Daily Archives: 2011-07-22 23:33:41 UTC

Birth and Death of the Messiah: Two Jewish Midrash Tales

Galit Hasan Rokem

Galit Hasan Rokem: Image via Wikipedia

A Jewish professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Galit Hasan-Rokem, has argued that the Gospels grew out of a Jewish folklore-midrashic tradition. The Gospels are not written as folklore so there are obvious differences. And midrash has a variety of applications, but in general it is a Jewish approach interpretations of the scriptures that can be applied to a number of different literary genres with different purposes and for different audiences. The intent is to inject new meanings into scriptures, often by applying them to newly created stories or new experiences within the Jewish communities.

So the distinctive feature of midrash is a weaving of passages from scripture into stories or commentaries (or other) to explore new meanings for them. I will discuss the nature of midrash more fully in a future post, and will include one of the best explanations/definitions of it that I can find — a small passage by James L. Kugel in his book, In Potiphar’s House: The Interpretive Life of Biblical Texts. This will show more explicitly the extent to which the Gospels have been  influenced by Jewish midrashic thought and style.

Thomas L. Brodie wrote a small book demonstrating the way the Gospels structured much of their narratives of Jesus around the stories of Elijah and Elisha, but did not like to use the word midrash. The reason was not because midrash was wrong, but because it was too general to be particularly useful. The gospels needed a narrower definition to capture their nature. But clearly the midrashic ways of Jewish writing are found throughout the Gospels.

Rather than discuss midrash as it was known to ancient Jews and the specific similarities with many features in both the Gospels and epistles of Paul, I will just post “on record” two examples of midrashic literature applied to the folklore genre. They are from Galit Hasan-Rokem’s final chapter in Web Of Life: Folklore and Midrash in Rabbinic Literature in which she discusses three midrashic tales about the Messiah.

This way I will have something online that I can refer to when I do discuss the topic in a little more depth. But remember the following are midrash at work in folklore tales. The Gospels are not the same genre as folklore, but we do find the same midrashic features in them, i.e., retelling old scripture  passages and biblical stories in new ways.

Birth of the Messiah read more »

Who says, “There is no evidence for the historical Jesus” ?

If you follow the “it is ignorant to say there is no evidence for the HJ” discussion on Debunking Christianity you have already read most of what I post here.

John Loftus kicks things off with his OP in which he says:

I want to put to rest the ignorant claim that “There is no evidence for a historical Jesus.” There most definitely is. It’s called “confirming evidence” or evidence of things we would expect to find if there was a historical Jesus, and it is Legion.

Let’s have done with such an ignorant claim.

The debate is whether there is sufficient evidence.

I responded with an attempt to clarify what I see as a common but fundamental misunderstanding embedded in this comment. I joined the discussion late and wrote:

Beginning with the OP I believe we are confusing two quite distinct concepts: evidence and sources. I think this is one of the factors that leads to so much confusion and talking past one another.

It was once almost uniformly accepted by Old Testament scholars that the OT was “evidence” for a historical united kingdom of David and Solomon.

But a number of scholars beginning not too many decades ago attempted to point out that a mere claim, a mere story, might be a source of information, a claim, about historical events, but it is hardly the same as evidence for them.

These scholars turned to the way historical studies of ancient times were conducted by nonbiblical historians and drew clear distinctions between primary evidence (evidence physically belonging to the period in question: bricks in the ground, graffiti on an original wall, in the case of most ancient history) and secondary evidence: that which is physically subsequent to the events in question. The guiding principle was that primary sources must always take precedence and the secondary must be interpreted through the hard evidence of the primary.

But obviously in the case of Jesus we have no primary evidence, only secondary. read more »