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Ronit Nikolsky – De functie van parabels (mesjalim) in de Tanchuma

This article takes the narrative nature of parables seriously and looks at their role from this perspective. After theorizing the role of stories from a ‘culture and cognition’ perspective, four meshalim from the Tanhuma Midrashim are studied: ‘Grasshoppers in a jar’ (about the Tower of Babel), ‘Abraham’s circumcision’, ‘The baby on the table’ (about the sacrifice of Isaac), and ‘The calf and its mother’ (about Joseph and the Egyptian exile). The conclusion of this case study is that the role of meshalim is not to interpret the biblical text as such, but to change the audience’s attitude toward the biblical story. For this, the points of agreement between the mashal and the biblical story need only be minimal. In order to effectuate this new attitude, the meshalim in the Tanchuma Midrashim, which are usually based on earlier midrash on the said biblical text, adopt these existing midrashim while at the same time transforming them into new stories that are more suitable for the Tanchuma audience. Usually this amounts to a ‘softening’ of the message of the existing, earlier midrash.

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