This daily feature is an introduction to a full book review by Roger G. Baker. To download the PDF and read the full text of this review, follow the link below.
Readers who hear "myth" and think "untrue" will not appreciate the encyclopedic collection of nearly seven hundred myths of Judaism in Tree of Souls. Readers who understand that myth goes beyond the Oxford English Dictionary's definition of "traditional stories" and understand that myths are truth beyond historicity, will read Schwartz as someone who craftily merges Bible, Midrash, Talmud, and works kabbalistic, Hasidic, and rabbinic to discover the cultural and spiritual DNA of modern Jewish, and by interpolation, Christian belief and practice.
Those who view myth as an explanation of why we believe will enjoy Tree of Souls. Schwartz is very clear on his definition of myth: "Myth refers to a people's sacred stories about origins, deities, ancestors, and heroes. Within a culture, myths serve as the divine charter, and myth and ritual are inextricably bound." According to Schwartz, there are ten divine stories in Judaism and each includes sub-myths. His ten-myth paradigm organizes the book and makes it accessible to both scholar and student.