Midrash - biblical interpretation as practiced by the rabbinic sages in late antiquity - is both a repository of classical Jewish tradition and a self-defining literary mode. The parable, or mashal, is the most distinctive type of narrative in midrash. David Stern shows how the mashal was composed, how its symbolism works, and how it serves to convey the ideological convictions of the rabbis. He describes its relation to similar tales in other literatures, including the parables of Jesus in the New Testament, and to kabbalistic parables. Drawing upon work in the fields of oral literature and narrative theory and using representative examples from a wide range of classic Jewish texts, all translated into English, he demonstrates how story and exegesis join in midrash to give rabbinic interpretation its unique character. "Parables in Midrash" illuminates a number of issues: the rabbis' conception of God, ancient techniques of representation, the responses of the sages to historical catastrophe, the relationship of rabbinic Judaism to Rome and to early Christianity, and the place of midrash in Jewish tradition. The final chapter traces the history of the mashal from its roots in the ancient Near Eastern fable to its application by modernist writers like Agnon.