Biblical Myth and Rabbinic Mythmaking

By Michael Fishbane | Go to book overview

6 God and the Primordial Waters

A DIVINE COMBAT AND THE PRIMORDIAL WATERS

The old myths of Near Eastern antiquity had a long afterlife—and were variously filtered and reformulated by many tradents east and west. A particularly valuable resource is the 'Phoenician History' composed by Philo of Byblos in the late first or early second century CE, which preserves mythic traditions deriving from Sanchuniaton, a scholar of earlier antiquity, who, the pagan philosopher Porphyry claims, reworked the records of a Phoenician priest (named Hierombalos) for his king, Abibalos of Beirut. Portions of this material are preserved in fragments found in the Praeparatio evangelica of the fourth-century Church Father Eusebius of Caesarea. 1 It has even been suggested that Sanchuniaton (and someone called Mochos, whose work was preserved in Greek translation by one Laitos) incorporated versions of an old cosmogonic myth that may have influenced Thales and the oldest Orphic theogonies; 2 and there is no doubt that features of its god-lists reflect Canaanite traditions of the oldest known sort, whose biblical reflexes are already more muted. 3 Moving in the other direction, some old Israelite dragon myths known in the rabbinic academy of R. Yoḥanan in Tiberias (early third century CE) were conveyed to the Jews of Babylon by Rav Dimi in the early fourth century CE; 4 conversely, the remnant of a Babylonian theogony appears in the Neoplatonic treatise entitled Difficulties and Solutions of First Principles by Damascius (458-538 CE) from about a century later. 5


I Separation of the Waters

-112-

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