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An Early Use of the Term Midrash at Qumran

NRG has an article (Hebrew) about recent research on the Qumranic book Sefer Moshe  (the fragment is 4Q249 frg 1, published by Stephen Pfann in DJD 36). The research was conducted by Jonatan (Yonatan) Ben-Dov and Daniel Stoekl Ben Ezra. Using new technology the two were able to discover that the title of the book Sefer Moshe had been changed to Midrash Moshe, signifying an very early use of the term midrash to signify a type of literature. It seems that the person who used the term “Sefer Moshe” was not familiar with the genre of midrash, and therefore understood the text to a Biblical text.

“מדובר באחד המופעים הקדומים ביותר של המילה’מדרש’ במשמעות של פרשנות לטקסט תנ”כי”, אומר ד”ר בן-דב. “בתקופה קדומה זו, מאות שנים לפני
ימי חז”ל והמשנה, נוצרה כבר הקטגוריה של ‘מדרש’ והתבססה ההבחנה בין הרחבות של התנ”ך, שהיו מקובלות באותה תקופה, לבין חיבורים דרשניים העומדים מחוץ לו. במגילות אנחנו מוצאים את העדויות הקדומות ביותר לז’אנר הספרותי החדש הזה – פרשנות על התנ”ך. במגילה הנוכחית אנחנו רואים באופן מוחשי איך המושג הזה קורם עור וגידים, כשאדם אחד עוד לא מכיר כלל בקיומה של אפשרות כזו ואדם אחר כבר מכיר את המושג ומתקן את קודמו”.

[We are talking about] one of the earliest appearances of the word ‘midrash’ in the sense of interpretation to the Biblical text,” said Dr. Ben-Dov. “In this early time period, hundreds of years before the Talmudic rabbis and the Mishnah, the category of ‘midrash’ was already created and the distinction between expansions on the Tanakh, which were acceptable in this time period, and interpretive compositions that were external to it. In the scrolls we find the earliest evidence for this new literary genre-commentary on the Tanakh. In the present scroll we see in a concrete way how this term was forming, when one person doesn’t yet know about the existence of such a possibility and a different person already knows this term and corrects his predecessor.”

4 Responses to “An Early Use of the Term Midrash at Qumran”

  1. 1
    DF:

    The term midrash in that sense is already found in Divrei Ha-yamim, no?

  2. 2
    Menachem Mendel (Michael P.):

    I think that Yonatan Ben-Dov is referring to the use of the term to describe a genre of literature and not an activity.

  3. 3
    saul:

    why is that i’m seeing article/books with references to midrash sefer moshe as far back as 2007?

  4. 4
    Menachem Mendel (Michael P.):

    The hiddush is that it is now possible to see that “sefer” has scribal dots over it, evidence that it was intended to be removed and replaced by “midrash.”

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