Midrash is the name for the process and body of work that interprets and expands stories from the Bible. Midrash derives from the Oral Law of Judaism that dates back more than 3,000 years and is considered the mirror image of the Written Law.
In laymanís terms, Midrash fills the gaps or holes within the biblical narrative. Unexplained changes in continuity, peculiar grammatical syntax and other strange phenomenon in the Bible are addressed through Midrash. Some scholars have argued that The Book of Esther is the prime example of internal Midrash within the Bible; meaning that Esther contains allusions and innuendos to other biblical narratives that lead the reader to draw conclusions about the bigger picture.
Most Midrash is contained within the Talmud, a series of books that record the debates of learned scholars grappling with issues and nuances presented in the Bible. However, stand-alone volumes like, The Ancestors of Rabbi Natan exist from the same era, circa 300 C.E.
Midrash is the literary legacy of centuries of individuals relating to the Bible making connections that reflect their unique cultural contexts. By studying Midrash, the changing philosophies and values of generations are discovered. In addition, the pliable nature of the primary source and its ongoing relevance to the human experience is revealed.
Midrash springs from the Jewish tradition of storytelling. Every time we translate or retell a story from the Bible we are engaging in Midrash. By exploring every possibility that the text suggests our associative thinking unlocks new understandings of that text. Creative and nonlinear, Midrash is the soil that nurtures our need to ask why?
Interesting quotes about Midrash
Midrash is built on a careful study of the sacred text, raising both the implicit and explicit questions within the text. What comes out of this careful study, then, is the creation of a 'reworked text, ' aimed for either piety or practice that explains, reinterprets or adapts the biblical text for the edification of a particular community-
J. Ritter Werner, "Midrash: A Model for Fidelity in New Media, " in Paul A. Soukup, SJ and Robert Hodgson, eds., Fidelity and Translation: Communicating the Bible in New Media
The imaginative engagement with Scripture embodied in Midrash is a wonderful strategy for listening to Scripture in community. By hearing and filtering the reality of Scripture, Midrash lends meaning to the reality of our lives. Midrash allows multiple readings to exist side-by-side in this time of polarized and politicized readings of biblical texts?
- Cynthia A. Jarvis, "Midrash and the Recovery of Biblical Authority, " in W.H. Lazareth, ed., Reading the Bible in Faith (Eerdmans, 2001)