Midrash

Hebrew term for "Interpretation" or "Exposition." The word generally used for any written or oral commentary on a biblical text. The original purpose of midrash was to resolve problems in the Hebrew text of the Bible. As early as the 1st c. CE rabbinic principles of hermeneutics & philology were used to bring the interpretation of difficult passages in the literal text of scripture into line with the religious & ethical values of the teachers. This method of interpretation was eventually expanded to provide scriptural pretexts to justify oral tradition. Thus, midrash exposes the values & worldview of the rabbinic interpreter & audience rather than the original intention of the author of the biblical text.

There are two types of midrashim:

  • halakhic midrash [focusing on the legal implications of a biblical passage] &

  • haggadic midrash [non-legal expositions designed for general edification].

Haggadic midrashim may, like later commentaries, follow the narrative of a biblical text or they may be composed as homilies, following the lectionary cycle of the synagogue.

The literary production of rabbinic midrashim began during the period of the formation of the Mishna (2nd c. CE). The school of Rabbi Aqiba ben Joseph focused on the production of halakhic midrashim, while the school of his rival Ishmael ben Elisha tended towards a more haggadic form of exposition. Most of the midrashim underwent more than one revision. The homiletic midrashim were composed later, but drew heavily on earlier sources some of which are no longer extant.

Pericopes in this sourcebook were excerpted from the following 8 midrashim.

Title Exposition of Type Source Composed
Siphra ["The Book"] Leviticus halakhic school of Aqiba
begun by
Judah ben El'ai
completed by
cHiyya bar Abba
2nd c. CE
Mekilta ["The Measure"] Exodus 12-23 haggadic school of Ishmael 2nd c. CE
Siphre 'al Debarim Deuteronomy haggadic school of Ishmael 2nd-3rd c. CE
Bereshith Rabba Genesis haggadic Galilee 3rd-5th c. CE
Shemoth Rabba Exodus homiletic   6th-11th c. CE
Wayyiqra Rabba Leviticus homiletic Palestine 4th-6th c. CE
Bemidbar Rabba Numbers mixed   7th-12th c. CE
Tehillim Psalms haggadic Palestine 6th-9th c. CE

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