This post indicates that the earliest source for the story of Serach bas Asher and the harp, wherein she notified Yakov that Yosef was still alive in a very subtle musical fashion, is a very late midrash known as the sefer hayashar which the author dates to the 16th century. I would like to know: Are there are any earlier sources for the story?

  • Here is the Sefer Hayashar inside: hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=40009&pgnum=200
    – Menachem
    Dec 6, 2013 at 19:02
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    The author is wrong to claim that it must have originated in the 16th century. It is a collection of aggadot. Similar collections (like Leqach Tov, Sekhel Tov, Yalqut Shimoni, etc) are mixed bags of midrashim. Some of them significantly predate the composition of the text, and unless you check the manuscript tradition you cannot even be sure about when that was. The Meiri's "Beit haBechirah" was first published in the 18th century, but he wrote it in the 13th. Mekhilta deRebi Shimon bar Yochai was first published in the 20th century, but much of it is tannaitic.
    – Shimon bM
    Dec 7, 2013 at 5:38
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    Your question would be much improved if it included at least a summary of the story you refer to.
    – msh210
    Dec 8, 2013 at 7:35
  • @ShimonbM your comparison is totally misleading. A compilation like Sefer HaYashar is not comparable to republishing a work which fell into obscurity. It rather a new work, albeit one that borrows heavily from earlier sources. Note the vehement opposition of R. Yehudah Aryeh miModena to its contents. Most everything in Jewish literature, and other literature is influenced to some degree by its predecessors. This does not invalidate the significance of its date of publication.
    – mevaqesh
    Aug 11, 2016 at 8:35

1 Answer 1


If there is an earlier source, I am not aware of it; it is not among any of the following:

Targum Yonasan ben Uziel Braishis 46:17 says that Serach was the one who told Yaakov that Yosef was alive. There is no mention there of a harp.

Rashi Shmuel2 20:19 mentions in the name of Medrash Agada that Serach was the one who told Yaakov that Yosef was alive. Again there is no mention there of a harp.

Sefer Mayim Rabim in the name of Pirkei Drav Eliezer says that she told Yaakov in a song, - שהיתה מנגנת ובנגון היתה מארכת ומבלעת - again there is no mention of a harp.

  • I had mentioned Targum Yonatan in the Facebook discussion about this. But note that Targum Yonatan on torah is likely not from Yonatan Ben Uziel, but is a misattribution. It might well be post-rashi Dec 9, 2013 at 1:14
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    @joshwaxman "likely" what an understatement.
    – Double AA
    Dec 9, 2013 at 15:24
  • All very valid points and worthy of a comment, but this does not actually answer the question that was asked.
    – Seth J
    Dec 10, 2014 at 17:29
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    @DoubleAA, as a mod, what say you? I'm reluctant to flag for deletion, since it's gotten 4 upvotes, was contributed by a high-rep user, and has been here for over a year. (I also can rarely access 'Bam these days to chat about it.)
    – Seth J
    Dec 10, 2014 at 17:31
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    Again, your points are all valid. The thing is, though, there's no statement saying, "No, there is no earlier source," or even, "No, I don't think there is an earlier source." I think my edit helps with that; I hope you agree.
    – Seth J
    Dec 10, 2014 at 18:24

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