It is ancient–see Targum (interpretation along with translation); est. by late 2nd Temple period. It was entertaining, with dramatic modulated voices and other stunts attracting huge crowds. Many are preserved in Midrash volumes. It developed current character and centrality in medieval period; "could respond to and influence communal life on the pressing issues of the day and reinforce the traditions and ethics of the Torah" (EJ 13:998). It remained important, taking different forms in various lands. In 19th century Germany it became standardized and in the vernacular, ala Protestant sermons. Today we inherit all this and more . . .