Book Review for Tree of Souls The Mythology of Judaism by Howard Schwartz Book 3 Part 3.10
Name of Book: Tree of Souls
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
Year it was published: 2004
"With only one God, heaven would be a barren place, at least in mythic terms. Yet the actual Jewish view of heaven is quite different. There are seven heavens, filled with angels and other divine beings, such as the Messiah [Not jesus!], who is said to have a palace of his own in the highest heaven. The clestial Temple can be found there- the mirror image of the Temple in the earthly Jerusalem- as well as an abundance of heavenly palaces, one for each of the patriarchs and matriarchs and sages, where he or she teaches Torah to the attentive souls of the righteous and the angels..." (xliii)
"Drawing on the full range of Jewish sources, sacred and nonsacred, ten major categories of Jewish mythology can be identified: Myths of God, Myths of Creation...Each of these categories explores a mythic realm, and, in the process, reimagines it. This is the secret to the transformations that characterize Jewish mythology. Building on a strong foundation of biblical myth, each generation has embellished the earlier myths, while, at the same time, reinterpeting them for tis own time." (xlv)
Book Three: Myths of Heavens
Part III: Heavenly Journeys
205. Adam is Taken Into Paradise
Issue:At the end of his life, Adam begins describing the paradise he saw to his son Seth. G-d threatens his life, but Adam begs G-d not to cast him out. G-d listens to Adam's plea and promises Adam that his seed will always be with him. After the meeting, Michael brings Adam back.
206 Isaac's Ascent
Issue: Just as Isaac is about to be slain, the soul flew away from him and began to study at academy of Shem and Eber. Isaac also had a chance to sample various treasures of G-d and even looked into the future. Abraham was also frozen but in a single instance was told not to slay the boy and Isaac's soul came back.
207. The Ascent of Elijah
Issue: Elijah and Elisha walked from Gilgal when Elijah asked Elisha to remain where he was and Elisha didn't listen. Then they traveled to Jericho where Elijah asked Elisha to stay there but he refused. Then they were sent on to Jordan where Elisha also refused to abandon Elijah and Elijah asks Elisha what he can do for him and the wish was granted.
208. The Four Who Entered Paradise
Issue: Four sages, Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Aher and Rabbi Akiba entered paradise, three of them suffered bad consequences while Rabbi Akiba departed in peace. Description of how Ben Azzai died, that his body couldn't endure the glory and his soul felt at home. Aher saw Metatron sitting on the throne and thought that two powers ruled instead of just one. Some students and a rabbi saw Ben Zoma walking by and he told them he was contemplating mysteries and was gone not long after. Rabbi Akiba made signs to know when to go back and was granted permission to look at G-d's glory. Out of the four sages who entered the paradise, only Rabbi Akiba ascended on high and descended in peace.
209. A Vision of Metatron
Issue: Aher's real name being Elisha ben Abuyah, he saw Metatron being seated and being served by angels and princes thus he thought that there were two G-ds instead of one. After the incident G-d commanded Anafiel to punish Metatron for not correcting Elisha's mistake, and Elisha became known as Aher because he lost faith.
210. Rabbi Ishmael's Ascent
Issue: A Roman emperor wanted to study Torah with sages and all went well until the passage in Exodus 21:16 where it talks about punishment and slavery which caused the emperor to remember the instance of Joseph's brothers selling him into slavery and not being punished. After hearing that the law applied to Joseph's brother, the emperor demanded execution and punishment of brothers or those who represented brothers. The emperor even created a decree for execution of the ten sages and among them were Rabbi Akiba, Rabbi Ishmael, Rabbi Hananiah ben Teradion and seven others who ever lived. In a cell the rabbis begged Rabbi Ishmael to use the Holy Name to overturn the decree, and Rabbi Ishmael said he could but first they must find out the purpose. Rabbi Ishmael began praying and went to sixth heaven where he was greeted by the angel Gabriel. Gabriel assured him that the decree came from divine and mentioned that their deaths will serve a greater purpose. When he came back, he told others about the vision thus they bravely went to their deaths.
211. The Entrance of the Sixth Heavenly Palace
Issue: If someone comes upon the door of the sixth hekhal then it looks as if the entrance is engulfed by waters, although its not waters but radiance of marble stones and doorkeepers destroy anyone who does not have permission to be there. The gatekeepers are angels named Dumiel and Kaspiel and a lengthy description of them follows. Mention of Ben Azzai and how he cried out "water, water!" and got his head cut off. Those who are protected by angel Lumiel are able to go through various heavens and their doorways and the angel bears a gift for those that deserve it which is a privilege of not being questioned by everyone.
212. Before the Law
Issue: A man stands guarding the door and someone from the country comes over to question the man over whether or not he can be admitted and he can, but it will be later. The man gets curious and wants to look, thus the doorkeeper encourages him but warns him that he is very mighty, although he is the lowliest of the doorkeepers. The man from the country continues to wait for days and years and to chat with the doorkeeper, all to no avail. The man continues to wait and beg for years until his life almost runs out. He finally asks the doorkeeper about why others haven't asked to get in, and the angel replies that besides him no one else could get in and that the entrance was intended only for him.
213. A Journey to the Stars
Issue: Rabbah bar Bar Hannah went on a voyage where the waves were very high that he could see the resting place of the smallest star, and if the waves lifted the boat any higher, the heat of the star would have burned him.
214. A Jewish Icarus
Issue: A boy by the name of Yozal Frandrik grew up during the days of the Temple and one day he cut off the Shem ha-Meforash and placed it in his sandal and sewed it shut and he then grew wings. While he flies through heavens, angels pour water on him and his wings vanish and he tumbled onto the ground and never went flying nor he did he return the name.
To be continued...