Week 3: Hebrew Bible

Please choose carefully! If you can't decide for yourself, let the Fates decide... Then, when you have made your choice, you can start the Week's Assignments.

You probably all know some version of the story of Noah and the Ark, and you might be more or less familiar with the story of the Tower of Babel as well. The focus of this week's reading is to introduce you to different versions of these stories. First, you will read the account of Noah and Babel from three different translations of the Hebrew Bible: a modern 20th-century translation, the 17th-century "King James version" and a 16th-century translation, prior to King James', by William Tyndale. Then you will read some stories about Noah and about the Tower of Babel that were told as Jewish folklore, and collected in The Legends of the Jews by Louis Ginzberg. These include the story of Adam and Eve as cannibals (!), the strange relations between Noah and the raven, and the magical powers attributed to Nimrod, the builder of the Tower of Babel.

Here are some quotes:

And Noe made an aulter vnto the LORDE and toke of all maner of clene beastes and all maner of clene foules and offred sacrifyce vppon the aulter. And the LORDE smellyd a swete savoure and sayd in his hert: I wyll henceforth no more curse the erth for mannes sake for the imagynacion of mannes hert is evell even from the very youth of hym. Morover I wyll not destroy from henceforth all that lyveth as I haue done.

When Adam came back from a walk in Paradise, he found a howling, screaming child with Eve, who, in reply to his question, told him it was Samael's. Adam was annoyed, and his annoyance grew as the boy cried and screamed more and more violently. In his vexation he dealt the little one a blow that killed him. But the corpse did not cease to wail and weep, nor did it cease when Adam cut it up into bits.

Satan thereupon slaughtered a lamb, and then, in succession, a lion, a pig, and a monkey. The blood of each as it was killed he made to flow under the vine. Thus he conveyed to Noah what the qualities of wine are: before man drinks of it, he is innocent as a lamb; if he drinks of it moderately, he feels as strong as a lion; if he drinks more of it than he can bear, he resembles the pig; and if he drinks to the point of intoxication, then he behaves like a monkey, he dances around, sings, talks obscenely, and knows not what he is doing.

In the case of Samson and Daniel, you probably know part of the story - but not all of it. For example, you might know about Samson and Delilah - but what about Samson and his first wife? (also not a happy story!) Do you know the story of Samson and the foxes that he set on fire? Samson breaking down the door of the town of Gaza in order to escape from a whorehouse? Samson the riddler? Or Daniel - you've probably heard of Daniel in the lions' den, but what about Daniel and the sacred dragon of Babylon? The story of the rape of Susannah? All the translations for this unit come from the King James' version, including chapters that come from the Apocryphal Books, which used to be printed with the King James' version, but which are now omitted in many Protestant Bibles.

Here are some quotes:

And Samson said unto them, I will now put forth a riddle unto you: if ye can certainly declare it me within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty sheets and thirty change of garments: but if ye cannot declare it me, then shall ye give me thirty sheets and thirty change of garments. And they said unto him, Put forth thy riddle, that we may hear it. And he said unto them, "Out of the eater came forth meat,
and out of the strong came forth sweetness."

And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians."

Now there was in Jewry a prophet, called Habbacuc, who had made pottage, and had broken bread in a bowl, and was going into the field, for to bring it to the reapers. But the angel of the Lord said unto Habbacuc, "Go, carry the dinner that thou hast into Babylon unto Daniel, who is in the lions' den." And Habbacuc said, "Lord, I never saw Babylon; neither do I know where the den is." Then the angel of the Lord took him by the crown, and bare him by the hair of his head, and through the vehemency of his spirit set him in Babylon over the den.

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM