“Those Who Descend upon the Sea Told Me . . .”: Myth and Tall Tale in Baba Batra 73a–74b
Abstract

ABSTRACT:

This article examines bBaba Batra 73a–74b, a collection of first-person narratives describing rabbis’ fantastical journeys at sea and in the desert. The author adduces parallels between three of the sea stories in the sugya and maritime tall tales preserved in other Near Eastern texts. He argues that the folkloric motifs present in the talmudic narratives under discussion represent shared cultural material, which the rabbinic authors and early audiences of the sugya would not have attributed to any specific non-Jewish tradition. The present paper also calls attention to the mythological dimensions of these talmudic narratives, arguing that some textual variants of the stories contain allusive vocabulary evoking eschatological and cosmological myths of the Leviathan. The possibility is suggested that these allusive features may have entered bBB 73a–74b after the Talmudic era owing to attempts by tradents and readers of the text to identify religious themes in the sugya.