Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Midrash Wars continued: A clarification

After reading the comments on the last two posts, I think a clarification is in order. It seems to me that we're conflating a few separate things. So let me attempt to untangle them.

I am fine with interpreting midrashim. I think its a legitimate creative exercise. I only ask that the people interpreting the midrashim acknowledge what they are doing rather than pretending that their interpretation is the original meaning. 

I also think its fine to deny the meaning or message of a midrash, and its also OK to deny the historicity of a midrash. And if you're looking for rishonim who will bless this approach, they can be provided. 

However, not all midrashim belong to the same genre. Some were intended as musser or homilies. Some were intended as folk wisdom. But some were intended as history. If you're going to be serious about your study of midrash there is value in attempting to determine which are which. And if a particular midrash was intended as history, its both respectful and honest to acknowledge that the author of that midrash accepted the historicity of the event he depicted.

Or to put it another way, you can certainly find moral lessons in the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; indeed you can even allegorize its descriptions of the Roman courts and the battles Roman rulers fought. But wouldn't that be missing the point?

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