Fan Fiction and Midrash
September 17, 2014 7:52 AM   Subscribe

Fan stories, like midrash, give voice to characters who aren't front and center in narratives as we've received them. Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, who blogs at Velveteen Rabbi, has published an essay in Transformative Works and Cultures on the parallels between fan works that fill gaps in pop culture stories and midrash used to fill gaps in the Torah.
posted by emjaybee (21 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't even started reading yet and I already feel such a sense of gleeful soul-deep fulfillment that someone has finally, openly, unashamedly admitted the connection between religious canon and fanfic.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:05 AM on September 17, 2014 [9 favorites]

those stories that didn't make it into the bible? the MAGICAL FLYING BABY stuff? Sooo fanficy.
posted by The Whelk at 8:26 AM on September 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

The New Testament as Jesus fanfic changes my view of it. It actually seems kind of cool now! The Gospel according to Andrew Lloyd Webber seems possible.
posted by SPrintF at 8:29 AM on September 17, 2014

Also elements from other people's Bible fanfic and art has filtered into people's own canon - all that Blake/Paradise Lost Lucifier In Leather Pants stuff is outside canon but pretty well set in people's conception of the "character".

Also when was the last time you saw an angel depicted as a floating sphere of eyes or multi-headed animal beast?
posted by The Whelk at 8:33 AM on September 17, 2014

Definitely not in the dog park where no one is allowed.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:34 AM on September 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

In this Colbert Report Tip/Wag segment, Stephen Colbert labels the Book of Mormon as "Jesus Fan Fiction." Unlike Youtube, Comedy Central's player doesn't seem to support linking mid-video, but the relevant larger portion begins about 2:52 in, and the quote itself occurs just after 5:00.
posted by The Confessor at 8:37 AM on September 17, 2014

Oh, I should have said, hat tip to the Slacktivist, where I found this.
posted by emjaybee at 8:41 AM on September 17, 2014

For a long time I've explained MetaTalk to people as the Talmud of MetaFilter
posted by Gorgik at 8:58 AM on September 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

Yes, but Babylonian or Jerusalem?
posted by poffin boffin at 9:05 AM on September 17, 2014

New Testament as Jesus fanfic

No, no. The Old Testament, New Testament, and Koran are the trilogy. The Book of Mormon is the fanfic.

(aw man, apparently I stole that from Colbert, on preview)
posted by Flannery Culp at 9:19 AM on September 17, 2014

Leading to that old science fiction fandom nerd joke that the Bible could've been published as one of those old Ace Double books: War-God of Israel/The Thing with Three Souls.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:35 AM on September 17, 2014 [6 favorites]

The title alone (establishing a conceptual link between fanfic and midrash) is a brilliant, succinct response to some vague ideas I'd been nursing about the relationship between author and fanfic author. I look forward to reading this tonight.
posted by ardgedee at 9:55 AM on September 17, 2014

I love that the article mentions Bible fan fiction, because I'm way more interested in religion as story than religion know, religion. One of my favorite books is still Christopher Moore's Lamb: the Gospel According to Christ's Childhood Pal Biff, which manages to be hilarious and irreverent as well as a meaningful and respectful commentary on Christianity and religion.

And here are the links to the Yuletide Bible fics mentioned in the article, for those who are interested: the Michal novella and Noah's Ark as space opera.

I've also received some excellent Bible fan fiction for Yuletides past, though in my case it was Bible fan fiction a couple of degrees removed. A couple years ago, I requested fic for the Arcade Fire song Abraham's Daughter, which is itself a sort of commentary on/fan fiction of the story of Abraham and Isaac. I got a couple of stunning, perfect fics in response: Abraham's Daughter and For She Desires Questioning More Than Sacrifices. Both of these stories act as fan fiction and midrash (albeit midrash for a fascinating alternate universe version of the sacrifice of Isaac), and I love that we can extrapolate such varied worlds from a short what-if of a song. How different would the world be if, instead of the story of the binding of Isaac, we had the story of Abraham's Daughter raising her bow and saying, "You'd better let young Isaac go"?
posted by yasaman at 10:15 AM on September 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is everything I never knew I wanted.
posted by leesh at 10:24 AM on September 17, 2014

For bible fanfic, I was a fan of Jeanette Winterson's Boating for Beginners.
posted by jeather at 10:24 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can't get over the awesomeness of the title "Velveteen Rabbi."
posted by blurker at 10:36 AM on September 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I both do and do not want a parallel blog written by a mohel called the Foreskin Horse.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:53 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

This form of reading the Bible is really central to my own work with the text as a follower of The Way. Midrash is a practice that I have adopted in my own life, especialy when I am teaching. I came to it from a curiousity born of the practice of "holy envy" and influenced in a Christian context by the work of David Trobisch, who is a terrific Christian practitioner of the art. I find it also informs my own contemplative practice of lectio divina, which is a deeply engaged way of reading the text and puts one in a creative relationship with what is offered.
posted by salishsea at 11:47 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, but Babylonian or Jerusalem?

What? I don't know that!
posted by Gorgik at 12:58 PM on September 17, 2014

I love this - and especially that the comparison works both ways. Every now and then I have to explain the concept of midrash, and how it is and isn't part of Jewish core belief. Calling it rabbinic fan fiction is the perfect way to describe it.
posted by Mchelly at 1:29 PM on September 17, 2014

This is how I explain my tendency to get nerdy about Judaism when talking to my geeky, generally atheistic, friends. You can get super in to the debates about Jewish text in just the same way that you can get super in to, say, Star Trek, only when you do so everybody thinks it's great.

Seriously: engage in a debate about the canonicity of the Rihnnsu and everybody tells you that you need to get a life; engage in a debate -- just as involved and just as fun -- about the canonicity of the Midrash and everybody congratulates you on your erodition and spiritual development. It's like the get-out-of-jail-free card of geeking out!

Having said all that, and with the proviso that I'm a big fan of the Velveteen Rabbi (read her stuff on depression; it's great), I have to say that I always think of the Talmud as, not fanfiction, but Expanded Universe.
posted by Dreadnought at 6:01 PM on September 17, 2014

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