Origin of the Sword in the Stone trope?
Many commentators have observed that the Arthurian and Grail legends, in all their permutations and incarnations, can be read on many levels: historical, literary, social, psychological, mythological, and so on. As this section of the blog might indicate, I have a particular interest in the intersection of notions of “Magic” and “Mystery” with the Matter of Britain.
In this context, I was recently reading From Darkness to the Light: A Personal Journey Through Kabbalah of the vein of Jewish mysticism known as Kabbalah, when I came across the following paragraphs by author Arthur Sherman (pp. 99-100) in a section discussing Moses at Midian:
There are numerous versions of the tale of Yitro’s staff and this seems to be the origin of the famous story of King Arthur and his sword, Excalibur. The Pirke of Rabbi Eliezer, chapter 40, tells of a staff, which Adam carried in the Garden of Eden. He gave this staff to Enoch who then gives it to Noah. It is passed from Hoah to Shem, to Abraham, to Isaac, and finally to Joseph. When Joseph died, the Egyptians sole the staff and brought it to Pharaoh where Jethro first saw and coveted it. When he is forced to leave Egypt, he steals the staff and plants it next to a tree in his garden. Jethro determines that the man who can remove the staff from the ground will win the hand of Zippora in marriate. Many men try but they are all unable to move the staff.
Zippora finally tells Jethro the story of Moses and how she has kept him alive all these years and she pleads with him to give Moses an opportunity to remove the staff. This staff which was made of sapphire had the four letter name of God, the YHVH, etched onto it and Moses had no difficulty in uprooting it, winning the hand of Aippora in marriage. In Midrash, Moses himself relates this story of Zippora and the rod to the children of Israel, and the basic theme remains the same.
Food for thought.