World’s Best Mom

Lilith is probably one of the better-known demons of Jewish lore. In fact, she is so well-known that many writers simply force their own interpretation on the mythical texts, making her to be a destructive femme-fatale or a demonic proto-feminist. There is absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t be able to do the same. Before I force the texts to suit my personal views of Lilith, though, I will at least have the common courtesy of presenting the said texts.

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The Seething Blood and the Massacare at Solomon’s Temple

The previous post told the story of the Shamir, and of the building of Solomon’s Temple. In this post, I’ll bring some traditions regarding the destruction of that temple. The Biblical narrative can be found at the end of Kings and Chronicles, and in Jeremiaha 39 and 52. In short, Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, claimed the entire region for himself. He sieged Jerusalem, and replaced the King of Judea with a puppet ruler from the House of David. That King, relying on the traditional alliance with Egypt, defied Nebuchadnezzar, who promptly sent Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard to siege Jerusalem again, lay its temples and palaces to ruin and exile the royal and priestly elite.

As always, where the Chronicler saw politics, the sages saw the Hand of God. The destruction of Solomon’s Temple has been woven into legend, as prefiguration of the destruction of the Second Temple and of the martyrdom of the First Crusade.

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Solomon, Shamir and Ashmedai

Sorry for the slow update rate – hopefully, with the nearing term break, I’ll be able to speed things up a little.

In this post, I’m going to relate two of the many legends about King Solomon. With a thousand wives and unequalled wisdom, Solomon was the envy and role-model for the sages. The Targum Sheni, a collection of tales pertaining to the book of Esther, describes him thus:

And the Lord gave him dominion over all the people of the world, and He has given him so much wisdom that he was wiser than any man. And he also reigned over the animals and beasts and the fowls and the reptiles, and the spirits and demons of the world.

The legend I am going to relate here begins in the Babylonian Talmud, in tractate Gittin. Chapter 6 of 1 Kings tell of the building of the first temple, and mentions that the stones brought to the construction site were already so perfectly smoothed so that the stonemasons required no iron tools to fit them into the walls. To the sages, this was explained not by the unsurpassed skills of the Phoeneician artisans, but by the use of a magical worm.

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It’s a Bird!

This is the final part of a series of three posts on the gigantic mythical beasts of Jewish mythology. The previous posts were about Leviathan and Behemoth, creatures which the non-Jewish reader of the Old Testament is probably familiar with even without the help of this blog. Like them, the hero of this post is mentioned in the Bible, but if you don’t read Hebrew, there’s simply no chance that you’ll encounter it. Enter the giant Bird, Ziz Shadai.

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The Beast that Dwells upon a Thousand Mountains

This is the second of a series of three posts dealing with the large megabeasts of Jewish folklore. Having spoken of Leviathan, current king of the sea and future meal and construction material, we now turn to its partner Behemoth, King of the Land Animals.

In God’s long monologue in the book of Job (presented in the previous post), Behemoth is mentioned along with Leviathan to show God’s greatness. In that passage, it is presented as a huge herbivore, with a strong, indomitable body. Unlike Leviathan, it is not especially dangerous – it lazes around swamps, and drinks from a river that ends up in its mouth. Also unlike Leviathan, Behemoth’s only mention is in the book of Job. Or maybe not.

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The Big Bad Fish

The next three posts will be dedicated to the three mythical beasts that are first mentioned in the Bible and repeatedly obsessed over in later texts: Leviathan, King of the Fish; Behemoth, King of the Land Animals; and Ziz Shadai, King of the Birds. This post is dedicated to the first of the three, so please give your warmest welcome to Leviathan, the giant fish that holds the world on its fins.

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Armilus, Son of the Stone

I’ve written before about syncretism – how a culture comes in contact with another, absorbs certain myths or symbols, and tweaks them to fit better with its previously-established symbols and myths.

Where this phenomenon gets really funky, though, is when the two cultures begin to bounce ideas off each other. Such is the case of the Jewish Anti-Messiah, Armilus (alternatively spelled Aramillos or Aramileus), a legend born of the Christian vision of the Antichrist, which is itself related to the Jewish Messiah.

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