Uncovering midrash: The Hebrew slave in the Mekhilta deRabbi Ishmael

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Two sets of biblical verses deal with the Hebrew slave's refusal to be set free at the end of his servitude (Exodus 21:5-6; Deuteronomy 15:16-17). I examine a series of derashot from Mekhilta deRabbi Ishmael dealing with these two passages. I will claim that difficulties evident in this section stem from its derivative nature, and I will support this claim by showing that this passage is in fact using material from an earlier non-extant midrash on the parallel verses in Deuteronomy. The midrash in the Mekhilta adapts the earlier material in order to conform to the verses in Exodus, and demonstrates a Halakhic viewpoint that is in conflict with the midrash on Deuteronomy. The study has ramifications for wider scholarly issues, including the possibility of reconstructing lost midrashic material from later, reworked texts using careful philological examination and the findings of recent studies in the field of legal midrash.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)34-57
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Jewish Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Religious studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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