Were the Miracles of Jesus invented by the Disciples/Evangelists?

 


Posted: November 28, 2001  |   Back to the Miracles Index  |  Summary


 

 

3. Did the gospel authors consciously create miracle stories like the later rabbis did, in the fashion that is called 'midrash'?  In this scenario, the stories/miracles of Jesus might have been 'additions' inserted into the stories about Jesus.

 

Occasionally, I will run into some comment in the literature (web-based and print-based) that the gospels are "only midrash" or "midrashic", with the connotation that they are filled with uncontrolled fanciful and imaginative creations--on a par with the mass of later Legends of the Jews. As we shall see, this ascription of 'midrashic' to the NT documents is quite confused.

 

 

R. T. France gives a paraphrase of a common view of this position:

 

"But what has all this to do with the historical value of the infancy narratives? Put simply, it leads some to this equation: Jewish midrashim were given to imaginative expansion of the material which Scripture and tradition provided, and Matthew is midrashic, and therefore Matthew may be assumed to be relying as much on his and other Christians' imagination as on historical tradition. If an incident helped to draw out the scriptural significance of Jesus, its historicity was not an issue. Christian tradition, like Jewish, was subject to pious elaboration, and a writer such as Matthew would be the last to resist such a development...Now it is undeniable that such pious elaboration was  a feature of later Christianity. The story of the magi, for instance, gradually developed from its basic Mattaean form to include their description as kings, there being three in number, their differing geographical origins and subsequent histories, and a number of different sets of names for them...But the fact that later Christians felt free to elaborate earlier tradition does not per se prove that Matthew or his predecessors also did so. [JSOTGP2:246f]

 

"To put the matter very crudely, the impression is getting around among those who have some acquaintance with current New Testament scholarship that there is a literary activity known as 'midrash' which flourished among first-century Jews, which included (indeed in the more extreme form of this popular impression could be said to consist of) the attribution to historical figures of fictional words and deeds whose origin may be traced to meditation on the Old Testament. Parts of the Christian gospels, it is then claimed, belong to this genre, so that their contents may more plausibly be ascribed to 'midrashic' imagination than to traditions of the actual words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth." [JSOTGP3:99]

 

 

There are several sub-issues to deal with here:

 

1.        What are the identifying genre traits of midrash? (So we can know if the gospels fall into that genre).

2.        If the gospels are NOT in the genre of midrash, do any  semi-contemporary Jewish works reveal midrashic-type 'free creation' of miracle stories?

3.        Where midrashic fantastic elements MEANT to be taken 'historically'?

4.        Were fabulous midrashic expansions prevalent/paradigmatic at the time of the gospels, such that they created an expectation or cultural paradigm pressure on the NT authors to emulate?

 

……………………………………………………

 

One: What are the identifying genre traits of midrash? (So we can know if the gospels fall into that genre).

 

 

Midrash is both a process and a product. The process leads inevitably to the product, and without the characteristic marks of the product, we have no reason to label a process as 'midrashic'.

 

Midrashic material arose from preaching/teaching events:

 

"…it is generally accepted that the material preserved in our extant midrashic works is derived from homilies and expositions which were actually delivered to live audiences in the ancient synagogues and study houses of the Holy Land…" [NT:TMP:2]

 

"A word about literary style. The main concern of the Sages may have been elucidation of the text, but consciously or subconsciously, they couched most, if not all, of their creation in literary style too rich and sophisticated to be ignored. The legends they told of the Biblical figures are often beautiful examples of narration as well as fanciful examples of the creative imagination. Read the story of the coffin of Josephus that Moses has to locate, the legend of Jacob on his death bed, the story of the death of Aaron, or the many narratives about the death of Moses, especially the tale of Moses and the Angel of Death and you will see that we are dealing with masters of the art of storytelling. If these masterful legends did not form the basis of popular sermons of the day, they should have." [HI:CMTCOB:41]

 

"The most useful distinction among the midrashic collections is between the homiletical and the expositional midrashim. An expositional midrash follows the text of a given biblical book. It is a running commentary on the book or a major section of the book. While individual sections may have been created in settings different from their present contexts and may have no real relationship to the comments that surround them, a relationship has been imposed on them by the order of the biblical text. The homiletical midrashim are collections of independent units that do not form a running commentary on the biblical books. Each unit’s coherence stems from its relationship to a given topic, theme or holy day. Sipra, Sipre, Mekilta, Genesis Rabbah and the midrash on Lamentations are the major expositional midrashim. The Pesiqta de Rab Kahana, the Pesiqta Rabbati, Leviticus Rabbah and Deuteronomy Rabbah are the best examples of the homiletical midrashim." [HI:DictNTB, s.v. "Rabbinic Literature: Midrashim"]

 

 

Midrash is basically the interpretation of the text of the Hebrew Bible:

 

"In simple terms, Midrash is the oldest form of Bible interpretation." [NT:TMP:3]

 

"…the overwhelming use of Midrash is for interpretation and enlisting of a verse or verses of Scripture" [HI:CMTCOB:2]

 

"Thus the books we call Midrash are termed that because in essence they are commentaries on Biblical words or verses." [HI:CMTCOB:25]

 

"What exactly is 'midrash'? Midrash is both a process and a product. It is a method of study and interpretation of the Bible and it is the name given to the literary works that emerge from that study. A midrash is both the individual interpretive comment to a work or a verse and also the book into which these individual pericopes have been incorporated…Midrash is exegesis, explanation of a Biblical text and a commentary on it. To qualify as midrash, there must be a connection to a text. As we shall see, the Midrashim also contain other types of material, but quantitatively the majority of the material is text-connected. The Sages did not write philosophical treatises on various topics, nor did they compose books about the Bible. They took each verse, indeed each word, of Scripture and explained and commented on it. To these comments were frequently attached other material--legends, sayings, parables, and stories about the Sages themselves. The principle of organization, however, always remained the Biblical phrase." [HI:CMTCOB:14f]

 

 

Midrash as a genre is not attested in first-century Judaism; the relevant material for our comparison here comes from the Tannaic period (first through third centuries AD). These works are exclusively commentaries on the Pentateuch:

 

"As a product, the earliest extant works of Midrash were edited in the third century of the Common Era. They may have been compiled orally at least in part in the first century C.E…They represented interpretations by the Sages of four books of the Pentateuch: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy." [HI:CMTCOB:15,16]

 

"The earliest Midrash compilations cover the verses of a biblical book in a sequential structure, occasionally forming a set of Midrash exegeses into a prepositional composite; Sifre to Deuteronomy exemplifies that type of Midrash compilation." [HI:IRL:229]

 

 

One of the methods of Midrash is that of interpreting the Bible by itself. The Sages believed that all gaps in a narrative, for example, were to be 'filled in' from other passages in the Hebrew Bible (since it was all God's word). Accordingly, they would sometimes draw events from one section of scripture and 'insert' it into the narrative of another (perhaps even earlier) one. [It is largely this specific method of midrashists that is thought to have been 'used' by the evangelists--the 'insertion' of OT-based events (for example miracles)--into the basic narrative of the life of Jesus.]

 

 

The identifying characteristics of midrash given by scholars highlight the interpretive activity:

 

collectivity (they are written by a collective); multiplicity (they incorporate multiple, often contradictory and conflicting views0; retention of the original meaning (of the scriptural verse being expounded or discussed); expansion and openness (introduction of other material into the understanding of the verse); and text centeredness (the discuss is focused and centered only on the passage being discussed). [HI:CMTCOB:21]

 

"Renee Bloch described five characteristics of midrash: (1) includes a meditation on the Bible, (2) is homiletical, (3) uses the Bible to explain the Bible, (4) adapts the message to the times, (5) attempts to find the true significance or the basic legal principles." [HI:CMTCOB:30]

 

 

 

But the most prominent--and unvarying--trait is that the midrashic passage opens with a quote from the Hebrew text:

 

"Although there may be differences in the editing of the four Midrashim translated here…the basic pattern remains fundamentally the same. A section of a verse is quoted and then a question is posed…or a comment is made." [HI:CMTCOB:23]

 

"A midrash, by definition, always starts with a text." [HI:CMTCOB:41]

 

"midrash as a type of literature, oral or written, which stands in direct relationship to a fixed, canonical text, considered to be the authoritative and revealed word of God by the midrashist and his audience, and in which the canonical text is explicitly cited or clearly alluded to" [HI:ITM2:235]

 

 

And closely related to this is that the content of midrash is about the Hebrew Text--NOT about any later events used in the explanation:

 

"Similarly, therefore, Matt 4:1-11 cannot be a 'midrash' on texts in Exodus and Deuteronomy, because it is not a story about Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness." [JSOTGP3:63]

 

 

Here is an example (Midrash Rabbah, on Numbers 14.22), in which these elements can be seen:

 

 

"FROM ABOVE THE ARK-COVER THAT WAS UPON THE ARK OF THE TESTIMONY (VII, 89). What is the purport of this text? Since it says elsewhere, ’And the Lord spoke unto him out of the tent of meeting’ (Lev. I,1) it might appear that He did so from any part of the interior, hence Scripture explicitly states, FROM ABOVE THE ARK-COVER THAT WAS UPON THE ARK OF THE TESTIMONY. If the text read simply, FROM ABOVE THE ARK-COVER. it might have appeared to mean from any part of the ark-cover. Scripture therefore states, FROM BETWEEN THE TWO CHERUBIM  (ib.). This is the opinion of R. Akiba. Said R. Simeon b. ‘Azzai: I do not wish to appear as though I were contradicting the words of my teacher, but only as supplementing his remarks: The All-Glorious is One of whom it says, Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord (Jer. XXIII, 24). Yet see to what lengths He went in His love of Israel! This same Glory, that was so vast, compressed itself so as to appear to be speaking from above the ark-cover between the two cherubim! R. Dosa observed: It says, For man shall not see Me and live (Ex. XXXIII, 20). This implies that men cannot see God when they are alive but that they can see Him at their death; in this strain it says, All they that go down to the dust shall kneel before Him, even he that cannot keep his soul alive (Ps. XXII, 30). R. Akiba expounds: ’For man shall not see Me and live (hay)’ implies that even the Hayyoth that bear the Heavenly Throne do not see the All Glorious. Said R. Simeon b. ‘Azzai: I do not wish to be considered as though I were contradicting the words of my teacher but as merely supplementing his remarks: The passage, ’For a man shall not see Me nor the living’ implies that even the angels whose life is an eternal life do not see the All- Glorious. AND HE SPOKE UNTO HIM. UNTO HIM, but not unto the ministering angels who were present. Scripture tells us that the Voice went from the mouth of the Holy One, blessed be He, as through a tube into the ear of Moses, and the angels who stood midway could not hear. It is in the same strain that Scripture says, God thundereth marvellously with his voice (Job XXXVII, 5). This explains the text, AND HE SPOKE UNTO HIM." [Soncino]

 

Although there is a general sense in which 'midrashic' can be used of ALL interpretation (its basic meaning being to 'seek out'), and although scholars will sometimes use the term in this general sense of early Christian exegesis of the OT/Tanakah (cf. BEAP), our discussion here deals with the more technical and more precise sense of 'midrash' in which extraneous elements might 'intrude' on an understanding/exposition of an event.

 

 

What should already be clear by now is that the gospels are not even close to fitting this description of midrash:

 

1.        The various passages of the gospels NEVER start with a scripture citation from the Hebrew Bible, and proceed to explain it.

2.        Any explanation of an OT/Tanakh text is done in the middle of a narrative, often as an incidental reference.

3.        Most NT passages have no explicit references or allusions to specific verses of the Hebrew Bible.

4.        Very few of the miracle stories about Jesus contain any mention or allusion to the Hebrew text at all.

5.        The use of the Hebrew Bible in the New Testament is generally used to explain/interpret the actions/events of Jesus' life in light of the Hebrew Text--and not vice versa (i.e., the passage is NOT an explanation of the Hebrew text at all).

 

 

So Chilton can say:

 

"'Midrash' is not first of all a genre within the New testament: it is definable only within Rabbinica, and may be applied to the New Testament only when a pronounced similarity to Rabbinica is evident." [JSOTGP3:9]

 

"Does the phrase 'a certain relationship' commit us to saying that the Transfiguration is a 'midrash' on Exodus 24? Within the terms of reference we have developed in this paper, one would have to reply negatively to this question. Citation of and/or comment upon the scripture is simply not a part of the Transfiguration." [JSOTGP3:27]

 

 

So, we can conclude quite confidently that the Gospels are not Midrash…

 

………………………………………………………………….

 

Two: But now we need to ask a "closer" question: this midrashic practice of reading one event of biblical history into another--how widespread might it have been anyway at the time of the Evangelists, and how relevant is it to the NT miracles?

 

 

This question is a bit broader than the first one, since we know that oral tradition existed alongside the written Torah during its writing and compiling. Details that do not occur in the canonical scriptures had become 'attached' to them (but not actually 'incorporated into' them--an important distinction to keep in mind) in popular and religious usage from day one. Indeed, the Rabbis considered Torah to be in two forms: written and oral, with the Oral Torah supposedly given to Moses at night while God was giving the Written Torah in the daytime! The Oral Torah co-existed with the Written Torah and contained details not/never included in the Written Torah. Jewish tradition would 'fill in the gaps' in the Written Torah with either Oral Traditions (some probable, some unlikely) and/or with data from other parts of Written Torah (as in the midrashic method).

 

Jewish study in the rabbinical period differentiated three areas of study: halakah, midrash, and haggadah. The Soncino version of the Talmud gives this description of these, in a footnote at Nedarim 35b:

 

"The three branches of Jewish learning. Midrash (from darash, to study, investigate) means any kind of Biblical hermeneutics. In contradistinction to the peshat (literal interpretation) it denotes the deeper investigation into the text of the Bible in order to derive interpretations and laws not obvious on the surface. Halachoth is a term referring to religious law (embracing both civil and ritual law) whether based on Biblical exposition, (and thus arrived at by Midrash) or not. By Aggadah (or Haggadah, from higgid, to narrate) is meant the whole of the non-legal portion of the Talmud. Thus it includes narratives, homiletical exegesis of the Bible (which inculcate morals, beliefs, etc. but no actual laws) medicine, astronomy, dreams, legends and folklore in general."

 

Aggadah is, accordingly, NOT the same as midrash, but may sometimes 'look similar' as to narrative expansions. Technically, midrashic expansions would normally be due to inferences from other parts of scripture, whereas aggadic expansions might be from tradition or arise from homiletical needs/praxis. In our period, we have no midrash per se, but we DO have works manifesting a wide use of aggadic material.

 

We should also note that even the closest-in-time samples of Midrash (i.e., the Tannaic works) do NOT contain large amounts of aggadic expansions--but do rather have halakic expansions--and are relatively restrained compared to the 'wild' later midrashic compositions:

 

"As for the Tannaitic Midrashim, which approach closer in their composition to the date with which we are concerned, the remarkable fact is that very little of their material is haggadic; they are in fact sometimes referred to as 'the halakhic midrashim'. Haggadic midrash, the genre which is usually appealed to as the background for creative tendencies in the gospels, is a characteristic almost exclusively of the later midrashim, not of those of the tannaitic period." [JSOTGP3:117]

 

"These Midrashim [Tannaic] also evidence the simplicity of classical works. Their language is pure and not overly elaborate and they do not contain the heights of fantasy that later Midrashim came to appreciate" [HI:CMTCOB:15]

 

 

 

The relevance of this to our question is this: if first-century Jews, in the re-telling of the Hebrew Bible or in the telling of more recent history [e.g., Maccabees or Josephus], were known to routinely embellish narratives with extraneous miraculous material, then shouldn't we expect the Jewish New Testament authors to do likewise? In other words, if the practice was accepted and semi-normative for literary Jewry, why would we believe the Messianic Jews did otherwise when they wrote the gospels.

 

Now, to address this we have a couple of issues to investigate:

 

1.        To what extent is the process of biblical narrative "supplementation" visible in the pre-Christian works, and what is the character of this supplementation?

2.        What is the nature and extent of this type of supplementation in narratives of more recent, post-biblical Jewish history (i.e., after the last book of the Hebrew Canon)?

3.       How do any of these patterns relate to the character of the Gospel narratives?

 

……………………………………………………………………………………….

 

1. To what extent is the process of biblical narrative "supplementation" visible in the pre-Christian works, and what is the character of this supplementation?

 

This issue has to do with the category of literature known as "Retold Bible", in which an expositor/author "re-tells" the Biblical stories for contemporary audiences. Since this process is NOT simple translation (translations were already available in Greek and Aramaic), the wording will necessarily be different and certainly 'expanded'. We are interested here in what the nature and extent of these 'expansions' were, and possible underlying methods and attitudes toward the biblical text.

 

We must be mindful of two things when looking for 'free creations': (1) non-biblical material might already be traditional by the time the author included it, implying that it was NOT 'free creation' by the author, but a 'source' used by him/her; and (2) the standard practice of preachers, teachers, and authors to 'add' color, vividness, and 'scenery' to their material--a simply fact of good pedagogy (and of historical writing, for that matter). This implies that extraneous material must NOT be automatically assumed to be 'free creation by the author', especially if better explained by hypotheses of traditional material or of homiletic praxis.

 

For our period (3rd century BC through early 2nd century AD), we will consider several of the works in this category, remembering that they are written by Jews of various persuasions--some more "Hellenistic" and some more "Palestinian" (to use the older categories).

 

First, Pseudo-Philo (LAB):

 

"A great deal of material in LAB is additional to the biblical narrative, and much of this paper will be concerned with the nature of these additions and the way in which they have been developed from the biblical text." [JSOTGP3:33]

 

 "It should be noticed, however, that the influence of one biblical narrative on the retelling of another is in fact, in the whole scope of LAB, infrequent and restrained. Most of the correspondences between biblical events which Pseudo-Philo himself points out have not influenced the retelling of either event. Thus, for example, despite his desire to portray Jephthah's daughter as a second Isaac, he has not in any way assimilated her story to that of Isaac, on the whole he is very careful to preserve the individual features and character of each narrative as found in the Bible. For example, comparison of the sacrifice of Jephthah's daughter with that of Isaac by Abraham, who acted in 'faith and obedience to God, does not lead Pseudo-Philo to portray Jephthah's role in the story as praiseworthy, by analogy with Abraham's. On the contrary, he is emphatic in his condemnation of Jephthah's vow (LAB 39: 11). Even in cases where there has been some influence of one narrative on another, we have already observed (3.4.21- 3.11; 3.15.7) how the assimilation is minor and does not obscure the distinct features of each narrative in its biblical form. Pseudo-Philo's interest in correspondences between biblical events is overwhelmingly an interest in correspondences which exist in the biblical text. Of the many correspondences which he explicitly points out, very few have a non-biblical element as one half of the correspondence (LAB 12:1; 25:7; 56:6). While not denying that this interest has led to some assimilation between events, we ought to be at least as impressed by the infrequency with which this has happened. Even narratives which are not in the Bible have their individual distinctness: as compared with Dan 3 and with each other, the stories of Abraham in the fiery furnace and Jair's fiery furnace each have their own distinct features which derive from their points of origin in Gen 11 and Judg 10 respectively...Finally, it must also be stressed that all the material considered in this section should be classified as interpretation of Scripture by Scripture. In other words, Pseudo-Philo is always primarily commenting on and explaining the text of the biblical narrative which he is following in chronological order from Genesis to 2 Samuel. Other passages of Scripture are always utilized as a means of explaining and interpreting this narrative. This applies even to the creation of non-biblical incidents and events, which always have some kind of starting-point in the biblical narrative which Pseudo-Philo is rewriting. It is not the case, for example, that Pseudo-Philo (or a predecessor) was simply inspired by Dan 3 to create two similar stories of deliverances from fiery furnaces and insert them at appropriate points in the biblical history.  The process of creating these stories did not begin from Dan 3, since we have seen that in both cases the idea of a furnace was suggested by details in the biblical text (of Gen 11 and Judg 10) which Pseudo-Philo is rewriting, and it is this suggestion in the text which has prompted the use of Dan 3 to help develop it into an appropriate story. Even the stories of Kenaz and Aod are anchored in features of the text of Judges. Only the account of Zebull's treasury seems unrelated to anything in Judges, though it is possible that further study will uncover such a relationship." [JSOTGP3:59-59]

 

"To what extent was Pseudo-Philo's midrashic material already traditional when he used it, and to what extent was he a creative exegete?...Even on a generous estimate of the unique features of LAB, they would be considerably fewer than the features which are also found elsewhere in haggadic tradition. It cannot be disputed that a great deal of Pseudo-Philo's material was traditional. No doubt he also made some creative contributions of his own, and we may make a reasonable guess that these were in two areas in particular: (1) the invention of non-biblical names, since none of the examples in LAB seems to be paralleled in other sources, either in Jubilees or in later rabbinic literature; (2) speech material, especially of a didactic, prophetic or eschatological kind...to a large extent we should regard Pseudo-Philo as a redactor of traditional haggadic material." [JSOTGP3:61]

 

"The LAB is perhaps best described as in the tradition of the Book of Jubilees, often retelling the biblical stories fairly exactly, though abbreviating drastically in the earlier period. But the expansion of the history is much more extensive than in Jubilees. Much of it is, like that of Jubilees, in the interests of the author's particular theological concerns, especially in the areas of eschatology, angels and demons, and the greatness of Israel. Some consists in the liberal addition of names and numbers." [JSOTGP3:107]

 

"Elsewhere in Pseudo-Philo there are numerous examples of narratives influenced by other passages of scripture, but it is usually a fine judgment as to whether these passages are the origin of the narratives which echo them." [JSOTGP3:107]

 

"The expansions of the Bible are unevenly distributed…it presupposes the Bible at a number of points, and was evidently meant to be read by an audience who knew the Bible well…His retelling is, however, well-disciplined: most of his expansions and changes take as their starting point an objective feature or problem within the biblical text…" [IIW:108-109]

 

"So then, analysis shows that many of the changes introduced by LAB to the biblical story are motivated, at least in part, by literary consideration. LAB is a highly learned text, aimed at a sophisticated, educated readership." [IIW:110f; note--the author is referring to LAB's development of speeches and scenery-detail, instead of introduction of new 'content'. This, as we have seen often in the Tank, was standard historiography of the day, albeit still conventions and canons of  truthfulness and appropriateness.]

 

"The point of interest is, however, that the traditions recorded in this work [LAB] coincide, almost without exception, with those found in Rabbinic haggadah." [Geza Vermes, Scripture and Tradition in Judaism, Brill:1961, p.6; supporting the position that the LAB is taking traditional material, instead of doing 'free creation'. LAB was 'taken over' by the Christians and the Rabbis would not have likely been disposed to borrowing from them…]

 

 

Next, the book of Jubilees

 

"It is perhaps typical of Jubilees, in a way that we have suggested in not generally true of the targumim, that passages of scripture other than the one being related are drawn into the interpretation and many add features to the narrative..." [JSOTGP3:103; this would certainly look midrashic in the later sense]

 

"Similarly, the actions of the patriarchs are regularly made to conform to the legal regulations of the later books of the Pentateuch. The breadth of the author's scriptural background is most strikingly illustrated in chapter 1, in the long 'opening speech' attributed to God on Mount Sinai and in the ensuing dialogue, in all of which the language is a mosaic of scriptural themes and expressions from many parts of the Old Testament." [JSOTGP3:104; this looks more literary and homiletical]

 

"At the same time, it should be noted that the essential framework of the narrative in Genesis and Exodus is preserved. The author does not invent whole stories, but rather explains, embellishes and interprets those which he finds in the text...Even with this author's rich scriptural background, there is no evidence of the invention de novo of scripturally-based narrative." [JSOTGP3:104; this argues strongly against the 'free creation' idea]

 

"Jubilees…contains an extensive reworking of Gen. 1:1-Exod. 16:1…Jubilees puts itself on a par with Scripture: it carries its own origins back to the same supreme moment of revelation that give birth to the canonical Pentateuch. Jubilees did not, however, intend to supplant the Pentateuch, but rather to supplement and to explain it." [IIW:100]

 

"…he was the recipient of certain traditions which he honestly supposed went back to Moses himself." [IIW:101; this would argue that any extraneous material was traditional and not 'free creations' per se.]

 

"Here, then, is a piece of evidence that Jubilees was in possession of extra-biblical sources." [IIW:103]

 

"Jubilees 33:1-20 illustrates another type of expansion of the biblical text--the sermonic." [IIW:103]

 

"The rewritten Bible texts make use of the [traditional] legendary material…" [IIW:117; note that they use existing traditions, not free-create them]

 

"The intention of the texts is to produce an interpretive reading of Scripture. They offer 'a fuller, smoother and doctrinally more advanced form of the sacred narrative' [Vermes]. They constitute a kind of commentary. The commentary is, however, indirect, and its full significance can only be grasped if the original is borne constantly in mind." [IIW:117]

 

"Re-written Bible texts make use of non-biblical tradition and draw on non-biblical sources, whether oral or written…In certain cases we can be sure the legendary material pre-existed its incorporation into the texts." [IIW:118]

 

 

The Genesis Apocryphon (DSS)

 

"But he can also expand where it takes his fancy, as when God's command to Abraham to walk through the land (Gen 13:17) is developed into an actual journey with detailed itinerary." [JSOTGP3:104]

 

"We are nearer here to the world of popular story-telling and the legends which increasingly clustered round the biblical heroes, than to the scripturally-based interpretation of Jubilees. In the case of the Noah legend the author seems to have abandoned the biblical text entirely, though the attestation of the same legendary material in 1 Enoch shows that he was not simply allowing his imagination free rein, but following existing tradition, wherever this may have originated." [JSOTGP3:105]

 

"1QgenAp 22:3-5 fills out the bald statement in the Bible that 'there came one that had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew', by giving a resume of what the messenger said. Thus it fills in lacuna in the biblical narrative. This is precisely the sort of expansion which results naturally from an imaginative retelling of the biblical story. None of the aggadic supplements in this section of Genesis Apocryphon is very substantial, and most are closely linked to the biblical text. In the earlier columns the aggadah was clearly much more extensive, and of a kind which points to the use of non-biblical sources. It seems that, like Jubilees, Genesis Apocryphon integrated into a smooth narrative material drawn both from the Bible and from extra-biblical tradition." [IIW:107]

 

"The literary genre of this document is disputed: at one time Matthew Black, following a suggestion of Paul Kahle, was disposed to classify it as an early Aramaic Targum, whereas J. T. Milik expressed the view that it was 'no true targum'. Certainly there is nothing in its embellishment of the patriarchal narratives that can properly be called exegesis, or even exposition, and nothing to which the NT offers an analogy. This kind of embellishment has more in common with the type of sermon in which a biblical narrative is amplified so that its main features may be brought more vividly before the hearers' eyes. There is a difference between amplifying an ancient narrative for this kind of purpose and imaginatively supplementing historical events of the present or of the recent past with details which have no factual basis. It is indeed widely maintained that this has happened in the redaction of our gospel material; but the Genesis Apocryphon cannot be adduced as a parallel case. " [JSOTGP3:96]

 

 

Philo

 

"F.H. Colson introduces his edition of the Life of Moses by commenting on the 'essential fidelity with which Philo adheres to the narrative of Scripture'. There is, he says 'little or none of the legendary accretions' found in Jubilees, Pseudo-Philo, Josephus and the later rabbinic tradition. He goes on, however, 'There is, of course, any amount of amplification.' Fidelity which allows amplification but not legendary accretion..." [JSOTGP3:106]

 

""But the dreams and prophecies, and the specific competition between Pharaoh and Moses, which tradition had superimposed on the story by the time of Josephus and the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, find no echo in Philo." [JSOTGP3:106]

 

"If Philo's work is in any way relevant to the literary genre of the Christian gospels, it provides no encouragement for the discovery there of 'creative midrash'." [JSOTGP3:107]

 

 

 Josephus

 

"By far the most extensive 'retelling of biblical history' is in Books I-XI of Josephus' Antiquities... [JSOTGP3:107]

 

"On the basis of a detailed study of Josephus' retelling of the stories of Joshua-Judges and of the Letter of Aristeas, Downing concludes that apart from the frequent interpolation of speeches Josephus 'has added no story, no major event....Josephus certainly adds and excises details, and can give a quite new colour and import to 'the same' incident, so that it conveys the impression he wants it to create and avoids any he wishes to eschew'. But apart from speeches...he does not create events or incidents, either out of his head or by midrashic exposition (and that despite being aware, as Thackery and others have shown, of the midrashic tradition). Where non-biblical materials came to Josephus in a source he was using, he was prepared to include them, but imaginative or 'midrashic' creation of stories is quite foreign to his method.' [JSOTGP3:108]

 

"What, then, were the sources of Josephus' expansions and alterations of the biblical narrative? Some changes must have arisen quite naturally from the process of retelling a story in his own words in an interesting and instructive way for a gentile, Greek-speaking audience. Others were generated by exegesis of the biblical text. The Antiquities everywhere presupposes a close reading of the Bible--an attention to the obscurities, contradictions and lacunae in the narrative. Josephus often resolves the problems in typical midrashic fashion. His interpretations can hardly be all his own invention. As an educated Jew of priestly descent he must have been well acquainted with the tradition of Bible interpretation current in his day. From time to time he incorporates extra-biblical aggadah into his narrative, some of which probably came to him orally, some from written sources." [IIW:113f]

 

"The vivid little detail that Abraham and Isaac embraced each other after Isaac's deliverance (Ant. I, 236) is another example of natural aggadic addition." [IIW:115; most expansions are minor, non-spectacular details--very, very rarely "supernatural" elements. Cf. Feldman's remarks cited in an earlier installment in this series that Josephus down-played the miraculous elements that were already IN the biblical text!]

 

"In a detailed study, the author [S. Rappaport] not only demonstrates that a large amount of haggadic material parallel to Rabbinic haggadah is to be found in Jewish Antiquities, but rightly conjectures that Josephus did not invent them but followed well established traditions, and borrowed the haggadic elements from an Aramaic Targum." [Geza Vermes, Scripture and Tradition in Judaism, Brill:1961, p.3f; supporting the position that Josephus is taking traditional material, instead of doing 'free creation'.]

 

"One question that constantly keeps arising is how to explain the fact that, on the one hand, Josephus solemnly assures his readers that he has set forth the precise details of the Scriptures, neither adding nor omitting anything (Ant. 1.17), when, in point of fact, he adds, subtracts, and modifies, usually in minor respects, but sometimes as we have seen, in major shifts as well.' [HI:SJRB:539; note--the examples Feldman gives of "major" changes do NOT involve additional miraculous elements, remembering that J downplays the miraculous elements already.]

 

 

This list could be extended to other genres and authors, but the results would still indicate a similar trend:

 

"'Philo actually tones down Moses' miracle working activity...Both Philo and Josephus carve Israel's heroes info figures besides miracles-workers; for all of Artapanus' embellishments of the Moses tradition, he seems little concerned to turn him into a miracle-worker.'..." [Holladay, cited at [X02:TAMMT:102]]

 

 

 

If one goes through this material and tries to categorize the nature of the aggadic expansions, several themes can be noticed:

 

1. The vast majority of the aggadic expansions are non-miraculous. They deal with extra speeches, names, places, events, relationships, etc--all 'normal' in character. The number of miraculous additions are quite small.

 

2. Of the more 'supernatural' additions, most of these have to do with visions, revelations, angels, and demons--NOT miraculous feats by a human biblical hero. Some contain an occasional miracle done to or for a human figure by God, but very, very few are done by the human hero.

 

3. Most of the aggadic material looks like it comes from traditional material, as opposed to being the 'free creation' of the author. In other words, many of these expansions occur in multiple near-contemporary works, and/or in the later rabbinical material.

 

4. Some of the works which are more literary or sermonic (e.g., Joseph and Asenath) have the greatest number of 'dramatic' or 'free creation' expansions (e.g., dialogue, settings), as would be expected. Even the rabbinic material--largely originating in homiletic or teaching settings--manifest this: there are hundreds and hundreds of sayings and discourses put into the mouth of God, just as a modern preacher would do in paraphrasing/dramatizing/expanding upon some more concise statement  in scripture. Audience with a bible in front of them (or the text more or less fixed in memory) would understand the difference between the 'expansions' and the text.

 

5. Most of the works presuppose a good, working knowledge of the Hebrew bible, such that the reader would be very aware of (a) where the expansions were; and (b) what the author's perspective and rhetorical goals were. As such, most of these works would serve the same function of a 'theological treatise'--only more fun to read…

 

 

Therefore, these works provide very little evidence, and very little support for the notion that Jewish authors in the pre-Rabbinical period routinely created de novo miraculous stories about human biblical heroes, and even less that they created them from midrashic approaches to scripture.

 

 

I don't think the not-often-miraculous nature of the pre-Rabbinic haggadah is really appreciated/understood, so I want to provide another set of data to put this in perspective.

 

By far and away, the most common miracles performed by Jesus in the gospels are restoration miracles: healings, exorcisms, resuscitations. We have many detailed narratives describing these deeds, and not just simple ascriptions (e.g., "He healed X", "He was a great exorcist", "People were raised from the dead by Jesus").

 

When we look at pre-Christian, extra-biblical Jewish literature, the number of such haggadic healing narratives can be counted on one hand--in the two millennia of pre-Christian Jewish literature!

 

In a most rigorous analysis of such miracles stories--from the standpoint of structuralism--Werner Kahl gives what he calls a 'near comprehensive' list of all such miracle narratives in both Pagan and Jewish literature [Wehner Kahl, New Testament Miracle Stories in the Religious-Historical Setting: A Religionsgeschichliche Comparison from a Structural Perspective, Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1994]. In his listing of the stories from the Jewish milieu, he gives the following events/passages (pp.57f):

 

Biblical stories/events:

1.        Abraham intervenes with the result that God heals Abimelech (Gen 20.1-18)

2.        God heals the leprous hand of Moses (Ex 4.1-9; Philo, De Vita Mosis I 79-80)

3.        Moses intervenes with the result that God heals Miriam's leprosy (Num 12.1-16)

4.        Moses intervenes with the result that God saves the Israelites from snakebites (Num 21:4-9)

5.        David gives Saul relief from an evil spirit (1 Sam 16:14-23; Josephus, Anti. VI 166-169; Pseudo-Philo/LAB LX 1-3)

6.        A Man of God assists in restoring Jeroboam's withered hand (1 Kings 13:1-10)

7.        Elijah assists in reviving a widow's son (1 Kings 17:17-24; Josephus, Anti. VIII 325-327)

8.        Elisha assists in reviving the Shunamite's son (2 Kings 4:18-37)

9.        Elisha assists in healing Naaman from leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-19)

10.     Elisha causes the revival of a man (2 Kings 13:20-21; Josephus, Anti. IX 182-183)

11.     Hezekiah is healed by God from a serious illness (2 Kings 20:1-11; Isa 38:1-22; Josephus, Anti. X 24-29)

12.     God tests Job's faith and relieves him of his sores (Aristeas the Exegete, Frg. 1)

 

Extra-biblical stories about biblical figures:

1.        Moses revives the Egyptian king (Artapanus, Frg. 3:24-25)

2.        Abram helps to expel an evil spirit from the Pharaoh (1QapGen 19:10-20:32)

3.        Moses intervenes on behalf of Egyptians suffering from ulcers (Philo, De. Vita. Mo., I 126-129)

4.        Eleazar casts out a demon (Josephus, Anti. VIII 45-50)

 

Stories about non-biblical figures (recent-history):

5.        God lets Raphael have Tobias drive out an evil demon from Sarah, and have him heal his father's blindness (Tobit/LXX).

 

Note that there are only FIVE narratives of aggadic, extra-biblical material, about a human agent performing a restoration miracle. There are other miraculous elements, of course, but of the kinds of miracles most commonly ascribed to Jesus, their lack of occurrence speaks volumes. There simply were no precedents in Jewish literature , of 'free creation' of healing miracles, for the evangelists to 'follow'; and no 'encouragement' from the practices of other Jewish writers to 'start such a trend'… [We'll deal with the later rabbinic trends in the next article.]

 

 

 

 

 

………………………………………………………………..

 

 

2. What is the nature and extent of "supplementation" in narratives of more recent, post-biblical Jewish history (i.e., after the last book of the Hebrew Canon)?

 

The Hebrew Bible--especially the Pentateuch--had literally centuries and centuries of time to 'spawn' and attract accretions and embellishments. But the gospel materials were not so 'fortunate'--they belong to the category of "recent history", after the fashion of First and Second Maccabees or Josephus' Jewish War. Here we need to examine what level of 'freedom' writers of recent history felt they had, relative to 'free creation' of miraculous stories--especially from events in scripture (a la "midrashic").

 

Although there are a number of history-looking works in this period, there are two specific works to discuss here:

 

"They [Gospels] are thus recent history, and as such in a different category from the retelling of the ancient history of the Old Testament around which centuries of pious meditation had had ample opportunity to weave elements foreign to the original story. Even the stories of Hanina ben Dosa, which deal with comparatively recent history, were not recorded in their present form until centuries after his death. In terms of the time-scale involved the closest parallels to the gospels would be Josephus' Jewish War and the First Book of Maccabees." [JSOTGP3:121]

 

"In speaking of 'the recording of history' I am consciously excluding those works which are apparently entirely fictional, such as Tobit, Judith, or 3 Maccabees. Such works are typically set in a specific period of Jewish history, and to a limited degree aim at verisimilitude in reconstructing the historical milieu, but their specific content is not derived from known historical sources, and they may be better classified as 'historical romances'." [R.T. France, in JSOTGP3:125n7]

 

 

 

First, Josephus:

 

We have noted in an earlier piece that Josephus downplayed the miraculous in his Antiquities of the Jews, certainly not increasing the amount of miraculous material! The Jewish War contains a few miraculous elements, but only in the category of portents and signs. The section at 6.292-300 lists all the (miraculous) signs of the coming destruction of the Temple, ranging from a mutant birth to a heifer, to poltergeist-type phenomena. But Josephus knows this stuff to be difficult to swallow, and even introduces one of the signs with "I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it" (6.297), indicating his reliance on sources/tradition (as opposed to 'free creation').

 

"We do still have one post-biblical source extensively used by Josephus, the Letter of Aristeas, and this too was taken into Downing's study. Here too he finds the same remarkable fidelity to the contents of the source, despite a deliberate attempt 'to change whatever he can' in terms of wording…Beyond that we are left largely to speculation as to how much, if any, of Josephus' history is his own invention. Some is, no doubt, legendary, but that does not mean that it was Josephus who started the legend. I would hazard a guess, and it can be no more, that his performance, if it does not consistently match his promise 'neither to add nor omit anything' [Ant 1.17 ], is at least governed by that ideal. As for the creation of recent 'history' out of scripture, it seems to me that in the light of his handling of his biblical sources we should be very cautious in assuming such a procedure, and I am not aware that it has been demonstrated to be a significant factor in his writing." [JSOTGP3:114]

 

"Compare the argument of A. W. Mosley, [NTS 12, 1965.66, pp10-26] that the better among ancient historians, Greek, Romans and Jewish, 'did not feel free to invent stories of past events', because 'people living then knew that there was a difference between fact and fiction.'. He points out in particular that the more recent the events, the clearer was the concern for historical accuracy. In this he finds Josephus, the only Jewish historian he studies specifically, to be on a par with the better Graeco-Roman historians." [JSOTGP3:126n30]

 

 

Josephus can be (and is) accused of many things in his writing of this piece (e.g., self-flattery, being overly dramatic, exaggerating numbers), but two things are very clear:

 

1. He did not create narratives out of Hebrew Bible verses (i.e., no midrash);

2. He did not create miraculous deeds for his heroes to perform. (The Romans are God's servants, and Israel's God is the One who sends them against the Jews, but the human players do not perform miracles themselves.)

 

 

Secondly, First/Second Maccabees:

 

"But I am not aware that anyone believes the content of the narrative to be extrapolated from the Old Testament; 1 Maccabees, for all its scriptural colouring, is regarded as the piece of responsible factual historiography" [JSOTGP3:112]

 

"2 Maccabees, for all the similarity of some of its subject-matter, is of a quite different genre, more Hellenistic than Jewish; it belongs to the class quaintly described by literary specialists as 'pathetic historiography', in which the goodies are very good and the baddies very bad, and no pains are spared to enlist the reader's sympathies on the right side…All this, however, belongs to the world of Hellenistic story-telling, and betrays no Old Testament influence beyond the necessarily Jewish colouring of the story..." [JSOTGP3:112-3]

 

"neither work shows signs of an influence from the Old Testament beyond the provision of the theological background against which the events of recent history are set..."[JSOTGP3:113]

 

"As the epitomator [of 2nd Macc] indicated in his preface (2:21), the history which he relates contains a series of such epiphanies. One is an omen of ill before the persecution (5:2), but the rest are manifestations by which the pious Jews receive divine aid in battle (10:29) or encouragement before a battle (11:8). Perhaps the most dramatic of these epiphanies is the dream which Judas has before his decisive victory over Nicanor. There he has a vision of the pious Onias and of the prophet Jeremiah who bestow on him a golden sword with which to strike down his adversaries (15:12-16). These manifestations of divine power, so conspicuously lacking in 1 Maccabees, indicate quite clearly that God was directly responsible for the deliverance of his people." [HI:JWSTP:181; note--miraculous elements missing from 1stMacc, and those present in 2ndMacc are portents, visions, signs, and direct actions of God or angels, as opposed to miraculous actions by the human actors in the narrative. Also, we note again that some dramatic flare is standard for a more dramatic type of work as 2ndMacc, and this is definitely found here as well.]

 

 

So, treatments of recent history--even as theologically 'cast' as the above pieces were--STILL do not create miracles for the human agents to perform, and even less, create miracles from midrashic operations on the Hebrew Bible. So, France:

 

"In relation to recent, non-biblical therefore, there is even less evidence of stories deriving from 'creative midrash' than there is in the retelling of sacred history from the distant past." [JSOTGP3:119-120]

 

"I would conclude, then, in relation to questions (a) and  (b) set out at the beginning, that it is dangerous to speak in terms of a uniform 'Jewish approach to historiography' around the early Christian period, and that it would certainly be going far beyond the evidence to speak of the imaginative creation of stories out of scripture as a characteristic of any such approach, particularly with reference to recent, non-biblical events."[JSOTGP3:120]

………………………………………………………………

 

3. How do any of these patterns relate to the character of the Gospel narratives (as narrators of the miracles of Jesus)?

 

Well, it should be obvious by now that there are no clear or strong relationships between them:

 

1.        The gospels do not 'start with a scripture to explain' as does midrash.

2.        The gospels do not create miracle stories drawn from Hebrew Bible verses

3.        The non-midrash, contemporary Jewish works do not practice large-scale 'free creation' of miracle stories, especially not from Hebrew Bible verses, so there is no reason to suppose they constituted a paradigm for the evangelists to do so.

4.        The contemporary Jewish literature has many aggadic expansions of Hebrew Bible passages, but few miracle expansions--so there is no reason to suppose they constituted a paradigm for the evangelists to create miraculous aggadic expansions of the traditions/story THEY were working with.

5.        Most of the supernatural elements in pre-Christian, extra-canonical Jewish literature had to do with visions, portents, divine interventions, angels and demons--not acts by humans; the exact opposite is the case with the story of Jesus in the gospels (few demons/angels; few dreams/visions; mostly miracles of deed by Jesus).

 

What all this argues for, obviously, is that there simply is no clear warrant to believe that the evangelists made up the miracles of Jesus as a 'standard practice' of Jewish writing (Midrashic or otherwise) of the day. In fact, the data is otherwise--miraculous deeds by humans were downplayed by many of the Jewish writers of the period.

………………………………………………………………………………..

 

Three: Were midrashic fantastic elements even MEANT to be taken 'historically'?

 

 

We will see in a later article that 'larger than life' midrashic elements were supposed to be taken 'homiletically' not historically, but even homiletical expansions had to be 'reasonable'. Later, as we will see in the article on the Sages/Rabbis, there were specific 'curbs' and warnings placed on 'enthusiastic midrashists' (smile), about not moving too far from the plain sense of the text, when doing midrashic exposition. Sabbath 63a, for examples, gives a specific injunction to this effect, which Weingreen 'translates' for us (also pointing to the homiletical character of midrash):

 

"To express the rabbinic principle in modern terms we would say that, while granting that a sermon preached on a biblical text which produces notions never intended by the biblical writer is, nevertheless, a legitimate mode of exposition within its own domain, the author of the sermon must never give the impression that he is presenting the true sense of the text, as expounded in this fashion." [Jacob Weingreen, From the Bible to the Mishna: The Continuity of Tradition. ManchesterUP:1976, p.30, footnote 44]

 

 

But by now the reader should know that "midrashic elements" are an anachronism in our period--they only show up in clear relief a couple of centuries later. But in our period, we can ask the same question about haggadah--how seriously were these expansions taken?

 

Remembering that haggadah of our period was overwhelmingly 'background' or 'natural' details (e.g., personal names, place scenes, speeches, character descriptions, heavenly backdrops), the few "less natural" elements (e.g., visions, interventions from heaven) were probably taken with a grain of salt, and known to be a homiletical or pedagogical technique (i.e., good for students). So Bickerman:

 

"Later Jews, writing in Greek, imagined the mighty deeds of their ancestral heroes on a larger scale: Abraham taught the Phoenicians; Moses, as an Egyptian prince, conquered Ethiopia; and Solomon, like Antiochus III, had the title of "The Great King" (the rulers of Phoenicia and Egypt, his "paternal friends," were merely kings). But even in these exuberant stories the horizon was still limited by the Euphrates and the Nile. By contrast, Taharka (Tirhakah in the Bible), a pharaoh who did not prosper in real life, became the fictional conqueror of remote lands in tales concocted by the Egyptian priests. It was only under the Caesars, who ruled the whole world, that the rabbis imagined Solomon and Ahab in the guise of world emperors.

 

"The overwhelming number of haggadot, however, carried no political or theological implications. Many haggadot merely answered questions raised by attentive readers of Scripture. For instance, "there is a difficulty" as to why Benjamin received a five-fold portion of food from Joseph. The exegete answers that this was done to equalize the shares of the sons of Rachel and the sons of Leah. "It is queried" where the Hebrews of the Exodus got their weapons. This problem, posed and answered in a Greek book, puzzled the readers of the Septuagint (the Masoretic reading does not mention weapons). Both of these passages are from an Alexandrian source and the questions and answers are formulated in the manner used in the interpretation of Homer. But there must also have been exegetes of the Bible in Jerusalem, even though Ben Sira offers no haggadot in his book. He and his fellow sages probably regarded Haggadah with the same attitude with which the Greek philosopher of his time regarded the mythoi told by and for the populace. Philosophers excepted, however, everyone liked to listen to mythoi or haggadic exposition because these tales provoked discussion. In a civilization in which so much was oral, interesting conversation was always welcome. This was the reason for the popularity of parables (Jesus spoke in them), anecdotes, and puzzles. The philosopher Clearchus asserted that it was this kind of material that was right for table talk, and not prattle about food and sex.

 

"In the third century B.C.E., haggadic narratives already existed that roughly followed the outline of the Bible, in a manner similar to that of the later Genesis Apocryphon discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The author of Jubilees made use of this guileless literary genre in order to palm off on the reader his presumptuous revelations. Such haggadic books, together with wandering storytellers, kept the haggadic tradition alive and transmitted it to the rabbis, who rightly stressed its usefulness for popular education. They gave haggadic talks on various social occasions and suited the style and the content of their exposition to the aptitude of their audience." [HI:JGA:189f]

 

Since most of the "Jewish-facing" literature of the intertestamental period presupposed a good knowledge of the biblical text--as a condition for reading the narrative successfully--aggadic expansions in the text would be clearly and immediately recognized as such. No external or contextual linguistic markers would have been needed. Extra speeches by God, the names of the wives of all the males in a biblical story, and the 'extra stops along the way' in a biblical journey would have been seen as 'extra-biblical' and would have functioned as semantic indicators of the author's intent and rhetorical goals.

 

Now, if we take Bickerman's perspective that haggadah was understood as extra-biblical expansions--to stimulate thinking, discussion, learning, etc--and combine that with the fact that haggadic expansions involving miraculous works by human agents were essentially non-existent, then we arrive at an interesting conclusion: to ascribe miracles to a human agent would NOT have been taken as haggadah! In other words, since these authors downplayed the miraculous, then any ascription of the miraculous to a human agent would have been taken 'seriously' and NOT taken as a simple 'aggadic expansion'. Something about the culture or the historical setting made the ascription of 'free creation' miracles to humans verboten. [We will see in our discussion of the miracles ascribed to the later Sages that this might have been due to the fear of being labeled as 'magic' or 'sorcery'.] This creates the rather interesting conclusion that the ascription of miracles to Jesus by the Evangelists were therefore meant to be take as historical, and NOT as haggadah.

 

 

So, in the more historical and more 'retelling the bible' literary works in our pre-midrashic period, we could summarize that: (1) the few miraculous haggadic elements were NOT meant to be taken in a 'fully historical' sense; and (2) ascription of miraculous actions to human figures WERE MEANT to be taken 'fully historically'. If this general pattern exerted any paradigmatic influence/pressure on the evangelists, then their ascriptions of miracles to the figure of Jesus would have been intended to be taken historically and literally.

 

……………………………………………………………………….

 

So, our final question has essentially been answered already:

 

Four: Were fabulous midrashic expansions prevalent at the time of the gospels, such that they created an expectation or cultural paradigm pressure on the NT authors to emulate?

 

We have seen that the patterns of the pre-Midrashic literature would have created the opposite paradigmatic forces on the evangelists. That is, the pattern was set that ascription of miracles to human agents was to be avoided, but when asserted in a text, they were not to be taken as midrash (as being derived from a text in the Hebrew Bible) nor as haggadah. On the contrary, they would have to be evaluated as claiming historicity and not just 'for teaching or illustration or exhortation or entertainment'.

 

………………………………………………………………………

 

Summary:

 

1.        Midrash is a literary genre that arose from the process of interpreting, expositing, teaching, and studying the Hebrew Bible.

2.        It manifests a specific form, always beginning with the text under discussion.

3.        Midrash is not attested in first-century Judaism.

4.        The first appearance of Midrash occurs in commentaries on the Pentateuch--no other books of the Tanakah are so treated by the Tannaim.

5.        The content of a midrash is discussion about the text.

6.        The gospels do not manifest the characteristics of midrash, nor do sub-sections of them.

7.        Pre-Christian literature did not follow the later pattern of midrash, but DID show evidence of expansion of the biblical text.

8.        These expansions are called 'haggadah/haggadot'.

9.        Most of the haggadah in the pre-Christian 'retelling the bible' literature is traditional, and not 'free creation'.

10.     Most of the haggadah in the pre-Christian 'retelling the bible' literature is non-miraculous.

11.     Much of the haggadah in this literature is due to the homiletic or dramatic or literary character of the material.

12.     Of the small amount of miraculous haggadah in this literature, almost none of it involves the ascription of miraculous deeds to human agents (and most of the few cases have the human agent as petitioner and Yahweh as performer of the deed).

13.     In fact, in this literature, even biblical miraculous deeds are sometimes minimized, downplayed, rationalized, or omitted.

14.     Most readers of this literature would have known instantly what elements of a narrative were biblical and which were aggadic.

15.     The data from the literature dealing with more recent Jewish history supported the contention that free creation of miraculous stories about human agents was NOT 'standard practice'.

16.     Literary ascription of  miraculous deeds to a human agent at this time would NOT HAVE been understood as aggadah, but would rather have been understood as a real claim to historicity.

 

 

Therefore, I think we can safely conclude that the answer to our question is "No, the gospels are not midrash nor 'midrashic'; nor are their miracle stories to be understood as haggadah." The evangelists truly wanted their readers to understand the miracles of Jesus as being a real manifestation of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, in the person of the King.

 

 

On to the next one…

 

Glenn Miller

Nov 28, 2001


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