Making sense of Scripture requires the very human act of interpretation or exegesis. This exegesis takes many different forms and one of these forms is Midrash. While the term “Midrash” means many different things to different people, in its essence, Midrash is a Jewish form of exegesis of the Torah that has existed for centuries. Between the first and the seventh centuries, a Judaism took shape around the conviction that at Sanai God revealed to Moses the Torah, or revelation, not only in writing but also orally. This oral Torah was formulated and transmitted in memory and was handed on from prophets to sages until it was written down as the Mishnah. Alongside this, there was an effort to reread scripture, that is, the written Torah, and the result was Midrash compilations.[i]
Faced with an unredeemed world, Jewish sages read Scripture as an account of how things were meant to be, not how they were in the perceivable world around us. Because the perceivable world does not testify to God’s plan, Scripture serves as a metaphor for how things are meant to be[ii] and Midrash shows how the Judaic sages mediated between God’s Word and their own world. In Midrash, there is a constant interplay and ongoing exchange between everyday affairs and the Word of God in the Scriptures. “What we see reminds us of what Scripture says – and what Scripture says informs our understanding of the things we see and do in everyday life.”[iii] “The God of Midrash is a God close to men’s expectations, sensitive to experience and memory, who brings about, through His intervention in history, the ‘recognition’ of His kindness.”[iv]
The word Midrash refers to three types of exegesis; Midrash as (1) parable (2) paraphrase and (3) prophesy.[v] Thus, a person may perform exegesis by producing a Midrash of a scripture verse. In other words, a critical interpretation of the verse. One may also say that “life is a Midrash on scripture,” meaning what happens in everyday life imparts meaning and significance to Biblical stories and characters.[vi] Midrash may refer to a particular paragraph or unit of exegetical exposition. When individual Midrash are combined into a cohesive whole the result may collectively be referred to Midrash. An example of this might be a Midrash addressing the Book of Jonah. Putting the three together in summary form, Midrash can refer to a (1) a process, (2) a unit of exegesis resulting from the process, (3) or a compilation of the units derived from the process.[vii]
There are three elements to Midrash; (1) exegesis, (2) starting with scripture, and (3) ending with community.[viii] Bibliodrama might be thought of as a form of Midrash because it incorporates all three elements. Bibliodrama is a critical explanation or interpretation of scripture that “ends in community” in that it is co-created by the participants in the Bibliodrama. By participating in the Bibliodrama, group members are offered the opportunity to see how Scripture as a metaphor for how things are or should be in their lives and might also gain a better understanding of how Scripture is related to the things they see and do in everyday life.
[i][i][i] Neusner, What is Midrash? And a Midrash Reader, Pg. 43, University of South Florida (1994).
[ii] Neusner, P. 48.
[iii] Neusner, pgs 102, 103.
[iv] Rojtman, Black fire on White Fire; An Essay on Jewish Hermeneutics, from Midrash to Kabblah. University of California Press, 1998, pg. 44.
[v] Neusner, pgs. 8, 9.
[vi] Neusner, pg. 8.
[vii] Neusner, pgs 8, 9.