From Martyr to Mystic
Rabbinic Martyrology & the
Making of Merkavah Mysticism

By Ra’anan S. Boustan
Studies and Texts in Ancient Judaism, No. 112
December 2005
Mohr Siebeck
ISBN: 3161487532
398 pages, 6 ½” x 9 ¼”
$197.50 Hardcover

The author traces the historical emergence of the specific form of ‘mystical’ discourse found in Heikhalot Rabbati. He argues that the creators of Heikhalot Rabbati sought to fashion a myth of origins for their distinctive brand of heavenly ascent practice by radically reworking the narrative framework of the widely disseminated post-talmudic martyrology The Story of the Ten Martyrs.

Heikhalot Rabbati not only renders redundant the notion of atoning self-sacrifice that is central to the martyrology, but also ascribes to the Heikhalot visionary the intercessory function of the martyr - here achieved bloodlessly through heavenly ascent and liturgical performance.

Heikhalot Rabbati emerged as a part of a broader effort to fashion a distinct social identity for the Heikhalot visionary. In parsing the complex relationship between rabbinic martyrology and Heikhalot literature, the author illuminates how the figures of the rabbinic martyr and the Merkavah mystic came to play parallel, yet competing, roles within the highly influential conceptions of history that were bequeathed to medieval Jewish communities by late antique Judaism.

Contents include:


Introduction: The Emergence of a Jewish “Mystical” Literature

1. Heikhalot Literature and Rabbinic Martyrology
2. From Individual Guilt to Collective Sin: The Formation of the Post-Talmudic Martyrological Anthology
3. The Hagiographic Vita of a Priestly Rabbinic Martyr: The Figure of Rabbi Ishmael in The Story of the Ten Martyrs
4. The Heavenly Cult of Martyrs: Apocalyptic Forms in Rabbinic Martyrology
5. Apocalypse Now: Genre Inversion and Identity Reversal in Heikhalot Rabbati
6. The Making of the Merkavah Mystic: The Function of Post-Talmudic Martyrology in Heikhalot Rabbati

Conclusion: Toward the Middle Ages


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