Riddle of Midrash Bereshit Rabbati: Reading Group

Compiled in 11th century Provence, Midrash Bereshit Rabbati, a Hebrew work of exegetical and homiletical narratives linked to the Book of Genesis, poses a significant historical riddle:  It contains motifs that are clearly ancient , but that are not known from rabbinic compilations of antiquity. These motifs are attested, however, in writings of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha that  were preserved in a range of Christian communities.

Did its compiler, Rabbi Moshe HaDarshan, come into possession of these motifs through Jewish sources or through Christian sources? If Jews of late antiquity had suppressed them because they were perceived as theologically threatening, why did the rabbi of eleventh century Provence feel that it was safe to share them with Hebrew-reading correligionists?

Collaborative reading (and rendering in English) of Midrash Bereshit Rabbati by students of Hebrew and rabbinic midrash and by scholars familiar with apocryphal traditions of late antiquity (and/or their medieval homiletical offspring) will, at the very least, give participants the opportunity to identify certain motifs of shared or cross-cultural heritage. Exploration of this text by scholars in a range of disciplines may even help to open up new avenues of historical inquiry.

Spring 2012 Meetings

All meetings will take place on Thursdays, from 4:45 – 6 PM, in 392 Claudia Cohen Hall

Jan. 12th
Jan. 26th
Feb. 9th
Feb. 23rd
Mar. 22nd
Apr. 12th

To receive the PDF’s of Bereshit Rabbati, send an e-mail to Ms. Renee Campbell:(reneecam@sas.upenn.edu). Please write “Bereshit Rabbati” in the subject line and put a message in the email requesting the readings.