Book Review: Midrash
Author: Sandy Eisenberg Sasso
Publisher: Paraclete Press
I read this book several months ago and I’m just getting around to reviewing it. Since it has been in my “to be reviewed stack” of books, I’ve gone back to it time and again re-reading snippets here and there. I’m certain it will make my list of favorite books read in the year 2014.
I’m sure that I’m not alone when I confess that the world of Jewish religious literature was a bit of a mystery to me. I still do not understand it all (Mishnah, Midrash, Talmud, Tanakh), but I’m trying to learn since I believe that these ancient religious writings have bearing on my own Christian faith. I realize there are many Christians who do not agree with my thoughts, but believe that is to their loss.
The literature known as Midrash is an interpretative dialogue seeking the answers to religious questions (both practical and theological) by searching the meaning of the words of the Torah. Midrash attempts to “fill in the gaps” of stories where we do not have the information provided for us. There is much more to defining what Midrash is than the brief explanation I’ve provided, but we needed a working definition.
The very idea of filling in the gaps of Scripture might be terrifying, especially for evangelicals and fundamentalists who might hold a literal view of Scripture. It should not be terrifying. Midrash invites us to the wonder and possibility that God’s Word has for the believer. We don’t know everything about Scripture and we don’t know everything about what was intended for and about the people Scripture was originally spoken or written. Midrash suggests possibility and asks questions about what, if, and how. These questions and possible scenarios and outcomes engage our minds and the questions of our own souls. We wrestle with the living wonder that is God’s Word to humanity. This is my paraphrase of what Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso teaches in the first section of Midrash: Reading the Bible with Question Marks.
In part two of Midrash, Sasso introduces and shares a collection of translations and interpretations of twenty essential, classic midrashic texts. I can truthfully share with no exaggeration that I did not leave a single writing that my mind was not set into action pondering the original texts of the Scripture the midrash was referencing. This, I believe, is good.
There are discussion questions at the end of each midrash that are equally helpful in individual reading and study or with a group. Personally, I think this book would be best enjoyed in the context of a group. Additional resources of a bibliography, suggested reading lists, glossary and a brief notes section complete the book.