Esther Rabbah

Esther Rabbah (Hebrew: אסתר רבה) is the midrash to the Book of Esther in the current Midrash editions. From its plan and scope it is apparently an incomplete collection from the rich haggadic material furnished by the comments on the scroll of Esther, which has been read since early times at the public service on Purim.

Structure of the Midrash

Except in the Wilna and Warsaw editions with their modern and arbitrary divisions, this Midrash consists of six "parashiyyot" (chapters, sections; singular = "parashah") introduced by one or more proems; these chapters begin respectively at Esther i. 1, i. 4, i. 9, i. 13, ii. 1, ii. 5; and in the Venice edition of 1545 each has at the end the words "selika parashata..." This division was probably based on the sections of the Esther roll, as indicated by the closed paragraphs (סתומות); such paragraphs existing in the present text to i. 9, i. 13, i. 16, ii. 1, ii. 5, etc. The beginning of i. 4, as well as the lack of a beginning to i. 16, may be due to differences in the division of the text. It may furthermore be assumed that a new parashah began with the section Esther iii. 1, where several poems precede the comment of the midrash. From this point onward there is hardly a trace of further division into chapters. There is no new parashah even to Esther vi. 1, the climax of the Biblical drama. As the division into parashiyot has not been carried out throughout the work, so the comment accompanying the Biblical text, verse by verse, is much reduced in ch. vii. and viii., and is discontinued entirely at the end of ch. viii. The various paragraphs that follow chapter viii. seem to have been merely tacked on.

Sources and dating

The Book of Esther early became the subject of comment in the schoolhouses, as may be seen from Megillah 10b et seq., where long haggadic passages are joined to single verses. The midrash under consideration is variously connected with these passages. The author of Esther Rabbah often draws directly upon the Yerushalmi, Bereshit Rabbah, Wayikra Rabbah, Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer, Targumim, and other ancient sources. Bereshit Rabbah or Wayikra Rabbah may also have furnished the long passage in parashah i., in connection with the explanation of the first word (ויהי). Parashah vi. shows several traces of a later period: especially remarkable here (ed. Venice, 45c, d; ed. Wilna, 14a, b) is the literal borrowing from Yosippon, where Mordecai's dream, Mordecai's and Esther's prayers, and the appearance of Mordecai and Esther before the king are recounted (compare also the additions in LXX. to Esther i. 1 and iv. 17). These borrowings, which even Azariah dei Rossi in his Me'or 'Enayim (ed. Wilna, p. 231) designated as later interpolations, do not however justify one in assigning to the midrash, as S. Buber does, a date later than Yosippon — that is to say, the middle of the 10th century.

According to Strack & Stemberger (1991), the midrash may be considered to be composed of two different parts which were combined in the 12th or 13th century.

  1. An older part characterized by non-anonymous proems, originating in Palestine around 500 CE, which draws material from Talmud Yerushalmi, Genesis Rabbah, and Leviticus Rabbah. This part is then itself cited in such works as Ecclesiastes Rabbah and Midrash Psalms.
  2. A younger part drawing from Yosippon, which may be dated to the 11th century.

In any case, this midrash may be considered older and more original than the Midrash Abba Gorion to the Book of Esther. The Yalkut Shimoni quotes many passages from the latter midrash, as well as from another haggadic commentary (edited by Buber in the collection Sammlung Agadischer Commentare zum Buche Esther, Wilna, 1886). The midrash here considered is entitled "Midrash Megillat Esther" in the Venice edition. Nahmanides quotes it as the Haggadah to the Esther roll. It may be assumed with certainty that it is of Judean origin.


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