The Midrash on Proverbs, a ninth-century collection of rabbinical commentary on the Book of Proverbs, is now available to English-speaking audiences for the first time. Burton L. Visotzky here provides a lucid translation of the work from his annotated critical edition of the Hebrew text, Midrash Mishle.
Midrash Mishle is a watershed in midrashic literature, as it marks the point at which broader forms of classical midrash on the Scriptures gave way to verse-by-verse commentary. It is unlike most earlier midrash in that it regularly pays attention to context, relates verses to each other, provides comments on apparently simple meanings of verses, and philologically considers the meaning of specific terms. At the same time, it resembles earlier midrash by considering narrative legends—offering, for example, fanciful versions of Solomon's meeting with the Queen of Sheba, the death of Moses, and Joseph's encounter with his brothers. It also alludes to medieval Jewish law and custom, anti-Karaite polemic, and rabbinic mysticism (with its esoteric speculations on such subjects as the measurements of God's body).
Visotzky's volume illuminates all these subjects for the scholar and nonspecialist alike in a prose translation that mirrors the style of the original Midrash Mishle text. His introduction to the volume sets it in the wider context of Jewish hermeneutics of the Bible.