Theses Doctoral

The Mirror of Glory: Sense and Subjectivity in Near Eastern Mysticism

Ugolnik, Zachary

In the ancient and medieval period, in the eastern Mediterranean and Near East, writers often use the metaphor of an eye or mirror interacting with the light of the sun to explain humanity’s ability to participate in the presence (or glory) of the divine. In this dissertation, I focus on a particular type of mirror imagery, what I call “the mirror of glory,” from the 2nd to 4th centuries in Greek and Syriac literature, from the extracanonical Odes of Solomon and Acts of Thomas to Plotinus’s Enneads to the writings of Athanasius (d. c. 373) and Ephrem (d. c. 373). I conclude with parallel themes in the later east-Syriac tradition and early Sufism, from John of Dalyatha (d.c. 780) of present-day Iraq to the Qur’anic commentaries attributed to Ja‘far al-Sādiq (d. 148/765).

In all these texts, I argue the “mirror of glory” articulates and enacts, for the reader, a convergence in the meeting of gazes between oneself, the divine, and other glorified beings (such as angels), where seers and seen and speakers and spoken to merge in a regenerative encounter. Through examining these writers’ optical theories when possible, I demonstrate how this mirror imagery is predicated upon a link between the soul and the senses. In the highest stages of giving glory, these writers describe an embodied reflexivity that is neither singular (I and I), nor double (I and Thou), but collective (I and We)—a self-vision that parallels the communal quality of the ritual context in which giving glory often occurs. In this way, I bring sources from the eastern Mediterranean and Near East into conversation with western genealogies of “knowing thyself” and demonstrate how intrinsically linked our understanding of the senses is to the way we know and the way we imagine communion and empathy.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
McGuckin, John A.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 11, 2018