ABSTRACT: The Chain of Tradition in the Hekhalot Literature

Da'at, 56 (2005), pp. 5-37  Meir Bar-Ilan


The aim of this paper is to analyze some aspects of the historical backgrounds of the Hekhalot Literature by evaluating the chain of tradition in this literature, as well as midrashic affinities and heavenly ideas in that literature. According to that tradition the secret was given to Moses by the angel Metatron, and Moses passed it on to his students, and later on it was given to Ezra, to Hillel, R. Abbahu and his disciple R. Zera. This study aims to analyze this tradition from a literary perspective, as well as an historical one.

First the basic text from the end of III Enoch is discussed, and after it is compared to other cases of chain-traditions, it becomes evident that the text should be taken as historical and authentic (at least concerning the end of the chain). Various sources from the Talmud and Midrashim are used to show that R. Abbahu was not only a great Haggadist, but a mystic and affiliated with the Hekhalot literature as well. R. Zera, not the Babylonian R. Zera, was a real disciple of R. Abbahu, so the chain of tradition is historical. This leads to the conclusion that the Hekhalot literature was composed in the end of the first half of the 4th century.

After the literary and historical analysis an attempt is made to locate the geographical origin of the Hekhalot literature, according to the geographical names mentioned on the texts: Jerusalem, the Temple, Qidron stream and Caesarea. Analysis of these names, as well as analyzing traditions concerning “The Ten Martyrs” yields the premise that Caesarea discloses the name of the place where these texts were written, the place where R. Abbahu and R. Zera – the last in the chain of the Hekhalot tradition – lived, was the place where R. Aqivah died.