Midrash

Ken Litwak kdlitwak at concentric.net
Sat Nov 20 23:21:27 EST 1999


    Midrash is a term normally employed to describe rabbinic exegesis. 
Authors such as Jacob Neusner and Danile Boyarin have both written
aout.  In fact, I am still amussd by Boyarin's statement about defining
midrash.  Many works seem to talk about it and not define it.  So
Boyarin quipped that he saw little pont in not defining it again and
just went on, as other works do, to talk about it.  While it is
genreally applied to rabbinic materials, depending upon how one defines
it, similar activity may be seen among earlier Jewish authors, though
not to the extent used by the rabis of looking at minute items, as JIm
West pointed out.  

      As to whether it is superior or not to any other mathod of
interpretation is a can of worms I don't want to venture very far into. 
I would suggest this aout the two approaches you mentioned.
1.  Midrash may be guilty of reading far too uch out of or into the
text, implying much more than an author would have likely intended
(HMO)  It is my view that you cannot uild a whole doctrine solely upon
one word becuase language doens't focus at the word level ut the sentnce
or even the paragraph level.  
2.  The historical-grammatical approach errs in two respects, IMO.  As
far as grammar, it seems to assume, and this is an issue I welcome
discussion of here becuase it is very relevant, in thinking that you can
find a grammar rule that always determines how somethng shold be
translated with little or no regard or narrative rhetorical or
theological issues.  That is my compliant about the B-Greek list.  By
completely censoring all questions of interpretation, they present,
intended or not, the naive view that simply looking somthing up ina
grammar is sufficient.  Blass-Debruner-Funk/Gesenius said it, I believe
it and that settles it for me.  I don't think the B-Greek police intend
this, o r so one of the moderators there told me.  He thinks that no
oneis naive enough to think that being told what a word should mean or a
form should be based solely on a grammar rule. I say taht beginners to
the study of a foreign langauge do precisely that, and it is naive to
think otherwise. This is not to suggest that I think I'm smarter than
Gesenius or Jouon or Waltke- and O'COnnor.  It is to suggest that many
other factors may contribute to understanding how somehting is meant.
You cannot simply say, Bi means in or at or on.  It could show agency. 
It could convey othvey other uses I haven't seen yet,  I've done some
sizeable chunks of the 8th and 7th cent. prophets bu little in Job.  Bi
might function differently in that book in some cases.  
     Th toher, far more serious difficulty with the historical criticsim
is that naive assumption taht history is a science and taht you can have
totalobjectivity and neutrality.  It is to the credit of postmodernism,
whatever else may be said, that it has shown this view to be
inapprorpiate.  There is no such thing as a neutral, objective palce to
stand nor is it remotely possible to say "this is exactly how it
happened."  The attempts to go behind the soruces is an example of
this.  It is a QUixotic venture based on the premise that the historical
critic can deermine exactly what happened from a neutral standpoint. 
The fact is that no amount of posturing or professing of objectivity
makes any historical research neutral.  
    This is not to say that historical research is valueless, but that
it must be tempred with humility and a recognition that no
reconstruction is complete and that there is no such thing as history
written without ideology at work selecting, interpreting and sitting in
judgment upon materials.  

  Anyone want to discuss the integration of grammar with other issues in
forming an undestanding of a word in a text?  I know there are linguists
on the list who can proably talk aout this beter tahn I.  


Ken Litwak
Trinity Colleg/Univ. of Bristol
Bristol, England
(and Java instructgor in California)



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