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Myth

A passage in the tractate bMegillah 11a-b conveys a tradition of three kings who have “ruled over the whole firmament” (Heb. shloshah malkhu bakipah): Ahab, Ahasuerus and Nebuchadnezzar. These emperors, however, are surpassed in magical proficiency and the range of power by king Solomon about whom it is said that “he ruled over the denizens of the upper world as well as of the lower (Heb. al haelyonim veal hatachtonim)”. Although ambiguous the phrase elyonim vetachtonim came to function as a merism denoting the totality of both heavenly and earthly supernatural creatures.

Database

Elyonim veTachtonim is also the code name for the project aimed at constructing the comprehensive inventory of the supernatural entities in the early rabbinic literature. First of all, the database serves the function of a specialized thematic concordance and as such provides the means for a quick localization and juxtaposition of all the textual appearances of a given entity. Second, the detailed division into separate units allows to deploy the quantitative methods of analysis. Third, the manipulation with the hashtags and filtering commands makes it possible to discern some particular regularities like the correlation between the given entity, topic and genre. This is just a small fraction of the potential applications, and the larger the database the more diverse the purposes.

Theory

The project bases on the following theoretical paradigms and specific ideas:
  • evolutionary psychology (e.g. D. Buss): essential similarities of cognitive functioning of humans irrespective of their culture;
  • cognitive linguistics (e.g. G. Lakoff, M. Johnson and Z. Kövecses): imaginative rationality, the basic categories of the source and target domains and the pivotal role of the anthropomorphism in the perception of various non-animate phenomena; 
  • cognitive theory of religion (e.g. S. Guthrie, P. Boyer, J. Barrett, I. Pyysiäinen): the conception of the partially invisible and minimally counter-intuitive supernatural anthropomorphic agents and its realization on the linguistic level; 
  • formal literary analysis of myth (e.g. V. Propp): the structuring role of certain narrative patterns organized out of a limited number of motifs and the fixed roles of particular actants;
  • corpus linguistics: distribution of particular words and phrases throughout the corpus and other regularities as witnessing to the actual popularity of given ideas;

To learn more about the theory behind the project head over to the Legacy section.