legends retold in Louis Ginzberg's classic work Legends of the Bible are
a variation of the stories in the Scriptures as told and retold in the ancient
east since the days of Abraham in synagogues and churches and the
in homes of a hundred generations of people. Prof. Ginzberg culled them
from a vast literature, scattered over many countries and centuries (from
the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds, to compendia of legends compiled
from the third century late into the Middle Ages, to the new harvest of
folk tales and legends of the Bible which grew up in the eighteenth century
during the period of religious revival in Eastern Europe). [*]
The legends of the Bible
love to dwell on the opposition of the angels to man; in fact, the hosts of
heaven are said time and again to have objected or even sought to prevent the
creation of man. This point is stressed with particular emphasis, perhaps hiding
a clue why the myths of the insurgent angels were not rebuffed altogether.
These legends are clustered around a solitary verse, or rather a strange plural,
in Genesis 1:26. And God said, Let us make a man. Audacious heresies
are reported in ancient records to have been read out of or read into these
biblical words. For example, the gnostics, in the early Christian centuries,
saw here scriptural proof for their repudiation of the body, and of matter in
general. Only the soul was created by the Most High, but the body with its ills
and lusts was the work of the malignant demiurge, or of incompetent angels.
These notions crudely echo subtler doctrines of Plato and Philo, for the differentiation
between mind and matter seemed to the Greek philosophers and their disciples
to suggest at last an answer to the problem of physical and moral evil in the
Jews and Christians alike such views were anathema. They implied a streak of
malice, or an innate blemish in original creation itself, as though from the
outset, or in his very makeup, man were vitiated and cheated of all likelihood
of redemption. Hence the different exegesis of Genesis 1:26 in the legends of
the bible. In this exegesis, as we shall see in the following legend, the angels,
envious of a potential competitor for their Lords affection, strongly
object to the creation of man.
The Angels and the
Creation of Man
When God in His wisdom resolved to create man, He asked counsel of all
around him before he proceeded to execute His purpose an example
to man, be he ever so great and distinguished, not to scorn the advice
of the humble and lowly. First God called upon heaven and earth, then
upon all other things He had created, and last upon the angels.
The angels were not all of one opinion. The Angel of Love favored the
creation of man, because he would be affectionate and loving; but the
Angel of Truth opposed it, because he would be full of lies. And while
the Angel of Justice favored it, because he would practice justice, the
Angel of Peace opposed it, because he would be quarrelsome.
To invalidate his protest, God cast the Angel of Truth down from heaven
to earth, and when the others cried out against such contemptuous treatment
of their companion, He said, Truth will spring back out of the earth.
The objections of the angels would have been much stronger, had they known
the whole truth about man. God had told them only about the pious, and
had concealed from them that there would be reprobates among mankind,
too. And yet, though they knew but half the truth, the angels were nevertheless
prompted to cry out: What is man, that You are mindful of him? And
the son of man, that you visit him? God replied: The fowl
of the air and the fish of the sea, what were they created for? Of what
avail a larder full of appetizing dainties, and no guest to enjoy them?
And the angels could not but exclaim, O Lord, our Lord, how excellent
is Your name in all the earth. Do as is pleasing in Your sight.
not a few of the angels their opposition bore fatal consequences. When God summoned
the band of angels under the archangel Michael, and asked their opinion on the
creation of man, they answered scornfully: What is man, that You are mindful
of him? And the son of man, that You visit him? God thereupon stretched
forth His little finger, and all were consumed by fire except their chief Michael.
And the same fate befell the band under the leadership of the archangel Gabriel;
he alone of all was saved from destruction.
third band of angels consulted was commanded by the archangel Labbiel. Taught
by the horrible fate of his predecessors, he warned his troop: You have
seen what misfortune overtook the angels who said, What is man that You
are mindful of him? Let us take care not to do likewise, lest we suffer
the same dire punishment. For God will not refrain from doing in the end what
He has planned. Therefore it is advisable for us to yield to His wishes.
Thus warned, the angels spoke: Lord of the world, it is well that You
have thought of creating man. Do You create him according to Your will. And
as for us, we will be his attendants and his ministers, and reveal unto him
all out secrets.
Thereupon God changed Labbiels name to Raphael, the Rescuer, because his
host of angels had been rescued by his sage advice. He was appointed the Angel
of Healing, who has in his safekeeping all the celestial remedies, the types
of the medical remedies used on earth.
When Louis Ginzberg died in 1953, he was recognized as the world's outstanding
scholar in the field of Talmudic learning. His studies were carried on at
the universities of Berlin, Strassburg and Heidelberg, and from 1902 at
the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, where he served with distinction
as Professor of Talmud for more than half a century. The Legend of the
Jews, a massive seven-volume work with notes, written in German, and
translated into some forty languages, was originally published for scholars
(the first volume was published in 1909). [back]
a shorter and simpler edition, published by Jewish Publication Society