Middle Eastern Mythologies
The Bible and Judaism
Is there an Israelite or Jewish mythology?
Many of the familiar sacred narratives of the Jews are contained in the first five books of the Bible—the Pentateuch or the Torah—traditionally attributed to Moses, the hero who, according to the story of Exodus, led the Hebrews out of Egypt through a miraculously parted sea to Canaan, the land promised to Abram (Abraham), a promise reaffirmed with Isaac and Jacob (Israel). The first book of the Torah, Genesis describes among many other miraculous events, the creation of the world by Yahweh, the sin of Adam and Eve, their expulsion from the Garden of Eden, and Noah’s flood. All of these Genesis events, like those of Exodus, can be considered mythology, since they are narratives which go beyond what we know of real-life experience but have important metaphorical or spiritual meanings.
The Torah was composed in various stages between about 950 and c. 400 B.C.E., influenced, as we have seen, by contact with other cultures, such as the one experienced in Mesopotamia during periods of exile. Much of the mythology the Torah contains serves to justify the conquest of the “Promised Land” by the Israelites, the people “chosen” by the one-and-only god, Yahweh.
The monotheistic concept was also central to Christianity (which evolved from Judaism), and later to Islam, which was deeply influenced by Jewish and Christian beliefs as well as by indigenous Arabic mythology. All three religions worship the same God and trace their beginnings to the prophet Abraham.