One of the issues Jewish mystics obsessed about during the Late Antiquity was the Merkabah, or God’s throne-room. Based on the vivid description in the first chapter of Isaiah. The first chapters of Revelations fit pretty well into the genre – a rightous person, through prayers, mystic knowledge or magic, manages to traverse the heavens and reach the seat of God, where he hears words of prophecy or is given a chance to engage in angel politics.
The Merkabah literature itself mostly consists of endless lists of angels, of locations within the seven skies, and the passwords needed to pass each of the celestial guards until one reaches the Merkabah. Once in a while, the lists give way to short narratives. This one, from the Hechaloth Rabbati (“The Great Chambers”), I found especially interesting. In it, Rabbi Ishmael, who ascends to the Merkabah, hears about the exploits of the previous Merkabah-visitor, Rabbi Akiva.
The Holders of the Throne, the Cherubim, the Wheels and the Holy Living Creatures sing these six melodies, each in a voice stranger and more excellent than the one before it. He who hears the first voice is immediately stricken with folly and madness. He who hears the second voice is lost and never returns. He who hears the third voice is stricken with a fit and dies immediately. The skull of he who hears the fourth voice shatters, and his bones become detached from each other. He who hears the fifth voice gushes forth as water spills from an uncovered jug, and he turns into a pool of blood. The heart of he who hears the sixth voice stings, and his stomach turns and he desires nothing but to be pure as water….
Rabbi Akiva heard all these melodiess when he ascended to the Merkabah, and he learned them and memorized them from when the servents of the Lord were singing before him.
I tried searching other works for the conclusion of that story – what did Rabbi Akiva actually do with the songs of the highest angels? Sadly, I could find no answer. Rabbi Akiva ben Joseph is an important figure from the 1st century CE, and was featured as the of protagonist of several miracle tales, but non of them involve him singing until his enemies disintegrate.
(Choir of Angels, by Gustave Doré. Not pictured: unfortunate listeners)