Method 3 of 4: Interpreting
Bible as midrash.
Method 3. Interpreting the Bible as midrash:
This is a method of looking at the
Bible from a totally different perspective. As explained by retired
Episcopal Bishop J.S.
"Midrash is the Jewish way of saying that everything to be venerated in the
present must somehow be connected with a sacred moment in the past...It is the means
whereby the experience of the present can be affirmed and asserted as true inside the
symbols of yesterday."
Bishop Spong illustrates Midrash by citing four stories in the Hebrew Scriptures which
involved a common miraculous theme: the parting of waters in a sea or river:
|The first story is found in Exodus 14:5-28. The Hebrew people were
trapped between the Red or Reed Sea and the approaching Egyptian army. Moses
cried out to God who parted the sea so that the Israelites could pass in
|The second story is found in Joshua 3:14-17. Joshua was the successor to Moses. He
commanded that the ark of the covenant be carried to the Jordan River. As the priests carrying the ark reached the river, God stopped the water and caused it to pile
in a heap a great distance away." (NIV) The priests found themselves standing on
a dry river bed.|
|The third story is found in 2 Kings 2:7-8. In the presence of
Elisha, Elijah took his
cloak, rolled it up and struck the water of the River Jordan. "The water divided
to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground."
(NIV) At this point, Elijah was taken in a fiery chariot pulled by fiery horses up to
heaven. Elisha was left behind.|
|The fourth story is found next in 2 Kings 2:13-14. Elisha picked up Elijah's cloak,
struck the water with it. Again, "it divided on the right and to the left and he
crossed over." (NIV).|
According to a Midrash interpretation, the purpose of the parting of the Red/Reed Sea was to
show the Israelites that God was on their side and that Moses could call on him for
protection. The purpose of the second, third and fourth stories was to show that God
continued to work through his chosen prophets in later times. They also show that the
history of Israel is continuous, containing repetitive themes that link back to earlier
It is not useful to ask whether the partings of the waters actually occurred. A proper
"What was the experience that led, or even compelled, the compilers of
sacred tradition to include this moment, this life or this event inside the
interpretive framework of their sacred past?" 4
Other examples of Midrash:
There are many events in the Christian Scriptures that mirror events that
appeared in earlier passages of the Bible and are prime candidates for a
midrash interpretation. Some are:
|The guiding stars involved in the births of Abraham, Isaac, Moses and Jesus|
|The local rulers ordering that Jewish babies be killed, placing both Moses and
|The temple experiences of Samuel and Jesus.|
|The feeding of 100 men by Elisha and Jesus' feeding of 5000 men plus women and children.|
|Both Elijah and Jesus bringing dead people back to life.|
|The ascension of both Elijah and Jesus towards heaven.|
The following information source was used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.
- Richard Muller, "Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms:
Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology," Baker, (1985). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com
online book store
- From the "Decrees of Council of Trent," Session IV, and "Dens
Theo.," Tom. 2., N. 80 and 81.
- J.S. Spong, "Resurrection: Myth or Reality?", Harper Collins (1994), Page 8-9.
Read reviews or order this book
- Ibid., Page 11.
- Alan Dundes, "Holy writ as oral lit. The Bible as folklore," Rowman & Littlefield, (1999).
Read reviews or order this book.
- Ibid, Page 2.
Hermeneutics Quiz: Your biblical blind spots and
what you tend not to see," Leadership Journal, at:
Copyright © 1996 to 2009 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update 2009-JAN-21
Author: B.A. Robinson