Flowers from a Persian Garden and Other Papers
by W. A. Clouston
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With regard to the accusation of intolerance brought against the Rabbis, it is worse than a misconception of words or phrases; it is a gross calumny, the more reprehensible if preferred by those who are acquainted with the teachings of the Talmud, since they are thus guilty of wilfully suppressing the truth. In the following passages a broad, humane spirit of toleration is clearly inculcated:

"It is our duty to maintain the heathen poor along with those of our own nation."

"We must visit their sick, and administer to their relief, bury their dead," and so forth.

"The heathens that dwell out of the land of Israel ought not to be considered as idolators, since they only follow the customs of their fathers."

"The pious men of the heathen will have their portion in the next world."

"It is unlawful to deceive or over-reach any one, not even a heathen."

"Be circumspect in the fear of the Lord, soft in speech, slow in wrath, kind and friendly to all, even to the heathen."

Alluding to the laws inimical to the heathen, Rabbi Mosha says: "What wise men have said in this respect was directed against the ancient idolators, who believed neither in a creation nor in a deliverance from Egypt; but the nations among whom we live, whose protection we enjoy, must not be considered in this light, since they believe in a creation, the divine origin of the law, and many other fundamental doctrines of our religion. It is, therefore, not only our duty to shelter them against actual danger, but to pray for their welfare and the prosperity of their respective governments."[56]

[56] Introductory Essay to Hebrew Tales, by Hyman Hurwitz; published at London in 1826.

Let the impartial reader compare these teachings of the Rabbis with the intolerant doctrines and practices of Christian pastors, even in modern times as well as during the Middle Ages: when they taught that out of the pale of the Church there could be no salvation; that no faith should be kept with heretics, or infidels: when Catholics persecuted Protestants, and Protestants retaliated upon Catholics:

Christians have burned each other, quite persuaded That all the Apostles would have done as they did!

It will probably occur to most readers, in connection with the rabbinical doctrine, that it is unlawful to over-reach any one, that the Jews appear to have long ignored such maxims of morality. But it should be remembered that if they have earned for themselves, by their chicanery in mercantile transactions, an evil reputation, their ancestors in the bad old times were goaded into the practice of over-reaching by cunning those Christian sovereigns and nobles who robbed them of their property by force and cruel tortures. Moreover, where are the people to be found whose daily actions are in accordance with the religion they profess? At least, the Rabbis, unlike the spiritual teachers of mediaeval Europe, did not openly inculcate immoral doctrines.



There is, no doubt, very much in the Talmud that possesses a recondite, spiritual meaning; but it would likely puzzle the most ingenious and learned modern Rabbis to construe into mystical allegories such absurd legends regarding Biblical personages as the following:

Adam and Eve.

Adam's body, according to the Jewish Fathers, was formed of the earth of Babylon, his head of the land of Israel, and his other members of other parts of the world. Originally his stature reached the firmament, but after his fall the Creator, laying his hand upon him, lessened him very considerably.[57] Mr Hershon, in his Talmudic Miscellany, says there is a notion among the Rabbis that Adam was at first possessed of a bi-sexual organisation, and this conclusion they draw from Genesis i, 27, where it is said: "God created man in his own image, male-female created he him."[58] These two natures it was thought lay side by side; according to some, the male on the right and the female on the left; according to others, back to back; while there were those who maintained that Adam was created with a tail, and that it was from this appendage that Eve was fashioned![59] Other Jewish traditions (continues Mr. Hershon) inform us that Eve was made from the thirteenth rib of the right side, and that she was not drawn out by the head, lest she should be vain; nor by the eyes, lest she should be wanton; nor by the mouth, lest she should be given to garrulity; nor by the ears, lest she should be an eavesdropper; nor by the hands, lest she should be intermeddling; nor by the feet, lest she should be a gadder; nor by the heart, lest she should be jealous;—but she was taken out from the side: yet, in spite of all these precautions, she had every one of the faults so carefully guarded against!

[57] Commentators on the Kuran say that Adam's beard did not grow till after his fall, and it was the result of his excessive sorrow and penitence. Strange to say, he was ashamed of his beard, till he heard a voice from heaven calling to him and saying: "The beard is man's ornament on earth; it distinguishes him from the feeble woman." Thus we ought to—should we not?—regard our beards as the offshoots of what divines term "original sin"; and cherish them as mementoes of the Fall of Man. Think of this, ye effeminate ones who use the razor!

[58] The notion of man being at first androgynous, or man-woman, was prevalent in most of the countries of antiquity. Mr. Baring-Gould says that "the idea, that man without woman and woman without man are imperfect beings, was the cause of the great repugnance with which the Jews and other nations of the East regarded celibacy." (Legends of the Old Testament, vol. i, p. 22.) But this, I think, is not very probable. The aversion of Asiatics from celibacy is rather to be ascribed to their surroundings in primitive times, when neighbouring clans were almost constantly at war with each other, and those chiefs and notables who had the greatest number of sturdy and valiant sons and grandsons would naturally be best able to hold their own against an enemy. The system of concubinage, which seems to have existed in the East from very remote times, is not matrimony, and undoubtedly had its origin in the passionate desire which, even at the present day, every Asiatic has for male offspring. By far the most common opening of an Eastern tale is the statement that there was a certain king, wise, wealthy, and powerful, but though he had many beautiful wives and handmaidens, Heaven had not yet blest him with a son, and in consequence of this all his life was embittered, and he knew no peace day or night.

[59] Professor Charles Marelle, of Berlin, in an interesting little collection, Affenschwanz, &c.; Variants orales de Contes Populaires, Francais et Etrangers (Braunschweig, 1888), gives an amusing story, based evidently on this rabbinical legend: The woman formed from Adam's tail proved to be as mischievous as a monkey, and gave her spouse no peace; whereupon another was formed from a part of his breast, and she was a decided improvement on her sister. All the giddy girls in the world are descended from the woman who was made from Adam's tail.

Adam's excuse for eating of the forbidden fruit, "She gave me of the tree and I did eat," is said to be thus ingeniously explained by the learned Rabbis: By giving him of the tree is meant that Eve took a stout crab-tree cudgel, and gave her husband (in plain English) a sound rib-roasting, until he complied with her will!—The lifetime of Adam, according to the Book of Genesis, ch. v, 5, was nine hundred and thirty years, for which the following legend (reproduced by the Muslim traditionists) satisfactorily accounts: The Lord showed to Adam every future generation, with their heads, sages, and scribes.[60] He saw that David was destined to live only three hours, and said: "Lord and Creator of the world, is this unalterably fixed?" The Lord answered: "It was my original design." "How many years shall I live?" "One thousand." "Are grants known in heaven?" "Certainly." "I grant then seventy years of my life to David." What did Adam therefore do? He gave a written grant, set his seal to it, and the same was done by the Lord and Metatron.

[60] You and I, good reader, must therefore have been seen by the Father of Mankind.

The body of Adam was taken into the ark by Noah, and when at last it grounded on the summit of Mount Ararat [which it certainly never did!], Noah and his three sons removed the body, "and they followed an angel, who led them to a place where the First Father was to lie. Shem (or Melchizidek, for they are one), being consecrated by God to the priesthood, performed the religious rites, and buried Adam at the centre of the earth, which is Jerusalem. But some say he was buried by Shem, along with Eve in the cave of Machpelah in Hebron; others relate that Noah on leaving the ark distributed the bones of Adam among his sons, and that he gave the head to Shem, who buried it in Jerusalem."[61]

[61] Legends of Old Testament Characters, by S. Baring-Gould, vol. i, pp. 78, 79.

Cain and Abel.

The Hebrew commentators are not agreed regarding the cause of Cain's enmity towards his brother Abel. According to one tradition, Cain and Abel divided the whole world between them, one taking the moveable and the other the immoveable possessions. One day Cain said to his brother: "The earth on which thou standest is mine; therefore betake thyself to the air." Abel rejoined: "The garment which thou dost wear is mine; therefore take it off." From this there arose a conflict between them, which resulted in Abel's death. Rabbi Huna teaches, however, that they contended for a twin sister of Abel; the latter claimed her because she was born along with him, while Cain pleaded his right of primogeniture. After Adam's first-born had taken his brother's life, the sheep-dog of Abel faithfully guarded his master's corpse from the attacks of beasts and birds of prey. Adam and Eve also sat near the body of their pious son, weeping bitterly, and not knowing how to dispose of his lifeless clay. At length a raven, whose mate had lately died, said to itself: "I will go and show to Adam what he must do with his son's body," and accordingly scooped a hole in the ground and laid the dead raven therein, and covered it with earth. This having been observed by Adam, he likewise buried the body of Abel. For this service rendered to our great progenitor, we are told, the Deity rewarded the raven, and no one is allowed to injure its young: "they have food in abundance, and their cry for rain is always heard."[62]

[62] The Muhammedan legend informs us that Cain was afterwards slain by the blood-avenging angel. But the Jewish traditionists say that God was at length moved by Cain's contrition and placed on his brow a seal, which indicated that the fratricide was fully pardoned. Adam happened to meet him, and observing the seal on his forehead, asked him how he had turned aside the wrath of God. He replied: "By confession of my sin and sincere repentance." On hearing this Adam exclaimed, beating his breast: "Woe is me! Is the virtue of repentance so great and I knew it not?"

The Planting of the Vine.

When Noah planted the vine, say the Rabbis, Satan slew a sheep, a lion, an ape, and a sow, and buried the carcases under it; and hence the four stages from sobriety to absolute drunkenness: Before a man begins to drink, he is meek and innocent as a lamb, and as a sheep in the hand of the shearer is dumb; when he has drank enough, he is fearless as a lion, and says there is no one like him in the world; in the next stage, he is like an ape, and dances, jests, and talks nonsense, knowing not what he is doing and saying; when thoroughly drunken, he wallows in the mire like a sow.[63] To this legend Chaucer evidently alludes in the Prologue to the Maniciple's Tale:

I trow that ye have dronken wine of ape, And that is when men plaien at a strawe.

[63] A garbled version of this legend is found in the Latin Gesta Romanorum (it does not occur in the Anglican versions edited by Sir F. Madden for the Roxburghe Club, and by Mr. S. J. Herrtage for the Early English Text Society), Tale 179, as follows: "Josephus, in his work on 'The Causes of Things,' says that Noah discovered the vine in a wood, and because it was bitter he took the blood of four animals, viz., of a lion, a lamb, a pig, and a monkey. This mixture he united with earth and made a kind of manure, which he deposited at the roots of the trees. Thus the blood sweetened the fruit, with the juice of which he afterwards intoxicated himself, and lying naked was derided by his youngest son."

Luminous Jewels.

Readers of that most fascinating collection of Eastern tales, commonly but improperly called the Arabian Nights' Entertainments, must be familiar with the remarkable property there ascribed to certain gems, of furnishing light in the absence of the sun. Possibly the Arabians adopted this notion from the Rabbis, in whose legends jewels are frequently represented as possessing the light-giving property. For example, we learn that Noah and his family, while in the ark, had no light besides what was obtained from diamonds and other precious stones. And Abraham, who, it appears, was extremely jealous of his wives, built for them an enchanted city, of which the walls were so high as to shut out the light of the sun; an inconvenience which he easily remedied by means of a large basin full of rubies and other jewels, which shed forth a flood of light equal in brilliancy to that of the sun itself.[64]

[64] Luminous jewels figure frequently in Eastern tales, and within recent years, from experiments and observations, the phosphorescence of the diamond, sapphire, ruby, and topaz has been fully established.

Abraham's Arrival in Egypt.

When Abraham journeyed to Egypt he had among his impedimenta a large chest. On reaching the gates of the capital the customs officials demanded the usual duties. Abraham begged them to name the sum without troubling themselves to open the chest. They demanded to be paid the duty on clothes. "I will pay for clothes," said the patriarch, with an alacrity which aroused the suspicions of the officials, who then insisted upon being paid the duty on silk. "I will pay for silk," said Abraham. Hereupon the officials demanded the duty on gold, and Abraham readily offered to pay the amount. Then they surmised that the chest contained jewels, but Abraham was quite as willing to pay the higher duty on gems, and now the curiosity of the officials could be no longer restrained. They broke open the chest, when, lo, their eyes were dazzled with the lustrous beauty of Sarah! Abraham, it seems, had adopted this plan for smuggling his lovely wife into the Egyptian dominions.

The Infamous Citizens of Sodom.

Some of the rabbinical legends descriptive of the singular customs of the infamous citizens of Sodom are exceedingly amusing—or amazing. The judges of that city are represented as notorious liars and mockers of justice. When a man had cut off the ear of his neighbour's ass, the judge said to the owner: "Let him have the ass till the ear is grown again, that it may be returned to thee as thou wishest." The hospitality shown by the citizens to strangers within their gates was of a very peculiar kind. They had a particular bed for the weary traveller who entered their city and desired shelter for the night. If he was found to be too long for the bed, they reduced him to the proper size by chopping off so much of his legs; and if he was shorter than the bed, he was stretched to the requisite length.[65] To preserve their reputation for hospitality, when a stranger arrived each citizen was required to give him a coin with his name written on it, after which the unfortunate traveller was refused food, and as soon as he had died of hunger every man took back his own money. It was a capital offence for any one to supply the stranger with food, in proof of which it is recorded that a poor man, having arrived in Sodom, was presented with money and refused food by all to whom he made his wants known. It chanced that, as he lay by the roadside almost starved to death, he was observed by one of Lot's daughters, who had compassion on him, and supplied him with food for many days, as she went to draw water for her father's household. The citizens, marvelling at the man's tenacity of life, set a person to watch him, and Lot's daughter being discovered bringing him bread, she was condemned to death by burning. Another kind-hearted maiden who had in like manner relieved the wants of a stranger, was punished in a still more dreadful manner, being smeared over with honey, and stung to death by bees.

[65] Did the Talmudist borrow this story from the Greek legend of the famous robber of Attica, Procrustes, who is said to have treated unlucky travellers after the same barbarous fashion?

It may be naturally supposed that travellers who were acquainted with the peculiar ways of the citizens of Sodom would either pass by that city without entering its inhospitable gates, or, if compelled by business to go into the town, would previously provide themselves with food; but even this last precaution did not avail them against the wiles of those wicked people: A man from Elam, journeying to a place beyond Sodom, reached the infamous city about sunset. The stranger had with him an ass, bearing a valuable saddle to which was strapped a large bale of merchandise. Being refused a lodging by each citizen of whom he asked the favour, our traveller made a virtue of necessity, and determined to pass the night, along with his animal and his goods, as best he might, in the streets. His preparations with this view were observed by a cunning and treacherous citizen, named Hidud, who came up, and, accosting him courteously, desired to know whence he had come and whither he was bound. The stranger answered that he had come from Hebron, and was journeying to such a place; that, being refused shelter by everybody, he was preparing to pass the night in the streets; and that he was provided with bread for his own use and with fodder for his beast. Upon this Hidud invited the stranger to his house, assuring him that his lodging should cost him nothing, while the wants of his beast should not be forgotten. The stranger accepted of Hidud's proffered hospitality, and when they came to his house the citizen relieved the ass of the saddle and merchandise, and carefully placed them for security in his private closet. He then led the ass into his stable and amply supplied him with provender; and returning to the house, he set food before his guest, who, having supped, retired to rest. Early in the morning the stranger arose, intending to resume his journey, but his host first pressed him to partake of breakfast, and afterwards persuaded him to remain at his house for two days. On the morning of the third day our traveller would no longer delay his departure, and Hidud therefore brought out his beast, saying kindly to his guest: "Fare thee well." "Hold!" said the traveller. "Where is my beautiful saddle of many colours and the strings attached thereto, together with my bale of rich merchandise?" "What sayest thou?" exclaimed Hidud, in a tone of surprise. The stranger repeated his demand for his saddle and goods. "Ah," said Hidud, affably, "I will interpret thy dream: the strings that thou hast dreamt of indicate length of days to thee; and the many-coloured saddle of thy dream signifies that thou shalt become the owner of a beauteous garden of odorous flowers and rich fruit trees." "Nay," returned the stranger, "I certainly entrusted to thy care a saddle and merchandise, and thou hast concealed them in thy house." "Well," said Hidud, "I have told thee the meaning of thy dream. My usual fee for interpreting a dream is four pieces of silver, but, as thou hast been my guest, I will only ask three pieces of thee." On hearing this very unjust demand the stranger was naturally enraged, and he accused Hidud in the court of Sodom of stealing his property. After each had stated his case, the judge decreed that the stranger must pay Hidud's fee, since he was well known as a professional interpreter of dreams. Hidud then said to the stranger: "As thou hast proved thyself such a liar, I must not only be paid my usual fee of four pieces of silver, but also the value of the two days' food with which I provided thee in my house." "I will cheerfully pay thee for the food," rejoined the traveller, "on condition that thou restore my saddle and merchandise." Upon this the litigants began to abuse each other and were thrust into the street, where the citizens, siding with Hidud, soundly beat the unlucky stranger, and then expelled him from the city.

Abraham once sent his servant Eliezer to Sodom with his compliments to Lot and his family, and to inquire concerning their welfare. As Eliezer entered Sodom he saw a citizen beating a stranger, whom he had robbed of his property. "Shame upon thee!" exclaimed Eliezer to the citizen. "Is this the way you act towards strangers?" To this remonstrance the man replied by picking up a stone and striking Eliezer with it on the forehead with such force as to cause the blood to flow down his face. On seeing the blood the citizen caught hold of Eliezer and demanded to be paid his fee for having freed him of impure blood. "What!" said Eliezer, "am I to pay thee for wounding me?" "Such is our law," returned the citizen. Eliezer refused to pay, and the man brought him before the judge, to whom he made his complaint. The judge then decreed: "Thou must pay this man his fee, since he has let thy blood; such is our law." "There, then," said Eliezer, striking the judge with a stone, and causing him to bleed, "pay my fee to this man, I want it not," and then departed from the court.[66]

[66] There are two Italian stories which bear some resemblance to this queer legend: In the fourth novel of Arienti an advocate is fined for striking his opponent in court, and "takes his change" by repeating the offence; and in the second novel of Sozzini, Scacazzone, after dining sumptuously at an inn, and learning from the waiter that the law of that town imposed a fine of ten livres for a blow on the face, provokes the landlord so that he gets a slap from him on the cheek, upon which he tells Boniface to pay himself out of the fine he should have had to pay for the blow if charged before the magistrate, and give the rest of the money to the waiter.—A similar story is told in an Arabian collection, of a half-witted fellow and the kazi.

Abraham and Ishmael's Wife.

Hagar, the handmaid of Sarah, was given as a slave to Abraham, by her father, Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who said: "My daughter had better be a slave in the house of Abraham than mistress in any other house." Her son Ishmael, it is said, took unto himself a wife of the daughters of Moab. Three years afterwards Abraham set out to visit his son, having solemnly promised Sarah (who, it thus appears, was still jealous of her former handmaid) that he would not alight from his camel. He reached Ishmael's house about noontide, and found his wife alone. "Where is Ishmael?" inquired the patriarch. "He is gone into the wilderness with his mother to gather dates and other fruits." "Give me, I pray thee, a little bread and water, for I am fatigued with travelling." "I have neither bread nor water," rejoined the inhospitable matron. "Well," said the patriarch, "tell Ishmael when he comes home that an old man came to see him, and recommends him to change the door-post of his house, for it is not worthy of him." On Ishmael's return she gave him the message, from which he at once understood that the stranger was his father, and that he did not approve of his wife. Accordingly he sent her back to her own people, and Hagar procured him a wife from her father's house. Her name was Fatima.

Another period of three years having elapsed, Abraham again resolved to visit his son; and having, as before, pledged his word to Sarah that he would not alight at Ishmael's house, he began his journey. When he arrived at his son's domicile he found Fatima alone, Ishmael being abroad, as on the occasion of his previous visit. But from Fatima he received every attention, albeit she knew not that he was her husband's father. Highly gratified with Fatima's hospitality, the patriarch called down blessings upon Ishmael, and returned home. Fatima duly informed Ishmael of what had happened in his absence, and then he knew that Abraham still loved him as his son.

This is one of the few rabbinical legends regarding Biblical characters which do not exceed the limits of probability; and I confess I can see no reason why these interesting incidents should be considered as purely imaginary. As a rule, however, the Talmudic legends of this kind must be taken not only cum grano salis, but with a whole bushel of that most necessary commodity, particularly such marvellous relations as that of Rabbi Jehoshua, when he informs us that the "ram caught in a thicket," which served as a substitute for sacrifice when Abraham was prepared to offer up his son Isaac, was brought by an angel out of Paradise, where it pastured under the Tree of Life and drank from the brook which flows beneath it. This creature, the Rabbi adds, diffused its perfume throughout the world.[67]

[67] The commentators on the Kuran have adopted this legend. But according to the Kuran it was not Isaac, but Ishmael, the great progenitor of the Arabs, who was to be sacrificed by Abraham.

Joseph and Potiphar's Wife.

The story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife, as related in the Book of Genesis, finds parallels in the popular tales and legends of many countries: the vengeance of "woman whose love is scorned," says a Hindu writer, "is worse than poison"! But the rabbinical version is quite unique in representing the wife of Potiphar as having aiders and abettors in carrying out her scheme of revenge: For some days after the pious young Israelite had declined her amorous overtures, she looked so ill that her female friends inquired of her the cause, and having told them of her adventure with Joseph, they said: "Accuse him before thy husband, that he may be cast into prison." She desired them to accuse him likewise to their husbands, which they did accordingly; and their husbands went before Pharaoh and complained of Joseph's misconduct towards their wives.[68]

[68] Commentators on the Kuran inform us that when Joseph was released from prison, after so satisfactorily interpreting Pharaoh's two dreams, Potiphar was degraded from his high office. One day, while Joseph was riding out to inspect a granary beyond the city, he observed a beggar-woman in the street, whose whole appearance, though most distressing, bore distinct traces of former greatness. Joseph approached her compassionately, and held out to her a handful of gold. But she refused it, and said aloud: "Great prophet of Allah, I am unworthy of this gift, although my transgression has been the stepping-stone to thy present fortune." At these words Joseph regarded her more closely, and, behold, it was Zulaykha, the wife of his lord. He inquired after her husband, and was told that he had died of sorrow and poverty soon after his deposition. On hearing this, Joseph led Zulaykha to a relative of the king, by whom she was treated like a sister, and she soon appeared to him as blooming as at the time of his entrance into her house. He asked her hand of the king, and married her, with his permission.

Zulaykha was the name of Potiphar's wife, if we may believe Muhammedan legends, and the daughter of the king of Maghrab (or Marocco), who gave her in marriage to the grand vazir of the king of Egypt, and the beauteous princess was disgusted to find him, not only very old, but, as a modest English writer puts it, very mildly, "belonged to that unhappy class which a practice of immemorial antiquity in the East excluded from the pleasures of love and the hope of posterity." This device of representing Potiphar as being what Byron styles "a neutral personage" was, of course, adopted by Muslim traditionists and poets in order to "white-wash" the frail Zulaykha.—There are extant many Persian and Turkish poems on the "loves" of Yusuf wa Zulaykha, most of them having a mystical signification, and that by the celebrated Persian poet Jami is universally considered as by far the best.

Joseph and his Brethren.

Wonderful stories are related of Joseph and his brethren. Simeon, if we may credit the Talmudists, must have been quite a Hercules in strength. The Biblical narrative of Simeon's detention by his brother Joseph is brief but most expressive: "And he turned himself about from them and wept; and returned to them again, and communed with them, and took from them Simeon, and bound him before their eyes."[69] The Talmudists condescend more minutely regarding this interesting incident: When Joseph ordered seventy valiant men to put Simeon in chains, they had no sooner approached him than he roared so loud that all the seventy fell down at his feet and broke their teeth! Joseph then said to his son Manasseh: "Chain thou him"; whereupon Manasseh dealt Simeon a single blow and immediately overpowered him; upon which Simeon exclaimed: "Surely this was the blow of a kinsman!"—When Joseph sent Benjamin to prison, Judah cried so loud that Chushim, the son of Dan, heard him in Canaan and responded. Joseph feared for his life, for Judah was so enraged that he wept blood. Some say that Judah wore five garments, one over the other; but when he was angry his heart swelled so much that his five garments burst open. Joseph cried so terribly that one of the pillars of his house fell in and was changed into sand. Then Judah said: "He is valiant, like one of us."

[69] Gen. xlii, 24.—It does not appear from the sacred narrative why Joseph selected his brother Simeon as hostage. Possibly Simeon was most eager for his death, before he was cast into the dry well and then sold to the Ishmaelites; and indeed both he and his brother Levi seem to have been "a bad lot," judging from the dying Jacob's description of them, Gen. xlix, 5-7.

Jacob's Sorrow.

But like a gem, among a heap of rubbish is the touching little story of how the news of Joseph's being alive and the viceroy of Egypt was conveyed to the aged and sorrow-stricken Jacob. When the brethren had returned to the land of Canaan, after their second expedition, they were perplexed how to communicate to their father the joyful intelligence that his long-lamented son still lived, fearing it might have a fatal effect on the old man if suddenly told to him. At length Serach, the daughter of Asher, proposed that she should convey the tidings to her grandfather in a song. Accordingly she took her harp, and sang to Jacob the whole story of Joseph's life and his present greatness, and her music soothed his spirit; and when he fully realised that his son was yet alive, he fervently blessed her, and she was taken into Paradise, without tasting of death.[70]

[70] "Jacob's grief" is proverbial in Muslim countries. In the Kuran, sura xii, it is stated that the patriarch became totally blind through constant weeping for the loss of Joseph, and that his sight was restored by means of Joseph's garment, which the governor of Egypt sent by his brethren.—In the Makamat of Al-Hariri, the celebrated Arabian poet (A.D. 1054-1122), Harith bin Hamman is represented as saying that he passed a night of "Jacobean sorrow," and another imaginary character is said to have "wept more than Jacob when he lost his son."

Moses and Pharaoh.

The slaughter of the Hebrew male children by the cruel command of the "Pharoah who knew not Joseph" was a precaution adopted, we are informed by the Rabbis, in consequence of a dream which that monarch had, of an aged man who held a balance in his right hand; in one scale he placed all the sages and nobles of Egypt, and in the other a little lamb, which weighed down them all. In the morning Pharaoh told his strange dream to his counsellors, who were greatly terrified, and Bi'lam, the son of Beor, the magician, said: "This dream, O King, forebodes great affliction, which one of the children of Israel will bring upon Egypt." The king asked the soothsayer whether this threatened evil might not be avoided. "There is but one way of averting the calamity—cause every male child of Hebrew parents to be slain at birth." Pharaoh approved of this advice, and issued an edict accordingly. The Egyptian monarch's kind-hearted daughter (whose name, by the way, was Bathia), who rescued the infant Moses from the common fate of the Hebrew male children, was a leper, and consequently was not permitted to use the warm baths. But no sooner had she stretched forth her hand to the crying infant than she was healed of her leprosy, and, moreover, afterwards admitted bodily into Paradise.[71]

[71] Muslims say that Pharaoh's seven daughters were all lepers, and that Bathia's sisters, as well as herself, were cured through her saving the infant Moses.

According to the Hebrew traditionists, nine human beings entered Paradise without having tasted of death, viz.: Enoch; Messiah; Elias; Eliezer, the servant of Abraham; the servant of the king of Kush; Hiram, king of Tyre; Jaabez, the son of the Prince, and the Rabbi, Juda; Serach, the daughter of Asher; and Bathia, the daughter of Pharaoh.

The last of the race of genuine Dublin ballad-singers, who rejoiced in the nom de guerre of "Zozimus" (ob. 1846), used to edify his street patrons with a slightly different reading of the romantic story of the finding of Moses in the bulrushes, which has the merit of striking originality, to say the least:

In Egypt's land, upon the banks of Nile, King Pharaoh's daughter went to bathe in style; She tuk her dip, then went unto the land, And, to dry her royal pelt, she ran along the strand. A bulrush tripped her, whereupon she saw A smiling babby in a wad of straw; She tuk it up, and said, in accents mild, "Tare an' agers, gyurls, which av yez owns this child?"

The story of the finding of Moses has its parallels in almost every country—in the Greek and Roman legends of Perseus, Cyrus, and Romulus—in Indian, Persian, and Arabian tales—and a Babylonian analogue is given, as follows, by the Rev. A. H. Sayce, in the Folk-Lore Journal for 1883: "Sargon, the mighty monarch, the king of Agane, am I. My mother was a princess; my father I knew not. My father's brother loved the mountain land. In the city of Azipiranu, which on the bank of the Euphrates lies, my mother, the princess, conceived me; in an inacessible spot she brought me forth. She placed me in a basket of rushes; with bitumen the door of my ark she closed. She launched me on the river, which drowned me not. The river bore me along; to Akki, the irrigator, it brought me. Akki, the irrigator, in the tenderness of his heart, lifted me up. Then Akki, the irrigator, as his gardener appointed me, and in my gardenership the goddess Istar loved me. For forty-five years the kingdom I have ruled, and the black-headed (Akkadian) race have governed."

Of the childhood of Moses a curious story is told to account for his being in after life "slow of speech and slow of tongue": Pharaoh was one day seated in his banqueting hall, with his queen at his right hand and Bathia at his left, and around him were his two sons, Bi'lam, the chief soothsayer, and other dignitaries of his court, when he took little Moses (then three years old) upon his knee, and began to fondle him. The Hebrew urchin stretched forth his hand and took the kingly crown from Pharaoh's brow and deliberately placed it upon his own head. To the monarch and his courtiers this action of the child was ominous, and Pharaoh inquired of his counsellors how, in their judgment, the audacious little Hebrew should be punished. Bi'lam, the sooth-sayer, answered: "Do not suppose, O King, that this is necessarily the thoughtless action of a child; recollect thy dream which I did interpret for thee. But let us prove whether this child is possessed of understanding beyond his years, in this manner: let two plates, one containing fire, the other gold, be placed before the child; and if he grasp the gold, then is he of superior understanding, and should therefore be put to death." The plates, as proposed by the soothsayer, were placed before the child Moses, who immediately seized upon the fire, and put it into his mouth, which caused him henceforward to stammer in his speech.

It was no easy matter for Moses and his brother to gain access to Pharaoh, for his palace had 400 gates, 100 on each side; and before each gate stood no fewer than 60,000 tried warriors. Therefore the angel Gabriel introduced them by another way, and when Pharaoh beheld Moses and Aaron he demanded to know who had admitted them. He summoned the guards, and ordered some of them to be beaten and others to be put to death. But next day Moses and Aaron returned, and the guards, when called in, exclaimed: "These men are sorcerers, for they cannot have come in through any of the gates." There were, however, much more formidable guardians of the royal palace: the 400 gates were guarded by bears, lions, and other ferocious beasts, who suffered no one to pass unless they were fed with flesh. But when Moses and Aaron came, they gathered about them, and licked the feet of the prophets, accompanying them to Pharaoh.—Readers who are familiar with the Thousand and One Nights and other Asiatic story-books will recollect many tales in which palaces are similarly guarded. In the spurious "Canterbury" Tale of Beryn (taken from the first part of the old French romance of the Chevalier Berinus), which has been re-edited for the Chaucer Society, the palace-garden of Duke Isope is guarded by eight necromancers who look like "abominabill wormys, enough to frighte the hertiest man on erth," also by a white lion that had eaten five hundred men.



Muhammed, the great Arabian lawgiver, drew very largely from the rabbinical legends in his composition of the Kuran, every verse of which is considered by pious Muslims as a miracle, or wonder (ayet). The well-known story of the spider weaving its web over the mouth of the cave in which Muhammed and Abu Bekr had concealed themselves in their flight from Mecca to Medina was evidently borrowed from the Talmudic legend of David's flight from the malevolence of Saul: Immediately after David had entered the cave of Adullam, a spider spun its web across the opening. His pursuers presently passing that way were about to search the cave; but perceiving the spider's web, they naturally concluded that no one could have recently entered there, and thus was the future king of Israel preserved from Saul's vengeance.

King David once had a narrow escape from death at the hands of Goliath's brother Ishbi. The king was hunting one morning when Satan appeared before him in the form of a deer.[72] David drew his bow, but missed him, and the feigned deer ran off at the top of his speed. The king, with true sportsman's instinct, pursued the deer, even into the land of the Philistines—which, doubtless, was Satan's object in assuming that form. It unluckily happened that Ishbi, the brother of Goliath, recognised in the person of the royal hunter the slayer of the champion of Gath, and he immediately seized David, bound him neck and heels together, and laid him beneath his wine-press, designing to crush him to death. But, lo, the earth became soft, and the Philistine was baffled. Meanwhile, in the land of Israel a dove with silver wings was seen by the courtiers of King David fluttering about, apparently in great distress, which signified to the wise men that their royal master was in danger of his life. Abishai, one of David's counsellors, at once determined to go and succour his sovereign, and accordingly mounted the king's horse, and in a few minutes was in the land of the Philistines. On arriving at Ishbi's house, he discovered that gentleman's venerable mother spinning at the door. The old lady threw her distaff at the Israelite, and, missing him, desired him to bring it back to her. Abishai returned it in such a manner that she never afterwards required a distaff. This little incident was witnessed by Ishbi, who, resolving to rid himself of one of his enemies forthwith, took David from beneath the wine-press, and threw him high into the air, expecting that he would fall upon his spear, which he had previously fixed into the ground. But Abishai pronounced the Great Name (often referred to in the Talmud), and David, in consequence, remained suspended between earth and sky. In the sequel they both unite against Ishbi, and put him to death.[73]

[72] That the arch-fiend could, and often did, assume various forms to lure men to their destruction was universally believed throughout Europe during mediaeval times and even much later; generally he appeared in the form of a most beautiful young woman; and there are still current in obscure parts of Scotland wild legends of his having thus tempted even godly men to sin.—In Asiatic tales rakshasas, ghuls (ghouls), and such-like demons frequently assume the appearance of heart-ravishing damsels in order to delude and devour the unwary traveller. In many of our old European romances fairies are represented as transforming themselves into the semblance of deer, to decoy into sequestered places noble hunters of whom they had become enamoured.

[73] The "Great Name" (in Arabic, El-Ism el-Aazam, "the Most Great Name"), by means of which King David was saved from a cruel death, as above, is often employed in Eastern romances for the rescue of the hero from deadly peril, as well as to enable him to perform supernatural exploits. It was generally engraved on a signet-ring, but sometimes it was communicated orally to the fortunate hero by a holy man, or by a king of the genii—who was, of course, a good Muslim.

Of Solomon the Wise there are, of course, many curious rabbinical legends. His reputation for superior sagacity extended over all the world, and the wisest men of other nations came humbly to him as pupils. It would appear that this great monarch was not less willing to afford the poorest of his subjects the benefit of his advice when they applied to him than able to solve the knottiest problem which the most keen-witted casuist could propound. One morning a man, whose life was embittered by a froward, shrewish wife, left his house to seek the advice of Solomon. On the road he overtook another man, with whom he entered into conversation, and presently learned that he was also going to the king's palace. "Pray, friend," said he, "what might be your business with the king? I am going to ask him how I should manage a wife who has long been froward." "Why," said the other, "I employ a great many people, and have a great deal of capital invested in my business; yet I find I am losing more and more every year, instead of gaining; and I want to know the cause, and how it may be remedied." By-and-by they overtook a third man, who informed them that he was a physician whose practice had fallen off considerably, and he was proceeding to ask King Solomon's advice as to how it might be increased. At length they reached the palace, and it was arranged among them that the man who had the shrewish wife should first present himself before the king. In a short time he rejoined his companions with a rather puzzled expression of countenance, and the others inquiring how he had sped, he answered: "I can see no wisdom in the king's advice; he simply advised me to go to a mill." The second man then went in, and returned quite as much perplexed as the first, saying: "Of a truth, Solomon is not so wise as he is reported to be; would you believe it?—all he said to me when I had told him my grievance was, get up early in the morning." The third man, somewhat discouraged by these apparently idle answers, entered the presence-chamber, and on coming out told his companions that the king had simply advised him to be proud. Equally disappointed, the trio returned homeward together. They had not gone far when one of them said to the first man: "Here is a mill; did not the king advise you to go into one?" The man entered, and presently ran out, exclaiming: "I've got it! I've got it! I am to beat my wife!" He went home and gave his spouse a sound thrashing, and she was ever afterwards a very obedient wife.[74] The second man got up very early the next morning, and discovered a number of his servants idling about, and others loading a cart with goods from his warehouse, which they were stealing. He now understood the meaning of Solomon's advice, and henceforward always rose early every morning, looked after his servants, and ultimately became very wealthy. The third man, on reaching home, told his wife to get him a splendid robe, and to instruct all the servants to admit no one into his presence without first obtaining his permission. Next day, as he sat in his private chamber, arrayed in his magnificent gown, a lady sent her servant to demand his attendance, and he was about to enter the physician's chamber, as usual, without ceremony, when he was stopped, and told that the doctor's permission must be first obtained. After some delay the lady's servant was admitted, and found the great doctor seated among his books. On being desired to visit the lady, the doctor told the servant that he could not do so without first receiving his fee. In short, by this professional pride, the physician's practice rapidly increased, and in a few years he acquired a large fortune. And thus in each case Solomon's advice proved successful.[75]

[74] At the "mill" the man who was plagued with a bad wife doubtless saw some labourers threshing corn, since grinding corn would hardly suggest the idea of beating his provoking spouse.—By the way, this man had evidently never heard the barbarous sentiment, expressed in the equally barbarous English popular rhyme—composed, probably, by some beer-sodden bacon-chewer, and therefore, in those ancient times, non inventus

A woman, a dog, and a walnut tree, The more you beat 'em, the better they be—

else, what need for him to consult King Solomon about his paltry domestic troubles?

[75] A variant of this occurs in the Decameron of Boccaccio, Day ix, Nov. 9, of which Dunlop gives the following outline: Two young men repair to Jerusalem to consult Solomon. One asks how he may be well liked, the other how he may best manage a froward wife. Solomon advised the first to "love others," and the second to "repair to the mill." From this last counsel neither can extract any meaning; but it is explained on their road home, for when they came to the bridge of that name they meet a number of mules, and one of these animals being restive its master forced it on with a stick. The advice of Solomon, being now understood, is followed, with complete success.

Among the innumerable tales current in Muhammedan countries regarding the extraordinary sagacity of Solomon is the following, which occurs in M. Rene Basset's Contes Populaires Berbers (Paris, 1887): Complaint was made to Solomon that some one had stolen a quantity of eggs. "I shall discover him," said Solomon. And when the people were assembled in the mosque (sic), he said: "An egg-thief has come in with you, and he has got feathers on his head." The thief in great fright raised his hand to his head, which Solomon perceiving, he cried out: "There is the culprit—seize him!" There are many variants of this story in Persian and Indian collections, where a kazi, or judge, takes the place of Solomon, and it had found its way into our own jest-books early in the 16th century. Thus in Tales and Quicke Answeres, a man has a goose stolen from him and complains to the priest, who promises to find out the thief. On Sunday the priest tells the congregation to sit down, which they do accordingly. Then says he, "Why are ye not all seated?" Say they, "We are all seated." "Nay," quoth Mass John, "but he that stole the goose sitteth not down." "But I am seated," says the witless goose-thief.

We learn from the Old Testament that the Queen of Sheba (or Saba, whom the Arabians identify with Bilkis, queen of El-Yemen) "came to prove the wisdom of Solomon with hard questions," and that he answered them all. What were the questions—or riddles—the solution of which so much astonished the Queen of Sheba we are not told; but the Rabbis inform us that, after she had exhausted her budget of riddles, she one day presented herself at the foot of Solomon's throne, holding in one hand a bouquet of natural flowers and in the other a bouquet of artificial flowers, desiring the king to say which was the product of nature. Now, the artificial flowers were so exactly modelled in imitation of the others that it was thought impossible for him to answer the question, from the distance at which she held the bouquets. But Solomon was not to be baffled by a woman with scraps of painted paper: he caused a window in the audience-chamber to be opened, when a cluster of bees immediately flew in and alighted upon one of the bouquets, while not one of the insects fixed upon the other. By this device Solomon was enabled to distinguish between the natural and the artificial flowers.

Again the Queen of Sheba endeavoured to outwit the sagacious monarch. She brought before him a number of boys and girls, apparelled all alike, and desired him to distinguish those of one sex from those of the other, as they stood before him. Solomon caused a large basin full of water to be fetched in, and ordered them all to wash their hands. By this expedient he discovered the males from the females; since the boys merely washed their hands, while the girls washed also their arms.[76]

[76] Among the Muhammedan legends concerning Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, it is related that, after he had satisfactorily answered all her questions and solved her riddles, "before he would enter into more intimate relations with her, he desired to clear up a certain point respecting her, and to see whether she actually had cloven feet, as several of his demons would have him to believe; or whether they had only invented the defect from fear lest he should marry her, and beget children, who, as descendants of the genii [the mother of Bilkis is said to have been of that race of beings], would be even more mighty than himself. He therefore caused her to be conducted through a hall, whose floor was of crystal, and under which water tenanted by every variety of fish was flowing. Bilkis, who had never seen a crystal floor, supposed that there was water to be passed through, and therefore raised her robe slightly, when the king discovered to his great joy a beautifully shaped female foot. When his eye was satisfied, he called to her: 'Come hither; there is no water here, but only a crystal floor; and confess thyself to the faith in the one only God.' Bilkis approached the throne, which stood at the end of the hall, and in Solomon's presence abjured the worship of the sun. Solomon then married Bilkis, but reinstated her as Queen of Saba, and spent three days in every month with her."

The Arabians and Persians, who have many traditions regarding Solomon, invariably represent him as adept in necromancy, and as being intimately acquainted with the language of beasts and birds. Josephus, the great Jewish historian, distinctly states that Solomon possessed the art of expelling demons, that he composed such incantations also by which distempers are alleviated, and that he left behind him the manner of using exorcisms, by which they drive out demons, never to return. Of course, Josephus merely reproduces rabbinical traditions, and there can be no doubt but the Arabian stories regarding Solomon's magical powers are derived from the same source. It appears that Solomon's signet-ring was the chief instrument with which he performed his numerous magical exploits.[77] By its wondrous power he imprisoned Ashmedai, the prince of devils; and on one occasion the king's curiosity to increase his store of magical knowledge cost him very dear—no less than the loss of his kingdom for a time. Solomon was in the habit of daily plying Ashmedai with questions, to all of which the fiend returned answers, furnishing the desired information, until one day the king asked him a particular question which the captive evil spirit flatly refused to answer, except on condition that Solomon should lend him his signet-ring. The king's passion for magical knowledge overcame his prudence, and he handed his ring to the fiend, thereby depriving himself of all power over his captive, who immediately swallowed the monarch, and stretching out his wings, flew up into the air, and shot out his "inside passenger" four hundred leagues distant from Jerusalem! Ashmedai then assumed the form of Solomon, and sat on his throne. Meanwhile Solomon was become a wanderer on the face of the earth, and it was then that he said (as it is written in the book of Ecclesiasticus i, 3): "This is the reward of all my labour"; which word this, one learned Rabbi affirms to have reference to Solomon's walking-staff, and another commentator, to his ragged coat; for the poor monarch went begging from door to door, and in every town he entered he always cried aloud: "I, the Preacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem!" But the people all thought him insane. At length, in the course of his wanderings, he reached Jerusalem, where he cried, as usual: "I, the Preacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem!" and as he never varied in his recital, certain wise counsellors, reflecting that a fool is not constant in his tale, resolved to ascertain, if possible, whether the poor beggar was really King Solomon. With this object they assembled, and taking the mendicant with them, they gave him the magical ring and led him into the throne-room.[78] Ashmedai no sooner caught sight of his old master than he shrieked wildly and flew away; and Solomon resumed his mild and beneficent rule over the people of Israel. The Rabbis add, that ever afterwards, even to his dying day, Solomon was afraid of the prince of devils, and could not go to sleep without having his bed surrounded by an armed guard, as it is written in the Book of Canticles, iii, 7, 8.

[77] According to the Muslim legend, eight angels appeared before Solomon in a vision, saying that Allah had sent them to surrender to him power over them and the eight winds which were at their command. The chief of the angels then presented him with a jewel bearing the inscription: "To Allah belong greatness and might." Solomon had merely to raise this stone towards the heavens and these angels would appear, to serve him. Four other angels next appeared, lords of all creatures living on the earth and in the waters. The angel representing the kingdom of birds gave him a jewel on which were inscribed the words: "All created things praise the Lord." Then came an angel who gave him a jewel conferring on the possessor power over earth and sea, having inscribed on it: "Heaven and earth are servants of Allah." Lastly, another angel appeared and presented him with a jewel bearing these words (the formula of the Muslim Confession of Faith): "There is no God but the God, and Muhammed is his messenger." This jewel gave Solomon power over the spirit-world. Solomon caused these four jewels to be set in a ring, and the first use to which he applied its magical power was to subdue the demons and genii.—It is perhaps hardly necessary to remark here, with reference to the fundamental doctrine of Islam, said to have been engraved on the fourth jewel of Solomon's ring, that according to the Kuran, David, Solomon, and all the Biblical patriarchs and prophets were good Muslims, for Muhammed did not profess to introduce a new religion, but simply to restore the original and only true faith, which had become corrupt.

[78] We are not told here how the demon came to part with this safeguard of his power. The Muslim form of the legend, as will be seen presently, is much more consistent, and corresponds generally with another rabbinical version, which follows the present one.

Another account informs us that the demon, having cajoled Solomon out of possession of his magic ring, at once flung it into the sea and cast the king 400 miles away. Solomon came to a place called Mash Kerim, where he was made chief cook in the palace of the king of Ammon, whose daughter, called Naama, became enamoured of him, and they eloped to a far distant country. As Naama was one day preparing a fish for broiling, she found Solomon's ring in its stomach, which, of course, enabled him to recover his kingdom and to imprison the demon in a copper vessel, which he cast into the Lake of Tiberias.[79]

[79] According to the Muslim version, Solomon's temporary degradation was in punishment for his taking as a concubine the daughter of an idolatrous king whom he had vanquished in battle, and, through her influence, bowing himself to "strange gods." Before going to the bath, one day, he gave this heathen beauty his signet to take care of, and in his absence the rebellious genie Sakhr, assuming the form of Solomon, obtained the ring. The king was driven forth and Sakhr ruled (or rather, misruled) in his stead; till the wise men of the palace, suspecting him to be a demon, began to read the Book of the Law in his presence, whereupon he flew away and cast the signet into the sea. In the meantime Solomon hired himself to some fishermen in a distant country, his wages being two fishes each day. He finds his signet in the maw of one of the fish, and so forth.

It may appear strange to some readers that the Rabbis should represent the sagacious Solomon in the character of a practitioner of the Black Art. But the circumstance simply indicates that Solomon's acquirements in scientific knowledge were considerably beyond those of most men of his age; and, as in the case of our own Friar Bacon, his superior attainments were popularly attributed to magical arts. Nature, it need hardly be remarked, is the only school of magic, and men of science are the true magicians.

Unheard-of Monsters.

The marvellous creatures which are described by Pliny, and by our own old English writers, Sir John Mandeville and Geoffrey of Monmouth, are common-place in comparison with some of those mentioned in the Talmud. Even the monstrous roc of the Arabian Nights must have been a mere tom-tit compared with the bird which Rabbi bar Chama says he once saw. It was so tall that its head reached the sky, while its feet rested on the bottom of the ocean; and he affords us some slight notion of the depth of the sea by informing us that a carpenter's axe, which had accidentally fallen in, had not reached the bottom in seven years. The same Rabbi saw "a frog as large as a village containing sixty houses." Huge as this frog was, the snake that swallowed it must have been the very identical serpent of Scandinavian mythology, which encircled the earth; yet a crow gobbled up this serpent, and then flew to the top of a cedar, which was as broad as sixteen waggons placed side by side.—Sailors' "yarns," as they are spun to marvel-loving old ladies in our jest-books, are as nothing to the rabbinical accounts of "strange fish," some with eyes like the moon, others horned, and 300 miles in length. Not less wonderful are some four-footed creatures. The effigy of the unicorn, familiar to every schoolboy, on the royal arms of Great Britain, affords no adequate idea of the actual dimensions of that remarkable animal. Since a unicorn one day old is as large as Mount Tabor, it may readily be supposed that Noah could not possibly have got a full-grown one into the ark; he therefore secured it by its horn to the side, and thus the creature was saved alive. (The Talmudist had forgot that the animals saved from the Flood were in pairs.)[80] The celebrated Og, king of Bashan, it seems, was one of the antediluvians, and was saved by riding on the back of the unicorn. The dwellers in Brobdignag were pigmies compared with the renowned King Og, since his footsteps were forty miles apart, and Abraham's ivory bed was made of one of his teeth. Moses, the Rabbis tell us, was ten cubits high[81] and his walking-stick ten cubits more, with the top of which, after jumping ten cubits from the ground, he contrived to touch the heel of King Og; from which it has been concluded that that monarch was from two to three thousand cubits in height. But (remarks an English writer) a certain Jewish traveller has shown the fallacy of this mensuration, by meeting with the end of one of the leg-bones of the said King Og, and travelling four hours before he came to the other end. Supposing this Rabbi to have been a fair walker, the bone was sixteen miles long!

[80] Is it possible that this "story" of the unicorn was borrowed and garbled from the ancient Hindu legend of the Deluge? "When the flood rose Manu embarked in the ship, and the fish swam towards him, and he fastened the ship's cable to its horn." But in the Hindu legend the fish (that is, Brahma in the form of a great fish) tows the vessel, while in the Talmudic legend the ark of Noah takes the unicorn in tow.

[81] In a manuscript preserved in the Lambeth Palace Library, of the time of Edward IV, the height of Moses is said to have been "xiij. fote and viij. ynches and half"; and the reader may possibly find some amusement in the "longitude of men folowyng," from the same veracious work: "Cryste, vj. fote and iij. ynches. Our Lady, vj. fote and viij. ynches. Crystoferus, xvij. fote and viij. ynches. King Alysaunder, iiij. fote and v. ynches. Colbronde, xvij. fote and ij. ynches and half. Syr Ey., x. fote iij. ynches and half. Seynt Thomas of Caunterbery, vij. fote, save a ynche. Long Mores, a man of Yrelonde borne, and servaunt to Kyng Edward the iiijth., vj. fote and x. ynches and half."—Reliquae Antiquae, vol i, p. 200.



If most of the rabbinical legends cited in the preceding sections have served simply to amuse the general reader—though to those of a philosophical turn they must have been suggestive of the depths of imbecility to which the human mind may descend—the stories, apologues, and parables contained in the Talmud, of which specimens are now to be presented, are calculated to furnish wholesome moral instruction as well as entertainment to readers of all ranks and ages. In the art of conveying impressive moral lessons, by means of ingenious fictions, the Hebrew sages have never been excelled, and perhaps they are rivalled only by the ancient philosophers of India. The significant circumstance has already been noticed (in the introductory section) that several of the most striking tales in European mediaeval collections—particularly the Disciplina Clericalis of Petrus Alfonsus and the famous Gesta Romanorum—are traceable to Talmudic sources. Little did the priest-ridden, ignorant, marvel-loving laity of European countries imagine that the moral fictions which their spiritual directors recited every Sunday for their edification were derived from the wise men of the despised Hebrew race! But, indeed, there is reason to believe that few mere casual readers even at the present day have any notion of the extent to which the popular fictions of Europe are indebted to the old Jewish Rabbis.

Like the sages of India, the Hebrew Fathers in their teachings strongly inculcate the duty of active benevolence—the liberal giving of alms to the poor and needy; and, indeed, the wealthy Jews are distinguished at the present day by their open-handed liberality in support of the public charitable institutions of the several countries of which they are subjects. "What you increase bestow on good works," says the Hindu sage. "Charity is to money what salt is to meat," says the Hebrew philosopher: if the wealthy are not charitable their riches will perish. In illustration of this maxim is the story of

Rabbi Jochonan and the Poor Woman.

One day Rabbi Jochonan was riding outside the city of Jerusalem, followed by his disciples, when he observed a poor woman laboriously gathering the grain that dropped from the mouths of the horses of the Arabs as they were feeding. Looking up and recognising Jochonan, she cried: "O Rabbi, assist me!" "Who art thou?" demanded Jochonan. "I am the daughter of Nakdimon, the son of Guryon." "Why, what has become of thy father's money—the dowry thou receivedst on thy wedding day?" "Ah, Rabbi, is there not a saying in Jerusalem, 'the salt was wanting to the money?'" "But thy husband's money?" "That followed the other: I have lost them both." The good Rabbi wept for the poor woman and helped her. Then said he to his disciples, as they continued on their way: "I remember that when I signed that woman's marriage contract her father gave her as a dowry one million of gold dinars, and her husband was a man of considerable wealth besides."

* * * * *

The ill-fated riches of Nakdimon are referred to in another tale, as a lesson to those who are not charitable according to their means:

A Safe Investment.

Rabbi Taraphon, though a very wealthy man, was exceedingly avaricious, and seldom gave help to the poor. Once, however, he involuntarily bestowed a considerable sum in relieving the distressed. Rabbi Akiba came to him one day, and told him that he knew of certain real estate, which would be a very profitable investment. Rabbi Taraphon handed him 4000 dinars in gold to be so invested, and Rabbi Akiba forthwith distributed the whole among the poor. By-and-by, Rabbi Taraphon, happening to meet his friend, desired to know where the real estate was in which his money had been invested. Rabbi Akiba took him to the college, where he caused one of the boys to read aloud the 112th Psalm, and on his reaching the 9th verse, "He distributeth, he giveth to the needy, his righteousness endureth for ever"—"There," said he, "thou seest where thy money is invested." "And why hast thou done this?" demanded Rabbi Taraphon. "Hast thou forgotten," answered his friend, "how Nakdimon, the son of Guryon, was punished because he gave not according to his means?" "But why didst thou not tell me of thy purpose? I could myself have bestowed my money on the poor." "Nay," rejoined Rabbi Akiba, "it is a greater virtue to cause another to give than to give one's self."

* * * * *

Resignation to the divine will under sore family bereavements has, perhaps, never been more beautifully illustrated than by the incident related of the Rabbi Meir. This little tale, as follows, is one of three Talmudic narratives which the poet Coleridge has translated:[82]

The Jewels.

The celebrated teacher Rabbi Meir sat during the whole of the Sabbath day in the public school instructing the people. During his absence from the house his two sons died, both of them of uncommon beauty, and enlightened in the law. His wife bore them to her bed-chamber, laid them upon the marriage-bed, and spread a white covering over their bodies. In the evening the Rabbi Meir came home. "Where are my two sons," he asked, "that I may give them my blessing? I repeatedly looked round the school, and I did not see them there." She reached him a goblet. He praised the Lord at the going out of the Sabbath, drank, and again asked: "Where are my sons, that they too may drink of the cup of blessing?" "They will not be afar off," she said, and placed food before him that he might eat. He was in a gladsome and genial mood, and when he had said grace after the meal, she thus addressed him: "Rabbi, with thy permission, I would fain propose to thee one question." "Ask it then, my love," he replied. "A few days ago a person entrusted some jewels into my custody, and now he demands them of me; should I give them back again?" "This is a question," said the Rabbi, "which my wife should not have thought it necessary to ask. What! wouldst thou hesitate or be reluctant to restore to every one his own?" "No," she replied; "but yet I thought it best not to restore them without acquainting you therewith." She then led him to the chamber, and, stepping to the bed, took the white covering from the dead bodies. "Ah, my sons—my sons!" thus loudly lamented the father. "My sons! the light of my eyes, and the light of my understanding! I was your father, but ye were my teachers in the law." The mother turned away and wept bitterly. At length she took her husband by the hand, and said: "Rabbi, didst thou not teach me that we must not be reluctant to restore that which was entrusted to our keeping? See—'the Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!'"[83] "Blessed be the name of the Lord!" echoed Rabbi Meir. "And blessed be his name for thy sake too, for well is it written: 'Whoso hath found a virtuous wife, hath a greater prize than rubies; she openeth her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness.'"[84]

[82] The Friend, ed. 1850, vol. ii, p. 247.

[83] Book of Job, i, 21.

[84] Prov. xxxi, 10, 26.

* * * * *

The originals of not a few of the early Italian tales are found in the Talmud—the author of the Cento Novelle Antiche, Boccaccio, Sacchetti, and other novelists having derived the groundwork of many of their fictions from the Gesta Romanorum and the Disciplina Clericalis of Peter Alfonsus, which are largely composed of tales drawn from Eastern sources. The 123rd novel of Sacchetti, in which a young man carves a capon in a whimsical fashion, finds its original in the following Talmudic story:

The Capon-Carver.

It happened that a citizen of Jerusalem, while on a distant provincial journey on business, was suddenly taken ill, and, feeling himself to be at the point of death, he sent for the master of the house, and desired him to take charge of his property until his son should arrive to claim it; but, in order to make sure that the claimant was really the son, he was not to deliver up the property until the applicant had proved his wisdom by performing three ingenious actions. Shortly after having given his friend these injunctions the merchant died, and the melancholy intelligence was duly transmitted to his son, who in the course of a few weeks left Jerusalem to claim his property. On reaching the town where his father's friend resided, he began to inquire of the people where his house was situated, and, finding no one who could, or would, give him this necessary information, the youth was in sore perplexity how to proceed in his quest, when he observed a man carrying a heavy load of firewood. "How much for that wood?" he cried. The man readily named his price. "Thou shalt have it," said the stranger. "Carry it to the house of —— [naming his father's friend], and I will follow thee." Well satisfied to have found a purchaser on his own terms, the man at once proceeded as he was desired, and on arriving at the house he threw down his load before the door. "What is all this?" demanded the master. "I have not ordered any wood." "Perhaps not," said the man; "but the person behind me has bought it, and desired me to bring it hither." The stranger had now come up, and, saluting the master of the house, told him who he was, and explained that, since he could not ascertain where his house was situated by inquiries of people in the streets, he had adopted this expedient, which had succeeded. The master praised the young man's ingenuity, and led him into the house.

When the several members of the family, together with the stranger, were assembled round the dinner-table, the master of the house, in order to test the stranger's ingenuity, desired his guest to carve a dish containing five chickens, and to distribute a portion to each of the persons who were present—namely, the master and mistress, their two daughters and two sons, and himself. The young stranger acquitted himself of the duty in this manner: One of the chickens he divided between the master and the mistress; another between the two daughters; the third between the two sons; and the remaining two he took for his own share. "This visitor of mine," thought the master, "is a curious carver; but I will try him once more at supper."

Various amusements made the afternoon pass very agreeably to the stranger, until supper-time, when a fine capon was placed upon the table, which the master desired his guest to carve for the company. The young man took the capon, and began to carve and distribute it thus: To the master of the house he gave the head; to the mistress, the inward part; to the two daughters, each a wing; to the two sons, each a leg; and the remainder he took for himself. After supper the master of the house thus addressed his visitor: "Friend, I thought thy carving at dinner somewhat peculiar, but thy distribution of the capon this evening seems to me extremely whimsical. Give me leave to ask, do the citizens of Jerusalem usually carve their capons in this fashion?"

"Master," said the youth, "I will gladly explain my system of carving, which does appear to you so strange. At dinner I was requested to divide five chickens among seven persons. This I could not do otherwise than arithmetically; therefore, I adopted the perfect number three as my guide—thou, thy wife, and one chicken made three; thy two daughters and one chicken made three; thy two sons and one chicken made three; and I had to take the remaining chickens for my own share, as two chickens and myself made three." "Very ingenious, I must confess," said the master. "But how dost thou explain thy carving of the capon?" "That, master, I performed according to what appeared to me the fitness of things. I gave the head of the capon to thee, because thou art the head of this house; I gave the inward part to the mistress, as typical of her fruitfulness; thy daughters are both of marriageable years, and, as it is natural to wish them well settled in life, I gave each of them a wing, to indicate that they should soon fly abroad; thy two sons are the pillars of thy house, and to them I gave the legs, which are the supporters of the animal; while to myself I took that part of the capon which most resembles a boat, in which I came hither, and in which I intend to return." From these proofs of his ingenuity the master was now fully convinced that the stranger was the true son of his late friend the merchant, and next morning he delivered to him his father's property.[85]

[85] The droll incident of dividing the capon, besides being found in Sacchetti, forms part of a popular story current in Sicily, and is thus related in Professor Crane's Italian Popular Tales, p. 311 ff., taken from Prof. Comparetti's Fiabe, Novelle, e Racconti (Palermo, 1875), No. 43, "La Ragazza astuta": Once upon a time there was a huntsman who had a wife and two children, a son and a daughter; and all lived together in a wood where no one ever came, and so they knew nothing about the world. The father alone sometimes went to the city, and brought back the news. The king's son once went hunting, and lost himself in that wood, and while he was seeking his way it became night. He was weary and hungry. Imagine how he felt. But all at once he saw a light shining in the distance. He followed it and reached the huntsman's house, and asked for lodging and something to eat. The huntsman recognised him at once and said: "Highness, we have already supped on our best; but if we can find anything for you, you must be satisfied with it. What can we do? We are so far from the towns that we cannot procure what we need every day." Meanwhile he had a capon cooked for him. The prince did not wish to eat it alone, so he called all the huntsman's family, and gave the head of the capon to the father, the back to the mother, the legs to the son, and the wings to the daughter, and ate the rest himself. In the house there were only two beds, in the same room. In one the husband and wife slept, in the other the brother and sister. The old people went and slept in the stable, giving up their bed to the prince. When the girl saw that the prince was asleep, she said to her brother: "I will wager that you do not know why the prince divided the capon among us in the manner he did." "Do you know? Tell me why." "He gave the head to our father, because he is the head of the family; the back to our mother, because she has on her shoulders all the affairs of the house; the legs to you, because you must be quick in performing the errands which are given you; and the wings to me, to fly away and catch a husband." The prince pretended to be asleep, but he was awake and heard these words, and perceived that the girl had much judgment, and as she was also pretty, he fell in love with her [and ultimately married this clever girl].



Reverence for parents, which is still a marked characteristic of Eastern races, has ever been strongly inculcated by the Jewish Fathers; and the noble conduct of Damah, the son of Nethuna, towards both his father and mother, is adduced in the Talmud as an example for all times and every condition of life:

A Dutiful Son.

The mother of Damah was unfortunately insane, and would frequently not only abuse him but strike him in the presence of his companions; yet would not this dutiful son suffer an ill word to escape his lips, and all he used to say on such occasions was: "Enough, dear mother, enough." One of the precious stones attached to the high priest's sacerdotal garments was once, by some means or other, lost. Informed that the son of Nethuna had one like it, the priests went to him and offered him a very large price for it. He consented to take the sum offered, and went into an adjoining room to fetch the jewel. On entering he found his father asleep, his foot resting on the chest wherein the gem was deposited. Without disturbing his father, he went back to the priests and told them that he must for the present forego the large profit he could make, as his father was asleep. The case being urgent, and the priests thinking that he only said so to obtain a larger price, offered him more money. "No," said he; "I would not even for a moment disturb my father's rest for all the treasures in the world." The priests waited till the father awoke, when Damah brought them the jewel. They gave him the sum they had offered him the second time, but the good man refused to take it. "I will not," said he, "barter for gold the satisfaction of having done my duty. Give me what you offered at first, and I shall be satisfied." This they did, and left him with a blessing.

An Ingenious Will.

One of the best rabbinical stories of common life is of a wise man who, residing at some distance from Jerusalem, had sent his son to the Holy City in order to complete his education, and, dying during his son's absence, bequeathed the whole of his estate to one of his own slaves, on the condition that he should allow his son to select any one article which pleased him for an inheritance. Surprised, and naturally angry, at such gross injustice on the part of his father in preferring a slave for his heir in place of himself, the young man sought counsel of his teacher, who, after considering the terms of the will, thus explained its meaning and effect: "By this action thy father has simply secured thy inheritance to thee: to prevent his slaves from plundering the estate before thou couldst formally claim it, he left it to one of them, who, believing himself to be the owner, would take care of the property. Now, what a slave possesses belongs to his master. Choose, therefore, the slave for thy portion, and then possess all that was thy father's." The young man followed his teacher's advice, took possession of the slave, and thus of his father's wealth, and then gave the slave his freedom, together with a considerable sum of money.[86]

[86] This story seems to be the original of a French popular tale, in which a gentleman secures his estate for his son by a similar device. The gentleman, dying at Paris while his son was on his travels, bequeathed all his wealth to a convent, on condition that they should give his son "whatever they chose." On the son's return he received from the holy fathers a very trifling portion of the paternal estate. He complained to his friends of this injustice, but they all agreed that there was no help for it, according to the terms of his father's will. In his distress he laid his case before an eminent lawyer, who told him that his father had adopted this plan of leaving his estate in the hands of the churchmen in order to prevent its misappropriation during his absence. "For," said the man of law, "your father, by will, has left you the share of his estate which the convent should choose (le partie qui leur plairoit), and it is plain that what they chose was that which they kept for themselves. All you have to do, therefore, is to enter an action at law against the convent for recovery of that portion of your father's property which they have retained, and, take my word for it, you will be successful." The young man accordingly sued the churchmen and gained his cause.

* * * * *

And now we proceed to cite one or two of the rabbinical fables, in the proper signification of the term—namely, moral narratives in which beasts or birds are the characters. Although it is generally allowed that Fable was the earliest form adopted for conveying moral truths, yet it is by no means agreed among the learned in what country of remote antiquity it originated. Dr. Landsberger, in his erudite introduction to Die Fabeln des Sophos (1859), contends that the Jews were the first to employ fables for purposes of moral instruction, and that the oldest fable extant is Jotham's apologue of the trees desiring a king (Book of Judges, ix. 8-15).[87] According to Dr. Landsberger, the sages of India were indebted to the Hebrews for the idea of teaching by means of fables, probably during the reign of Solomon, who is believed to have had commerce with the western shores of India.[88] We are told by Josephus that Solomon "composed of parables and similitudes three thousand; for he spoke a parable upon every sort of tree, from the hyssop to the cedar; and, in like manner, also about beasts, about all sorts of living creatures, whether upon earth, or in the seas, or in the air; for he was not unacquainted with any of their natures, nor omitted inquiring about them, but described them all like a philosopher, and demonstrated his exquisite knowledge of their several properties." These fables of Solomon, if they were ever committed to writing, had perished long before the time of the great Jewish historian; but there seems no reason to doubt the fact that the wise king of Israel composed many works besides those ascribed to him in the Old Testament. The general opinion among European orientalists is that Fable had its origin in India; and the Hindus themselves claim the honour of inventing our present system of numerals (which came into Europe through the Arabians, who derived it from the Hindus), the game of chess, and the Fables of Vishnusarman (the Panchatantra and its abridgment, the Hitopadesa).

[87] But the Book of Judges was probably edited after the time of Hesiod, whose fable of the Hawk and the Nightingale (Works and Days, B. i, v. 260) must be considered as the oldest extant fable.

[88] This theory, though perhaps somewhat ingenious, is generally considered as utterly untenable.

It is said that Rabbi Meir knew upwards of three hundred fables relating to the fox alone; but of these only three fragments have been preserved, and this is one of them, according to Mr. Polano's translation:

The Fox and the Bear.

A Fox said to a Bear: "Come, let us go into this kitchen; they are making preparations for the Sabbath, and we shall be able to find food." The Bear followed the Fox, but, being bulky, he was captured and punished. Angry thereat, he designed to tear the Fox to pieces, under the pretence that the forefathers of the Fox had once stolen his food, wherein occurs the saying, "the fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge."[89] "Nay," said the Fox, "come with me, my good friend; let us not quarrel. I will lead thee to another place where we shall surely find food." The Fox then led the Bear to a deep well, where two buckets were fastened together by a rope, like a balance. It was night, and the Fox pointed to the moon reflected in the water, saying: "Here is a fine cheese; let us descend and partake of it." The Fox entered his bucket first, but being too light to balance the weight of the Bear, he took with him a stone. As soon as the Bear had got into the other bucket, however, the Fox threw the stone away, and consequently the bear descended to the bottom and was drowned.

[89] Ezekiel, xviii, 2.

* * * * *

The reader will doubtless recognise in this fable the original of many modern popular tales having a similar catastrophe. It will also be observed that the vulgar saying of the moon being "a fine cheese" is of very considerable antiquity.[90]

[90] This wide-spread fable is found in the Disciplina Clericalis (No. 21) and in the collection of Marie de France, of the 13th century; and it is one of the many spurious Esopic fables.

And here is another rabbinical fable of a Fox—a very common character in the apologues of most countries; although the "moral" appended to this one by the pious fabulist is much more striking than is sometimes the case of those deduced from beast-fables:

The Fox in the Garden.

A Fox once came near a very fine garden, where he beheld lofty trees laden with fruit that charmed the eye. Such a beautiful sight, added to his natural greediness, excited in him the desire of possession. He fain would taste the forbidden fruit; but a high wall stood between him and the object of his wishes. He went about in search of an entrance, and at last found an opening in the wall, but it was too small to admit his body. Unable to penetrate, he had recourse to his usual cunning. He fasted three days, and became sufficiently reduced in bulk to crawl through the small aperture. Having effected an entrance, he carelessly roved about in this delightful region, making free with its exquisite produce and feasting on its more rare and delicious fruits. He remained for some time, and glutted his appetite, when a thought occurred to him that it was possible he might be observed, and in that case he should pay dearly for his feast. He therefore retired to the place where he had entered, and attempted to get out, but to his great consternation he found his endeavours vain. He had by indulgence grown so fat and plump that the same space would no more admit him. "I am in a fine predicament," said he to himself. "Suppose the master of the garden were now to come and call me to account, what would become of me? I see my only chance of escape is to fast and half starve myself." He did so with great reluctance, and after suffering hunger for three days, he with difficulty made his escape. As soon as he was out of danger, he took a farewell view of the scene of his late pleasure, and said: "O garden! thou art indeed charming, and delightful are thy fruits—delicious and exquisite; but of what benefit art thou to me? What have I now for all my labour and cunning? Am I not as lean as I was before?"—It is even so with man, remarks the Talmudist. Naked he comes into the world—naked must he go out of it, and of all his toils and labour he can carry nothing with him save the fruits of his righteousness.

* * * * *

From fables to parables the transition is easy; and many of those found in the Talmud are exceedingly beautiful, and are calculated to cause even the most thoughtless to reflect upon his way of life. Let us first take the parable of the Desolate Island, one of those adapted by the monkish compilers of European mediaeval tales, to which reference has been made in the preceding sections:

The Desolate Island.

A very wealthy man, who was of a kind, benevolent disposition, desired to make his slave happy. He therefore gave him his freedom, and presented him with a shipload of merchandise. "Go," said he, "sail to different countries; dispose of these goods, and that which thou mayest receive for them shall be thy own." The slave sailed away upon the broad ocean, but before he had been long on his voyage a storm overtook him, his ship was driven on a rock and went to pieces; all on board were lost—all save this slave, who swam to an island near by. Sad, despondent, with nothing in this world, he traversed this island until he approached a large and beautiful city, and many people approached him, joyously shouting: "Welcome! welcome! Long live the king!" They brought a rich carriage, and, placing him therein, escorted him to a magnificent palace, where many servants gathered about him—clothing him in royal garments, and addressing him as their sovereign, and expressing their obedience to his will. The slave was amazed and dazzled, believing that he was dreaming, and that all he saw, heard, and experienced was mere passing fantasy. Becoming convinced of the reality of his condition, he said to some men about him, for whom he entertained a friendly feeling: "How is this? I cannot understand it. That you should thus elevate and honour a man whom you know not—a poor, naked wanderer, whom you have never seen before—making him your ruler—causes me more wonder than I can readily express." "Sire," they replied, "this island is inhabited by spirits. Long since they prayed to God to send them yearly a son of man to reign over them, and he has answered their prayers. Yearly he sends them a son of man, whom they receive with honour and elevate to the throne; but his dignity and power end with the year. With its close the royal garments are taken from him, he is placed on board a ship, and carried to a vast and desolate island, where, unless he has previously been wise and prepared for the day, he will find neither friend nor subject, and be obliged to pass a weary, lonely, miserable life. Then a new king is selected here, and so year follows year. The kings who preceded thee were careless and indifferent, enjoying their power to the full, and thinking not of the day when it should end. Be wise, then. Let our words find rest within thy heart." The newly-made king listened attentively to all this, and felt grieved that he should have lost even the time he had already spent for making preparations for his loss of power. He addressed the wise man who had spoken, saying: "Advise me, O spirit of wisdom, how I may prepare for the days which will come upon me in the future." "Naked thou camest to us," replied the other, "and naked thou wilt be sent to the desolate island, of which I have told thee. At present thou art king, and mayest do as pleaseth thee; therefore, send workmen to this island, let them build houses, till the ground, and beautify the surroundings. The barren soil will be changed into fruitful fields, people will journey thither to live, and thou wilt have established a new kingdom for thyself, with subjects to welcome thee in gladness when thou shalt have lost thy power here. The year is short, the work is long; therefore be earnest and energetic." The king followed this advice. He sent workmen and materials to the desolate island, and before the close of his temporary power it had become a blooming, pleasant, and attractive spot. The rulers who had preceded him had anticipated the close of their power with dread, or smothered all thought of it in revelry; but he looked forward to it as a day of joy, when he should enter upon a career of permanent peace and happiness. The day came; the freed slave who had been made a king was deprived of his authority; with his power he lost his royal garments; naked he was placed upon a ship, and its sails were set for the desolate island. When he approached its shores, however, the people whom he had sent there came to meet him with music, song, and great joy. They made him a prince among them, and he lived ever after in pleasantness and peace.

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