The midrashic method of exegesis presupposes a definitive and accepted scriptural text. In this way midrash differs essentially from the expansions and glosses that, in the course of their long period of formation, filled out the ancient books and occasionally gave them a new relevance for later times. As long as a book was not yet a part of the canon, its content could be enlarged by the clarifications of later authors, which in many cases became so much a part of the text that it is difficult now to distinguish them from the underlying document with any degree of certainty. The development of the midrashic method is thus bound up with the rabbinical postulate that after the minor Prophets, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, the holy spirit (i.e., the gift of prophecy) disappeared from Israel (Tosephta, Sota XIII, 2; Joma 9b; Sota 48b; Sanhedrin 11a).
Midrashic method in the strict sense can accordingly be described as typical of Pharisaism and the normative, rabbinical Judaism that developed on a Pharisaic basis after the destruction of the Temple (a.d. 70). Only in its beginnings was this technique present among such groups, apocalyptic writers, for example, as they thought of themselves as endowed with the gift of the spirit; and even among these it found a place only insofar as the group in question interpreted received canonical texts distinct from the newer "inspired" texts produced within their own circle. The dead sea scrolls contain typical examples of such a literature (O. Betz, Offenbarung und Schriftforschung in der Qumransekte [Tübingen 1960]).
Midrashic Method. In the sense of inquiring into and explaining the will of God as formulated in already existing Scripture, this method took its rise in the period of the return from the Exile (Ezr 7.10). The interpretation of the Scriptures was in the hands of the so-called scribes, who originally were, for the most part, of priestly descent. But in the course of time, especially from the 1st century b.c., when the pharisees began to influence the sanhedrin, the lay elements played an everincreasing role. The place where this interpretation was taught came to be known as the bêt ha-midrāš (already in Sir 51.23; see Shabbat 65a; Enziqlopedia talmudit [Jerusalem 1951] 3:210–213). It was a place of study in conjunction with the synagogue, the place of liturgical veneration of the word of God, another practice that originated in the postexilic period.
Midrash at Qumran. The qumran community of essenes employed the term "midrash" in the phrase midraš ha-tôrâ (1QS 8.15; CD 20.6–7). By this "midrash to the Law" they seem to mean "a definitive collection of instructions taken from Scripture to regulate the mode of living of the members of the sect" (Betz, op. cit. 33). In 1QS 6.6 it is set down that in each community of 10 men, one must be engaged in studying the law (dōrēš hatôrâ ). The enemies of the community studied the law incorrectly and for this reason were called "teachers of slippery things" (dôr ešê ḥǎlāqôt, v.g., 1Q Hod 2.15, 32; 4Q p Nah; Dan 1.18). In Judaica 18 (1962) 233–249, J. Maier conclusively proved that this word was used as a derogatory name for Pharisees. The midrash-type commentaries to OT books found in Qumran are typical of the community's scriptural study and interpretation. An early instance of similar methods is Dn 7.17–27.
Rabbinical Midrashim. In Pharisaic and rabbinical circles, as at Qumran, midrash took the external form of a running commentary on the biblical text. The most important and oldest midrashim (plural of midrash) come from the time of doctors of the mishnah, the so-called Tannaim (see talmud). They were compiled for the same reason that the Mishnah itself was compiled, in the endeavor, after a.d. 70, to preserve within normative Judaism a solid body of traditional narratives, as well as of legal precedents and customary law, safeguarded against forgetfulness and arranged for ready use in dispute with advocates of heterodox opinions and practices. These Tannaitic midrashim are from the schools of Rabbi akibaben joseph and Rabbi Ishmael; they were not compiled and edited in a final form, however, until the time of the early Amoraim (3d–4th century a.d.). The seven hermeneutical rules of Hillel and the 13 rules of Ishmael provided the basic principles for midrash. Ishmael formulated additional principles, the most important of which was: "The Torah expresses itself in a human way" (Sifre to Num. sect. 112; b Sanhedrin 64b; b Keret 11a). In regard to the text, "Destroyed, destroyed shall such a soul be" (Nm 15.31), Akiba took this to mean a twofold destruction, in this world and in the next. Ishmael repudiated this kind of dissection of the text. Akiba manifestly believed that there was not a superfluous word in the Bible and that every single word had to be accounted for as to its contribution. Thus it was said of him that "from every tittle in the text he could derive mountains of law" (b Menachoth 29b). In spite of the resultant high regard for the midrash in the sense of a living and interpretative study, the pirkeavoth 1.17 gives the early rabbinic dictum: "The important thing is not expounding the law [literally, midrash] but fulfilling it."
The most important Tannaitic midrashim are the Mekilta to Exodus (beginning with Ex 12), the Sifra to Leviticus, and Sifre to Numbers and Deuteronomy. In addition to the well-known midrash Mekilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, there is another compilation, Mekilta de-Rabbi Shimeon ben Jochai. Also from the time of the Tannaim are the Mekilta to Deuteronomy and the Sifre zuta. These midrashim are referred to in Jewish literature as "midrash halakah," that is, legal as opposed to haggadah, or narrative midrashim, though in fact they include many narrative sections. The later midrashim are the so-called haggadic, or narrative, midrashim. They extend from the 3d down to about the 8th century. The best known is the Midrash Rabbah, or Large Midrash, to the Torah and the five Scrolls (Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Esther, and Ecclesiastes), which originally did not form a unity. Others that should be mentioned are the Midrash Tanchuma (or Yelammedenu ), a homiletic midrash to the Mosaic books that takes its name from Tanchuma bar Abba, a Palestinian Amora of the late 4th century; the Pesiqta de Rab Kahana; and the Pesiqta Rabbati. There were, of course, other and later works written in the midrash style.
The so-called lesser midrashim collected by A. Jellinek, J. D. Eisenstein, and A. J. Wertheimer are of a distinct literary genre. They belong, in part, to Jewish gnosticism.
Bibliography: Texts and translations. Mechilta de Rabbi Yishmael, ed. h. s. horovitz and i. a. rabin (2d ed. Jerusalem 1960); ed. j. z. lauterbach, 3 v. (Philadelphia 1933–35), with Eng. translation. Mekhilta de Rabbi Šim 'on ben Jochai, ed. j. n. epstein and e. z. melamed (Jerusalem 1955). Siphra de bê Rab, ed. i. h. weiss (Vienna 1862). Sifra or Torat Kohanim According to Codex Assemani LXVI (New York 1956), fac. ed. l. finkelstein. Sifre de bê Rab: Der älteste halachische und hagadische Midrasch zu Nm. und Dt., ed. m. friedmann (Vienna 1864). Midrash Rabbah (Jerusalem 1960), and many previous editions; Eng. tr. h. freeman and m. simon, 13 v. in 10 (London 1939). Midrash Tanchuma (Jerusalem 1960). Pesikta Rabbati: Midrash für den Festcyclus und die ausgezeichneten Sabbathe, ed. m. friedmann (Vienna 1880). Midrash Haggadol on the Pentateuch: Numbers, ed. s. fish (London 1957). Smaller midrashim. j. d. eisenstein, Otzar Midrashim (New York 1928). a. jellinek, Bêt ha-Midrash (2d ed. Jerusalem 1938). a. j. wertheimer, Batte Midrashot (2d ed. Jerusalem 1950–53). Tannaitische Midraschim, ed. g. kittel and k. h. rengstorf (Stuttgart 1933–). Literature. h. l. strack, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash, tr. 5th Ger. ed. (Philadelphia 1931). c. albeck, Untersuchungen über die hulachischen Midraschim (Berlin 1927). g. f. moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era: The Age of the Tannaim, 3 v. (Cambridge, Mass. 1927–30). j. z. lauttrbach, "Midrash and Mishna," Rabbinic Essays (Cincinnati 1951) 163–256. e. z. melamed, Mabo lesiphrut hattalmud (Jerusalem 1954). n. wohrmann, Iqqare hammabo letalmud (Tel Aviv 1955). j. n. epstein, Meboot lesiphrut hattanaim (Jerusalem 1957). m. margalioth, Enziqlopedia lechakme hattalmud, 2 v. (Tel Aviv 1960).