Home>Historical Jewish Sources – Overview About Targums

Historical Jewish Sources
Targums:  Documents that comment and expand upon the Mishnah

 Torah – Or “TaNaKh”, an acronym denoting these three sections:
    –  Torah (Teaching)
–  Nevi’im (Prophets) –  Former (Deuteronomic Code); Latter (Literary)
– Ketuvim (Writings) Canonical Collection From Post-Prophetic Age
 Talmud – Documents that Comment and Expand Upon Mishnah
– Mishnah 1st-2nd Century Rabbinic Study Book of Laws/Values
– Gamara (Agadah – Tales and Morals ; Halacha – Code of Jewish Law)
          – Babylonian (“Bavli”) Gemara (200-600)
– Palestinian (“Yerushalmi”) Gemara (200-500)

 Midrash Exegetical Interpretation of the Torah’s Text
– Halakhah – Interpreting Law and Religious Practice
– Aggadah – Biblical Narrative ; Ethics, Theology, Homily (200-1000)
 Targums – Translations of the Bible into Jewish Aramaic
 Dead Sea Scrolls – Collection of Materials Found in Judean Desert
 Josephus – One of World’s All-Time Greatest Non-Biblical Historians
 Apocalyptic Genre – “Turn of Era” Lit. Exploring Eschatological Salvation
 Liturgical Texts – Routine Prayers Said Spontaneously
 Reference Works – Encyclopedias, Dictionaries, Concordances

Overview: About Targums

The word “targum” refers to translations of the Bible into Jewish Aramaic. In the post-exilic period, Aramaic began to be widely spoken in the Jewish community alongside the native language, Hebrew. Eventually Aramaic replaced Hebrew for most purposes, and the Bible itself required translation into the more widely familiar vernacular language. Thus the Targum was born. The Mishnah, the codified form of Jewish oral tradition, set down detailed rules for the turgeman, the reciter of Targum, to follow in the synagogue service.

The earliest known targums are texts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, most notably the Job Targum from Cave 11, although these documents were probably not used in worship. The Targums that were used in rabbinic Judaism are the following:

Targum Onkelos: Ascribed by tradition to the proselyte Onkelos, this translation, which covers the Torah or Pentateuch, is considered to be the oldest and it is the most widely used of all the Jewish targums. It most likely originated in Palestine in the first few centuries CE, but was transmitted and edited in the East, among the Jews of Babylonia. In the Babylonian Talmud it is referred to as “our Targum.”

Targum Jonathan: As with Onkelos, some traditions ascribe this targum to Jonathan ben Uzziel, a pupil of Hillel, and, like Onkelos, it probably originated in Palestine in the early centuries CE. Targum Jonathan contains renderings of the Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings) and the Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve Minor Prophets).

The Palestinian Targums: While Onkelos and Jonathan were used mainly in the East, a distinctively Palestinian targum, covering the Torah only, was composed and used in the West. The two complete versions of the Palestinian targum that survive are Targum Neofiti, a complete codex that was only discovered in 1956 in the Vatican Library; and Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, which is extant in only one manuscript from the British Museum. (This Targum is known as “Pseudo-Jonathan,” because a common abbreviation for it in the medieval period — TY, for Targum Yerushalmi, or Jerusalem Targum — was incorrectly read as “Targum Yonatan.”) Incomplete versions of the Palestinian Targum survive, known as the Fragment-Targum and other fragmentary witnesses have been discovered in the Cairo Geniza.

Targums to the Writings: The latest of the rabbinic targums are those to the Writings, the third division of the Hebrew Bible. Judging by the dialect of Aramaic, they were composed at different times and places. The Targum of JobTargum of Psalms, and Targum of Chronicles are all similar in language to the Pseudo-Jonathan Targum. The Targums to the Five Megilloth (Festival Scrolls) — Ruth, Esther, Song of Songs, Lamentations, and Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes) — all contain long interpretive additions. The Targum of Proverbs may be the latest of all; parts of it were copied from the translation of Proverbs found in the Syriac Peshitta. There are no targums of Ezra, Nehemiah, or Daniel.

The targums are important to biblical scholars for several reasons. They are a witness to the Hebrew Bible text as it existed in the first few centuries CE, and references to them are frequent in the apparatus of the Biblia Hebraica. Since it was characteristic of their method sometimes to add interpretive or folkloric material to the translation or paraphrase, many of the targums preserve valuable information about Jewish theology, practice, and interpretation of Scripture from the early centuries of the Christian era. For linguists, the targums serve as an important source for the Aramaic dialects.

The Targumim of the Megillot
(Lamentations 1)
“2 When Moses the Prophet sent messengers to spy out the land, the messengers returned and gave forth a bad report concerning the land of Israel. This was the night of the ninth of Ab. When the people of the House of Israel heard this bad report which they had received concerning the land of Israel, the people lifted up their voice and the people of the House of Israel wept during that night. Immediately the anger of the Lord was kindled against them and he decreed that it should be thus in that night throughout their generations over the destruction of the Temple. “

 “19 “When I was delivered into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar,” Jerusalem said, “I called to my friends, sons of the nations, with whom I had made treaties, to come to my aid. But they deceived me and turned to destroy me. (These are the Romans who entered with Titus and the wicked Vespasian and they built siegeworks against Jerusalem.) My priests and my elders within the city perish from hunger, because they searched for sustenance for themselves to eat, in order to preserve their lives. ” (Targum Lamentations)

Lamentations 4
(On The Failure of the Edomite Collaboration)
“17 Our eyes still fail to see our help which we expected to come from the Romans, but which turned to naught for us. In hope we watched for the Edomites who were a nation which could not save.  18 They prowled our paths so that we could not walk safely in our open places. We said, “Our end is near; our days are fulfilled,” for our end had come.” (Targum Lamentations)


Targum Jonathan

(On Isaiah 53)
“Behold my servant Messiah shall prosper; he shall be high, and increase, and be exceeding strong: as the house of Israel looked to him through many days, because their countenance was darkened among the peoples, and their complexion beyond the sons of men (Targum Jonathan on Isaiah 53, ad locum).'”

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