Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism

Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism

Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism

Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism

Synopsis

Only one of the world's mythologies has remained essentially unrecognized--the mythology of Judaism. As Howard Schwartz reveals inTree of Souls, the first anthology of Jewish mythology in English, this mythical tradition is as rich and as fascinating as any in the world.
Drawing from the Bible, the Pseudepigrapha, the Talmud and Midrash, the kabbalistic literature, medieval folklore, Hasidic texts, and oral lore collected in the modern era, Schwartz has gathered together nearly 700 of the key Jewish myths. The myths themselves are marvelous. We read of Adam's diamond and the Land of Eretz (where it is always dark), the fall of Lucifer and the quarrel of the sun and the moon, the Treasury of Souls and the Divine Chariot. We discover new tales about the great figures of the Hebrew Bible, from Adam to Moses; stories about God's Bride, theShekhinah, and the evil temptress, Lilith; plus many tales about angels and demons, spirits and vampires, giant beasts and the Golem. Equally important, Schwartz provides a wealth of additional information. For each myth, he includes extensive commentary, revealing the source of the myth and explaining how it relates to other Jewish myths as well as to world literature (for instance, comparing Eve's release of evil into the world with Pandora's). For ease of use, Schwartz divides the volume into ten books: Myths of God, Myths of Creation, Myths of Heaven, Myths of Hell, Myths of the Holy Word, Myths of the Holy Time, Myths of the Holy People, Myths of the Holy Land, Myths of Exile, and Myths of the Messiah.
Schwartz, a renowned collector and teller of traditional Jewish tales, now illuminates the previously unexplored territory of Jewish mythology. This pioneering anthology is essential for anyone interested in the Hebrew Bible, Jewish faith and culture, and world mythology.

Excerpt

A largely unrecognized but quite extensive mythology is embedded throughout Jewish literature. The primary myths portrayed in the Bible, especially those in Genesis, became the focus of mythic elaboration. The biblical text packs a maximum amount of meaning into a minimum number of words, thereby compelling interpretation. An ancient rabbinic method of exegesis called midrash, which sought out and inevitably found the solution to problems perceived in the biblical text, resulted in the creation of an abundant mythology that eventually took on a life of its own. Often the transformation that takes place between the early periods of Jewish myth and their later evolution is considerable, almost constituting a new set of myths based on the old ones. The sum of all of these generations of reimagining the Bible is a Jewish mythology as rich as that of other great ancient cultures. These myths may appear either in fully developed form or as widely scattered fragments. Often, when these fragments are collected from the extant sources and pieced back together, they reveal extensive elaborations of the original myths, often in unexpected directions.

It has been my intention to draw Jewish myths from the full range of Jewish literature. This tradition extends from biblical times until the present, and includes texts from inside and outside normative Jewish tradition. For details about the texts included, see “A Note on the Sources” on p. 525.

Because of the considerable differences between the myths deriving from various periods, it is difficult to speak of a single or definitive Jewish mythology. Yet it is also clear that the seeds of all the major myths are found in the earlier texts, where they are often the subject of a profound evolutionary process, a dialectic that alternates between the tendency to mythologize Judaism and the inclination to resist such impulses. An attentive reader should find the permutations of these myths fascinating. I have chosen to regard these as organic developments, possessing life of their own, and I have attempted to draw together the threads of these fragmentary myths into coherent ones, where possible. Where contradictory explanations are found, this has also been noted using the formula “Some say” and “Others say.” This is intended to indicate the existence of multiple versions of the same myth. Some myths derive from a single text, but most have multiple sources, reflecting the continuing fascination with specific themes as well as the desire of subsequent generations to reinterpret them and make them relevant to their own lives.

This book has been structured around what I regard as the ten primary categories of Jewish mythology: Myths of God, Myths of Creation, Myths of Heaven, Myths of Hell, Myths of the Holy Word, Myths of the Holy Time, Myths of the Holy People, Myths of the Holy Land, Myths of Exile, and Myths of the Messiah. Each entry includes the myth, usually drawn from multiple sources, as well a commentary and its sources. The purpose of the commentary is to . . .

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