Item description for Guardians of the Gate: Angelic Vice Regency in Late Antiquity (Brill's Series in Jewish Studies) by Nathaniel Deutsch...
This exploration of the phenomenon of angelic vice regency in late antiquity compares figures from Judaism, Mandaeism and Gnosticism. The text should be of use to those interested in the connections between late antique mythologies and the parallels between Jewish mysticism and Mandaeism.
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Nathaniel Deutsch is Professor of Literature and History at the Universityof California, Santa Cruz. He is the author of "Guardians of the Gate: Angelic Vice Regency in Late Antiquity "(1999) and "The Gnostic Imagination: Gnosticism, Mandaeism, and Merkabah Mysticism "(1995), and the coeditor with Y. Chireau, of "Black Zion: African American Religious Encounters with Judaism "(2000).
Nathaniel Deutsch has an academic affiliation as follows - Swarthmore College.
Nathaniel Deutsch has published or released items in the following series...
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Rabbinic Judaism and Esoteric Religions in Antiquity Jan 23, 2003
I used this book for an independent study I did about year ago on Hekhalot and Merkavah mysticism. (A rough outline: Hekhalot and Merkavah mysticism is a religious movement that took place within the world of Rabbinic Judaism beginning somewhere in the 2nd or 3rd century. Its main focus is the ascent of a rabbi to the highest heaven so that he can worship God with the angels and perhaps even see God, which in some sources gives him a certain power to affect change here on earth.)
This book focuses on the relationship between Judaism, Mandaeism, and Gnosticism as a way of painting a more detailed picture of Hekhalot and Merkavah mysticism. Deutsch uses a "comparative approach" to studying the texts produced by these different groups; the result is that Hekhalot and Merkavah mysticism looks quite syncretistic. Such an approach certainly gives insight, but it also causes a bit of confusion about the nature of Hekhalot and Merkavah mysticism.
Firstly, the benefits of using such an approach is that it paints a picture with wide brush strokes: the reader is likely to get good idea of major religious trends within the world of antiquity. Deutsch has three appendices that deal with Islam, Christianity, and Hermeticism that further illustrate what seems to be a general religious idea - that there are mediators between God and humanity that are above man but nonetheless divine. (Anyone familiar with the Christological controversies in the early centuries of Christianity will find much here that parallels those debates.)
These broad strokes also imply that there was a large amount of syncretism between different religious groups, with ideas from completely different religions permeating each other. Certainly, any historian of religion would agree that this is, indeed, the case: religions do influence each other. The question of "how much do religions influence each other?" is where much of the debate comes in.
This, then, is the downside to Deutsch's approach. Although in the last chapter he surveys much of the prior research on Hekhalot and Merkavah mysticism and notes that the authors of its texts were quite familiar with Rabbinic law and lore, it still seems like Hekhalot and Merkavah mysticism were quite syncretistic. Some influence is certainly possible and even likely, but isn't it also possible - and perhaps far more plausible - that despite these influences, Hekhalot and Merkavah mysticism arose out of streams that were already developed within Judaism such as apocalypticism? Indeed it is, and although Deutsch mentions these, it still seems that in the Hekhalot and Merkavah mysticism owes less to its own religious heritage than it does to other dualistic religions.
This book should be read with other works about Hekhalot and Merkavah mysticism in order for the reader to better understand Deutsch's contribution to the field. Think of this book as being like a chapter: it reads well when read with all the other chapters in a book. Otherwise, it is likely to make little sense.