Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, March 21, 2015

"A Tale of Jerusalem" by Edgar Allan Poe (1831, 4 pages)

By: Yitzchok Tendler

"It comes as no surprise that America’s writers and poets of the 19th century touched heavily on Biblical themes. They were, after all, overwhelmingly Christian. Far more surprising, and scarce, are instances of their references to Rabbinic Literature.

In this regard, a relatively obscure short story by Edgar Allen Poe, A Tale of Jerusalem, stands entirely in a league of its own. The breadth of familiarity with Rabbinic Literature and Temple protocol, the extent to which this narrative is so replete with abstruse Talmudic references, is, frankly, astounding. Poe goes far beyond mere Talmudic reference; he actually adopts its idiom and syntax, employing free use of Hebrew and Aramaic to color his characters."  From 

Since I began my blog in July 2009 I have read and posted on a few of Edgar Allan Poe's (1809 to 1849) sixty-nine short stories.   In almost every article or book I have read on the history of the modern short story Poe is treated as one of the originators of the form, especially the Gothic, horror and detective story.  This is as true not just for America but Ireland, Japan, and France. Poe defined a short story as a work that could be read in one sitting.  He lead a tumultuous way too brief life and there is much use of macabre, violent and disturbing images in his work.  

I decided to read one of his stories just on an impulse and I picked "A Tale of Jerusalem", because it was quite short and because the title kind of intrigued me, the same way it probably did readers The Philadelphia Saturday Courier where it was first published.   I was, though perhaps I should not have been, shocked by the apparent depth of Poe's knowledge of Jewish traditional literature and history exhibited in this story.  First I will briefly recapitulate the plot and then I will talk a bit about what my post read research revealed as I found it very interesting. 

The leaders of the temple have lowered down to the Romans a bucket with silver coins to pay for a sacrificial animal.  The Romans say they treat all the religions of their conquered nations the same.  As the leaders begin to pull up the basket they marvel at the weight, thinking the Romans have sent a great ram or fattened calf.  To their horrowing the animal is a hog, an animal repudiated by their religion.  There is a very big display of arcane lore in the story.  It seems Poe got his details from a very popular at the time four part novel, Tales of the Holy City by Horace Smith.

I hope to read through all the stories eventually.  

Mel u


Unknown said...

Just when I think I am well-educated, I discover another area in which I am ignorant. Thank you for expanding my Poe knowledge. Now I must seek out and read this one for myself. All the best from the American Gulf coast and Beyond Eastrod. R.T.

Mel u said...

R. T. Thanks for your comment. Everyday I feel less well educated. This is a very interesting story.