exile. One of its principal concerns is meditation on Ezekiel's visions of God's manifest glory, seated on the heavenly merkava or chariot-throne, upheld by cherubim. That these visions were a continuing source of wonder and fascination is evident in the apocalyptic writings, in related texts among the Dead Sea Scrolls, in rabbinic sources, and in the Hekhalot writings which have been made accessible to us by Scholem and his successors.

Underlying this study is the conviction on the part of both authors that the Jewish mystical writings have much to offer the interpretation of the New Testament. As will be apparent in the pages that follow, the perspective of the authors on the material is different, though, we hope, complementary, and that has contributed to the approach taken in the book. One has more of an interest in New Testament theology and the relationship with apocalypses concerned with the revelation of divine mysteries which were written round about the beginning of the Common Era. The other has worked extensively on the later collection known as the Hekhalot literature which in its written form is much later than the New Testament. One of the tasks of this study is to indicate that traditions within these texts are as ancient as the earliest Christian writings and so might be expected to contribute to the understanding of the New Testament.

Throughout the book there is a basic assumption that mysticism and apocalypticism are ways of speaking about phemomena which are closely related. The esoteric character of the apocalyptic texts of Second Temple Judaism is now widely recognised, whatever weight may be given to their eschatological content. Mysticism is one of those words which is difficult to define, but, if we may follow the Oxford English Dictionary, the concern with 'the hidden or inexplicable' or 'a religious truth directly revealed' has obvious connections with apocalypticism. As this description implies, such texts have to do with that which is hidden and has now been unveiled or revealed. In the first part of the book it is the apocalypses which form the major point of comparison with the New Testament. The approach taken here is intended to offer a general overview of the earliest Christian texts viewed from the perspective of the apocalypses and their concerns. Major New Testament texts are considered, and 'mystery' and revelation are suggested as ways of illuminating some of the major themes of the New Testament.

In the last twenty years there has been a growing recognition that the form and contents of the book of Revelation offer more to the exegesis of the New Testament than has usually been thought. Of course, apocalypticism has for a century and a half or so featured in discussion of the New Testament. It has been considered an essential ingredient in any explanation of the origins of Christianity, but it has been understood almost exclusively as heralding the end of the world. Early Christianity has thus been characterised as a movement eagerly awaiting the Parousia and the winding up of history. More recently there has been a long overdue questioning of this consensus which has so pervaded the interpretation of the New Testament, and serious doubts have been raised about the understanding of apocalypticism which undergirds it. Ancient apocalypses (of which Revelation is the prime example) can no longer be seen simply as collections of predic-tions about the end of the world. First and foremost, apocalypses unveil heavenly secrets, some of which relate to the future. They are not, therefore, solely concerned with the end of the world. Their chief task is to reveal truths about God and the universe, and in these attempts they come close to one understanding of mysticism: the perception of truths which exceed the capacity of human reason and are mediated by means of divine revelation. It is that kind of religious outlook we find in an apocalypse.

In an apocalypse what happens in heaven corresponds to what hap-pens, or will happen, on earth. The alternative perspective may in some cases offer a literal representation of reality, past, present or future, but in other cases (and the Book of Revelation is a good example) the understanding of reality is offered in imagery which is less literal prediction and more evocative portrayal in highly symbolic language. So, apocalypticism is neither solely about the end of the world, nor is it mere prediction. Of course, it includes the secrets about future, but it is a future—as well as a present—viewed in the light of the God who now reigns and will be seen to reign on earth. John on Patmos is commissioned to write 'what is now, and what is to take place hereafter' (Rev 1:19). Apocalyptic dualism encourages a split level perspective in which the 'higher' level is offered as the starting place for interpretation of what takes place on the 'lower', earthly, level. Thereby, that which takes place in heaven, or is reported as having its origin in heaven, offers an insight into the perplexing story of the world. By this means an understanding of the mystery of existence is given a new dimension. Events on the earthly stage are enigmatic. One who looks at them from the 'lower' level can nevertheless be offered another perspective on reality through the eye of vision, albeit requiring insight into the import of the mysteries for earthly events (as the visions of the second half of the Book of Daniel indicate). This is the heart of apocalypticism. It is not that the 'higher' level determines the way in which events below work out. Human beings are not puppets at the end of the divine strings. They can be confronted with the reality of God and the coming kingdom, with inexorable truths which demand understanding and action, but they possess freewill and can make choices about the way they will respond. The vision of the apocalyptic writers enables the reader with eyes to see and ears to hear to make sense of events and interactions which without that added perspective would seem utterly enigmatic. It is such a perspective which can transform understanding so that what appears to be confusion and folly may be apprehended as the wisdom of God.

This applies also to the Jewish mystical tradition with which the revelations vouchsafed to apocalyptic seers have several affinities. The practice which lies behind the Jewish mystical texts is obscure, but it is generally thought to have had its origins early in the Second Temple period and to have owed much to the exile. One of its principal subjects is the meditation on the chariot, the merkava, of Ezekiel. The vision of the glorious God enthroned on the cherubim-chariot was a source of wonder and fascination, as is evident from the early rabbinic literature which much scholarly work in recent years has made available to us together with the discovery of related texts among the Dead Sea Scrolls. In the mystical account the vision of the divine throne-chariot in heaven was the goal of a heavenly ascent.

Eschatology is firmly established as a key factor in the understanding of Christian origins, and indeed of the development of Christian theology throughout history. The mode in which the eschatological convictions originated and were endorsed came through vision or audition, through revelation. This is the thesis of this book. It does not pretend to offer a complete explanation of the origins of Christian theology and the dynamics of what distinguished Christianity as a religion, but without it any account would be incomplete. The claim to definitive revelation from God is endemic to religion and the peculiarity of that understanding of revelation is an important ingredient of Christian theology.

There has been a greater appreciation of the rich potential offered New Testament theology by the apocalyptic and mystical texts of Juda-ism when these have been viewed not merely as a means of elucidating eschatological themes but also of shedding light on a range of texts less obviously related to such themes, including the transformation of the believer into the divine image, christology and cosmology. Thus, the occasional hint in Paul's letters about a transformation of the believer in the midst of the present life, anticipating the eschatological change at the Parousia, may well be the background to the references to bodily transformation of the apocalyptic seer to passages like 2 Cor 3. Concerning the development of Christology, the existence of exalted mediatorial figures in the heavenly world has been the subject of fierce debate: was early Christianity merely taking over a theology in which the existence of divine beings wielding divine authority was part of the fabric of Jewish belief? Or were early Christians responsible for a significant mutation of the beliefs of Second Temple Judaism about angels in which their convictions concerning Jesus as Messiah acted as a catalyst?

In the past, the exploration of the relationship of the New Testament to the world of Jewish mysticism has concentrated on theological themes in the more obviously theological writings of the New Testament. On the whole the narrative texts have not seemed so susceptible to this kind of treatment. But examination of the relationship between the Fourth Gospel and the apocalyptic and mystical tradition suggests that the narrative texts of the New Testament may also repay careful study in the light of this material.

A typical feature of apocalypses is the way they divide heaven into various levels, the highest being occupied by God and the most exalted angels, and the lowest by lesser angelic powers and demons. The ascent of Christ into the heavens, his conquest of the powers, and the relation-ship of all these to his death 'outside the gate' in a text like Hebrews, have all been illuminated by the thought world of the apocalypses of the Second Temple period, or just after, and emerging Jewish mysticism.

The approach to this subject in the present book naturally starts with the context in the parent religion, Judaism, and the importance of visions and revelations within it. The key revelatory text among the early Christian documents, the Book of Revelation, is the gateway to the consideration of apocalyptic and mystical themes in the rest of the New Testament. The approach taken in Part I is to examine the claims to visionary experience and their role in the various New Testament books, while complementing discussion of the examples of revelatory moments with exploration of apocalyptic themes, some often neglected. What underlies all this is the basic thesis that claims to the access of divine mysteries are a motor for the development of distinctive early Christian theologoumena and are the foundation of the eschatological convictions of early Christianity. The shape that these beliefs took is determined by context, but the basis of their importance lies in an understanding of the divine which does not rely primarily on the rational reflection on received wisdom but on the intuitive apprehension which is typical of the dream, vision, and audition.

There is a deliberate contrast between the various parts of the book; nor could some overlaps be eliminated. Part I is largely a descriptive survey of the scope of the project, setting the context in Jewish apocalypticism and surveying apocalyptic elements in the New Testament. The task is here less minute textual examination of all the passages and more to stake out the terrain and to accumulate the evidence for apocalyptic motifs and themes in the New Testament.

Furthermore, the approach taken in the first part of the book mixes the descriptive and the analytical. This is in keeping with the aim of the series, which is to offer a varied survey of the ways in which the New Testament may be illuminated by Jewish material. In certain instances the nature of the material requires more detailed examination of the sources in order to make sense of brief, and allusive, passages (as is the case with the discussion of the Enoch material). No attempt is made to offer an exhaustive exploration of all aspects of Christian origins, nor to a comprehensive survey of research. The survey is intended to indicate that, without attention to the mystical element in Jewish religion, emerging Christianity cannot be adequately explained. In addition, by surveying this New Testament material it is hoped that a contribution might be made to the elucidation of the setting and significance of apocalypticism at the end of the Second Temple period and indicate why there may also be a mutually illuminating interpretative process, whereby the New Testament might be a means of understanding better the varied character of the Judaism from which it arose. The process involved in this series, therefore, might be truly dialectical.' The exclusion of the New Testament writings from the task of illuminating Judaism impoverishes the interpretation of both Judaism and risks misunderstanding emerging Christianity: Novum Testamentum ad explicandum rerum judaicarum!

In Parts II and III of this book the starting point is the Hekhalot literature rather than the apocalypses. Detailed examination of this unfamiliar literature leads us into themes which are more familiar to New Testament interpreters. The method here is different: less survey, more in depth analysis. The reason for this is that it is an attempt to demonstrate the antiquity of the traditions and the relevance of this material for New Testament study. The days of citing parallels to the New Testament from a later age and hoping that this will itself be suf-ficient to illuminate the relevant New Testament passage have long passed. When the purpose of exploring the mystical texts is to illustrate earliest Christian texts, attention to the propriety of using this material as illustration requires a method which justifies their use.

This is a contested area. On the one hand, Scholem and those who have followed him (which includes both authors of this book) have argued that the Hekhalot writings preserve ideas of the Tannaim and are rooted in Second Temple apocalypticism. Others, including E. Urbach, P. Schafer, and D. Halperin, have argued that mystical elements are a development within, or a departure from, mainstream rabbinic Juda-ism, and therefore date from post-New Testament times. So, if merkava mysticism is part of the story of the development of rabbinic Judaism rather than a significant part of its antecedents, its relevance for the study of the New Testament is at best marginal. In this situation mere citation of parallels from Jewish sources which are manifestly much later than the New Testament itself is inadequate. The consequence of this, however, is that the attempt to demonstrate the relevance of the material and the explanation of why it should be included in a series entitled Compendia Rerum Judaicarum ad Novum Testamentum requires detailed traditio-historical study which characterises the second part of this book.

Parts II and III of the volume take further the method adopted by C. Morray-Jones in A Transparent Illusion. Those unfamiliar with the Hekhalot literature have the opportunity of reading it for themselves in the translation of Hekhalot Zutarti in Chapter Eleven of this book. The major case studies focus on the Pauline corpus and the task of bridging the gap between the Second Temple Dead Sea Scrolls texts and the liturgical and cultic elements of the later Hekhalot sources.

The present book complements The Jewish Apocalyptic Heritage in Early Christianity (Compendia Rerum Iudaicarum Ad Novum Testamentum) edited by J.C. VanderKam and J. Adler. The consideration of Enochic motifs in the earlier book overlaps in part with material in Chapter Three below. David Frankfurter's discussion of Christian apocalypticism is concerned with the pervasiveness of what might be called a non-eschatological apocalypticism in early Christianity. The major aim in the earlier volume was to trace apocalyptic traditions in early Christianity, whereas the concern in this volume is more thematic and theological, as well as methodological, in that it offers an attempt to justify the propriety of the use of later material and seeks to demonstrate the relevance for New Testament theological themes.


Mysticism is one of those concepts that defies exact definition and historically has caused suspicion in religion because the appeal to privileged access to the divine perspective has seemed to encourage the unpredictable and subversive. There is an amusing quip which goes the round in Anglican circles concerning mysticism: it begins with 'mist', goes via 'I' and ends up in 'schism'. A cutting remark, it is true, no doubt coined by those who were suspicious of claims to religious experience as a basis of faith. But the saying epitomizes the difficulty attaching to mysticism in religion.' Mysticism and schism are closely linked in the history of Judaism and Christianity. For example, the mystical communion with the divine led to antinomianism in both Sabbatianism and the radical religion of English Protestantism at roughly the same time in the seventeenth century,' though, of course, mysticism and conventional religion could be found together.' Its relationship with matters apocalyptic and eschatological is not always noted, however, and it is often treated separately as a discrete religious phenomenon. One function of this work is to seek to consider together that which scholarship has often kept apart. The vague, often random, use of the word has meant that defining mysticism has always turned out to be rather difficult, encapsulating as it does a variety of different religious currents. The suspicion lurks that the lack of conceptual clarity may mask a fundamental inability to characterize it with any precision. After all, New Testament writers did not describe themselves as mystics (though Paul comes close to so doing in 1 Cor 4:1), and in 2 Cor 12:2-4 Paul speaks either of himself or another, directly or indirectly, as in the case of the pseudonymous authors of the Jewish pseudepigrapha, as being a recipient of divine knowledge.

It is appropriate to approach New Testament theology using mysticism as a heuristic device because the word forms part of the title of one of the most important (and influential) interpretations of the emergence of New Testament theology in the twentieth century. In it Albert Schweitzer suggested that Paul's Jewish eschatological inheritance was transmuted into a communion of the believer with the risen Christ, thereby enabling the unfulfilled hopes of millennial bliss to be appreciated in the present exquisite union with the crucified Messiah. Schweitzer points to a central emphasis of New Testament theology which is widely accepted,' namely, the way in which writers speak of the identification between believers and the divine in this age, whether it be with the person of the heavenly Christ, the indwelling spirit sent from God, or ultimately that time when 'God will be all in all'.6 It is a theme which is prominent in John 14-16, where mutual indwelling of the divine and the human is evident. The focus will be determined by the links with the mystical inheritance derived from the apocalypses and continued in the esoteric tradition of rabbinic Judaism, which forms so little part in Schweitzer's eschatological concerns. This reflected a widespread view that early rabbinic Judaism was unaffected by apocalyptic and mystical ideas, a view, which, since the work of Gershom Scholem, can no longer be sustained.

Mysticism may seem to be a surprising word to use in connection with any form of Judaism, which gives the impression of being concerned more with mundane, practical issues, rather than reliance on experience of the otherworldly. Nevertheless it is not as surprising as may appear at first sight. Indeed, 'normal mysticism' is said to characterize the everyday sense of God. But there has always been another, 'prophetic', dimension to Jewish experience of the divine. In rabbinic Judaism the first chapter of Ezekiel is the foundation text of the extraordinary speculative interest in the divinity. Even if in its present form Ezek 1 is the result of later reflection and redaction, it is an extraordinary description of religious experience whose nearest parallel in the Bible is the bewildered and disorientated outburst of Isa 21 or the call-vision of the same prophet and the agonized cries from the heart of Jeremiah.9 We have in Ezek 1 a description of the way in which the prophet attempts to express in words his belief that he has seen the glory of God. In it, and in parallel passages in the later apocalypses, we have evidence of a prophet's conviction about the apprehension of truths beyond the normal human understanding. The knowledge of God and the divine call are said to come through an experience which is out of the ordinary in the magnitude of its impact. Perception comes, therefore, by means other than those normally sanctioned by convention or human wisdom for determining the divine will. Superficially it contrasts with exegetical conventions and long-established behaviour transmitted from generation to generation by trusted interpreters which had come to guarantee some predictability in ascertaining appropriate religious conduct. There were well-worn patterns of interpretative practice in the quest of knowledge of the divine enabling stability and minimizing uncertainty. This contrasts with the claim to truth about God and the divine purposes which, at least initially, bypasses human reason, rational explanation and the conventions of normal discourse and relies instead on the intuitive and `givenness' of dream or vision. Visions are sometimes self-authenticating, and self-explanatory. How-ever, they often require the jagged edge of metaphor and the qualifications of analogy in communication of their content, or they demand the wisdom of an angelic interpreter to make sense of their enigmatic opacity.

The apprehension of divine wisdom by means of vision or revelation which is beyond normal human perception well describes the religion of the apocalypses of Judaism and Christianity. These offer access to hidden mysteries through revelation, to hidden or inexplicable truths which can explain the mystery of God and the world. Foremost among these is the truth about the future of the world and the reasons for rebellion against God and the means whereby that wrong will be righted, particularly when social and political circumstances made this a pressing issue.

Communion with the divine, familiar to us from the accounts of the mystical quest in later Christian mysticism, is not without its parallels in the pages of the New Testament, even if mystical union is not usually seen as the way the New Testament authors speak of that experience. Nevertheless the language they use is about identification with, infusion with, or being clothed with, the divine Christ. It is a divine enfolding or indwelling, in which human and divine worlds meet, and is mystical in its intensity and conviction. Otherwise matter-of-fact epistles like 1 Corinthians, dealing with the practicalities of everyday life, and the human stories of the Gospels and Acts, hint at communion with a more mysterious world of angels and demons, of heavenly secrets and dramatic epiphanies.

Christianity had its origins in a messianic movement in Galilee and Jerusalem and consisted of a pattern of religion which expected the restoration of Israel's fortunes," thus paralleling, at least in general terms, several short-lived popular movements described by Josephus (e.g. Ant. 20:1670.° The main difference is that Christianity was a messianic movement which survived and fragmentary information is extant about what motivated its founding figures. We have an example of a self-consciously messianic group which after the traumatic death of its leader became well-established within the last decades of Second Temple Judaism, continuing to proclaim an eschatological message focused on the resurrection of its leader from the dead. There is little in the extant literature of other movements which resembles this peculiar character of Christianity. It led the Christians to deal with a range of issues which would hardly have affected Jews who did not share their convictions: the character of life in the messianic age, the order of the fulfilment of eschatological events and the timetable for the consummation of all things.

Accompanying such eschatological convictions and the related prac-tices which are worked out in conjunction with these beliefs, and in cer-tain key ways supportive of them in many strands of the New Testament, reference is made to the importance of visions and revelations.° While in the Jewish apocalyptic literature these visions are pseudonymously attributed to a biblical figure from the distant past of the golden age of Jewish history, in the New Testament these are linked directly with the founding figures of the Christian movement (though there can be no denying the affinities which exist between the form and content of the visionary reports in the New Testament and those found in the apocalypses). Take the accounts of Jesus' baptism and the conversion of Paul, for example. In the former we have, particularly in its Marcan form (Mark 1:10), the personal vision reminiscent of the apocalypses and the call-visions of the prophets, and, in the reference to the open heaven, a typical feature of visionary accounts (cf. Acts 7:56; 10:11; 2 Bar 22:1). Whatever our views may be about the authenticity of this account, it stands at the beginning of Mark's Gospel as the decisive moment when Jesus of Nazareth was called by God and commissioned as the divine Son by the Spirit to preach the good news of the Kingdom of God. Similarly, at the start of Paul's ministry as an apostle of Jesus Christ there stands the Damascus experience. Whether in the versions of the call vision in Acts (9, 22, and 26), with their similarity with angelomorphic traditions of Hellenistic Judaism, or in Gal 1:12 and 16, where Paul felt impelled to describe his call in language derived from the prophetic commissions of Jer 1:5 and Isa 49:1, the centrality of the mystical is evident.

The early Christian texts relate such visionary experiences in a matter-of-fact way, with a minimum of detail or fuss. It is now impossible to be certain whether they record the visionary experiences of these key figures of early Christian life. Nevertheless, given the widespread existence of the visionary and mystical in the Christian material of the first century or so, not to mention its profound importance for the growth of the movement, it would be an excessively suspicious person who would deny that some authentic visions lie behind some or all of these brief literary records. When John the visionary on Patmos speaks of 'being in the spirit on the Lord's day', he beckons interpreters to consider what is _written in a way different from the work of the ordinary collector of traditional material or visionary scribe.° A 'principle of credulity' rather than of scepticism infuses the following pages, therefore, accepting the possibility that visions have prompted the words we now read rather than literary artifice alone, unless there are strong reasons for supposing the contrary.

It is specifically the narrative in Luke-Acts of the origins of the church which has most of the accounts of visions in the New Testament. Even allowing for the author's special interest in the divine guidance of the church and its mission, the vision of the tongues of fire at Pentecost, the martyr Stephen's vision of the heavenly Son of Man, the decisive vision of the sheet descending from heaven which preceded Peter's preaching to Cornelius, and the thrice-told account of Paul's conversion, all indicate to us the importance which the author attached to visions and revelations in the life of the early church. Related to them is the belief, which abounds in the New Testament, that with the return of the prophetic spirit, God was communicating to his people through his prophets, inspiring them with the tongues of angels and revealing mysteries through the Spirit which had long been hidden. Here we have a pattern of beliefs which has clear affinities with that quest for higher wisdom through revelation which was characteristic of apocalypticism.16 The story of the extent of such influence does not end with the New Testament, however.

Visions themselves remain unproblematic, unless they result in a radical departure from conventional belief and practice. The problem is set out in Deuteronomy 13 which speaks of 'following other gods' (Deut 13:2), with the attendant departure from established custom and obligation. In the early Christian story, at decisive moments, issues are 'clarified', and new departures initiated, by visionary insight (Mark 1:10; Acts 10-11). In the case of Peter in Acts 10 the vision is used, in part at least, as the basis of the new turn in Christian outlook and practice: the admission of the Gentiles into the people of God. Such a significant shift in behaviour was the subject of intense wrangling and discussion, as we see from Galatians 2, but when it was supported by supernatural validation, the quest for consensus and the appeal to tradition is short-circuited. Such an appeal to visions might not matter if the subject matter was itself uncontroversial. When it becomes the basis for a significant new departure then it inevitably becomes problematic.

The contemporary Jewish apocalypses, however, rarely use the concept of revelation to offer a definitive and innovative solution to existing problems. There are exceptions. So, for example, in a work like Jubilees which purports to be an angelic revelation to Moses on Sinai we find a telling of biblical history which conforms largely with what is found in Scripture. At many points, however, there are divergences especially when halakhic questions emerge, such as the calendar and sabbath observance. Here revelation (which is itself the overall context of both the patriarchal story as well as the Sinaitic revelation in the book) is used to exclude and castigate opponents and their way of behaviour. Such a use of apocalyptic themes, which in effect denies the fallibility of the recipient, also removes any possibility of discussion of the subject. Something of the same can happen when final, authoritative interpretations of Scripture are offered by means of revelation, such as we find, for example, in Dan 9:23 and in the biblical interpretation at Qumran (see 1QpHab 7)." In a similar way the Temple Scroll offers what appears to be a revelation by God to Moses and in fact consists of additional, peculiar, halakhot, as well as including material in line with that found in Scripture.'

As we have seen, the problem of true and false prophecy is endemic to religion and has a long history in Judaism (Deut 13 and 18 and Jer 23:16ff.). The central role that prophecy played within early Christianity is evident from virtually every document in the New Testament. Problems were posed by such claims to divine inspiration. All this could have been lived with if there had not been a substantial difference of opinion over conduct, just as later the Jewish mystics could be accommodated provided that they did not infringe conventional theological and ethical wisdom. When they did, the excesses of mystical religion needed to be hedged around even more with restrictions. This, as we shall see, is what happens with regard to mystical matters in mHag 2.1.

Religious authority claimed as a result of visions has a long history within early Christianity. The Nag Hammadi texts indicate the extent of the influence of apocalypticism at the level of ideas. Threats from individuals or groups who claimed divine support by means of visions and revelations seem to have been quite a pressing problem. The problem of wandering prophets is alluded to in Did 11:3ff. and 16:3, and there is a repudiation of false spirits in 1 Tim 4:1 (cf. Jude 4ff.). If Paul and John of Patmos could claim authority on the basis of a vision, what was to distinguish them from a Cerinthus or an Elchesai, whose esoteric teaching is communicated in the garb of divine authority?

Paul's letters testify to the conviction that the Scriptures, the fountainhead and embodiment of tradition and the basis for a community's identity, are now read in the light of the new experience, that of the Spirit (Gal 3:2-4). Something very different is at work which relativises the past. Christians in Corinth are told : 'Now these things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come' (1 Cor 10:11). The point is made most clearly in 1 Pet 1:11f. by stressing the privileged position of the readers/hearers of the letters in understanding mysteries which the angels themselves had long desired to look upon (cf. Luke 10:24). The present has become the moment to which all the Scriptures have been pointing. Their meaning can only be fully understood with that Spirit-inspired intuition which is a consequence of the advent of the Messiah. Apocalyptic insight, on the basis of one's own experience, or the testimony of others who have been privileged to have it, will enable the new way to be discerned or the enlightened reader to pierce beyond the letter of the text to get at its inner meaning. Just as the Teacher of Righteousness opened up the enigmatic prophetic oracles with his mystical insight: 'to whom God made known all the mysteries of his servants the prophets' (1QpHab 7:1), so now not only is the true mean-ing of the ancestral texts being offered but also new knowledge is on offer (cf. John 16:13). Those who accept the Messiah can understand the true meaning of the Scriptures and taste the goodness of God and the powers of the age to come. It is not that the Scriptures are redun-dant but that they have ceased to be the primary source of guidance. They are a witness to, and the vehicle whereby, the promptings of the indwelling Spirit of God take place. A mystery of ultimate importance had been revealed in Christ, and it is subsequently amplified by other divine mysteries. In short, the spirit of mystery and revelation is a recurring theme of New Testament theology.20

In what follows we shall allude to many of the main strands of the New Testament. The discussion will not be solely with the perception of the divine through vision or revelation. Other themes will be con-sidered. The privilege of access to the environs of God and the divine secrets brought the mystic into contact with a world populated by angels.

There is evidence enough that from the earliest period angelomorphic categories were used by orthodox and heterodox alike to explore the mystery of Christ's relationship with God. The spatial, dualistic, language which is such a striking feature of the apocalyptic ascents to heaven also served Christian writers' theological purposes as they sought to expound Christ's exaltation. Even within the narrative books the intersection of the human and divine worlds in the stories of Jesus deserves more recognition. Christ is either the one who is in receipt of divine revelation which is then revealed to the least expected members of the human race (Matt 11:25ff.) or is himself the embodiment of the divine mystery. The communion of human and divine worlds marks the eschatological climax of the Apocalypse when heaven comes down to earth. Nevertheless, as we shall see, that distant hope is already enjoyed as a present fact of life in individual and corporate experience as the struggle with the fragmentation of individual and society goes on.

It is our contention that a proper understanding of New Testament theology and Christian origins is incomplete unless mystical and apocalyptic material is taken seriously. Early Christianity was born as an apocalyptic movement in Judaism. Its messianic convictions were rooted in its revelatory claims and its innovations with regard to convention and established institutions were buttressed by a mystical outlook. To this extent Schweitzer was right to ground his understanding of Christian origins in apocalypticism. But his exclusively eschatological interest ignores other, and more important, elements of the apocalyptic and mystical tradition which deserve our attention. Mysticism might be difficult to define but it was a thorn in the flesh of the wielders of power in the first century and in centuries which followed, not least because it was such a central component of earliest Christian experience and self-definition from the very start of the Christian church."



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