Steven D. Fraade
One of the most important fields of study in which the Dead Sea Scrolls and early rabbinic literature have shed light on one another is that of scriptural interpretation, or midrash, as the term is variously employed in both textual corpora. In comparing the phenomena of scriptural interpretation in the two corpora, we need to be as attentive to aspects of similarity as to those of dissimilarity, since they mutually inform one another. Also, we need to attend to comparisons and contrasts not only of content, but of form and function, that is, not only of shared traditions but of the manners in which those traditional understandings of scripture are performatively communicated to the respective studying communities.
At the first Orion Symposium in 1996, in a paper entitled, "Looking for Legal Midrash at Qumran," I argued that notwithstanding the strong likelihood that at least some Qumran law was derived through exegesis of Scripture, the sectarian Dead Sea Scrolls do not generally preserve or transmit their rules in exegetical form. That is, they frame their legal discourse in terms of its legal product rather than its exegetical process. Thus, what we would recognize as midrash halakha from the "tannaitic" midrashic collections of commentary is generally not to be found, with some notable exceptions, at Qumran.
In the present paper, I will ask a similar set of questions regarding the relative absence of midrash aggadah, as understood from the perspective of the textual practices of the same "tannaitic" scriptural commentaries. Amplification and expansion of biblical narrative is well known in the body of Second Temple Jewish texts dubbed "rewritten Bible," several of which are well-attested among the Dead Sea Scrolls (the Genesis Apocryphon, the Book of Jubilees, and the "Book of the Watchers," plus many other fragmentary works now known for the first time). However, none of these expanded biblical narratives displays the formal traits of explicit scriptural commentary and explication recognizable from the early "tannaitic" midrashic collections. How then are we to explain the phenomenon of the exegetical story, so prevalent in our earliest rabbinic texts, and its relative absence in the Dead Sea Scrolls?