Midrash Tanchuma Open this page in a new tab

The Midrash is a compilation of rabbinic writings composed between 400 and 1200 CE (wikipedia). The word midrash means exegesis in Hebrew and the word midrash can be defined in multiple ways. Avery-Peck and Neusner (2004:87) characterize it as a distinctively Rabbinic mode of reflecting upon Scripture and define it as follows:
  1. a distinctive process or method of interpretation
  2. a compilation of the results of that process, that is, a book that collects a set of exegeses
  3. a single unit of exegesis that uses that method, e.g., the interpretation or set of interpretations of a single biblical verse.
Two categories of Midrash are Midrash Aggadah or lore and Midrash Halakah the latter of which was intended to to explore and systematize norms of action (the law; HALAKHAH) set forth in Scripture (Avery-Peck and Neusner, 2004:87). Midrash can be found in the following compilations:
  1. The Babylonian TALMUD- contains Halakah and Aggadah, Mishnah and Midrash in a Single Definitive Document accomplishing the fusion of Mishnah and Scripture exegesis in a single compilation (Avery-Peck and Neusner, 2004:89).

  2. Midrash Rabba - Compilation of Midrash collections devoted to the books of GENESIS, EXODUS, LEVITICUS, NUMBERS, DEUTERONOMY, and the Five Scrolls: ESTHER, ECCLESIASTES, LAMENTATIONS, RUTH, and SONG OF SONGS. Some of the documents derive from late antiquity, others are medieval in origin (Avery-Peck and Neusner, 2004:90).

  3. Midrash Tanchuma - A Midrash compilation in which a rabbi, Tanchuma, is often cited; a collection of such Midrash exegeses, covering the whole of the Pentateuch, was printed under the title Midrash Tanhuma by Salomon Buber in 1885. The earliest of the included text derives from the period after 800 C.E (Avery-Peck and Neusner, 2004:90).

There are 3 versions of Midrash Tanchuma. They are
  1. Tanchuma A - aka Tanchuma Buber. sefaria.org suggests that this text was composed in Israel and Babylon between ~150 and 750 CE while noting that Tanchuma Buber refers to a version of Midrash Tanchuma published by Solomon Buber in 1885, based primarily on a manuscript that he discovered. Buber claimed that this version was the earliest extant midrash, though later scholars largely disputed that claim. Buber’s version differs significantly from the printed Tanchuma on the books of Genesis and Exodus, but his version of midrash on Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy largely resembles the printed version.

  2. Tanchuma B - aka Yelammedenu. sefaria.org suggest that this text was composed in Babylon, Italy and Israel between ~500 and ~800 CE while noting that Midrash Tanchuma [B] is a midrash on the five books of the Torah, structured as sermons on the opening verses of each paragraph in the Torah. Named for the talmudic sage Rabbi Tanchuma, who features prominently in the text, it is also referred to as “Tanchuma-Yelammedenu” because of the prevalence of legal passages that start with the words “yelamedenu rabeinu” (teach us, our Rabbi). The dating and composition history of the Tanchuma are matters of scholarly debate.

  3. Tanchuma C - The Jewish Encyclopedia states that this version contains many passages taken from A and B and is, in fact, an amended edition of the two earlier works, with various additions by later authors.

Avery-Peck and Neusner (2004:88-90) classify the Midrash compilations in three successive groups: exegetical, propositional, and exegetical-propositional (theological) which they define below:
  1. Exegetical Discourse of Halakhah of the Pentateuch: One important dimension, therefore, of the earliest documents of Scripture exegesis, the Midrash compilations that deal with LEVITICUS, NUMBERS, and DEUTERONOMY, measures the distance between the Mishnah and Scripture and aims to close it. The question is persistently addressed in analyzing Scripture: precisely how does a rule of the Mishnah relate to, or rest upon, a rule of Scripture? That question demanded an answer, so that the status of the Mishnah's rules, and, right alongside, of the Mishnah itself, could find a clear definition. Collecting and arranging exegeses of Scripture as these related to passages of the Mishnah first reached literary form in SIFRA, to Leviticus, and in two books, both called SIFRE, one to Numbers, the other Deuteronomy. All three compositions accomplished much else. For, even at that early stage, exegeses of passages of Scripture in their own context and not only for the sake of Mishnah exegesis attracted attention. But a principal motif in all three books concerned the issue of Mishnah-Scripture relationships. A second, still more fruitful path in formulating Midrash clarifications of Scripture also emerged from the labor of Mishnah exegesis. As the work of Mishnah exegesis got under way, in the third century, exegetes of the Mishnah and others alongside undertook a parallel labor. They read the Scriptures in the way in which they were reading the Mishnah itself. That is to say, they began to work through verses of Scripture in exactly the same way—word for word, phrase for phrase, line for line—in which, to begin with, the exegetes of the Mishnah pursued the interpretation and explanation of the Mishnah. Precisely the types of exegesis that dictated the way in which sages read the Mishnah now guided their reading of Scripture as well. And, as people began to collect and organize comments in accord with the order of sentences and paragraphs of the Mishnah, they found the stimulation to collect and organize comments on clauses and verses of Scripture. This kind of verse-by-verse exegetical work got under way in the Sifra and the two Sifres, but reached fulfillment in GENESIS RABBAH which presents a line-for-line reading of the Book of Genesis. Characteristic of the narrowly-exegetical phase of Midrash-compilation is the absence of a single, governing proposition, running through the details. It is not possible, for example, to state the main point, expressed through countless cases, in the Sifra or Sifre to Deuteronomy.

  2. From Exegesis to Proposition: A further group of Midrash compilations altogether transcends the limits of formal exegesis. Beyond these two modes of exegesis-search for the sources of the Mishnah in Scripture, line-by-line reading of Scripture as of the Mishnah—lies yet a third, an approach we may call "writing with Scripture," meaning, using verses of Scripture in a context established by a propositional program independent of Scripture itself. To understand it, we have to know how the earliest of the two versions of the Talmud read the Mishnah. The Jerusalem Talmud's authors not only explained phrases or sentences of the Mishnah in the manner of Mishnah and Scripture exegetes. They also investigated the principles and large-scale conceptual problems of the document and of the law, given only in cases in the Mishnah itself. That is to say, they dealt with a given topic, a subject and its rule, the cases that yield the rule, but with an encompassing problem, a principle, and its implications for a number of topics and rules. This far more discursive and philosophical mode of thought produced for Mishnah exegesis sustained essays on principles cutting across specific rules. Predictably, this same intellectual work extended from the Mishnah to Scripture. Exegesis of Scripture beyond that focused on words, phrases, and sentences produced discursive essays on great principles or problems of theology and morality. Discursive exegesis is represented, to begin with, in LEVITICUS RABBAH, a document that reached closure, people generally suppose, sometime after Genesis Rabbah, thus ca. 450, marking the shift from verse-by-verse to syllogistic reading of verses of Scripture. It was continued in PESIQTA DERAB KAHANA, organized around themes pertinent to various holy days through the liturgical year, and PESIQTA RABBATI, a derivative and imitative work.

  3. Saying One Thing through Many Things: Writing with Scripture reached its climax in the theological Midrash compilations formed at the end of the development of Rabbinic literature. A fusion of the two approaches to Midrash exegesis, the verse-by-verse amplification of successive chapters of Scripture and the syllogistic presentation of propositions, arguments, and proofs deriving from the facts of Scripture, was accomplished in the third body of Midrash compilations: RUTH RABBAH, ESTHER RABBAH Part I, LAMENTATIONS RABBATI, and SONG OF SONGS RABBAH. Here we find the verse-by-verse reading of scriptural books. But at the same time, a highly propositional program governs the exegesis, each of the compilations meaning to prove a single, fundamental theological point through the accumulation of detailed comments.