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53 Anything to Find Favor with a Woman T O L D B Y S H M U ’ E L R E C A N A T I T O R A C H E L S E R I King Solomon was fluent in many languages—he even knew how to speak with trees and birds. One day he overheard a conversation between two birds who were perched in a tall tree. The male bird was telling the female, “Do you know that I could destroy King Solomon’s palace and his entire temple?” “How can you do that?” asked the female. When King Solomon heard this he got very angry and called the male bird down to him. “Why did you tell the other bird,” he demanded, “that you could destroy my temple?” “I was only boasting to her of my strength so she would be afraid of me and submit to me, because I wanted her and lusted after a female.” King Solomon let the bird go in peace. 484 COMMENTARY FOR TALE 53 (IFA 2254) Recorded by Rachel Seri from Shmu’el Recanati in 1960 in Jerusalem. Cultural, Historical, and Literary Background The written sources of this particular story follow four intersecting routes: the medieval Arabic Sufi tradition, Palestinian Arabic legends from the seventeenth century onward, Sephardic biblical interpretations of the sixteenth century, and Hasidic literature of the nineteenth century. In Arabic Sufi traditions, the tale occurs in the Risala of the Sufi teacher alQushayri (986–1072).1 Discussions of the story have been published.2 In Palestinian Arabic legends, the story has the features of a local tale in which the bird, punished by King Solomon for its arrogance, is turned into stone, together with its mate. The image of these two birds were perceived in the veins of the marble of the Dome of the Rock and were pointed out to travelers, at least since the seventeenth century. Ewliya Celebi (1611–1684), who toured Palestine, noted this tradition in his monumental travel account, Seyahatname,3 and so did Isabel Burton,4 who accompanied her husband, Richard, in his travels through the region in the nineteenth century. She reported that the marble veins represent two magpies, confounding the images with another story in the Solomonic tradition.5 Also in the nineteenth century, the object of the story was a marble slab in the southern wall of the Dome of the Rock.6 Analyses of these tales are available.7 In Sephardic tradition, the earliest Hebrew record of this tale appeared in print in exegetical work of the Sephardic writer Abraham Ibn Saba.8 A version of the tale was later anthologized by Bin Gurion.9 Hasidic tradition attributes the narration of this tale to Rabbi H.ayyim ben Leibush Halberstam of Zanz (1793–1876), known also as Nowy Sacz and the Sandzer.10 Quite likely, the Jewish American reader of The Forwerts who sent a Yiddish version of the tale (also attributed to Nowy Sacz) to N. Gross was familiar with the Hasidic tradition.11 For a comparative discussion see Schwarzbaum,12 who included references to fables about self-aggrandizing animals from Greek and Mesopotamian traditions. The idea that King Solomon understood the languages of animals, birds, and plants finds its confirmation in the biblical verse 1 Kings 5:13, “He discoursed about trees, from the cedar in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall; and he discoursed about beasts, birds, creeping things and fishes,” and occurs often in Jewish midrashic (MR Ecclesiastes Rabbah 1:1)13 and Arabic sources (Targum Sheni 1.2, 5).14 The Koran reiterates this notion (21:81–82, 27:15–45, 34:11–13, 38:29–39).15 The only other figure in Jewish folklore that could converse with animals in their language was Adam.16 Literary renditions of this tale have been published.17 53 / Anything to Find Favor  485   486  Folktales of the Jews: Volume 1 Similarities to Other IFA Tales Two additional versions of this tale are in the IFA: • IFA 4820: King Solomon and the Boastful Swallow (Romania).18 • IFA 13090: It Could Have Destroyed King Solomon’s Palace with a Single Kick (Romania).19 Folktale Type • 224*A (IFA) “The Bragging and Boastful Bird, Animal.” Folklore Motifs • B211.3 “Speaking bird.” • B211.3.5 “Speaking dove.” • B215.1 “Bird language.” • B216 “Knowledge of animal language.” • J191.1 “Solomon as wise man.” • J951 “Lowly masks as great.” • K1700 “Deception through bluffing.” __________...


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