Writer of Short Stories & Novels
“Will You Meet Me There, Out Beyond the Bend?”
Nightmare
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“The Last Novelist (or A Dead Lizard in the Yard)”
Bifrost
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“In Memory of a Summer’s Day”
Mad Hatters and March Hares
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“The Last Novelist (or A Dead Lizard in the Yard)”
Tor.com
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“Love Engine Optimization”
Lightspeed Magazine 85
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“One Spring in Cherryville”
Available in most ebook formats
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“The Garden Beyond Her Infinite Skies”
XB-1
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“The Singularity is in Your Hair”
Cyber World
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“The Sounds of Old Earth”
科幻世界 (Science Fiction World)
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“The Problem of Meat”
Grendelsong
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“The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye”
Nebula Awards Showcase 2016
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“Demon in Aisle 6”
Nightmare Magazine 38
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“The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye”
World Chinese SF Association
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“The Thing in the Refrigerator That Could Stop Time”
Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest
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“Marie and the Mathematicians”
Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #26
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“The Writing’s on the Wall”
Farrago's Wainscot #5
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“The Sembla”
A Field Guide to Surreal Botany
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“The Girl in the Basement”
Hatter Bones
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“Saving Diego”
Interzone #221
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“The Spaces Between Things”
Electric Velocipede 17/18
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“The Girl in the Basement”
Apex Magazine, Vol 3, Issue 3
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“The Suffering Gallery”
Beneath Ceaseless Skies - Issue 57
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“The History Within Us”
Clarkesworld Magazine #42
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“The History Within Us”
The People of the Book
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“The Hands That Feed”
Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories
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“The Bricks of Gelecek”
Naked City
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“The Hands That Feed”
The Mammoth Book of Steampunk
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“The Suffering Gallery”
The Best of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Year Three
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“The Great Game at the End of the World”
After
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“The Sounds of Old Earth”
Lightspeed Magazine and io9.com
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“The History Within Us”
Clarkesworld Year Four
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“The Last Probe”
Launch Pad
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“Pheth’s Aviary”
Beneath Ceaseless Skies - Issue 133
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“The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye”
Clarkesworld Magazine #92
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“The Sounds of Old Earth”
XB-1 Issue 8/2014
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“The Sounds of Old Earth”
Космопорт (Kosmoport)
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“The History Within Us”
XB-1 Issue 11/2014
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“Cameron Rhyder’s Legs”
Clarkesworld Magazine #98
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“The Sounds of Old Earth”
Nebula Awards Showcase 2015
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“The Garden Beyond Her Infinite Skies”
Clarkesworld Magazine
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36 Days of Judaic Myth: Day 35, The Feast at the End of Days

To celebrate the October 13th release of my forthcoming debut novel, King of Shards, I will be featuring one new blog entry a day about a different Judaic myth for 36 days. Today’s entry is on The Feast at the End of Days.

Day 35: The Feast at the End of Days

Behemoth and Leviathan by William Blakea=

Behemoth and Leviathan by William Blake

On the day the Messiah will come to redeem humankind all wickedness will vanish like smoke from the face of the earth. That day, God will set a gigantic table inlaid with precious stones and surrounded by rivers of balsam, and there he will invite the greatest scholars and their students from around the world. Jacob, the patriarch, will be called to the table, because his name is Israel, because when the people of Israel suffer, so too does Jacob, the patriarch, because his name is Israel too. At this table, the righteous will feast upon the three beasts, Behemoth, Leviathan, and the Ziz. Some say they will also eat of the Messianic-ox, which dwells in Paradise, waiting for the End of Days, when it will be slaughtered and served at the Messianic banquet. 

God will offer the righteous a choice of three wines, citrus, cider, or grape, from fruits preserved from the six days of creation. It is said that this Messianic wine was only served once, when Jacob had no wine to serve his father Isaac, and so an angel provided him with some. On this day, God will leave his Throne of Glory and sit with all the righteous. With the skin of the Leviathan, God will make a sukkah, and the righteous will dwell there in holiness. The parts of Leviathan that are not eaten will be spread across the walls of Jerusalem, where the city will shine so brightly that the whole world will know its light. 

 

The Myth’s Origins

The book of Isaiah speaks of a great feast at the time of the Messiah’s arrival: “And in this mountain will the Lord of hosts make unto all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.” And Tractate Baba Bathra 75a of the Babylonian Talmud says, “The Holy One, blessed be He, will in time to come make a banquet for the righteous from the flesh of Leviathan; for it is said: Companions will make a banquet of it.” The same tractate also says, “The Holy One, blessed be He, will in time to come make a tabernacle for the righteous from the skin of Leviathan; for it is said: Canst thou fill tabernacles with his skin.” And again, “The rest of Leviathan will be spread by the Holy One, blessed be He, upon the walls of Jerusalem, and its splendor will shine from one end of the world to the other; as it is said: And nations shall walk at thy light, and kings at the brightness of thy rising.”

It is customary to recite a prayer at the conclusion of Sukkot that speaks of Leviathan: “May it be your will, Lord our God and God of our forefathers, that just as I have fulfilled and dwelt in this sukkah, so may I merit in the coming year to dwell in the sukkah of the skin of Leviathan. Next year in Jerusalem.” At the end of Shavuot, the commemoration of the reception of the Torah, Jews recite the Akdamut prayer, which among others things, states that Leviathan and Behemoth will engage in a fierce battle, but God will slay them both with his mighty sword. 

In some versions of this myth, the Messianic ox and the Behemoth are conflated; they are the same beast, and many depictions of the Behemoth are ox-like. According to the Midrash, the Behemoth can only be killed by the one who created it, i.e. God, and therefore he will slaughter the beast at the end of days. In other tales, Leviathan and Behemoth battle it to the death, killing each other. Since Leviathan, Behemoth and Ziz were often seen as a triad of beasts dominating the Sea, Land, and Sky, they were often grouped together. In scripture, when the Behemoth is mentioned, there is also mention of “wild beasts of the field,” which were interpreted as birds, hence the addition of the Ziz. Thus the feasting of all three at the Messianic banquet represents the complete dominion of God over the earth’s sea, land and sky.

 

Some Thoughts on the Myth 

As I’ve said in previous posts, I love mythical creatures, and here we get a myth that incorporates three of them. At the end of days, the righteous get to feast on these giant beasts. The significance of the feast itself is obvious: it’s a time for rejoicing, and God invites to his table those whom he sees as most worthy of his blessings. Namely, righteous scholars, i.e. those who have devoted their lives to the study of Torah. But why these beasts in particular? I think because these are creatures that represent our fear. Each rules one portion of the earth. The eating of them signifies dominion over them and thus the end of fear. The coming of the Messiah ushers in a new age where terror vanishes. We eat what once frightened us at the table of God. What more do we have to fear after that? But until that time, until the redemption, we must dwell in this earthly realm under the dominion of frightful beasts. Until then, wickedness rules the earth.

I find it fascinating that among the orthodox, prayers mentioning Leviathan and Behemoth are common. These mythical sea and land beasts, once believed to lurk in deep waters or stalk distant landscapes, are still vibrantly alive in this myth that persists to this day. Eventually, if we lead righteous lives, we will devour our fears at the table of God. What once terrified us will decorate our holiest city, so that its light may shine forth. The monster’s skin will be make into dwellings to protect us. It’s a powerful message of transformation of terror into peace. It’s no wonder this myth has persisted for so long.

Also, I’m kind of hungry now.

 

Tomorrow’s Myth: The Lamed Vav, The Thirty-Six Hidden Righteous

 


36 Days of Judaic Myth: Day 4, The Great Ziz

To celebrate the October 13th release of my forthcoming debut novel, King of Shards, I will be featuring one new blog entry a day about a different Judaic myth for 36 days. Today’s entry is on the Great Ziz.

Day 4: The Great Ziz

Leviathan, Behemoth, and Ziz

Leviathan, Behemoth, and Ziz

The Ziz is a bird as large as Leviathan. Just as Leviathan is the king of the fishes, so too is the Ziz the king over all the birds. Her ankles rest on the earth, while her head reaches into the sky. Some say Ziz is so tall her head ascends all the way to the Throne of Glory, where she delights the one God with her birdsong. If the Ziz were to spread her wings, a darkness would spread over the whole earth from her shadow. 

One time a boat, traveling in deep waters, came across the great Ziz. The crew saw that only the ankles of the great bird were under water and said, “Look, the water is shallow here! Let’s swim and cool our sweltering bodies!” But just as they were about to jump in, a voice boomed down from heaven. “Swim not here! Seven years ago, a carpenter dropped his axe at this very spot. To this day, it has not reached the bottom!” Then the travelers knew the bird, which they thought had been small, was none other than the great Ziz, which by a trick of the eye had seemed the size of a typical bird. 

When the Ziz unfurls her wings, she protects the earth against the storms raging in the south. Without her protection, the winds would pummel and destroy the lands of earth. The Ziz is normally very careful and protective of her eggs. But once she noticed that one was diseased and rotten. She haphazardly knocked it from her lofty nest, where it fell to earth. It landed in a forest, where it crushed three hundred cedar trees and flooded sixty cities. Seeing the destruction, the Ziz became more cautious of her actions, and none of her eggs have fallen since.

The Ziz is a fabulous singer, and it is said that even God delights in her melody. Because of her lofty perch, she is known as the “seer.” Her offspring do not hatch from their eggshells at the behest of their mother bird, but spring free of their own wills to fly about the world.

At the end of days, when the Messiah comes, all the righteous will feast upon the flesh of the Ziz — just as they will eat the flesh of Behemoth and Leviathan — in a great banquet as a reward for abstaining from the unclean birds. The Ziz will taste a little like this (zeh) and a little like that (zeh), and this is why we call her Ziz.

The Myth’s Origins

Three gigantic creatures appear in Jewish mythology. We often hear of Leviathan, who rules the oceans and was made famous in the tale of Jonah. We hear less often of Behemoth, first mentioned in the Book of Job, a huge land creature. But the flying Ziz is seldom mentioned, and hasn’t had much success sticking in popular culture, the poor creature, though a few children’s books have been written about her. The Ziz is mentioned twice in scripture. In Psalms 50:11, it says, “I know all the birds of the mountains and Zīz śāday is mine.” And in Psalms 80:13-14 , it says, “The boar from the forest ravages it, and Zīz śāday feeds on it.”

The story of the great bird is first elaborated upon in the Talmud, tract Baba Bathra 73b, which recounts the story of the fallen axe. Rabbah bar Bar Hannah, a Talmudic sage, reported many strange sightings in his journeys across land and sea. These sighting were often interpreted allegorically by future sages. The waters that appear shallow but turn out to be very deep is a metaphor for the Torah, the rabbis said. The Torah may only appear “ankle-deep” at first blush, but it is in fact unfathomably deep. The Ziz’s head that scrapes the clouds refers to the esoteric aspects of the Torah, the Kaballah. The voice, warning those frivolous seafarers not to swim in the shallow-looking waters is interpreted as an allegory warning those not versed in Torah from delving into its innermost secrets of the Kabbalah. The falling axe is seen as the Messiah himself, since he is known as the “axe of God.” The axe falls for seven years, which was interpreted as meaning 7,000 years, the time from Creation until the Messiah comes. The axe itself is the Messiah’s probing into the deepest secrets of the Torah, which are still ongoing. In the Messianic age the Messiah will reveal these secrets to humankind.

In some tales, the Ziz serves as a messenger of God and fate. King Solomon didn’t want his daughter to marry a poor man, which had been prophesied, so Solomon hid his daughter in a high tower. But the Ziz flew in a young poor man, and the couple lived together secretly, and eventually married. In another tale, the Ziz drops off a young Torah scholar into the hands of a Spanish princess, where they fall in love, only to snatch him away again after a while. Eventually, he finds his way back to her, but only after great effort.

Some Thoughts on the Myth

The Roc a version of Great Ziz?

The Roc a version of Great Ziz? (“Roc” by Charles Maurice Detmold)

Fantastical creatures of mythology always appeal to me. Like unicorns, dragons, sprites and dryads, the creatures of myth reveal another era, when the world was vast and mostly unknown, and magic lingered around the bough of every tree. We hear often of certain biblical creatures like Leviathan and Behemoth, but seldom do we hear of creatures like the Ziz. Perhaps the popular creatures represent some aspect of the human psyche, projected out upon the world. Unicorns represent uniqueness and purity. Dragons, rage and greed. Sprites and dryads our impish nature and lost childhoods. If so, then what does the Ziz symbolize? The ancient sages interpreted Rabbah bar Bar Hannah’s story metaphorically, as if he were speaking of a person’s investigation of the more esoteric secrets of the Torah. If so, it’s understandable why the creature hasn’t attained mass public consciousness: it wasn’t meant to. The Zohar itself, the chief mystical text of Kabbalah, is written in metaphor and subtext. Those ready to plunge into its study would be well versed in the notion of allegory. Coming upon the mention of the Ziz might serve as a warning to those metaphorically minded: “Beware! These waters are deeper than they look!”

But the Ziz is not only used as a warning. She shows up as a literal deus ex machina to alter the fate of people’s lives, as with Solomon’s daughter and the young man who married the Spanish princess. And with her huge wings, she protects the earth from tempests raging in the south. So she is both a protector and a symbol of fate.  

Little mention is given to what the Ziz looks like, nor how large her offspring might be. Some suggest she was griffin-like. Others depict the Ziz as a bizarre cross between a peacock and a chicken. Some have depicted her as a phoenix, with fiery wings. It’s interesting to note its similarity to other large birds of myth, like the mythical giant Roc.

While the Great Ziz has not found its place in popular culture like other mythical creatures, I still find mention of such an enormous bird in the Talmud immensely fascinating. Like the boatmen, I am finding the waters of myth in Judaism much deeper than I’d first imagined. 

Tomorrow’s myth: The Sabbath Bride