Sunday, February 22, 2009

Raziel: Angel of Secrets, Agent of Magic

In my previous entry, I raised questions concerning a story about a cherub who commands Adam and Eve to master the esoteric arts of astrology (or magic) and alchemy in order to regain access to paradise. I commented that this legend didn't resemble any in Jewish lore, but Nelly wrote to remind me of something:

Sefer Raziel HaMalakh was supposedly taught by the angel Raziel to Adam HaRishon. At least that's what I remember from reading its introduction. Kol tuv

[Angel with a fiery sword - or is it Herzl? - detail from Die Bucher Der Bibel, illustrated by E. M. Lilien]

This is a great thought. While Raziel is not generally portrayed as a cherub or as the guardian to Eden, this incident of an angel arming humanity with a book of power to help them cope after the expulsion would be a logical inspiration for the orphaned legend we've been discussing.

As I explained in my earlier entry on the tzohar, Tzohar: Gem of Noah, Light of Heaven, Raziel ("Secret of God") provided a book, some say inscribed on sapphire, to the primodial couple (Zohar I:55a). The magical manual Sefer Raziel ha-Malach claims this as its origins.

In other sources more securely within Jewish tradition, Raziel bears the words of mortals to heaven and, hearing what is said from behind the celestial curtain, brings decrees back to earth (Targum Kohelet 10:20). In other sources, Raziel stands between other angels, shielding them from the fiery breath of the Hayyot who uphold God's throne (Beit ha-Midrash 1:58-61). He is at times identified with the angel Galitzur (Malachei Elyon, p. 180). In the Zoharic literature, Raziel seems to personify the sefirot of Tiferet (Zohar Hadash 99:3).

To learn more consult the: Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050


Anonymous Anonymous said...

All of these stories seem like pure myth to me, I am curious if poeple actually believe these things literally happened or if they are supposed to be interpreted mythically and allegorically perhaps. Wheather it is some 16th century story about angels and amulets, or even a story from the bible about talking snakes and whales swallowing people, i just dont live in a world like that.

Question...Would you agree Rabbi that the people who wrote these stories were living under a different worldview than modern man is? They lived under a mythical worldview where we live with a scientific worldview? Is it necessary to take these seemingly mythical stories as actual history?

thanks as always

5:30 PM  
Blogger Geoffrey Dennis said...

Even in a scientific age we live and speak mythically. Myths are not history, but that doesn't mean they aren't true. Myths are orienting narratives we tell that help us make sense of our world. Do you still talk about the "sunrise?" Whether your hero is A. Lincoln, R.E. Lee, George Bush or Barack Obama, I almost gaurantee that the hero of your mind is a mix of history and mythology. I invite you to read my article, "What is a Jewish Myth" at the Llewellyn website to better understand a myth and, I hope, embrace mythology.

3:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am sorry, i didnt say that well. I love myth as a medium. i see most of the scriptures as myth. Joseph Campbell is one of my favorite authors. i look for the wisdom embedded within the stories that speaks to me and changes me today.

What i dont understand is whether or not it is necessary to believe these things actually historically happened. The orthodox camp insists on the historicity of the scriptures, whcih i have trouble with. I just cant relate to these things unless i take them mythically.

IE: I doubt any of the supernatural stories in the bible actually happened in time and space. I dont think it matters if you belive in the historicity of these events. What does matter to me is your openness to be changed and transformed by them.

Am i in left field here, a "non-believer"?


6:12 PM  
Blogger Geoffrey Dennis said...

I certainly don't believe you have to take literally everything in the Mesorah. We all have to move between the literal/factual and the figurative in reading all forms of literature, and Jewish tradition is no different. In the Talmud, the Sages argue over whether Job is a historic figure or a fictional character. Ibn Ezra affirms that when Scripture and known facts contradict, the intelligent reader knows that the Biblical material must be taken figuratively. I've never witnessed a "according to Hoyle" miracle myself, so I can't tell you you have to believe in a miracle that is reported second-hand, even if that source is the Mesorah. Strikingly, B.M. 59a tells us the story of the Oven of Aknai specifically to illustrate that Judaism is not built around miracles, or acceptance of miracles, so relax. Let your rationalism run wild and enjoy these myths for the truths they convey without having to defend their factuality.

10:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Rabbi, that gives me some confidence. I always appreciate your insight.

3:13 PM  

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