The Mussulman traditions are nearly all derived from the Talmudic writers, just as the history of Christ in the Koran is taken from the Apocryphal Gospels. The Koran follows the “Sepher Hajaschar” (Book of the Just) far more closely than the canonical Scriptures; and the “Sepher Hajaschar” is a storehouse of the Rabbinic tradition on the subject of the Patriarchs from Adam to Joshua.
The Jewish traditions are of various value. Some can be traced to their origin without fail. One class is derived from Persia, as, for instance, those of Asmodeus, the name of the demon being taken, along with his story, from Iranian sources. Another class springs from the Cabbalists, who, by permutation of the letters of a name, formed the nuclei, so to speak, from which legends spread.
Another class, again, is due to the Rabbinic commentators, who, unable to allow for poetical periphrasis, insisted on literal interpretations, and then coined fables to explain them. Thus the saying of David, “Thou hast heard me from among the horns of the unicorns,” which signified that David was assisted by God in trouble, was taken quite literally by the Rabbis, and a story was invented to explain it.
Another class, again, is no doubt due to the exaggeration of Oriental imagery, just as that previously mentioned is due to the deficiency of the poetic fancy in certain Rabbis. Thus, imagination and defect of imagination, each contributed to add to the store.
But when we have swept all these classes aside, there remains a residuum, small, no doubt, of genuine tradition. To this class, if I am not mistaken, belong the account of Lamech and his wives, and the story of the sacrifice of Isaac. In the latter instance, the type comes out far clearer in the Talmudic tradition that in the canonical Scriptures; and this can hardly have been the result of Jewish interpolation, knowing, as they did, that Christians pointed triumphantly to this type.
With regard to Jewish traditions, it is unfortunate that both Eisenmenger and Bartolocci, who collected many of them, were so prejudiced, so moved with violent animosity against the Rabbinic writers, that they preserved only the grotesque, absurd, and indecent legends, and wholly passed over those—and there are many of them—which are redolent of poetry, and which contain an element of truth.
A certain curious interest attaches to these legends—at least, I think so; and, should they find favor with the public, this volume will be followed by another series on the legends connected with the New Testament characters.
Hillary Nanspian of Chimsworthy was a big, brisk, florid man, with light grey eyes. His face was open, round, hearty, and of the colour of a ribstone pippin. He was, to all appearance, a well-to-do man. But appearances are not always to be trusted. Chimsworthy, where he lived, was a farm of two hundred acres; the subsoil clay, some of the land moor, and more bog; but the moor was a fine place for sheep, and the bog produced pasture for the young stock when the clay grass land was drought-dry. Hillary had an orchard of the best sorts of apples grown in the West, and he had a nursery of apples, of grafts, and of seedlings. When he ate a particularly good apple, he collected the pips for sowing, put them in a paper cornet, and wrote thereon, 'This here apple was a-eated of I on ——,' such and such a day, 'and cruel good he were too.' (Cruel, in the West, means no more than 'very.')
The farm of Chimsworthy had come to Nanspian through his wife, who was dead. His brother-in-law was Taverner Langford of Langford. Taverner's mother had been a Hill, Blandina Hill, heiress of Chimsworthy, and it went to her daughter Blandina, who carried it when she married to her Cornish husband, Hillary Nanspian.