The Influence of Jewish Mysticism on the Early Christian Church

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The Influence of Jewish Mysticism on the Early Christian Church

Mystics know and experience God in a very different way than the ordinary believer. Whereas the ordinary believer knows God in an objective, concrete manner as embodied in nature or via sacred scriptures, the mystic knows God by personal, one to one contact between their own spirit (soul) and the spirit of God; heart to heart, or as Augustine called it, “cor ad cor loquitur.” Because of the one to one, highly individualized nature of this experience, one might think the mystic would exist outside of the domain of the major religions of the world. That, in fact, is not the case. Mystics are most often allied with one of the major world religions, including (but not limited to) the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. The mystic’s conceptions of God do not only come from the small voice speaking to him in the silence of his soul. Instead, the mystic combines these esoteric experiences with the teachings and traditions of their religion. Much has been written on the comparability between the mystics of the differing world religions, noting that the only differences between them stem from the underlying religion itself. The overarching practice of seeking to actually experience what philosophers call the “Absolute truth”, (what theologians refer to as God), seems to know no theological boundaries. A Christian mystic seeks the same “beyond human” communion with the Trinity as the Jewish mystic does with YWEH, and the Muslim mystic does with Allah. The theology of Christianity differs from the llm al-Kalam of Islam and the theology of Judaism in the same ways, whether the believer is a mystic or not. Hence, the principal differences that separate the mystics of the world are the same as the differences that separate all believers. My research seeks not to explain, compare, or contrast the mystics of the differing religions, as I mentioned that much has been written on that subject already, but rather to examine how the mystics of one religion (Judaism) influenced the foundation and theoretical framework of another religion (Christianity). 1. Authority

Mysticism is not a term that an ancient mystic himself would use to describe his realm of religiosity. In that regard, mysticism as we have come to understand and know it through most primary sources is not emic (or in their own words), and therefore very difficult to accurately investigate using a hermeneutic approach. The Essenes, for example, did not label themselves “mystics” in ancient Jerusalem. Our account of them as mystics comes from a purely etic (outside observers) viewpoint. In addition, the literature on early Jewish and Christian mysticism is not the possession of a single religious community, or maintained by a single religious community. While there is mounting evidence that the main origins of mystic tradition were in Jewish priestly circles, most of the literature on the subject of mysticism is from a variety of esoteric Jews and Christians over the course of several centuries. Making the matter more difficult is the amount of pseudepigrapha in “primary” Jewish sources. While this problem also exists in Christian sources, is seems to be more of a roadblock to the student of Jewish mysticism, as most scholars agree that the predominant primary source on the topic, The Zohar, is pseudepigraphical. The Zohar is the primary piece of reference for a sect of Jewish mystics called Kabbalaists, refers to historical events of the post-Talmudic period while purporting to be from an earlier time. Because of the difficulty, then f obtaining a primary source detailing what has come to be known as Jewish mysticism, sacred texts such as the Tanakh and the Bible themselves are used frequently as a main source of information. Therefore, primary sources used for my research in the area of Jewish mysticism include The Talmud, including portions of the Midrash and the Tanakh...
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