Biblical Myth and Rabbinic Mythmaking

By Michael Fishbane | Go to book overview

13 Conclusions

In this Part we have considered aspects of a third level or dimension of myth in Judaism: the first being the inheritance of the Hebrew Bible, a product of ancient Israel and its wider Near Eastern context; the second being the inheritance of the Midrash and the Talmud, the product of rabbinic Judaism and its diverse historical conditions; and the third being the inheritance of any number of mystical tracts, and particularly the book of Zohar, an heir of these prior layers of tradition and their transformation. In every sense is the Zohar a kind of 'renaissance': at once an ingathering of earlier sources and their bold revivification. 1 There are no breaks in this chain, but rather continuities and innovation: different orientations to reception, renovation, and reformation. The old biblical fragments of myth were repeatedly reused and recontextualized, as were the midrashic teachings that took them over and revised them. In these cases, myth was found in Scripture (both directly and through exegesis); but Scripture itself was not myth.

This underscores what is truly new about myth and the Zohar. As a commentary on Scripture, the book of Zohar attempts to read and disclose the hidden myth formulated in the words of the Torah and other passages from the sacred canon. That is to say, the myth itself, as an inward and spiritual reality of divine Being, is unsayable and unknowable on its own terms; and only becomes knowable and sayable in the terminology of Scripture—when this is properly understood. One might thus fear that this refraction is a double distortion: first, because of its distillation through human language; and, second, because of its dependence on the human imagination and the vagaries of exegetical insight. But the fact that the Torah is deemed to be an aspect of Divinity itself; and that Moses is a perfect 'man of God', who has received the divine Wisdom in the mirror of his pure consciousness, betokens trust that the supernal truths have been transmitted through his wisdom and may be known by his true disciples. 2 The core of this truth is the myth of God's manifestation of His Being in a series of gradations and forms; and just this is encoded in the language of Scripture.

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