Introduction to Midrash Friday: Midrash to Devarim (Part I)

Introduction to the Midrash Friday Series

I have long desired an application that I could use to conduct my academic research of studying ancient manuscripts, whether Hebrew Bible, Dead Sea Scrolls, Septuagint, Syriac, Targum, Talmud, Tosefta, Mishnah, and Midrashim. As a philologist, I find it necessary to conduct a thorough analysis of ancient texts; such a thorough examination entails a careful examination of textual variants, scribal practices, historical linguistics, and codicological analysis or scroll reconstruction to name only a few.​*​ But sometimes executing a critical analysis encounters various roadblocks. In cases where a critical edition edition has been published, the philologist can often times reduce the amount of time required to conduct such a thorough examination, but new manuscript evidence, developments of text-critical and linguistics methodologies, and social scientific models fragment the workflow of any serious textual scholar. In an age where publishing is crucial, it is necessary to find ways to speed up the research process without reducing the quality of the publication. Hence, software can and should do what it does best: speed up the normal, everyday tasks to enable the researcher to focus on the issues at hand.

To be sure, there are several really good commercial grade​†​ applications that can expedite the array of tasks required in textual study. But these commercial platforms are often times only a preliminary step into serious textual studies, mainly because they contain rather outdated resources and are very costly.​‡​ In addition to these commercial platforms, there are a host of solid web-based applications, such as מאגרים, Trismegistos, Perseus, Papyri.Info, Friedberg Jewish Manuscripts Society, Ktiv, and ETCBC (Hebrew Bible and Dead Sea Scrolls). In fact, the commercial platforms are quickly becoming inferior to the web-based resources on the grounds that academic grade software must be open source so that scholars can have the freedom disagree. Allow me to elaborate. All of the commercial grade options often digitise print resources and add linguistic tagging (such as parts of speech or syntax). Thus, the commercial platforms are under contractual obligation to prevent their users from disagreeing with an eclectic textual reconstruction (e.g., Göttingen Septuaginta), a reconstruction of a textual lacuna (e.g., Dead Sea Scroll fragments), and/or difference of linguistic opinion about linguistic tagging (e.g., verbal root, stem, syntax, or morphology). While the need to change and disagree might appear trivial, it is actually the heart of critical study: the freedom to disagree and provide a rationale as to why. And most importantly, such a closed off system truncates the research process, thereby preventing a scholar from having the necessary features to track textual decisions and development of literary arguments. So how do we get out of this conundrum?

I suggest as a way forward “an ideal working environment would be one whereby a researcher has at her/his disposal the ability to study issues pertaining to the history of ideas in Second Temple Judaism. Since the Qumran and Broader Refuge Cave scrolls and fragments are, to varying degrees, damaged, a study environment should enhance and facilitate sophisticated research in an assortment of ways, so as assist philological research.”​§​ Since my research interests cover the Second Temple Era, as well as the Rabbinic (viz., Tannaitic era), Hellenistic, and early Christian era, the ideal working environment would also need to expand to these areas of interest. Hence, my Friday Midrash series is an answer to these various issues, as I will blog through the creation of such an application.

The Friday Midrash Series

Beginning in December, I will post a weekly midrash. I will begin with Deuteronomy. In the last week of November, I will post a brief introduction of the midrashim to Deuteronomy, provide a manifest list of the available manuscripts, as well as provide access to the primary evidence. The blog posts will not focus merely on the presentation of text, but serve to discuss the textual issues attested in the Hebrew Manuscripts of Deuteronomy, the Ancient Versions of Deuteronomy, and the Rabbinic interpretation of Deuteronomy. In addition, I will blog about the software I use to conduct this analysis, as well as provide access to the data at my github page. This rolling commentary, as it were, will serve as notes to my textual studies.

  1. ​*​
    In a future post, I will detail two very interesting linguistic issues in Mishnah Kaufman A 50. As it turns out, these two linguistic issues are in a folio that was added to the codex to repair a damaged folio.
  2. ​†​
    E.g., Bar Ilan Responsa Database, Leiberman Talmud Database, BibleWorks, or Accordance Bible Software
  3. ​‡​
    The obvious exception to the rule is the Bar Ilan Responsa Database, which updates its textual sources frequently.
  4. ​§​
    This is a quote from a wishlist I produced in 2016. This wishlist was provided to all the participants of the Scripta Qumranica Electronica “Kick-off” workshop, held in Göttingen, on 13–15 July 2016.

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