Jewish Exegesis

February 6, 2012 — 2 Comments

Richard Longenecker in Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period identifies four categories of Jewish exegesis in the first century.

  • Literal Interpretation: understood in a straightforward fashion, resulting in the plain, simple and natural meaning of the text being applied to lives of the people.
  • Midrashic Interpretation: going more deeply than the mere literal sense, an attempt to penetrate the Spirit of Scripture, to examine the text from all sides, and thereby derive interpretations which are not immediately obvious. Rabbinic tradition has identified seven middoth.
  1. Qal wahomer: what applies in a less important case will certainly apply in a more important case.
  2. Gezerah shawah: verbal analogy form one verse to another, where the same words are applied to two separate cases it follows that the same considerations apply to both.
  3. Binyan ab mikathub ‘ehad: building up a family form a single text; when the same phrase is found in a number of passages, then a consideration found in one of them applies to all of them.
  4. Binyan ab mishene kethubim: builidng up a family form two texts; a principle is established by relating two texts together; the principle can then be applied to other passages.
  5. Kelal upherat: the general and the particular; a general principle may be restricted by a particualarisation of it in another verse; or conversely, a particular rule may be extended into a general principle.
  6. Kayoze bo bemaqom ‘aher: as is found in another place; a difficulty in one text may be solved by comparing it with another which has points of general similarity.
  7. Dabar halamed me’inyano: a meaning established by its context.
  • Pesher interpretation: the interpretation of this is… Or, this refers to… Or this means…
  • Allegorical Interpretation: the prima facie meaning must be pushed aside to make room for the intended spiritual meaning underlying the obvious.



Patrick Schreiner

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I teach New Testament at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. I am married with three children. This blog, against all wisdom, includes anything I am interested in. That includes movies, music, theology, culture, hermeneutics, the Gospels, and politics. Feel free to comment and let me know you are reading or that you have found something helpful. I reserve the right to delete unhelpful or rude comments. Many of these posts are simply things I find interesting and therefore I am not asserting I agree with everything I link to.

2 responses to Jewish Exegesis

  1. In a much more basic, “sketchy” way, Dr. Fuller broke it down into four parts last Thursday. He made these comments in passing, as part of his introduction to our Targumic Aramaic class:
    1. literal interpretation
    2. typological or allegorical interpretation
    3. Darash: the search for meaning–a more imaginative reading.
    4. Mystery: numerology and, essentially, “Bible code” stuff.
    I think it is interesting to see where the word “allegorical” is used in his paradigm, compared to Longenecker’s. One thing is clear: interpretation has always been done along a spectrum of literalness. The real question is which end of the spectrum is actually “literal.” 😉

  2. Brian

    That is interesting to see how he divided it. Of course as Longenecker said these are categories divisions are his doing and the actual exegesis used these interchangeably, not identifying exactly what type they were using.

    This is also the book where Longenecker concludes that we can only follow them in the “literal” interpretation.

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