Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Blasphemous Bit of Theatre

I've posted this over at Jewcy.com.


Anonymous said...


just wanted to say hi...

David Long...remember me?

myshkin2 said...

I wasn't able to post on Jewcy, so I'm back here. I really liked this post about Bib/lit. In all my experience I've never succeeded in breaking through my students' Christian reading of the Hebrew Bible. When you cover the "binding," I wonder if you present them with Talmudic story which treats the whole endeavor like a guy's weekend, complete with deceiving Sarah. And then--in a sort of Kate Chopin-ish "Story of an Hour" kind of way--has Sarah heading out to search for her son, meeting an old man who tells her that her son is dead. Sarah works through this and despite the horror, praises God. Still searching, however, she sees that same old guy who says he was wrong--Isaac wasn't sacrificed. Too much for dear old Sarah--her heart breaks and she dies. And when the guys come back and realize just what their "bonding" caused, are devastated, as the was the entire community, with the death of the still beautiful Sarah. I came across this in several collections that purported to the "Talmud," though it also appears in Ginsburg's Legends of the Jews. This version, at least, cuts through, for just a moment, their pollyana view of the tale.

Casey said...


Sometimes when you write things like "they're being so midrashic," I get a little nervous. I don't know enough about midrash, so I tread nervously here myself... but my suspicion is that the kind of thinking you're talking about "turning it over and over again," or however you phrased it, is not solely a "midrashic" impulse. Indeed, I might argue that it's entirely super-national and eternal, or at least older as old as writing itself. It seems to me that what you identify as "midrashic" is in most cases something like "deeply intelligent," or even just "wise."

In the Christian tradition, protestantism was itself a reaction to ossified orthodoxies that refused to see the evolving nature of the text. Same again can be said for "revivalist" sects within protestantism, I suppose. Not to mention the Gnostic traditions that have always understood that "Names given to the worldly are very deceptive" (see the gospel of Philip).

The idea of testing and revisiting our gaps in knowledge may even have been invented in the talmudic tradition (I don't know enough to say more on this point)... but it certainly has spread into other religious and even political philosophies.

Hilarious student "essay," of course!

Monica said...


Thanks for commenting. And thanks for the tip about the story on the binding--I use a couple midrashic stories, but I hadn't heard that one before. One thing my students really seemed to latch on to is the idea that Isaac never really gets off the altar, never really comes down from the mountain (psychologically)--which is why he is a virtually one-dimensional character (compared to the other "patriarchs") next time he enters the text. But an idea that I pose, which they don't seem to like very much, is that Abraham is awarded the covenant not for his willingness to sacrifice his son, but for his decision to stop the sacrifice and use a ram instead. It changes the whole premise of the test.


Something that is midrashic is extensional as opposed to representational, which is very different from something that is simply "wise," as you suggest. It extends a primary text into the present era--it makes it mean something NOW. And, you are right about it being Talmudic--the Talmud IS midrashic, extensional. I would say that it absolutely WAS invented here, beginning in the second century CE. Although--I think this is just the first formalized, structured incarnation of midrashic thinking. What I've been finding is that it is indeed present in numerous other places, particularly the Native American tradition. And I agree that it has spread to other places--I think people like Agamben and Badiou (from what I'm told) are using the same kind of language, though they don't call it midrashic.

Casey said...

I shouldn't have said "wise," because what I meant was "extentional." That is to say, what if these are effectively synonyms for each other? My favorite kind of thinking is the kind that recognizes that what happened in 1861 or 1943 is happening now, somewhere, on a different scale, in a different shape, or whatever...

Terminology bothers me. It's always getting in my way.