Midrash As Creative Historiography: Portrait Of A Misnomer -- By: Charles L. Quarles

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 39:3 (Sep 1996)
Article: Midrash As Creative Historiography: Portrait Of A Misnomer
Author: Charles L. Quarles

Midrash As Creative Historiography:
Portrait Of A Misnomer

Charles L. Quarles**

The term “midrash” is appearing with increasingly greater frequency in discussions among NT scholars today. Unfortunately many students of the NT use the term with completely different intents. 1 Some use it to designate rabbinic methods of Scriptural interpretation. Others use it in a very different sense to designate creative historiography that produces theological tales with little or no connection to actual history. As NT students attempt to sift through this confusing nomenclature, they should consider carefully the explanations of the nature and essential characteristics of midrash offered by those who specialize in rabbinic literature. 2 More importantly, they should examine the ancient usage of the term to discover its meaning during the NT era.

I. The Importance Of A Clear Understanding
Of Ancient Midrash For Gospel Research

Some NT scholars such as Michael Goulder, John Drury, Robert Gundry and most recently John Shelby Spong have argued that the gospels, in whole or in part, belong to a genre of literature that is nonhistorical by definition. They have suggested that alleged instances of creative historiography in the gospels may be understood in light of the practice of rabbinic midrash. 3

Gundry’s analysis of Matthew’s “literary and theological art” sought to justify the presence of alleged nonhistorical elements in the gospel by an appeal to the function of ancient literary genres in general and midrash in

Charles Quarles is senior pastor at Hickory Ridge Baptist Church, 4221 Crump Road, Memphis, TN 38141.

particular. 4 Gundry argued that the assignment of gospel material to a nonhistorical genre permits the midrash critic to deny the historicity of the material and yet affirm both its truthfulness and inspiration:

If then Matthew writes that Jesus said or did something Jesus did not say or do in the way described—we have to say that Matthew did not write entirely reportorial history. Comparison with midrashic and haggadic literature of his era suggests he did not intend to do so… What Matthew wrote bears the stamp of inspiration in the meaning he intended—be it historical, unhistorical, or a mixture of the two. 5

He later added: “Matthew is not writing as a historian; he is writing as a midrashist and haggadist who bends and sha...

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