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Midrash as Law and Literature Author(s): Geoffrey H. Hartman Reviewed work(s): Source: The Journal of

Midrash as Law and Literature Author(s): Geoffrey H. Hartman Reviewed work(s):

Source: The Journal of Religion, Vol. 74, No. 3 (Jul., 1994), pp. 338-355 Published by: The University of Chicago Press

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Midrash as Law and Literature Geoffrey H. Hartman / Yale University

My motives in studying Midrash are not pure. I am a raider of the lost ark looking for treasure. It is not for the sake of heaven I study but to

bring back voices and types of interpretation of which that ark is as full as Noah's was of beasts. In an era of restitutions, such a restocking of identity through a historical and compensatory search is common

enough.

of exegesis as well as the collections formed by it-another motive enters.

I cannot forget how these writings were slandered, and how public igno-

rance abetted such slander in the Nazi era. Jews were demonized

time when Talmud and Midrash were available yet remained a closed book even to the educated. And for centuries before that, theological anti-

Semitism had misrepresented the spirit of Jewish law: non-Jews were taught to see only a crass and stubborn literalism, a mean-spirited, mate- rialistic frame of mind, rather than what David Weiss Halivni has called

the predilection of Midrash for justified law, which heaps interpretation upon interpretation.' That era of prejudice and ignorance should be ap- proaching its end. Yet to make sure of its demise will take a concerted effort. Those who

live within the walled garden are often so absorbed by its

duties that they do not open it to others. And those like myself who sneak

through the wall like a thief in the night cannot emerge with more than fragments wrongly detached from a living environment. I am not dis- couraged, however, because the need is so great-the need of those in my generation who "have the Bible and their great poets, but no longer understand how to use their imaginations in reading them." These are

and

at a

But in the case of Midrash-by which I always mean a method

pleasures

Northrop Frye's words forty years ago, describing how William Blake felt two hundred years ago.

Waldo Emer-

son's journal the following entry: "If Minerva offered me a gift and an

You can imagine my mixed feelings when I read in Ralph

1 David Weiss Halivni, Midrash,Mishnah, and Gemara:The Jewish Predilection forJustified Law

(Cambridge,

@ 1994

Mass.: Harvard

University Press, 1986).

by Geoffrey H. Hartman.

338

Midrash

as Law and Literature

option, I would say give me continuity. I am tired of scraps. I do not wish to be a literary or intellectual chiffonnier. Away with this Jew's rag-bag of ends and tufts of brocade, velvet, and cloth-of-gold; let me spin some

yards or miles of helpful twine, a clew to to bind wholesome and belonging facts."2

On the level of tradition I, too, want continuity, and on the level of

continuity translates

into a search for the formal unity of the Hebrew Bible and

of midrashic method. Yet the first lesson Midrash itself teaches the

prentice is to be wary of overunifying its words or of unifying them in

a totalizing way. It is comforting to anticipate with Emerson "a clew to

lead to one kingly truth," and it is intellectually imperative to

possibility in mind. The Hebrew Bible, however, is not a classical work

of art, nor is Midrash a Patrologia in which a supersessionist revelation

intellectual, especially literary analysis, that desired

lead to one kingly truth, a chord

correlatively

keep

ap-

that

draws everything into that regal unity of "wholesome

and belonging

facts." Emotionally and intellectually I am with Emerson, but empirically

and spiritually I am closer to the point at which Midrash and Kafka in- tersect. Let me return to Emerson's image of the Jew's rag-bag. It does not

have to be an insult or an indication of abject poverty. Many

rary scholars accept a documentary hypothesis which views the Hebrew

Bible as a glorious patchwork, and

virtue.

modern

Since with Midrash and Talmud there

marked effort to preserve every significant tradition and law, however

agglutinated: having

waiting

to get into the written text at the appropriate moment, if no such mo-

founding rabbis, in

short, can be considered as law-rhapsodes, and the halakha as a severe

poetry.3

aware that what is meant by

the literary has not been clearly defined. Does it neatly preclude

morial and encyclopedic dimension of rabbinic literature? One reason for the modern interest in both Bible and Midrash is their apparent care-

lessness about literary effects associated

indebted to

Greek and Roman thought-did not separate out as technical branches

formal unity. What we call "rhetoric" and

contempo-

that the seams show through, as in

not a theological,

all the more-a

collages, can be an artistic, though

is-perhaps

are

elliptical or unclear, many sayings or exegeses

been stored in a collective memory-the

Oral Tradition-and

ment comes along, they sneak in nevertheless. The

The literary study of Midrash makes us

this me-

with the concept of genre and

"poetics"-arts

2 See Bliss Perry, ed., TheHeart of Emerson's Journals (New York: Dover, 1958),

3 I allude, of course, to Giambattista Vico's famous

p.

267.

description,

still

in TheNew Science (1725-

44) of the Roman Law, chanted by the decemvirs and

Cicero.

memorized by the schoolboy

339

The Journal of Religion

of knowledge during the formative period of talmudic Judaism. It would be exciting to know what the paidea of the sages involved, and while we know something about the rabbinic academies, we do not know enough. But it seems that, despite the impact of Hellenistic learning in the area of dream interpretation or hermeneutics,4 poetics played no role. Even today, the elements of Midrash are taught mainly through immersion. The best an essay can do is to smear a little honey on this or that text. My essay may not be different in this regard. But I do want to raise the issue of what happens to that cornerstone of poetics, the concept of unity, when Midrash enters the picture. Consider J. B. Soloveitchik's "The Lonely Man of Faith.""5 The essay rejects source criticism (the documen- tary hypothesis) as an attaint to the unity and integrity of the divine text. This rejection does not entail, however, a denial of contradiction in Scrip- ture. What ensues-what Soloveitchik liberates himself into-is a strong Midrash on the two stories of Adam's creation. Their incongruity is not a textual accident (as the Higher Criticism proposes) but points to a real contradiction in the nature of man. Soloveitchik develops the two ac- counts into a picture of Adam the first and Adam the second. These two categories allow him to pursue a sensitive contrast that builds into an entire moral and social philosophy. It sets against the intel- lectual and scientific dignity of man the crisis-feeling of being overpow- ered by God or the world, a feeling which radically deepens the quest for redemption. The first Adam though not alone is lonely because he is committed to an ideal of mastery that results in dominion over the cos- mos yet separates him from it; the second Adam is doomed to explore that loneliness as a loss which can only be illuminated by the dimension of faith and the convenantal idea. The muteness and indifference of an alienated cosmos now sharpen Adam's consciousness of separation; for each "I"is ontologically lonely-that is, incomplete-and so the "natural work community" of Adam the first cannot solace this ordained lack of connection. Hence a turn from cosmos to covenant. "Our sages said that before Abraham appeared majestas dei was reflected only by the distant heavens and it was a mute nature which 'spoke' of the glory of God. It was Abraham who 'crowned' Him the God of the earth, i.e., the God of men." 6 By a surprising return to the text Soloveitchik then suggests that Eloh-

craving of

convenantal man for a personal and intimate relation with God cannot

ist and

Yahwist do express very different source experiences. The

4 See Saul Lieberman, Hellenismin Jewish Palestine (New York, 1950).

5J. B.

6 Ibid.

Soloveitchik, "The Lonely Man of Faith," Tradition7 (1965): 5-67.

340

Midrash

as Law and Literature

be realized through the cosmic "E-lohim encounter," so that the locus of

transcendental experience

infinite He 'face to face."" This more communal relation between man

and God is symbolized by the Tetragrammaton in the Biblical account of Adam the second.

must shift to where "the finite 'I' meets the

I do not apologize for spending time-little

enough-on

part of Solo-

veitchik's essay. It participates in an intelligent revolt against modernity; it acknowledges yet does not accede to the claim made on us by modern categories. Here is someone acquainted with the language of contempo- rary philosophy, who knows that Jewish thought has often flourished within a foreign environment, and who will not accept the fact that phi-

losophy speaks only Greek. His brilliant rejection-conversion of Higher Criticism seems to come right out of the lineaments of midrashic style. It is true that he does not call his procedure "midrashic," yet there is no question that it is so. It explores an incongruity, it puts into play proof- texts and associated authorities in a potentially endless dialogue, one that brings the Bible closer to us even as it brings us closer to it. The essay's fusion, moreover, of homiletic dependence on Scripture with an analysis of contemporary spiritual problems culminates in an appropriation of 1 Kings 19 that makes Elisha into a typical representative of the natural work community, an Adam the first transformed by his sudden encounter with Elijah into an Adam the second. Convenantal mankind replaces ma- jestic mankind. There is, however, one disconcertingly superficial aspect to this mod-

ern orthodox

and wrong. The Higher Criticism, he alleges, based itself on "literary cat- egories invented by modern man." Now contemporary critical theories do use stylistic criteria to distinguish sources, but no literary scholar would stop there. It is precisely the issue of the unity or coherence of art that has exercised poetics since Aristotle. Using the example of Greek tragedy, Aristotle defined a unity that was nonepisodic, that did not de- pend, like epic, exclusively on the presence of a hero but was the outcome of an "action" involving all elements. It seems impossible to apply Aristo- tle's scheme to the Bible, which remains episodic and, though it is said to have been given to Moses, is not unified around Moses as hero, or "one

greater man." The unity of Scripture supported explicitly and unre- servedly by Soloveitchik obviously suggests different criteria and forms of

analysis. To discover them is also a task of contemporary literary theory.

scholar. What he says about the literary is both minimal

7 Ibid.

341

The Journal of Religion

Recent literary thinkers have challenged the simple location of unity in art.8 They rejoice, like Midrash, in the "interpretive bounty" of a text;9

they accept the mediacy of linguistic and interpretive structures. A full- scale rethinking of the dichotomy of creation and commentary is in pro- cess, which has already modified our picture of what constitutes unity. So Claude Levi-Strauss engages, like Soloveitchik, disparate creation myths, from Greek literature and South American folklore, because interest has shifted from elegant ideas of artistic coherence to the making and sus- taining of traditions. A consensus is building that cultures stabilize contra-

dictions in their belief-system by the interpretive extension

tional texts. On this view, commentary is not, or not only, a by-product of these texts but is itself a functional revelation. The structure of first

(Scripture) and second (Midrash/Interpretation) is modified into a hendi- adys or syzygy. Dan Sperber, the French anthropologist, has said suc-

cinctly: "Exegesis is not an interpretation but rather an extension of the symbol and must itself be interpreted."10

of founda-

of the relation between text and commentary is

important for Judaism, where commentary becomes the authorized form of creative thought." We have no statement more radical in this respect than that both Oral and Written Law were given on Sinai, for this legiti- mates talmudic commentary as strictly coterminous with Scripture. Therefore the daring intimacy of Midrash with Bible. Remember Moses in Akiba's cheder, marveling at what he hears, and just a little bemused. Instead of a magisterial theology expressed in Aristotelian treatises, our

This understanding

8 Northrop

Frye indicates the problem while trying to obviate it. He writes: "Unity, a

also indicates the finiteness of the hu-

'imperfect' or continuous into the

unified, also displays a

primary principle

man mind,

'perfect,' the form achieved once and for all.

of works of art since Plato's time,

the care that works toward

transforming the

The Bible, however

carelessness it to another

Literature [New York: Harcourt Brace, 1982],

about unity, not because it fails to achieve it, but because it has

perspective

passed through

on the other side of it" (Northrop Frye, TheGreatCode:TheBibleas

p. 207).

Quest in

Robinson Crusoe," in Midrashand Literature,

University Press, 1986), p.

230.

(New York, 1975).

9 Harold Fisch, "The Hermeneutic

ed. G. H. Hartman and S. Budick (New Haven, Conn.: Yale

In his

recent book, The

man demonstrates how sensitive biblical

tary hypothesis (its modification of the Bible's inspirational or authorial unity) yet brings

To do this requires (1) a definition of the

the documents

literary as "the primacy of intertextual, as opposed to sociological or political, motives for

invention"

of firstness can be drawn from secondariness.

commentary in Judaism is

have a standing, how a kind

10 See Dan Sperber, RethinkingSymbolism, trans. Alice L. Morton

Voice ofJacob (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), Leslie Bris-

interpretation

(here J and E/P) into dialogue.

can be, which accepts the documen-

xiii), and (2) a midrashic sense of how late voices

innovative and revelatory

"Offenbarung

und

religious

role of

Tradition

in

als

religiose Kategorien

vol. 4

categories

appears

Judaism),Judaica,

as TheMessianicIdea

injuda-

(p.

I1 The best discussion of the

Schocken, 1971).

that of Gershom Scholem. See his

im Judentum" (Revelation and tradition as

(Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1984). The English translation

ism (New York:

342

Midrash

as Law and Literature

main inheritance is the composite, heteroglossic supplement of Midrash:

a supplement that converts exegesis into law finding (halakha) or a litera- ture of justification (aggada). Of course, literary commentaries and Midrashic ones have their differ- ences. But these are not easy to define except by pseudo criteria. The very advance of contemporary theory toward Midrash makes Jewish scholars more zealous to avoid contamination. There is fear that the mo- tive for Midrash will be mistakenly reduced from Everything is in the text, and whatthetext signifies is itsrelevancetotheactionsor thoughtsof the interpretive community to Everything is text, and thetextis a structure of imaginary relations,

a tissuewithoutissue. I acknowledge the danger, but why be frightened by those who insist on being superficial? The literary establishment has its anxieties, too. Is it not foolhardy to extend from sacred to secular texts the principle that an apparent inco- herence signals an overarching integrity? Yet every good literary inter- pretation takes precisely that risk. It comes upon an obvious or less obvi- ous difficulty: a crux, a deviation from the norm, a contradiction. On that evidence it either impugns the authority of the work, or it values the anomaly and so augments the authority of the work. The secular critic, of course, has a choice between negative and re- demptive approaches, while the religious interpreter does not. The dar- shan cannot stay in the negative. His inventiveness is spent on ways to redeem the text's negative features (incoherence, ellipses, the disparity of historical fact and religious expectation, gaps between tenor and text). His basic choice may be characterized as follows. Does the harmony he evokes in order to repair the text point to a higher unity? Or is the truth plainer, a rectification, even polemically directed against a mystification, one that comes from our need to think of the sacred in sublime rather than down-to-earth terms? In brief, though the words of the Torah can be made to fly up, more often Midrash infers from ellipses or condensations a very human story and introduces dialogues that draw God deeper into the affairs of man- kind. Let me bring an example from Midrash Tanhuma, which has paral- lels in Genesis Rabbah and the Babylonian Talmud (Berakhot 60a).

Genesis 30:21-22 reads: "Afterwards she [Leah] bore him [Jacob] a daughter and named her Dinah. And God remembered Rachel and listened to her and opened her womb." Here there are four possible ellipses: "Afterwards"could raise the question, Precisely after what? "Di-

nah" is not followed by an explanation Genesis (the name Joseph is explained

of the name, as is the norm in

twice in lines 23-24

of the same

343

The Journal of Religion

chapter).12 The transition from Leah to Rachel is abrupt. And Leah as

well as Rachel could be referred to by "God

listened to her."

Here is how Tanhuma interprets the verses:

After Leah had given birth to six sons, she saw by way of

prophecy that there

birthto six sons and was

hah and

and calledout to the Holy One, blessedbe He: "Masterof the World, twelvetribes

in the futurewillariseout

my sister Rachelwill be even less than the maid

One, blessedbe He, listenedto her prayer and transformedthe fetuswithinher

daughter and named her

servants!" Immediately, the Holy

my next child is a male, my

wouldbe twelvetribesin the future

Zilpah] had given

emerging out ofJacob. She had alreadygiven

pregnant withher seventh.The two maidservants [Bil-

birthto twosons each, hence a totalof ten. Leaharose

ofJacob; I already havesix sons and am pregnant with

seventh and the maid servantshave two each. If

into a female, thus it says: "Afterwards, she bore him a

Dinah

righteous stood

beforethe Holy One, blessedbe He,

blessedbe He, said to her, "Youare rahmanit [kindperson, merciful person] and

so I willbe mercifulto her, hence: "Now, God

seekingajudgment (din) and the Holy One,

." Why did she name her Dinah? Because Leah the

remembered Rachel."'3

The interpolated story, typical of a patriarchal society, makes the ellip- ses fertile, and suggests that Leah, after giving birth to six sons and car- rying a seventh, remembers the plight of her sister and calls on God to grant Rachel the next male child. God converts the fetus in Leah's womb

the word for

to a female, while mercifully (a pun intervenes here

mercy with that for womb) granting Joseph to Rachel as her first male

about Leah's frame

offspring. Whereas the Bible story

of mind and, indeed, has God abruptly "remember" Rachel after Leah

ascribes that "remembering" first to psychological touch to explain the

meaning of the name Dinah. In brief: he

line to God and can influence Him. He also shows God making a decision

not autocratically, or in a great consult with his

from a mortal. Leah's rachmonesseems to activate his own.

has given birth, the Midrashic writer Leah and then uses it as a charming

linking

mentions

nothing

assumes that Leah has an open

angels,

but after a plea

Is there a literature from that time which is so down-to-earth? It may be

strange to call Midrash literature since it remains a mode of

commentary

explicitly linked to the very words of Scripture. Yet we recognize the cre-

ative and parafictional result of its interpretive

elaborations. Moreover, at

a certain level Midrash is not satisfied with the text as it stands, and while

it looks for more of

the original in the original, for more story, more words within the

it refuses to produce a new or transformed

writing

12 It is also rare, moreover, that a female child is

13 I am grateful to Barry Holtz for drawing my attention to this passage in an interesting

given a formal naming phrase.

talk held at a Midrash

colloquium at Yale.

344

Midrash

as Law and Literature

words.'4 But this potentiality in the sacred text is rarely treated as a mys- terious void. Leah, as she stands before God, exerts a theurgic force, how- ever weak,'5 and such force, such pressure, is also what the darshan ex- erts on and through the Bible. The rabbinic interpreter is characterized by participationexigetique.

the sense that it wishes

for something more, not something different-means that its labor of the negative can be very daring. Gaps or obscurities, everything that could be characterized as indeterminate, are emphasized before being resolved

by one interpretive or interpolative davar after another. And though what is potential is usually understood in accord with the dictum that the lan-

guage of the Bible addresses the

text moves close to

standing, in the tricky area of theurgic interpretation

theory in one respect: it must be "falsifiable" (in the Popperian sense of

that word). Let me clarify this scandalous idea. The midrashic skill, for instance,

that divides up words or verses, together with an ingenious

tion (revoweling) of phrases, is a combinatory art that questions the can- onized letters before us. While these letters have a received meaning on

the grammatical level of word and sentence, they are taken to be, at the

elements of a

divine name coterminous with the Torah and guaranteeing every mark in

same time, anagrammatic, in the sense of constituting the

That Midrash is not satisfied with the text-in

normal person's capacity for under-

repunctua-

it. This perspective is made explicit by the Kabbalah. "The whole Torah is the Name of the Holy One," we read in the Zohar (Yithro 87a); the letters

without

break of words, which makes it possible to separate them into Divine

Commentary on the

Torah, Introduction to the Book of Genesis). Scholem remarks that these

names of God constitute a language without a grammar.16 The established link between signifier and signified can therefore be

heuristically modified by viewing the signifier anagrammatically as a com-

Names when read by that "path" (Nachmanides,

of the Torah, the Ramban comments, were written

continuously,

already cited above, is

in "Revelation and Tradition"

interprets Moses's query to God, "Who is restraining you?"

to mean, "Why are you not satisfied with the letters as you have constituted them, so that

shown

14 God Himself, in Menahot 29b, the famous

story about Moses

ornamenting the letters of Scripture (making

crowns or wreaths for them). Scholem

you

scrolls?"

add to them crowns, that is, the hooks which are found on certain letters in the Torah

If "theurgic" is objected

15

in the differentiation

of

Neoplatonic

influence.

to, a different word should be found; I am not interested here

signatures

commentary is that reached

theurgy and magic or whether "theurgy" comes in only with a

16 Scholem, "Revelation and Tradition." Scholem's further remark, that Revelation is es-

or rishumimfound in

sentially that of the name or names of God (linked to the

created

things), suggests exoteric status with the

Kabbalah.

how intrinsic the mystical mode of

345

The Journal

of Religion

bination of letters that yield, by permutation if necessary,

fier. So "Israel" Y = yod, S, R, 'L) is reinscribed as "Y-SAR-EL"to reveal

the mystical number 10 (Y = 10) which in the series of Sephirot or

rate intelligences is the last emanation (Prince of the Presence, or SAR-

the

prophetic Kabbalah, but normative Midrash never loses sight of that po-

tential.'8

philol-

ogy." The difference, even known to Milton, between kri (the voiced text)

and ktiv (the written, consonantal text)

such as substituting "builders" (bonecha) where

"sons" (banecha), and far more startling shifts. Such

contains

text has

paranomasia,

another

signi-

sepa-

EL).'7 The extreme of this combinatory art is found in Abulafia and

Isaac Heinemann,

it is well known, sees Midrash as "creative

permits

pun

and

the received

revoweling

an entire allegory, extracted by readers alert to the inner flow, the lava as

it were, of the Sinaitic text. Even

posed, at the level of kri. So in Jacob's struggle

he "fought" (and prevailed), is repunctuated and read as

wayyashar, roles of he

pa-

triarch and angel. There is usually, of course, a homiletic or moralistic

with words. Indeed,

mentary may have produced fragments memorable enough to circulate

as proverbs

the common

aspect to this play

the segmentation of the Bible for the sake of com-

consonants can be changed, or trans-

with the

angel,

wayyasar,

"sang" (and prevailed)-suggesting a significant fusion of the

or to pass more fully into the common language as well as

understanding.'9" The creation, by an art of division and

combination, of quotable fragments ("citemes," as Arnold Goldberg calls

them)20 allows their recitation in the most varied circumstances: released

from their immediate context, the interpreter or preacher can find new

17 The fullest account of such practice in the

chapter

especially

in his Major Trendsin

Kabbalah may be found in Moshe Idel's

Press, 1988). For gematria in

Kabbalah:New Perspectives(New Haven, Conn.: Yale University

Midrash, see, e.g., Rabbi H. Freedman and Maurice Simon,

(London: Socino, 1939), 2:734-39,

on the Kabbalah I am indebted to conversations with

Scholem's

Schocken, 1939). Scholem first

vot and halakha as more than

cosmic importance. Idel, in his revision and extension

ecstatic Kabbalah

ing more through the mitzvot to harness divine powers).

eds., MidrashRabbah:Numbers

on the yod. For information on Abulafia and

Moshe Idel as well as to Gershom

as often

of Scholem,

permutation, are described by

Jewish Mysticism, 3d revised ed. (New York:

pointed out the crucial importance to the Kabbalah of mitz-

resembling mystery rites of

"allegories," indeed,

distinguishes between

theurgical Kabbalah (descendental, work-

(ascendental and unitive) and

they

18 The hermeneutic devices of Midrash, as

border on

Saul Lieberman in his chapter "Rabbinic Interpretation of Scripture," in Hellenismin Jewish

Palestine (n. 4 above). ~9 I owe this observation to

proverbs, The

294 ff.: "Could the most

somewhat as

Philosophyof Literary Form, 3d ed.

Moshe Greenberg. Compare

Kenneth Burke on

(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), pp. 2,

works of art legitimately be considered

complex and sophisticated writ

"Der

'proverbs 20 Arnold Goldberg,

large'?" verschriftete Sprechakt als rabbinische Literatur," in Schrift und

Geddchtnis, ed. A. Assman, J. Assman, and Chr. Hardmeir (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 1983).

346

Midrash as Law and Literature

frame narratives for them in any Bible episode or invent conversations between Israel and God. This has the effect of renewing Scripture words

in startling ways. They come at us now from another context as if it were their original site or as if a later text (their source) had lodged in an earlier one, emanating from it as Midrash itself does at a still later point.

the verse from Song of

me hear thy voice,"

is applied

Red Sea.

"What were the Israelites at that moment like? Like a dove

a hawk, and about to enter a cleft in the rock where there is a

serpent. If she enters, there is the serpent! If she stays out, there is the hawk! In such a plight were the Israelites at that moment, the sea forming

a bar and the enemy pursuing.

prayer. Of them it is stated in the sacred

that art in the clefts of the rock," and so on.21

Through this re-citing (resiting) of citations we seem to hear something speaking from the "cleft"of the Torah's words. In this uncanny sense also

"there is no earlier or later." Contextual unities of time, place, narrative,

or grammatical meaning are overruled by

intertextual coherence. When the midrashic

Consider how, in the Mekhilta de' R. Ishmael,

Songs, "O my dove that art in the clefts of the rock, let

to Israel caught between

Pharaoh and the Deep

fleeing from

hissing

Immediately they set their mind upon

writings [Kabbalah]: O my dove

a dynamic that points to an author associates a passage

from the Penta- of the

authority

from the Writings (ketuvim or kabbalah) with a passage teuch, this synoptic method works because the special

Pentateuch actually promotes a sense that the earlier contains the later-

a sense that extends itself (for this reader at least) to Midrash, as if mikrah (the canon) were always already Midrash or as if, were we to lose mikrah,

it could be largely reconstructed through the "distributive justice" of in-

terpreters whose prooftexting faithful imagination.

skills have opened the canon to a text-

Let me return to the relation between the Bible as, on the one hand, a

language of names and, on the other, a language of common words

adapted to human capacities. The interpreter's emphasis on names is

based, formally, on etymological

Penuel or personal names like Israel and

into a paraphrase and comes with a story. It functions like a hook for

traditions that explain place names like

Joseph.

The name is converted

21 Jacob Z. Lauterbach, ed., Mekiltade-RabbiIshmael (Philadelphia, 1942), 1:211.

passage by

Daniel

Boyarin's suggestive essay

provided

on

of Midrash by way of "handles"

by the

Song

My

atten-

alle-

tion was drawn to this gory, and the meaning

his "Re-citing Scripture," Orim:A JewishJournal at Yale, vol. 3, no. 2 (1988); cf. his Intertextu-

ality and the Reading of Midrash (Bloomington:

Does this Midrash recall a speculation that the Song

Red Sea?

intertextuality,

of

Songs. See

University of Indiana Press, 1990), chap. 7.

of Songs was revealed to Israel at the

347

The Journal of Religion

memory, whether or not that was the formal intention. What is important

from a hermeneutic

tern can suggest a transformation from story and paraphrase back to

name, from signified back to a material yet numinous signifier. In th