Greco-Roman Period
Lawrence H. Schiffman, From Text to Tradition, Ktav Publishing House, Hoboken, NJ, 1991.

While most rabbis and their followers pursued a life of piety based on the practices
surveyed in this chapter, some began, in the tannaitic period, to involve themselves in
mystical speculation regarding creation and the divine chariot vision of Ezekiel (chaps. 1
and 10). These speculations are referred to explicitly in both tannaitic and amoraic texts.
From other literary sources, it seems that the scope of this movement widened greatly in
amoraic times.

Actually, the same speculations are in evidence, in formative stages, in the literature of
the Second Temple period, including some of the apocrypha, pseudepigrapha, and Dead
Sea Scrolls. It may even be that these traditions entered tannaitic Judaism via the various
sectarian groups,since there is no evidence for them in Pharisaic circles before 70 C.E.

Sometime in the amoraic period and continuing into the early Middle Ages, these
speculative approaches gave rise to an experiential, practical mysticism in which the aim
of the adept was to experience visions of the divine throne (Merkavah, literally
“chariot”). This mysticism was later enshrined in a variety of textual collections known
as Hekhalot literature. These documents, at least as now known, stem from the early
Middle Ages and are beyond the scope of this volume, but they indicate that such
speculations and groups of adepts devoted to them existed already in amoraic times, most
likely in circles connected with the rabbis but somewhat separate. Adherents of
Merkavah mysticism were probably influenced as well by the interest in angelology,
demonology, magic, apocalypticism, and mysticism among the Babylonian amoraim,
who were echoing the society in which they lived, both Jewish and non-Jewish. The
wealth of ancient Mesopotamian materials relating to these topics demonstrates that
traditions of this kind had long been part of life in Babylonia, from earliest times up
through the Middle Ages.