Jewish Mythology


The mythology of the Jews exists in two main parts. Myth
from the bible (traditional hero myths, cosmogony, etc.),
and also more modern myths, those pertaining to life in the
shtetl (the areas in eastern Europe inhabited by Jews),
those of the Jews in the Middle East, and now those
emerging from the recently discovered community of Jews in
Ethiopia. Many people are aware and knowledgeable regarding
the Jewish biblical myths (Adam and Eve, Creation, Noah and
the Arc, Joshua and the Battle of Jericho). I have chosen
to examine the more obscure mythology of the Jews of Persia.
These myths tended to be more along the lines of fables,
each teaching a message. They do not follow the traditional
cycle of the Greek mythology. They often seek to teach the
lesson of charity (which is very important in Judaism),
humility, compassion, intelligence, and tolerance. Persian
mythology also tended to be more graphic than average (in
one myth it describes someone cooking a dog's heart for a
cure to some ailment, then a bear ripping someone limb from
The first myth I will examine is The Fox, the Bear, and the
Lion. This myth is about a poor man with a rich elder
brother. The poor man's family is starving, and he goes to
his brother to ask for assistance. Being a miser and having
a bad heart, the brother turns him away with nothing to
show for his efforts. The poor man is disgraced by his
brother's behavior, and his failure to support his family,
and he runs off into the woods.
One night he is sleeping in a secluded mill, when he awakes
to hear a lion, fox, and bear talking. They mention various
easily attainable riches, as well as the cure for the
king's daughter (the aforementioned dog heart). The man
succeeds, and finds all the wealth as well as curing the
king's daughter. He returns home to his family. His brother
is astounded by the sudden turn of fortune and eventually
falls into financial trouble himself. The elder brother is
forced to ask the younger for assistance that the younger
gladly provides. He also does him the (unknowing)
disservice of telling him about his encounter at the mill.
The brother in a zealous haste runs to the mill. There he
hears the three animals once again, this time discussing
the loss of their riches. The fox smells the scent of the
brother. Thinking that he is the one who took their
possessions, they rip him limb from limb.
As one can see, this somewhat tragic story has a clear
moral, that of compassion and charity. If the brother in
the first place had aided his sibling, he would not have
ended up dead. It also teaches against jealousy and blind
The next myth is one about the plight of the Persian Jews
under one of their many oppressors. A powerful noble begins
to preach regarding early "ethnic cleansing." He decrees
that the Jews (as well as other ethnic minorities) are an
infestation that should be assimilated, exiled, or killed.
His preaching influences popular morality and the general
opinion towards outsiders turns nasty. One prominent,
Jewish scholar refuses to back down. He asks for an
audience with the noble, and the noble reluctantly agrees.
The scholar offers the nobleman a choice of two rugs as his
sign of respect. One rug is plain, while the other is
brilliantly multi-colored. The nobleman chooses the colored
rug as his gift and the scholar asks "since you have chosen
the multi-colored rug to be superior and more to your
liking, don't you think it only fit that your society be
multi-cultural as well, just as the multiple colors of your
rug?" The noble sees the sense in the Jew's argument, and
revokes his decrees dealing with the status of Jews in
In this myth, and throughout Jewish mythology in general,
brains always win over brawn. Despite being in a position
of subservience, the Jew wins his cause not by violence but
by debate and the appealing to the better nature of
The final myth I wish to discuss is a short one, another
example of using logic and intelligence to stamp out
ignorance. A fanatical Muslim leader takes charge of a
small area of Persia and states that the Jews are evil.
They must be assimilated, exiled, or killed. He claims that
Jews take the blood of a Muslim child whom they kill to
make Passover matzoth (the unleavened bread). Through a
complex logical argument, a Jew proves that the Muslim
leader is lying in his decrees. The people of Persia are
once again tolerant of the Jews.
As one can plainly see, the myths of Persia are not that
different with myths from other Jewish areas, as well as
other cultures. However there is something unique about
them, as with all cultures: their overall purpose. The Jews
have biblical myth to provide answers for unexplainable
natural phenomena, these are much more, providing a moral
and ethical code for the descendants of the Jewish people
far into the future.


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