Aggadat Bereshit

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AGGADAT BERESHIT (Heb. אַגָּדַת בְּרֵאשִׁית), an aggadic Midrash to the Book of Genesis. In the Oxford manuscript (see below) the book is called Seder Eliyahu Rabbah, while in the Middle Ages it was cited under the names Tanna devei Eliyahu and Ḥuppat Eliyahu; the name Aggadat Bereshit first appearing in the first printed edition. Aggadat Bereshit is a homiletical Midrash constructed in a unique manner. It consists of 83 (or 84) sections in cycles of three, the first interpreting a verse from Genesis, the second a verse from the Prophets, and the third a verse from Psalms. The verse from Genesis is in general the beginning of the weekly scriptural reading according to the triennial cycle which was in vogue in Ereẓ Israel in early times. The verse from the Prophets is usually from the haftarah and that from Psalms also has a relevance to the portion of the Law and the haftarah (some scholars think it was taken from a chapter of Psalms read on that particular Sabbath). Both the beginning of the Midrash (which in its present state starts in Gen. 6:5) and its end (the last section of the Psalms) are missing. Each section has a proem of the classical type which begins: "This is what Scripture tells us," i.e., opening with a verse not of the portion expounded and finally connected with the verse at the beginning of the portion expounded. However, the introduction, like the Midrash proper, shows signs of relatively late composition. The sections on the Pentateuch are longer than those on the Prophets, and the sections on Psalms the shortest of all, consisting, in general, only of the introduction. The language of the Midrash is late mishnaic Hebrew; there are some Greek words. Aggadat Bereshit is a collection of homilies from different sources. The editor made use of early Midrashim of the amoraim and also of many Midrashim of the *Tanhuma-Yelammedenu type. This factor – together with its Aramaic-free Hebrew, pseudographic sayings, signs of late style and terminology, and an explicit polemic against Christianity (27 and 31) – would appear to place its date of editing at about the tenth century. Aggadat Bereshit was first published at the end of the Shetei Yadot (Venice, 1618) of Menahem di *Lonzano. After this it was republished in Vilna, 1802, by *Abraham b. Elijah of Vilna, and frequently thereafter. In 1903 S. Buber collated the first printed edition with an Oxford manuscript and published a critical edition with introduction and notes.


Zunz-Albeck, Derashot, 124, 394; J. Mann, The Bible as Read and Preached in the Old Synagogue, 1 (1940), passim.

[Moshe David Herr]