Gal 3:16 as midrash (was...)

Christian M. M. Brady cbrady at
Sun Mar 11 20:40:38 EST 2001

On 3/11/01 1:35 PM, "John Ronning" <ronning at> wrote:

> Dear Christian,
> The fact remains,
> 1. If Gal 3:16  is midrash, then you should be able to find
> at least one practitioner of Midrash in history who would
> approve it as legitimate Midrash.  To the contrary, Gal 3:16
> has been universally scorned in rabbinic interpretation.

Why does one have to find " at least one practitioner of Midrash in history
who would approve it as legitimate Midrash"? What academic basis is there
for requiring such assent? And why would it make a difference? Presumably
you would just say that said practitioner and I were both wrong! Secondly, I
do not know of any rabbinic text which even alludes to Gal. 3.16 so how can
you possible say that it has been "universally scorned in rabbinic
interpretation"? (And again, even if it was, that would probably prove a
rejection of Paul's theology rather than his methodology.)

> 2. You should also be able to find a Midrash where the
> interpreter makes a point out of a word being singular where
> in fact the word is always singular anyway.  Your remark
> that "seed" is sometimes plural in the NT is disingenious
> since it is only plural when it means seeds that are planted
> in the ground; never when it means offspring.

I don't think that this is necessary to prove that Gal. 3.16 is an example
of midrash. That being said, Liddel-Scott also has other ancient Greek texts
(primarily poetry) where "seed" is in singular and/or plural when used in
reference to offspring.

>> singular or the plural grammatical form in order to refer to the collective.
>> (In fact, LXX uses the singular when it *could have* used the plural,
>> according to Greek usage.
> What is the basis of your statement that the LXX "could
> have" used the plural?  The Greek  is just like the Hebrew
> zera` namely a collective.  Where does the LXX use "seeds"
> when referring to offspring?

Following the use of Greek roughly contemporary with LXX the translators had
available to them the linguistic option of plural or singular. See my
comment on L-S. I never said that LXX used the plural to refer to offspring.
>> Not in the least! That is part and parcel of the midrashic genre. You can
>> have multiple and various interpretations of the same passage and all can be
>> "valid."
> Then you should be able to cite an example where a
> practitioner of Midrash makes a point based on grammar and
> then contradicts himself completely a few sentences later.

John, I do not mean this to sound harsh, but have you read any of the
rabbinic midrashic collections? For every verse (and normally for just a few
words) you will have multiple interpretations. Lam Rabbah has 34 Petichtaot
just on Lam. 1.1! Some of which are very long indeed. Now, most of those are
of the intersecting-base verse type of exegesis, but they all are based in
Lam 1.1 and vary greatly.

Now, finding an example... well I suppose it would depend upon what one
means by "based on grammar" (I know what you mean, but I am not sure the
rabbis did...) We can look to my original suggestion from Ex. Rabbah
referring to Ex. 15.1 (Soncino edition below, with notes from Davka CD). I
will leave it up to the individuals to interpret without my commentary.

One final reminder: we *cannot* define or confine "midrash" as en exegetical
methods to one, a few, or even 72 exegetical rules. It was extremely elastic
and much of what the rabbis viewed as "legitimate exegesis" would today be


Midrash Rabbah ‹ Exodus XXIII:14

14. Another explanation of FOR HE IS HIGHLY EXALTED. It is written, I have
compared thee, O my love, to a steed in Pharaoh's chariots (S.S. I, 9). R.
Pappus said in a discourse: ¹ To my steed¹ is written defectively2 until the
words, Hast thou the wind? Hast thou wings?3 Whereupon God shook them4 and
brought them forth from the wheels of the chariot and made them leap over
the sea. What is the meaning of ¹I have compared thee, O my love?¹ (ib.).
That the waves of the sea appeared in the form of mares, while [those of]
the wicked Egyptians were like


(1) This was the ancient belief.
(2) V.S.S.R. I, 9, § 4.
(3) After Pharaoh had exhausted all his weapons, God taunted him with these
(4) Jast. suggests: ixhyvu ŒAnd he made them fly¹--He brought the wind,
etc., direct from the Heavenly Chariot to discomfit the Egyptians; cf.
S.S.R. ad. Ioc.

               Ex. 291

stallions full of lust that ran after them until they were drowned in the
sea, as it says, The horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea (Ex.
XV, 1). The Egyptian said to his horse: ' Yesterday I led thee to give thee
water to drink, but thou didst refuse to follow me; and now thou hast come
to drown me in the sea.¹ The horse replied: ¹ Ramah bayam  (He hath thrown
into the Sea)--re'eh mah bayam, Behold what is in the sea!1 I behold in the
sea the height  (rumo) of the world.¹

Midrash Rabbah ‹ Exodus XXIII:15

SEA (XV, 1). It does not say Œtheir horses and their riders¹, but THE HORSE
AND HIS RIDER, to teach that God first cast their guardian angel2 into the

(1) A play on words.
(2) Cf. supra, XXI, 5.
(3) Regarding HORSE as metaphorical for the people, and HIS RIDER
symbolising their guardian prince.

cbrady @
"It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent
of your own ignorance."
--Thomas Sowell 

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