JULIAN OF NORWICH, HER SHOWING OF LOVE AND ITS CONTEXTS 1997-2017 JULIA BOLTON HOLLOWAY  || JULIAN OF NORWICH  || SHOWING OF LOVE || HER TEXTS || HER SELF || ABOUT HER TEXTS || BEFORE JULIAN || HER CONTEMPORARIES || AFTER JULIAN || JULIAN IN OUR TIME || ST BIRGITTA OF SWEDEN  ||  BIBLE AND WOMEN || EQUALLY IN GOD'S IMAGE  || MIRROR OF SAINTS || BENEDICTINISM || THE CLOISTER  || ITS SCRIPTORIUM  || AMHERST MANUSCRIPT || PRAYER || CATALOGUE AND PORTFOLIO (HANDCRAFTS, BOOKS ) || BOOK REVIEWS || BIBLIOGRAPHY || John B. Lounibos
 

JOHN B. LOUNIBOS

JESUS AS MOTHER

JULIAN'S MEDIEVAL MIDRASH
 
 

INTRODUCTION

n her book of Revelations Julian of Norwich (1343-1420?) recounted a dramatic encounter with the crucified Jesus during an illness in her thirtieth year./ 1 Twenty more years of prayer, reflection, and study allowed Julian to interpret her miraculous healing and personal visions as a work of God, the blessed Trinity. As a spiritual writer, a first among English women, Julian eventually wove her personal journey into the tapestry of a medieval parable of servants of God in salvation history. Jesus, as God's agent for salvation, is presented in three Christologies:

1. in her personal encounter with the drama of the paschal mystery,
2. as the risen leader on our earthly pilgrimage, and
3. as one who lives in and governs our soul which images the Trinity.
   Julian treats the human soul as image of God with the functions and activities of each of the divine persons for us. Among the relations that the Lord Jesus has toward each human soul is that of Mother.  This paper will focus on four maternal roles of Jesus who provides humans with wisdom, compassion, faithful love or grace, and service. Instead of examining only scriptural roots for Julian's insights, the paper compares Julian's allegorical style with Jewish midrash to reflect the convention theme on Theology and Scripture./2 I claim no expertise in this Rabbinic style of interpretation. My Jewish students introduced me to the living practice of midrash. This paper offers some comparisons between allegorical and midrashic methods. Just as allegorical method explains a great deal about Julian's thought and writing, so midrash offers another heuristic lens to reexamine Julian's language, especially the predication of 'mother' to the operations of the second Person of the blessed Trinity.

JULIAN'S REVELATIONS

Julian of Norwich wrote:

he deep wisdom of the Trinity is our Mother,... the second person of the Trinity is our Mother in nature in our substantial creation, in whom we are founded and rooted, and he is our Mother of mercy in taking our sensuality. ...And so our Mother is working on us in various ways, in whom our parts are kept undivided; for in our Mother Christ we profit and increase, and in mercy he reforms and restores us, and by the power of his Passion, his death and his Resurrection he unites us to our substance.  So our Mother works in mercy on all his beloved children who are docile and obedient to him, and grace works with mercy...which working [of gifts and rewards] belongs to the third person, the Holy Spirit./ 3
    Julian called Jesus Christ, the second Person of the holy Trinity, our Mother in wisdom, our Mother of mercy or compassion, our Mother by grace, and our Mother by the work and service of reform and restoration.  Her Trinitarian language expressed God's relationships to us in five roles, as Father, Mother, Spouse, Brother, and Savior. Denise Baker, who provided a rich biblical and post-biblical lineage for Julian's language, thinks the familial images may be derived from Romans 8:29./ 4

   For Julian, each of these five different  relationships are a cause for joy in God and in us.(52.279)   Julian's five joys comfort us despite our Adamic heritage of pains, woes, falls, sins, blindness, and darkness.  Besides Jesus as mother, Julian also addresses Mary as Mother, the Church as Mother, the office of motherhood, and provides analogies from human experience of a natural mother who works with a growing, developing, changing, maturing child. Finally, Julian wrote that her own mother was present at her illness and showings.  The remark about her historical, genetic mother, has inspired psychoanalytic studies of Julian's imaginary or fantasy world, the idiopolis of transference./5

   Baker isolated three maternal actions of Jesus Christ, which are designated as wisdom, mercy, and grace.  I distinguish a fourth maternity of labor, work or service which remains a distinct and strong theme in Julian. Grace and work are conjoined by the Holy Spirit for the reform our soul. Wisdom, mercy, grace, and work are not static qualities hidden within the blessed Trinity; they are dynamic functions that are sent and communicated to the human soul and personally received by an active faith.  Each corresponds to an Old Testament theme: wisdom is hokma/ sophia/ sapientia, (twice Julian pairs knowledge, scientia, with wisdom); compassion/ mercy is rehem/ elemon/ misericordia; grace is hesed/ charis (agape)/ gratia; service is doulos (diakonia) /minister.

   Denise Baker has contributed another feminine insight to Julian's talk about her self or soul in the image of God. Christian Neoplatonists like Origen and Augustine divided the rational soul into higher and lower functions. Baker cites Augustine for a gendered analogy that the higher, rational soul, sapientia-wisdom, was masculine, like Adam and ordered to contemplation. The lower soul of knowledge, scientia-science, was ordered to practical, temporal action and was feminine, like Eve./ 6 Julian uses the term substance for the higher soul and sensuality for the lower. Both are integrated by Jesus as Mother who 'knits' and keeps them together. They are centered by means of a self who reflects on Jesus sitting and ruling as the image of the unifying divine person.

   The scribal warning attached to most translations of Julian's long text says, 'Beware that you do not accept one thing which is according to your pleasure and liking, and reject another, for that is the disposition of heretics.'(86, 343.)  The phrase, 'disposition of heretics, ' reflects the practice from the history of medieval European church courts called 'inquisitions' that took formal shape 150 years before Julian during suppression of the Cathars in southern France. The inquisitor presumed to detect a heretic by some psychological nuance, attitude or ' hidden agenda' called a 'disposition' here. The scribal note requests the reader to ' take everything together' and ' understand that everything is in accordance with holy scripture .'

   Hopefully a theologian can focus on one theme within Julian's text without excluding or destroying the integrity of her thought or writing. Julian's scribe challenges the reader to demonstrate whether and how the maternal metaphors for Jesus are 'in accordance with scripture .' My first formal study of Julian was a paper on Julian's 'Revelations ' for the graduate course on the Reformation offered by Robert J. McNally, S.J. at Fordham University in 1969. It examined ten major themes in Julian. The purpose of this paper is to focus on one Christological theme among many of Julian's insights.

   Recently orthodox Jewish students have taken my medieval course which also reads Guide of the Perplexed by Moses Maimonides and my course on the Old Testament. In the medieval course an orthodox student, I'll call her 'Beth,' read Julian during Rosh Hoshanna and Yom Kippur, and gave an enthusiastic commentary on Julian's Revelations in oral and written expressions. This past fall another orthodox Jewish student, I'll call her 'Ruth', took my Old Testament course. She found obstacles with the modern historical, literary critical methods used to assist textual inquiry. Instead she drew her interpretations of scriptural texts from medieval midrashic sources, notably Rabbi Solomon Yishaki, called Rashi (1040-1105),/7 whose modern edition of the English-Hebrew Torah and commentary she used in class. Ruth presented a Jewish midrash by way of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz of the 'Women of Valor' (Proverbs 31:10-31) in class. The orthodox midrashic reading of scripture reminded me of Julian's imaginative use of scripture and suggested parallels between allegorical and midrashic methods of interpretation.

   Because the 2001 CTS convention is focused on theology and scripture, and because Jewish midrash on Genesis was popularized in a 10 part series on PBS hosted by Bill Moyers four and half years ago (1996), and because a contemporary medievalist, Julia Bolton Holloway,/8 has advanced several suggestions about the exposure of the historical Julian to the work of Cardinal Adam Easton (d. 1397), a Benedictine from Norwich Cathedral Priory, who taught Hebrew at Oxford University as a Magister, and who may have tutored Julian in several disciplines, I decided to read some midrash to see whether it offered another exegetical model or paradigm that would shed light on Julian's mother image. Holloway thinks Easton was a contact between Julian of Norwich, St. Brigitta/ Bridget of Sweden (d. 1373), whose canonization he successfully championed at Avignon, and St. Catherine of Siena (d. 1380), who three years after Bridget's death, renewed the campaign at Avignon to return the Papacy to Rome. Easton's library contained a copy of the works of Pseudo-Dionysus and Rabbi David Kimhi's Hebrew grammar, which suggested to Holloway a pedagogical source for Julian's Neoplatonism and possible familiarity with the Hebrew scriptures.

   This paper is not a work of medieval history and does not try to prove Holloway's suspicions about the education of the historical Julian.  Examination of historical precedents for the mother analogy remain for another work.  It assumes some familiarity with the historical context of life in 14th Century Norwich, England, the Black Death, the 100 Years War, the Peasant's Revolt, the Lollard Bible, John Wyclif,  the Avignon Papacy, church and state issues, liturgy, canon law, the crusades, inquisitions, religious orders, the feudal system, law, government, social life, art, architecture, and comparisons among men and women spiritual writers.  The focus is similarities and differences between the models and methods of allegory and midrash and how each contribute to our understanding of scripture and spirituality.

   The two volume study by Colledge and Walsh on Julian left the impression that the Trinitarian language of Julian in chapters 52-63 which contain the analogy of the divine maternity in the soul by means of wisdom, mercy,  grace, and service were developed out of Julian's meditations on the allegory of the servant in chapter 51./9 This paper suggests that the rich parable of the lord and servant that is one key to Julian's medieval spirituality, may be enhanced by an understanding and comparison with models of Jewish midrash. Construction of models that explain two different types of medieval biblical interpretation, allows us to see some similarities and differences between Jewish and Christian spirituality, and hopefully enriches our understanding of different spiritual approaches to the interpretation of scripture. Allegorical interpretation fostered an understanding of sacred scripture and provided rich opportunities for spiritual insight until it fell out of favor with the Reformation.  Following a presentation of allegory, the paper outlines and explains some features of the Jewish method of midrash and illustrates similarities and differences between allegory and midrash.  The conclusion applies the similarities and differences between allegory and midrash to the dynamic functions of Jesus Christ who with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, brings the true image of God to birth in the human soul, by wisdom, mercy, grace, and service.

FOUR SENSES OF SCRIPTURE
By the fourteenth century, medieval Christians had created a pattern for scriptural interpretation called the four senses of scripture.  A four part verse that summarized the four dimensional meanings for scripture went as follows.

Littera gesta docet; quid credas allegoria, moralis quid agas, quid speres anagogia.
The literal teaches facts; the allegorical, what you are to believe; the moral, what
you are to do; the anagogical, what you are to hope for./ 10
Joseph Fitzmyer said this verse 'is usually attributed to Augustine of' Denmark O.P.,(d. 1282) who 'published a compendium of theology' in 1260./11

   The city of Jerusalem was frequently used as an example to distinguish the four different senses or meanings of scripture:

1. The literal sense of scripture understood Jerusalem as the city taken by David to be capital of ancient Israel, the site for the Temple of Solomon, where Jesus was crucified, and later a destination of religious pilgrimage.
2. The allegorical sense understood Jerusalem as the new Israel, the people of God, the assembly of disciples, the church of the Christian community.
3. The tropological sense applied Jerusalem to the moral order of the soul at peace with justice. Trope is from a Greek word meaning 'turn,'or 'change,' and contained the figurative application to a change of character or a moral conversion of thought, feelings, and behavior. Julian frequently refers to Jesus seated within the soul as in a city as a symbol of the moral and spiritual order that renews the life of the self or soul.
4. The anagogical sense applied Jerusalem to the eschatological or heavenly communion, the future 'city of God,' a union of the saints with God. Anagoge is from a Greek word meaning 'to go up' or 'to lead up' and was expressed by metaphors for lifting, rising, and the guided journey of the human spirit.  Sometimes the entire, four-part pattern is called allegory in a broad sense, by means of synecdoche, making a part stand for the whole. Strictly speaking, only sense two carries the original meaning of allegory, that is containing another (Gk. alle ), intentional meaning.
   Julian never used these technical terms for the fourfold system in her writing,  but she does use each of these four senses and many other rhetorical devices as she explained stories from scripture and the received teachings of the church.  Her experience of suffering and joy are explained in symbolic terms that engage the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ, the deep changes within her soul, the struggles against sin and evil, the feelings of being led beyond or lifted up above her mundane anxieties, without the scholarly labels.

   Julian remarked that the soul is like a city in which Christ sits like a medieval king or Bishop who rules with courtly compassion and justice./ 12 The simile that makes the human soul like a city is as old as Plato who compared the activities of the soul, with its mind, its passions, and its courage to a city which had rulers who used reason, soldiers who acted courageously, and unruly citizens who acted out of passions.  Justice was the order among the three. The soul was a microcosm of the city. In place of Plato's republic ruled by a philosopher-king, Judaism understood the Torah by which God governed the world with justice and compassion. Christians believe the risen Christ governs the city, the world and the self or soul with wisdom and compassion.

PARABLE OF THE LORD AND THE SERVANT
The story or parable of the lord and servant in chapter 51 of Julian's book seems to contain all four senses of scripture. At first, Julian's story resembles a medieval lord who sends his vassal or servant out of his castle on a special assignment, to perform a good deed on behalf of his feudal lord. The stories of good deeds presumed the good will of the servant.  'The lord looks on his servant very lovingly and sweetly and mildly.  He sends him to a certain place to do his will.  Not only does the servant go, but he dashes off and runs at great speed, loving to do his lord's will.  And soon he falls into a dell and is greatly injured; and then he groans and moans and tosses about and writhes, but he cannot rise up or help himself in any way.'(51, 267). In the medieval scheme of symbols, that is the literal sense of the story.

   Julian moves the parable to its second sense, and says the servant stood for Adam, the first human according to the Bible, and that the lord stood for God, the divine Lord, who created humans in ' our image and likeness' (Gen 1:26) and commissioned man and woman to care for the world; Julian does not name Eve.  Julian said this second sense was a hidden meaning that took her twenty years to understand.  In the scheme of allegory the second, strict, and technically allegorical sense of the story, the parable carries a faith or scriptural inner meaning for Julian. Servant Adam represents every human being ever created. Like a morality play, Adam's fall and the inability to raise himself up represents the loss of the original, full image of God in every soul-self.

   The servant's fall as a metaphor for original sin, portrays human life in an alien or foreign land called regio dissimilitudinis, ' a region of unlikeness.'  'The Platonic tradition...spoke of the moral and religious ideal in terms of being as like God as possible, and of the inferior realm as "the region of dissimilarity"./ 13 The fall  into a region of unlikeness had Neoplatonic and scriptural precedents./ 14 The loss or diminishment of the original image of God in the human soul/spirit by sin has Pauline and Patristic affirmation.  Sin, interpreted as a fall into a foreign land, a region of unlikeness or dissimilitude, is found in Augustine and Bernard of Clairvaux./ 15 Julian first placed the soul's encounter with Jesus in a desert or wilderness,  before the servant Jesus is able to work the soul-soil into a garden that produces food and drink for the eschatological banquet (ch 51).  Julian's desert is the world's environment and the inner landscape of the soul's life.

   The third sense of the parable presents Jesus Christ who as God's servant renews all human life with a new creation as a new or second Adam.  Julian now calls the servant Jesus Christ, and God, the divine Lord, is now Father.  Christ is God's son in the Christian analogy. Julian says Christ the servant falls three ways: he descended from heaven and ' fell with Adam into the valley of the womb of the maiden who was the fairest daughter of Adam.'  He took on all the pains of humanity because by falling into the maiden's womb he took on our human nature which for Julian means he took on 'our flesh' and for her that meant 'a great wound,' because now he felt 'mortal pains .'{All quotations in the paragraph are from 51, 274-5}

    Julian seems to link the sensual soul psychosomatically with the body or flesh. Servant Jesus took more falls by suffering, dying, and descending into hell to bring out with him all deserving souls there since Adam.  Servant Jesus as God's son in our humanity expresses several tropological senses in the parable because what happened to Jesus changed everything that happens to humanity and within our soul.  The pain, suffering, and falls we feel, now have a moral, reformative, potentially redemptive, meaning.  The servant has turned completely toward humanity in substance and sensuality.  Humans are invited to turn to the servant who can raise them up. The servant language has the added emphasis of a theme used by deutero-Isaiah to portray Israel, the prophets, and other ancient leaders, as a paradigm for one who acts or suffers for others (Is 52:13-53:12).  It is not clear whether Julian understood the scriptural connections between the prophetic servant themes of Isaiah and the New Testament portrayal of Jesus as suffering servant and eschatological prophet.

   Julian is not finished with lessons from the parable of the lord and servant. The servant Jesus is now seated in the heavenly court in a city wearing a crown. Both courteously  and intimately he invites our soul-spirit-self to rise and greet him in a courtly anagoge, to undertake the mystagogical journey of the soul to its ultimate destiny.  In God's heavenly court Julian says, 'we are His crown, ...the Father's joy, the Son's honour, and the Holy Spirit's delight.... Now  the Spouse, God's Son, is at peace with his beloved wife, who is the fair maiden of endless joy.'{51, 278.}

   Earlier the 'fair maiden ' referred to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary provided Jesus a physical  nature with its ups and downs. Mary now stands for all humanity, everyone for whom Jesus won the crown who are espoused to him by a heavenly bond. Colledge and Walsh observed that Julian did not develop the marriage metaphor between the soul and God as did other medieval writers (84-85). The parable explains how God renews the divine image in the soul.  Everyone is offered a new birth through the new
creation by the servant Jesus Christ, the divine Son. When medieval Christians read and contemplated the biblical mysteries of faith, the mind and heart were expected to ascend the allegorical ladder from the literal, narrative, starting point, through the spiritual senses of God's meaning, to the moral conversion of the soul, in order to reach the final stage of ascent, ' as it is in heaven.'  Allegory in this broad sense expressed the journey or progress of the soul through four stages. The four senses were like four acts in the drama of salvation history in which the believer was a principal actor. The four senses provided the structure for Julian's parable of the lord and servant. Other parts of Julian's book contain developments and variations on each of the four senses illustrated by different experiences and explanations of the
devout life. The four dimensions of allegory correspond to four dimensions of ongoing spiritual
discernment within the soul of the believer.

   Julian relates the allegory of the servant to the title of Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, as a mother by two formal links. Immediately following the parable, Julian wrote that the parable illustrated the wisdom and compassion of the servant, God's son, toward our Adamic suffering, also called 'our lower part ' (52, 280).  Secondly, God knows and loves us ' without beginning....And by the endless intent and assent and the full accord of all the Trinity, the mediator (literally, 'the mid person') wanted to be the foundation and the head of this fair nature, out of whom we have all come, in whom we are all enclosed, into whom we shall all go...'(53, 283). Despite our proclivities to sin, in God's knowledge and love our soul was 'preciously knitted ,' knotted, and united to the humanity of his servant for holiness and salvation. 'Knitting' is a biblical metaphor for beginning new life (53. 284; Ps 139:13; also Wis 7:1; Eccl. 11:5; Jb 1:21.).  'The deep wisdom of the Trinity is our Mother, in whom we are enclosed ' (54, 285).  For Julian the 'enclosure' and 'mediation' of humanity in the divine plan assumes an understanding of a divine maternity.  It is the way that 'God is closer to us than our own soul...'(56, 288). Our divine enclosure and divine maternity began when

...God joined himself to our body in the maiden's womb, he took our soul, which is sensual, and in taking it, having enclosed us all in himself, he united it to our substance.  In this union he was perfect man, for Christ, having joined in himself every man who will be saved, is perfect man. So our Lady is our mother, in whom we are all enclosed and born of her in Christ, for she who is the mother of our saviour is mother of all who are saved in our saviour; and our saviour is our true Mother, in whom we are endlessly born and out of whom we shall never come' (emphasis added, 57, 292)
   For Julian Mary was the literal mother of Jesus and Jesus is the spiritual mother of every human. There is a strong Marian piety in Julian. She links the Incarnation, the Annunciation, the nativity of Jesus and the birth of our faith at the foot of the cross. '...[E]very contemplative soul to whom it is given to look and to seek will see Mary and pass on to God through contemplation. '(13, 147). The mystery of the union of the divinity of God with our humanity is incarnated through the cooperative conception and birth of a historical woman, Mary. But for Julian, Mary's maternal role begins the allegorical series that reflects the mystery of the divine maternity. Mary functions in the plan of our saving birth, because her maternity is a human reflection of the divine symbol of our savior, 'our true Mother, in whom we are endlessly born and out of whom we shall never come .'(57, 292). Our 'endless birth ' refers to the eternal act of God on behalf of restoring our soul's divine image by means of a divine process which  is an ongoing creation and recreation.

   Three passages in John's Gospel support Julian's thesis of the divine maternity.  First, John's prologue and hymn to the Incarnate Word expresses faith in terms of a divine birth, 'those who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God' ( Jn 1:12-13; 1 Jn 3:9). Raymond Brown discussed the Hebrew and Greek roots of the born/begotten expressions in John and to what extent each expressed a male or female principle./ 16 Second, Jesus explains to Nicodemus that membership in the reign of God is by rebirth;  ' ...no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit ' (Jn 3:5; Vulg. renatus).

   Third, the crucifixion and death at which the beloved disciple and Mary are given new relationships, and Jesus's spirit, blood, and water are given up and poured out, in as much as these symbolize the sacrament of Baptism, borrow from a birth metaphor. John's Gospel emphasizes  that the Incarnation, death, and rebirth of Christ creates or spiritually conceives a new life of faith and grace in the Christian. Julian brings the metaphor one step further into the allegorical world,  and by analogy refers to the mediator of the new life as 'Mother.'  Julian's allegorical language is similar to the syntax and language of Jewish midrash.

MIDRASH
In popular imagination midrash may be thought of as legend, folk tales, even apocryphal, non-canonical literature. The Hebrew noun midrash is from a verb darash (drs) that means to search, investigate, comment, and interpret.  It is used to refer to the study of the law in Ezra 7:10./ 17 Jacob Neusner cites Gary Porton's definition of midrash.

Midrash is 'a type of literature, oral or written, which has its starting point in a fixed, canonical text, considered the revealed word of God by the Midrashist and his audience, and in which this original verse is explicitly cited or clearly alluded.'... For something to be considered Midrash it must have a clear relationship to the accepted canonical text of Revelation.  Midrash is a term given to a Jewish activity which finds its locus in the religious life of the Jewish community.  While others exegete their revelatory canons and while Jews exegete other texts, only Jews who explicitly tie their comments to the Bible engage in Midrash./ 18
   Neusner underlines three elements in Porton's definition of Midrash:
1. it is exegesis,
2. it starts with Scripture, and
3. it ends in community.
   Christian scholars differentiate Midrash to include,
1. a specific collection of Jewish literature that include Torah commentaries, and other exegetical, homeletic, and narrative works,
2. a specific style of imaginative textual interpretation of canonical texts,
3. a general free interpretation of non-canonical texts that flourish in Judaism,
4. the Christian imitation of style 2 within the New Testament, and
5. Christian midrashic styles outside of the canonical scriptures./ 19
   Julian's maternal functions for Jesus seem to belong to the Christian midrashic style.

   Jacob Neusner, whose life studies are dedicated to the formative period of Judaism from the 1st to the 6th century C.E., reminds us that the Sages or Rabbis of these centuries worked from the written Torah of sacred scripture and the Oral Torah. The Oral Torah is a Jewish tradition rooted in the entire Sinai experience of Moses. The Oral and Written Torah came together during formative Judaism to finalize the Jewish canon and compile the Talmudic books as normative for Jewish life and history. This effort 'constructed a coherent theology, a cogent structure and logical system, to expose the justice of God.'/20 Neusner articulates four principles that operate in the Oral Torah, which reminds one of the great cosmic drama often presented in Christian salvation history:

1. God formed creation in accord with a plan, which the Torah reveals. ...
2. The perfection of creation, realized in the rule of exact justice, is signified by the timelessness of the world in human affairs, their conformity to a few enduring paradigms that transcend change (theology of history)....
3. Israel's condition, public and personal, marks flaws in creation. ...
4. God ultimately will restore that perfection that embodied his plan for creation./ 21
This model closely resembles the Pauline and Patristic paradigm in which man and woman are created in the image and likeness of God, but Sin distorts the original image of God in us, and Jesus Christ restores the true image to humanity. Midrash is one of the means by which Judaism expresses the Oral Torah and attempts to realize God's plan for creation. Midrash sometimes applies God's plan to contemporary situations.

   Some forms of Midrashim make connections based on similarities among alphabetical letters in Hebrew. Midrash also explores symbolic meanings and comparisons with numbers, since ancient alphabetical letters also carried numerical value. It is called gematria. For example a midrash on Abraham says he had one helper, Eliezer. The letters of the name Eliezer stand for 318.  That is why 'Genesis 14:14 says that Abraham took 318 trained men to pursue the kings from the east.'/22 The Epistle of Barnabas  9.7 applied the number 318 to the cross of Jesus Christ./23

   Neusner offers an example of a midrash on the opening word in the book of Genesis. He analyzes the midrash by placing each statement in a series of propositions. What is notable is the use of texts from Proverbs to explain the opening words of Genesis.


A . In the beginning God created (Gen. 1:1);
B.  R. Oshaia commenced [the discourse by citing the following verse:]
Then I was beside him like a little child, and I was daily his delight [rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world, and delighting in the sons of men] (Prov. 8:30-31).
...But the word for child bears other meanings...the word [for child also may be read to] mean 'workman .'
C.[In the cited verse] the Torah speaks, 'I was the work-plan of the Holy One, blessed be he .'
D. In the accepted practice of the world, when a mortal king builds a palace, he does not build it out of his own head, but he follows a work-plan.
E. And [the one who supplies] the work-plan does not build out of his own head, But he has designs and diagrams, so as to know how to situate the rooms and doorways.
F. Thus the Holy One, blessed be he, consulted the Torah when he created the world.
G. So the Torah stated, By means of  ' the beginning' [that is to say, the Torah] did God create... (Gen. 1:1).
H. For the word for beginning refers only to the Torah, as Scripture says, The Lord made me in the beginning of his way (Prov.8:22)/. 24
   This midrash says that the opening word of Genesis, Bereshith, ' in the beginning,' means Torah for Judaism.  The connotations of 'child ' and 'workman,' relate to the biblical tradition of the 'Servant (ebed) of Yahweh.' This midrash exemplifies how words are substituted by metonomy to create an intertextual, multi-layered redaction that is modeled on the scribal developments within the canonical text./25 The child and servant language remind us of Julian's interpretations of several servant images in God's plan. In Judaism  the revelation of Torah to Moses originated from God and is eternal. Christian theology understands the Word of God, incarnate in space and time, to carry a similar eternal origin from God, before all creation, 'In  the beginning, the Word was with God' (Jn 1:1). The structure of the Genesis midrash is similar to the four dimensional scheme of medieval allegory. Midrash begins with the literal sense of a text in scripture. It allegorizes the text, using biblical parallels, similar word etymologies, even numerical values for letters. This is the step which gives wings to literary imagination.  It is similar to Catholic devotional literature which uses a spiritual, or 'accommodated sense' of scripture./ 26 Midrash applies the text to Torah teaching and often adds a moral lesson for the community of Israel. The eschatological, anagogical, or mystagogical sense of Midrash is at least implicit in the evolving faith of Israel in God's ongoing revelation. Maimonides taught that the Sages or Talmudic Rabbis held thirteen characteristics, the last of which are eschatological: (10) that God knows human acts, (11) that God rewards and punishes, (12) the days of the Messiah are coming, and (13) the resurrection of the dead./27 These eschatological beliefs, common to medieval Judaism, may also underpin midrash.

   The prologue of John's Gospel concludes with an explicit contrast between the Torah and Jesus for Christian faith: ' The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ' (John 1:17).  This verse is followed by another that reflects the Sinai experience of Moses in Exodus 33: ' No one has ever seen God.  It is God's only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known' (Jn 1:18). Without shaking the foundations of Jewish and Christian beliefs in Torah as sacred scripture and revelation, Christian faith implicitly sees Jesus as new Torah, just as Matthew's Gospel sometimes presents Jesus as a new Moses, and Luke presents  the disciples of Jesus as a new Israel. This is not to claim that the Gospels are midrash. The Christian use of the method of midrash is partly a question that needs to resolved. We have illustrated how the wisdom and servant themes of Julian's allegorical mother language for the divine maternity approach midrash.

   In one study of midrash, Neusner seemed to claim that all Jewish biblical exegesis is midrash. But he also said  that midrash includes biblical paraphrase, prophecy, and parable or allegory. Neusner cited the parabiblical material of the  Dead Sea Scrolls and Matthew's Gospel as examples of prophetic midrash, because both provide exegetical commentaries on prophetic scriptures. Matthew's birth story that quotes Isaiah 7 about 'the virgin who shall conceive...' (Mt. 1:23), the visit of the wise men that combines verses from Micah and 2 Samuel about Bethlehem (Mt 2:5b-6), the slaughter of the innocent children by Herod that quotes Jeremiah 31:15 about Rachel weeping, and the preaching of the John the Baptist that cites Isaiah 40:3, (Mt. 3:3) are midrashic for Neusner. Neusner said that apart from some stories collected by Hillel, the biographical style of the Gospels is unique in Jewish schools of writing. He claimed Matthew's school demonstrates the principles or process of midrashic exegesis, the focus on a single scriptural verse, and the formal plan that collects and arranges prophetic texts to illustrate the story. This Christian midrash 'involves the reading of the verses of ancient Israel's Scriptures in light of their meaning in the life and teachings of Jesus.'/28 In light of the development of Christian faith understanding of the divine nature, origin, and purpose of Jesus Christ in the world, Neusner's explanation of Matthew's midrash needs modifications, but nonetheless, there are midrashic elements in much New Testament writing. Raymond Brown commented that 'Heb[rews] has even been said to be materially a midrash (loose commentary) on Pss 95; 110; and Jer. 31:31-34, phrased in rhetorical Greek prose.'/ 29 Others have commented on the homiletic style of Hebrews as midrashic.

   The text of the Biblical Commission on 'The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church' in 1995 contains  Section 1. 'Methods and Approaches for Interpretation' with a subsection 'C. Approaches Based on Tradition.'  The second tradition based method is titled 'Approach through recourse to Jewish traditions of interpretation' and it contains a discussion of midrash .  The Biblical Commission devotes five paragraphs to explain how 'ancient Jewish traditions allow for a better understanding particularly of the Septuagint, the Jewish Bible which eventually became the first part of the Christian Bible...' and they point to 'the variety of exegetical procedures practiced by the different strains of Judaism...found within the Old Testament...and also with the New Testament...'/30 specifically naming Paul's use of scripture.  The Commission omits  reference to midrash in the Gospels. The document cites the following varieties of literary forms, ...parables, allegories, anthologies and florilegia, re-readings (relectures), pesher technique, methods of associating otherwise unrelated texts, psalms and hymns, vision, revelation and dream sequences, wisdom components \'97 all are common to both the Old and the New Testaments, as well as in Jewish circles before and after the time of Jesus.  The Targums and the Midrashic literature illustrate the homiletic tradition and mode of biblical interpretation practised by wide sectors of Judaism in the first centuries./31

   The last paragraph acknowledges  the richness of 'Jewish biblical scholarship' both past and present,
but stresses the radical diversity beyond the common starting point. Fitzmyer lists 'certain passages in the New Testament [that] have been recognized as midrashic in character, e.g. Pauline passages such as 1 Cor 10:1-5 (Exodus images of water, food, and drink); 2 Cor 3:7-4:6 (the veil over Moses); and Heb7:1-11 (Melchizedek).  Jewish allegory is imitated in Gal 4:21-31 (allegory of Sarah and Hagar).' /32 Neusner might call Paul's allegory of the two wives of Abraham midrash , but Fitzmyer calls it allegory. The Galatians allegory contrasts two mothers, their sons Isaac and Ishmael, the promises and the covenant-law, two mountains, two cities, and two powerful social contrasts, slavery and freedom. The line of Hagar, Ishmael, law, and Sinai lead the allegorist to arrive at the earthly city of Jerusalem. 'But the other woman,' Sarah, mother of Isaac, carries the symbol of freedom and promise. It 'corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother' (Gal 4:26).  Paul concludes the allegory by writing to the Galatians,  ' So then friends, we are children...of the free woman.  For freedom Christ has set us free' (Gal 4:31-5:1a).  Julian could appeal to this Rabbinic allegory as a scriptural precedent for her image of the divine maternity because Paul has shaped an allegory of human mothers and their offspring that leads by the economy of salvation to the foundation of a new city of free people. In Paul's Galatians syntax, Christ is the one who completes the maternal sequence by providing a new promise for rebirth, new citizenship, and community in the heavenly Jerusalem.

   In addition to the midrash on the wisdom and servant themes that relates Torah to the plan of creation, there is considerable Jewish and Christian literature that explains wisdom as a feminine attribute of God.  The student, Ruth, loaned me a modern midrash on 'The Woman of Valor' (Pr 31: 10-31) in English translation./ 33 To each of the twenty-one verses of the alphabetic acrostic poem, medieval midrash assigned the name of a real individual woman from ancient Israel.  At the allegorical level, each woman represents a different type of practical wisdom or knowledge in contrast to the biblical images of women as temptress, foreigner, stranger or other foolish or evil types in biblical sagas.  Each verse is applied to a virtuous quality of the human soul, and is a model of Torah teaching, torat chesed, 'teaching with steadfast love' (31:26). Contemporary authors like Elizabeth Johnson have discussed the Hokma-Sophia wisdom motif in scripture and tradition in ways that support Julian's Jesus as 'mother-wisdom.' Finally the midrash on 'The Woman of Valor' has a Shekinah explanation for each verse, as 'the cosmic mother' who 'appears and acts in the world in the guise of the Assembly of Israel.'/34

   Jesus as mother of mercy and compassion arises, as Phyllis Trible has shown, from the relation between the Hebrew words for womb and compassion.

In its singular form the noun rehem means 'womb' or 'uterus.'  In the plural, rahamin, this concrete meaning expands to the abstraction of compassion, mercy and love....Accordingly, our metaphor lies in the semantic movement from a physical organ of the female body to a psychic mode of being./35
In the brief time available for research on this paper, I have yet to locate a specific Jewish midrash on mercy and compassion. Elizabeth Johnson listed a litany of Old Testament texts that serve this theme: Gn 43:30 on Joseph's search for the brother Benjamin as children of the same womb; Jer 31:20 on God's motherly compassion, Dt 32:18; Nu 11:12-13; Is 42:14; 49:15; 63:13; Ps 22:1, 9-10; Hos 13:8./36

   Jesus as mother who provides grace on our behalf begins with the prophetic language of the divine chesed which is integral to the prophecy of Hosea. The servant-service theme that bridges the Old and New Testament mentioned in the Genesis midrash , has been explored by Zimmerli and Jeremias among others./ 37  I also have yet to locate a specific Jewish midrash on divine chesed, although the term appears in the poem to 'the woman of valor' in Proverbs 31:26.  Bruce Vawter taught many of us to relate the New Testament promise of eternal life, promises of God's faithfulness toward us, as part of this inter-testamental theme. Julian's parable of the Lord and servant leads her to the divine maternity of Jesus by means of wisdom, mercy, grace, and service. Julian's unusual expression of faith in the divine actions attributed to Jesus Christ as the second person of God, resembles the imaginative writing of midrash.

    Julian's 'devotional practice of affective spirituality', imaginative meditations and contemplations by which she felt an active participant 'in the events of Jesus' life'/38 help us understand how she could pray for three stigmata or wounds: contrition, compassion, and contemplation or longing for God (2, 179).  This woman who denied the 'teaching of contempt' about the divine punishment of the Jews (33, 234), and who avoided the medieval speculation about angels (80, 336), said that the divine work and office of Jesus was 'nearest, readiest, and surest' because like a mother who 'bears us for pain and for death... our true Mother Jesus, ...alone bears us for joy and for endless life.' (60, 297-8). The richly adorned, tightly woven, delightfully colorful text of Julian of Norwich has several threads of medieval spirituality that remind us of Jewish midrash. Julian wrote midrash like the musician who improvises on a classical theme, in as much as her insights arose out of the activity of re-reading former scriptures in a new context. Julian wrote as if she heard Jesus address her as well as his early disciples after he taught a number of parables on the kingdom of heaven:

Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the mistress of a household who brings out of her treasure what is new and what is old.
(Mt. 13:51-53, paraphrased)
John B. Lounibos, Ph.D.
Dominican College, Orangeburg, New York
CTS Convention, University of Portland, June 2, 2001
 

NOTES

1 Julian of Norwich, Showings, translated from the critical text with an Introduction by Edmund Colledge, O.S.A. and James Walsh, S.J.  New York: Paulist Press, 1978 is the text used here. Also consulted is the newer, freer translation of Revelations of Divine Love, translated by Elizabeth Spearing, with notes and introduction by A.C. Spearing. London: Penguin Books, 1998.
2 Midrash, or biblical inquiry, is presented as one of the tradition based approaches to sacred scripture by the 1995 Biblical Commission Document on 'The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church,' Fitzmyer, Joseph A., S.J., The Biblical Commission' Document 'The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, Text and Commentary, Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1995, I.. C. 2., 74-78.
3 Chapter 58, page 294.  Subsequent quotations from Julian will be indicated by chapter and page numbers in Colledge and Walsh unless otherwise indicated.
4 Baker, Denise Nowakowski, Julian of Norwich's Showings: From Vision to Book, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994, 116.
5 Lear, Jonathan, Happiness, Death, and the Remainder of Life,  Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000, 177-8 fn 10.
6 Baker, 125-8.
7 The Pentateuch and Rashi's Commentar y, A Linear translation into English by Rabbi Abraham ben Isaiah and Rabbi Benjamin Sharfman with Dr. Harry M. Orlinsky and Rabbi Dr. Morris Charner.  Brooklyn: S.S. & R. Publishing.Company, 1949.
8 Holloway, Julia Bolton: http://www.umilta.net This artistic and imaginative web site by a medieval scholar contains many comparative studies among medieval writers with numerous links and is continually updated.
9 Edmund Colledge, O.S.A., and James Walsh, S.J. eds., A Book of Showings to the Anchoress Julian of Norwich, Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1978.
10 Fitzmyer, 1995, 118 n. 157.
11 157.
12 Colledge and Walsh 163, 272, 278, 289, 312-3, 337.
13 Henry Chadwick in his introduction to St. Augustine, Confessions, New York: Oxford University Press, 1991, makes the comparison between Augustine and Plato's Politicus, 273d, xxv.
14 Baker, fn 25, 185.
15 Butler, 95; Confessions 7.10.
16 Brown, Raymond E., S.S. The Gospel According to John,  I-XII,  AB Vol 29.  Garden City: Doubleday, 1966, 12, 130.
17 Porton, Gary G.  'Midrash,' The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol 4,  1992-97, 818-22.
18 Jacob Neusner, What is Midrash? And a Midrash Reader. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 2nd printing, 1994, 9-10.
19 Wright, Addison G. S.S. The Literary Genre Midrash.  Staten Island, NY: Alba House, The Society of St. Paul, 1967 and Raymond Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament . New York: Doubleday, 1997.
20 Jacob Neusner, Theology Comes Home, The Role of Theology in the Academic Study of Religion and The Role of Theology in Judaism in the Academic Study of Judaism. Annndale-on-Hudson: Bard College, 2000, 14.
21 Neusner, 2000, 14-15.
22 Drinkard, Joel F. 'numbers,' Harper's Biblical Dictionary. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985, 712.
23 Fitzmyer 1995 118.
24 Genesis Rabbah 1:1; Jacob Neusner, Invitation to Midrash, The Workings of Rabbinic Bible Interpretation. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1998. 278-79.
25 Michael Fishbane, 'Inner Biblical Exegesis: Types and Strategies of Interpretation in Ancient Israel,' in Midrash and Literature. Eds. Geoffrey H. Hartman, Sanford Budick, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968.
26 Fitzmyer, 1995, 124-5.
27 Hyman, Arthur, 'Maimonides' Thirteen Principles', in Jewish Medieval and Renaissance Studies, ed. Alexander Altmann.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967, 119 -44.
28 Neusner, 1994, 39.
29 Brown, 1997, 697, n. 38.
30 Fitzmyer, 1995, 77.
31 Fitzmyer, 1995, 77.
32 Fitzmyer, 1995, 76.
33 Steinsaltz, Adin, Even Israel, Itzhak Tordjman. The Woman of Valor, Eshet Hayil. Translated by Michael Swirsky. Israel, no city, publisher or date provided.
34 Steinsaltz, 16.
35 Quoted by Johnson, Elizabeth A. She Who Is, The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse, New York: Crossroad, 1992, 101.
36 Johnson, 100-2.
37 Zimmerli, Walther, Jeremias, Joachim, The Servant of God. Studies in Biblical Theology 20, rev. ed., London: SCM Press, 1965.
38 Baker, 44.


See also Julian and Judaism, Martin Buber's Julian, The Joy of Hebrew, Contemplating Hebrew, Karen Graffeo, Chuppa


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