I'm interested to know where I might find out more about Jewish commentators on the story of the Creation, Fall and Expulsion from Eden as described in Genesis.

Is there a Jewish equivalent to the hexameral commentaries of the Church Fathers, which predates or runs alongside their output?


The hexameral commentaries are commentaries on the account of creation over six days, as found in Genesis, often structured in six parts, in a tradition which is said to go back to Philo Judaeus, proved popular in the Renaissance and influenced Milton's Paradise Lost.

There's an article about the genre on Wikipedia, and the link to Milton's work is outlined in J E Duncan's 'Milton's Earthly Paradise', Chapter 3.

Duncan refers to 'most modern biblical scholars' (I suspect he is referring to Christian scholarship) when he writes that they agree '...that the story of the life of innocence in the garden (it would not be known as paradise for many centuries) was combined with other material by Yahwist writers about the ninth century B.C. They distinguish between this narrative in Genesis 2 and 3 and the Priestly Code of Genesis 1, written about the sixth century B.C.'

Where might I find out more information about Jewish work on the subject?

FURTHER UPDATE in response to comments and requests for clarification.

My questions relate to two distinct topics:

1 - Jewish commentaries on Genesis

On the Wikipedia page on hexameral literature cited above, the text reads, 'Based on this framework, Christian and Jewish authors have written treatises that cover a wide variety of topics, including cosmology, science, theology, theological anthropology, and God's nature.'

Apart from Philo, the examples given on the page are sourced uniquely from the Christian tradition. What other Jewish works might the author(s) be referring to here? (The Genesis Rabbah was a good example, although it postdates Philo's work, at least in its written form. The pseudepigrapha was another).

2 - Structure of Genesis

Some of the views within Jewish scholarship, of the 'documentary hypothesis' or 'Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis' which puts forward the theory that the Torah, in its current written form, is a composite created from several sources are cited here. How comprehensive or reliable can this list be taken as? Has there been any further work on this aspect of the Torah?

(The references to the Targumim would seem to be related, yet they are considered separately from the Torah, so I'm excluding these for the time being).

  • 1
    Leon Conrad, welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks for bringing your question here! I, for one, have never heard of the hexameral commentaries, and I suspect that's true of most people here. Please edit your question so that it's clear from the question, to someone unfamiliar with Christianity, what historical period you're interested in and what characteristics you're looking for in a commentary.
    – Isaac Moses
    Mar 25, 2014 at 14:48
  • Your explanation of "hexameral commentaries" is insufficient for me to understand what you seek (and it appears to have been insufficient to the answerers, below, too). You indicate it's a commentary on Genesis's depiction of the creation, fine, but that's all you say about it that's definitional. (That it "often" is structured in parts doesn't help to explain what it is; nor does whom it influenced. And your paragraph on authorship of Genesis seems completely off the topic of the question AFAICT.) That said, I'll admit I haven't checked en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hexaemeron.
    – msh210
    Mar 26, 2014 at 3:04
  • ... Okay, I've checked en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hexaemeron. It says almost what you said: that hexameral works comprise "the genre of theological treatise that describes God's work on the six days of creation". Is that all you're looking for? It would be simpler to just say so. Note that the answers below (Genesis Rabbah, Onkelos, Peshitta, and Seder Olam Rabbah) are not such works: they cover much more than the creation account. (And they're not primarily theology works.)
    – msh210
    Mar 26, 2014 at 3:07

2 Answers 2


There is definitely a tradition of Jewish commentary from that era, though Jewish practice was intent on keeping such traditions oral until about the 3rd Century of the Common Era (CE).

Genesis Rabbah (reference by Yishai) may or may not fit the bill for your purposes, although it does contain traditions that likely originate centuries before it was published.

Targum Onkelos dates from that era, as does the Peshitta, which some say was written by Jews, although Christian thelogians apparently argue that it is an early Christian work.

As for stylistically similar commentary, that I cannot answer, as I am unfamiliar with Christian theology and commentary.

Seder 'Olam Rabbah might be of interest to you.

Sadly, historical dating of rabbinic tradition is a complicated enterprise, although it is generally assumed that most traditions were passed down orally from ancient sources.

  • 2
    Is there a reason you didn't mention any of the Apocrypha (and Pseudepigrapha)?
    – jake
    Mar 25, 2014 at 17:59
  • @Seth J Thanks - I've updated the question, to include a reference to two distinct sources for the Genesis account. Again, do you know of any Jewish work on this aspect of the Torah, particularly on both the distinctiveness of the elements and their complementarity or unity, which I presume would be a given ... ? Mar 25, 2014 at 20:41

I think what you are looking for is Genesis Rabbah, which seems to be around the same time (perhaps a century earlier - I'm uncertain as I'm not familiar with the Hexameron, and only know what a quick look at Wikipedia told me).

There are various English translations available online and in book stores.

  • Thank you (a) for your prompt response and (b) for introducing me to such a wonderful, insightful work. I'm much obliged. Mar 25, 2014 at 16:51

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .