Character Consolidation


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  • One of the techniques often employed by Midrash is the identification of different Biblical characters one with another, a method which can be termed the "Law of Conservation of Biblical Characters".
  • In many cases, an anonymous or lesser known character (or even objects, places, and dates) is identified with a named and more famous figure. In other instances, two well-known personalities are identified as one and the same person. Sometimes, a person might even be connected to numerous other figures.
  • The method stems from the Midrashic belief in the omnisignificance of Torah, leading it to develop the identities of unknown figures whose presence in the text is otherwise not understandable.
  • The technique is often employed to resolve exegetical or theological questions, to amplify the merits of the righteous and the faults of villainous figures or to mitigate seeming sins of the Patriarchs, and to demonstrate historical continuity.
  • Often, textual links and contextual parallels further motivate and / or bolster the identifications.

Consolidation of Characters

Below are many examples of character consolidation with sources and links for further discussion.

 I. Identification of three or more different names as the same person:

II. Identification of two characters with different names as the same person:

III. Identification of characters with the same or similar names as the same person:

IV. Identification of anonymous people with known personalities:

V.  Identification of anonymous people one with another:

Consolidation of Objects

I. Identification of objects with other objects:

II. Identification of places:

  • Beit El and Yerushalayim –

III. Identification of unknown dates with known ones:

  • Angel's visit to Lot – 15 Nisan
  • Giving of the Decalogue – 6 Sivan
  • Moshe's descent with the 1st Tablets – 17 Tammuz
  • Moshe's descent with the 2nd Tablets – 10 Tishrei
  • Night of the return of the spies – 9 Av


 I. Why does the Midrash identify characters?

  • Omnisignificance – As Midrash views every word in Torah as significant, it finds the presence of anonymous or unknown figures who play no other role elsewhere troubling.  By identifying such figures with known characters, it can explain why such details are mentioned – See Ramban Shemot 6:23Shemot 6:23About R. Moshe b. Nachman.
  • Textual links – Often, textual links and content parallels2 between stories will motivate a certain identification.  People with similar or identical names3 or those who play similar roles in different stories will be connected.  Uncommon words4 shared by two stories might lead to other associations.
  • Solve exegetical problems – At times, an identification serves to solve exegetical difficulties. See, for example, ShadalBereshit 11:29Bereshit 11:29About R. Shemuel David Luzzatto's discussion of the Midrashic identification of Sarah as Yiskah and the discussion of Yitro's names in Shemot 18.
  • Addressing theological issues
    • Apparent misdeeds of the righteous – Giving a Jewish identity to an idolator or Canaanite can obviate problems of apparent "intermarriages" or other undesirable unions. See, for instance, the identification of Shimon's Canaanite wife with Dina at Did Yaakov's Sons Marry Canaanites or the identification of the Cushite whom Moshe married with Zipporah at Miryam's Critique of Moshe and his Cushite Marriage.
    • Demonstrate reward and punishment – Nechama Leibowitz5 suggests that in certain instances, such as the identification of the officers whipped in Egypt with the seventy elders, the technique serves to demonstrate Divine providence and how good deeds are rewarded and suffering compensated.6
  • Character development – Identifying villains with other wicked individuals or the worthy with similarly righteous people serves to further blacken or whiten their characters.  This fits the Midrashic tendency to augment the faults of evil characters and amplify the merits of righteous figures. See, for example, the identification of Shifra and Puah with Miryam and Yocheved at Who are the Midwives.7
  • Bridge history – When Midrash connects figures who live centuries apart, its goal might be to bridge history and show continuity over the generations, similar to the concept of מעשה אבות סימן לבנים.

II. Difficulties with method:

  • Why would Tanakh use different names in different places?