Sunday, August 23, 2015

Meet the Visionaries

It’s time we meet the “Visionaries,” a group identified by contemporary scholars, believed to have come into focus over 2,500 years ago, in the sixth century, B.C. The Israelites have spent seventy long years in exile, in faraway Babylon. It is in exile that they have learned a new kind of spirituality, schooled in suffering and deprivation. They have waited for the opportunity to return, one day, to their ruined city of Jerusalem and their destroyed Temple. Their dreams are at last realized when a great Persian emperor named Cyrus comes to power. He issues a historic edict allowing his Jewish subjects to come home and rebuild their capital and the sacred shrine they have so long revered. 
The monarchy established centuries before by King David and his son Solomon has long vanished, so the returnees are led by their priests, who serve as de-facto rulers. While the goal of restoring their homeland is noble, it soon becomes clear that they represent a new “ruling class,” an upper-class priestly hierarchy who are “in cahoots” with the Persians. In tension with this new “theocracy,” a grassroots movement spontaneously appears, united by a purer vision of what a restored Jerusalem and rebuilt Temple should resemble. They are the Visionaries, and, according to the theory, they are responsible for some of the most profound depictions of otherworldly encounters ever recorded. They are “anti-establishment” folk, meeting together in secret groups that cultivate spirituality. 

They feel alienated, deprived and marginalized by their own national and religious leaders, but that’s exactly what fuels their passion. Oddly enough, the bulk of the people are strangely drawn to them, as they begin to methodically record their visionary experiences, in the tradition of the great prophets (such as Isaiah and Jeremiah) of bygone days. The movement they begin will last for centuries and will cultivate scores of otherworldly encounters, recorded in books such as Enoch and Jubilees, and in the Dead Sea Scrolls, that were for whatever reason (perhaps because of the sensational visions they relate) systematically banned from the Bible. 
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