Jewish Magical Body-Inscription in the First and Second Centuries
A Quarterly for Jewish Studies
Volume LVII, Issue 1(1988)
The Institute of Jewish Studies
Translated by: Menachem Sheinberger
A Note on the Translation
My intent has been to make the translation as literal and consistent as I could, while still readable. By "readable”, I mean what can easily be read with no extensive foreknowledge of the subject, but with some familiarity of Jewish terminology and Jewish history. Recognizing that translation is always imperfect, I have sought all the more to be modest, cautious, and faithful. I refrained as much as possible from interpretation but tried to convey the authors thought, as I understood him. Two issues need to be pointed out. The first is the Cabalistic texts used in the essay. These texts have many variants, even more than the author acknowledges in the footnotes. I am certain he is justified in accepting the versions he proposes, but certainly, there is no universal consensus on the exact content or on the interpretations that are latent in the way the author utilized the texts. Moreover, Cabalistic invocations by their very nature are open to varying interpretation and in translating some of the lesser known and lesser-researched texts, I have had to rely on my own understan
ding of the text. The second issue is the style of the essay, written with a slightly polemical undertone, vis-à-vis the tension between Christian and Jewish scholars of Late Antiquity. The material in the essay was rich enough without the subtle bluster, and so although a residue has surely lingered, stylistically speaking, I have lowered the pitch. I am certain this has not affected the translation of the actual content in any way. Since some of the inferences are literary and exegetical, I have included the original Hebrew texts that the author has used, either before the translation in the body, or as a footnote. New Testament verses follow the English Standard Version, and Old Testament verses follow the JPS Tanach. Several footnotes are my own, and are marked as such by (MS); this in no way is a mark of ownership.
Scholars of early Christianity are aware but reluctant to acknowledge, that customary body-inscription practiced by early Christians in a variety of forms, derives from the Jewish tradition. This basis for this opinion is simply that the idea is explicit in the Hebrew Bible, and is echoed several times in other sources. Ezekiel the prophet says as follows: (Ezekiel 9:4-7)
ויאמר יהוה אליו: עבור בתוך העיר, בתוך ירושלים והתווית תו על-מצחות האנשים הנאנחים והנאנקים על כל-התועבות, הנעשות בתוכה,
ולאלה אמר באוזניי: עברו בעיר אחריו והכו אל- תחוס עינכם, ואל-תחמולו.
זקן בחור ובתולה וטף ונשים תהרגו למשחית, ועל-כל-איש אשר-עליו התו אל-תיגשו, וממקדשי, תחלו ויחלו באנשים הזקנים, אשר לפני הבית.
And the Lord said to him,
"Pass through the midst of the city, through the midst of
This indicates that a mark on the forehead was a symbolic guardianship
protecting the righteous, similar to the symbolic blood on lintels and
doorposts during the exodus from
Several hundred years after Ezekiel, we encounter the ritual of marking the righteous – described as an event –in Revelations, a book authored around the end of the first century, the last book of the New Testament. The prophesizing author repeats his description several times and in various forms (7:3, 9:4, 14:1, 17:5, 19:12,16, 20:4, 22:4.). These verses prove beyond any doubt, that the author of this book availed himself of previous Jewish sources on the subject of marking the forehead as well as other subjects, and he treated the markings as an actual event. No one has questioned the influence of Ezekiel on the book of Revelations, and scholars of early Christianity have collected all the sources that provide evidence for the tradition of marking the righteous with a letter (sphragis), including what is found in the Apocrypha, Patristic literature, and other Christian writings.
Scholars have shown however, that customary body-inscription was
not only a Jewish tradition, nor was it necessarily one of symbolic
guardianship, but it acted as a symbol of sovereignty and ownership on slaves. For our purpose that does not make any
difference, since the connections of customary body-inscription to scripture are
well attested. Some scholars see the
Non-Jewish scholars did not utilize various rabbinic sources that would assist in understanding the contemporaneous sources. Needless to say, they did not realize the importance of Heichalot literature in understanding this tradition, primarily due to the late developments of the Heichalot scholarship. The purpose of this essay is to track the tradition of body-inscription extant in Tannaitic and Heichalot literature, and to ascertain if such sources can provide any clarification on the relevant issues in New Testament research.
The Tannaitic sources
Lieberman has pointed to the body marking tradition by relying on non-Jewish sources, and on evidence found in Amoraitic Midrash. Prior to looking at the Amoraitic Aggada, which has more literary than historical significance, we will point to several Tannaitic sources that inform us about various body marking phenomena. Even though these symbols vary slightly from the ancient Tav, they express a similar idea, and doubly so.
Chapter three of Mishna Makot enumerates cases of various transgressions under the heading; ‘These are sentenced to flogging.’ Mishna 4 of that chapter depicts such a transgression:
הכותב כתובת קעקע-- כתב ולא קעקע, קעקע ולא כתב -- אינו חייב עד שיכתוב ויקעקע בדיו, ובכוחל, ובכל דבר שהוא רושם. רבי שמעון בן יהודה משם רבי שמעון אומר, אינו חייב עד שיכתוב את השם, שנאמר "וכתובת קעקע, לא תיתנו בכם אני ה'"
Whoever writes a tattoo: if he wrote but did not tattoo, or tattooed without writing, he is not culpable until he writes and tattoos with ink, or dye, or anything that leaves a visible mark. R. Shimon ben Yehudah says in the name of R. Shimon; He is not guilty until he writes out the name of God, as it says (Leviticus, 19:28), You shall not make cuts in your flesh for a person [who died]. You shall not etch a tattoo on yourselves. I am the Lord.
Evidently, according to R. Shimon, it is prohibited to tattoo the name of God on the body – and this seems to him to be the plain sense of the verse – but an ordinary tattoo, has no prohibition. In a slightly variant form this ruling is also written in the Tosefta Makot 4, 12, (and in the BT in the name of Bar Kapara, BT Makot 21a) “One is not liable until one writes and tattoos with ink and dye for an idolatrous purpose.” Meaning, there is no prohibition to tattoo the name of God on the body according to the Tosefta; the prohibition is to tattoo the name of an idolatrous deity. We cannot derive from these laws how common this activity was, but we can see the prevalence from another ruling recounted in BT Yoma 8a, a ruling that deals with ritual bathing on Yom Kippur:
והתניא הרי שהיה שם כתוב על בשרו הרי זה לא ירחץ ולא יסוך ולא יעמוד במקום הטנופת נזדמנה לו טבילה של מצוה כורך עליו גמי וטובל רבי יוסי אומר יורד וטובל כדרכו ובלבד שלא ישפשף
Was it not taught: If the name was written in his flesh, he should not bathe nor anoint nor stand in a foul space. If he is obliged to bathe, he should wrap it with a ribbon and immerse himself. R. Yosi says: He can immerse himself in the regular fashion, as long as he does not scrub.
From here is evident, that the Rabbis were not only aware of the tradition to write the name of God on the body, but that they contended with it in their legal writings. Since it is inconceivable that a ruling would be ratified regarding an abandoned and unusual occurrence, we can surmise that a portion, even if a minor one, of the learned people at that time, would inscribe the name of God on their body. Due to meager sources however, the subject remains not very well researched to date.
A vital difference exists on this subject between the ancient sources to the rabbinic legal material. While according to the Bible and later sources, the righteous were inscribed with the letter Tav, in the legal rendering above it refers to writing Gods’ name in full. If not, there would be no concern of erasure during bathing. How can we explain the difference in the sources?
In reality, the difference is not that significant. The name of God or a Tav inscribed on a body denotes a comparable message: God is the true lord of the person whose body is inscribed by either of the two signs. However, we can now explain the body marking tradition in another light; in its connection to phylacteries. Are phylacteries a bodily obligation or only a symbol? It is well known that there are varying Jewish opinions on the matter. The controversy seems to hearken back to scripture itself, as we find a variance in the textual transmission of the commandment. In Deuteronomy 6:8 (and ), it says: “And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for ornaments between your eyes.” This indicates something physical is tied on to the body. But in Exodus 13:9 (and ) it says: “And it shall be to you as a sign upon your hand and as a remembrance between your eyes,” which simply defined, means a mere symbol. Even so, it seems that there other methods of fulfilling this obligation, to which the Falasha Jews are witness to. The testimony of a Falasha elder relates that although the would like to they do not fulfill the obligation of phylacteries – writing the ten commandments on their hands – because they no longer have a special water resistant dye. Evidently, the Falasha Jews thought, that the obligation of phylacteries was fulfilled by writing the commandments on the hands, and they abstain due to a technical shortcoming. We cannot however ascertain that they ever fulfilled the obligation of phylacteries in this manner (without any parchment). Nevertheless, it seems that there is no major difference between this surmised tradition and the method of the Samaritan mezuzah (which turns out to be not originally Samaritan). Writing verses of scripture on the doorposts of the home, and the marking of the doorpost with blood, are two traditions that have similar guardian significance. Therefore, the difference between the various forms that the obligation of “on your hand” were practiced are insignificant; whether by the letter Tav, by writing the name of God, or by writing scriptural verse on a parchment or on the hand. What we have is varying traditions, with differing practices in the home or on the body but with a similar meaning; they were applied to mark the sovereignty of God on the carrier of his name. Ezekiel taught one method where the letter Tav signifies God’s name similar to the practice of early Christians. The Rabbis meanwhile knew a different method whereby the whole name of God was inscribed on the body.
In light of this, it is not unreasonable to suggest that the verse (Deuteronomy 28:10); “Then all the peoples of the earth will see that the name of the Lord is called upon you, and they will fear you.” should not be explained in the following way. Since the name of God is written (and therefore invoked) on the foreheads of those that follow Gods commandments, the neighboring nations will see this, and therefore fear the Israelites. The marking of Gods’ name on those that worshipped God was of a guardian nature, although it is hard to determine if this is the plain sense of the verse. It is worthy to note what the Amoraim say about this verse found in the Midrash Tehilim, (Buber edition, 251):
אמר ר' אבא בר כהנא: שני דורות נשתמשו בשם המפורש: אנשי כנסת הגדולה, ודורו של שמד... איזהו כלי המלחמה? זה שם המפורש, שהיו יוצאין למלחמה, ולא היו עושין מלחמה - ונופלין השונאין (לפניהם). וכיון שגרמו העונות וחרבה הבית - היו נופלין ביד שונאיהן. ר' אייבו ורבנן: ר' אייבו אמר: המלאכים היו מקלפין את השם שהיה (חקוק עליהן) ; ורבנן אמרו: מעצמו היה נקלף. וכיון שחרב הבית, היו יוצאין למלחמה (ונופלין), התחילו אומרים (תהלים לח, ד) 'אין מתום בבשרי מפני זעמך'.
R. Aba said in the name of R. Kahana: Two generations utilized the ineffable name, the generation of the Anshei Knesset ha-Gedolah, and the generation of persecution… what is an example of armament? This is the ineffable name, because they would go out to battle but not engage in any battle and their enemies would perish. After the temple was destroyed due to sin, they (Israelites) would perish in front of their enemies. R. Aybu and the Rabbis (differ on this): R. Aybu said: The angels would peel off the name (inscribed upon them), and the Rabbis said: it would peel off on its own. After the temple was destroyed due to sin and they (Israelites) perished (in battle), they began saying: (Psalms 38:4): “There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your fury; there is no peace in my bones because of my sin.”
The Israelites would wage battle with no arms, only with the name of God inscribed on their bodies as it says in Deuteronomy. After they sinned God’s name peeled away – the guardianship signifier was removed, and therefore the Israelites perished. In any event, Aggadic material and historical reality do not necessarily coincide, and we cannot know from this Midrash or from any other Midrash, how prevalent was the body marking tradition amongst Jews during the time of the Amoraim.
The Heichalot Sources
Symbolic body inscription is mentioned several times in Heichalot literature. A close look at the source material can contribute to some clarification, particularly concerning the shape and purpose of the symbols. First, let us look at a work called Ma’aseh Merkavah. It is not a lengthy work, but the many subjects and concepts it contains grant it the importance it has amongst Heichalot literature. Scholars disagree on the date of composition, but that is irrelevant to our discussion. There are several parallels between this book and the behavior patterns of the (Jewish) leaders of Early Christianity such as the many ritual immersions, fasts, prayers and descriptions of divine visions. We will only concentrate on the bodily inscription.
The subject of bodily inscription appears twice in the book, the two appearances being supplementary. R. Ishmael relates the following:
אמר לי שר של תורה, יופיאל שמו: וכל מי שהוא מבקש עליו (=אותו), ישב ארבעים יום בתענית, יאכל פיתו במלח, ולא יאכל כל מיני זוהמא, ויטבול כ'ד' טבילות ולא יסתכל במיני צבע'‹ונין›, עיניו יכבשון בארעא, ויתפלל בכל כחו, ויכוין לבו בתפילתו, ויחתום עצמו בחותמות שלו, ויזכיר י'ב' דברים: אתה אל חי בשמים...וירדו אלי שבעים מלאכים ושקדהוזיי מלאך הפנים עמהן. ויזכיר אותות שלא יתנזק...אני מזכיר שמך שהוא אחד על כל הבריות...חותם קדוש דיש קדש... חותם למעלה מראשי... חותם על איבריי...אדירי חכמה יצרתה שיש להן רשות שיורידו סתרי חכמה מרשות שמך שאתה מלכו של עולם...ואשורר לפניך כמה שנ' מי כמוך באלים ה' וגו'. בא יי' אדון ניסים וגבורות. שומע מקדש שמך ומתרצה ליודעי שמו. וישא עיניו לשמים שלא ימות, יעמד ויזכיר שם, ויפאר כדי שתהא מחוקק בכל איבריו, חכמה וחקר בינה בלבבו, ויקדים ויתפלל אותו בשמו ויעשה לו עוגה ויעמד בה שלא יבאו המזיקין וידמו לו כמלאכים ויהרגוהו.
The Lord of the Torah, called Yophiel, told me: Anyone who seeks him should: fast for forty days; eat bread and water; abstain from eating polluted food; immerse twenty-four times; refrain from seeing any colors; his eyes focused on the floor; pray with all his energies; be heartfelt in his prayers; inscribe himself with Gods’ seals, and utter twelve sayings: You, God, existing in heaven…..and seventy angels came down near me, and Shakdhoozei, the Presence Angel was amongst them. And he should utter symbols to prevent being harmed…..I utter your name that is One above all creatures…. seal of Kadosh-Dish- Kodesh….. seal above my head…..seal unto my members…..of great wisdom did you create that are permitted to bring down secrets of wisdom from the environs of your name, you who are the sovereign of the world…. And I will sing before you as it says ‘Who is like You among the powerful, O Lord?’ etc. Come Adonai, lord of miracles and strength, the One who listens to one who sanctifies Your name, and satisfies those who know His name. He should then lift his eyes toward heaven to prevent dying, stay in one place and utter a (holy) name, and he should beautify himself, so that he is inscribed in all his limbs, wisdom and search for understanding, in his heart, and he should hurry and pray to Him in His name. He should make a circle for himself and stand in it, so that demons should not arrive presenting their image as angels and kill him.
The meaning is this: Whoever wishes to meet the lord of the Torah, meaning, to succeed in his mystical vision must do the following things: fast by day, keep an ascetic diet at night, perform ritual immersions, and other things that we cannot explicate here. Ultimately, however, for a successful descent to the chariot, one needs not only to pray with all his energies, meaning with complete and heartfelt conviction, but he must also “inscribe himself with His seals.” It is unclear from this text exactly how this was done, but it seems that a variety of seals were inscribed on the body parts of the praying mystic, and this was an inseparable part of the process of achieving divine visions.
Further on in the text, we find a supplementary description on the subject of seals, that clarifies the link between the prayers and the seals and the way they are made. This is what we read there:
א' ר' ישמעאל: ז' חותמות חתמתי עצמי בשעה שירד פדקרס מלאך הפנים ב' ‹רוך› א'‹תה› יי' שבראת שמים וארץ בחכמתך ובתבונתך לעולם שמך חיאוף סיסי פייאו לו סם בי כיי תניי שם עבדך,
אוריס ססתיי על רגלי
אבג בגג על לבי
ארים תיפא עלי זרוע ימיני
אוריס תסי יאה עלי זרוע שמאלי
אבית תל בג אר ייו דיואל על צוארי
אוף אך קיטר סס אחד ידיד יה לשמירת נפשי
ולמעלה מכולם, אף פת יהו חיו יו זהו יהו תיתס מעל ראשי
ריר גוג גדול הף יף הף טהור הה ייו ההי הה הה הזכרות עולם
תתברך אדון החכמה שכל הגבורה שלך,
ב'‹רוך› א'‹תה› יי' אדון גבורה, רם ונישא גדול בממשלה...
ב'‹רוך› א'‹תה› יי' האל הקדוש
R. Ishmael said: I inscribed myself with seven seals the moment Pedrakas the Presence Angel descended: Blessed are you Adonai who created heaven and earth in your wisdom and understanding Eternally your name (is?) Chiuf SiSi Phayo Lo Sam Be Kaii Tnaii name (of?) your servant Auris Sstaii On my leg Abag Bagag On my heart Arim Tipha On my right arm Auris Tsi Ya’eh On my left arm Abit Tl Bg Ar Yyv Deyuel On my throat Auph Akh Kiter Ss Echad Yedid Yah To protect my soul And above them all, Aph PT Yhu Chyu Yv Zhu Yhu Titas Above my head Rir Gog Gadol Haph Yaph Tahor HH yyv Hhi hh hh Hazkarot Olam Be blessed lord of wisdom for all the strength is yours, Blessed are you Adonai, the lord of strength, lofty and lifted high in rule Blessed are you Adonai, the holy God.
First and foremost, we see that the inscriber saw himself as a servant of God, when he says: “Eternally your name is (here the text has some unintelligible words that may possibly mean ‘similar’) the name of your servant,” similar to the ancient custom of inscribing servants on their bodies. Besides this, we can infer that the seals were not inscribed only on the hand, but on seven parts of the body. This is similar to what we find in Revelations 19:16 in the description of the angel: “On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” Meaning; the righteous were inscribed not only upon the arm, but also on the leg, and it is self-evident that they would inscribe other body parts as well, as it is written here explicitly. Moreover, it seems that the seals are part of ritual accompanied by glorifying prayer, similar to an early version of the first three benedictions in the Shemoneh Esreh. For our purpose it is more relevant, that we find for the first time a clear indication of a seal with magical or semi magical qualities. The seal here is not a Tav or a common symbol, nor is it the ineffable name, as we saw in the Rabbinic legal literature. It seems that every ‘seal’ attributed to of R. Ishmael, is a hidden name for God, or a permutation of names of God, that are written in cryptic writing, similar to what we find in much magical literature (not necessarily Jewish).
An additional description from Heichalot writings, can supplement what we know about body inscriptions of the names of God. At the beginning of the book Merkavah Shleimah, (Jerusalem: S. Musayov, 1921, p.1) it says:
שאל ר' עקיבא את ר' אליעזר הגדול: במה משביעים שר הפנים לירד לארץ לגלות לאדם רזי מעלה ומטה וערמת תושיה? אמר לו:... ישב בתענית יום אחד שהוא מורידו, וקודם אותו היום יקדש עצמו ז' ימים, ויהי טובע באמת המים, ולא יהיו (!) מסיח שיחה בטלה...ויאמר קודם שישביע: משביע אני עליכם... ואח"כ יפתח (?) וישביע כי נתחזק, וחתם עצמו בשם של מ"ב אותיות, שמי ששומע יפחדו וירעשו ויתבהלו כל צבא מרום, וכו'.'
R. Akiva asked of R. Eliezer ha-Gadol: How do we invoke the lord of the presence to descend to earth, to reveal to man, the secrets of above and below and the wisdom of manipulation? He replied: … he should fast on the day that he brings him down, and before that day he should sanctify himself for seven days, and he should dunk in a water canal, and they (sic!) should talk idle chatter…. he should say before he invokes: I invoke upon all of you…. after that he should open (sic!) and invoke since he has gained force, and inscribe himself with the forty-two lettered name, so that whoever hears it will fear and all the heavenly entourages will cacophony and be frightened, etc.
Apparently, body inscriptions were not limited to magical letters, but also to the ineffable name (which does have certain magical attributes), a perfect example of the ruling encountered in the Tannaitic writings: “If the name was written in his flesh.” However, whether it was the ineffable name or magical letters that were inscribed on the body, the abovementioned texts do not help us understand the significance of seals, and why they would be necessary to the Heichalot mystic. We shall therefore look at another source that describes the utility of the seals to a Merkavah visionary.
In Heichalot Rabbati, the central work of Heichalot literature, we find a detailed description of the use and necessity of seals. The ascent into heaven to see a vision of God entails, as is well known, passing through the seven heichalot of God. A Merkavah visionaire must pass through consecutive stages - the various Heichalot- although at every heichal there are angels barring entry to whoever is unworthy. After various enigmatically linked introductions and descriptions, we find a description of the method with which ‘one descends to the Merkavah.’ Many other things are required of someone wishing to descend to the Merkavah the relevancy to us, however, is the part where R. Ishmael teaches his disciples about the passage between individual heichalot in the heaven:
אמר ר' ישמעאל כשאתה בא ועומד על פתח היכל הראשון טול שני חותמות בשתי ידיך אחד של טוטרוסיאי יוי (= ה') ואחד של סוריא שר הפנים של טוטרוסיאי יוי הראה אותו לעומדים לימין, ושל סוריא הראה אותו לעומדים לשמאל. מיד רהביאל השר שהוא ראש פתח היכל הראשון, ופקוד על היכל ראשון... מיד תופשין אותך... ומשלימין ומזהירין עליך לטגריאל השר שהוא ראש פתח היכל השני, וכו'.
R. Ishmael said: When you arrive and are standing ready at the gateway to the first heichal, take two seals in your two hands, one of Tutrusiai yvy (=H’), and one of Suriya the Presence Lord. The one of Tutrusiai yvy show to those that are on the right, and the one of Suryia show to those that are on the left. Immediately Rahaviel the lord who is the chief opens the first heichal, and command unto the first heichal…immediately you will be taken…and they release you and instruct (about you) to Tagriel who is the chief of the gateway to the second heichal, etc.
Which means that one who descends to the Merkavah is inscribed on his person with various seals that act like security passes to the heavenly chambers. Without these seals, he will not gain entry to view the Merkavah, or to attain a mystical vision. After the description of entry to the first gateway that requires the use of two seals, the subsequent paragraphs indicate that passage to descend to the Merkavah through each consecutive heichal follows the same criteria. Indeed, immediately thereafter, we find:
והראה אותם [את שומר היכל השני] שתי חותמות: אחד של אדריהרון יוי ואחד של אוזהייא שר הפנים. של אדריהרון הראה אותו לעומדים לימין, ושל אוהזיא שר הפנים הראה אותו לעומדין לשמאל. מיד תופסין אותך, אחד מימינך ואחד משמאלך, עד שמוליכין ומוסרין אותך ומשלימין אותך ומזהירין עליך לשבוריאל השר שהוא ראש פתח היכל השלישי, וכו'.
Show to them [the guards of the second heichal] two seals: one of Adriheron Yvy and one of Uzayaha the Presence Minister. The one of Adriheron show to those that stand on the right, and the one of Uhazya show to those that stand on the left. Immediately you will be grabbed by one on your right and by one on your left, until they have walked you and handed you over and settled with you and instruct (about) you to Shburiel the minister who is the chief of the gateway to the third heichal, etc.
The ritual repeats itself. At every gateway to a heichal there are guards who will permit entry only to those seekers of the Merkavah that have the appropriate seals. To pass the gateway guards (along the path to the seventh heichal wherein God sits on his throne), he must present two different seals at each gateway. The author of Heichalot Rabbati, or the transcriber, softens the dramatic character of passing from a heichal at one level to a higher one, by describing marginal issues that are unimportant to understand the utility of the seals. Only at the gateway to the sixth heichal, does the one entering have to show three seals, not two, and from there he continues his heavenly journey as described in the summary:
ולא היו שואלין [המלאכים שומרי הפתחים] אותו [היורד למרכבה] לא בהיכל ראשון, ולא בהיכל שני, ולא בהיכל שלישי, ולא בהיכל רביעי, ולא בהיכל חמישי, ולא בהיכל ששי, ולא בהיכל שביעי, אלא הוא מראה להם חותמו, ועוזבין אותו ונכנס.
They would not ask [the angels who guard the gateways] him [the one who is descending to the Merkavah], not at the first heichal, and not at the second heichal, and not at the third heichal, and not at the fourth heichal, and not at the fifth heichal, and not at the sixth heichal, and not at the seventh heichal, only he must show them the seals, and they will release him so he can enter.
That is to say, there was no reason to talk to the visionaire, since he had a symbol that worked as a security pass. This then is the procedure of the Merkavah visionaire, in his ecstatic vision. His journey begins with various preparations: fasts, prayers, bodily inscription of seals and more, and it ends – with entry into the seventh heichal, which can only take place after he has presented to the guards his ‘entrance ticket’ to that reified locale. This is how the depiction continues:
וכיון שהיו רואין אותו שומר פתח היכל השביעי לדומיאל וגבריאל וקצפיאל [שומרי פתח היכל ששי יחד עם הסופר], שהם באים לפני קרון של אותו אדם שזוכה ויורד למרכבה... ואף על פי כן [שהגיע עד שם], צריך להראות להם בחותם גדול וכתר נורא... והיו נכנסין לפני כסא כבודו, והיו מוציאין לפניו כל מיני זמר ושירה, והיו מזמרין ובאין לפניו עד שמעלין אותו ומושיבין אותו אצל הכרובים, אצל האופנים, אצל חיות הקודש. והוא רואה נפלאות וגבורות, גאוה וגדולה, קדושה וטהרה, אימה ענוה וישרות באותה השעה.
When the guards of the seventh heichal saw that Dumiel and Kazphiel and Gabriel [the guards of the sixth gateway along with the scribe], are escorting the carriage of the person that has merited to descend to the Merkavah… although [he made it to this point], he needs to show them the grand seal and the awesome crown…and they would enter before the throne of His glory, and they would produce for him all sort of music and song, and they would sing and accompany him until they have brought him up and sat him down amongst the Keruvim, Ophanim, and Chayot, and he will see wonders and strengths, vanity and greatness, holiness and purity, awe, humility, and straightness at that moment.
We can infer that the guardian character of the symbols on the body was transposed from the earthly kingdom to the heavenly kingdom. Whereas for the prophet Ezekiel the divine Tav protects the righteous while the destructive force is passing through the land, for the Heichalot authors the seal is like a shield for the one carrying it – under the proper circumstances of course – when he has merited to ascend and enter into the Heichalot of God. Without the diverse seals on the body, the journey to descend and behold the Merkavah will be unsuccessful, and therefore he must be prepared beforehand, and inscribe his body with the various seals, according to the guide given in Heichalot Rabbati.
In a similar vein, we find closing instructions, written in the summary of Merkavah Rabbah:
It has been said: Whoever has studied this great secret, should pray it after the eight benedictions enumerated above. First, he must inscribe himself, and plead for mercy, so that he will not be harmed, and after that, he may utter it.
In other words, the procedure for an early visionaire would be as follows: First he would pray (in addition to the standard office), he would make special benedictions like the six benedictions previously referred to, after that he would inscribe himself with different seals and plead for mercy that he would not be harmed and engage the Merkavah texts.
Since we have determined the nature of body-inscription as practiced by Heichalot followers, it would seem no wonder that they believed angels would also inscribe themselves, since, it is attested, that Heichalot initiates, and others, habitually mimicked the angels. This tradition has been pointed out previously from Revelations, but it is evident too from the Ma’aseh Merkavah authored by a Heichalot initiate.  After the author describes the angels and their heavenly steeds, he writes the following:
Above them – eight most grand, lofty, and honored lords at each gateway, for all the serving angels can not come and go freely to see the presence of the throne and say praise of the throne, only by their command, and in their hands are four seals of the ineffable name, two for each and every gateway, etc.
Meaning, on the hands of the angels who guard the gateway to God, angels that are of the highest and most senior stature in the heavenly hierarchy, are inscribed the four ineffable names of God. It would seem that the four seals that each guard has, are divided like this: one seal on each lower arm, and one seal on each upper arm.
Other seals inscribed on angelic bodies are found in the depiction of the locusts that God sent as a punishment in various instances. This is what the Midrash of Three and Four relates about the Locusts: There is a HET חי"ת inscribed on his heart because he is the army of God, as it says (Joel ) “my great army.”’ It seems, that in place of ‘there is a Het ח'inscribed on his heart’ we should read: there is a Heh ה' (=name of God) inscribed on his heart’, and the scribe read Het ח' instead of a Hehה' , and later scribes wrote it as a full Het . חי"ת That is to say; the locust is an angel of God, and on his heart, similar to other angels and servants of God, is marked the name of God: the ineffable name, or perhaps just the shortened version ‘Heh’ ה'. 
We can find similarity in another incident considered an
angel sent by God: the sun. In Pirkei
D’Rabi Eliezer (ch.6), we find a cosmographic description of the sun, moon,
stars and seasons (
Once we understand that servants of God, heavenly and earthbound, carried varying letters on their bodies, we can naturally conclude, that God too is depicted as having various letters inscribed on his anthropomorphic embodiment, chiefly the actual Torah. The Midrash Tanhumah (Va’yelech 2), states it explicitly:
במה היתה כתובה קודם שניתנה, אם על כסף ועל זהב, והלא קודם שנברא העולם לא נברא כסף וזהב? אלא היתה כתובה על זרועו של הקב"ה.
On what was it written before it was given, should you say on silver and gold, before creation however, silver and gold had not existed, it must be that it was written on the arm of God.
Torah (or an abridgment – the Decalogue)
was written on the arm of the Holy One, before it was given to
We find an analogous suggestion in a (late) Midrash called Midrash Konen. This Midrash has many parallels in Heichalot literature on the one hand, and to Pirkei D’Rabi Eliezer on the other hand, but the relevance to our subject is found in the beggining of the Midrash. The author is discussing Proverbs 3:19, “C'est avec la sagesse que l'Eternel a fondé la terre,” and writes:
Chochmah חכמה– has the numerical value [gematria] of seventy-three divine names. Chet ח'– eight, Khaf כ' – twenty, Mem מ' – forty, Heh ה' – five, here are the seventy-three names that are inscribed on the arm of God.
Although it can be argued that this Midrash is very late, and the quoted text suggests the same, that pertains only to its literary structure. The essential concept underlying the text – namely that divine names are inscribed on the divine arm – is certainly a direct continuance of the abovementioned testimonials and of the Talmudic sources that speak of Gods phylacteries.
The ancient concept that a servant must bear on the body the mark of the lord, evolved in variegated forms starting in the time of the scripture, through the Talmudic era, and ended in the late Midrashim. Jewish Christians were wont to inscribe their own bodies with various symbols, but they were not the only group to abide by this practice as is evidenced by the Talmudic literature. The tradition that bodily inscription was not merely symbolic but practiced as a physically embodied ritual is also found in Heichalot literature. In our case, as in many others, the parallels point to a relatively early origin of the Heichalot literature.
The various seals that the righteous and mystics bore on their bodies assured them of survival, in the earthly domain and on heavenly journeys to explore divine palaces and achieve divine visions. The seals gave them access into the various Heichalot; the idea that angels and God himself bear bodily inscriptions is the conceptual realization of the notion that facilitated the isomorphic dynamic between heaven and earth.
 מי ייתן-לי, שומע לי-- הן-תווי, שדי יענני (MS)
 In Hebrew the verse says tetayev Tav, the last letter in the Hebrew Alphabet is also called Tav-(MS)
 This is the most ‘Jewish’
book of the New Testament, and obviously is closely related to Heichalot
literature, (which is clearly influenced by Ezekiel and angelic visions), this
will be discussed below. On the Judaic
register of Revelations, see Efraim Elimelech Urbach, “Jerusalem Above and
Jerusalem Below,” Jerusalem throughout the Generations (
 Franz Josef Doelger, Sphragis,
 Bagatti (p.140), points
out, that the Assyrian ruler Samsi-Adar V employed this method, but Bagatti
does not provide a source. See also Hasmoneans
3:2,49, where there is a depiction of the forced census of Alexandrian Jews
‘and all that are counted are branded with a shape of a Kissos (ivy)
leaf brand which is the symbol for Dionysus.’
See also Song of Solomon 2:6, and see C. Jenkinson, “Tatuing”, in
James Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, XII, (Edinburgh,
1921), cols.208-214; Yaakov Shalom Licht, “Tatoos,” Biblical Encyclopedia,
IV, (Jerusalem, 1923) (Hebrew), cols. 378-380.
For the branding of slave, see Reuven Yaron, Law of the Elephantine
 Jack Finegan, The
Archeology of the New Testament, (
 We will only touch briefly on this issue. See Peter Schaefer, “New Testament and Hekhalot Literature: The Journey into Heaven in Paul and Merkavah Mysticism”, Journal of Jewish Studies XXXV (1984), pp. 19-35.
 Saul Lieberman, Greek
and Hellenism in Jewish
 ושרט לנפש לא תתנו בבשרכם וכתבת קעקע לא תתנו בכם אני יהוה (MS)
 הכותב כתובת קעקע בבשר של חבירו שניהן חייבין במה דברים אמורים בזמן ששניהן מזידין אבל אם היו שוגגין פטורין (MS)
אחד שוגג ואחד מזיד שוגג פטור ומזיד חייב ואינו חייב עד שיקעקע בדיו בכחול לעבודת כוכבים
 For example the Dionysian ivy, (above, note 5). It can be compared to Tosefta Shabbat , המסרט על בשרו (בשבת) - ר' אליעזר מחייב (משום כותב), וחכמים פוטרין. אמר להם ר' אליעזר: והלא בן סטדא לא למד אלא בכך!' וכולי. בשבת קד ע"ב מובאים דברי ר' אליעזר: והלא בן סטדא הוציא כשפים ממצרים בסריטה שעל בשרו!'.
into his skin (on Shabbat) - R. Eliezer says he is culpable, and the
Rabbis disagree. R. Eliezer replied: but Ben-Siteda (Jesus) learned only
through that!?, etc.” In BT Shabbat
104a, R. Eliezer’s response is further clarified: “but Ben-Siteda was able to
take magic spells out of
 A slightly variant
version is found in Masechet Sefer Torah, ,
in Shevah Masechtot Qe’tanot (
 See Abraham Meir
Habermann, “On Phylacteries in Antiquity,” Eretz Israel 3 (1954), pp.
174-177, idem, Reflections On
 וקשרתם לאות על-ידך והיו לטוטפות בין עיניך (MS)
ושמתם את-דברי אלה על-לבבכם ועל-נפשכם וקשרתם אותם לאות על-ידכם והיו לטוטפות בין עיניכם (MS)
 והיה לך לאות על-ידך ולזיכרון בין עיניך למען תהיה תורת יהוה בפיך כי ביד חזקה הוציאך יהוה ממצריים
והיה לאות על-ידך ולטוטפות בין עיניך כי בחוזק יד הוציאנו יהוה ממצריים (MS)
 See Habermann, The
Literary works of Abraham Epstein vol.1, (
 On the Decalogue in
phylacteries, See Urbach, “Status of Decalogue in Worship and Prayer,” Status
of Decalogue through the Generations, Ben-Zion Segal ed., (
 See Ben-Zion Luria, From
Yanai to Herodius – Essays on the Second
 See Meir Bar-Ilan, “The use of Deerskin in Writing Torah Scrolls, Phylacteries and Mezuzah,” Beit Mikrah 102 (1985), pp. 375-381.
 The location of the symbol on the body is not very significant for three reasons: 1) True, it is usual to mark objects in general, and especially to brand animals with a symbol that signifies ownership, in a particular spot (easy to reach and see), but frequently the symbol is placed in a hidden spot, and this does not change its character. 2) Historical testimonies vary as to where on the body such symbols were placed. (See Bagatti, above, n.4; Epstein, above, n.16; above n.11). This is the conclusion of the literary sources as well (Shanan, above, n 8). 3) This is inferred from the Heichalot evidence discussed below.
 The letter Shin on the phylacteries is an abridgment for the name of God- Shaddai, and this indicates the many interpretations on how to uphold the commandment. Traditional phylacteries have different forms of Shin on the two sides (one with three lines, one with four-MS), another indication of the absence of a universal interpretation.
. An interesting question is whether those who bore body-inscriptions wore phylacteries as well, or felt the body-inscription fulfilled the obligation completely.
 וראו כל-עמי הארץ כי שם יהוה נקרא עליך ויראו ממך (MS)
 Although the translation reads ‘called,’ according to Bar Ilan it should rather be rendered ‘invoked.’
 Palestinian Talmud
Berachot 9a, explains the word ‘all’ of this verse: “R. Shimon-Bar-Yochai
taught: ‘All the nations of earth will see that the name of God is invoked upon
you,’ all- even spirits, even demons.”
That is to say; the symbol of God will frighten away evil demons as well
as human enemies. On the anti-demonic
character of the seals by Church Fathers, see Danielou’s first book (above,
n.4). On the seal of the Antichrist (a
serpent) among believers in him, see Wilhelm Bousset, The Antichrist Legend,
 אין מתם בבשרי מפני זעמך אין שלום בעצמי מפני חטאתי (MS)
 The word ‘inscribed’ חקוק in parentheses is not found in all editions (as are the other words in parentheses in the Hebrew). It can be inerpreted that the name “was inscribed” upon their weapons mentioned further in that Midrash, as in Jeremiah 21:4. But since the author stresses that “they did not wage battle” on one hand, and on the other hand we have the verse in Deuteronomy, our rendering is more logical. See Urbach (above n. 11), pp. 113, 128, 129, n.51.
 Antique dyes contained tree-sap to make it bond with medium written upon, consequently it was also possible to peel away the writing.
 This work has seen several publications. See Alexander Altman “Holy Poetry in Early Heichalot Literature,” Melilah 6 (1946), pp. 1-24; idem, The face of Judaism, (Tel Aviv, 1983), pp. 44-67; Gershom Scholem, Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism and Talmudic Tradition, (New York, 1965), Appendix C; Peter Schafer, A Synopsis of Heichalot Literature, (Tubingen, 1981), pp. 202-230.
 My opinion is that it is very early. See Bar-Ilan, Secrets of Prayer and Heichalot, (Ramat Gan, 1987), chapters 4, 5.
 Seals in Heichalot literature were first commented on by Scholem, Major trends in Jewish Mysticism, (New York, 1954), p. 54; idem Gnosticism, p. 133.
 Scholem, Gnosticism, p. 108; Schafer, Synopsis, p. 212; Oxford Manuscript No. 1531, col. 2.
 מי-כמוך באלים יהוה מי כמוך נאדר בקודש (Exodus 15:11) (MS)
 Note the similarities of the immersion and inscription to initiation rites, similar to what we know of early Christians who saw the seal as replacing circumcision in contrast to the Jewish requirement of a convert to immerse and be circumcised. This coincides with the phrase in Grace after Meals “and for your treaty that you inscribed in our flesh.” Compare to what we find in Pirkei D’Rabi Eliezer 26a, where it is recounted that when Jonah was in the bowels of the fish, he was told by the fish that the time had come for the fish to be consumed by the Leviathan. Jonah then showed the Leviathan the seal of Abraham and told him “gaze upon this seal,” at which point the Leviathan swam away a distance of two days. Jonah then told the fish: “look here; I just saved you from the Leviathan, show me all that exists in the sea and under the sea.” The seal of circumcision was able to protect from harm, and allowed access to secrets of creation. See, Yitshak Avishur, “The demonic nature of the tale of the bloody husband (Exodus -26); a fresh look in light of the Midrash and of beliefs in the ancient Near East,” Studies in Biblical Narrative; Style, Structure, and the Ancient Near Eastern Literary Background, (TelAviv, 1999), pp.137-158.
 Scholem, Gnosticism, p.109; Schafer, Synopsis, p.216.
 It is unclear from the text exactly on what parts of the body the seals were placed, but it seems like this: 1) Right leg. 2) Left leg. 3) Chest. 4) Right arm. 5) Left arm. 6) Neck. 7) The head (‘Above all- on top of my head,’ is not symbolic, but means the forehead).
 See Isaiah 49:16 “Voici:
je t'ai gravée dans le creux de mes mains,” See also I Baruch 4:2. The meaning is that God inscribed the name of
 For a complete discussion, see Bar-Ilan (above, n.29). The combination of prayers of praise, and prayers with a ritual purpose, is uncommon in traditional prayer, further pointing to early authorship. (Similarities can be seen in the prayers of Rosh ha-Shana; Malchiot, Zichronot, Shofrot, and in the benedictions before the Shema.
 Ormat Tushiyah can mean several things, the rendering is my own (MS)
 In the same work in a
previous passage R. Ishmael relates: “When the names of the angel had been
revealed to me, I inscribed them on R. Shimon-ben-Gamliel, and I felt a light
in my heart that reached to all ends of the universe.” See also the method of
writing ibid: “If he wrote the names without uttering them (aloud, like writing
a Torah scroll)- his heart will go out to misunderstanding. See. Idel, “The World of Angels in the Shape
 Batei Medrashot, (
 The word ‘Seal’ חותם , is used in Heichalot and rabbinic writings both as a seal (like on a ring), and as the shape of the seal (like on the body, as in our case). The word ‘take’ טול, indicates that the meaning here is a physical object inscribed with a magic name, such as “a ring that on it is inscribed the name: אברגהודריה ידוד אלהי ישראל” (Schafer, Synopsis, Scholem, Gnosticism, p.415). See also Midrash Alpha Beta, (Jerusalem, 1938), pp. 25-26: “What are the seals of God that were used to seal all the ineffable names on the Throne of Glory…for each name on the Merkavah has a seal…and when man uses them the heavens are filled with fire…and they are sealed with Eh-yeh Asher Eh-yeh.” I intend to discuss the realistic applications of these seals on another occasion.
 This precisely is the
function of the seal in the Christian work The Descent of Jesus, (See
Bagatti, above, n. 4, p.139). Jesus
tells the good thief: “Go on to heaven and if an angel (guar
 On the difficulties with
this text and Heichalot Rabbati in general, see
 The instructional nature of Heichalot writings is evident in several places. These writings are not merely narrative, but serve as guides or manuals, describing dangers and pitfalls in obtaining divine visions, and how to avoid them.
 Schaefer, Synopsis, p.260. This portion is omitted in Merkavah Shleimah, but is found in JTS, manuscript no.8128, p.43b. I am grateful to JTS for permission to reprint the passage and to M. Idel for directing me to it. I think that where it says ‘eight’ should be read ‘six’, as we only find six benedictions.
 Schaefer ibid: “Blessed are you Adonai who hears the prayers, lord of secrets, sealer of all secrets, Sealer of those that utter his name who seals the many and whose seal is greater than all seals…and on my heart it shall be inscribed and my members shall be sealed within me (or him) etc.” These benedictions may have been said independently or included in the Shemoneh Esreh just like the benedictions for a public fast recounted in Masechet Ta’anit II 2-4.
 Bar-Ilan, Secrets, p.124.
 This is not the same work published by Scholem in Gnosticism. The present text is found in Batei Medrashot, (above, n. 40), and is sometimes referred to as Masechet Heichalot.
 See Batei Medrashot II, p.71. On the locusts and their heavenly mission post-exodus, see Revelations 9:3.
 This correction of a Chet to a Heh should not be considered an amendment, since this is a common error found in writings of late antiquity, and especially in Heichalot literature, See Y. Epstein, Preface to the Mishna Text, (Tel Aviv, 1967) p.1232; 1303; 1307.
 In light of this, we can explain the verse of the bride to her lover in Song of Songs 8:6: “Mets-moi comme un sceau sur ton coeur, comme un sceau sur ton bras,” as a metaphor to a realistic practice. The bride is asking of her lover to seal her name or her symbol on his heart and arm, as an expression of their love, and mutual connection – like the seal of God on the heart of the locust, and like the biblical ‘symbol upon your arm.’
 See the Commentary of D. Luria ibid. It could mean the first three letters of the Name יהו, since the last letter is duplicated. It can also mean the way scribes shorten the Name; יוי, or like we saw previously in Heichalot Rabbati, יוי or ייי. For more on the letters inscribed on angels and on God, see Idel (above, n. 39), especially p. 2, and Orbach (above, n. 11).
 See above, n. 17, on the arm of God, like on the arm of his servants, was inscribed the Torah, or an abridgment of it.
 For more on this subject,
see M. Idel, “The status of Torah in Heichalot and in Kabala,”
 Merkavah Shleimah,
32b. See also Martin Samuel Cohen, The
Shi’ur Qumah: Texts and Recensions. (
 See Bar-Ilan, “Crowning
God with a Crown, and the Karaite Polemic against the Phylacteries of God”, International
Conference on the History of Jewish Mysticism, (
 Rarely has the verb
connoted a symbolic import without any sort of physical action. For example in the invocation of Metatron,
the descender to the Merkavah says: “I invoke upon you Metatron
Lord of the Presence/ I say to you Metatron Lord of the Presence/ I
command you Metatron Lord of the Presence/ I entail upon you Metatron
Lord of the Presence/ and I seal upon you Metatron Lord of the
Presence.” We find here an action
described by the verb ‘seal’ that is a different action than, saying, deman