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Midrash Tehillim

MIDRASH TEHILLIM (Heb. מִדְרַשׁ תְּהִלּים; Midrash Psalms), an aggadic Midrash on the Psalms, called also Aggadat Tehillim, and Shoḥer Tov because of its opening verse, Proverbs 11:27. The Midrash embraces most of the Psalms. Despite the fact that most manuscripts and printed editions, as well as the copy that was before the author of the Yalkut Shimoni, lack homilies for Psalms 96, 97, and 98, they are included in the glosses of Abraham Provençal and in some manuscripts (see Jellinek and Buber). In several manuscripts and printed editions there is no Midrash to Psalm 15 but the Midrash to it is added to that of Psalm 14. The only psalms to which there is definitely no Midrash are 123 and 131. Zunz rightly conjectured that the Midrash on Psalms 119–50 differs from that to the preceding Psalms. From the differences of language and subject matter, the definite omission of the names of the authors, and the expository character of this section, he came to the conclusion that it was of later date than the earlier portion.

Zunz's claim was verified through the research of Buber. In six manuscripts and in the edition printed in Constantinople (1512), the Midrash concludes with Psalm 118. Only two manuscripts and those before Provençal contain a short fragment of a homily on Psalm 119. Buber also showed that the homilies of Psalms 122–137 were copied from the Yalkut, and since the latter contains no homilies to Psalms 123 and 131, these are also wanting in the Midrash. Zunz concluded from an examination of the sources, the methods employed, linguistic usages, and details of its contents (see especially Mid. Ps. 63:2; 6:2) that the first part is also late and that it was edited in Italy in the last centuries of the geonic period. From his examination of the manuscripts, Buber claimed that the original work had been added to by later copyists, and that its "youthfulness" is the result of these interpolations. According to him, Zunz erred in his identification of historical allusions in the work and was misled by errors in the names of persons and places (see his notes to Mid. Ps. 9:8). In his opinion the language of the original portions of the Midrash, its style, the manner of its homilies, and the amoraim mentioned in it, as well as the sources upon which it draws, are evidence of its antiquity and its Palestinian origin.

Buber, however, was mistaken, as has been shown by Ḥ. Albeck, who proved that the author of this Midrash also drew upon late Ereẓ Israel Midrashim. Albeck also bases his argument for late dating on an examination of the form of the proems and points to the signs of deterioration in them: the connection with the verses being interpreted is faulty, the terminology is inconsistent, the proems are mainly anonymous, and their formulation is at times defective. Albeck claims, furthermore, on the basis of the many differences between the manuscripts, the many additions in several of them, the errors in their arrangement, and the significant differences in the repetition of the same homily, that the present Midrash Tehillim consists of groups of Midrashim to the Psalms. This too is the reason, in his view, for the lack of uniformity in the methods of interpreting the Psalms: some are interpreted at length, every single verse being discussed, while in others homilies are found for only a few verses. It may be concluded, therefore, that the period of composition of the Midrash extended over some centuries. Obviously it is not identical with the Midrash Tehillim which Simeon b. Judah ha-Nasi taught Ḥiyya (Kid. 33a; and see also Av. Zar. 19a), even though it apparently contains material from as early as this period (third century). Its concluding section is definitely from the 13th century, and not as Mann suggested, that parts of it derive from an early "short" Midrash to Psalms.

Despite the lack of uniformity in this Midrash, its fragmentary nature on the one hand and the many additions to it on the other, it has retained many fine qualities and is one of the most beautiful in aggadic literature: it has exalted language and colorful themes, cites many stories and parables, and makes extensive and tasteful use of the hermeneutics of aggadic interpretation. L. Rabinowitz, adapting the main theory of Mann in his "The Bible as Read and Preached in the Old Synagogue," claims that one could assume a triennial reading of the Psalms paralleling that of the Torah, and from this it is possible to understand the contents of its homilies. This claim, however, is still far from being proved.

The Midrash has been frequently published: Constantinople, 1512, Venice, 1546, Prague, 1613, etc. Of great value are the Warsaw editions of 1873 and 1875, with the commentary of Aaron Moses Padua; the 1891 Vilna edition of Buber, for which he utilized eight manuscripts and the glosses of Abraham Provençal; and the English edition of Braude (1959). Important fragments of the Midrash Tehillim were published by A. Jellinek, Beit ha-Midrash, 5 (1873), 70–86 (glosses by A. Provençal); J. Mann, in: HUCA, 14 (1939), 303–32; and M. Arzt, in: Alexander Marx Jubilee Volume (1950), Hebrew section, 49–73.


S. Buber (ed.), Midrash Tehillim (1891), introd.; Zunz-Albeck, Derashot, 131f., 407–12; L. Rabinowitz, in: JQR, 26 (1935–36), 349–68; W.G. Braude (trans.), The Midrash on Psalms, 1 (1959), introd.