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April 24 , 2010

Folk-Lore of The Holy Land: Moslem, Christian and Jewish


MY aim in this preface being to afford the untravelled reader of the following stories such a glimpse of the country and people which produced them as may render them intelligible, if not coherent, I shall begin with a glance at the past history of the Holy Land as illustrated in its present folk-lore. Of Old Testament times the fellahìn have countless stories, more or less reminiscent of their religious instruction at the mouth of Greek priest or Moslem Khatìb, vivified by the incorporation in the text of naïve conjectures, points of private humour, and realistic touches from the present day life of the country, which shock the pompous listener as absurd anachronisms. Thus the disguise of a Russian pilgrim – a figure now commonly to be met with on the road from Jerusalem to the Jordan – is given to Satan when he beguiles the Patriarch Lot (sect. i. chap. vi.); and our father Adam has been described to me as sitting under the Tree of Knowledge, "smoking his narghileh." Nebuchadnezzar and Titus become one person (Bukhtunussur) and the personality of Alexander the Great (Iskender Dhu el Karneyn) is stretched so as to include more ancient conquerors. Moreover, the desire inherent in Orientals to know how everything came to be, content with any hypothesis provided it be witty, has produced any number of delicious little fictions which, to all ends but the scientific, are much better than fact. Such jeux d’esprit abound in the following pages, as, for instance, the story of Noah's daughter (sect. i. chap. iii.), and of how the mosquito came to buzz (sect. iii. chap. x.); and they are useful to be known by all who must converse with Orientals, since for the latter they are a part of learning. Mr Kipling's "Just So Stories" are examples of this vein of Eastern humour.
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