Esther Rabbah

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ESTHER RABBAH (Heb. אֶסְתֵּר רַבָּה), Midrash Aggadah on the *Scroll of Esther. In the editio princeps (Constantinople, 1517?) the work is referred to as "Midrash*Ahasuerus" while in the second edition (Pesaro, 1519) it is called "Midrash Megillat Esther" and the title "Ahasueros." On the origin of the name "Esther Rabbah," see *Ruth Rabbah.

The Structure

In the editio princeps, Esther Rabbah is divided into six sections. However, subsequent editions have ten, the last section being subdivided into five smaller ones. In fact, the work consists of two different Midrashim: Esther Rabbah 1 (sections 1–6) and Esther Rabbah 2 (sections 7–10).

Esther Rabbah 1

This is an exegetical Midrash which expounds the first two chapters of the Scroll of Esther verse by verse. The sections are introduced by proems of the classical type characteristic of amoraic Midrashim, opening with an extraneous verse which is interpreted and then connected with that expounded at the beginning of the section. There are 16 proems, the majority in the name of an amora, the rest anonymous. Most of them commence with a verse from the Prophets or the Hagiographa, only a small number with one from the Pentateuch. Section 2 concludes with a message of consolation. The language of Esther Rabbah 1, like that of the Jerusalem Talmud, is mishnaic Hebrew with an admixture of Galilean *Aramaic and a liberal sprinkling of Greek words. The work, which contains much original tannaitic and early amoraic material, quotes Aquila's translation, and draws upon tannaitic literature, the Jerusalem Talmud, *Genesis Rabbah, and *Leviticus Rabbah, but was apparently unaware of the Aramaic translation of the Scroll of Esther, some passages of which are even cited as statements of amoraim. The Babylonian *Talmud is also not utilized. On the other hand, *Targum Sheni, *Ecclesiastes Rabbah, *Midrash Tehillim, Midrash Abba Guryon, and Midrash Panim Aḥerim to Esther, Version 2 (see smaller *Midrashim) all draw upon Esther Rabbah 1. It is thus apparently an amoraic Midrash, redacted in Ereẓ Israel not later than the beginning of the sixth century c.e.

Esther Rabbah 2

This, likewise an exegetical Midrash, covers Esther 3:1–8:15, but with many omissions. Its few proems are not of the classical type in that they do not conclude with the verse expounded at the beginning of the section. It quotes the Septuagint Additions to the Scroll of Esther: Mordecai's dream about the two sea monsters (8:5); the prayers of Mordecai and Esther (8:7); and the conversation of Esther and Ahasuerus (9:1). It borrowed these additions as well as other aggadot from *Josippon (chap. 4). Alongside later material, however, it also contains older homilies. Early medieval scholars cite expositions from part of a Midrash on Esther parallel to Esther Rabbah 2, which, however, do not occur in the present text. The redactors of Ecclesiastes Rabbah, Midrash Tehillim, *Midrash Samuel, and *Genesis Rabbati were unacquainted with Esther Rabbah 2. All these Midrashim, as well as Midrash Abba Guryon, drew upon an earlier midrashic work on Esther 3ff. which apparently constituted the original second part of Esther Rabbah 1. On the other hand, Midrash Panim Aḥerim to Esther, Version 1, *Yalkut Shimoni, and perhaps also *Midrash Lekaḥ Tov, draw upon Esther Rabbah 2. All this would seem to make Esther Rabbah 2 a composite work containing remnants of the original second part of Esther Rabbah 1 with later additions in the style and language of the later aggadic works (see *Midrash). Esther Rabbah 2, which contains valuable information on anti-Jewish manifestations in the late Roman empire, was redacted about the 11th century. After it was attached to Esther Rabbah 1 the original second half of the latter was lost.

Esther Rabbah is thus composed of two different Midrashim which were apparently combined by a copyist in the 12th or 13th century c.e. The earliest extant manuscripts date from the beginning of the 15th century c.e.


Esther Rabbah was first published at Pesaro in 1519 together with Midrashim on the other four scrolls, which, however, are completely unrelated to it. This edition has often been reprinted. There is as yet no critical edition of the work based on manuscripts. An English translation by Maurice Simon appeared in the Soncino Midrash (1939).


Zunz-Albeck, Derashot, 128–30, 423–5; B. Lerner, "The First edition of 'Midrash Hamesh hamegillot…", Yad leHeiman: Studies in Hebrew culture in Memory of A.M. Haberman (ed. Z. Malachi), Lydda, 1984, pp. 289–311 (Hebrew); J. Tabory, "The Division of Midrash Esther Rabbah," Teuda, 11 (1996), pp. 191–204 (Hebrew); idem, "The Proems to the Seventh Chapter of Esther Rabbah and Midrash Abba Guryon," Mehkerei Yerushalayim be-sifrut Ivrit, 15 (1997), pp. 171–182 (Hebrew).

[Moshe David Herr]