Another interesting collection of fables was made by Berachya ha-Nakdan (the Punctuator, or Grammarian). He lived in England in the twelfth century, or according to another opinion he dwelt in France a century later. His collection of 107 “Fox Fables” won wide popularity, for their wit and point combined with their apt use of Biblical phrases to please the medieval taste. The fables in this collection are all old, many of them being AEsop’s, but it is very possible that the first knowledge of AEsop gained in England was derived from a Latin translation of Berachya.
Of greater poetical merit was Joseph Zabara’s “Book of Delight,” written in about the year 1200 in Spain. In this poetical romance a large number of ancient fables and tales are collected, but they are thrown into a frame-work which is partially original. One night he, the author, lay at rest after much toil, when a giant appeared before him, and bade him rise. Joseph hastily obeyed, and by the light of the lamp which the giant carried partook of a fine banquet which his visitor spread for him. Enan, for such was the giant’s name, offered to take Joseph to another land, pleasant as a garden, where all men were loving, all men wise. But Joseph refused, and told Enan fable after fable, about leopards, foxes, and lions, all proving that it was best for a man to remain where he was and not travel to foreign places. But Enan coaxes Joseph to go with him, and as they ride on, they tell one another a very long series of excellent tales, and exchange many witty remarks and anecdotes. When at last they reach Enan’s city, Joseph discovers that his guide is a demon. In the end, Joseph breaks away from him, and returns home to Barcelona. Now, it is very remarkable that this collection of tales, written in exquisite Hebrew, closely resembles the other collections in which Europe delighted later on. It is hard to believe that Zabara’s work had no influence in spreading these tales. At all events, Jews, Christians, and Mohammedans, all read and enjoyed the same stories, all laughed at the same jokes. “It is,” says Mr. Jacobs, “one of those touches of nature which make the whole world kin. These folk-tales form a bond, not alone between the ages, but between many races who think they have nothing in common. We have the highest authority that ’out of the mouths of babes and sucklings has the Lord established strength,’ and surely of all the influences for good in the world, none is comparable to the lily souls of little children. That Jews, by their diffusion of folk-tales, have furnished so large an amount of material to the childish imagination of the civilized world is, to my mind, no slight thing for Jews to be proud of. It is one of the conceptions that make real to us the idea of the Brotherhood of Man, which, in Jewish minds, is forever associated with the Fatherhood of God.”
J. Jacobs.—The Diffusion of Folk Tales
(in Jewish Ideals,
p. 135); The Fables of Bidpai (London, 1888) and Barlaam
and Joshaphat (Introductions).