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Rabbinical Stories
by [?]

The preceding article furnishes some of the more serious investigations to be found in the Talmud. Its levities may amuse. I leave untouched the gross obscenities and immoral decisions. The Talmud contains a vast collection of stories, apologues, and jests; many display a vein of pleasantry, and at times have a wildness of invention, which sufficiently mark the features of an eastern parent. Many extravagantly puerile were designed merely to recreate their young students. When a rabbin was asked the reason of so much nonsense, he replied that the ancients had a custom of introducing music in their lectures, which accompaniment made them more agreeable; but that not having musical instruments in the schools, the rabbins invented these strange stories to arouse attention. This was ingeniously said; but they make miserable work when they pretend to give mystical interpretations to pure nonsense.

In 1711, a German professor of the Oriental languages, Dr. Eisenmenger, published in two large volumes quarto, his “Judaism Discovered,” a ponderous labour, of which the scope was to ridicule the Jewish traditions.

I shall give a dangerous adventure into which King David was drawn by the devil. The king one day hunting, Satan appeared before him in the likeness of a roe. David discharged an arrow at him, but missed his aim. He pursued the feigned roe into the land of the Philistines. Ishbi, the brother of Goliath, instantly recognised the king as him who had slain that giant. He bound him, and bending him neck and heels, laid him under a wine-press in order to press him to death. A miracle saves David. The earth beneath him became soft, and Ishbi could not press wine out of him. That evening in the Jewish congregation a dove, whose wings were covered with silver, appeared in great perplexity; and evidently signified the king of Israel was in trouble. Abishai, one of the king’s counsellors, inquiring for the king, and finding him absent, is at a loss to proceed, for according to the Mishna, no one may ride on the king’s horse, nor sit upon his throne, nor use his sceptre. The school of the rabbins, however, allowed these things in time of danger. On this Abishai vaults on David’s horse, and (with an Oriental metaphor) the land of the Philistines leaped to him instantly! Arrived at Ishbi’s house, he beholds his mother Orpa spinning. Perceiving the Israelite, she snatched up her spinning-wheel and threw it at him, to kill him; but not hitting him, she desired him to bring the spinning-wheel to her. He did not do this exactly, but returned it to her in such a way that she never asked any more for her spinning-wheel. When Ishbi saw this, and recollecting that David, though tied up neck and heels, was still under the wine-press, he cried out. “There are now two who will destroy me!” So he threw David high up into the air, and stuck his spear into the ground, imagining that David would fall upon it and perish. But Abishai pronounced the magical name, which the Talmudists frequently make use of, and it caused David to hover between earth and heaven, so that he fell not down! Both at length unite against Ishbi, and observing that two young lions should kill one lion, find no difficulty in getting rid of the brother of Goliath.

Of Solomon, another favourite hero of the Talmudists, a fine Arabian story is told. This king was an adept in necromancy, and a male and a female devil were always in waiting for an emergency. It is observable, that the Arabians, who have many stories concerning Solomon, always describe him as a magician. His adventures with Aschmedai, the prince of devils, are numerous; and they both (the king and the devil) served one another many a slippery trick. One of the most remarkable is when Aschmedai, who was prisoner to Solomon, the king having contrived to possess himself of the devil’s seal-ring, and chained him, one day offered to answer an unholy question put to him by Solomon, provided he returned him his seal-ring and loosened his chain. The impertinent curiosity of Solomon induced him to commit this folly. Instantly Aschmedai swallowed the monarch; and stretching out his wings up to the firmament of heaven, one of his feet remaining on the earth, he spit out Solomon four hundred leagues from him. This was done so privately, that no one knew anything of the matter. Aschmedai then assumed the likeness of Solomon, and sat on his throne. From that hour did Solomon say, “This then is the reward of all my labour,” according to Ecclesiasticus i. 3; which this means, one rabbin says, his walking-staff; and another insists was his ragged coat. For Solomon went a begging from door to door; and wherever he came he uttered these words; “I, the preacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem.” At length coming before the council, and still repeating these remarkable words, without addition or variation, the rabbins said, “This means something: for a fool is not constant in his tale!” They asked the chamberlain, if the king frequently saw him? and he replied to them, No! Then they sent to the queens, to ask if the king came into their apartments? and they answered, Yes! The rabbins then sent them a message to take notice of his feet; for the feet of devils are like the feet of cocks. The queens acquainted them that his majesty always came in slippers, but forced them to embrace at times forbidden by the law. He had attempted to lie with his mother Bathsheba, whom he had almost torn to pieces. At this the rabbins assembled in great haste, and taking the beggar with them, they gave him the ring and the chain in which the great magical name was engraven, and led him to the palace. Asehmedai was sitting on the throne as the real Solomon entered; but instantly he shrieked and flew away. Yet to his last day was Solomon afraid of the prince of devils, and had his bed guarded by the valiant men of Israel, as is written in Cant. iii. 7, 8.