Friday, April 15, 2005

interpretation

About the same time that Christianity was codifying its scripture and theology (2 to 12 CE), rabbis in the Jewish faith were embarking on interpreting their scriptures, often through the approach of the midrash.

Almost from the beginning of Christianity, there is a need and agreed effort to nail down the meaning of the Word, and the theology of the Church. But in creating the midrashim, or collection of midrash stories and commentaries, the rabbis were honoring sacred texts by expounding on them, questioning them, and imagining what was left out. This is particularly true of midrash centered on the narrative tales of scripture (as opposed to the law).

Take the binding of Isaac, the bibilical story of Abraham offering his son Isaac up for sacrifice.

From the Christian perspective, we accept this story at face value, with some understanding that this is an example of testing Abraham's faithfulness to God. We also see it as forshadowing God's willingness to sacrifice his son Jesus.

But in creating the midrashim, some rabbis asked how could a father tie up his child and prepare to slay it. What kind of God asks a father to do this? (I had lunch recently with a Jewish colleague and we talked abit about this, and she told me that her mother always asked that question, too). Their midrash stories offer up possible and additional story dialogue and actions to answer this problem. Some of them are quite humerous, too. Certainly they were done with a great amount of confidence and tolerance of other possibilities. It's my understanding that this tradition was not about changing the meaning of the law, but rather was about interpreting particularly narrative stories and their relevance for the times.

I find that very interesting, particularly as it developed alongside Christianity. It is an interesting difference between the two faiths.

2 comments:

Rob said...

Interesting post, as is the one about Christain midrash. We use MP as the Ministry of the Word during Advent, so at least people continue to get exposure to that service and the richness thereof.

My favorite writing about Abraham and Isaac is Soren Kierkegard's opening to the Concept of Anxiety and the Sickness Unto Death.

It is pretty easy for us, I think (or maybe I should just say for me) to loose sight of the radical nature of God, and both what that demands of us and what that promises to us. When that happens to me, I become far too timid in my spiritual life--which will probably be one of my deepest regrets when my life is done. I think the Abraham/Isaac story, in all its terrible literalness, addresses that.

BTW, beautiful day here also. And for once, I have a fairly open Saturday. So plan on spending it in the garden as well.

Don said...

rob -- I like to read about Abraham. I suppose it is odd to have favorite Biblical characters, but he would be on my list. He is one of those who we can see sweat. He's a bit of rascal, but his faithfulness to God's promise endures and survives through many trials.

I haven't read the Kierkegard passage, but will look for it.

Hope your gardening went well.