Introduction to Midrashim: Technique, corpus and exegetical work


What is a midrash?
A technique for interpreting the biblical text, or a body of texts, or a literary genre, or a particular text?
Is it an intellectual phenomenon based on human rules, or a phenomenon of revelation in which God intervenes?
Is it a simple exegesis that fills in the gaps in the biblical text, or is it a work of rewriting, sometimes even fictionial? Where does interpretation end and invention begin?


The Aim of the course

  • Learn about the chronology of midrashic literature. The midrashic phenomenon covers a wide range of realities, from its appearance in biblical literature and the 2nd Temple literature to rabbinic literature and beyond. We must try to grasp these variations, changes and conceptions... we must proceed to a periodization of rabbinic literature.
  • Know the geography of midrashic literature (Palestine and Babylonia).
  • Know the status of this textual corpus: does it belong to the canon, or is it inherently outside the canon?
  • Understand the fundamental difference between halakhic midrash and aggadic midrashim.
  • Evaluate the authority of the various documents and their significance. What authority did the midrashim really have? Which schools? Which groups?
  • Familiarize yourself with the traditional Jewish exegetical approach.
  • Use Jewish literature profitably in Christian Bible studies.


Course Objective

The corpus of midrashim is extremely popular in Christian circles. However, midrashic technique and forms are often misunderstood. The goal is to understand the differences between halakhic and aggadic midrashim, exegetical and homiletical midrashim, midrashim and targumim. For Christian scholars or biblicists, the aim is to gain a better understanding of the techniques used and the authority of these texts so that they can be used correctly and wisely in Christian exegesis.

Prerequisites: minimal knowledge of Biblical Hebrew.


The plan of the course 

General introduction,“DaRaSH”

1. A genre in question

2. The aim of this course

3. The "DaRaSH" root

4. The polysemy of midrash


Part I. The midrash before the midrash


1. Intra-biblical exegesis

2. Intertestamental literature

3. The Gospel as "midrash"?


Part II. The halakhic midrash

1. Halakhah & aggadah: two basic concepts

2. The halakhic midrash

3. Mekhilta of Rabbi Yishmael and Mekhilta of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (Exodus)

4. Sifra


Part III. The Aggadic Midrash

1. Aggadic Midrash: Genesis Rabbah

2. Leviticus Rabbah

3. Aggadic midrashim in the Talmud

4. Midrashic passages in the Talmud 

5. Late midrash: Tanhuma and others