A Jewish term from the Hebrew verb darash meaning, “to search” and, therefore, to make exposition. Title of a body of Jewish literature that gathers together the Jewish scholars' exegesis, exposition, and homiletical interpretations of Scripture in the centuries just before and after Jesus.
Meaning to discover or develop a thought not apparent on the surface, a midrash denotes a didactic (teaching) or homilectic (preaching) exposition or an edifying religious story such as that of Tobit. Midrash also includes a religious interpretation of history, as the prophet Iddo's commentary on the acts, ways, and sayins of King Abijam (2 Chronicles 13:22) and the Commentary on the Book of the Kings, in which were set forth the burdens laid upon King Joash and his rebuilding of the Temple (2 Chronicles 24:27). This Jewish method of searching the Scriptures sought to discover the deeper meaning of the most minute details contained in the sacred text. The main characteristics of midrash are: (1) its starting point is an actual text or texts (often two quite different passages are combined) from the Bible itself; (2) is homiletic, essentially designed to edify and instruct; (3) it is based on a close and detailed scrutiny of the actual test, in which it seeks to establish the underlying reasons for each word, phrase, or group of words (compare rabbinical method of systematically applying the question “why”); (4) it is concerned to apply the message thus established to the present age. Midrash is divided into halacha (oral law), midrashic investigation of the lgeal parts of the Old Testament with the aim of establishing rules of conduct, and haggadah, a similar investigation of the nonlegal parts with purpose of edifying or instructing.
Ezra used Midrash in the public reading of the law (Nehemiah 8:1). Midrash became the basic work leading to the production of the Targumin (Aramaic paraphrases of Scripture) and of the mainline expression of Judaism (Mishnah, Talmud). See Targum; Mishnah; Talmud. Ezra also seems to have practiced the use of midrash, by having as his objective in life to study and apply the Torah, as well as to instruct the nation in the ordinances and statutes of the Law (Ezra 7:10). Many Bible students believe numerous examples of midrash in most, if not all, of its various forms appear in the New Testament. Thus,
Matthew 2:1-12 (the first part of the infancy narrative) is held to be a midrash on
Matthew 27:3-10 (the 30 pieces of silver) is regarded as a midrash on
Zechariah 11:12-13 and
Jeremiah 32:6-15. Midrashic elements are also present in Paul (Galatians 3:4;
2 Corinthians 3:1) and other areas of the New Testament. It is important, therefore, for the interpretation of the New Testament to understand the characteristic methods and approach of midrash. The term midrash is also used of the collections of midrashic expositions; or of a manner of religious teaching that follows the midrashic method.
An important use of the Midrash is that it gives the interpreter of Scripture a greater insight into interpretation from a people closer to the original appearance of the Old Testament books, as well as an understanding of the text across history by Jewish people. Stories contained in a midrash may be totally historically accurate or simply a piece of fiction based on history, or even a work of literary fiction without any basis in history.
Midrashic material was preserved orally from its inception for a considerable period. Only after A.D. 100 were the halakic midrashim written down. The most important of these were the Mekilta (treatise) to Exodus and the Sifra (book) on Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The earliest written haggadah was the midrash on Genesis, going back to about A.D. 200 or later. This was followed by the midrashim on the rest of the Pentateuch and the Five Scrolls (Megilloth). These commentaries became known as the Midrash Rabbah, and with later compositions were much favored by the rabbis for homiletical purposes.