IN the great mass of our materials two groups are distinctly recognisable:
1. The legends of the origin of the world and of the progenitors of the human race, the stories down to the tower of Babel, their locality being remote and their sphere of interest the whole world;
2. The legends of the patriarchs of Israel: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the latter's sons, the locality and the sphere of interest being Canaan and adjacent lands.
Even in their character the two groups are most plainly distinguished: the narratives of the first group speak of God in a way different from that of the legends of the patriarchs. In the latter the divinity appears always enveloped in mystery, unrecognised or speaking out of Heaven, or perhaps only in a dream. In the earlier legends, on the contrary, God walks intimately among men and no one marvels at it: in the legend of Paradise men dwell in God's house; it is assumed that he is in the habit of visiting them every evening; he even closes the ark for Noah, and appears to him in person, attracted by his sacrifice. Furthermore, in the legends of the patriarchs the real actors are always men; if the divinity appears, it is regarded as an
exception. But in the primitive legends the divinity is the leading actor (as in the creation), or at least among those chiefly concerned (as in the story of Paradise, of the union of men and of angels, of the Deluge and the Tower of Babel). This distinction is, to be sure, only relative, for some of the legends of the patriarchs (notably those connected with Hebron and Penuel) represent the divinity as appearing in the same way. On the other hand, the story of Cain and Abel and that of the cursing of Canaan, in which human beings are the chief actors, are among the primitive legends. However, the distinction applies on the whole to the two groups. This prominence of the action of the divinity in the primitive legends indicates that these have a more decidedly "mythical" character: that they are faded myths.
"Myths"--let no one shrink from the word--are stories of the gods, in contradistinction to the legends in which the actors are men. Stories of the gods are in all nations the oldest narratives; the legend as a literary variety has its origin in myths. Accordingly, when we find that these primitive legends are akin to myths, we must infer that they have come down to us in comparatively ancient form. They come from a period of Israel's history when the childlike belief of the people had not yet fully arrived at the conception of a divinity whose operations are shrouded in mystery. On the other hand, these original myths have reached us in comparatively faded colors. This we can perceive in the narratives themselves, where we are able in
some points to reconstruct an older form of the story than the one transmitted to us: notably Genesis vi. 1-4 is nothing but a torso.
We are led to similar conclusions when we compare the primitive legends with the allusions to the myths which we find in the poets and prophets of the Old Testament and the later apocalyptic writers; 1 as, for instance, the myths of Jahveh's combat with Rahab or Leviathan, of the fall of Helal, and so on. The same result very clearly follows a comparison of the primitive legends of Genesis with the myths of the Orient, especially of the biblical story of the creation and the Deluge with the Babylonian versions of the same subjects. The colossal outlines, the peculiarly brilliant colors which characterise these myths in the original form are lost in a measure in the biblical legends of the beginnings of things. The equivalence of the divine beings and the objects or realms of nature, the combat of the gods with one another, the birth of the gods, are some of the features which have disappeared in the version of Genesis.
In all this we can see the essential character of the religion of Israel. The fundamental trait of the religion of Jahveh is unfavorable to myths. For this religion from its very beginning tends toward monotheism. But for a story of the gods at least two gods are essential. Therefore the Israel which we observe in the Old Testament could not tolerate genuine and unmodified myths, at least not in prose.
[paragraph continues] The poet was excused for occasional allusions to myths. Hence in poetry we find preserved traces of a point of view older than that of the tradition of Genesis, one frankly familiar with myths. But the primitive legends preserved to us are all dominated by this unspoken aversion to mythology.
The monotheism of Israel tolerates only those myths that represent God as acting alone, as in the story of the creation, and even then there is no real "story," where action and counter-action give rise to a new situation or action. Or at the most, the story deals with action between God and men, where, however, men are too weak in the true Israelitish conception to be worthy rivals of God, to produce in their clash with God a real epic action; as soon as God intervenes all is decided. If in such a case a "story" is to be told, men must perform their part first. This is the method of the legends of Paradise and of the Tower of Babel. With the story of the Deluge it is different, God taking part from the beginning; but as a result of this the continued interest of the hearer is not maintained. Furthermore, it should be noted that the legends preserved to us with mythical elements are much less numerous than the legends of the patriarchs in which this element is absent. This fact also may fairly be regarded as a result of the Israelitish aversion to mythology.
It is not proposed to present here a theory of the origin and primitive significance of myths. Only a few observations may be permitted. A certain series of myths may be interpreted on the assumption
that some natural phenomenon that is wont to occur frequently or regularly in the actual world has furnished the colors for the painting of one similar but gigantic phenomenon in primitive times. Thus the creation of the world is painted as Spring on a grand scale, and the overflows of the rivers of Mesopotamia gave rise to the story of the Deluge.
Many myths attempt to answer questions, being intended to give instruction. This is the case with the primitive legends of Genesis: the story of creation raises the question, Whence come heaven and earth? and at the same time, Why is the Sabbath sacred? The story of Paradise treats the question, Whence are man's reason and his mortality? and along with this, Whence are man's body and mind? Whence his language? Whence the love of the sexes? Whence does it come that woman brings forth with so much pain, that man must till the stubborn field, that the serpent goes upon its belly, and so on? The legend of Babel asks the question, Whence is the variety of nations in language and location? The answers to these questions constitute the real content of the respective legends. In the case of the legend of the Deluge this is different, but there is an ætiological, or explanatory feature at the close: Why is there never such a flood again? And what is the meaning of the rainbow?
All these questions interest not Israel alone, but the whole world. We know that ancient Israel in general was not inclined to philosophic speculation, but that it always took most interest in immediate and Israelitish affairs. But here is a place in which the ancient race is able to treat universal human problems, the profoundest questions of mankind.
[paragraph continues] This they have done in unique fashion in the stories of the creation and of Eden: these are the beginnings of theology and of philosophy. It is no wonder that especial emphasis has been laid upon these features, and that every generation, since Genesis has been known, has read into it its own deepest thoughts.
The primitive legends are followed in Genesis by the legends of the patriarchs. The distinctive feature of these legends is that they tell of the progenitors of races, especially of Israel. At the foundation of these legends lies the theory that all races, Israel included, have come in each case from the family of a single ancestor, which gradually expanded. This theory is not supported by observed facts, for no human eye observes the origin of races; on the contrary, it is the remnant of a primitive poetic conception of tribal life.
In earliest times the individual man counts for little. There is much more interest in the destinies of the race: the tribe, the nation, are regarded as real entities much more than at the present day. Thus it comes that the destinies of the race are regarded as being the destinies of a person: the race sighs, triumphs, is dejected, rebels, dies, comes to life again, etc. Thus too the relations of races are regarded as the relations of individuals: two races it is said, are brothers, i. e., are closely related and equal; if one of them is regarded as richer, stronger, or nobler, it is said to be the firstborn brother, or it comes of a better mother, while the other is younger, or comes of a concubine. Israel being
divided into twelve tribes, we are told that the tribal ancestor of Israel had twelve sons. Some of these tribes having a closer union with one another, they are said to come from one mother. The relation of mother and son exists between Hagar and Ishmael; the more distant relation of uncle and nephew between Abraham and Lot.
Originally these persons were the tribes themselves. This method of expression is still entirely current later in the pathetic poetry of the prophets: Edom builds his nest on high, Moab dies to the sound of trumpets, Asshur falls upon Israel like a lion upon his prey, Jerusalem and Samaria are two unchaste sisters, Edom has treated his brother Israel with enmity, etc. Such personifications must have been very familiar to the earliest ages. But as the world became more prosaic and these expressions were no longer understood in the simple narrative, the question was asked, who these persons, Jacob, Judah, Simeon, really were, and the answer given that they were the patriarchs and the later races and tribes their sons; an answer which seems to be a matter of course, since it was customary to refer to the individual Israelites and Ammonites as "Sons of Israel" and "Sons of Ammon."
We are not putting a new meaning into the legends which treat of such race-individuals, when we regard their heroes, Ishmael, Jacob, Esau, and others, as tribes and try to interpret the stories about them as tribal events; we are simply getting at their meaning as it was understood in primitive times in Israel.
On the other hand, we must go about this attempt with caution, for we must reckon with the possibility that some of these figures do not originally represent tribes, but only came to be regarded as patriarchs in a later time, and further, after the figures of the patriarchs had once become established as the heroes of epic legends, that legends of other sorts and wanting the basis of tribal history became attached to these. We may certainly regard as personifications of tribes those figures whose names are known to us in other connexions as names of tribes; such are, notably: Ishmael, Ammon, Moab, the twelve tribes and their divisions. Sometimes it is perfectly evident from the narratives themselves that we have to do with tribes, as in the case of Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Ham and Japhet. Accordingly, many of the narratives treating such ancestors are originally the experiences of races or tribes.
Once in ancient times, so we may assume, there were conflicts over wells between the citizens of Gerar and the neighboring Bedouins, ending in a compromise at Beersheba. The legend depicts these affairs as a war and a treaty between Abimelech, king of Gerar, and the patriarchs called in the legend Abraham or Isaac. (xxi, 22 ff., 26.)
Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, is seduced by Shechem, and in punishment Shechem is treacherously assaulted by Dinah's brothers; Jacob, however, abjures the brothers and curses them. The history at the bottom of this is probably as follows: Dinah, an Israelitish family, is overpowered by the Canaanitish city of Shechem and then treacherously avenged by Simeon and Levi, the most closely
related tribes, but the other tribes of Israel renounce them and allow the two tribes to be destroyed.
The legend of Tamar, also, depicts in part early relations in the tribe of Judah: Judah allied it-self with Canaanites, in the legend Hirah of Adullam and Judah's wife, Bathshua; a number of Judan-Canaanitish tribes (Er and Onan) perished early; finally two new tribes arose (Perez and Zerah). In the Esau-Jacob legend also there are quite evidently historical reminiscences: Esau and Jacob are brother tribes, Esau a tribe of hunters, Jacob a tribe of shepherds; Esau is the elder, but by sale or fraud he loses his birthright, that is, the older and better known tribe of Esau was compelled to give way to the later and originally weaker tribe of Jacob and has now the poorer land.
A similar rivalry is assumed by the legend between the Judæan tribes of Perez and Zerah and between Ephraim and Manasseh. Reuben, the first-born among the Israelitish tribes, loses his birthright on account of sin: the tribe of Reuben, which was the leading tribe in the earliest times, afterwards forfeited this position. Cain, the husbandman, slew his brother Abel, the herdsman, but was compelled to leave the land which they had before occupied in common. Shem, Japhet, and Canaan are originally brothers; but Japhet has now a much more extensive territory than the others, and Canaan is the servant of both.
We hear of many migrations. From the north Abraham migrates to Canaan, after him Rebeccah, to marry Isaac, and finally comes Jacob; the initial point of the migration is given as Ur-Kasdim and Haran the city of Nahor (xxiv. 10). In the legend
of Joseph there is described a migration of Israelitish tribes to Egypt; the account of the trip of Abraham to Egypt has a similar basis.
Now it is in the nature of legend that we do not catch sight of these old occurrences clearly by its means, but only as through a mist. Legend has woven a poetic veil about the historical memories and hidden their outlines. In most cases the time of the event is not to be derived from the legend itself; often even the place is not to be distinguished, and sometimes not even the personality of the actor. Who can tell what race it was that came to Canaan from Aram-Naharajim? Where the real home of Jacob and Esau was, of Cain and Abel, of Shem and Japhet, the legend has forgotten. What tribes parted at Bethel, in case there is any historical basis to the legend of the separation of Lot and Abraham? And so, although the things of the past are hidden rather than revealed in these legends, he would be a barbarian who would despise them on this account, for often they are more valuable than would be prosaic reports of actual occurrences. For instance, if we had good historical data regarding Ishmael we should not value them highly, for this "wild ass" rendered little service to mankind; but as it is, touched by the hand of poetry, he is immortal.
In these legends the clearest matter is the character of races: here is Esau, the huntsman of the steppes, living with little reflexion from hand to mouth, forgetful, magnanimous, brave, and hairy as a goat; and there is Jacob the herdsman, a smooth man, more cunning and accustomed to look into the future. His uncle Laban is the type of the
[paragraph continues] Aramæan, avaricious and deceitful, but to outward appearances an excellent and upright man, never at loss for an excuse. A more noble figure is Abraham, hospitable, peaceful, a model of piety.
Moreover it is clear to us in many cases in what spirit the incidents are regarded: we perceive most easily how the legend despises the unchastity of Canaan, how it mocks at Esau and Laban, how it rejoices that Lot, with all his avarice, obtained after all the worse land, etc.
These legends have not hitherto received full justice, even when it has been recognised that they are legends. Even the most superficial reader can distinguish for himself the chief original sources in Genesis from which the present redaction was constructed, now commonly called the writings of the Elohist, of the Jahvist, and of the Priestly Code. Since the sources of the Elohist and the Jahvist were written down in the ninth or eight century B. C., some commentators have been disposed to think that the legends themselves originated in the main in the age of the Israelitish kingdom and furnished therefore no revelations of primitive history. But in reality these legends are much older. The tribal and race names which they preserve are almost all forgotten in other records: we know nothing of Shem, Ham, and Japhet, of Abel and Cain, of Esau and Jacob, nothing of Hagar and scarcely anything of Ishmael, from the historical records of Israel. Hence we must conclude that these races all belong to prehistoric times. This is particularly evident in the case of Jacob and Esau,
who were, to be sure, identified later with Israel and Edom. But this very lapping of names, as well as many features of the legend which are not applicable to Israel and Edom, as, for instance, the treaties between the city of Gerar and the sons of Abraham (or Isaac) concerning the possession of certain wells, especially that of Beersheba, show us that the old narrative originally had in mind entirely different races; in the legend Jacob is not disposed to war; in history Israel conquered Edom in war; in the legend Esau is stupid, in history he is famous for his wisdom.
Another proof of the age of these tribal legends may be found in the history of the legend in Israel. The legends in the Book of Judges have ceased to speak of tribes as persons (excepting Judges i.), but they tell of heroes, of individual leaders of the tribes. The latest story that preserves the old style and to which an historical date can be assigned is the legend of the capture of Shechem, the Dinah legend of Genesis. Sometime in the earlier portion of the period of Judges, then, this naive style of narrative disappeared so far as we can ascertain; from that time on such narratives are merely transmitted, but no longer constructed new.
We call these legends "historical" when they reflect historical occurrences, "ethnographic" when they contain chiefly descriptions of race and tribal relations. Thus we characterise the legend of the treaty of Beersheba and the various legends of migrations as "historical," but those of Jacob and Esau as "ethnographic."
Alongside these narratives of Genesis are also "ætiological" legends, that is, those that are written for a purpose, or to explain something. There is no end of the questions which interest a primitive people. The instinct for asking questions is innate in man: he wants to know of the origin of things. The child looks into the world with wide eyes and asks, Why? The answer which the child gives itself and with which it is for the time satisfied, is perhaps very childish, and hence incorrect, and yet, if it is a bright child the answer is interesting and touching even for the grown man. In the same way a primitive people asks similar questions and answers them as best it can. These questions are usually the same that we ourselves are asking and trying to answer in our scientific researches. Hence what we find in these, legends are the beginnings of human science; only humble beginnings, of course, and yet venerable to us because they are beginnings, and at the same time peculiarly attractive and touching, for in these answers ancient Israel has uttered its most intimate feelings, clothing them in a bright garb of poetry. Some of these questions are the following:
There is a desire to know the reasons for the relations of tribes. Why is Canaan the servant of his brethren? Why has Japhet such an extended territory? Why do the children of Lot dwell in the inhospitable East? How does it come that Reuben has lost his birthright? Why must Cain wander
about a restless fugitive? Why is sevenfold vengeance proclaimed against the slayer of Cain? Why is Gilead the border between Israel and the Aramæans? Why does Beersheba belong to us and not to the people of Gerar? Why is Shechem in possession of Joseph? Why have we a right to the holy places at Shechem and Machpelah? Why has Ishmael become a Bedouin people with just this territory and this God? How does it come that the Egyptian peasants have to bear the heavy tax of the fifth, while the fields of the priests are exempt? And with especial frequency the question was asked, How does Israel come to have this glorious land of Canaan?
The legends tell in many variations how it came about that the patriarchs received this particular land: God gave it to Abraham because of his obedience; when on the occasion of the separation at Bethel Lot chose the East, the West fell to Abraham; Jacob obtained the blessing of the better country from Isaac by a deception; God promised it to Jacob at Bethel, and so on.
Such ethnological legends, which tell a fictitious story in order to explain tribal relations, are of course very difficult to distinguish from historical legends which contain the remnant of a tradition of some actual event. Very commonly ethnological and ethnographic features are combined in the same legend: the relations underlying the story are historical, but the way in which they are explained is poetic.
The usual nature of the answer given to these questions by our legends is that the present relations are due to some transaction of the patriarchs:
the tribal ancestor bought the holy place, and accordingly it belongs to us, his heirs; the ancestors of Israel and Aram established Gilead as their mutual boundary; Cain's ancestor was condemned to perpetual wandering by the word of God, and so on. A favorite way is to find the explanation in a miraculous utterance of God or some of the patriarchs, and the legend has to tell how this miraculous utterance came to be made in olden times. And this sort of explanation was regarded as completely satisfactory, so that there came to be later a distinct literary variety of "charm" or "'blessing." 1
Childish as these explanations now seem to us, and impossible as it was for the men of old to find out the true reasons of such things, yet we must not overlook the profundity of many of these poetic legends: they are all based on the assumption that the tribal and national relations of that day were not due to chance, but that they were all the results of events of the primitive world, that they were in a way "predestined." In these legends we have the first rudiments of a philosophy of history.
Along with the above we find etymological legends or features of legends, as it were, beginnings of the science of language. Ancient Israel spent much thought upon the origin and the real meaning of the names of races, mountains, wells, sanctuaries, and cities. To them names were not so unimportant as to us, for they were convinced that names were somehow closely related to the
things. It was quite impossible in many cases for the ancient people to give the correct explanation, for names were, with Israel as with other nations, among the most ancient possessions of the people, coming down from extinct races or from far away stages of the national language. Many of our current names such as Rhine, Moselle, Neckar, Harz, Berlin, London, Thames, Seine, etc., are equally unintelligible to those not trained in philology. It is probable that the very fact of the oddity and unintelligibility of these names attracted the attention of the ancient race. Early Israel as a matter of course explains such names without any scientific spirit and wholly on the basis of the language as it stood. It identifies the old name with a modern one which sounds more or less like it, and proceeds to tell a little story explaining why this particular word was uttered under these circumstances and was adopted as the name. We too have our popular etymologies. How many there are who believe that the noble river which runs down between New Hampshire and Vermont and across Massachusetts and Connecticut is so named because it "connects" the first two and "cuts" the latter two states! Manhattan Island, it is said, was named from the exclamation of a savage who was struck by the size of a Dutch hat worn by an early burgher, "Man hat on!" Many are the stories told to explain why a famous London highway is called "Rotten Row" (Route en roi).
The Lombards, we are told by another legend, were originally called Winili. But on an occasion the women of the tribe put on beards as a disguise, and Wodan looking out of his window in the morning
exclaimed, "What are those 'long beards' (Langobarden)?" (Grimm, German Legends, No. 390.)
The famous Thuringian castle, the Wartburg, is said to have derived its name from the fact that the landgrave, having strayed thither during a hunt, exclaimed, "Wart, Berg, du sollst mir eine Burg werden" (Wait, mountain, thou shalt become my fortress).
Similar legends are numerous in Genesis and in later works. The city of Babel is named from the fact that God there confused human tongues (balal, xi. 9); Jacob is interpreted as "heelholder" because at birth he held his brother, whom he robbed of the birthright, by the heel (xxv. 26); Zoar means "trifle," because Lot said appealingly, "It is only a trifle" (xix. 20, 22); Beersheba is "the well of seven," because Abraham there gave Abimelech seven lambs (xxi. 28 ff.); Isaac (Jishak) is said to have his name from the fact that his mother laughed (sahak) when his birth was foretold to her (xviii. 12), and so forth.
In order to realise the utter naïveté) of most of these interpretations, consider that the Hebrew legend calmly explains the Babylonian name Babel from the Hebrew vocabulary, and that the writers are often satisfied with merely approximate similarities of sounds: for instance Cain (more exactly Kajin) from kaniti, "I have acquired." (iv. I), Reuben from rah beonji, "he hath regarded my misery" (xxix. 32), etc. Every student of Hebrew knows that these are not satisfactory etymologies. Investigators have not always fully perceived the naive character of this theory of etymology, but have allowed themselves to be misled into patching
up some very unsatisfactory etymologies with modern appliances. In one case many theologians even are wont to declare one of these explanations, a very ingenious one indeed (Jahveh = "I am that I am," Ex. iii. 14) as an established etymology. But etymologies are not acquired by revelation. The etymological legends are especially valuable to us because they are especially clear illustrations of the ætiological variety of legend.
More important than these etymological legends are those whose purpose is to explain the regulations of religious ceremonials. Such ceremonial regulations play a great part in the life of primitive races, but many of these customs had become in part or altogether unintelligible to the one who observed them in the earliest times of which we have authentic record. For customs are far more persistent than opinions, and religious customs are particularly conservative. And even we, whose religious service has undergone a vigorous purging in the Reformation and again at the hands of rationalism, see and hear in our churches many things which we understand only in part or not at all.
Ancient Israel reflected deeply upon the origin of these religious practices. And if the grown people became too blunted by custom to be able to perceive the strange and unintelligible features of the custom, they were roused from their indifference by the questions of the children. When the children see their father perform all sorts of curious customs during the Feast of the Passover, they will ask--thus it is expressly told, Ex. xii. 26; xiii. 14--What
does this mean? and then the story of the Passover is to be told them. A similar direction is given with relation to the twelve stones in the Jordan (Josh. iv. 6), which the father is to explain to the children as memorials of the passage of the Jordan. In these examples, then, we see clearly how such a legend is the answer to a question. Similarly, questions are asked with regard to the origin of circumcision, and of the Sabbath. Why do we not eat the muscle of the thigh? Why do they anoint the holy stone of Bethel and deliver the tithes there? Why do we not sacrifice a child at Jeruel as Jahveh commands, but in its stead a ram (Gen. xxii.)? Why do our people "limp," that is, perform a certain dance, at the festival in Penuel (xxxii. 32)?
No Israelite could have given the real reason for all these things, for they were too old. But to relieve this embarrassment myth and legend step in. They tell a story and explain the sacred custom: long ago an event occurred from which this ceremony very naturally sprang, and we perform the ceremony representing the event in commemoration of it. But this story that explains the custom is always laid in primitive times. Thus the ancient race gives the entirely correct impression that the customs of their religious service originated in the immemorial past: the trees of Shechem and Hebron are older than Abraham! We perform the rite of circumcision in memory of Moses, whose firstborn was circumcised as a redemption for Moses whose blood God demanded (Ex. iv. 24 ff.). We rest on the seventh day because God at the creation of the world rested on the seventh day (a myth, because
[paragraph continues] God himself is the actor in it). The muscle of the thigh is sacred to us because God struck Jacob on this muscle while wrestling with him at Penuel (xxxii. 33). The stone at Bethel was first anointed by Jacob because it was his pillow in the night when God appeared to him (xxviii. 11 ff.). At Jeruel--this is the name of the scene of the sacrifice of Isaac, xxii. 1-19 (cf. the Commentary, p. 218 ff.) --God at first demanded of Abraham his child, but afterward accepted a ram. We "limp" at Penuel in imitation of Jacob, who limped there when his hip was lamed in the wrestling with God (xxxii. 32). And so on.
In all this matter we are constantly hearing of certain definite places, such as Bethel, Penuel, Shechem, Beersheba, Lacha-roi, Jeruel, etc., and of the trees, wells, and stone monuments at these places. These are the primitive sanctuaries of the tribes and families of Israel. Primitive times felt that there was some immediate manifestation of the nature of the divinity in these monuments, but a later time, which no longer regarded the connexion as so clear and so self-evident, raised the question, Why is this particular place and this sacred memorial so especially sacred? The regular answer to this question was, Because in this place the divinity appeared to our ancestor. In commemoration of this theophany we worship God in this place. Now in the history of religion it is of great significance that the ceremonial legend comes from a time when religious feeling no longer perceived as self-evident the divinity of the locality and the natural monument and had forgotten the significance of the sacred ceremony. Accordingly the legend has to supply
an explanation of how it came about that the God and the tribal ancestor met in this particular place.
Abraham happened to be sitting under the tree in the noonday heat just as the men appeared to him, and for this reason the tree is sacred (xix. 1 ff.). The well in the desert, Lacha-roi, became the sanctuary of Ishmael because his mother in her flight into the desert met at this well the God who comforted her (xvi. 7 ff.). Jacob happened to be passing the night in a certain place and resting his head upon a stone when he saw the heavenly ladder; therefore this stone is our sanctuary (xxviii. 10 ff). Moses chanced to come with his flocks to the holy mountain and the thornbush (Ex. iii. 1 ff.). Probably every one of the greater sanctuaries of Israel had some similar legend of its origin.
We can easily imagine that any such legend of a sanctuary was originally told on the occasion of the festival concerned and on the original spot, just as the Feast of the Passover and the legend of the exodus, the feast of Purim and the legend of Esther, the Babylonian Easter festival and the Babylonian hymn of the creation, belong together, and as with us Christmas and Easter are not to be thought of without their stories. These ceremonial legends are so valuable to us because we discover from them what were the sacred places and customs of Israel and at the same time they give us a very vivid realisation of ancient religious feeling: they are our chief sources of information regarding the oldest religion of Israel. Genesis is full of them, and but few are found in the later books. Almost everywhere in Genesis where a certain place is named, and at least wherever God appears at a definite place, it is
based on such a legend. In these legends we have the beginning of the history of religion.
Aside from the foregoing we may distinguish a number of other sorts of legends, of which at least the geological deserves mention. Such geological legends undertake to explain the origin of a locality. Whence comes the Dead Sea with its dreadful desert? The region was cursed by God on account of the terrible sin of its inhabitants. Whence comes the pillar of salt yonder with its resemblance to a woman? That is a woman, Lot's wife, turned into a pillar of salt in punishment for attempting to spy out the mystery of God (xix. 26). But whence does it come that the bit of territory about Zoar is an exception to the general desolation? Because Jahveh spared it as a refuge for Lot (xix. 17-22).
All these ætiological legends, then, are remote from the standards of the modern sciences to which they correspond; we regard them with the emotion with which a man looks back upon his childhood. But even for our science they have a great value, for they furnish us in their descriptions or implications of definite conditions the most important material for the knowledge of the ancient world.
Very frequently various types of legend are combined in one. The flight of Hagar (xvi.) is to be called ethnographic because it depicts the life of Ishmael; ethnologic, because it undertakes to explain these conditions; in one feature it is allied
to the ceremonial legends, its explanation of the sacredness of Lacha-roi; furthermore it has etymological elements in its interpretation of the names Lacha-roi and Ishmael.--The legend of Paradise treats all at once a number of questions.--The legend of Bethel explains at once the worship at Bethel and the name of the place.--The legends of Beersheba (xxi., xxii. ff., xxvi.) contain remnants of history, telling of a tribal treaty established there, and at the same time certain religious features, as the explanation of the sanctity of the place, and finally some etymological elements.--The legend of Penuel explains the sanctity of the place, the ceremony of limping, and the names Penuel and Israel. And so on. Etymological elements, it may be noted, never appear alone in Genesis, but always in connexion with other features.
In many cases the origin of the legends will have been revealed with what has already been considered. Thus, in most etymological legends it can be shown quite clearly that those features in the legend which explain the name were invented for this very purpose. The incident of Abraham's giving Abimelech seven (sheba) lambs at Beersheba (xxi., 28 ff.) was surely invented to explain this name; also the laughing (sahak) of Isaac's mother (xviii. 12-15), etc. The narrative of Judah, Er, Onan (xxxviii.) and the others is plainly nothing but a history of the Israelite families, just as the legend of Dinah (xxxiv.) is merely a reflexion of the attack upon Shechem. But, on the other hand, the investigator is to be warned not to be too quick to jump at the conclusion
that he always has the origin of the legend in this oldest interpretation attainable by us. On the contrary, we have to reckon with the possibility that the features of the story which are intelligible to us were injected into it later, and that the legend itself is older than any meaning we can see in it.
Finally, there are legends which cannot be classified under any of the heads given above. Of such are large portions of the legend of Joseph; also the chief feature of the story of Jacob and Laban; the deceits and tricks cannot be understood from the standpoint of either history or ætiology.
The preceding classification of legends is based of course upon the chief or dominant features. Along with these go the purely ornamental or aesthetic features, twining about the others like vines over their trellises. The art of these legends is revealed especially in this portrayal of the subject matter given.
15:1 Compare the material gathered in my work Creation and Chaos, 1895.
27:1 Cp. Genesis xlix.