Midrash and the Gospels 2: debates in the scholarly sphere

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by Neil Godfrey

(Added a paragraph commentary in the “proves historicity” section about half an hour after original posting.)

New Testament scholars do not speak with one voice when it comes to applying the word “midrash” to the Gospels. Some have resolutely opposed the idea; others take its justification in their stride. In this post I would like to demonstrate something of the fact of this diversity of opinion as I encountered it on a yahoo! group for informal scholarly discussion  about the historical Jesus, Crosstalk (1998/9) and its successor, Crosstalk2 (current).

The last exemplar I include is one that is argued not only Jack Kilmon (and John Spong), but also by Earl Doherty — though Jack himself may not like the association. But the argument almost necessarily follows in some manner from any proposition that any of the Gospel narratives are midrash.

That the Gospels contain/consist of Midrash

Jack Kilmon: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk/message/1490

I think the virgin birth thingy got started with the Matthean scribe in his zeal for OT attestation. Not being Semitic competent, the Matthean scribe used the LXX for Isaiah which translates the ALMAH as PARTHENOS. From that point, I believe the Matthean scribe was engaging in midrash.

Harry Staiti http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk/message/1713

>What are you if you do NOT belong to Christ but claim to be >Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise?

Because that is Paul’s midrash, that is Paul’s understanding. It is a radical re-interpretation of Torah.

Mahlon Smith http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk/message/2456

We know the Qumran scribes used midrash pesher techniques in interpreting the prophets. So Jeremiah would have given them plenty of reason for censoring the regulations that validated the sacrificial cult at Jerusalem: “How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the Torah of YHWH is with us’? But see, the false pen of the scribes has made it into a lie!” (Jer 8:8). If Jeremiah directed this charge at the authorities who controlled the Jerusalem temple even after Josiah’s reform, it is not hard to imagine the followers of the Teacher of Righteousness regarding this as prophetic justification for expurgating the Torah advocated by Jerusalem priests who rejected their leader’s interpretation of Torah & instead insisting that only his teaching (rather than the laws that Temple-based scribes ascribed to Moses) was the true word of God.

Similarly, isn’t that the real point of the almost rabbinic story of Jesus’ transfiguration? When Peter wants to venerate Jesus *along with* Moses (giver of Torah) & Elijah (the paradigmatic Prophet), a bat qol focuses attention on Jesus alone & proclaims: “THIS is my son! Listen (only) to him!”

Bob Schacht: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk/message/4183

At 09:30 PM 12/13/98 -0700, Philip B. Lewis wrote:

>Bob: Returning to the subject of Luke’s genealogy of Jesus, do you see any
>christological connection between Luke’s report of Jesus’ baptism and the
>immediately following genealogy which concludes with Adam, “the son of God”,
>since the baptism concludes with “Thou art my beloved Son, with thee I am
>well pleased”?
>Thus equipped, Jesus then begins his ministry, according to Luke.
>What think ye?

Dunno. But I have these thoughts:

1. The geneology you refer to above traces his ancestry from Joseph through king David all the way back to Adam, “son of God”. Never noticed that before.

2. In the opening verses of Romans 1, Paul describes Jesus as “descended from David, according to the flesh” (vs.3)” and “declared” [by whom, one wonders?] “to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (vs.4).

Thus, the descendant of David and Son of God is introduced in writing a generation before the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke.

What chance is there that Matthew’s and Luke’s birth narratives are basically midrash or haggadah on Romans 1:3-4?

The prime objection that I can see is that Paul presents here a resurrectionist adoptionism, whereas Matthew and Luke present, how shall I say, a conceptionist adoptionism? And then, later, present Mark’s baptismal adoptionism?

I don’t recall anyone connecting Matthew’s and Luke’s birth narratives with Paul’s intro to Romans before. Is there a literature on this?


Mark Matson: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk2/message/22626

Regarding Mark, I very much think he created the incident as a part of his broad midrashic imagination.

Leon Albert: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk2/message/5163 (see also http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk2/message/5199 in response to a criticism of the following)

With respect to the legitimacy of using the term, “midrash,” in the interpretation of the gospels, we are confronted again with the problem of mutivocality. Again, I’m afraid contra to Watts, an aspect of the meaning of “midrash,” according to the Penguin Dictionary of Religions is as follows: “Midrashic exegesis does not, on the whole, seek the plain meaning of scripture but the relationship between a biblical idea or theme and the very differ- ent social and cultural context of rabbinical judaism.”

With this aspect of the definition in mind, the contention that early jewish-christians went through the scriptures to find ideas that related to their own social and cultural context is to say that the producers of the NT were engaged in midrashic interpretation. Likewise, much of the text of the DSS is midrashic interpretation. Contrary to Watts’ claim that “Midrash…never involved the creation of episodes which were presented as recent history,” this is precisely what was done. The “social and cultural context,” i.e., recent history was creatively related to scriptural ideas and themes. This is not, as Watts appears to imply, some kind of outlandish concept. Jews, throughout their history, especially in times of crisis, and like every other people, turned to their mythology to explain, in a creative way, what was going on in the here and now.

Brian Trafford: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk2/message/8815

Brown, citing A. Wright’s _Literary Genre_ tells us that midrash is “a work (literally literature that explains literature) that attempts to make a text of Scripture understandable, useful, and relevant for a later generation.” (_Birth of the Messiah_, pg. 559). Using this definition, as none of the Gospels, nor Paul’s epistles were, in the 1st Century, Scripture, the Infancy Narratives are not technically midrash. But instead of explaining OT Scripture, the evangelists *are* trying to explain Jesus Christ by similar methods. Thus, they draw on the style of midrash, typically rabbinic homily based on a specific cited OT text. On this basis I would agree that Matthew in particular, with his multiple OT citations in his BN can be said to be making use of this technique.

Jim West: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk2/message/17210

midrash as interpretative key to the Gospels is, I think, perfectly legitimate. The question remains, though how Mark’s original readers would have understood it. Was his a Jewish audience familiar with the subtleties of midrashic exegesis or recently converted Gentiles who would know about as much about midrash as folk sitting in a pew on Sunday.

Gordon Raynal: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk2/message/22783

I do think G. Mark is the first narrative Gospel that we know of and I think 80 represents a good date for it. Starting from there we have 2 other accepted texts that show the very same creativity process quite alive and well! I think we can see in and between texts this kind of creativity going on.

> Were their authors’ literary geniuses doing something that had > never been done before, or were they following some known generic > conventions?

I think they are well described as literary geniuses. I think this kind of story creativity had long and deep roots, generally in all cultures, but specifically in the Hebrew Bible roots. The example I offered “in text” is the creativity we see inside the Exodus escape narrative. I continue to favor the call of this “midrash,” because it points to the core source stories and the way they were creatively used.


All those stories and yes, the healing ones, are midrashic creations plain and simple.  The key source for these stories? The Elijah/ Elisha cycle and the > midrashing of the prophetic utterances about such as “sight to the > blind, the lame walk,” etc. The reason for this important creation?  Because Jesus came to be understood as one like, but greater than Moses and Elijah and the authentic Jesus speech was about “the Kingdom of God.” Mix that characterization with those Scriptural  precedents and a good dose of theological imagination and voila…  two different sorts of “miracle traditions” were born: the Markan/  Synoptic form of a wandering exorcist who could also do Elijah/  Elisha like, but much greater feats (feeding far more; not making an axe head float, but walking on water; not calling down lightning, but stilling the storm) and the Johannine “Signs” type where Jesus is > decidedly not an exorcist, but does healings and other wonders as the agent of the New Creation (the Word made flesh).

Tony Burglass: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk2/message/22725

The literary form of the stories is often midrashic, and often relates to the Elijah-Elisha cycle

From a Stevan Davies post as found at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk2/message/17890

So we have Mark and that’s basically it. And we know, or should know, that Mark has cobbled together a bunch of sayings into a narrative of his own invention featuring a progression towards an execution that certainly wasn’t the main feature of Jesus’ life even if he keeps saying it will be. Along with a bunch of miracles that didn’t happen, and a long passion narrative (for which the life, famously, is an extended introduction) that recent authorities seem to agree is midrashic fiction. Heck, dear Bill Arnal concludes that even the baptism narrative is fictional. What the heck isn’t fictional in Mark?

Jeffrey Gibson: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk2/message/22646

Jesus never elsewhere casts anything he recounts, including, notably, /his other visions of Satan “falling” and at work in “sifting” God’s elect/, in anything like the form or the genre of haggadic midrash in which the “transmitted” report of his Wilderness “temptation” vision is cast.


In addition to the majority view that both Matthew’s and
Luke’s versions are derived from, and are dependent upon, both Mk.
1:12-13 and a dialogic narrative of Jesus being tested by the devil that
Matthew and Luke found independently of one another in a document of
some kind, we find other positions that break down roughly along these
lines:. . . . . . .

Luke’s version is derived from Matthew’s version which is an haggadic
midrash on the Biblical stories of Israel’s Wilderness testing something
that Matthew himself worked up without reference to, or use of, Mk.
1:12-13, even though Matthew was aware of, and elsewhere used material
from, the Gospel of Mark (a position advocated by W. Wilkens)

“Die Versuchung Jesu nach Matthäus”, NTS 28 (1982) 479–89; ibid.
“Die Versuchungsgeschichte Lukas 4, 1–13 und die Komposition des
Evangeliums”, TZ 30 (1974) 262–72.

Matthew’s version is derived from Luke’s version which in turn is
dependent upon a pre Lukan midrash on the tradition of Abraham’s tenth
testing that is preserved in Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 89b
(a position propounded by William Lockton, Robert L. Lindsey, and
members of the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research).

Karel Hanhart: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk2/message/11941

A point well taken The Rabbi’s wrote midrashim themselves, next to interpreting them. So did the authors of Mark and Matthew. It is important to realize that in the miracle stories we are dealing with ‘haggadah’, not with halachah – the exposition of the law. The haggadah is an endless stream of stories about the people of Israel all circling around the theme of the ‘haggadah sjel Pesach’, read in the night of Passover. Jesus’ teaching and deeds as well as his passion and resurrection were in their view part of that haggadah.


Mark was the first author to ponder the meaning of their destruction of the temple and the onset of a new exile in the light of Jesus’ message and his death on the cross and of God raising him from the dead. He found it in the Torah and the prophets which were authoritative both for him and for Jesus and he wrote a haggadic midrash on these passages – note Eron’s definition – to convey his understanding of Jesus’ death and resurrection in the context of Jerusalem’s fall.


In any case, my main concern is in establishing some kind of objective means by which we can evaluate a set of texts, and determine if there is a “dynamic intertextual relation” between them that we can then call “midrash”.

Brian responded with the remark:

> Thus far I do not see any such method, and I am hoping that Karel can
> provide this for me.

Karel responded:

The method may be learned through the study of the classical rabbinical midrashim and of Judaica in general.

I have given you the definition of midrash by Eron. [Neil’s note: see previous post for this.]

Moreover, I have already written posts re: some of the more important reasons why Montefiore suggested Mark wrote a midrash, to wit:

(a) that Mark used three key words from lxx Isa 22,16;

(b) that this Isaiah episode is written in the context of an attack on Jerusalem;

(c) that the three key words never occur elsewhere in Tenach nor in the Septuagint.

In other words: they are a HAPAX, quite characteristic of midrashic references;

(d) that Mark also referred with three key words to lxx Gn 29,2.3 (large -stone- rolled away) in the same epilogue;

(e) that Mark follows the structure of the entire passage in lxx Isai 22,15-25 in 15,42 – 16,8.


Putting it a different way, one cannot distil the practice of midrash in Jewish literature from an encyclopaedia. It is necessary to practice it. I am not an expert in First Century Jewish, specifically rabbinic, literature; far from it. I have studied it a number of years, however, at my Alma Mater, the U of Amsterdam, (- A’dam – the maqom for Jewish refugees and émigrés up to Auschwitz -) and in Jerusalem, as a preliminary to the study of the Gospel and the Epistles.

Besides knowing Hebrew and Aramaic, one of the first lessons to learn is to distinguish between midrash halakhah (precise ethical instructions for daily life) and the midrash haggadah (biblical stories of Israel, especially the story told in the night of Pesach). I am writing this off the cuff, of course. I emphasized haggadic midrash, because the rules for writing and detecting a midrash are less stringent in Haggadah. Mark, of course, wrote a Passover Haggadah, to be read next to the required readings from Tenach in the Passover season. One can be sure that these were read in the first century ecclesia’s

You were asking about the authors of my two citations re.midrash. The first definition was from the American, Lewis J. Eron, known for his efforts in Jewish Christian Dialogue; the second from J. Cl. Eslin, from “un dialogue chrétien-juifs”. Is it necessary, however, to keep on repeating the sources in a brief string of Cross-talk and keep on referring to my own work?

I am inclined to take my conservative colleagues seriously, simply because they – as well as I myself, take the letter of the text seriously. However, without being facetious, I believe one does well first to immerse oneself in rabbinic studies, before reading first century Jewish literature in Greek. That is why I start out by asking my colleagues in debate: “was Mark a Roman (Marcus is Latin) or a Judean author?” Most commentators agree the author was a Judean and many believe he worked in Rome.

In order to find a common ground for the debate I, furthermore, keep on asking” Is Mark literally citing lxx Isa 22:16 (tomb hewn from the rock) and lxx Gen 29:3 (large stone rolled away). Both expressions cited are hapax legomena in the Septuagint (the bible of diaspora Judeans), a sure sign that we have to do with a midrash; so also the opening verses of Mark. Practically no one in Cross-talk has answered this question either in the negative or the affirmative. It is difficult therefore to find the much sought after common ground in the present impasse of Markan exegesis.

Mark’s deliberate reference to the above passages in Tenach facilitated Mark’s first century Judean readers to distil his ‘secret’ message – rather the ‘mystery of the kingdom – through midrash. The method helped me to understand the ending of Mark (and of all four Gospels) not in terms of an “empty tomb”, but of the “open tomb”.

cordially, Karel


I believe both he and Crossan are working with the wrong assumption; Mark did not use this anti Judaic Cross Gospel; he composed the open tomb midrash himself in the wake of the trauma of 70 and this midrash contains a message of hope not of condemnation. I raised two questions re. the citation of Isa 22,16 and the grammar of “behold, the place where they laid him”. For I conclude Mark did not intend to convey a literal EMPTY tomb nor did he imply an unrelieved, utterly vindictive, divine condemnation of the Judean nation with Rome as the obedient instrument in divine hands.


Moreover, the healing stories (they almost always imply controversy!) should be approached as haggadic midrash.

Jack Kilmon: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk2/message/23578

I have long contended that the Matthean author. who spoke and wrote Greek, was not competent in Aramaic or Hebrew. I wonder if when he wrote (at 2:23) “And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene” When this author scanned the OT looking for prophecies and material for midrash, he used a Greek Septuagint. This is evident in:

Matt. 1:23 / Isaiah 7:14 – behold, a “virgin” shall conceive. Hebrew – behold, a “young woman” shall conceive.

Matt. 3:3; Mark 1:3; John 1:23 / Isaiah 40:3 – make “His paths straight.” Hebrew – make “level in the desert a highway.”

Matt. 9:13; 12:7 / Hosea 6:6 – I desire “mercy” and not sacrifice. Hebrew – I desire “goodness” and not sacrifice.

Matt. 12:21 / Isaiah 42:4 – in His name will the Gentiles hope (or trust). Hebrew – the isles shall wait for his law.

Matt. 13:15 / Isaiah 6:10 – heart grown dull; eyes have closed; to heal. Hebrew – heart is fat; ears are heavy; eyes are shut; be healed.

Matt. 15:9; Mark 7:7 / Isaiah 29:13 – teaching as doctrines the precepts of men. Hebrew – a commandment of men (not doctrines).

Matt. 21:16 / Psalm 8:2 – out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou has “perfect praise.” Hebrew – thou has “established strength.”

I think Matthew came upon Judges 13:5 in Greek in his LXX:

“For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazirite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines”

…and he thought he struck gold. It starts out the same way as Isaiah 7:14 and here was a “deliverer” (Messiah) and the Philistines were the Romans. In Greek Nazirite” is ναζιραῖον and Nazarene was Ναζωραῖος. We are only talking about the difference between an omega and iota. In Hebrew, however, someone from Nazareth × Ö°×¦Ö¸×¨Ö¶×ª was a × Ö¸×¦Ö°×¨Ö´×™ with a TSADE instead of a zayin. Greek had no letter for the sound of tsade so NATZRET (Nazareth) became Ναζαρὲτ. Matthew was home free. He could roll in another Old Testament prophecy that talked about Jesus. That Matthew went to all of this trouble suggests to me that this family did live in Nazareth which at the time was more of a camp or small hamlet for the farm workers and for a family engaged in the building skills (tektons) who would have had lots of work in Sepphoris, a city being rebuilt by Herod Antipas.

If I were to extract what was historical, it would be this family lived either in Bethlehem or in Jerusalem (more likely) where Joseph had a house, perhaps the house in the Upper City where the “Last Supper” Passover Seder was held. It was, after all, the headquarters for James for the next 30 years. It would not be until Jesus is about 12 when Antipas began the construction projects in Sepphoris. This would be the same time the young Jesus went to the temple with his parents because 12 is the “Age of discernment and taking vows.” Then the family left Jerusalem and Judea (ruled by a nutty Archelaus) and went to Nazareth to work in Sepphoris. Luke places the birth in Jerusalem where Jesus “Grew and waxed strong” in Chapter 1 and then the move to Nazareth in Chapter 2. I think the birth in Bethlehem is completely midrashic. Roman census law only dictated that a property owner return to the city of that property to register its value for tax. No journey to Bethlehem with a 9 month pregnant teenager knocking around on a donkey (which would have been catastrophic), no flight to Egypt. If Joseph had to go to Jerusalem to register the value of his house, he took the bus all by himself.

We do not know for certain what the origin of “Nazarenes” is. I think it most likely arose from Isaiah 11:1 “netser” (branch) because it is “netseraya” in Aramaic which perfectly distills to Greek transliteration as Ναζωραῖος, Ναζωραίων.

That Midrash supports historicity

Karel Hanhart: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk2/message/22839

If the Gospel author, say Mark, didn’t want his miracle story to be taken literally, he should make that clear to his readers. The story should in some way be true to what Jesus taught and did.  That’s how I began to explore the possibility of midrash.  Take the story of the man with the withered hand (3,1ff).  “Withered”or “dried up” is a strange way of naming a disease. The  reaction of the Pharisees and the Herodians is absolutely  outrageous after a healing (3,6!). So the exegete asks himself –  why would Mark want to write such an illogical story (not taking the easy way out of a later insertion into the text which in turn is outrageous).

1. In midrash one searches the scripture when meeting a conundrum of this kind. Midrash should be controlled by rules. In this case there is only one incident in the LXX where a hand (or arm) is “withered” (LXX: 1 Ki 13,4). In Bethel the arm (hand – yad) of the king of the Northern kingdom “withered” ordering the prophet from Judah to be seized. It is a hapax, a sure clue in midrash.

2. In the first century the Northern kingdom of old was associated with the Samaritan region.

3. Jesus’ attitude toward Samaritans varied favorably a good deal from that of the Pharisees and of Judeans in general.

4. The story, therefore, isn’t illogical at all; all the more since in Mark’s days a good number of Samaritans joined the ecclesia. Conclusion: Mark did indeed make something clear to his readers. The story teaches a fundamental aspect of Jesus’ actual teaching. It tells of how Samaritans were “healed”. And it also explains why the reaction of the opponents was so strong even outrageous. One may have second thoughts about this reaction – as I did at length elsewhere – but the exegesis meets the requirements of historicity and symbolism.

The healing was miraculous though not magical. > cordially Karel Hanhart

John E. Staton also says midrash establishes historicity: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk2/message/22735

Indeed, if Jesus had not done some “deeds of wonder”, why would anybody have picked out such a nobody to make a midrash of the Elijah-Elisha cyc;e of? Indeed, I believe this is James Dunn’s strongest point: that *something* must have happened to cause people to say these things about Jesus.

Tony Burglass: Midrash neither suggests fiction or facthttp://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk2/message/19247

I have no problem reading the infancy gospels as midrashic. They express a legitimate theological point of view through the use of legends. This means that they were not invented by eyewitnesses purporting to report exactly what had happened in their presence. Those stories are pious legends. They have very little, if any, historical value. Their value is theological. ..[snipped] If, on the other hand, the disciples are honest enough to admit, in a coded language, that no such prediction has taken place, then I would speak of a “theological event” instead of a midrash. A theological event is an event that has no historical reality.

You’re making a distinction here *within* what has often been described as midrash, and a distinction which I have touched upon in other discussions by referring to midrash as “the new myth”. Briefly, when Bultmann identified material which he believed to be mythological, he assumed it was therefore not historical – mythological could not be historical. Wolfhart Pannenberg argued however that one of the distinctive features of Hebrew thought was its ability to use historical events in a mythological way. The exodus from Egypt was a historical event, albeit probably not in the form of the story in the book – Hebrew tribes did leave Egypt. Whatever the true historical nature of that event (where it happened, how many or few of the tribes were involved, etc) something happened which in Hebrew awareness became the mythological foundation of their identity as the nation of Israel. He concluded that just because an account was mythological, it is not impossible that the story was based on a historical event of some kind. Midrash seems to have become a popular word in the last ten years or so of NT scholarship, and has carried the assumption that any story which is midrash is therefore not at all historical. Personally, I think that is too sweeping an assumption, and each instance needs critical examination to clarify.

So your distinction between midrash and theological event is helpful in itself, but of course begs the question that lies behind my comments above – how do we determine whether there was any event behind the midrashic account?

(This is clearly a sensitive point for some who oppose the idea of midrash as we can see from some of the comments. Some fear a “Spongian” midrash that means probably nothing in the story is historical, yet this is clearly the case for the midrash narratives other disciples describe, too. I think this fear exposes the sand of assumption that the historical Jesus is built upon. The midrash offers an explanation for the stories that cuts away any point to that assumption.)

Opposed to use of Midrash in relation to the Gospels

Ricki Watts: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk2/message/5170

Re Midrash, see P. S. Alexander, “Midrash and the Gospels” in C. M. Tuckett, ed., Synoptic Studies(Sheffield: JOST, 1984) 1-18, and “Midrash” in R. J. Coggins and J. L. Houlden, eds., A Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, (London and Philadelphia: SCM and TPI, 1990) 452-9. See also Neusner, Invitation to Midrash, where he sees Midrash working in three dimensions: an explanation imputed to particular verses of Scripture (= fixed canonical text), a mode of stating important propositions, syllogisms, in conversations with verses or sustained passages of Scripture, third, as a way of retelling (ancient) scriptural stories that imparts new immediacy to these stories. On this reading, I’d be hard-pressed to see how one could describe the Gospels in this fashion.

Later Leon Albert conceded: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk2/message/5231

I’ll concede that the term Midrash has been incorrectly, or at least too loosely, used. It does have, as you indicate, a precise technical meaning in that it applies to a particular technique developed *within* rabbinic Judaism.

Eric Eve: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk2/message/11893

Simply as a genre, therefore, rabbinic midrash looks nothing like the Gospels. Neither is there any obvious parallel in the method of composition.

Mike Grondin: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk2/message/17274

> But really what we should do is that everyone interested in this > thread should read Philip Alexander’s paper on this subject, > online at http://www.cloudsmagazine.com/12/Philip_S_Alexander_Midrash_and_the_G ospels.htm

Relevant, yes, but Alexander’s paper is primarily directed at Goulder’s contention that Matthew was midrash on Mark. Karel’s contention, however, is of a different order – namely, that Mark was Haggadic midrash on the Tanakh. (If you ask me, neither one holds water, but I won’t get into that here.)

John Poirier: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk2/message/17306

Your terminology is confusing me, because you seem to be equating interpreting Bible verses midrashically with “writing midrashim”, which is way out of bounds as far as ordinary usage is concerned. Speaking the way most people use these terms, there *is* a growing number of scholars who acknowledge that the evangelists interpreted the OT along the lines of midrashic conventions, but it is *not* true that these scholars think that the evangelists “wrote midrashim”. (If I occasionally use philology in my writings, that does not mean that I “write lexicons”.)

Daniel Grolin: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk2/message/22729

I would like to object to the proposition that the literary form of the stories are “often midrashic”. Not because it isn’t true, but because it isn’t helpful. The manner in which the term is used is simply too broad.

Strack and Stemberger state (“Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash”, p. 235) that Midrash cannot really be defined, only described (which is at the heart of the problem), and they do so as follows: “a literature, oral or written, which stands in direct relationship to a fixed canonical text …” This furthermore includes not only the text as they stand, but also the events they refer to. Of course, taking the terms so broadly you might call the Gospels midrash, but that is hardly helpful. Almost any surviving Jewish text (and a great many Christian) can be termed midrash. In other words Midrash is just “intertext”. I object to the use of Midrash, because it seems to imply that there is Jewish/Israelite literature that does what the Gospels supposedly did by adopting stories from the Elijah-Elisha cycle (and call it “midrash”). As far as I have been able to learn that is not the case. The Gospels do have something that looks like a form of Midrash, namely Pesher.

Mark Goodacre: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk2/message/19843

there are some who continue to use “midrash” in a casual, cliched way with no understanding of the rabbinic literature.

Ken Litwakhttp://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk2/message/22780

This implies that the gospels were written according to established principles of well-recognized genres. Otherwise, their audiences, from Rome to Ephesus, would have had no idea what they were or how to read them. So, with reference to your view,

1. Name for me the principles or elements of midrash that a first-century audience, either Jewish, Gentile, or mixed, would have clearly recognized. I can do that for Bios or historiography but midrash I can’t.

2., Can you tell me the Second Temple models (excluding the Scriptures of Israel) that would have been well-known as examples of midrash and that look like the gospels?

3. What are the examples of midrash form prior to the first-century A.D., known across the empire, that feature a Jewish sage who looks like a cynic and nothing else?

4. You point to the Scriptures of Israel as themselves being examples of midrash. Since you cannot point to the story that lies behind the Exodus story and the like so that we can see clearly exactly how those original stories were modified and turned into fictional accounts that bear no relation to anything that ever happened, much as you seem to think the gospels are pure fantasy or close enough that they are useless for learning anything about any real event. That is what I gather you have been saying in your various posts. Why is it that Jesus’ contemporaries don’t seem to have recognized the Exodus story as a fictional account based on some other story? What a modern rabbi might have to say is not relevant for how the text was understood by first-century Jews or Gentiles. Indeed, it seems rather odd that Josephus would rely upon what you consider total fiction in his efforts to defend the Jews as a noble and ancient race. Ken Litwak

Arguing the toss

Ken Olson: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk2/message/19684

Goulder gave the Chronicler as his model on the first page (p. 3) of _Midrash and Lection in Matthew_ in 1974. Goulder used the term “midrash” in MLM in the sense it was generally used at the time to describe the way the Chronicler used Samuel-Kings, or Josephus and Pseudo-Philo used the Deuteronomistic History in writing the Antiquities and the LAB. Philip Alexander severely criticized Goulder for his use of the term “midrash” by arguing that the term ought to be restricted to rabbinic midrash of the Talmudic period. Since then the type of composition employed by the Chronicler, Josephus, and Pseudo-Philo has come to be more commonlky known as “the re-written bible.” Goulder now generally uses the less specific term “creativity” to avoid offending those who feel the term “midrash” may be used only to refer to “rabbinic midrash.” I personally like to call it “the art formerly known as midrash.” Many still call the creative use of scripture “midrash.” See, for example, H. P. Mathys on Chronicles in The Oxford Bible Commentary (eds. J. Barton and J. Muddiman, 2001): “The Chronicler’s use of sources can more or less be described as a midrash, Targum, or ‘the re-written Bible’.” It doesn’t really matter if we call it midrash, re-written Bible, or Shirley. The fact (or accepted theory) is that this was a method of composition used by Jews in the Second Temple and early Rabbinic periods.

Gordon Raynal answers Daniel Grolin: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk2/message/22730

While you find midrash too broad and an unhelpful way to categorize the story writers imaginative process, I will simply have to disagree. One can see this process within the confines of the Hebrew Scriptures (look at the Flight from Egypt narrative as a prime example (the layers of early and later story telling that are in the received text we have and then the various ways the story is played over in the Psalms, the Prophets and then the extra Biblical writings). I find this sort very illuminative of the story telling traditions and the connections to the Gospels are blatantly obvious in many ways. Take, for example, the opening movements in the Synoptic stories of Jesus… Israel of old went to the waters, passed through the waters, spent 40 years in the wilderness, entered the land in triumph/ Jesus the Christ recapitulates this movement in Mark’s Gospel… to the river, through the river, 40 (days not years) in the wilderness and then he enters the land victoriously casting out demons, not Canaanites. The play over plot framings, particular stories, particular theological and ethical and communal issues is directly related to this old, old pattern of story telling which we clearly can see within the bounds of TANAK and then see practiced, for example, from Mark to Matthew and Luke. So we will have to disagree here

Karel Hanhart replies to Mike Grondin‘s objections: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk2/message/17262

Karel: Here lies the crux of our misunderstanding, I think. Are you not confusing midrash (in our case haggadic midrash – generally, a Judean method of searching the Scriptures -) with the specific midrashim of rabbinic tradition? The Mishnah is, of course, a post-70 record of rabbinic tradition with a core of pre-70 material. Midrash in general, however, may be described as “the authorities word of God through the lens of a specific and/or special concern that may or may not be explicitly referred to in the text. In the relationship between the original text and the focussing event and/or concern, the meaning of the original text is expanded and the significance of the focussing event and/or concern is underscored.” Moreover, this questioning of Scripture “opens the heart by bringing together several texts which clarify the meaning through successive keys.” Thus Matthew 21:1-17 (and also Mark 11:1-11) should be described as haggadic midrashim.

Mike wrote: > concede that the term Midrash haher supported by the fact that Spongian-type-midrash seems applicable only when the event in question didn’t actually happen as described.

Karel: As stated, I haven’t read Spong, so I dont know his interpretation of the specific texts of Mark’s entry narrative as well as the open tomb narrative (referred to in the earlier contribution). I’d like to know! Does he regard Mark’s tomb narrative as a midrash on lxx Isa 22,16; Isa 33,16 and lxx Gen 29:3 or not? Can anyone tell me? We should be on our guard to categorize interpreters in “Spongian”, “Grondian”, “Hanhartian”, or “Bultmannian” groups; let us stick to the text. The text reveals whether or not we are dealing with a midrash inviting the reader to understand its message in a metaphorical sense in the light of a Scripture passage.

Mike: > J did actually enter Jerusalem on the colt of an ass …>

Karel: It is possible that Jesus entered Jerusalem seated on an ass. One might suppose his disciples did likewise. Would Jesus alone, however, have been riding a colt? Or were all riding on colts? Here is where the difference between ‘proof-text’ and ‘midrash’ creeps into the argument.

Mike continued: …, and if his disciples and/or others in the crowd did shout something like the > hosannas, then the use of Zech 9:9 is evidently “proof-texting” > rather than Spongian-type-midrash.

Karel: Do you understand the difference? You say, Jesus was riding on a colt and the disciples were actually shouting bible passages. I say: any first century reader would be struck by the word “colt”. A Judean outsider, reading the text as if it were a journalistic report of Jesus’ entry, would wonder what happened to the mother ass (Mt 21:2) and ask if the disciples were also riding colts? However, a (christian) Judean reader of Mark would have recognized the reference to Zechariah at once, understanding the entire episode (of the entry into Jerusalem and then straight on to the temple) should be understood in the light of Zechariah’s prophecy. Matthew made Mark’s implicatin explicit on behalf of his wider audience. Mind you, the readers of Mark and Matthew were first of all post-70! Judean readers.

Bob Schacht responds to Alexander’s objections: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk2/message/19836

In the wake of the recent thread on Midrash, I promised that before commenting further, I would (re-)read Philip Alexander article on Midrash. I have done so– more on that, anon. Suffice at present to say that those who use Alexander’s article only as an excuse not to think about Midrash in connection with NT studies are depriving themselves of a deeper understanding of that collection of literature.

Roberta C. Allen http://www.kton.demon.co.uk/intro.htm also responds to Alexander’s objections:

Philip S. Alexander, ‘Midrash’, in DBI pp. 452-459, p.457. In his article Alexander restricts ‘midrash’ to rabbinic Bible exegesis which was obviously later than the Gospels but it is generally accepted that midrashic techniques, by whatever name, are much older. A technique similar to that described as petihah can in fact be found in 11Q Melch from Qumran. which plays off Lev.25.13 against Is. 61.1f. The fact that there are no scriptural citations in John’s text poses no severe problem for as H, W. Basser notes “a curious feature of Rabbinic midrash” is that “early sources often sermonize upon Scriptures without ever citing them.” Herbert W. Basser, “Midrashic Form in the New Testament: A Study in Jewish Rhetoric of Likes and Opposites” Internet Article The Ioudaios-L Discussion List Page(Nov.98),

Mark Goodacre: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk2/message/5206

Drawing attention to this issue, stressing *recent history*, is arguably the strength of David Wenham and R. T. France, _Gospel Perspectives Vol.3 Studies in Midrash and historiography_ (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1983). The book was aimed at the move in the 1970s, especially in the UK, to describe all sorts of diverse material as “midrash”, with a special focus on the work of Michael Goulder and John Drury.

I agree on the importance of Philip Alexander’s work. One should perhaps note that as a result of Alexander’s work in this area, Goulder actually *withdrew* his use of the term “midrash” to describe the creative work he saw the evangelists doing. Nevertheless, he did not change his view on the activity, arguing that the general process of creative expansion and embellishment of texts was widespread (see _Luke: A New Paradigm_ (JSNTSup, 20: Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), especially pp. 123-8).

Goulder not wanting to offend the purists: one source is http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk2/message/19676

It’s important to note what it is that Goulder backtracked on. He argued in _Luke: A New Paradigm_ that he had been right about the content of his work on the evangelists’s creativity / embellishment, but that he was withdrawing the use of the term midrash because he had no wish to offend what he called “the purists”. But his views were unchanged. It might sound like a small point, but it is an important one because it would be a mistake to think that Goulder had changed his mind on the creativity of the evangelists.

Ken Olson: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk2/message/19684

Goulder gave the Chronicler as his model on the first page (p. 3) of _Midrash and Lection in Matthew_ in 1974. Goulder used the term “midrash” in MLM in the sense it was generally used at the time to describe the way the Chronicler used Samuel-Kings, or Josephus and Pseudo-Philo used the Deuteronomistic History in writing the Antiquities and the LAB. Philip Alexander severely criticized Goulder for his use of the term “midrash” by arguing that the term ought to be restricted to rabbinic midrash of the Talmudic period. Since then the type of composition employed by the Chronicler, Josephus, and Pseudo-Philo has come to be more commonlky known as “the re-written bible.” Goulder now generally uses the less specific term “creativity” to avoid offending those who feel the term “midrash” may be used only to refer to “rabbinic midrash.” I personally like to call it “the art formerly known as midrash.” Many still call the creative use of scripture “midrash.” See, for example, H. P. Mathys on Chronicles in The Oxford Bible Commentary (eds. J. Barton and J. Muddiman, 2001): “The Chronicler’s use of sources can more or less be described as a midrash, Targum, or ‘the re-written Bible’.” It doesn’t really matter if we call it midrash, re-written Bible, or Shirley. The fact (or accepted theory) is that this was a method of composition used by Jews in the Second Temple and early Rabbinic periods.

Schacht and Raynal debate: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk2/message/22751

Bob Schacht objects:

My objection is not with the idea that we have intertext in the Gospels, my objection is that using “midrash” will appear to suggest that we are dealing in genre. Phrases like a “type of literature” or speaking of this or that as “being” midrash. On the other hand it is fair to speak of pesher as a genre and to point out the clear similarities in method used by authors of DSS and the evangelists, I think is entirely appropriate.

Gordon Raynal responds:

Interesting way of putting this. You’re worried about “will appear to suggest we are dealing in genre….” Haggadah midrash is one kind of creative interpretation process and I’m using it in that sense. The genre is “gospel,” of course. The key issue is what is the nature of these things called “gospels?” Are they essentially biographical in nature, rooted in “witnesses” reports that are shaped by theological and ethical teaching considerations? Or are they creative, imaginative theological/ ethical proclamation works essentially rooted in a whole matrix of different sources which include remembered words, memories of the times, theological characterizations, OT Scriptures retold in terms of said “character,” ethical musings, etc? You know which side of the track I’m on. And I will stick with midrash because I think the essential plot structures, many particular scenes and the use of direct textual references are well described by the term “midrash.”

That interpreting Gospel narratives as historical arose out of ignorance of Midrash

Jack Kilmon: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk/message/2189  (more at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk/message/3810)

I must admit that I have had quite some difficulty agreeing with theview that Luke used Matthew as a source since there are a number of explanations for the various evidences presented. I need a use by Luke of “M” material to consider the possibility. Recently, however, I may have found the “smoking gun.” This has to do with Luke’s use of the “virgin birth” which I believe originated with the Matthean scribe as Aggadic Midrash. My perception of Hellenistic “Gentile” Christianity and the interpretation of NT writings by the Patristics, etc..is that they didn’t have the foggiest clue about this central style of Jewish Religious writing, hence the “imaginative” interprative narrative of midrash became “historical” to the goyim. This appears to me to be what is taking place between the Jewish Matthean Scribe and the Gentile Lukan author….simply midrash becoming “gospel.” Either Luke got this from Matthew or it was “harmonized” into Luke later. The Hebraic character of these chapters of Luke suggests that Luke got it from Matthew….unless I am out in left field on this. Comments? Jack

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