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Spiritual Ecstasy: Israeli Spirituality in the Days of Jesus the Messiah, by Kevin Williams

Consider John’s text, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8). To the Jewish mystic, this “first and last,” represented by the Greek words Alpha and Omega fit perfectly into a pattern that appears over and again in the Hebrew text—the Aleph-Tav. This mysterious combination, the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet, is littered throughout the Old Testament. It has no translation, and therefore does not appear in the English.

However, in Kabbalah, the doctrine of Et (Aleph-Tav) is interpreted to signify the cosmic forces of creation. For the Messiah to identify himself as this mystical, “first and last” places him squarely in the creation account, a fact John confirms in his gospel. “He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being (John 1:2-3).

Zechariah 12:10 reads in the English, “And I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced.” What is not seen in the English is mystically apparent in the Hebrew. To rephrase, the text could just as easily read, “… so that they will look on Me—aleph tav (Et)—whom they have pierced.” This then becomes a mystical clue that God, the One pierced is the aleph tav, the first and the last. Et has no English counterpart, but it clearly offers mystical elucidation if one is reading the original Hebrew.

“The true religion gives value to its own mysticism; mysticism does not validate the religion in which it happens to occur.” — C. S. Lewis

Here are a few examples of the routine part mysticism held in Israel. Daily the High Priest proclaimed the “Aaronic Benediction” on the people, invoking the holy name of God upon the people. God himself had promised in Numbers 6:27, “So they shall invoke My name on the sons of Israel, and I then will bless them.” When the will of God was uncertain, the High Priest could consult the divinely ordained Urim and Tummim. Annually, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, lots were cast to discern God’s will as to which animal would be the Azazel, the Scape Goat. The daily immersions were conducted in what was known as mayim chayim (John 7:38 and “Living Waters”), considered a supernal source of spiritual purification.3

Both inside the Scriptures and in the extra-biblical documents, one does not need to dig very deeply to find a level of spirituality that was a part of the daily life of Jewish men and women. In the days of the gospel accounts spirituality could be found among both commoner or the Pharisee. That sense of spirituality continues to have an impact on the faith and theology of Christian and Jewish men and women 2,000 years later.

In modern Orthodox Jewry such symbols as the mezuzah (the scroll case affixed to a home’s doorpost) is considered among the mystics as a kind of spiritual force field, holding evil spirits at bay outside the house. Another frequently employed practice is to spit on the ground to ward off curses. Many assign a guardian to keep watch over the dead until burial so that no demonic spirit may enter the body. All orthodox funerals processions pass over a body of living water—a stream or a pond—believing that no evil presence can cross mayim chayim, and therefore, will be unable to interfere with the burial. None of these concepts have a basis in biblical truth, but have been brought up through the religious traditions—mystical practices alive and well in the world of Jewish orthodoxy.

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Category: Church History, Fall 2005, Pneuma Review

About the Author: Kevin M. Williams, Litt.D., H.L.D. has served in Messianic ministries since 1987 and has written numerous articles and been a featured speaker at regional and international conferences on Messianic Judaism.

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