Benjamin Williams

Published On


Page Range

pp. 329–376

“Some Fanciful Midrash Explanation”

Derash on the Ṭeʿamim in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period

  • Benjamin Williams (author)
This chapter examines the history of the idea that the shapes, names, and sounds of the ṭeʿamim convey information about biblical narratives, including twists and turns in the plot, the
thoughts and motivations of the characters, and the way direct speech was delivered. This exegetical technique is examined first by enquiring into its relationship with the midrashic method of deriving such information from the graphic features of the consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible. Turning to the approach of Tobias ben Eliezer, Joseph ibn Caspi, and Baḥya ben Asher, attention is focused on interpretations of unusual and irregular cantillation marks, including the shalshelet, according to the principles of derash. Finally, examples from the commentaries of Moses Alsheikh of Safed are examined to show how sixteenth-century
Sephardi interpreters treated the Masoretic system of accentuation more broadly as a source of information concerning biblical narratives.


Benjamin Williams