Literature and art almost always reflects the circumstances and mindset of the culture it comes from. The same, I think, could be said about mythology. In the text, it mentions that some scholars believe that the Pentateuch (or the Five books of Moses) were originally stories that were passed down orally, and were written down in order to give a religious reading to the history of Israel. To me, this is particularly important to note, because usually when an oral tradition is written down into a story, there is an intent behind it, whether deliberate or not. Keeping that in mind, I feel that in many ways, many of the stories found in the Pentateuch could be interpreted as not only a way of giving a sense of identity to the Jewish people, but also a way of exploring how they set themselves apart from other cultures.
According to our reading, the Jewish people have always been subject to being repeatedly oppressed and scattered. What interested me is that many of the narratives found in the Pentateuch seemed to mirror this. There is a repeating theme of banishment from a homeland that makes its way throughout the stories. For example, Adam and Eve were forced to leave the Garden due to their disobedience; Noah and his family were forced to leave a world they knew because of that world’s wickedness; Abraham and Sarah were forced to leave both their original country and religion in order to follow God. However, at the same time, I feel as though these same stories did not just bring a recurring theme of exile, but also of rebirth. Noah may have left a world he knew, but he was put in a “better” world, with the promise that God would never flood the world again. From Abraham and Sarah came “many nations”. Even Hagar and Ishmael, who were banished into the desert at Sarah’s insistence, had the promise of Ishmael becoming the father of a nation. The text states that “the rabbinic tradition…emphasized that the way out of exile was through study and righteous living. Commandments have their origin in God and, if followed, will lead humanity back to a life in harmony with God”. I feel like this is important to remember when reading these stories; that even when dispersed as a people, these narratives gave the Jewish a sense of both identity and purpose. Being away from their homeland was not so much a punishment as it was a test and a journey.