Tree of Souls

A book on Jewish mythology may be somewhat surprising as the stories are certainly not as well known as other popular mythology tales and the idea of Jewish myth may be somewhat controversial. Author Howard Schwartz, however, is careful to explain in the lengthy introduction to Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism that his use of the word myth refers to a “peoples sacred stories about origins, deities, ancestors, and heroes” and specifically notes that the use of the word “myth as something that is not true is not intended here.” The preface, forward, and introduction of this anthology of Jewish literature provide background on the stories presented and give meaning to the entire work. The introduction is a substantial section of the work and provides the author’s explanation of this compilation of wonderful stories. Schwartz is a well known author and scholar recognized for his writings on Jewish literature, especially folklore. His extensive research in compiling this wonderful resource is obvious in the display and organization of the 670 stories presented.

The work is divided into ten sections representing the primary categories of myths such as God, creation, heaven, hell, exile, and the Messiah. Related variations of a myth are grouped together. Each story is presented along with a well-written and referenced commentary to explain how the myth emerged, the biblical passage that inspired the myth, what it explains, how it relates to similar tales, as well as how the story fits historically to existing legends of the time thus making Tree of Souls a delightful study text on Jewish folk literature and a fascinating read on historical biblical interpretation. The table of contents and index make it easy to navigate the work, and a glossary of Hebrew terms is included. The extensive bibliography again shows the in- depth amount of research put into this book and also encourages further exploration and reading.