Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Story of the Two Brothers – Revisited

King Solomon wanted to find a place build the Temple. A heavenly voice directed him from Mount Zion to a field that was once owned by two brothers. One of the brothers was a bachelor and the other was blessed with a wife and children. After the harvest each brother was concerned about the other. Under the cover of night the father kept adding to his brother's pile because he reasoned because he thought the bachelor had no children to support him in his old age. The bachelor added to the father's pile because he thought that with so many children his brother needed more grain. The brothers met in the middle of the field and embraced. This field, a manifestation of brotherly love, King Solomon reasoned this was best site for the Temple.[1]

In 1997, before Google searches and the wide-spread of digitalization out-of-print, a faculty member came into the library with a question about the source of the story about two brothers.  He was very learned in Talmud and other rabbinic sources, but his couldn’t find the source of the story.  He said that the story is so old that it must be from the rabbis. He thought that he remembered it from the Talmud, but couldn't quite remember the source. He wanted my help to find the source.

This article is both an update to the original and an examination of sources I didn’t have available then. 

The 1997 article is one of my most popular because it illustrates how people use stories without understanding their origins. I have referred people to this article because the Two Brothers story is so widely known.  In a recent rabbi’s sermon, the rabbi presented this story as if it was an old Jewish story.  Indeed it is a great example of familial love, honor and respect and how a place can have the honor of commemorate that story. The use of stories is an important part of speeches and sermons.  However, one can not represent a story for something it is not.

If a story is written as a parable to illustrate a point and if you claim the story has ancient, royal roots, it adds credence.   For example at the Yom Tov dinner table one guest told a story about a king who had a daughter who was so special that she was not allowed to have any contact with men before her wedding day. It took a long time for the king to find a groom who would marry the daughter without ever meeting her.  People at the table kept interrupting the storyteller saying, “That is terrible!”  “How can the king be so mean?”  The people listening were impatient.  The story was a parable.  It never happened, but was created to illustrate a point.  The king found a groom.  After the couple got to know each other, the groom asked for another wedding celebration, because at the first one he couldn’t fully understand the love of his life.  If the people listening to the story would have been patient, they would have learned the point to the story was that love is learned and does not happen by accident.

This story of brotherly love contrasts to the stories of brotherly rivalry such as the stories of: Cain and Abel, Yitzhak and Ishmael, Ya’akov and Esau, and Joseph and his brothers.  A story of brotherly love is rare.  There is a 2300 year old Egyptian tale of two brothers; the younger, conscientious one is accused by his older brother of a proposal of adultery against his wife.[2]

The story of the two brothers sounds like it is very old because it mentions King Solomon. (Remember royal and ancient add credence.) Since the events seemingly happened in Biblical times, one should first check the Bible.  The story is not in the Bible.  Since the story happened hundreds of years before the Talmud, one would next reason that the story should be found in the Talmud, Midrash, or other rabbinic literature.

A search of the Talmud and Midrash found nothing. We tried Hebrew and English terms such as “two brothers,” “Temple of Solomon,” and Beit Mikdash but found nothing. We wanted to verify the story to be sure that we weren't imagining the story. We tried Bialik's Sefer HaAgadah[3] and Micha Joseph Bin Gorion's Mimekor Yisrael. [4]

Micha Joseph Bin Gorion retells the story as, “A story of the Temple.”   There are no comments or notes. This story was hard to find because the title does not mention “two brothers.”

We looked in the index of The legends of the Jews by Louis Ginzberg (1873-1953). The story is found on page 154 of volume 4. Ginzberg quotes Israel Costa in Mikweh Israel,[5] no. 59 which says that Berthold Auerbach refers to this legend in his [Black Forest] Village Stories[6]. Ginzberg further speculates that the author may have been drawing upon an oral tradition from the Jews of Russia or Germany. The legend seems to be a midrashic exposition of Psalm 133:1 (How good and how pleasant that brothers dwell together.). Ginzberg is not sure of the source. I was unable to verify the reference that Ginzberg made to Black Forest Village Stories, however I found another reference in a book about Berthold Auerbach[7] (1812-1882)  written by Anton Bettelheim (1851-1930.)   He remembers his mother (died 1852) telling him the story saying that she learned if from a rabbi who was her father’s neighbor.

In Zev Vilnay's Legends of Jerusalem on page 77, he says that Israel Kosta (Mikwah Israel, 1851) relates a story of the two brothers. Vilnay says the legend first appears in the description of travels by Alphonse de Lamartine, Voyage en Orient, I, 1875.[8]

Both Vilnay and Ginzberg are unsure of the exact origin of the legend. The story is definitely not from Biblical or Rabbinic times. It may be a variant on a Russian or French non-Jewish legend. 

Compare this to the evidence in Tanakh (Bible). In II Chronicles 3:1 it says that Solomon built the Temple on Mount Moriah, which was revealed to David. Moriah is connected to Akedat Yitzhak (sacrifice of Isaac). Midrash Tehilim connects Adam and Noah to Mount Moriah. The site had kedushah [holiness] long before the time of King Solomon. This conflicts with the legend of two brothers.

Here are some additional published versions of the story.

Glass, Meredith A.  A tale of two brothers: a retelling of a Jewish folktale for young children.  New York, Bank Street College of Education, 1998.

Hebrew folklore from sidrach stories / edited by Steven M. Rosman. New York, UAHC Press, 1989 p. 19-20.
Smith, Cris, One city, two brothers. Cambridge, MA, Barefoot Books, 2007.

 “A tale of two brothers” in Stories Seldom Told: Biblical stories retold for children & adults / by Lois Miriam Wilson. Wood Lake Publishing Inc., 1997 p 55-56.  

“The two brothers” in The World Over story book / edited by Norton Belth.  New York, Bloch Publishing Company, c1952 p. 10-12. 

The answer to the bibliographic quest is the legend is not rabbinic and even goes against Biblical and rabbinic evidence. There is no recorded evidence of the story before 1835, however, by the time Ginzberg wrote his Legends of the Jews the story was well known. There is weak evidence that the legend is from Russian Jewish sources. We also learn that bibliographic references must be verified since Ginzberg and Vilnay made mistakes recording the titles of books. This is not the final word on the source of the legend because I have not yet located any sources of similar French, Russian or German legends. From this quest we learn that we should be careful about what we call ancient, Biblical, Talmudic or rabbinic.

[1] Sources for fuller versions of this story are listed end the end of this article.  

[2] The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures / edited by  James Bennett Pritchard, Daniel E. Fleming.  Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 2010 p. 11.  (Page 12 in the 1958 edition.)  The British Museum web site has a summary of the story.   British Museum site has a picture of the papyrus scroll with the story :

[3] Full reference:  Bialik, Ḥayyim Naḥman. ספר האגדה : מבחר האגדות שבתלמוד ובמדרשים == Sefer ha’Agadah : mivḥar ha’agadot shebi-Talmud. vibamidrashim.  Tel Aviv, Diver, 1967 (and other dates)  English translation: The book of legends : sefer ha-aggadah : legends from the Talmud and Midrash   New York : Schocken Books,  1992.

[4] Mimekor Yisrael : classical Jewish folktales. Bloomington, IN, Indiana University Press, 1976.  Vol. 1 page 491-492, no. 270.

[5] Vilnay spells the name as “Kosta”.  Full reference: Costa, IsraelSefer Mikveh Yisrael : ve-hu sefer sipure musar le-ḥanekh et ha-nearim …  Livorno : Belforte, 1851.

[6] The book has several stories about brothers.  In one story the brothers are feuding over the estate of their mother.  They reconcile and live in peace on harmony the rest of their lives.  In another the brothers always helped each other.  In the last scene of the story the majesty of God’s glory descends on them.

[7]  Bettelheim, Anton, Berthold Auerbach; der Mann, sein Werk, sein NachlassStuttgart, Cotta, 1907 p. 13-14.  May be read on the Internet  Archive:

[8] Vilnay says that the story is on page 329 of the 1875 edition, but I was unable to locate this edition.  The book is a report of an 1832 journey that included the land of Israel, first published in Paris in 1835. I found via the Internet Archive (  an 1848 English translation published by D. Appleton and Company.  Front CoverThe title page is the picture at the beginning of this article. After the story de Lamartine comments on page 284:
 What a lovely tradition! How it breathes the unaffected benevolence of patriarchal morals! How simple, primeval  and natural is the inspiration leading men to consecrate to God a spot  on which virtue has germinated  upon earth!  I  have heard heard among the Arabs a hundred of such legends. The air of the Bible is breathed  in all parts of this Earth.

This was a widely circulated book in both the original French and translations.  Note that the story is identified as Arab, not Jewish.

In Studies in Jewish and World Folklore by Haim Schwartzbaum (Berlin, Walter DeGruyter, 1968)  on page 462 are listed more sources.  Schwartzbaum says that the story appeared in the Arabic book of legends, Kalib wa-Dimnah in the prologue attributed to Abdallah ibn Al-Muqaffa (died circa 760).   I was not able to find an English translation of this book online or in an accessible library.

Note:  Nov. 1, 2015  

This article seems to have a lasting effect on people  I was at a lecture this morning and I introduced myself to the person next to me.  He said that he knew me because he has often referred people to this article.  

Monday, May 7, 2012

Blog Statistics

Here are a few numbers

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Most viewed post: Card Catalog Drawers: 4038.

Thank you all and please keep sending comments and suggestions.

Setting an Example for Academic Research

In March I was adding the book, Introduction to International Disaster Management / by Damon Coppola[1] to our library catalog. Generally librarians do not read every book that is added to collection and the cataloger does not need to be an expert in every single subject represented in the collection.

Earth from outer space.
In a random flipping through the pages I noticed a chart, “Select Maritime Disasters…” on page 99 with Wikipedia listed as a source. First using Wikipedia as a source is a red flag.   We teach our students to use all the tools to discover information, but no teacher will allow an article from Wikipedia as a source for an academic paper.[2]    The chart on page 99 is for maritime disasters. It includes ships that were sunk as a result of accident, weather, and acts of war. I would not call war an accident. If one checks the full reference in the back of the chapter on page 137, the author claims the title of the article checked was "List of epidemics." Maritime disasters are not epidemics. When I checked the Wikipedia article on maritime disasters, I found many discrepancies between the facts in the book and what is in the article.  If the author searched news and other accounts of the disasters and made his own charts no references would have been needed. [3]

There is a place for reading and learning from general encyclopedias such as Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica. A law professor friend used Wikipedia to help provide references that he knew as common knowledge, but his publisher wanted a published source. Students may use an encyclopedia to learn general facts that help shape and focus their research.  They could also find sources and ideas more efficiently than some other kinds of searching.  Scholarly encyclopedias are written by top people in their field and the articles included are the equivalent of publishing in a scholarly journal.  These scholarly articles include bibliographies and are signed.

I did not review in detail all the sources in this book. The lists of references have a pattern of sloppiness and failure to understand the process of gathering and assimilating information to turn it into knowledge.  This is enough for me to put this book on the not recommended list. In general the citations in this book are imprecise and possibly wrong.

The author does not have the correct author format in most of the citations without personal authors.  For example he confuses concept of corporate authors and publishers. In other citation he fails to find the personal authors when they exist in the document. 

On page 134 of the list of references (2006) Cyberterrorism. Web site:

“” is a publisher.  On page 125 of the text the author quotes the FBI’s definition of cyberterrorism and the source is “”  This quote has been widely published and could almost be considered common knowledge. The author possibly could have paraphrased the idea without recognizing a source. This quote is in Denning, Dorothy E. “Activism, Hacktivism, and Cyberterrorism: The Internet as a Tool for Influencing Foreign Policy.” Info War Online. 4 February 2000; from  The original source was an article by Mark M. Pollitt,  “A Cyberterrorism B Fact or Fancy?” published in  Proceedings of the 20th National Information Systems Security Conference, October 1997, pp. 285-289. If Mr. Coppola wanted to give an adequate citation, he would have tracked down the quote as I did. 

Mr. Coppola’s second reference:

Air Safe. (2003) Top ten airline safety questions.”  

 “” not “Air Safe” is the name of the organization publishing the web site.  The author’s name is Todd Curtis.  Coppola not only didn’t record the correct author but did not even record the correct name for of the publisher. He also got the date wrong.  At the bottom of the web page is: “Copyright © 2011 – 2012” This is not 2003 as Coppola records.

The fourth reference:

Associated Press. (2005) Some deadly train disasters since 1900 (July 12).

The Associated Press is a distributor of news stores, not an author.  MSNBC as a subscriber choose to publish this story.  Since MSNBC does not have stable URLs, URL listed above no longer works.  Fox News on their web site (,2933,154497,00.html) has an article “Fast Facts: Deadly Train Disasters” dated April 25, 2005 that is sourced from the Associated Press.  The article is also published by High Beam Research (, but it is behind a pay wall. CBS News published the story and put the information in a chart form. ( They could possibly be the article Coppola is referring the reader to.  Since news media may give wire service articles their own headline and title, it is impossible to be certain what article Coppola is referring to the reader.  That is why quoting from an online news source is difficult or imprecise and needs a date of retrieval.  It is better to quote an article from an outline database because the reader is better able to check it.

A list of facts or a directory is not protected by copyright (see footnote 3).  The arrangement on the page may be protected, but the facts are not.  Coppola could have gathered the information and not credited any source.  His chart would be protected as part of the book, but not the actual fact.

Coppola’s list of references has several ways of recording of URLs for web sites -- sometimes it uses “www;” sometimes http://, sometimes both and sometimes neither.  While most of the time the “WWW” may be optional when typing a URL in a browser address line, if one makes a mistake between “HTTPS://” and “HTTP:// “ the user will get an error message. To help the reader who is copying and pasting, the URL’s correct protocol should be recorded. Evidently the copy editor missed this inconsistency. 

I don't even need to check every citation to see many more mistakes. "n.d." meaning "no date" is not acceptable for a citation While APA style allows “n.d.”; it is ill-advised.  . One can always make an educated guess for a date.  There are ways to make estimates of dates.

Coppola has one reference entered under “U.S. Government Accountability Office.”  The correct name is: “United States. General Accounting Office.”

Since web sites can change at any given moment, it is important to include a date of retrieval. If needed the searcher could use the Wayback Machine (Internet Archive  to view an older version of the web site.  It is always better to use stable sources so that the reader can do his/her own checking or follow up.  APA style does not require retrieval dates for articles from databases since one may also check print sources or another database.

On Apr 26, 2012 I heard from Pamela Chester, the acquisitions editor from Butterworth-Heinemann, an imprint of Elsevier, who acquired this textbook.   (I numbered the paragraphs and corrected her mistakes for easier reference.)  

1.  “I would like to set the record straight. The use of Wikipedia is not "forbidden" in academic publishing, as Dr Stuhlman contends. While it is not a source we recommend for high-level scientific or technical information, for facts that are common knowledge like historical events (including the list of selected maritime disasters this review refers to) there is no hard and fast rule about what source to cite, if any. It could be argued that no source is even necessary for such facts.

2. This reviewer is completely mistaken in his comments on Damon Coppola's use of the APA reference style, which is what we required for this book. If you consult any guide to this reference style, you will see that the abbreviation "n.d." (no date) is mandated for an undated source. Similarly, dates are not part of the citation for websites in this reference style. Mr. Coppola has scrupulously followed the requirements of APA in his citations. The book was also professionally copyedited before publication to ensure consistency in the use of this reference style.

3. His final comment is puzzling. Is this reviewer suggesting that we exclude material accessed via the internet from scholarly publications? That position seems to me untenable when such a wealth of sources is available online.

4. I would urge that potential readers make their own assessment of this book's content. It would also be preferable if reviewers read the book-something this reviewer admittedly did not do-and check their facts before posting responses on Amazon. “

As a librarian in academia I can assure Ms. Chester that teachers do forbid the use of most general encyclopedias including Wikipedia as sources in academic papers. Many teachers will refuse to accept a paper if the student quotes or cites Wikipedia. It has taken me years to convince faculty that students should be allowed to look at scholarly encyclopedias. Some teachers erroneously tell student not to use the “Internet” and I translate that to, “don’t use unreliable online sources retrieved from the Internet or any other source. “ Most faculty don't forbid materials published on the Internet, but limit the use of all kinds of biased and unreliable materials and information sources. Most teachers will tell students to use a variety of materials such as web sites, scholarly articles, books, and magazines. Since student think using a web search is so easy and retrieves lots of hits, librarians and other faculty have to teach how to use the results as a part of academic research.  Most students do not realize web searches only find a small portion of published information. 

Just because APA style is followed does not make it right. APA style violates several principles of library cataloging and hinders library searching. Library catalogers would almost never leave a resource totally undated. The only time something would be undated is when the source had no internal clues, was sloppily prepared, or the publisher purposefully wanted the work to have an ambiguous or unknown date. Even if the cataloger only knew the century, this would be recorded. Since APA style violates the idea of name authority, checking authors and name sources is not always easy.[4] Name authority is essential for distinguishing one author from another. Publishers are not authors; yet Coppola’s list of references frequently confuses them which means he did not follow APA style (or any other style.)

The bibliography is a record of the foundation an author uses for his/her work. If one chooses solid sources it is as if he is standing on the shoulders of giants. If the sources are suspect or incorrectly documented, I can not accept the work as reliable or carefully prepared. If I am not an expert in disaster management, I can only judge the book by what I am an expert in -- bibliographic information.

I did consult other librarians about the concepts of bibliography and references and they concur. The author and editors obviously did not consult a librarian or college professor. Potential readers could follow Ms. Chester’s advice and view a selection of this book via Google Books.   Elsevier’s web page for this book reprints several reviews of this book.  They are all descriptive and they could have been written from examining the table of contents and skimming the pages.  There is not one sentence of critical analysis of the book and its topic even the sources could be considered written for the disaster recovery professional.

I am not going to remove this book from the library collection because that would be an act of unsupportable censorship, but I did make a note in the catalog record that the book may be unreliable. Since students may want to copy an idea or example from a book, we do need to be aware that some books and publishers are more reliable than others.  It is the job of librarians and other teachers teach the critical thinking skills that will make students into critical thinkers and life-long learners.

[1] Full citation: Coppola, Damon P. Introduction to International Disaster Management . 2nd ed.  Boston [Massachusetts] : Butterworth-Heinemann, an imprint of Elsevier, 2011.

[2] I consulted with other librarians and faculty on this.  They unanimously agree that Wikipedia is not a good source for an academic paper. 

[3]  In a previous blog article published on January 4, 2011, “What is Copyright? Part 4 : What can you protect under copyright law?”  (http:// I discussed the case of Feist Publication, Inc v. Rural Telephone Service Co  (499 U.S. 340 (1991))  This case  decided that the list of names and numbers in the form of a directory are not protected by copyright.  While the case was dealing with a phone directory, I believe that lists of facts that anyone could gather from publicly accessible sources are not protected by copyright.  Had the author taken the time to assemble his own list it would not require attribution or a footnote.  Only if he copied the exact list and format from another source would attribution be required.

[4] The example I give is I have two children with names that begin with the same letter.  I would never want anyone to confuse a work written by one for the other.