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Intertextuality in Folklore: Pagan Themes in Jewish Folktales from the Early Modern Era

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This article deals with the concept of intertextuality in folk narrative—a theme that has been dealt with only rarely. By analyzing the Hasidic, nineteenth-century folktale of The Sacrificers of Children, we attempt to demonstrate the importance of this theme for folkloristic scholarship and its centrality in the interpretation of folktales.

The true importance of intertextuality lies in its contribution to the complexity of the text. The presence of secondary textual elements that are incorporated into the primary text but do not interfere with its ideological and aesthetic independence creates the powerful effect of multiple layers and meanings.

We have here a story whose intent and purpose are distinctly and unquestionably didactic and conservative. The storyteller uses the earlier sources—biblical, midrashic, travel literature, medieval exempla—not only as narrative materials, but as references which can bring religious meaning and authority to his text. And yet it can also be read from an entirely different perspective thanks to textual elements from another world, and one which is diametrically opposed to Jewish morality. The intertextuality here is not, therefore, simply an interweaving of texts, but an existential dialogue that is conducted and deciphered by means of textual elements.


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