Parables in Midrash: Narrative and Exegesis in Rabbinic Literature

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David Stern shows how the parable or mashal-the most distinctive type of narrative in midrash-was composed, how its symbolism works, and how it serves to convey the ideological convictions of the rabbis. He describes its relation to similar tales in other literatures, including the parables of Jesus in the New Testament and kabbalistic parables. Through its innovative approach to midrash, this study reaches beyond its particular subject, and will appeal to all readers interested in narrative and religion.
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Editorial Reviews

The first in a new series created to acknowledge the explosion of knowledge in fields related to infectious disesases and clinical microbiology. Thirteen contributions focus on organisms which are of major medical importance in this country or which have contributed to an understanding of pathology. They deal with specific types of immune defects in the compromised host and how they predispose to infection with different organisms; host defenses against intracellular protozoa using Leishmania as a model; and specific parasitic infections. Midrash--biblical interpretation as practiced by the rabbinic sages in late antiquity--is both a repository of classical Jewish tradition and a self-defining literary mode. The parable, or mashal, is the most distinctive type of narrative in midrash. Stern shows how the mashal was composed, how its symbolism works, how it serves to convey the ideological convictions of the rabbis, and how it relates to similar tales in other literatures, including the parables of Jesus in the New Testament. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674654471
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/1991
  • Pages: 364

Meet the Author

David Stern is Moritz and Josephine Berg Professor of Classical Hebrew Literature at the University of Pennsylvania.

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Table of Contents


Note on Translations and Transliterations


1. Composition and Exegesis

The Rabbinic Parable

Mashal, Parable, and Allegory

Mashal and Ma'aseh

The Origins of the Nimshal

The King-Mashal


Eikhah Rabhah 4.11

The Mashal as Traditional Literature

From Narrative to Exegesis

The Mashal and Midrashic Hermeneutics

2. Rhetoric

The Occasions of the Mashal

Three Models for the Mashal

Meshalim of Praise and Blame

Eikhah Rabbah 3.21

3. Poetics

Theorizing Midrash

Narrative or Exegesis?

Narrative Convention and Exegetical Novelty

Gaps, Ambiguities, and Narrative Conceits

Point of View and Authorial Presence

The Implied Interpreter



4. Thematics



Eulogy and Consolation


Regret and Warning

5. The Mashal in Context

The Problem of Context in Midrash

The Mashal and the Homily

The Mashal and the Petihta

The Mashal and the Aggadic Narrative

The Mashal and the Exegetical Enumeration

Series of Meshalim

The Mashal in Midrash

6. The Mashal in Hebrew Literature

From the Ancient Near East to Late Antiquity

The Parables in the Synoptic Gospels

From the Tannaim to the Amoraim

Tanna de-Bei Eliyahu

Sefer Habahir

Maimonides and Other Philosophers

The Zohar and Other Mystical Texts

Modern Hebrew Literature

Appendix A: Nonparabolic Narratives in Rabbinic Literature

Appendix B: Hebrew Texts of the Meshalim from Eikhah Rabbah


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