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date: 19 January 2019


Midrash, a type of exegesis of scriptural texts practised by Jews. The genre of midrash is characterized by the use of an explicit citation of, or clear allusions to, a passage in an authoritative text in order to provide a foundation for religious teachings often far removed from the plain meaning of the passage employed. In halakhic midrash such teachings comprise legal rulings. In aggadic midrash scriptural passages are exegeted for their own sake or for homiletic sermons. Midrashic techniques are found embedded in much post-biblical Jewish literature but they also engendered a large body of works devoted to this technique alone.

Midrashic exegesis is found already within the Hebrew Bible, where the books of Chronicles act as a midrash on the books of Samuel and Kings. Various types of midrash are attested in Jewish writings from the Hellenistic period, notably the pesher, found only among the Dead Sea Scrolls, in which biblical texts are treated as complex codes from which the secret meaning has to be explicated, and the Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum, attributed in the Renaissance to Philon (4) of Alexandria but actually composed in Hebrew by an unknown Jew, probably in the 1st cent. ce. But most extant midrashim were produced and preserved by rabbis from the 2nd cent. ce to the medieval period.

In rabbinic midrash, the rules of interpretation were eventually subjected to codification, but in earlier texts the authors were often creative, particularly in the use of exegesis to support legal views already reached for reasons independent of biblical support. Rabbinic midrashim reflect varied interests. On the whole, the halakhic midrashim are earlier (2nd and 3rd cents.), the aggadic midrashim are later (3rd to 6th cents., and on into the Middle Ages), but the distinction between these genres is not precise. All the midrashim contain teachings passed down from earlier generations (sometimes in oral form), and it is extremely difficult to give a date and place for the final redaction of many of the texts found in the medieval manuscripts.

The main extant halakhic (legal) midrashim from the Roman period are the Mekhilta de Rabbi Ishmael and the Mekhilta de Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai (both on Exodus), Sifra (on Leviticus), and Sifre (on Numbers and Deuteronomy), all probably compiled in Palestine by the early 3rd cent. ce. Of the exegetical and homiletic midrashim, Lamentations Rabbah may have been redacted in the 4th cent., Genesis Rabbah, Leviticus Rabbah, and Pesikta de Rab Kahana in the 5th cent., all probably in Palestine. However, all these texts certainly include material from earlier generations and may contain insertions from later periods. See rabbis; religion, Jewish.


H. L. Strack and G. Stemberger, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (Eng. trans. 1996), 254–393.Find this resource:

S. D. Fraade, in C. E. Fonrobert and M. S. Jaffee (eds.), Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature (2007), ch. 5.Find this resource:

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