Midrash is the style of rabbinic exegesis that developed through the Talmudica period (2nd century BCE to 2nd century AD) into the Middle Ages, and in some senses continues today. Derived from the Hebrew word derash - "to seek" - its goal is to promulgate rich interpretations that uncover the latent knowledge encoded not only in the words of a text but in the arrangement of letters, wordplay, resonations of the words with other words, punning, references to context, illustration by folktales, and by explication of matters which the text does not say or seems to omit. In style it derived from and was more akin to ancient practices of dream interpretation. [See Edward L. Greenstein, "Medieval Bible Commentaries," in Back to the Sources: Reading the Classic Jewish Texts, edited by Barry W. Holtz (New York: Summit Books, 1984): 216.]

As a consequence, midrashic method stands quite clearly as an alternative to the rational methods of deduction and induction developed through the Aristotelianism of the Church and the +ian method of exegesis, which was to derive a single allegorical interpretation of any text. All proper texts, in Medieval Christian doctrine, whatever else they might say, mean the same thing: a representation of some aspect of Jesus or his life and passion.

By contrast, the purpose of midrashic interpretation is to multiply meanings and voices, acknowledge the ultimate mysteriousness or impenetrability of any text, and reside in a state of emergent knowledge or belief characterized by the suspense of ambiguity.

This contrast, and its emergence in post-modern philosophy, is explored in Telepathy, an elaborate hypertext in progress.

CoverWeb Overview | CoverWeb TOC