Exodus Rabbah

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EXODUS RABBAH (Heb. שְׁמוֹת רַבָּה, Shemot Rabbah), aggadic Midrash on the Book of Exodus (for the designation "Rabbah," see *Ruth Rabbah).

The Structure

Exodus Rabbah, which is divided into 52 sections, consists of two different Midrashim (see Esther Rabbah; and Numbers Rabbah): Exodus Rabbah i (sections 1–14) and Exodus Rabbah ii (sections 15–52).

Exodus Rabbah i

An exegetical Midrash to Exodus 1–10, Exodus Rabbah i interprets successively, each chapter, verse, and, at times, each word. The division into sections generally follows the early Ereẓ Israel triennial cycle (see *Torah, Reading of the). Each section begins with one or more proems (*Derashah; *Midrash), of which there are more than 20 in Exodus Rabbah. Except for one which opens with the name of an amora and a verse from Isaiah, all the proems are anonymous and begin with a verse from the Hagiographa (mainly from Psalms, Proverbs, and Job). The structure of some proems is defective, particularly in their ending and in their connection with the beginning of the section. The sections have no epilogues. Exodus Rabbah i is written for the most part in Hebrew, in part mishnaic, and in part Hebrew of the early Middle Ages. *Aramaic (also Babylonian Aramaic) is only sparingly used and there is a sprinkling of Greek and Latin words. In style and content Exodus Rabbah i often resembles later medieval Midrashim and aggadot, such as Sefer ha-Yashar. The redactor of Exodus Rabbah drew upon tannaitic literature, the Jerusalem Talmud, *Genesis Rabbah, *Leviticus Rabbah, *Lamentations Rabbah, and other early aggadic Midrashim of the amoraic period, and he made extensive use of the Babylonian Talmud and of Midrashim of the *Yelammedenu-Tanḥuma type. Such Midrashim were the chief source of the work, and many of its homilies occur in the various editions of the Tanḥuma, mostly in the printed one. The redactor of Exodus Rabbah broke the lengthy expositions of the Yelammedenu-Tanḥuma type, which included halakhic material as well, linking the shorter units to appropriate biblical verses, at the same time incorporating additional material from numerous other sources. In using legends of the Babylonian Talmud, the redactor tried, often not very successfully, to change their language from Babylonian to Galilean Aramaic. His intention apparently was to compile a Midrash, in continuation of Genesis Rabbah, on the Book of Exodus up to the point where the *Mekhilta begins. The redaction of Exodus Rabbah i took place, it seems, not earlier than the tenth century c.e.

Exodus Rabbah ii

Exodus 12–40 is a homiletical *Midrash of the Yelammedenu-Tanḥuma type. The division into sections is based on the triennial cycle. Introduced by proems characteristic of the Yelammedenu-Tanḥuma Midrashim, some of which are quoted in the name of R. *Tanḥuma, the sections frequently conclude with epilogues referring to redemption and the promise of a happier future. Exodus Rabbah ii, which contains some Greek and Latin words, is mainly in mishnaic Hebrew, with an admixture of Galilean Aramaic – the original language from which some of the aggadot, taken from an earlier Midrash, were translated into Hebrew. Exodus Rabbah ii makes use of tannaitic literature, the Jerusalem Talmud, and early amoraic Midrashim, but not entire themes from the Babylonian Talmud. Many of its homilies also occur in the known editions of the Tanḥuma. It contains several halakhic expositions, numerous parables, and some aggadot of a comparatively late type. For the most part, however, it exhibits features which place it earlier than Exodus Rabbah i, and it was apparently compiled in the ninth century c.e. It is probably the second part of a Midrash, the first part of which, no longer extant, served as the main source of Exodus Rabbah i. Exodus Rabbah i and ii were apparently combined by a copyist in the 11th or 12th century c.e. The first scholar known to have been acquainted with the entire work in its present form was *Naḥmanides, who quotes it in his commentary on the Pentateuch.


Exodus Rabbah was first printed in Constantinople, together with the four other Midrashim on the Pentateuch (see *Genesis Rabbah) in 1512. This edition, on which all subsequent ones are based, contains many mistakes and often gives only abbreviated texts of other Midrashim where a parallel homily occurs in full. Several manuscripts of the work are extant but have not yet been fully investigated. Until a scholarly edition is published, no thorough study of Exodus Rabbah is possible.


Zunz-Albeck, Derashot, 124f.; Lehrman, in: Soncino Midrash (1939), Eng.; J. Mann, The Bible as Read and Preached in the Old Synagogue, 1 (1940); S. Lieberman, Midrash Devarim Rabbah (19642), xxii. add. bibliography: Shinan, Midrash Shemot Rabbah, Chapters i–xiv (1984); M. Bregman, The Tanḥuma-Yelammedenu Literature (2003).

[Moshe David Herr]