Midrashes on Messiah

FFOZ’s latest journal, Messiah Journal 104 is now available and has some very important articles for our community. To subscribe to Messiah Journal, go here.

One thing I hope you will read is my own review of Richard Harvey’s important book, Mapping Messianic Jewish Theology. Harvey’s book is very important for understanding the diversity in Messianic Jewish thought and for getting some ideas about where MJ should go in the future.

There are articles about Yeshua’s Sabbath disputes, the Sabbath and Gentiles who want to observe, thoughts on faith from the Elijah stories, a reflection on the Holocaust, a look at the Torah and environmental issues, the recent claim of Eilat Mazar that she has found a wall of the Solomonic Temple, and a translation of a midrashic section from Yalkut Shimoni.

I want to talk about the translation and content of this section of Yalkut Shimoni. This rabbinic work was probably compiled in the 1200’s and quotes from many earlier sources. It is a midrashic commentary on all the books of the Hebrew Bible.

Midrash is a kind of literature with creative interpretation of texts, stories of biblical characters that are not in the Bible, and parables and stories clarifying abstract theology. You almost have to read Midrash to get the idea.

Midrashic interpretation is not about being faithful to the original meaning of the text. It uses a variety of accepted tools (rabbinic rules of hermeneutics) to creatively make the text mean things that are not necessarily part of the intention when it was written. The meanings sought in the text are usually matters of theology or practice decided before the text was consulted (so it is eisegesis, but eisegesis done with flair!).

Midrashic stories are not supposed to have actually happened (generally). They are illustrations, not history.

So, why would anyone want to read Midrashic literature given all these facts about its playful rearrangement of reality? Well, while some passages of Midrash are quite pedestrian and uninspiring, this creative playing with text and truth often rises to the level of insightful genius.

Yalkut Shimoni on Isaiah Speaks of Messiah
Aaron Eby writes in Messiah Journal 104, “It [Yalkut Shimoni] speaks of a messiah whose soul exists before creation and is predestined to suffer for Israel’s sins.”

Many people have a wrong idea about Judaism. They regard it as a fixed system of opinions with no room for diversity. Actually, Jewish tradition is so rich and has contained so many points of view, it is possible to use tradition to justify a wide variety of beliefs and practices.

Those who would say that Messianic Jewish beliefs about the divinity of Messiah, the atoning death of Messiah, the manifestation of God as a man, and other concepts are beyond the pale of Jewish thought are not dealing with the entire deck of Jewish tradition. There are plenty of source texts and ideas in Judaism for divine manifestations, even corporeality, and for redemptive suffering.

Yalkut Shimoni has in it texts which add to the corpus of ideas in Jewish tradition which Messianic Jews can bring to bear on the discussion.

One story illustrates a high view of Messiah (though not technically his preexistence):

What is

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2 Responses to Midrashes on Messiah

  1. Carl says:

    Hi Derek,

    Thanks for the referral!

    Yalkut Shimoni is probably the work of an individual who lived sometime in the 12th to 14th century. He was very knowledgeable about earlier midrashim but had his own unique mythology. Because of its very late date, YS is not considered a classic midrash.

    I don’t have access to the magazine’s full translation of Yalkut Shimoni 499, so I can’t refer to it directly But there are several aspects of YK that support the idea that YS is not Christian-influenced. One is the statement that “Before the world was created, Hashem created the soul of Messiah.” Thus, for YS, Messiah is a created being. Another is found in this statement supposedly made by Messiah: “”If you agree that in the Days of Moshiach everyone will live again and even those who were meant to be born will come to life — upon these conditions I happily accept the suffering.” The words “those who were meant to be born” refers to the idea of the “Tree of Souls” (see http://bit.ly/b1q1CT)that supposedly exists above, its “fruit” being souls that await their time to be incarnated and born.

  2. rebyosh says:

    Derek,

    Great post! And thanks for the additional insights, Rabbi Carl.

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