Biblical Myth and Rabbinic Mythmaking

By Michael Fishbane | Go to book overview

14 Final Conclusions

The diverse and detailed subject matter treated in this work must be evaluated on its own terms, and no summary could do it fair justice; neither should one expect any new arguments at this point, to supplement or support any of the discussions already undertaken. Nevertheless, in a study such as this one, which covers nearly two thousand years of religious and literary history, various patterns and features have been emphasized in the different parts. It may therefore be of value to conclude here with attention to the overall patterns of this study, and to some dominant aspects of the landscape that has been traversed. Three considerations deserve particular emphasis.

1 First and foremost, this book has been an exploration of the morphologies of myth and mythmaking found in three distinct bodies of literature, from three distinct historical periods: the Hebrew Bible, from ancient Israel; the clusters or anthologies of Midrash, from ancient and early medieval Judaism; and the book of Zohar, from thirteenth-century Spain (or from related collections such as Zohar Ḥadash). Each of these corpora was taken up in turn, with a concerted attempt to delineate the distinct features and techniques of myth to be found therein; but the fact that these three collections of tradition are culturally linked and interrelated also allowed us to discern patterns and variations as materials moved from one locus to another. Specific attention was given to content dealing with divine actions and personality, both as a way to limit the vastness of the subject, but also to isolate a sphere of inquiry that could productively be compared with myths found in ancient Near Eastern texts and in the history of religions more generally. Given contentions that have denied the compatibility of myth with the monotheistic tradition overall, and with the Hebrew Bible in particular, such a strategy was deemed a sound starting point. The developments of myth in subsequent layers of Jewish tradition built upon this foundation.

Looked at from a synchronic perspective, the mythic contents of the different corpora can be seen in all their variety and all their specificity. This holds both for the range of expressions on any one theme (like the combat with the dragon; or the nature and drama of the creation) and for the diversity of subjects as a whole. The multiplicity stands as witness to the many occasions of mythmaking, and the importance of treating each expression as a mythic event in its own right. Differences testify to diverse contexts

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