"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Monday, July 12, 2010

Thoughts on Midrash

Several books ago, I was introduced to the subject of Midrash. Since it was in the context of Jewish rabbis I took it as a foreign word and tried not to giggle as I had a sudden urge to scratch my stomach. So, yeah, I was late to the party since I only recently learned a bit about Midrash or

Midrash (Hebrew: מדרש‎; plural midrashim, lit. "to investigate" or "study") is a homiletic method of biblical exegesis. The term also refers to the whole compilation of homiletic teachings on the Bible.

Midrash is a way of interpreting biblical stories that goes beyond simple distillation of religious, legal or moral teachings. It fills in many gaps left in the biblical narrative regarding events and personalities that are only hinted at.

as Wikipedia so nicely puts it.

The two books I've posted on lately had stories from these rabbinical interpretations. Here is one from Original Sinners by John R. Coats on the story of Abraham and Isaac. The author is discussing this verse.

2 Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about." (Genesis 22)

and writes,

Classical Midrash suggests that the chain of words used by Elohim seem to be the record of a one-sided dialogue; they imply the attitude of the one being addressed. Using that implied attitude, they imagine a dialogue between Elohim and Abraham. Rashi's version of that dialogue is:

"[Take] Your son."
"I have two sons."
"Your only one."
"This one is an only one to his mother and this one [read, that one] is an only one to his mother."
"[The one] Whom you love."
"I love both of them."
"Isaac." (pg. 124)

In From Stone to Living Word, author Debbie Blue claims as one who is used to Christian commentary, she was "struck by how the rabbinic mode of reading seems to counter many of our idolatrizing tendencies" and quoted Susan Handelman in her book The Slayers of Moses who "discusses how the interpretive methods of Christianity were poised to go in a certain direction when it 'severed its ties with Judaism, [and] became allied with Greek philosophy.'" (pg. 50)

Seemingly unpropelled by the anxiety that often propels Western interpretation, the writers of midrash didn't fear the gaps or try to brush over them. The silences weren't locked vaults, but open caves....So they tell stories to fill in the gaps. Wild ones. About Og the Giant, the pursuer of ecstasy, condemned in the flood but clinging to the side of Noah's Ark. Noah pokes a hole in the side of the boat and feeds the giant to keep him alive.

The rabbis speculate about what exactly it was that Adam and Eve ate, or what Noah fed the animals, or what the fight between Cain and Abel was all about. Midrash doesn't consider this unimportant or silly or absurd. God speaks and pauses, and even the pauses are full of redemptive possibility." (pg. 56,57)

While I'm not so sure of my stance on Midrash, I do admit I love the thought that "even the pauses are full of redemptive possibility." Shows that God is merciful and loving and eager to redeem fallen creation.

What do you think?


sarah said...

I don't know anything about midrash wither but it sounds interesting. At least people were thinking about what was written.
However, I think there is a danger in trying to be too exact about the details (like what Adam and Eve ate).

My concern would be that in becoming too concerned with details (such as what Adam and Eve ate)the main principle of the lesson may become lost.

It would be interesting to read some of their ideas though.

Lat said...

The word Midrash sounds a little like Madrasah,religious school.I wonder if there's a connection there.Afterall some Arabic and Hebrew words do sound alike.Eg. salam and shalom.

Sounds like an interesting book to learn a little more detail about the stories of prophets.But it's hard to say how far one will believe all they say.Is it really important what our ancestor parents ate? It's not going to change anything.

I like your thoughts on redemptive possibility :)

Susanne said...

Sarah, I agree. It seems they just enjoyed discussing the nitty gritty. Like if no details were given they figured, why not make up something. It's like the non-details were starting points for possible good stories. :)

I think it would be an interesting way to understand how people of another culture and time thought.

Susanne said...

Lat, good point about the commonality of the languages there. Maybe there is a connection...hmmm.

"Is it really important what our ancestor parents ate? It's not going to change anything."

Ha! Good point! I guess they just liked being creative and thinking up possibilities.

Thank you both for your comments!

Amber said...

I've always sort of regarded midrash as ancient fanfiction. The readers wanted to know *more* about the stories, and they wanted to fill in the 'blanks' that they perceived. So they wove a story that fit what they had, but expanded it.

Susanne said...

Amber, I think Wikipedia needs to be expanded to include your thoughts on what "midrash" is. Makes sense!