Biblical Myth and Rabbinic Mythmaking

By Michael Fishbane | Go to book overview

III Jewish Myth and Mythmaking in the Middle Ages

10 Introduction

A. SOME RECEPTION-HISTORIES OF MYTH

The streams carrying the contents of rabbinic myths into the Middle Ages were many and diverse, as ve seen, and included not only late anthologies of Midsh (as Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, Berei͗shit Rabbati, and Midrash Tanḥuma), 1 but also much liturgical poetry (by such influential composers as Yose ben Yose, Yannai, and R. Eleazar Kallir), and the tractates of the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds then in circulation. The diversity of these sources suggests not only a diversity of settings in which these traditions were learned, recited, and preached; it also indicates the variety of audiences that could have been addressed by this material, in the study halls and synagogues. Comments on certain Talmudic passages by various rabbis, furthermore, show how Jews in different parts of the Diaspora dealt with some of the bolder or more perplexing passages in this literature; and the reactions of a number of hostile or contentious readers show that this material entered still other circles (through conversions and other means) and led to still other responses. All this comprises the ongoing life of Jewish myth, and the direct impact it had on its readers.

Sorting out the patterns is instructive. Three types may be noted: (1) a defence of the straightforward sense of Scripture and the Midrash, where they speak in bold imagery about God; (2) a denunciation or denial of the apparent, straightforward sense of these and other passages; and (3) an affirmation of the religious language and depictions in these corpora as a sacred code of the higher mysteries.

Characteristic of the first position, which takes a literal approach to the anthropomorphisms and anthropopathisms found in both the Hebrew Bible and rabbinic literature, is that formulated in Ketab Tamim, by R. Moses Taku, a thirteenth-century German talmudist. 2 The author takes a strong, uncompromising position on these matters—citing numerous sources verbatim, in versions known to him. Among these we may particularly cite the

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