Hebrew Language #7 Hebrew Literature #4 Mishnah and Midrash

Last episode we ended by the 2nd century and spoke about a period which followed the later canonical books, not only was translation, and therefore exegesis, cultivated, by Elders and their pupils that form the starting-point of the next series, the Tannāīm, who occupy the first two centuries of this common era.


By this time the collection of halakhic material had become very large and various, and after several attempts had been made to reduce it to uniformity, a code of oral tradition was finally drawn up in the 2nd century by Judah ha-Nasī, called Rabbi par excellence. This was the Mishnah. Its name is derived from the Hebrew shanah, corresponding to the Aramaic tenā, and therefore a suitable name for a tannaitic work, meaning the repetition or teaching of the oral law. It is written in the Hebrew of the schools (leshōn hakhamīm) which differs in many respects from that of the Old Testament (see Hebrew Language). It is divided into six “orders,” according to subject, and each order is subdivided into chapters. In making his selection of halakhōth, Rabbi used the earlier compilations, which are quoted as “words of Rabbi ‘Aqība” or of R. Me‘īr, but rejected much which was afterwards collected under the title of Tosefta (addition) and Baraita (outside the Mishnah).


Traditional teaching was, however, not confined to halakhah. As observed above, it was the duty of the teachers to show the connexion of practical rules with the written Law, the more so since the Sadducees rejected the authority of the oral law as such. Hence arises Midrash, exposition, from darash to “investigate” a scriptural passage. Of this halakhic Midrash we possess that on Exodus, called Mekhilta, that on Leviticus, called Sifra, and that on Numbers and Deuteronomy, called Sifrē. All of these were drawn up in the period of the Amorāīm, the order of teachers who succeeded the Tannāīm, from the close of the Mishnah to about C.E. 500.

The term Midrash, however, more commonly implies agada, i.e. the homiletical exposition of the text, with illustrations designed to make it more attractive to the readers or hearers. Picturesque teaching of this kind was always popular, and specimens of it are familiar in the Gospel discourses. It began, as a method, with the Sōpherīm (though there are traces in the Old Testament itself), and was most developed among the Tannāīm and Amorāīm, rivalling even the study of halakhah.

As the existing halakhōth were collected and edited in the Mishnah, so the much larger agadic material was gathered together and arranged in the Midrashīm. Apart from the agadic parts of the earlier Mekhilta, Sifra and Sifrē, the most important of these collections (which are anonymous) form a sort of continuous commentary on various books of the Bible. They were called Rabbōth (great Midrashīm) to distinguish them from preceding smaller collections. Bereshīth Rabba, on Genesis, and Ēkhah Rabbatī, on Lamentations, were probably edited in the 7th century. Of the same character and of about the same date are the Pesīqta, on the lessons for Sabbaths and feast-days, and Wayyiqra R. on Leviticus. A century perhaps later is the Tanḥūma, on the sections of the Pentateuch, and later still the Pesīqta Rabbatī, Shemōth R. (on Exodus), Bemidhbar R. (on Numbers), Debharīm R. (on Deuteronomy). There are also Midrashīm on the Canticle, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Esther and the Psalms, belonging to this later period, the Pirqē R. Eliezer, of the 8th or 9th century, a sort of history of creation and of the patriarchs, and the Tanna debē Eliyahū (an ethical work of the 10th century but containing much that is old), besides a large number of minor compositions.[See especially A. Jellinek’s Bet-ha-Midrasch (Leipzig, 1853), for these lesser midrashīm.]

In general, these performed very much the same function as the lives of saints in the early and medieval church. Very important for the study of Midrashic literature are the Yalqūṭ (gleaning) Shimʽōnī, on the whole Bible, the Yalqūṭ Mekhīrī, on the Prophets, Psalms, Proverbs and Job, and the Midrash ha-gadhōl,[That on Genesis was edited for the first time by Schechter (Cambridge, 1902).] all of which are of uncertain but late date and preserve earlier material. The last, which is preserved in MSS. from Yemen, is especially valuable as representing an independent tradition.

Hebrew Literature by Arthur Ernest Cowley



16th-century illustration of the Jewish scholar and sage Akiva ben Yosef

Ăqīḇāʾ ben Yōsēf; (c. 50 – 28 September 135 CE) also known as Rabbi Akiva is often considered as the principal founder of rabbinic Judaism.

As a tanna of the latter part of the first century and the beginning of the second century, he introduced a new method of interpreting Jewish oral law (Halakha), thereby laying the foundation of what was to become the Mishna, the first postbiblical written code of Jewish law.

Sadducees: a sect or party of the Jews mentioned in the historical books of the New Testament (with the exception of the fourth Gospel), by Josephus, and in the Talmud. According to all the authorities, the essential qualification for the title is the denial of certain beliefs which the Pharisees held to be implicitly contained in Scripture, and therefore necessarily part of Judaism as soon as they were formulated.

Mekhilta (collection of rules of interpretation) e.g. on the Book of Exodus and Book of Deuteronomy

Sifra: Halakhic midrash to the Book of Leviticus – the midrash occasionally called “Torat Kohanim” (Priestly Manual) or the instructions of the priests: rulings and teachings of the priests that are addressed to the Israelite people.

Sifre refers to either of two works of Midrash halakha, or classical Jewish legal biblical exegesis, based on the biblical books of Numbers and Deuteronomy.

Amorāīm – Amoraim – Amoray = those who say = spokesmen (Jew. scholars) of the period from about 200 to 500 CE, who “said” or “told over” the teachings of the Oral Torah.

Tannāīm – Tannaim: rabbinic sages whose views are recorded in the Mishnah, from approximately 10–220 CE.

Sōpherīm – Sopherim: Jewish scholars who interpreted and taught biblical law and ethics from about the 5th century bc to about 200 bc. With the decline of the soferim, their tradition of biblical scholarship was largely taken over by the Pharisees and, in later generations, by the tannaim, amoraim, and geonim. Despite the similarity of their functions, each of the groups had its own technical name.

Rabbōth – Rabboth =Midrash Rabba – Midrash Rabbah = great Midrashīm: Midrash of the Rabbot

Tanḥūma: name given to three different collections of Pentateuch aggadot – additional Midrashic compilations including those to the books of Samuel, Psalms, and Proverbs.

Yalqūṭ Shimʽōnī = Yalkut Shimoni: aggadic compilation on the books of the Hebrew Bible.



Hebrew Language #2 The name “Hebrew” and Speech of Canaan

Hebrew Language #3 Among Christian scholars

Hebrew Language #4 Hebrew Literature #1 Old Testament

Hebrew Language #5 Hebrew Literature #2 Torah, Apocryphal literature and Targum

Hebrew Language #6 Hebrew Literature #3 Halakhah



  1. No place in Torah
  2. What Was the Mishnah In Relation to God’s Law to Moses?
  3. What Was the Mishnah In Relation to God’s Law to Moses?
  4. A New English Translation of Strack and Billerbeck, Commentary on the Talmud, ed. Jacob N. Cerone, trans. Joseph Longarino
  5. My Mishnah Project
  6. Mishnah Insights: Berachos 4:2-3 – study & prayer
  7. Mishnah Insights: Berachos 4:4 – prayer & travel
  8. The Retention and decline of oral knowledge in religions and cultures
  9. Oral Traditions Behind the Gospels Lack Historical Foundations. A Sociologist’s View
  10. Tell Me a Story: Origins & Significance of Oral History Traditions
  11. Review: Inconsistency in the Torah: Chapter 10
  12. Was the Bible’s Jesus Based on Legends?
  13. Assessing Luke 6:20b-21 as Oral Tradition
  14. Oral tradition is dead
  15. The First Creation Story II-the sum of it.

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