ABSTRACT

The earliest published version of the Jewish pope myth in Yiddish literature appears in the seventeenth-century 'Book of Stories', the Mayse-bukh. This anonymous collection of stories, folk tales, jokes and legends originated from a variety of medieval Jewish oral and written traditions, and included material both from Talmudic aggadah and Midrash, as well as Judaized material from non-Jewish traditions after the manner of such medieval Christian collections of moral exempla as the Gesta Romanorum, originally printed about 1473. The Mayse-bukh was first compiled in the late sixteenth century, but not before 1580, the year in which the mystic Jacob Luzzatto published his book Kaftor va-ferah in Basle, from which the compiler of the Mayse-bukh borrowed several stories to supplement his own collection. Many of the narratives, however, were part of a folk tradition deriving from both Western and Eastern sources and passed down orally from generation to generation before they were written down. Of the 255 narratives collected in the volume, 157 are of Talmudic origin, some 27 have their setting in Regensburg, and a number deal with incidents concerning the city of Worms, demonstrating clearly that the work was the product of Ashkenazi Jewry to whom it spoke in an early form of Yiddish.