This text, by an anonymous author who lived sometime in late antiquity (4-7 CE) somewhere in the Byzantine Empire, is a strange and bold description of God. Mystical “travelers” would ascent to the heavens and describe the wondrous visions experienced there. Maimonides’ hated these texts, but it is the experience behind them which animates traditional Jewish prayers like “Anim Zemirot” and provide the theological underpinnings for “Psukei deZimra” and “Yistabach”.
Lovely face, majestic face,
face of beauty, face of flame,
the face of the Lord God of Israel when He sits upon His throne of glory,
robed in praise upon His seat of splendor.
His beauty surpasses the beauty of the aged,
His splendor outshines the splendor of newly-weds in their bridal chamber.
Whoever looks at Him is instantly torn;
whoever glimpses His beauty immediately melts away.
Those who serve Him today no longer serve Him tomorrow;
those who serve Him tomorrow no longer serve Him afterwards;
for their strength fails and their faces are charred,
their hearts reel and their eyes grow dim
at the splendor and radiance of their king’s beauty.
Beloved servants, lovely servants,
swift servants, light-footed servants,
who stand before the stone of the throne of glory, who wait upon the wheel of the chariot.
When the sapphire of the throne of glory whirls at them
when the wheel of the chariot hurls past them,
those on the right now stand again to the left,
those on the left now stand again to the right,
those in front now stand again in back,
those in back now stand again in front.
He who sees the one says, ‘That is the other’.
And he who sees the other says, ‘That is the one’.
For the visage of the one is like the visage of the other;
and the visage of the other is like the visage of the one.
Happy the King who has such servants!
and happy the servants who have such a King!
Happy the eye that sees and feeds upon this wondrous light – a wondrous vision and most strange!