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Legends of the Bible

by Louis Ginzberg

Bibliographic information

TitleLegends of the Bible
AuthorLouis Ginzberg
PublisherVarda Books
Publication Date2001
SubjectJewish Religious Thought


Here is a kaleidoscope of tales, a key to many of the richest literary and artistic traditions of the western world: Adam’s ascent into Heaven in a chariot, Abraham’s trial by fire, Jonah’s fabulous adventure in the whale, the life of Moses, Hannah’s desire for a son, Solomon as a beggar, the wooing of Rebekah, and Balshazzar’s feast. David and Goliath … Cain and Abel … as well as mythical beasts and creatures like the leviathan and behemoth.

What emerges from these familiar—and not so familiar—stories are real people, true to life and fond of life and able to laugh at the things they love. In this mist of fable, this aura of wonder, you’ll find the same spiritual values as those in the Bible itself, seen now in new colors, new dimensions.

This is storytelling with a grain of salt and a lot of wit; tales springing from the antiquity of oral tradition, told with sheer delight in the glory of a book transformed by a hundred generations whose daily thoughts and deeds were transformed by The Book.

About the Author 

Louis Ginzberg ---

Louis Ginzberg (1893-1953) is acknowledged as the world’s outstanding scholar in the field of Talmudic learning. His seven-volume Legends of the Jews, from which these legends were selected, was published originally by the Jewish Publication Society and translated in part by Henrietta Szold. This work has been recognized as one of the most distinguished works of scholarship ever produced in the United States. Ginzberg grew up in the shadow of legend: his life’s work was stimulated by the magic of his famous ancestor, the Vilna Gaon, the 18th-century saint and scholar.


INTRODUCTION by Shalom Spiegel

  1. The Creation of the World

  2. Adam

  3. The Ten Generations

  4. Noah

  5. Abraham

  6. Jacob

  7. Joseph

  8. Job

  9. Moses in Egypt

  10. Moses in the Wilderness

  11. Joshua

  12. The Judges

  13. Samuel and Saul

  14. David

  15. Solomon

  16. Judah and Israel

  17. Elijah

  18. Elisha and Jonah

  19. The Later Kings of Judah

  20. The Exile

  21. The Return of the Captivity

  22. Esther


The Beginning of the Egyptian Bondage The Beginning of the Egyptian Bondage

As soon as Jacob was dead, the eyes of the Israelites were closed, as well as their hearts. They began to feel the dominion of the stranger, although real bondage did not enslave them until some time later. While a single one of the sons of Jacob was alive, the Egyptians did not venture to approach the Israelites with evil intent. It was only when Levi, the last of them, had departed this life that their suffering commenced. A change in the relation of the Egyptians toward the Israelites had, indeed, been noticeable immediately after the death of Joseph, but they did not throw off their mask completely until Levi was no more. Then the slavery of the Israelites supervened in good earnest.

The first hostile act on the part of the Egyptians was to deprive the Israelites of their fields, their vineyards, and the gifts that Joseph had sent to his brethren. Not content with these animosities, they sought to do them harm in other ways. The reason for the hatred of the Egyptians was envy and fear. The Israelites had increased to a miraculous degree. At the death of Jacob the seventy persons he had brought down with him had grown to the number of six hundred thousand, and their physical strength and heroism were extraordinary and therefore alarming to the Egyptians. There were many occasions at that time for the display of prowess. Not long after the death of Levi occurred that of the Egyptian king Magron, who had been bred up by Joseph, and therefore was not wholly without grateful recollection of what he and his family had accomplished for the welfare of Egypt. But his son and successor Malol, together with his whole court, knew not the sons of Jacob and their achievements, and they did not scruple to oppress the Hebrews.

The final breach between them and the Egyptians took place during the wars waged by Malol against Zepho, the grandson of Esau. In the course of it, the Israelites had saved the Egyptians from a crushing defeat, but instead of being grateful they sought only the undoing of their benefactors, from fear that the giant strength of the Hebrews might be turned against them.

Pharaoh’s Cunning

The counselors and elders of Egypt came to Pharaoh, and spake unto him, saying: “Behold, the people of the children of Israel are greater and mightier than we. Thou hast seen their strong power, which they have inherited from their fathers, for a few of them stood up against a people as many as the sand of the sea, and not one hath fallen. Now, therefore, give us counsel what to do with them, until we shall gradually destroy them from among us, lest they become too numerous in the land, for if they multiply, and there falleth out any war, they will also join themselves with their great strength unto our enemies, and fight against us, destroy us from the land, and get them up out of the land.”

The king answered the elders, saying: “This is the plan advised by me against Israel, from which we will not depart. Behold, Pithom and Raamses are cities not fortified against battle. It behooves us to fortify them. Now, go ye and act cunningly against the children of Israel, and proclaim in Egypt and in Goshen, saying: ‘All ye men of Egypt, Goshen, and Pathros! The king has commanded us to build Pithom and Raamses and fortify them against battle. Those amongst you in all Egypt, of the children of Israel and of all the inhabitants of the cities, who are willing to build with us, shall have their wages given to them daily at the king’s order.’

“Then go ye first, and begin to build Pithom and Raamses, and cause the king’s proclamation to be made daily, and when some of the children of Israel come to build, do ye give them their wages daily, and after they shall have built with you for their daily wages, draw yourselves away from them day by day, and one by one, in secret. Then you shall rise up and become their taskmasters and their officers, and you shall have them afterward to build without wages. And should they refuse, then force them with all your might to build. If you do this, it will go well with us, for we shall cause our land to be fortified after this manner, and with the children of Israel it will go ill, for they will decrease in number on account of the work, because you will prevent them from being with their wives.”

The elders, the counsellors, and the whole of Egypt did according to the word of the king. For a month the servants of Pharaoh built with Israel, then they withdrew themselves gradually, while the children of Israel continued to work, receiving their daily wages, for some men of Egypt were still carrying on the work with them. After a time all the Egyptians had withdrawn, and they had turned to become the officers and taskmasters of the Israelites. Then they refrained from giving them any pay, and when some of the Hebrews refused to work without wages, their taskmasters smote them, and made them return by force to labor with their brethren. And the children of Israel were greatly afraid of the Egyptians, and they came again and worked without pay, all except the tribe of Levi, who were not employed in the work with their brethren. The children of Levi knew that the proclamation of the king was made to deceive Israel, therefore they refrained from listening to it, and the Egyptians did not molest them later, since they had not been with their brethren at the beginning, and though the Egyptians embittered the lives of the other Israrelites with servile labor, they did not disturb the children of Levi. The Israelites called Malol, the king of Egypt, Maror, “Bitterness,” because in his days the Egyptians embittered their lives with all manner of rigorous service.

But Pharaoh did not rest satisfied with his proclamation and the affliction it imposed upon the Israelites. He suspended a brick-press from his own neck, and himself took part in the work at Pithom and Raamses. After this, whenever a Hebrew refused to come and help with the building, alleging that he was not fit for such hard service, the Egyptians would retort, saying, “Dost thou mean to make us believe thou art more delicate than Pharaoh?”

The king himself urged the Israelites on with gentle words, saying, “My children, I beg you to do this work and erect these little buildings for me. I will give you great reward therefor.” By means of such artifices and wily words the Egyptians succeeded in overmastering the Israelites, and once they had them in their power, they treated them with undisguised brutality. Women were forced to perform men’s work, and men women’s work.

The building of Pithom and Raamses turned out of no advantage to the Egyptians, for scarcely were the structures completed, when they collapsed, or they were swallowed by the earth, and the Hebrew workmen, besides having to suffer hardships during their erection, lost their lives by being precipitated from enormous heights, when the buildings fell in a heap.

But the Egyptians were little concerned whether or not they derived profit from the forced labor of the children of Israel. Their main object was to hinder their increase, and Pharaoh therefore issued an order, that they were not to be permitted to sleep at their own homes, that so they might be deprived of the opportunity of having intercourse with their wives. The officers executed the will of the king, telling the Hebrews that the reason was the loss of too much time in going to and fro, which would prevent them from completing the required tale of bricks. Thus the Hebrew husbands were kept apart from their wives, and they were compelled to sleep on the ground, away from their habitations.

But God spake, saying: “Unto their father Abraham I gave the promise, that I would make his children to be as numerous as the stars in the heavens, and you contrive plans to prevent them from multiplying. We shall see whose word will stand, Mine or yours.” And it came to pass that the more the Egyptians afflicted them, the more they multiplied, and the more they spread abroad. And they continued to increase in spite of Pharaoh’s command, that those who did not complete the required tale of bricks were to be immured in the buildings between the layers of bricks, and great was the number of the Israelites that lost their lives in this way. Many of their children were, besides, slaughtered as sacrifices to the idols of the Egyptians. For this reason God visited retribution upon the idols at the time of the going forth of the Israelites from Egypt. They had caused the death of the Hebrew children, and in turn they were shattered, and they crumbled into dust.


Get it. Read it. You will enjoy it.

- Jewish Exponent


- Jewish Affairs

Stimulates Jewish spirit and thinking… Should become the family book in every Jewish home. It is a book written by a great Jewish scholar, fit to be read by young and old alike.

- Jewish Chronicle

Many of these tales are not only fascinating; they lead us to understand what is going on in the Middle East now, with perhaps more insight than we can obtain elsewhere.

- Jewish Herald-Voice

This work surpasses in its clarity and in the immensity of the field it embraces, any other similar work… An unusual treat.

- Jewish Ledger

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