chapter  XI
12 Pages

JEWISH FOLKTALES AND THEIR ORIGIN

T HE TERMS myth, legend and folktale are etymologically parallel and are frequently used interchangeably, particularly in ordinary discourse, but when strict accuracy

is required, they must -be kept distinct, otherwise confusion is apt to arise. Myths and legends, fables and stories, have this in common, that they are all spontaneous products of the popular genius, but there is nevertheless a difference between them. The term myth should be applied to everything that has no existence in reality, to tales that imply the personification of abstract forces and natural phenomena. The sun imagined as the sister or husband of the moon, Phaeton driving the solar chariot too near the sun and the Valkyries hovering over the battlefield, are myths. A legend, on the other hand, a word derived from the Latin legendum, and originally confined to the histories of the lives of the Christian Saints, is a tale that bears a religious character and is connected with some historical person or incident, about whom or which it invents fantastic accounts and stories. Popular imagination, however, not only embellishes the facts but often disfigures them.