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. However, these emperors 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 natural and supernatural creatures (e.g. bKetubbot 104a).
Elyonim veTachtonim is also the code name for the project which offers an exploitable and customizable system of quantitative and qualitative analysis of the traditions involving the supernatural entities in various cultural and religious entourages. Initiated back in 2016 to construe the comprehensive inventory of the supernatural entities in the early rabbinic literature, it was gradually expanded to cover other literary corpora and media.
The system consists of two basic components: the theoretical-methodological and the practical-technical one. The theoretical-methodological component consists of the following modules:
- 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;
- digital humanities: distribution of particular words and phrases throughout the corpus and other regularities as witnessing to the actual popularity of given ideas.
The practical-technical component is the organic consequence of the theoretical-methodological basis of the project: it is designed for the quantitative and qualitative analysis of the textual accounts about supernatural entities understood along the lines of cognitive science of religion with an emphasis put on the cognitive metaphors used in the description of their appearance and behavior, especially vis-à-vis human actors. The central tool of this analysis is the database, hereby understood as a structured collection of data together with the methods of access, organization, selection, retrieval, and modeling.
Currently, the Elyonim veTachtonim project offers two databases of the supernatural entities:
These offer two basic functionalities. First of all, they serve the function of a specialized thematic concordance and as such provide 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 particular regularities like the correlation between the given entity, topic, and genre. This is just a small fraction of the potential applications.
To learn more about the theory behind the project, head over to the Legacy section.