I've read from a number of Christian sources that there is a Midrash pertaining to Shavuot that parallels the Christian tradition. However, I have not been able to find Jewish sources which support this claim.

The claim is that, according to the Midrash, the Torah was seen as a "firey substance" and that the Torah was spoken in seventy languages.

If this is actually a Jewish midrash, I'd appreciate a source where I can read it in English translation. I'd also appreciate opinions about the dating of the midrash.

The reference given by Christian sources is Shemot Midrash Rabbah 5:9, but whenever I search that online, I find more Christian rather than Jewish sources.

Thank you.

  • re: languages, check dafyomi.co.il/shabbos/points/sh-ps-088.htm as cited on jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/… The Medrash rabbah at Shemot 5:9 has it sefaria.org/Shemot_Rabbah.5.9?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן הָיָה הַקּוֹל יוֹצֵא וְנֶחְלַק לְשִׁבְעִים קוֹלוֹת לְשִׁבְעִים לָשׁוֹן, כְּדֵי שֶׁיִּשְׁמְעוּ כָּל הָאֻמּוֹת
    – rosends
    Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 16:14
  • 1
    There is the expression "black fire (letters and words of the Torah) on white fire (The Oral Law) sealed in (made one by) fire.
    – JJLL
    Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 18:23
  • 1
    What's do the Christians say and why would they care what the Midrash says? Interesting.
    – ezra
    Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 22:30
  • @ezra I've opened a chat room to answer your question, in order to keep this question focused on Judaism.
    – MathAdam
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 3:47

2 Answers 2


Deuteronomy (33:2) states:

וַיֹּאמַר, ה' מִסִּינַי בָּא וְזָרַח מִשֵּׂעִיר לָמוֹ--הוֹפִיעַ מֵהַר פָּארָן, וְאָתָה מֵרִבְבֹת קֹדֶשׁ; מִימִינוֹ, אשדת (אֵשׁ דָּת) לָמוֹ.

And he said: The LORD came from Sinai, and rose from Seir unto them; He shined forth from mount Paran, and He came from the myriads holy, at His right hand was a fiery law unto them. (Mechon Mamre from JPS).

This translation of אש דת, as a fiery Law, is apparent in many Hazalic sources such as Berakhot (6a), and Yerushalmi Sotah (8:3).

Regarding whether this Midrashic interpretation of esh dat has linguistic support, see here.

Regarding the Torah being spoken in 70 languages, there are several relevant Hazalic sources.

For example, the Talmud Berakhot (13a) considers the view that kol haTorah kula b'khol lashon ne'emrah that the Torah was "said" in every language. In various places Hazal reference 70 languages (e.g. Shekalim 5:1) which correspond to the 70 nations (cf. Succah 55b).

Furthermore, Hazal (Sotah 7:5) interpret Deuteronomy (27:8) as referring to writing the Torah in 70 languages.


The torah tells us that God spoke out of the fire in Devarim 4:36:

מִן-הַשָּׁמַיִם הִשְׁמִיעֲךָ אֶת-קֹלוֹ, לְיַסְּרֶךָּ; וְעַל-הָאָרֶץ, הֶרְאֲךָ אֶת-אִשּׁוֹ הַגְּדוֹלָה, וּדְבָרָיו שָׁמַעְתָּ, מִתּוֹךְ הָאֵשׁ.

Out of heaven He made thee to hear His voice, that He might instruct thee; and upon earth He made thee to see His great fire; and thou didst hear His words out of the midst of the fire.

Sh'mot Rabbah 5:9 quotes this but does not compare the torah itself to fire. (For other sources that do, see this answer.)

Sh'mot Rabbah does talk about the 70 languages:

It says: And all the people perceived the thunderings (Ex. XX, 15). Note that it does not say ‘the thunder ‘, but ’the thunderings‘; wherefore R. Johanan said that God's voice, as it was uttered, split up into seventy voices, in seventy languages, so that all the nations should understand. When each nation heard the Voice in their own vernacular their souls departed, save Israel who heard but who were not hurt. (Soncino translation)

Sh'mot Rabbah was probably compiled in the 12th century CE, so had benefit of the talmudic sources already cited in another answer. Sefaria has it in Hebrew, but I didn't find it in English online from a reliable source. (I cut/pasted from a collection that Soncino sells digitally. Translations should also exist in print books, which you might find listed as "Exodus Rabbah" or "Sh'mot Rabbah".)

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