2020-12-14

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.

Comments

• 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.

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Neil Godfrey

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5 thoughts on “Midrashic Writing Workshop”

  1. Midrash, always and only midrash… But why all that midrash?

    ‘John’ (author) may give an answer:

    But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name
    (John 20:31)

    Do you need other witnesses about WHY a Gospel was written ?

  2. Below is a link about the meaning of Christian texts

    https://content.wtsbooks.com/shopify/pdf_links/9780830812462-1.pdf

    Here is an excerpt

    In a famous paper entitled. The New Perspective on Paul’ (1983), summarized in the introduction to his commentary, he portrays Paul in Romans as being in dialogue with himself, the Jewish rabbi with the Christian apostle. When he declared that nobody could be justified ‘by the works of the law’, he was not referring to ‘good works’ in a general and meritorious sense. He was thinking rather of circumcision, the sabbath and the food laws, which ‘functioned as an “identity marker” and “boundary”, reinforcing Israel’s sense of distinctiveness and distinguishing Israel from the surrounding nations’. Further, this ‘sense of distinctiveness’ was accompanied by a ‘sense of privilege’. The reason Paul was negative to ‘the works of the law’ was not that they were thought to earn salvation, but that (a) they led to a boastful pride in Israel’s favoured status, and (b) they fostered an ethnic exclusiveness incompatible with the inclusion of the Gentiles, to which he was committed

    1. another excerpt

      Verse 2: the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures. That is to say, although God
      revealed the gospel to the apostles, it did not come to them as a complete novelty, because he had already promised it
      through his prophets in Old Testament Scripture. There is, in fact, an essential continuity between the Old Testament and
      the New. Jesus himself was quite clear that the Scriptures bore witness to him, that he was the son of man of Daniel 7 and
      the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, and that, as it had been written, he had to suffer in order to enter into his glory.

    1. The article is mainly interesting for its simple explanation of Christian texts.
      This explanation also corresponds to the simple observation that differentiates Judaism and Christianity:
      no circumcision, no Sabbath, no food laws among Christians.

      I have tried to do a midrashic reading of Mark’s Gospel by reworking your articles about the double meaning.
      In fact, from the first 2 chapters of his gospel, Mark announces the end of circumcision and the end of the Sabbath.

      Below are the links to read my synthesis on Mark 1-2.

      Reading Mark as a midrash, Chapter 10: Second synthesis
      (Mark 1-2) A NEW THOUGHT PUT INTO A NARRATIVE
      https://vridar.org/2019/10/05/ot-sources-for-the-gospel-of-mark-chapters-2-and-3/#comment-122729
      https://vridar.org/2019/10/05/ot-sources-for-the-gospel-of-mark-chapters-2-and-3/#comment-122730

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