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Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer


PIRKEI DE-RABBI ELIEZER , eighth-century aggadic work (see *Midrash), also called Baraita de-Rabbi Eliezer or Haggadah de-Rabbi Eliezer in medieval rabbinic literature because of its opening words: "It is related of *Eliezer b. Hyrcanus."

Character and Composition

The book is not a Midrash constructed on the verses of Scripture, but an aggadic narrative; the extant version is divided into 54 chapters, but this is probably not the whole book. It commences with an aggadah about the early days of Eliezer b. Hyrcanus, and then chronologically narrates events from the Creation until the middle of the journeys of the Children of Israel in the wilderness, concluding with *Miriam's leprosy and the *copper serpent. In the second half of the book, from Abraham onward, the narrative is related to the blessings of the *Amidah prayer, but the last chapter terminates at the eighth blessing (for health). The book also refers to the 10 occasions when God descended to earth, but in their enumeration only reaches the eighth descent. It is therefore clear that the book as it survived is incomplete; but even in manuscript the only additional portion preserved is the second half of the last chapter.

Language and Date

The book is written in Hebrew – partially artificial – reminiscent of the geonic era, and contains a few Greek words. The author made use of the tannaitic literature, the Jerusalem Talmud, the *Midreshei Aggadah of the *amoraim, and even of the Babylonian Talmud, as well as those Aramaic *Targums to the Scripture that originated in Ereẓ Israel. The author does not quote his sources, but tends to revise them completely – shortening, lengthening, and combining them freely. It is therefore not a collection or compilation of different sources, but a book with a unified and continuous narrative in which the personality of the author is clearly recognizable. The author was greatly influenced in both content and form by the *Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Second Temple period, particularly the books of the *Enoch cycle. His entire manner of narration and unique method of connecting halakhah and aggadah were influenced by the Book of Jubilees. Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer has thus preserved many ancient sources. It contains almost no names of amoraim, but falsely attributes sayings to many tannaim. Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer is therefore a pseudepigraphic work par excellence; the influence of apocalyptic works of the Second Temple period is well marked in that respect, as well as in its mystical air and in the descriptions of angels. The halakhot of the *calendar laid down in the Byzantine period and at the beginning of the Muslim era were already known to the author. The book is filled with the halakhic customs current in Ereẓ Israel at the beginning of the geonic period. It contains Arabic legends, and remarkable descriptions of the Muslim Omayyad dynasty, and looks forward to the downfall of this (Omayyad) caliphate as an omen of the end of the exile. All these indications prove that it was composed in Ereẓ Israel during the first half of the eighth century, just prior to the fall of the Omayyad dynasty, but before the rise of the Abbasid dynasty. Quotations from it are already found in the tractate *Soferim, and in the work of *Pirkoi ben Baboi. The work also follows the model of the Arabic collections of biblical legends, in which narrative receives more emphasis than exegesis. Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer was first published in Constantinople (1514), and reprinted many times on the basis of the first edition. In the Warsaw edition of 1852, a valuable commentary by David *Luria was added. Many manuscripts have been preserved, and extracts from three of them were published by Higger in Horeb, 8–10 (1944–48), and one of them was translated into English by G. Friedlander (1916, 19652).


Zunz-Albeck, Derashot, 134–40.

[Moshe David Herr]

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