Pauline Merkabah

In his very fine, but occasionally awful, Rabbi Paul, Bruce Chilton writes of Paul’s heavenly vision.  Connecting it with the both the Damascus road and the pericope of 2 Cor. 12:4, Chilton believes that Paul saw the heavenly merkabah, the chariot of Yahweh.  Chilton writes:

Within the prophetic assembly, Paul shared in the mystical ascent to the third heaven, the place where the Merkabah tradition of the time located the heavenly banquet prepared for the rabbinic sages.  He entered Paradise, the mystical Garden of Eden restored next to the divine chariot, as sages of Israel near in time to Paul also had done.  He did not know whether he was in his body or outside it.  He was “beside” himself, like Jesus (in Mark 3:21) and the Merkabah mystic Ben Zoma (Chagigah 15a in the Talmud) and Peter (Acts 10:10).  In the ecstasy of the chariot, one’s body was forgotten.


This is the same view that Alan F. Segal takes in Paul the Convert.  Both Segal and Chilton believe that Paul saw the same vision that Ezekiel saw in Ezekiel 1, as well as the larger goal of Jewish mystics.  Paul does say that he had a “revelation” in Galatians 1:12, and this of course is the same term that is applied to John’s “revelation”: apokalypsis.