Myths in the Jewish Tradition

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Most all religions around the world contain a plethora of myths and narratives. Judaism, too, contains numerous stories and myths that are considered very important to the Jewish tradition. However, there is one story, the Exodus, which can be considered the "orienting myth" both in narrative, as defined by Mircea Eliade, as well as historically.

To understand the Exodus as an "orienting myth" we must first asses what is meant by the term myth. According to Myth and Reality, by Mircea Eliade, myths essentially contain five components including: they are true, regard who we are today, about origins, contain exemplary beings, and are considered sacred. Eliade specifically points out that a myth "relates an event that took place in primordial Time, the fabled time of the 'beginnings'" (5). This idea of a primordial time helps give us a clearer sense of a myth as being "orienting" and talking about origins. With this clarification on what is meant by the phrase "orienting myth", we will further delve into why the Exodus narrative fits both the myth and orienting aspects.

It may help to first view the Exodus myth in terms of actual historical events prior to analyzing the narrative about events that may or may not have occurred. In his book, The Jewish Way, Rabbi Irving Greenberg describes the historical events of the exodus as, "Moses, called by God, came to Pharaoh with a request that the slaves be given a temporary release to go and worship in the desert. Then, step by step, the power of Pharaoh was broken; step by step, the temporary release escalated into a demand for freedom"(27). According to Jewish teachings, the myth can also include the reception of the covenant with God, known as Shavout, which Greenberg states as being "the link between the two major Exodus commemorations"(25). We can view the Exodus as an "orienting myth" in historical terms in that it literally oriented (set a navigational path) the Jewish people for their journey to new land...
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