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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary

Targum


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A name given to the Chaldee paraphrases of the books of the Old Testament. They are called paraphrases, or expositions, because they are rather comments and explications than literal translations of the text. They are written in the Chaldee tongue, which became familiar to the Jews after the time of their captivity in Babylon, and was more known to them than the Hebrew itself; so that when the Hebrew text was read in the synagogue, or in the temple, they generally added to it an explication in the Chaldee tongue for the service of the people, who had but a very imperfect knowledge of the Hebrew tongue. It is probable, that even from the time of Ezra, this custom began: since this learned scribe, reading the law to the people in the temple, explained it, with the other priests that were with him, to make it understood by the people, Nehemiah 8:7 ; Nehemiah 8:9 . But though the custom of making these sorts of expositions in the Chaldee language, be very ancient among the Hebrews, yet they have no written paraphrases or Targums before the aera of Onkelos and Jonathan, who lived about the time of our Saviour. Jonathan is placed about thirty years before Christ, under the reign of Herod the Great. Onkelos is something more modern.

The Targum of Onkelos is the most of all esteemed, and copies are to be found in which it is inserted verse for verse with the Hebrew. It is so short, and so simple, that it cannot be suspected of being corrupted. This paraphrast wrote only upon the books of Moses; and his style approaches nearly to the purity of the Chaldee, as it is found in Daniel and Ezra. This Targum is quoted in the Misna, but was not known either to Eusebius, St. Jerom, or Origen. The Targum of Jonathan, son of Uziel, is upon the greater and lesser prophets. He is much more diffuse than Onkelos, and especially upon the lesser prophets, where he takes greater liberties, and runs on in allegories. His style is pure enough, and approaches pretty near to the Chaldee of Onkelos. It is thought that the Jewish doctors, who lived above seven hundred years after him, made some additions to him. The Targum of Joseph the Blind is upon the Hagiographia. This author is much more modern, and less esteemed, than those we have now mentioned. He has written upon the Psalms, Job, the Proverbs, the Canticles, Ecclesiastes, Ruth, and Esther. His style is a very corrupt Chaldee, with a great mixture of words from foreign languages. The Targum of Jerusalem is only upon the Pentateuch; nor is that entire or perfect. There are whole verses wanting, others transposed, others mutilated; which has made many of opinion that this is only a fragment of some ancient paraphrase that is now lost. There is no Targum upon Daniel, or upon the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

These Targums are of great use for the better understanding not only of the Old Testament, on which they are written, but also of the New. As to the Old Testament, they serve to vindicate the genuineness of the present Hebrew text, by proving it to be the same that was in use when these Targums were made; contrary to the opinion of those who think the Jews corrupted it after our Saviour's time. They help to explain many words and phrases in the Hebrew original, and they hand down to us many of the ancient customs of the Jews. And some of them, with the phraseologies, idioms, and peculiar forms of speech, which we find in them, do, in many instances, help as much for the better illustration and better understanding of the New Testament, as of the Old; the Jerusalem Chaldee dialect, in which they are written, being the vulgar language of the Jews in our Saviour's time. They also very much serve the Christian cause against the Jews, by interpreting many of the prophecies of the Messiah in the Old Testament in the same manner as the Christians do. Many instances are produced to this purpose by Dr. Prideaux in his Connexions of the History of the Old and New Testament. These Targums are published to the best advantage in the second edition of the great Hebrew Bible set forth as Basil by Buxtorf, the father, anno 1610.


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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Targum'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/cbd/t/targum.html. 1802.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, November 27th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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