Encyclopedia of Midrash: Biblical Interpretation in Formative Judaism

By Ciampa, Roy E. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, March 2006 | Go to article overview

Encyclopedia of Midrash: Biblical Interpretation in Formative Judaism


Ciampa, Roy E., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Encyclopedia of Midrash: Biblical Interpretation in Formative Judaism. Edited by Jacob Neusner and Alan J. Avery Peck. 2 vols. Leiden: Brill, 2005, xi + 1077 pp., $299.00.

This encyclopedia provides "a systematic account of biblical interpretation in Judaism, from well before the second century B.C.E. through the end of the seventh century C.E." Special attention is given to biblical interpretation coming out of various Jewish groups, with emphasis on Rabbinic Judaism, "which came to predominate and which denned the norm of Judaism from antiquity to the present day." Furthermore, "systematic entries by specialists describe how biblical interpretations produced in other communities of Judaism related to Rabbinic Midrash" (p. ix). The emphasis on Rabbinic Judaism is reflected in the fact that there are few references to Christ, only one extended article on Gospel narratives (rather than separate articles on each of the Gospels), none on Paul or other NT epistolary literature, and very little on the OT pseudepigrapha (Pseudo-Philo and Jubilees each have articles dedicated to them) or the OT apocrypha.

The articles are presented in alphabetical order, but a helpful list of the articles in topical order is also provided. Of 56 articles, 22 are written by Jacob Neusner. The prominence of Neusner's hand and perspective is both a strength and a weakness. It is a strength because his expertise in the area is unquestionable and because it results in a consistency of viewpoint that might otherwise be lacking. It is a weakness because more than one viewpoint or approach would often be enriching and because his style (as we shall see) is not really adapted to that expected for encyclopedia entries. Folker Siegert contributes three valuable articles (which essentially constitute one lengthy three-part article) on Hellenistic Jewish Midrash. Three other contributors offer two articles each.

The contributors, for the most part, are well-known experts in the fields of the assigned articles. Besides Neusner's entries on various Rabbinic works contributors include Lawrence H. Schiffman on biblical interpretation in the Dead Sea Scrolls; Louis Feldman on biblical interpretation in Josephus's version of the Pentateuch; and Daniel Harrington on Pseudo-Philo's Biblical Antiquities. David Instone-Brewer (of Tyndale House in Cambridge), the only known evangelical among the contributors, has contributed an excellent article on "Hermeneutics, Theology of."

Sixteen different articles introduce various aspects of Rabbinic midrash. While each article certainly develops a slightly different theme, a simple reading of the titles suggests the kinds of overlap that can be expected: "Midrash, Definitions of," "Theology of Rabbinic Midrash," "Hermeneutics, Techniques of Rabbinic Exegesis," "Henneneutics, A Critical Account," "Hermeneutics, Theology of," "Theological Foundations of Rabbinic Exegesis," and "Language and Midrash." Some issues, such as the origin of the 13 rules attributed to Hillel and the doubtful nature of the relationship between the those rules and that Rabbi, receive multiple treatments as they are considered foundational to many of the issues addressed in the encyclopedia. The different perspectives and emphases of these articles enrich the reader's understanding of the issues.

It is not unusual for different articles to address different issues with respect to individual Rabbinic works. For instance, one kind of article deals with Rabbinic readings of biblical books (e.g. "Leviticus in Leviticus Rabbah"), while another deals with the theology of individual Rabbinic works (e.g. "Leviticus Rabbah, Theology of"). Neusner has written all of the articles dealing with the theologies of the various Rabbinic midrashim and most of those dealing with the Rabbinic readings of biblical books. His articles tend to be overly full of quotations from the texts under discussion. For example, in his 14-page article on "Exodus in Mekhilta Attributed to R. …

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