Page 15 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

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BARTH / MIDRASHIC ENTERPRISE
9
often attacked book The Literary Genre Midrash, has at least the
advan tage that it emphasizes that m idrash is abou t Scripture .
In Rabbinic u sage , the term midrash means the activity o f in­
quiry into Scr ip tu re , draw ing lessons from it fo r legal or ed ifying
pu rpo se s and also the literary collections in which the results o f
that activity are found . Modern New T e stam en t scholarship
needed to find an app rop r ia te term to describe the citation o f
S c r ip tu re by J e s u s , Paul, the Go spe l writers, and the early
Church . In the course o f e ffo r ts to describe the Jew ish back­
g round o f the Gospels, the term m idrash began to app ea r with
increasing frequency in scholarly and popu lar literature to mean
almost any statement from antiquity vaguely related to the Bible.
Attempts have been m ade to ju stify this loose use o f the term as
well as to severely restrict its application , both with an equal lack
o f success.
In the quest for identity, distinctions have been drawn between
literary techniques and pu rpo ses . Puns, word plays, examp les
and the like are common to many types o f literature . Th a t which
distinguishes m idrash is the special combination o f these tech­
niques in the systematic attempt to understand and app ly Scr ip ­
ture to contemporary experience , and to view contemporary
experience in a biblical perspective. Scholars have a rgu ed that
there exist p recursors o f m idrashic activity in the Hebrew Bible
itself, but we do not know how early systematic m idrashic analysis
o f the Pentateuch began . T h e origins o f the Synagogue are quite
obscure; there is little to suppo r t the traditional view that the
institution arose du r ing the Babylonian Exile as a place fo r re ad ­
ing and interpretations o f T o rah . We know almost nothing about
Ezra the Scribe, or what the au thor o f the book o f Ezra intended
when he wrote that Ezra p rep a red his heart lidrosh et torat adonai
— to seek the law o f the Lo rd (Ezra 7:10). Th e term m idrash also
app ea rs twice in II Chronicles, but its meaning is d ispu ted.
Apocryphal and p seudep ig raph a l works dated in the second
century B .C . retell biblical tales and re fer to biblical verses; the
Sep tuag in t, Jo se ph u s and Philo contain “ trad itional,” that is, very
ancient, interpretations; systematic meditation on biblical texts
and a type o f contemporary interpretative app lication app ea r in
the Dead Sea Scrolls; sim ilar and d iffer ing methodologies o f
biblical citation and interpretation are found in the New T e s ta ­
ment.