Monday, June 8, 2020

Heroes and prophets (Following folktales around the world 159. - Jordan)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Legends of Galilee, Jordan, and Sinai
The Sacred Land III.
Zev Vilnay
The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1978.

This book is part of a series that collects the legends of the Holy Land by region; in Volume III we find stories from Galilee, Jordan, and Sinai. Among them, sixty-three legends are from the historical region of Jordan, grouped by geographical area. Not all of these areas are a part of modern day Jordan, but I read all of them anyway, and learned a lot about the region's geography. Stories are primarily from the Jewish tradition, but there were also a few Muslim and Christian legends. Sadly the volume doesn't have an introduction or foreword, but each story comes with cited sources.
I also read some more Arab legends from this book, because I was curious.


The legend of the fight between Moses and King Og was filled with wonder tale motifs. My favorite was the part where the giant king tried to throw a mountain at Moses, so God sent an army of ants to dig through the mountain, and it collapsed on his head. He tried to take it off like a hat, but God grew his teeth so he would get stuck with his head inside the mountain...
I also liked the legend of the sneezing goats, who live in the land of Moab and sneeze from the incense burning in the Temple of Jerusalem.
There were some legends about Petra in the book. One of them was an Arab tale about the Pharaoh who built Petra, and his treasure hidden in a vessel above the door of one of the buildings. Whoever can shoot the vessel and break it can keep the gold. In another Arab legend the Pharaoh's daughter, living in one of the palaces, promised her hand to whoever could bring water to the city. Two young men succeeded, but one credited his own ingenuity and the other the help of God. She chose the latter.
In the Arab legends Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet made an appearance, alongside Antar, one of my favorite epic heroes.Ali visited Antar on his journey, and then reached the legendary City of Copper. There were also tales about another black Arab hero, Zir, whose story of trial and triumph resembled the "golden-haired gardener" type fairy tales.


The origin story of Lake Ram was one of those international types where a beggar visits a village and people are rude to him, so he calls down a storm and drowns the place in water, creating a lake. I also found a version of the classic fable about the man with two wives, one of whom pulled out the white hairs from his beard, and the other pulled out the black, until he was left without any beard at all.
The tale of King Solomon's ring did not only mention his wife (who was not the Queen of Sheba) but also fell into the motif of "the ring of Polycrates", being lost and found in the belly of a fish again. The legend of Ghareisah and Zeid was a Romeo and Juliet story here the youth from two warring Bedouin tribes tried to run away together, but they were found and killed. The girl wrote her dying message on a rock, and locals see the print of her hand in the cross of a Byzantine altar stone.
I couldn't help but think of a literary parallel in the legend of the Caesarion tunnel: according to legend the Lord did not allow Moses to enter the Promised Land, no matter how he begged to cross the Jordan or the mountains. He finally asked to pass through the tunnel under the river, but God said "Thou shall not pass!" I wonder if Tolkien knew this story...

Where to next?

1 comment:

  1. This does sound like an interesting book! I wonder where these tales came from? I mean, where did the author collect them from?

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Tolkien did read that story! He was a religious man and Lord Of The Rings had many religious references.