Biblical Myth and Rabbinic Mythmaking

Biblical Myth and Rabbinic Mythmaking

Biblical Myth and Rabbinic Mythmaking

Biblical Myth and Rabbinic Mythmaking


This is a comprehensive and systematic exploration of myth in the Hebrew Bible. In addition, Michael Fishbane examines the ongoing role of Scripture in the expansion and transformation of myth in ancient Jewish sources (Midrash and Talmud) and in the classical work of medieval Jewish mysticism(the book of Zohar). The role of myth and monotheism is taken up, and the texts of myth are subjected to close analytical treatment, dealing with matters of form, theme, and theology. In particular, the creative role of exegesis, and its capacity to generate new myths and to justify older orpre-existent ones, is explored. Aspects of continuity and discontinuity with biblical and ancient Near Eastern sources are examined, and the explosive innovations of myth in the various literary phases are considered. In exploring three major phases of Jewish culture, Michael Fishbane offers a newappreciation for the reality of myth and its varieties. Many new conceptual and analytical categories are presented, as well as numerous close readings of the texts at hand.


This book has been many years in the making, though indeed the phenomenon of mythopoesis is one of my oldest and most enduring intellectual passions—undergoing metamorphosis after metamorphosis. Research and thinking for the present work is evidence of that, as the project has been rethought afresh at several junctures. As the work developed, I determined to set midrashic mythmaking in a larger context, and this led to expansions and remouldings of various sorts. The present three-tiered schema is the result, with each part presented in its own right but also as part of a wider and continuous phenomenon—this being monotheistic myth and its exegetical dimensions. An early interest in the term kivyakhol proved problematic on several counts, and ultimately too restrictive; the larger themes of rabbinic myth overtook it in the end. A monograph-length study of the term and its exempla is found in Appendix 2.

My work on the subjects of this book benefited considerably from two occasions when I was a Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The first of these was in 1989-90, when the subject was 'Jewish Hermeneutics'; the second was in 1998-9, when the subject was 'The Book of Zohar and its Study'. My thanks to my friends and colleagues, Professor Moshe Idel and Professor Yehuda Liebes, who were the conveners of the two study groups, respectively. Seminar presentations and on-going conversations stimulated my thinking or sharpened my formulations on several issues. I happily record my thanks to the Institute and its staff for the congenial atmosphere provided. I also wish to thank my students Laura Lieber and Steven Sacks for ably assisting me in the pursuit of articles, books, and manuscripts; and special thanks to Steven Sacks for his assiduous and devoted work on the thematic and textual indices.

In this study, Hebrew transliterations have been simplified for the benefit of non-specialists. Thus the letter b represents bet in all circumstances, except where more well-known terms are used (e.g. Ṭov); and q represents qof, except for some standard formulations (e.g. Pirkei). Similarly represents ḥet, except for specific names (e.g. Simeon bar Yochai). Vowel length for Hebrew is unmarked; but vowel length for Greek is marked, since different letters are involved.

As I complete my present studies on this subject, I give heartfelt thanks to my dear wife Mona, for her love and life-long companionship and support. Among many memorable conversations on the theme of myth, I joyfully recall some musings on mythopoesis in a snowstorm so many years ago. And

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