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eBook Folk-lore in the Old Testament: Studies in Comparative Religion Legend and Law. Vol. I
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Publisher:  Varda Books
Published:  2001
Language:  English
Pages:   597

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ISBN: 1-59045-136-8

About the Book -- Folk-lore in the Old Testament: Studies in Comparative Religion Legend and Law. Vol. I

From Preface

Modern researches into the early history of man, conducted on different lines, have converged with almost irresistible force on the conclusion, that all civilized races have at some period or other emerged from a state of savagery resembling more or less closely the state in which many backward races have continued to the present time; and that, long after the majority of men in a community have ceased to think and act like savages, not a few traces of the old ruder modes of life and thought survive in the habits and institutions of the people. Such survivals are included under the head of folklore, which, in the broadest sense of the word, may be said to embrace the whole body of a people's traditionary beliefs and customs, so far as these appear to be due to the collective action of the multitude and cannot be traced to the individual influence of great men. Despite the high moral and religious development of the ancient Hebrews, there is no reason to suppose that they formed an exception to this general law. They, too, had probably passed through a stage of barbarism and even of savagery; and this probability, based on the analogy of other races, is confirmed by an examination of their literature, which contains many references to beliefs and practices that can hardly be explained except on the supposition that they are rudimentary survivals from a far lower level of culture. It is to the illustration and explanation of a few such relics of ruder times, as they are preserved like fossils in the Old Testament, that [the author has] addressed. …

The instrument for the detection of savagery under civilization is the comparative method, which, applied to the human mind, enables us to trace man's intellectual and moral evolution, just as, applied to the human body, it enables us to trace his physical evolution from lower forms of animal life. There is, in short, a Comparative Anatomy of the mind as well as of the body, and it promises to be no less fruitful of far-reaching consequences, not merely speculative but practical, for the future of humanity. The application of the comparative method to the study of Hebrew antiquities is not novel. In the seventeenth century the method was successfully employed for this purpose in France by the learned French pastor Samuel Bochart, and in England by the learned divine John Spencer, Master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, whose book on the ritual laws of the ancient Hebrews is said to have laid the foundations of the science of Comparative Religion. In our own age, after a lapse of two centuries, the work initiated by these eminent scholars and divines was resumed in Cambridge by William Robertson Smith, and the progress which the study made during his lifetime and since his too early death is due in large measure to the powerful impulse it received from his extraordinary genius and learning. It has been [the author's] ambition to tread in the footsteps of these my illustrious predecessors in this department of learning, and to carry on what I may be allowed to call the Cambridge tradition of Comparative Religion.

It is a familiar truth that the full solution of any one problem involves the solution of many more; nay, that nothing short of omniscience could suffice to answer all the questions implicitly raised by the seemingly simplest inquiry. Hence the investigation of a point of folk-lore, especially in the present inchoate condition of the study, naturally opens up lines of inquiry which branch out in many directions; and in following them we are insensibly drawn on into wider and wider fields of inquiry, until the point from which we started has almost disappeared in the distance, or, to speak more correctly, is seen in its proper perspective as only one in a multitude of similar phenomena. So it befell [the author] when, many years ago, [he] undertook to investigate a point in the folk-lore of ancient Italy; so it has befallen [him] when [he has] set [himself] to discuss certain points in the folk-lore of the ancient Hebrews. The examination of a particular legend, custom, or law has in some cases gradually broadened out into a disquisition and almost into a treatise. But apart from their immediate bearing on the traditions and usages of Israel, these disquisitions may be accepted as contributions to the study of folk-lore in general. That study is still in its infancy, and [the author's] theories on the subjects with which it deals must probably for a long time to come be tentative and provisional, mere pigeon-holes in which temporarily to sort the multitude of facts, not iron moulds in which to cast them forever. Under these circumstances a candid inquirer in the realm of folk-lore at the present time will state his inferences with a degree of diffidence and reserve corresponding to the difficulty and uncertainty of the matter in hand. …

Throughout [his] inquiry [the author has] sought to take account of the conclusions reached by the best critics [of his time] with regard to the composition and dates of the various books of the Old Testament. [He believes] that only in the light of these conclusions do many apparent discrepancies in the sacred volume admit of a logical and historical explanation. …

The scope of [the author's] work has obliged [him] to dwell chiefly on the lower side of ancient Hebrew life revealed in the Old Testament, on the traces of savagery and superstition which are to be found in its pages. But to do so is not to ignore, far less to disparage, that higher side of the Hebrew genius which has manifested itself in a spiritual religion and a pure morality, and of which the Old Testament is the imperishable monument. On the contrary, the revelation of the baser elements which underlay the civilization of ancient Israel, as they underlie the civilization of modern Europe, serves rather as a foil to enhance by contrast the glory of a people which, from such dark depths of ignorance and cruelty, could rise to such bright heights of wisdom and virtue, as sunbeams appear to shine with a greater effulgence of beauty when they break through the murky clouds of a winter evening than when they flood the earth from the serene splendor of a summer noon. The annals of savagery and superstition unhappily compose a large part of human literature; but in what other volume shall we find, side by side with that melancholy record, psalmists who poured forth their sweet and solemn strains of meditative piety in the solitude of the hills or in green pastures and beside still waters; prophets who lit up their beatific visions of a blissful future with the glow of an impassioned imagination; historians who bequeathed to distant ages the scenes of a remote past embalmed for ever in the amber of a pellucid style? These are the true glories of the Old Testament and of Israel; these, we trust and believe, will live to delight and inspire mankind, when the crudities recorded alike in sacred and profane literature shall have been purged away in a nobler humanity of the future.

About the Book








§ 1. The Narrative in Genesis

§ 2. The Story of the Perverted Message

§ 3. The Story of the Cast Skin

§ 4. The Composite Story of the Perverted Message and the Cast Skin

§ 5. Conclusion





§ 1. Introduction

§ 2. The Babylonian Story of a Great Flood

§ 3. The Hebrew Story of a Great Flood

§ 4. Ancient Greek Stories of a Great Flood

§ 5. Other European Stories of a Great Flood

§ 6. Supposed Persian Stories of a Great Flood

§ 7. Ancient Indian Stories of a Great Flood

§ 8. Modern Indian Stories of a Great Flood

§ 9. Stories of a Great Flood in Eastern Asia

§ 10. Stories of a Great Flood in the Indian Archipelago

§11. Stories of a Great Flood in Australia

§ 12. Stories of a Great Flood in New Guinea and Melanesia

§ 13. Stories of a Great Flood in Polynesia and Micronesia

§ 14. Stories of a Great Flood in South America

§ 15. Stories of a Great Flood in Central America and Mexico

§ 16. Stories of a Great Flood in North America.

§ 17. Stories of a Great Flood in Africa

§ 18. The Geographical Diffusion of Flood Stories

§ 19. The Origin of Stories of a Great Flood









§ I. Traces of Ultimogeniture in Israel

§ 2. Ultimogeniture in Europe

§ 3. The Question of the Origin of Ultimogeniture

§ 4. Ultimogeniture in Southern Asia

§ 5. Ultimogeniture in North-Eastern Asia

§ 6. Ultimogeniture in Africa

§ 7. The Origin of Ultimogeniture

§ 8. Ultimogeniture and Jus Primae Noctis

§ 9. Ultimogeniture and Polygamy

§ 10. Ultimogenitiire and Infanticide

§ 11. Superstitions about youngest children


An Excerpt from the Book -- Folk-lore in the Old Testament: Studies in Comparative Religion Legend and Law. Vol. I


AMONG the problems which beset any inquiry into the early history of mankind the question of the origin of language is at the same time one of the most fascinating and one of the most difficult. The writers whose crude speculations on human origins are embodied in the early chapters of Genesis have given us no hint as to the mode in which they supposed man to have acquired the most important of all the endowments which mark him off from the beasts—the gift of articulate speech. On the contrary they seem to have assumed that this priceless faculty was possessed by him from the beginning, nay that it was shared with him by the animals, if we may judge by the example of the talking serpent in Eden. However, the diversity of languages spoken by the various races of men naturally attracted the attention of the ancient Hebrews, and they explained it by the following tale.

In the early days of the world all mankind spoke the same language. Journeying from the east as nomads in one huge caravan, they came to the great plains of Shinar or Babylonia, and there they settled. They built their houses of bricks, bound together with a mortar of slime, because stone is rare in the alluvial soil of these vast swampy flats. But not content with building themselves a city, they proposed to construct out of the same materials a tower so high that its top should reach to heaven; this they did in order to make a name for themselves, and also to prevent the citizens from being scattered over the face of the whole earth. For when any had wandered from the city and lost his way on the boundless plain, he would look back westward and see afar off the outline of the tall tower standing up dark against the bright evening sky, or he would look eastward and behold the top of the tower lit up by the last rays of the setting sun. So he would find his bearings, and guided by the landmark would retrace his steps homeward. Their scheme was good, but they failed to reckon with the jealousy and power of the Almighty. For while they were building away with all their might and main, God came down from heaven to see the city and the tower which men were raising so fast. The sight displeased him, for he said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is what they begin to do: and now nothing will be withholden from them, which they purpose to do.” Apparently he feared that when the tower reached the sky, men would swarm up it and beard him in his den, a thing not to be thought of. So he resolved to nip the great project in the bud. “Go to,” said he to himself, or to his heavenly counsellors, “let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.” Down he went accordingly and confounded their language and scattered them over the face of all the earth. Therefore they left off to build the city and the tower; and the name of the place was called Babel, that is, Confusion, because God did there confound the language of all the earth.

On the plain stuff of this narrative later Jewish tradition has embroidered a rich band of picturesque details. From them we learn that the enterprise of the tower was flat rebellion against God, though the rebels were not at one in their aims. Some wished to scale heaven and there wage war with the Almighty in person, or set up their idols to be worshipped in his stead; others limited their ambition to the more modest scheme of damaging the celestial vault by showers of spears and arrows. Many, many years was the tower in building. It reached so high that at last a bricklayer took a whole year to ascend to the top with his hod on his back. If he fell down and broke his neck, nobody minded for the man, but everybody wept for the brick, because it would take a whole year to replace it on the top of the tower. So eagerly did they work, that a woman would not interrupt her task of brickmaking even to give birth to a child; she would merely tie the baby in a sheet round her body and go on moulding bricks as if nothing had happened. Day and night the work never slackened; and from their dizzy height they shot heavenward arrows, which returned to them dabbled with blood; so they cried, “We have slain all who are in heaven.” At last the long-suffering deity lost patience, and turning to the seventy angels who encompass his throne, he proposed that they should all go down and confound the language of men. No sooner said than done. The misunderstandings which consequently arose were frequent and painful. One man, for example, would ask for mortar, and the other would hand him a brick, whereupon the first, in a rage, would hurl the brick at his mate's head and kill him. Many perished in this manner, and the rest were punished by God according to the acts of rebellion which they had meditated. As for the unfinished tower, a part of it sank into the earth, and another part was consumed by fire; only one-third of it remained standing. The place of the tower has never lost its peculiar quality. Whoever passes it forgets all he knows.

The scene of the legend was laid at Babylon, for Babel is only the Hebrew form of the name of the city. The popular derivation from a Hebrew verb balal (Aramaic balbel) “to confuse” is erroneous; the true meaning, as shown by the form in which the name is written in inscriptions, seems to be “Gate of God” (Bab-il or Bab-ilu).1 The commentators are probably right in tracing the origin of the story to the deep impression produced by the great city on the simple minds of Semitic nomads, who, fresh from the solitude and silence of the desert, were bewildered by the hubbub of the streets and bazaars, dazzled by the shifting kaleidoscope of colour in the bustling crowd, stunned by the din of voices jabbering in strange unknown tongues, and overawed by the height of the buildings, above all by the prodigious altitude of the temples towering up, terrace upon terrace, till their listering tops of enamelled brick seemed to touch the blue sky. No wonder that dwellers in tents should imagine, that they who scaled the pinnacle of such a stupendous pile by the long winding ramp, and appeared at last like moving specks on the summit, must indeed be near the gods.

Of two such gigantic temples the huge mouldering remains are to be seen at Babylon to this day, and it is probable that to one or other of them the legend of the Tower of Babel was attached. One of them rises among the ruins of Babylon itself, and still bears the name of Babil; the other is situated across the river at Borsippa, some eight or nine miles away to the south-west, and is known as Birs-Nimrud. The ancient name of the temple in the city of Babylon was E-sagil: it was dedicated to Marduk. The ancient name of the temple at Borsippa was E-zida: it was dedicated to Nebo. Scholars are not agreed as to which of these ancient edifices was the original Tower of Babel; local and Jewish tradition identifies the legendary tower with the ruins of Birs-Nimrud at Borsippa.

The mound of Babil, once the temple of the chief Babylonian god Bel or Marduk, is now merely an oblong mass composed chiefly of unbaked brick, measuring about two hundred yards in length on the longer northern and southern faces, and rising to a height of at least one hundred and ten feet above the plain. The top is broad and flat, but uneven and broken with heaps of rubbish. While the solid core of the structure was built of crude or sun-dried bricks, its outer faces were apparently coated with walls of burnt bricks, some of which, inscribed with the name of King Nebuchadnezzar, have been found on the spot. From Herodotus we learn that the temple rose in a series of eight terraces or solid towers, one on the top of the other, with a ramp winding up on the outside, but broken about half-way up by a landing-place, where there were seats for the rest and refreshment of persons ascending to the summit. In the ancient Sumerian language the temple was called E-temen-an-ki or “The House of the Foundation of Heaven and Earth.” Towards the end of the seventh century before our era the temple had fallen into disrepair, if not into ruins, but it was then restored by King Nabopolassar, who reigned 625–604 B.C. In an inscription, which has been preserved, the king describes himself as “the restorer of Esagila and Ezida,” and records the restoration of Esagila or Etemenanki as follows:—

“As for Etemenanki, the temple-tower of Babylon, which before my time had become weakened and had fallen in, Marduk the lord commanded me to lay its foundation in the heart of the earth (and) to raise its turrets to heaven. Baskets, spades (?), and U.RU.I made out of ivory, ushu and mismakanna wood; I caused the numerous workmen assembled in my land to carry them. I set to work (?); I made bricks, I manufactured burnt bricks. Like the downpour of heaven, which cannot be measured, like the massive flood, I caused the Arahtu to carry bitumen and pitch. With the cooperation of Ea, with the insight of Marduk, with the wisdom of Nabu and Nisaba, in the broad understanding with which the god, my creator, had endowed me, with my great ingenuity (?), I came to a decision; I gave orders to the skilled workmen. With a nindanaku measure I measured the measurements of the aba ash-lam (?). The architects at first made a survey of the ground plot (?). Afterwards I consulted Shamash, Ramman, and Marduk; to my heart they gave decision, they sanctioned the measurements, the great gods by decree indicated the later stages of the work. By means of exorcism, in the wisdom of Ea and Marduk, I cleared away that place, (and) on the original site I laid its platform-foundation; gold, silver, stones from mountain and sea in its foundation I set * * * goodly oil, sweet-smelling herbs, and * * * I placed underneath the bricks. An image of my royalty carrying a dupshikku I constructed; in the platform-foundation I placed it. Unto Marduk, my lord, I bowed my neck; I arrayed myself in my gown, the robe of my royalty. Bricks and mortar I carried on my head, a dupshikku of gold and silver I wore; and Nebuchadrezzar, the first-born, the chief son, beloved of my heart, I caused to carry mortar mixed with wine, oil, and (other) products along with my workmen. Nabushumlisher, his twin brother, the offspring of my own flesh, the junior, my darling, I ordered to take a basket and spade (?); a dupshikku of gold and silver I placed (on him). Unto Marduk, my lord, as a gift, I dedicated him. I built the temple in front of Esharra with joy and rejoicing, and like a mountain I raised its tower aloft; to Marduk, my lord, as in days of old, I dedicated it for a sight to be gazed at.

“O Marduk, my lord, look with favour upon my goodly deeds! At thy exalted command, which cannot be altered, let the performance of my hands endure for ever! Like the bricks of Etemenanki, which are to remain firm for ever, do thou establish the foundation of my throne for all time! O Etemenanki, grant blessing to the king who has restored thee! When Marduk with joy takes up his abode in thee, O temple, recall to Marduk, my lord, my gracious deeds!”

An Excerpt from the Book

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