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Biblical Myth and Rabbinic Mythmaking

By Michael Fishbane | Go to book overview

I Biblical Myth

1 Introduction

The attempts of modern scholarship to understand the religion and culture of ancient Israel within its Near Eastern context have focused as much on features of continuity and similarity as on topics of difference and distinction. Notable forebears of this academic genealogy include Spinoza and Michaelis, followed by their intellectual progeny. A decisive turning point in this enterprise was the publication of Friedrich Delitzsch's Babel und Bibel, and the vigorous debate that ensued. 1 Soon a plethora of parallels was advanced, documenting undeniable similarities. Comparisons between such texts as the flood narrative in the Gilgamesh Epic and Genesis 6: 9-9: 7, or the legal code of Hammurapi and Exodus 21-3, caused initial interest. In due course, many authorities also pointed out significant differences. Among these, phenomena such as monotheism, prophecy, and the role of God in history were regarded as evidence for Israelite uniqueness within this larger cultural milieu. But even these matters have been variously qualified, and the isolation of surface parallels was replaced by more nuanced and culture-specific analyses. 2

Central to this whole discussion is the phenomenon of myth, which was presumed to mark a caesura between the cosmic religions of Near Eastern polytheism and the covenantal nomism of ancient Israelite monotheism.

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