Matthias Johann Eisen and his coworkers defining the folklore on Seven Moseses


The article is focused on the folktale publication „Seven Moseses. An Attempt to Explain the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses” (1896) compiled by Matthias Johann Eisen. According to Estonian folklore, the original Bible contained seven books of Moses, and although the 6th and 7th were removed from the official version long ago, some of the copies are still in use – and there are a lot of folktales telling about people who own the book and the deeds they do with the help of it.

Eisen started to amass materials for his publication in 1893 – as usual at the time, he collected only some of the tales himself, while the rest were sent to him by local collectors who learned about his wishes from the texts he published in several newspapers. As the relevant texts recorded before Eisen’s project were really few, we can say that his project was not only about the book but also about defining a specific folktale topic as part of Estonian folklore.

Looking from this angle we can see that the vantage points of Eisen and the local collectors must have differed quite distinctly. In the writings of the collectors, the identity of the Seven Moseses is quite ambivalent and the topic has remarkably close links to other fields of folklore. Eisen on his part has tried to minimize those ambivalences and present the theme as something self-contained and independent – in his publication the tales are not embedded in the wider context of folklore anymore but are given an evaluative interpretation from the viewpoint of Christian morality.