This paper reexamines the rabbinic narrative concerning the four who attempted to enter Pardes. Earlier scholarship tends to view the narrative as a warning against the study of mysticism and emphasizes the compositional history of the narrative. Interpreters are divided as to whether the narrative is concerned with the study of Gnosticism, mystical experience, or proper biblical interpretation. This study emphasizes the identities and backgrounds of the four major figures included in the narrative and the function of the scriptural passages associated with each. Based on these considerations it argues that the three earlier figures, Shimon ben Azzai, Shimon ben Zoma, and Elisha ben Abuyah (Ah.er) are presented as antitypes to the ideal Rabbi Akiba, who embodies qualities that each of the others lacks. The narrative therefore presents R. Akiba as the model of the sage who understands his own knowledge (mHag2:1), i.e., the interpreter who is qualified to expound upon texts commonly associated with Jewish mysticism.

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pp. 43-56
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