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Hebrew Studies 39 (1998) 262 Reviews remains, with even more serious questions to ponder, as a result of Covenant ofBlood. Beverly P. Mortensen Northwestern University Evanston, IL 60201 m-beverly@nwu.edu SCHOLASTIC MAGIC: RITUAL AND REVELATION IN EARLY JEWISH MYSTICISM. By Michael D. Swartz. pp. 260. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997. Cloth, $35.00. As the title suggests, Michael Swartz's book addresses a number of important issues in both the history of religions and the field of Jewish studies . Indeed, Scholastic Magic takes its place alongside a growing number of works which challenge the tendency to sever the study of Judaism from the broader methodological and comparative context of the history of religions . For this reason alone Scholastic Magic is an important work. In Scholastic Magic, Michael Swartz has also produced a significant study of the role of magic in the form of early Jewish mysticism known as Hekhalot ("palace") or Merkabah ("chariot") mysticism. The study of magic in Judaism is still in its infancy. Older works like Joshua Trachtenberg'S Jewish Magic and Superstition entice the reader with striking examples from the rich tradition of Jewish magic but lack methodological sophistication. Recently, however, studies such as Moshe Idel's Hasidism: Between Ecstasy and Magic have begun to reassess the place of magic within different areas of Judaism. In several works, Gershom Scholem addressed the issue of magic within Merkabah mysticism. Scholem was ambivalent about the role of magic, viewing it as an original and essential element but one whose proliferation signaled the decline of the movement, an attitude which parallels a common scholarly perspective on the role of magic in Gnosticism, wherein heavily magical texts such as the Books of Jeu, are often described as representing the degeneration of Gnosticism. Michael Swartz's book must be viewed within the context of the discussion begun by Scholem and continued by scholars such as Elliot Wolfson, Peter Schafer, and David Halperin. Situating itself within the broader topic of the role of magic within Merkabah mysticism, Scholastic Magic focuses on the adjuration of an angel known as the Sar-Torah or "Prince of the Torah," who provided the mystics with fantastic memory and learning. Hebrew Studies 39 (1998) 263 Reviews Swartz examines this fascinating material from a number of perspectives : phenomenological, historical, ritual, and social. He locates his study within the broader fields of magic and mysticism and brings in comparative material from the Greek magical papyri, building on a parallel already noted by Scholem. On the phenomenological level, one of the most important insights of the book is that the Sar-Torah material should be viewed as "scholastic magic," and therefore a species of scholasticism which scholars are only now beginning to appreciate as a category within the history of religions. Swartz employs the phrase scholastic magic "because of its appropriation of rabbinic scholasticism through magical means...scholasticism , like rabbinic Judaism, does not rely on reason independent of authority but insists on dialectical practices that are passed down through a succession of teachers." In the case of the Sar-Torah texts, knowledge traditionally passed from rabbi to disciple is now transmitted via angelic adjuration and revelation. And yet, the authors of these texts attempt to anchor this potentially subversive activity in the rabbinic tradition by depicting the figures who adjured the Sar-Torah as famous rabbis. Thus, as Swartz points out, the sources "manifest a deep ambivalence toward rabbinic notions of Torah, tradition, and purity." The identity of the authors of this material has been debated-were they rabbis, members of the apparently disempowered class of people known as am ha-aretz, or another group? Swartz examines these possibilities and suggests his own interpretation. Because of the level of education, literary artistry, and (albeit limited) rabbinic knowledge evinced in the texts, he concludes that their authors did not belong to the "lower classes." Instead, he points to a number of groups who possessed some education but did not belong to the rabbinic elite, including the scribes and synagogue functionaries. Without explicitly identifying the Sar-Torah authors with either of these groups, Swartz argues that their existence points to the possibility that members of an educated, non-rabbinic elite...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-1681
Print ISSN
0146-4094
Pages
pp. 262-264
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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