A comprehensive treatment of visionary experience in some of the
main texts of Jewish mysticism, this book reveals the
overwhelmingly visual nature of religious experience in Jewish
spirituality from antiquity through the late Middle Ages. Using
phenomenological and critical historical tools, Wolfson examines
Jewish mystical texts from late antiquity, pre-kabbalistic sources
from the tenth to the twelfth centuries, and twelfth- and
thirteenth-century kabbalistic literature. His work demonstrates
that the sense of sight assumes an epistemic priority in these
writings, reflecting and building upon those scriptural passages
that affirm the visual nature of revelatory experience. Moreover,
the author reveals an androcentric eroticism in the scopic
mentality of Jewish mystics, which placed the externalized and
representable form, the phallus, at the center of the visual
In the visionary experience, as Wolfson describes it,
imagination serves a primary function, transmuting sensory data and
rational concepts into symbols of those things beyond sense and
reason. In this view, the experience of a vision is inseparable
from the process of interpretation. Fundamentally challenging the
conventional distinction between experience and exegesis,
revelation and interpretation, Wolfson argues that for the mystics
themselves, the study of texts occasioned a visual experience of
the divine located in the imagination of the mystical interpreter.
Thus he shows how Jewish mystics preserved the invisible
transcendence of God without doing away with the visual dimension
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