Old wine in new flasks: The story of late neoclassical midrash

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Scholarly consensus holds that early classical midrashim focused upon midrashically glossing the local verse. This is primarily true for the exegetical midrashim, but it is also true for the homiletical midrashim as well. In contrast, the later midrashim were principally concerned with expanding the biblical story. Many scholars have shown that we witness the narrative component taking pride of place over that once occupied by the exegetical component in midrashic literature. In this paper, I wish to shed light upon another evolutionary direction in the history of the late midrash, a stage which I will refer to as 'late neoclassical midrash.' In this evolutionary branch, there was a structural return to the verse-focused exegetical style of classical midrash. A redactor of this midrashic type often used materials already shaped by the later narrative style, reshaping them back into the earlier classical form. The paper will begin by reviewing a number of brief, neoclassical, midrashic compositions, namely, Midrash Exodus Rabbah I, and Midrash Esther Rabbah II, and continue by demonstrating this neoclassical phenomenon by analyzing aggadic-narrative material from the midrash Pirqe de Rabbi Eliezer, assimilated by the neoclassical Esther Rabbah II. Various literary and historical approaches for analysing this phenomenon will be suggested. Among these, I will suggest that these midrashim were created in a historical circumstance, in Spain, in which the stature of biblical commentary was ascendant. The desire to return to the classical midrashic form reflected a tendency to strengthen the bond between Hazal's derashot and the biblical text, an approach designed to strengthen the position of the midrashic tradition as biblical commentary.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)183-203
Number of pages21
JournalEuropean Journal of Jewish Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
* This paper is based upon a lecture presented at the VIIIth EAJS Congress in Moscow ( July, 2006). I would like to express my gratitude to Professor Joseph Tabory for his input. I thank Beit Shalom Kyoto Japan for their financial support.


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