Midrashic Writing Workshop

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by Neil Godfrey

Recent posts have focussed heavily on “midrashic writing” techniques in the Gospels. Here is a passage from one of Maurice Mergui’s books on Jewish and New Testament midrashic writing. It is a principally a Google translation with my edits. It gives just a little taste of how it works.

Midrashic Writing Workshop

To better understand the process of elaboration of [an episode in Acts], it is necessary to penetrate more deeply into the concrete conditions of production of midrashic elaborations. I suggest that you take part in a midrashic writing workshop. Theme of the workshop:Knowing that the coming of the messiah is accompanied by the conversion of the pagans and that they are compared to beasts, to produce a midrashic elaboration that is both original and strictly identical to the episode of the conversion of the eunuch [in Acts]. Imposed figure: the main actor will be a lion.

Editorial advice/Writing tips

You must first choose the type of narration you intend to imitate among the few known types (Vision, Testament, Pseudepigrapha Apocryphal Act, Revelation …) As you are asked here to imitate a passage from Acts, it is best to choose the Acts form. Give the apostle a name (Paul, Philippe …). At the end of time, the pagans (the beasts) must be converted. It is therefore necessary that your apostle convert one or more lions since you are obliged to use this figure.

How are you going to build your actantial narrative schema, as we say now? Very simply: the pagans are compared to beasts because they do not have the Law, itself represented by water. The animals lack water, you see: it is not rocket science. The conversion is an inversion, it will therefore consist in saturating them with water, in submerging them. It is therefore sufficient that the Apostle baptizes your Lion. You will have taken care beforehand to create the conditions so that the Apostle can make himself understood by the noble animal. The latter must therefore have received the messiah, indeed if he receives the messiah, he ipso facto receives the davar (the verb, the promise, the word). This will have the double advantage of ensuring that the said lion understands the apostle’s invitation to enter the water (something that animals do not like to do spontaneously, the pagans having always rejected the Law) and especially to this let the lion speak, which will add wonder to your narration, and give it the literary prestige of the fable. Your account is expected to take into account the characteristics of the midrashic genre. You are therefore invited to play with words and to produce as much overdetermination as possible. For example, your Beasts could be terrifying Empires at the same time. Remember to use the connotation of the other Hebrew names for the lion: shahal (request, Saul), kefir (apostasy), gur (ger: convert) …

The Converted lion

Here is an example of the text you could produce:

I, Paul, was leaving with the widow Lemma and her daughter Ammia. I was walking in the night with the intention of going to Jericho in Phoenicia … It was then that a great and terrible lion arose from the valley … but we prayed so that absorbed in prayer, Lemma and Ammia did not see the beast. But when I had finished praying, the animal was at my feet. I was filled with the Spirit and I looked at him saying to him: Lion, what do you want? and he said: I want to be baptized. I glorified God for having given the word to this animal and salvation to his servants. There was a deep river there. I entered the water and he followed me … I overpowered the lion as if it were an ox … But I stayed on the edge, shouting: You who live in the heights, you who, with Daniel shut the mouths of the Lions, grant us to escape the Beast and carry out the project you have set … So, I took the lion by the mane and I submerged it three times … When it came out out of the water he shook his mane and said, Grace be with you, and I answered him, So be it with you also.


• The creation of secondary characters like Lemma and Ammia is original. We could however regret here that your story does not give enough keys to the reader to appreciate the mode of production of these characters.
• I was walking in the night: yes! Classic allusion to exile.
• Jericho in Phoenicia: The reference to Jericho is opportune because this city is, in the Bible, automatically linked to the Jordan (and to Rahab) which announces your river (and conversion). Likewise, it refers to Jeremiah 12:5 (what will you do against the lions of the Jordan?) But you should justify the term Phoenicia.
• The reference to Daniel is timely. The mouth of the beasts was once closed, it is no longer necessary at the end of time. It can therefore open again.
• I submerged it three times: justify this figure. Despite your lack of experience, you produced an elaboration perfectly identical to that of the conversion of the eunuch [in Acts], in the sense that the two elaborations meet the same specifications.

Mergui, Maurice. Paul À Patras: Une Approche Midrashique Du Paulinisme. Objectif Transmission, 2015.