Creating Religious Identity: Rabbinic Interpretations of the Exodus

and Günter Stemberger


According to the rabbis, only those belong to Israel who have lived through the central events of biblical history, above all the Exodus and the Babylonian Exile. This is demonstrated on the basis of three texts, the Haggadah of Pesaḥ, the Mekhilta, and the interpretation of the Exodus story in the Babylonian Talmud Sotah. Every Jew is expected to re-enact these events in their own lives: “In every generation man is bound to look upon himself as if he had come forth from Egypt.” Converts may also opt into this history and consider themselves as if they, too, had stood on Mount Sinai. Biblical history remains an active force beyond the limits of time; the consciousness of this ever present history is part of the rabbinic understanding of one’s own present and thus essential for one’s Jewish identity.

  • Abel, Hedva P. 2012. Aspects of the Lemmatic Sequencing and Thematic Agenda of the Mekhilta De-Rabbi Ishmael. A Descriptive Analysis in the Search for Coherence. Diss. Manchester.

  • Albeck, Chanokh 1952 – 1958. Shisha sidre Mishnah. 6 vols. Jerusalem (several reprints).

  • Baehrens, Wilhelm Adolf 1920. Origenes, Werke 6. Homilien zum Hexateuch in Rufins Übersetzung; 1. Die Homilien zu Genesis, Exodus und Leviticus. Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller 29. Berlin.

  • Börner-Klein, Dagmar 1991. Eine babylonische Auslegung der Ester-Geschichte. Der Midrasch in Megilla 10b-17a. Judentum und Umwelt 30. Frankfurt am Main.

  • Bokser, Baruch M. 1984. The Origins of the Seder: The Passover Rite and Early Rabbinic Judaism. Berkeley.

  • Danby, Herbert 1936. The Mishnah. Translated from the Hebrew with introduction and brief explanatory notes. Oxford (several reprints).

  • Glatzer, Nahum N. 1969. The Passover Haggadah. With English translation, introduction and commentary. Revised edition. New York.

  • Goldschmidt, Ernst Daniel 1960. The Passover Haggadah; Its Sources and History (in Hebrew). Jerusalem.

  • Hall, Stuart George 1979. Melito of Sardis. On Pascha and Fragments. Oxford (Greek text and English translation).

  • Kahana, Menahem Isaak 2006. ‘The Halakhic Midrashim.’ In Shmuel Safrai et al. (eds.), The Literature of the Sages. Second Part: Midrash and Targum, Liturgy, Poetry, Mysticism, Contracts, Inscriptions, Ancient Science and the Languages of Rabbinic Literature. Assen, 3 – 105.

  • Lauterbach, Jacob Z. 1933 – 35. Mekilta de-Rabbi Ishmael. A Critical Edition on the Basis of the MSS and Early Editions with an English Translation, Introduction and Notes. 3 vols. Philadelphia.

  • Leonhard, Clemens 2005. ‘Die Pesachhaggada als Spiegel religiöser Konflikte.’ In: A. Gerhards et al. (eds.), Kontinuität und Unterbrechung. Gottesdienst und Gebet in Judentum und Christentum. Paderborn, 143 – 171.

  • Leonhard, Clemens 2006. The Jewish Pesach and the Origins of the Christian Easter. Open Questions in Current Research. Studia Judaica 35. Berlin.

  • Lieberman, Saul 1962. The Tosefta. Vol. II. Seder Moʾed. New York 1962.

  • Neusner, Jacob 1987. Judaism and Christianity in the Age of Constantine. History, Messiah, Israel, and the Initial Confrontation. Chicago studies in the history of Judaism. Chicago.

  • Neusner, Jacob 2002. The Tosefta. Translated from the Hebrew with a new introduction. 2 vols. Peabody, MA.

  • Rovner, Jay 1999 – 2000. ‘An Early Passover Haggadah according to the Palestinian Rite,’ Jewish Quarterly Review 90, 337 – 396.

  • Stemberger, Günter 1988. ‘Midrasch in Babylonien. Am Beispiel von Sota 9b – 14a’, Henoch 10, 183 – 203.

  • Stemberger, Günter 1993. ‘Zum Verständnis der Schrift im rabbinischen Judentum.’ In: H. Merklein et al. (eds.), Bibel in jüdischer und christlicher Tradition. Festschrift J. Maier. Bonner Biblische Beiträge 88. Frankfurt, 212 – 225.

  • Stemberger, Günter 1999. ‘Rabbinic Sources for Historical Study.’ In: Jacob Neusner, Alan J. Avery Peck (eds.), Judaism in Late Antiquity Part 3, volume 1. Where We Stand: Issues and Debates in Ancient Judaism. Leiden, 169 – 186.

  • Stemberger, Günter 2010. ‘Halakhic Midrashim as Historical Sources.’ In: Martin Goodman, Philip Alexander (eds.), Rabbinic Texts and the History of Late-Roman Palestine. Proceedings of the British Academy 165. Oxford, 129 – 142.

  • Stemberger, Günter 2011. Einleitung in Talmud und Midrasch. 9. Auflage. München.

  • Stemberger, Günter 2013. ‘Mekhilta de-R. Yishmael: Some Aspects of Its Redaction.’ In: Raʾanan S. Boustan et al. (eds.), Envisioning Judaism: Studies in Honor of Peter Schäfer on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday. 2 vols. Tübingen, I 465 – 474.

  • Stemberger, Günter 2016. Mose in der rabbinischen Tradition. Veröffentlichungen der Papst-Benedikt XVI.-Gastprofessur an der Fakultät für Katholische Theologie der Universität Regensburg 2. Freiburg.

  • Twersky, Isadore (ed.) 1972. A Maimonides Reader. Library of Jewish studies. New York, NY.

  • Vielmetti, Nikolaus 1984. ‘Geschichte, Geschichtsschreibung, Geschichtsphilosophie III. Judentum’, Theologische Realenzyklopädie 12. Berlin, 586 – 595.

  • Yuval, Israel Jacob 2006. Two Nations in Your Womb. Perceptions of Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Berkeley.

Purchase article
Get instant unlimited access to the article.
Price including VAT
Log in
Already have access? Please log in.

Journal + Issues

Archiv für Religionsgeschichte is a specialised journal dealing primarily with religions of the ancient world. The different aspects of the field of research are covered in essays, reports on the main areas of religious studies and in individual articles.