Archeology of the Religious Imagination

By Michael Fishbane

Association for Jewish Studies (AJS), Fall 2011

Two events made a profound impression on me as a young student, and now, decades later, I realize how formative they were for setting the direction of my interests in the study of the religious imagination. The first event, textual in nature, was triggered by an apparently dry, legal term in the Mishnah that referred to certain fields as sedeh ba'al (Shevi'it 2:9). In context,this could only mean a field that depended on rainfall (not irrigation). It was thus possible to wonder whether this designation gave mythic expression to a field fructified by the ancient Canaanite god of the stormâ€"Baal. But how could this be? And if it could, perhaps this was merely a dead metaphor with no living force. A trip to the Talmud turned me upside down; for there Rav Judah is reported as saying that "rain is the husband (ba'ala) of the soil" (Ta'anit 6b). This is certainly no myth, though it may be the stepson of a myth; and the biblical proof text offered by the sage, stating that the rain-soaked earth "gives birth" to its produce (Isaiah 55:10), may likewise be some half-breed of older mythic thinking.

Topic: Judaic Studies, Jewish Text, Jewish Studies, Religion

Name of Publication: AJS Perspectives: The Magazine of the Association for Jewish Studies

Editor: Bunzl, Matti , Havrelock, Rachel

Volume/Issue: Fall 2011

Page Number(s): 10-11

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Genre: Article

Coverage: United States

Identifier: ISSN 1529-6423

Language: English

Copyright Holder: Publisher

Copyright Information: Download for personal use, freely distribute link

Bibliographic Information:
Fishbane, Michael. Archeology of the Religious Imagination. AJS Perspectives: The Magazine of the Association for Jewish Studies. Association for Jewish Studies (AJS). Fall 2011: 10-11.


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