Page 51 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 4

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WA XMA N ---- SOME OUTSTANDING JEWISH BOOKS
39
that part of it which can be called the historical, which constitutes
its larger portion.
A few words about the Agada will help us to estimate the
magnitude of the work and the enormous amount of labor in-
vested in its production. The Agada is, next to the Halakah, a
leading expression of the Jewish spirit during the greater part of
its history; it is almost impossible to date its beginning, for por-
tions of it are contemporaneous with the Biblical books themselves.
This stream of literature produced both by the creative spirit
of the people as well as by its imagination is not only extensive,
but has numerous currents often flowing side by side and quite
frequently intermingling. I t reflects Jewish life, at least for a
period of two thousand years, in all its phases (the end of its
production may be placed around the eleventh century C. E.);
and though the Bible is its fountain-head, for it aims to embellish
and interpret its teachings, excepting the laws, it nevertheless
contains extra-Biblical subjects and absorbed also views and
opinions of all cultures with whom the Jews came in contact during
their long history. To complicate matters, it was for a large part
of the time an oral literary expression, and when it was put down
in writing its parts were not put together in an orderly and
systematic fashion, but were scattered through the various divi-
sions of the extensive Jewish literature, and reached also the
literatures of the two daughter religions of Judaism, Christianity
and Islam where they were imbedded in a mass of extraneous
matters. The field of the Agada extends over the apocryphal
and apocalyptic, the entire Talmudic and Midrashic, Patristic,
and Hellenistic literatures written in various languages, and
frequently parts of it are entangled in strata entirely foreign to it.
Only a man whose erudition embraces all these literatures and
whose eye is keen and sharp to recognize an Agadic particle in a
maze of literary compositions, could undertake to arrange this
exceptionally scattered mass not only in an orderly and systematic
way but also in an artistic manner, the totality of which rep-
resents a grand edifice well constructed. Such a man is L.
Ginzberg.
The method used by him in his work is the arrangement of the
Agadic or legendary material around the leading personages and
events in Jewish history from the creation of the world to Mor-
decai and Esther. I t is in the structure where we can see the
architectonic art of the master builder. The story of each hero
or event is frequently composed of thousands of particulars
culled from hundreds of books and put together in such a way
that not a sign of the joining is evident. Since the Agada aims
in addition to the embellishment of the lives of the heroes and