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Jewish Mythology
The mythology of the Jews exists in two main parts. Myth from the bible (traditional hero myths, cosmogony, etc.), and also more modern myths, those pertaining to life in the shtetl (the areas in eastern Europe inhabited by Jews), those of the Jews in the Middle East, and now those emerging from the recently discovered community of Jews in Ethiopia. Many people are aware and knowledgeable regarding the Jewish biblical myths (Adam and Eve, Creation, Noah and the Arc, Joshua and the Battle of Jericho). I have chosen to examine the more obscure mythology of the Jews of Persia. These myths tended to be more along the lines of fables, each teaching a message. They do not follow the traditional cycle of the Greek mythology. They often seek to teach the lesson of charity (which is very important in Judaism), humility, compassion, intelligence, and tolerance. Persian mythology also tended to be more graphic than average (in one myth it describes someone cooking a dog's heart for a cure to some ailment, then a bear ripping someone limb from limb). The first myth I will examine is The Fox, the Bear, and the Lion. This myth is about a poor man with a rich elder brother. The poor man's family is starving, and he goes to his brother to ask for assistance. Being a miser and having a bad heart, the brother turns him away with nothing to show for his efforts. The poor man is disgraced by his brother's behavior, and his failure to support his family, and he runs off into the woods. One night he is sleeping in a secluded mill, when he awakes to hear a lion, fox, and bear talking. They mention various easily attainable riches, as well as the cure for the king's daughter (the aforementioned dog heart). The man succeeds, and finds all the wealth as well as curing the king's daughter. He returns home to his family. His brother is astounded by the sudden turn of fortune and eventually falls into financial trouble himself. The elder brother is forced to ask the younger for assistance that the younger gladly provides. He also does him the (unknowing) disservice of telling him about his encounter at the mill. The brother in a zealous haste runs to the mill. There he hears the three animals once again, this time discussing the loss of their riches. The fox smells the scent of the brother. Thinking that he is the one who took their possessions, they rip him limb from limb. As one can see, this somewhat tragic story has a clear moral, that of compassion and charity. If the brother in the first place had aided his sibling, he would not have ended up dead. It also teaches against jealousy and blind haste. The next myth is one about the plight of the Persian Jews under one of their many oppressors. A powerful noble begins to preach regarding early "ethnic cleansing." He decrees that the Jews (as well as other ethnic minorities) are an infestation that should be assimilated, exiled, or killed. His preaching influences popular morality and the general opinion towards outsiders turns nasty. One prominent, Jewish scholar refuses to back down. He asks for an audience with the noble, and the noble reluctantly agrees. The scholar offers the nobleman a choice of two rugs as his sign of respect. One rug is plain, while the other is brilliantly multi-colored. The nobleman chooses the colored rug as his gift and the scholar asks "since you have chosen the multi-colored rug to be superior and more to your liking, don't you think it only fit that your society be multi-cultural as well, just as the multiple colors of your rug?" The noble sees the sense in the Jew's argument, and revokes his decrees dealing with the status of Jews in Persia. In this myth, and throughout Jewish mythology in general, brains always win over brawn. Despite being in a position of subservience, the Jew wins his cause not by violence but by debate and the appealing to the better nature of humankind. The final myth I wish to discuss is a short one, another example of using logic and intelligence to stamp out ignorance. A fanatical Muslim leader takes charge of a small area of Persia and states that the Jews are evil. They must be assimilated, exiled, or killed. He claims that Jews take the blood of a Muslim child whom they kill to make Passover matzoth (the unleavened bread). Through a complex logical argument, a Jew proves that the Muslim leader is lying in his decrees. The people of Persia are once again tolerant of the Jews. As one can plainly see, the myths of Persia are not that different with myths from other Jewish areas, as well as other cultures. However there is something unique about them, as with all cultures: their overall purpose. The Jews have biblical myth to provide answers for unexplainable natural phenomena, these are much more, providing a moral and ethical code for the descendants of the Jewish people far into the future.

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