Means and End(ing)s: Nomos Versus Narrative in Early Rabbinic Exegesis
Author(s)Dohrmann, Natalie B
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AbstractRabbinic literature shares a suggestive array of literary features with later Latin literary sources: commentary, fragmentation and quotation, and a granular attention to language. In this material narrative tends to be lost; classical source texts, such as Vergil, are fetishized, broken apart, and repurposed. In this essay I ask of one corpus--early rabbinic midrash (biblical commentary)--what is the origin and impact of its fragmented and finally incoherent narrative project? At the risk of over-simplifying, I will focus on the rabbis as a case study in the etiology of a more general phenomenon. I will argue that the fragmentation so typical of aggadic midrash is the result of the application of a specifically legal hermeneutic to nonlegal, specifically narrative, sources. As a result, rabbinic midrash beginning in the third century consistently undercuts its own narrative aims. Metaliterary, anthologized, pastiched, commentarial forms become standard in the late antique Roman repertoire, with rabbinic texts we can historicize and contextualize one such transformation, and in so doing center law, legal thinking and forms into literary genealogies.