NEW TESTAMENT CRITICAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
Here are some additional documents that you will also see inside the Mishnah, Jerusalem Talmud and Babylonian Talmud. They are meant as additions to, clarifications of, and interpretations for various teachings of the Rabbis. They give us a clearer view of what the Rabbis were teaching and how our Lord used many of these known and commonly held beliefs to point out what He wanted the people to know about the New Covenant that God the Father sent Him to bring to the children of Abraham.
THE GEMARA (“Tradition/Completion”)
When you look at a folio in certain editions of the Babylonian Talmud today, you often find interspersed between the Mishnah text THAT IS ALWAYS TYPED IN CAPITAL LETTERS a section titled “Gemara.” In Aramaic, the word Gemara means “tradition.” In Hebrew, it means denotes “completion.” Indeed, the Gemara serves as a compilation of the various Rabbinic discussions and commentary on the teachings of earlier Rabbis in the Mishnah. As such, their interpretations were added to give a fuller understanding of the Mishnah, in order to make the teaching more complete. While the Mishnah contains quotes from Rabbis who lived from about 100 BC to 200 AD. As such, these first Rabbis are called in Hebrew: Tanaim – “teachers.” Then in the Gemara, the Rabbis quoted here lived between 200 AD and 500 AD. This second group of Rabbis are called in Hebrew Amoraim – “expositors” or “interpreters.” So between the two groups you have some 700 years of commentary, added to the teachings that go as far back as Ezra the scribe on the Old Testament.
THE MIDRASH AGGADA (“Story Telling”)
Whenever you see a document referred to as a Midrash Aggada, these are teachings in the form of homilies similar to parables. For instance, a Midrash may attempt to explain why Adam didn’t stop Eve from eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. One of the best-known Midrashim (plural of Midrash) deals with Abraham’s childhood in early Mesopotamia, where he is said to have smashed the idols in his father’s shop because even at that age he knew there existed only One True God. These Midrash Aggadah can be found in both Talmuds; in Midrashic Collections, and in Midrash Rabbah, which means “Revered Midrash.”
THE MIDRASH HALACHA (“Sermons on the Law”)
Whereas Midrash Aggada focuses on Biblical characters as they pertain to values and ideas, Midrash Halacha focus on Jewish law and practice. Midrash Halacha attempts to take Biblical texts that are either general or unclear, and clarify their meaning. A Midrash of this nature may explain why, for instance, the tefillin1 which are worn on the head and arm, should be used during prayer and how they should be worn.
THE MIDRASH RABBAH (“Great Sermons”)
The term Midrash Rabbah can refer to parts, or the collective whole, of stories and allegories on the books of the Tanakh – the term for the Hebrew Bible. The term “Rabbah”, means “great,” and is given as part of their name. These are as follows: Genesis Rabbah. Exodus Rabbah. Leviticus Rabbah, etc. These Rabbah stories usually follow the books in the Tanakh in the same order. It is an attempt to search and investigate the text through minute examination so as to interpret the Tanakh better, by bringing out the deeper or ethical meanings in the text. These are not to be taken as legal renderings concerning the Law. The largest collection of these Midrash Rabbah are contained in the Great Midrash, and are divided into Pesikta (Divisions), Mechilta (Treatise), Sifra (Book), and Sifre (Books).
THE TARGUM (Aramaic Version of the Jewish Bible)
This was a written paraphrase, explanation and expansion of the Jewish Scriptures that a Rabbi would give so that his listeners could better understand the Hebrew text. This is much like what the Living Bible and the Amplified Bible became to the readers of the King James Version of the Christian Bible. For instance, the Hebrew standard text of Genesis 1:1-2 reads: “In the beginning God created the heaven and earth. Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters.”2 Compare this to the Targum of Palestine that goes: “At the beginning the Lord created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was vacancy and desolation, solitary of the sons of men, and void of every animal; and darkness was upon the face of the abyss, and the Spirit of mercies from before the Lord breathed upon the face of the waters.”3 So when you see Targum, you know that it is a paraphrase of the Hebrew Scriptures. Some Targum had commentaries added to them as well. – (To be continued tomorrow)
1 Tefillin are two small black boxes with black straps attached to them; Jewish men are required to place one box on their head and tie the other one on their arm each weekday morning. Tefillin are biblical in origin, and are commanded within the context of several laws outlining a Jew’s relationship to God.
2 The Holy Scriptures According to the Masoretic Text, The Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, 1917
3 The Targum of Palestine, Commonly Entitled The Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel, Venice, 1591