Midrash

MIDRASH mĭd’ răsh (מִדְרַ֖שׁ, derived from דָּרַשׁ, H2011, meaning to search, investigate; therefore, a study, a homiletical exposition).

The word “midrash” occurs only twice in the OT. Reference is made to the midrash of the prophet Iddo (2 Chron 13:22) for additional information concerning Abijah, and there is a reference to the midrash on the Book of Kings (24:27). (The RSV trs. מִדְרָשׁ, H4535, in the first instance as “story” and in the second as “commentary.”) These midrashim were prob. commentaries on the historical narratives.

The primary occurrence of this term is found in rabbinic lit. where the rabbis sought to elucidate and expound upon the content of the Bible. This type of exegesis is dated back to Ezra, who “had set his heart to study (לִדְרֹ֛ושׁ) the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach his statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). When the exiles returned from Babylonia, they accepted the Torah as their sole authority, and it became necessary to interpret the law in terms of the specifics of new situations. Furthermore, if the Torah alone was binding, all traditional customs and practices had to receive the sanction of the written law to have authority. Later, when the literalists (the Sadducees) sought to deny the validity of the oral law, those who sought justification for the oral law (the Pharisees) did so through the exposition (midrash) of the written law.

There are two types of midrashim: הֲלָכָה, “law,” “rule,” “tradition,” which sought to explain more fully the Biblical law, making application of the principle of the Biblical legislation to particulars; and הֲגָדָה, “narration,” which sought to interpret the Bible in terms of ethics and devotion. The latter is more like homiletics in that it seeks to exhort rather than legislate. These Midrashim were transmitted orally for generations before they were written down. The earliest collection of Halachic Midrashim was compiled c. the second cent. a.d., and the earliest Haggadic Midrashim in the 3rd cent. The most important Halachic Midrashim are Mechilta (מְכִלְתָּא, an Aram. term meaning “treatise”) to Exodus, the Sifra (book) to Leviticus and the Sifra to Numbers and Deuteronomy. The most important Haggadic Midrashim are Midrash Rabboth to the whole Pentateuch and the five scrolls (S of Sol, Ruth, Lam, Eccl, Esth), the Tanhuma (homilies to the whole Pentateuch) and the Pesikta de-Rav Kanana (homilies concerning the holy days and other special occasions). These writings became source books of preaching for the rabbis. As a method of teaching the Midrash was later rivaled and to a large extent replaced by the Mishnah (i.e., teaching the oral law without reference to Scripture).

Bibliography

H. Strack, Einleitung in Talmud und Midrash (1921) (Eng. tr., 1931); H. Danby, The Mishnah (1933), xiii-xxxii; J. Z. Lauterbach, “Midrash and Mishnah,” Rabbinic Essays (1951).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

The Hebrew word corresponding to the King James Version "story" and the Revised Version (British and American) "commentary" in 2Ch 13:22; 24:27. A midrash is properly a story developed for purposes of edification.

See Commentary.