The Midrash is written in Hebrew mixed with Galilean Aramaic. It also makes occasional use of Greek words.9
Manuscripts – There are a number of extant manuscripts of Bereshit Rabbah as well as Genizah fragments.10 MS Vatican 30 is considered to be the best text, while MS Vatican 60 is thought to be the oldest full version.
Printings – Bereshit Rabbah was first printed as part of a Midrash Rabbah collection on the five books of Torah in Constantinople in 1512.11 In 1545, Bereshit Rabbah was printed in Venice as part of a Midrash Rabbah collection on Torah and Megillot. From 1912 to 1936, Theodor and Albeck produced a critical edition, which remains the standard today.
Textual layers – Based on a manuscript comparison, a few sections of Bereshit Rabbah have been identified as accretions from Tanchuma literature.12
Bereshit Rabbah is an aggadic Midrash on Sefer Bereshit which combines a running verse by verse commentary on most of the verses in Bereshit13 with introductory thematic homilies.14
In the printed editions,15 Bereshit Rabbah is divided into 100 sections (פרשיות).16
93 of these parshiyot open with between one and nine homiletical preambles (פתיחתות)17 which are then followed by the verse by verse commentary.
Almost all of the פתיחתות begin with a verse from Neviim or Ketuvim which is then elaborated on and connected to the opening verse of the particular section from Bereshit.18
Many of Bereshit Rabbah's interpretations respond to local textual questions, but there are sometimes lengthy digressions which use the Biblical text as a springboard to address broader issues.
Bereshit Rabbah frequently serves as an anthology of multiple answers to the same question.19
Many of Bereshit Rabbah's interpretations present a non-literal definition of a Biblical word.20
Mishna – Bereshit Rabbah cites the Mishna dozens of times.21
Yerushalmi – There are numerous parallels between Bereshit Rabbah and the Yerushalmi,22 but scholars disagree on whether Bereshit Rabbah had our Yerushalmi.23
Midreshei Halakhah – In the three places28 in which Bereshit Rabbah cites "תני דבי ר' ישמעאל", the contents are found in the Mekhilta but the language is different. There are also numerous other cases of parallels between Bereshit Rabbah and the various Midreshei Halakhah (Mekhilta DeR. Yishmael, Mekhilta DeRashbi, Sifra, Sifre Bemidbar, and Sifre Devarim) but it is unclear whether Bereshit Rabbah was using any of these works.29
Targumim – There are many instances where interpretations similar to those of Targum Onkelos, Targum Yerushalmi (Yonatan) and other Targumim are found in Bereshit Rabbah, but it is difficult to determine what translations Bereshit Rabbah had before him.30
Shemot Rabbah cites Bereshit Rabbah in one or two places.33
By the 11th century, Bereshit Rabbah was utilized by many commentators34 such as R. Hai Gaon,35 R. Nissim,36 R. Chananel,37 the Arukh,38 Rashi,39 and Lekach Tov.40 The popularity of Rashi's commentary contributed significantly to the dissemination of the Midrashim found in Bereshit Rabbah.
There are a number of medieval supercommentaries on Bereshit Rabbah, including one that was erroneously attributed to Rashi.