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The Hebrew Myths: The Book of Genesis
Edited by Robert A. Davis
Imprint: Lives and Letters
Publisher: Carcanet Press
Hardback (328 pages)
(Pub. May 2005)
For thirty years Robert Graves and Raphael Patai, one raised a strict Protestant, the other a strict Jew, were close friends and collaborators. That collaboration culminating in the book Hebrew Myths: The Book of Genesis; 'we never disagreed on any question of fact or historical assessment'. They collected traditional Hebrew myths that amplify (and sometimes subtly change) stories found in the Book of Genesis. They go beyond the Christian biblical and Judaic versions of Hebrew myth, and use midrashim, folk-tales, apocryphal texts and other sources to nuance, extend and complete the stories.
'Myths are dramatic stories that form a sacred charter either authorising the continuance of ancient institutions, customs, rites and beliefs in the area where they are current, or approving alterations,' says the introduction. Those are the very myths that lie at the base of all the great Semitic monotheistic religions, the myths from which so many of our own structures and concerns spring. Part of the mission of this book is to see through from the authorised Bible texts to the suppressed and censored pre-Biblical accounts. Patai and Graves approach their subject with firm scholarship and informed inference, and as we read we become aware of shadows, colours, intensities, coming back into stories we thought we knew.
Like Graves's celebrated The Greek Myths, to which Hebrew Myths serves as a companion volume, this is an invaluable source book and reference tool, but it is also a fascinating text to read sequentially. From it emerges a rich sense of a culture in the making, a culture consisting of oral and literary traditions, where the spiritual is deeply rooted in landscape and history.
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