Page 16 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

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10
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
SCR IPTURAL INTERPRETAT ION
T h e type o f study which traces the interpretation o f a biblical
text through all these strata o f literature and on into Rabbinic
literature (including m idrash , talmud , targum and piyyut) and
Patristic literature , is called “comparative m id ra sh .” By fa r the
most exhaustive recent survey o f this type is the unpub lished
doctoral dissertation o f Steven D. F raade , Enosh and his Genera­
tion; Scriptural Translation and Interpretation in Late Antiquity (Un i­
versity o f Pennsylvania, 1980), on the h a lf verse, Genesis 4 :26b .
T h e great merit o f this type o f inquiry is that it illum inates the
evolution o f Scriptural interpretation and use o f specific biblical
verses over several centuries am ong Jew ish and Christian g roup s
located in quite diverse historical contexts. Its potential d isadvan ­
tage is that o f removing the individual unit o f interpretation , with
its own history o f transm ission, from the large r literary context in
which it has become em bedded .
In the Jew ish milieu, these larger literary units comprise Rab­
binic m idrash found in total collections with their component
parts . T h e ear liest Rabbinic m idrash co llections have been
categorized by form , style, technical term inology and language
into two group s : the so-called Tannaitic , or Halakh ic or exegetical
m idrashim (Mekilta to Exodu s , Sifra to Leviticus, Sifre to Numbers
and Deuteronomy) and the “classical” or homiletic, or Amoraic
m idrashim (Genesis Rabba, Leviticus Rabba, Pesikta de Rav Kahana,
Lamentations Rabba, plus the somewhat latter Tanhuma). Dating
and provenance o f the first g roup have usually been traced to
third-century Palestine; however, no one has yet re fu ted Ben
Zion W acho lder’s hypothesis that the Mekilta is seventh- or
eighth-century p seudep ig raph a . Dates for the second group are
d ispu ted , but a consensus is em erg ing that they are from fifth- or
sixth-century Palestine. An exam p le o f the widely d iffer in g op in ­
ions rega rd in g the dating o f m idrashic compositions is William G.
B r au d e ’s summ ary o f scholarly argum ents on the Tanna debe
Eliyyahu, a unique m idrash which can be p laced anywhere be­
tween the third and ninth centuries. Th e re is genera l agreem ent
that the evolution o f m idrashic activity and literature and its
collection in Palestine was probably due to the increasing com pe­
tition with Christianity over biblical interpretations.
Viewed in toto these collections contain very ancient anonymous
traditions, later traditions attribu ted correctly and falsely to ind i­