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Authors: Robert Graves

Hebrew Myths

BOOK: Hebrew Myths
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Hebrew Myths

The Book of Genesis

Robert Graves

Copyright

Hebrew Myths
Copyright © 1964 by The Trustees of the Robert Graves Copyright Trust and Daphne Patai
Copyright © 1963, 1964 by International Authors NV and Dr Raphael Patai, renewed 1992 by Beryl Graves and Dr Raphael Patai
Cover art, special contents, and Electronic Edition © 2014 by RosettaBooks LLC

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

Cover jacket design by Carly Schnur
ISBN e-Pub edition: 9780795337154

CONTENTS

 
INTRODUCTION

 
1   THE CREATION ACCORDING TO GENESIS

 
2   THE CREATION ACCORDING TO OTHER BIBLICAL TEXTS

 
3   MYTHICAL COSMOLOGY

 
4   GLOSSES ON THE CREATION STORY

 
5   EARLIER CREATIONS

 
6   THE PRIMEVAL MONSTERS DESCRIBED

 
7   THE REEM AND THE ZIZ

 
8   THE FALL OF LUCIFER

 
9   THE BIRTH OF ADAM

10   ADAM’S HELPMEETS

11   PARADISE

12   THE FALL OF MAN

13   SAMAEL’S REBELLION

14   THE BIRTHS OF CAIN AND ABEL

15   THE ACT OF LOVE

16   THE FRATRICIDE

17   THE BIRTH OF SETH

18   THE SONS OF GOD AND THE DAUGHTERS OF MEN

19   THE BIRTH OF NOAH

20   THE DELUGE

21   NOAH’S DRUNKENNESS

22   THE TOWER OF BABEL

23   ABRAHAM’S ANCESTRY

24   ABRAHAM’S BIRTH

25   ABRAHAM AND THE IDOLS

26   ABRAHAM IN EGYPT

27   ABRAHAM’S RESCUE OF LOT

28   THE SEVERED CARCASES

29   ISHMAEL

30   ABRAHAM IN GERAR

31   THE BIRTH OF ISAAC

32   LOT AT SODOM

33   LOT AT ZOAR

34   THE SACRIFICE OF ISAAC

35   ABRAHAM AND KETURAH

36   ISAAC’S MARRIAGE

37   ISAAC IN GERAR

38   THE BIRTHS OF ESAU AND JACOB

39   ABRAHAM’S DEATH

40   THE BARTERED BIRTHRIGHT

41   THE STOLEN BLESSING

42   ESAU’S MARRIAGES

43   JACOB AT BETHEL

44   JACOB’S MARRIAGES

45   BIRTH OF THE TWELVE PATRIARCHS

46   JACOB’S RETURN TO CANAAN

47   JACOB AT PENIEL

48   RECONCILIATION OF JACOB AND ESAU

49   THE RAPE OF DINAH

50   REUBEN AND BILHAH

51   JUDAH AND TAMAR

52   THE DEATHS OF ISAAC, LEAH, AND ESAU

53   JOSEPH IN THE PIT

54   JOSEPH AND ZULEIKA

55   JOSEPH IN PRISON

56   JOSEPH BECOMES VICEROY

57   THE FAMINE

58   THE BROTHERS’ RETURN

59   JACOB IN EGYPT

60   THE DEATH OF JACOB

61   THE DEATH OF JOSEPH

 

 MAPS

 
THE WORLD OF GENESIS

 
ABRAHAM’S WORLD

 
PALESTINE UNDER THE JUDGES

INTRODUCTION

Myths are dramatic stories that form a sacred charter either authorizing the continuance of ancient institutions, customs, rites and beliefs in the area where they are current, or approving alterations. The word ‘myth’ is Greek, mythology is a Greek concept, and the study of mythology is based on Greek examples. Literalists who deny that the Bible contains any myths at all are, in a sense, justified. Most other myths deal with gods and goddesses who take sides in human affairs, each favouring rival heroes; whereas the Bible acknowledges only a single universal God.

All pre-Biblical sacred documents in Hebrew have been either lost or purposely suppressed. They included
The Book of the Wars of Yahweh
and the
Book of Yashar
, epic accounts of the Israelites’ desert wanderings and their invasion of Canaan. That these books were written in the early poetic Hebrew style, can be seen from the brief fragments quoted from them in
Numbers
XXI. 14;
Joshua
X. 13 and 2
Samuel
I. 18. A third book, reputedly compiled in seven parts at Joshua’s orders, described Canaan and its cities (
Joshua
XVIII. 9). The
Book of the Story of Adam
(
Genesis
V. 1) suggests a detailed account of the first ten generations from Adam to Noah.
The Book of Yahweh
(
Isaiah
XXXIV. 16) seems to have been a mythological bestiary. Several other lost books mentioned in the Bible, such as the
Acts of Solomon
, the
Book of Genealogy
, the
Chronicles of the Kings of Judah, Of the Kings of Israel, Of the Sons of Levi
, must have contained many mythic references.

Post-Biblical sacred documents are abundant. In the thousand years after the Bible was first canonised, the Jews of Europe, Asia and Africa wrote prolifically. Theirs were either attempts to clarify the Mosaic Law; or historical, moralistic, anecdotal and homiletic comments on Biblical passages. In both cases the authors included much mythic material, because myth has always served as a succinct validation of puzzling laws, rites and social customs.

Now, although the canonical books were regarded as written by divine inspiration and the least taint of polytheism had therefore to be exorcized from them, the apocryphal books were treated more leniently. Many suppressed myths were also allowed to re-emerge in
the unquestionably orthodox context of the post-Biblical midrashim. For example in
Exodus
we read that Pharaoh’s horses, chariots and horsemen pursued the Children of Israel into the midst of the sea (
Exodus
XIV. 23). According to one midrash (Mekhilta diR. Shimon 51, 54; Mid. Wayosha 52) God assumed the shape of a mare and decoyed the ruttish Egyptian stallions into the water. If the mare-headed Goddess Demeter had been described as drowning King Pelops’s chariotry in the River Alpheus by such a ruse, this would have been acceptable Greek myth; but to the pious reader of the midrash it was no more than a fanciful metaphor of the lengths to which God could go in protecting His Chosen People.

The Bible itself allows us only brief hints of its lost mythological riches. Often the reference is so terse that it passes unnoticed. Few, for instance, who read: ‘And after him was Shamgar ben Anath who smote of the Philistines six hundred men with an ox-goad, and he also saved Israel’ (
Judges
III. 31), connect Shamgar’s mother with the bloodthirsty Ugaritic Love-goddess, the maiden Anath, in whose honour Jeremiah’s priestly town of Anathot was named. The myth of Shamgar is irrecoverable, yet he must have inherited his virgin mother’s warlike prowess; and the ox-goad with which he smote the Philistines was doubtless a gift from her father, the Bull-god El.

Genesis
nevertheless still harbours vestigial accounts of ancient gods and goddesses—disguised as men, women, angels, monsters, or demons. Eve, described in
Genesis
as Adam’s wife, is identified by historians with the Goddess Heba, wife of a Hittite Storm-god, who rode naked on a lion’s back and, among the Greeks, became the Goddess Hebe, Heracles’s bride (see 10.
10
). A prince of Jerusalem in the Tell Amarna period (fourteenth century
B.C.
) styled himself Abdu-Heba—‘servant of Eve’ (see 27.
6
). Lilith, Eve’s predecessor, has been wholly exorcized from Scripture, though she is remembered by Isaiah as inhabiting desolate ruins (see 10.
6
). She seems, from midrashic accounts of her sexual promiscuity, to have been a fertility-goddess, and appears as Lillake in a Sumerian religious text,
Gilgamesh and the Willow Tree
(see 10.
3–6
).

There are pre-Biblical references to the angel Samael,
alias
‘Satan’. He first appears in history as the patron god of Samal, a small Hittite-Aramaic kingdom lying to the east of Harran (see 13. 1). Another faded god of Hebrew myth is Rahab, the Prince of the Sea, who unsuccessfully defied Jehovah (‘Yahweh’), the God of Israel—much as the Greek God Poseidon defied his brother, Almighty Zeus. Jehovah, according to Isaiah, killed Rahab with a sword (see 6.
a
). A Ugaritic
diety worshipped as Baal-Zebub, or Zebul, at Ekron was consulted by King Ahaziah (2
Kings
1. 2 ff) and centuries later the Galileans accused Jesus of traffic with this ‘Prince of the Demons.’

Seven planetary deities, borrowed from Babylon and Egypt, are commemorated in the seven branches of the Menorah, or sacred candlestick (see 1.
6
). They were combined into a single transcendental deity at Jerusalem—as among the Heliopolitans, the Byblians, the Gallic Druids and the Iberians of Tortosa. Scornful references to gods of enemy tribes humiliated by Jehovah occur throughout the historical books of the Bible: such as the Philistine Dagon, Chemosh of Moab, and Milcom of Ammon. Dagon, we know from Philo Byblius to have been a planetary power. But the God of
Genesis
, in the earliest passages, is still indistinguishable from any other small tribal godling (see 28. 1).

Greek gods and goddesses could play amusing or dramatic parts while intriguing on behalf of favoured heroes, because the myths arose in different city-states which wavered between friendship and enmity. Yet among the Hebrews, once the Northern Kingdom had been destroyed by the Assyrians, myths became monolithic, and centred almost exclusively on Jerusalem.

In Biblical myth, the heroes sometimes represent kings, sometimes dynasties, sometimes tribes. Jacob’s twelve ‘sons’, for instance, seem to have been once independent tribes which banded together to form the Israelite amphictyony or federation. Their local gods and populations were not necessarily of Aramaean race, though ruled by an Aramaean priesthood. Only Joseph can be identified, in part, with a historical character. That each of these ‘sons’, except Joseph, is said to have married a twin-sister (see 45.
f
), suggests land-inheritance through the mother even under patriarchal government. Dinah, Jacob’s only daughter born without a twin, is best understood as a semi-matriarchal tribe included in the Israel confederacy. The
Genesis
account of her rape by Shechem and the midrash about her subsequent marriage to Simeon should be read in a political, not a personal, sense (see 29.
1–3
).

Other hints of an ancient matriarchal culture occur in
Genesis:
such as the right of a mother to name her sons, still exercised among the Arabs, and matrilocal marriage: ‘Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife’ (
Genesis
II. 24). This Palestinian custom is proved by the account in
Judges
of Samson’s marriage to Delilah; and explains why Abraham, the Aramaean patriarch who entered Palestine with the Hyksos hordes early in the
second millennium
B.C.
, ordered his servant Eliezer to buy Isaac a bride from his own patrilocal kinsmen of Harran—rather than let him marry a Canaanite woman, and be adopted into her clan (see 36.
1
). Abraham had already sent away the sons borne to him by his concubines, lest they should inherit jointly with Isaac (see 35.
b
). Matrilocal marriage is the rule in early Greek myth, too: one mythographer records that the first to defy this tradition was Odysseus, who carried Penelope away from Sparta to Ithaca; and that she returned to Sparta after their divorce.

Just how powerful goddesses were under the Jewish monarchy can be seen from Jeremiah’s denunciation of his co-religionists who attributed Judaea’s downfall to their breach of faith with Anath and cried: ‘Let us once more worship the Queen of Heaven, as our fathers did before us!’

Every ruler who reforms national institutions or, like King Josiah, has reforms pressed upon him, must either write a codicil to the old religious charter, or produce a new one; and this involves the manipulation or complete re-writing of myths. It became clear that if Judaea—a small buffer state between Egypt and Assyria—was to keep its political independence, a stronger religious discipline must be inculcated, and the people trained in handling arms. Hitherto most Israelites had embraced the easy-going Canaanite cult in which goddesses played the leading rôle, with kings as their consorts. This, though all very well in peaceful times, could not steel the Jews to resist the invading armies of Egypt and Assyria. A small, tough Israelite minority was led by the Guild of Prophets who made a point of dressing as shepherds or herdsmen in honour of their pastoral God. These prophets saw that Israel’s sole hope of national independence lay in an authoritarian monotheism, and ceaselessly declaimed against goddess-worship in the Canaanite sacred groves. The Book of
Deuteronomy
, published under Josiah, bans numerous Canaanite rites, among them ritual prostitution, ritual sodomy, and all forms of idolatry. The subsequent demise of the Davidic crown converted all the Babylonian exiles to this view. When Zerubbabel rebuilt Jehovah’s temple, He no longer had any competitors. The Baals, Astartes, Anaths and all the other old Canaanite deities were dead so far as the Judaeans returning from captivity were concerned.
Genesis
, which is far more closely linked with Greek, Phoenician, Hittite, Ugaritic, Sumerian and other bodies of myth than most pious Jews and Christians care to admit, was thereafter edited and re-edited from perhaps the sixth century
B.C.
onwards, for moralistic ends. The Ham myth
was once identical with that of the conspiracy against the shameless god Cronus by his sons Zeus, Poseidon and Hades: Zeus, the youngest, alone dared castrate him, and as a result became King of Heaven. But Ham’s (or Canaan’s) castration of Noah has been excised from
Genesis
just before the line: ‘Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his little son had done unto him.’ The revised version, a moral lesson in filial respect, sentences Ham to perpetual servitude under his elder brothers for no worse a crime than accidentally seeing his father’s nakedness (see 21.
1–4
).

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