"A truly monumental work of scholarship... Read for pleasure by millions of Jews and Christians, consulted by students, scholars, and ordinary folk, The Legends of the Jews has itself become legendary, the magnum opus of one of the twentieth century's greatest and most original Jewish scholars." -- James R. Kugel, from the Introduction
The first books of the Bible describe powerfully but briefly the creation, the first generations of humanity, and the early history of the Jews. In addition to their power to inspire thought and worship, they inspired imagination. Much of the richness of Jewish belief and wisdom comes from the many legends that answered questions raised by the silences of the Bible. From the second to the fourteenth centuries, the Talmud, Midrash, and their Targums incorporated apocryphal views of Biblical persons and events to help explain scripture. Other legends found their way into the Kabbalah, into Biblical commentaries, and into Christian literature.
Never before available in paperback, Louis Ginzberg's landmark, seven-volume The Legends of the Jews assembles the many elaborations and embellishments of Biblical stories that flourished in the centuries following the Bible's own creation. From a portrait of Adam and Eve as innocent cannibals to tales of Moses ascending the throne of Ethiopia and visiting both hell and paradise, these legends offer strange, delightful, and occasionally bizarre variations of familiar Biblical stories. Other tales describe Eden and the building of the Tower of Babel, explain how the first Sabbath was celebrated, and chronicle the punishment of the rebel angels. There are legends that detail how Noah cared for the animals on the ark and tell of David purchasing Jerusalem rather than conquering the city.
Ginzberg devoted most of his life to gathering these Jewish legends from their original sources -- written in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Syrian, Aramaic, Ethiopic, Arabic, Persian, and Old Slavic -- and reproducing them completely, accurately, and vividly. He presents these legends following the traditional Biblical sequence and reconciling the sometimes contradictory versions of the same stories found in different sources. In addition to four volumes of the legends themselves, The Legends of the Jews includes two indispensable volumes of notes that provide the sources for every legend and attest to the immense depth and range of Ginzberg's research, as well as a comprehensive index to the people, places, and motifs found in the legends and their sources. Nearly one hundred years after Ginzberg began, his work remains a fundamental tool of contemporary research and a classic of Jewish literature.
"One of the masterworks of twentieth century Jewish scholarship was Louis Ginzberg's Legends of the Jews, or, more accurately, Legends of the Bible... For scholars, Ginzberg's book is a monumental work of research. But for the general reader, it is a gateway into a world, a world where the imagination roamed and the spirit was free. You will discover that Adam had a previous wife, before Eve, that Cain repented and was forgiven, that Abraham missed Ishmael and went to see him several times after the expulsion, and that Rebecca was a worthy successor to Sarah. If you are not a scholar, put aside the two volumes of notes for a while and enjoy the legends themselves. The Bible will never be the same for you again, if you do." -- Rabbi Jack Reimer, South Florida Jewish Journal.
Louis Ginzberg was born in Kovno (now Kaunas), Lithuania, in 1873. He began his university studies in mathematics but eventually turned to the study of religion. His doctoral dissertation, which documented the survival of various Jewish elaborations of the Bible in the writings of the Church Fathers, prefigured his later work. He immigrated to America in 1899 and became a renowned Judaic scholar. He died in New York City in 1953.