Sunday, June 14, 2020

Docherty 3: The Study of Midrash

Chapter 2: Previous Scholarship

Chapter 3: Developments in the Study of Midrash
1. We now get to the good stuff, although I was a little disappointed. It has felt like Docherty was building up to our need to take on board recent developments in the study of midrash. But she does not go into great detail about its specific content. Maybe she will get into more detail when we get to her analyses of Hebrews. I feel like I keep waiting for what she's building up to.

I was eager to read this chapter because I am one of those NT people she mentions who is not greatly acquainted with rabbinic studies. I am also one of those who wonders whether it is anachronistic to bring too much of rabbinic Judaism into the study of the New Testament. The Mishnah dates to around AD200--nearly two centuries after Jesus walked the earth. Much of the rest of rabbinic literature is later... often by centuries.

I accept that there is likely tradition that goes back to the Tannaim of the second century, even to the time of Jesus. But it has surely been colored through the filters of later tradition in good Gadamerian fashion. And I do not personally think of the rabbis or church fathers for that matter as having a good deal of objectivity or historical consciousness in their processing of earlier material.

Let me attempt to record the scholars she catalogs:
  • Renee Bloch - focus on the historical development of tradition from biblical times. She died in tragic plane crash on its way to Israel at about 30 years old, shot down over Bulgaria.
  • Geza Vermes - over-played historical continuity, seeing it going even back into the Bible
  • Isaac Heinemann - first theoretical description of midrash (1949). Focus on haggadah. Draws on middot (interpretive rules found in rabbinic literature, e.g., Hillel). Saw a creative element in rabbinic interpretation, as well as an awareness of the "plain sense" of Scripture. She critiques unquestioning use of the middot.
  • Michael Fishbane - His classic is Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel. It deals with reinterpretation within the biblical texts themselves. Intertextuality. Creative exegesis - "exegetical imagination" involved.
  • Daniel Boyarin - postmodern influence--rabbinic interpreters actualizing the polysemy of the texts. Midrash is "a radical intertextual reading of the canon, in which potentially every part refers to and is interpretable by every other part" (93). Midrashic exegesis both 'disrupts' and 'reconstructs' the meanings of biblical texts."
  • Jacob Neusner - The authorship of midrashic documents involves a "coherent programme of themes which runs throughout the work" with consensual decisions about the organization of the material and its literary form. Neusner overreaches here. Too synchronic. Did contribute a good notation system.
Let me pause here because clearly Docherty means to promote the "Goldbergian School." The above scholars are preface.
  • Arnold Goldberg - She likes him especially for his precise delineation and definitions of exegetical techniques as well as his interest in theological presuppositions inherent in those methods.
  • A midrashic sentence is the fundamental unit. It involves a lemma (L) or small scriptural segment, on which a hermeneneutic operation is performed (o) producing a dictum (D).
  • Because the same words can be employed to say different things in different contexts and arrangements, there is the expression itself (Aussage in German) in distinction from its meaning in a particular location (Bedeutung).
  • "The editors of the rabbinic works were in fact not interested in what their citations were meant to say in their original contexts, but in what they can say now" (103). 
  • Alexander Samely - pupil of Goldberg, introduced categories from linguistics. Identified over 100 different exegetical techniques in the Mishnah. The rabbis "privilege the linguistic signs above the meaning of the word as a whole" (110). "The presuppositions most important for rabbinic exegesis were an absolute belief in the relevance and consistency of scripture."
  • Philip Alexander - Docherty's Doktor Vater. Has criticized the loose use of the word midrash among people like me. :-) Distinguishes between midrashic form and midrashic method. 
  • "Midrashic texts always have the literary form lemma plus comment" in addition to other features like stringing numerous verses together, giving alternative interpretations, and quoting named authorities.
  • Alexander has also catagorized other genres like rewritten Bible, pesher, and anthologies.
  • With regard to underlying axioms, he has noted that midrashic interpretation is based on "the rabbinic belief that scripture as divine speech is polyvalent, containing innumerable latent meanings to be exposed by the authoritative interpreter, and that even apparent contradictions in scripture can be tolerated as they exist only at the human level and not in the mind of God" (113).
Helpful chapter in learning the lay of the land.

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