2 Corinthians 12:2
1 It is necessary to go on boasting. Though it is not profitable, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows) was caught up to the third heaven. 3 And I know that this man (whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows) 4 was caught up into paradise and heard things too sacred to be put into words, things that a person is not permitted to speak. 5 On behalf of such an individual I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except about my weaknesses.
Chagigah 14bBabylonian Talmud
§ The Sages taught: Four entered the orchard [pardes], i.e., dealt with the loftiest secrets of Torah, and they are as follows: Ben Azzai; and ben Zoma; Aḥer, the other, a name for Elisha ben Avuya; and Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva, the senior among them, said to them: When, upon your arrival in the upper worlds, you reach pure marble stones, do not say: Water, water, although they appear to be water, because it is stated: “He who speaks falsehood shall not be established before My eyes” (Psalms 101:7). The Gemara proceeds to relate what happened to each of them: Ben Azzai glimpsed at the Divine Presence and died. And with regard to him the verse states: “Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His pious ones” (Psalms 116:15). Ben Zoma glimpsed at the Divine Presence and was harmed, i.e., he lost his mind. And with regard to him the verse states: “Have you found honey? Eat as much as is sufficient for you, lest you become full from it and vomit it” (Proverbs 25:16). Aḥer chopped down the shoots of saplings. In other words, he became a heretic. Rabbi Akiva came out safely.
Notes and References
"... Paul refers in 2 Corinthians 12:1-4 to an ecstatic experience, which he pleads as evidence of his authority over his opponents in Corinth. These opponents were ecstatically inclined Judeo-Christians difficult to place more precisely (either from the description of the ecstatic experience or from the few direct observations). In particular, there is no hint in Paul's experience of 'Gnostics' (of whatever kind) being his opponents. The event itself bears the features rather of an auditory experience than a vision. Its content is unknown and cannot be discovered ... This story has been handed down in various versions, in classical rabbinic as well as in Hekhalot literature ... The story appears here in three different documents: Tosefta, the Jerusalem Talmud, and the Babylonian Talmud (b. Chagigah 14b) ..."
Schäfer, Peter New Testament and Hekhalot Literature: The Journey into Heaven in Paul and Merkavah Mysticism (pp. 19-35) Journal of Jewish Studies, 1984
"... The Talmudic story makes use of the first meaning of pardes (orchard) by saying that Elisha Aher, who became a heretic, or min, cut down the saplings—whatever this metaphor may signify. On the other hand, it is clear from the context that this orchard is a heavenly abode. Rashi, who certainly followed in the tradition of the Merkabah mystics, explains the words 'entered pardes' (וסנכנ סדרפל) as 'ascended to heaven by means of a sacred name.' Even R. Akiba, upon entering this pardes, encountered ministering angels who wanted to eject him or bar him from continuing on his way. This proves, in my opinion, that the Baraitha uses the same terminology as Paul ... It is obvious that Paul, who wrote these lines about the year 58 C.E., was speaking of an idea with which his readers were familiar, a Jewish conception that he, as well as his readers in Corinth, had brought over into the new Christian community ..."
Scholem, Gershom G. Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition (pp. 14-19) Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1965