The first anthology of Jewish mythology in English, Tree of Souls reveals a mythical tradition as rich and as fascinating as any in the world. Drawing from the Bible, the Pseudepigrapha, the Talmud and Midrash, the kabbalistic literature, medieval folklore, Hasidic texts, and oral lore collected in the modern era, Schwartz has gathered together nearly 700 of the key Jewish myths. The myths themselves are marvelous. We read of Adams diamond and the Land of Eretz (where it is always dark), the fall of Lucifer and the quarrel of the sun and the moon, the Treasury of Souls and the Divine Chariot. We discover new tales about the great figures of the Hebrew Bible, from Adam to Moses; stories about God's Bride, the Shekhinah, and the evil temptress, Lilith; plus many tales about angels and demons, spirits and vampires, giant beasts and the Golem. Equally important, Schwartz provides a wealth of additional information. For each myth, he includes extensive commentary, revealing the source of the myth and explaining how it relates to other Jewish myths as well as to world literature (for instance, comparing Eves release of evil into the world with Pandoras). For ease of use, Schwartz divides the volume into ten books, Myths of God, Myths of Creation, Myths of Heaven, Myths of Hell, Myths of the Holy Word, Myths of the Holy Time, Myths of the Holy People, Myths of the Holy Land, Myths of Exile, and Myths of the Messiah.
Schwartz (English, Univ. of Missouri, St. Louis) gathers nearly 700 Jewish myths, organized into ten sections, with additional commentary for each selection revealing the source and explaining how it relates to other myths as well as to world literature. This is not exactly new; works by Hayim Bialik and Yehoshua Ravinitzky, Rabbi Yakov ibn Chabib, and Louis Ginzberg also gather Aggadic stories. Schwartz, however, has widened his category of inclusion, drawing not only from Talmudim and midrashim but also from "outside texts" (sefer hitzonim) of the Apocrypha and pseudepigrapha; Gnostic, Samaritan, and Karaite texts; and more mainstream rabbinical works, such as excerpts from the Dead Sea Scrolls, Hekhalot texts and Kabalistic literature, medieval folklore, and Hasidic texts. Refreshingly, Schwartz also rightly includes Kafka's Vor dem Gesetz ("Before the Law"). Note that some Orthodox Jews may object to the use of the term myths, as Judaism is conceived as a religion of revealed law viewed as truth. Outstanding bibliographies and an "Israel Folktale Archives List" complete this excellent book of wondrous stories. Highly recommended. David B. Levy, Charles E. Smith Jewish Day Sch., Rockville, MD Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.